my boyhood, the Public Market in Arima was situated on the north-east
corner of the Savannah. Why it was not referred to, simply
as 'de Market', was not clear, as there was no 'Private Market'
nor was there any other kind of market. In those colonial times,
all Government buildings, places or services maintained by the
government were referred to as 'public' There was the Public Square,
Public Toilets, Public Bus, Public School, Public Cemetery, Public
Works and even Public Roads!
Public buildings all carried an air of officialdom, built primarily
for function with little concern for aestethics. Public buildings
could be easily identified, as they were all painted in the same
colours. red roofs, cream coloured walls, with windows and doors
highlighted in dark brown. Such was the Arima Market except that
instead of walls, a heavy steel mesh wire enclosed the building.
This allowed for the free flow of fresh air into and out of the
building. During the week, the market was almost unoccupied with
the majority of the stalls bare and unattended.
Fridays, the Market came alive and became the hub of activity
for the town. The Vendors, mostly East Indians, called 'marchands'
from the French patois word, would be busy preparing their stalls
for the weekend trade. They could be seen staking their claim
to the spots closest to the entrances, in order to be first in
line to offer their wares to prospective buyers. Porters, also
mostly East Indians, called 'coolies' by the British Colonists
, were everywhere, plying their trade, off-loading and loading
produce and other merchandise. With bent backs, straining under
heavy loads, they bobbed and weaved their way between the steady
stream of traffic. Buses, taxis and trucks jostled with
each other for parking places in close proximity of the Market.
with the crowd were the Market police establishing order to the
confusion. The Police used whistles that gave off a shrill note,
to attract attention, over the noise of the crowd. In the midst
of this mass of confusion, stood the Market Manager in his elevated
office perch, surveying the scene, and from time to time, he would
bark orders through a megaphone. The noise level was such, that
to be heard, one had to shout. The crush of sweaty bodies and
the din, mixed with the various scents of the fruits, herbs, spices,
meat, cooked food and baked goods would produce a sense of euphoric
earthiness, rated second only to a Jour Ouvert Carnival Jump up!
Official market day, started at 6.00 am on Saturdays, however
because it was considered a working day, most people preferred
to make Sunday their market day. Sunday market as it was
referred to, became a ritual in the Trinidad life style. It was
THE social event of every week. It was the 'ting to do' after
attending early Sunday Mass at Church. Attending Sunday Mass was
a must, so as not to be held accountable for committing a Mortal
Sin. Therefore, most people after doffing their 'Sunday best',
after church, changed to more comfortable clothes to 'make market'.
Of course there were always the 'limers' who wore their Sunday
best to the Market, to show off their latest 'threads' to whomsoever
they were tryin' to attract.
was always the one to accompany my Mother to the market......
I think it was mostly because that everyone else slept in. What
follows is typical of Sunday Market in Arima.........
Boy, walk fas'...market closin' 10 o'clock, yuh know! Nex' time,
ah go leave yuh home....
Me: Buh mudder mih leg not long like yours...
Mother: Look doh give mih no backchat, yuh hear! Jus' walk!.....
an' Look way yuh walkin ...yuh nearly bounce dong de ole man!
Yuh better walk backin' back, oui.....because like yuh eyes behind
yuh head! Leh mih hold yuh han' to cross de street. By then, we
had reached the Market and I knew that our first stop would be
at Tantie Mazie's Stall. Tantie
Mazie was a fat, overweight, negress who always wore a blue headtie,
and the most colourful muu-muu dresses. What impressed me about
her, was that she remembered everyone's name and that she seemed
to always know what was their ailment. It figured, because she
sold herbs, spices, local condiments and other local concoctions,
to cure every condition known to man. Some people said she was
an Obeah Woman....
Mazie: Hey, Ruby, yuh lookin' real rosy today!...And how yuh keepin',son?
Ah have some real fresh Cocoa balls....also bennay balls from
Tobago. Wat yuh want?
Gimme six Cocoa Balls.....10 cent clove ....10 cent spice......2
whole nutmeg.....Ah wanted roocoo, but dem yuh have, lookin' real
Tantie Mazie: Ah have more... but ah keep dem for mih bes' customers
like you. How much you want? Ah fine yuh boy lookin' a lil pale....
an' he eye shinin'....Ah lil gulley root tea go be good to set
Mother: Is only las' week he get a purge.... is worms.Wat yuh
expeck? Is mango season! Gimme 6 roocoo, an' tell mih how much
ah have for yuh.
then, a young man came rushing up to the stall.
Young Man: Tantie! Tantie! Uncle sen' mih for de ting!
Tantie Mazie: Young man, cool yuh herbs! Yuh doan have respeck
foh yuh elders? Besides, who yuh uncle be?
Young Man: Bengie, Tantie.
Tantie Mazie: Bengie, wid de broko foot?
Young Man: Yea, Tantie.....yuh get de ting?
Tantie Mazie: Yea but yuh have to wait... yuh doan see it have
odder people before yuh....
Young Man( turning to my mother): Lady yuh coud give mih a chance?Ah
have a taxi waitin' foh mih....
Mother: Is ok by me.
Mazie( reaching below her counter to retreive a packet wrapped
in brown kraft paper): Look ah have it rite here....Tell yuh uncle,
before he take it he have to have a good bush bath, wid seven
different kinda leaf.....tell him to boil wat in de packet, wid
three cup a water ....and take it three time a day on a empty
stommick......Dat is ten dollars!
Young Man: Ten dollars! He only give me five!..
Tantie Mazie: Well ah go only give yuh half.... an' yuh uncle
go only get half better! Sah say belle tete! Bon Jay!
(with that, she began muttering to herself in French patois).
mother paid and we then proceeded to the meat section.There were
people everywhere, with hardly any space to walk and over the
din you could hear the vendors hawking their goods.
' Orange! Poteegal! Grapefruit! Mango!'
' Mango Doodoose! Julie! Calabash!'
' Doubles! Who want doubles!'
' Blue Crab! Crab for yuh Callaloo!'
' Sugarcake! Tooloom! Kaiser ball! '
' Tree bunch a chive foh 10 cent!'
' Fresh lettice an' cressels!'
' Eddoes, Sweet potato, Cassava!
' Plantain to boil an' fry!'
' Fresh Cascadoo! 25 cents a string!'
' Pewah! Kerekel! Five cent a cup!'.........
Suddenly. there was a commotion ahead, and above all the noise
came the shout, "TIEF! TIEF!........ HOLD HIM!....TIEF!" Market
policemen appeared, waving their batons....the crowd scattered,
and four or five of them gave chase after a man in a red shirt
and who was holding a chicken in his hand. " Damm fowl tief!",
someone shouted. My mother pulled me closer to her and said, "Keep
yuh tail close to me, yuh hear?"
Soon we were at the Meat stalls. there were separate stalls for
pork, beef, wild game and chicken. We always bought our meat from
the same butchers and my mother was well known. Boysie always
provided us with beef and he greeted my mother in his usual friendly
Boysie: Mornin' Miss Ruby.... Ah have some nice brisket today.....an'
de beas' was young.....so de liver nice an' sorf. Ah save a cow
heel for yuh, too!
Mother: Attend to dat lady first...she come before me.
Lady: Can I have two pounds of boneless stew?
Boysie: No problem! Two pounds, eh?
(starting to weigh the order)
Lady: Maybe you did not hear me, properly...
but I said BONELESS STEW....I notice you are putting bones.......
Boysie: Ah hear yuh de fus' time madam...but ah wants yuh to know
dat up to now dey ent start to grow boneless cow in Trinidad.
So until den all de meat we sellin' is wid bone! Besides if yuh
cyar use de bone, yuh could always give it to de dog....
Lady: But I don't have a dog......
No problem! Only last week mih dog had five pups an' ah lookin'
to give dem 'way. Ah could give yuh one......
Lady: Young man, I find you totally exasperating .....Never mind!
With that outburst, she spun on her heels and stamped off.
Boysie: Buh wat rong wid she?Like she swallow a Collins dictionary
an' she playin' high filotten ....All because of ah lil piece
ah bone....Anyhow, Miss Ruby, wat yuh want?
Mother: Give me four pounds of brisket......two of liver.....and
de cowheel. Ah doan want no lite wid de liver. Wile yuh fixin'
dat ah goin' over by Oliver to get mih pork....an' wrap up the
meat good, so fly can't get on it.. Wen all yuh goin' to start
Boysie: We coud start tomorrow, but is because ah dis muslim an'
hindu ting.....one doan eat pork and de odder doan eat beef...so
dey decide to keep dem apart.... Miss Ruby it ent easy nah. Ah
tell yuh we have too much people to please,oui!
While my mother went to get the pork, I remained at Boysie's stall
to supervise the proper preparation of the order. Having filled
our meat orders, we next proceeded to the Fish section. The stench
emanating from this section was overpowering. The lack of proper
refrigeration and the tropical heat were the main contributors
to the situation.The vendors stood over their heaps of shrimp
and fish with newspaper pages in their hands , fanning their heaps
to chase the flies off.
Me: Mother, ah goin' to wait fo' yuh outside, ah cyar take
de smell......it makin' mih feel to vomit.
Mother: OK ....but stand up just outside de door.... de last ting
ah want, is to have to search all over de place to find yuh. Yuh
her wat ah say?
I stood outside of the Fish section of the market, in the 'fresh'
air. This was an uncovered part of the market, which adjoined
an open car park.There were few stalls, but there were small groups
of people standing around listening to something...... I moved
in to the group closest to my station. I squeezed myself
through the not too dense crowd to get a better view .....It was
a Shango preacher delivering a sermon.
The preacher was dressed in a white gown and paced to and
fro, waving a Bible. Behind him stood three 'sisters' who were
swaying from side to side humming a tune. One of them rang a brass
Preacher: An' so ah went on de morning grong .... an' ah had dis
vision..... De angel Gabrel come to me an' say,"Sebastian! Listen
to me! Get up! Put on yuh clothes! Put on yuh shoes! Take up yuh
Bible! Go dong to de Market!..... An' ah arkse Him wich market?....
an' he tell mih..... Arima Market! He say Arima people is good
tell dem fus! An' dat is why ah here today, brudders an'
sisters to give allyuh dis warnin' of de hard times dat comin'!
"Tell dem Brudder!",shouted one of the 'sisters'
Preacher: Just like wen God did tell de people to stop dey wikedness
or he go destroy dem wid a flood.......Only Noah listen to he!
Jus so ah tellin' allyuh today, Repent! Repent ye, sayet the Lord!
Arkse forgiveness for all the wikedness and nasty tings yuh doin'
in yuh life......If yuh want come up here an' pray, we go pray
wid yuh.......... only doh forget who helpin' yuh pray, have to
eat! Sistah! give we ah tune, dey!
On cue, the sisters broke out in song, singing, 'Rock of Ages'
....... one of them fell prostrate on the pavement and started
"Look she ketch ah Spirit!", someone shouted.
I thought that was enough to make me leave. I couldn't bear the
thought of me 'ketchin' ah spirit' and having to explain that
to my mother. So I moved to the next group, and again wriggled
my way to the front.The group was listening to a man someone referred
to as 'Butler'. Butler was a black negro well advanced in age
with white hair and white goatee beard. He had piercing eyes and
spoke in an arrogant manner.
Butler: Ah telling allyuh wake up! Open allyuh eyes! Doan say
Butler didn't tell allyuh! Allyuh see who takin over all de business
quiet, quiet. All de French Creole an' dem startin' to leave de
country. Dey sayin is Butler dat causin' it.......Wile dem leavin'
you see who takin over? Jes' go dong St, Vincent Street, in Port
of Spain .....go dong de Promenade in San Fernando...... check
out who is all de lawyers, check out who is all de doctors ........
Who plantin' all we food?... Rite here! Who have de most stalls
in de market? All ah doin' is arksin! Ah ent callin' no name.
.....cause everytime ah call ah name dey does say is sedition
...... Black people, is time allyuh open allyuh eyes. Unite! Unity
is strength! DE powers dat be, know ah talkin' de trut...an' dey
cyar shut mih up! And ah not givin' up de fight!
The crowd listened intently and cheered him on ....each
cheer spurred him to new emotional heights. I too started to
catch the spirit of the crowd......Spirit? The very thought sent
me boltin out of the crowd, back to my station to await my mother
who was just emerging from the fish section.
Ah glad to see yuh stay where ah lef' yuh. Come let us go
by Bowgee to pick up some vegetables an' fine we tail home....
Bowgee, means sister-in-law in Hindi,and the term is used freely
by East Indians as a term of endearment. Bowgee was our supplier
of vegetables and my mother had the privilege of choosing whatever
produce she wanted off the stall.She was a middle aged woman who
always wore a sari, which made her look so elegant, that she looked
out of place in the surroundings.
Bowgee: Bowgee! Yuh late today! Ah dee tink yuh ent comin' today
Mother: Ah went to get all mih odder tings fus'. Ah want some
eddoes, cush-cush, plantain, tomatoes, tree bunch ah chive.....
yuh have spanish time?.......ah want ah bunch.....curry powder...ah
want de wet one........
Bowgee: Wat about zaboca? Ah have some nice red beans......If
yuh look at dem too hard , dey go bus'......Also Ah have some
paddy rice, from we garden self.....Go rite ahead an' choose wat
yuh want! After all, yuh is like mih real bowgee!
Mother: Yuh have too much sweet mout'...
There were two other persons at the stall at the time attempting
to make purchases and were touching the produce.
Bowgee took offence to that saying," Please don't touch ! Point
to what you want and I'll serve you! But don't touch!"
The two people made their purchases and left.
Mother: How come you let me touch yuh goods an' yuh doan let dem?
Bowgee: Bowgee, It have people wid 'mal joe' and if dey touch
yuh tings, yuh pass thru de hole day widdout ah sale. Sometime
de produce an' dem does stay jus' so an' spoil. Wid you, is OK.
yuh does gimme luck! Yuh see look two more people comin' to buy!
Bowgee take dis zaboca as a liangnappe.
Mother: Thanks! Now is me an' dis lil boy to ketch ... to carry
all dese bags home. Here boy, you hold dese two...an' follow
me, yuh hear!
Bowgee, see yuh nex' week! Oh gosh! ah now remember ah still have
to buy ah sweepstake!
the way home, my mother asked,
"Yuh learn anyting today in de market?"
" Yes, mother " I replied, "Ah learn, how to buy, how to sell,
ah little 'bout spirit, politics...."
"POLITICS? Is ah new word yuh pick up in school?"