« PreviousContinue »
Houses and Gardens of the Negroes, their Mode
of Life, &c.
The most common size of the negro houses is 28 feet long by 14 broad. Posts of hard wood about 9 feet long, or 7 above ground, are placed at a distance of two feet from one another, and the space between is closely wattled up and plastered. The roof is covered with the long mountain-thatch, palmeto-thatch, or dried guinea-grass, either of which is more durable than the straw thatch used in this country. Cane tops are also used for the purpose, but are not so lasting. To throw off the rain the thatch is brought down a considerable distance over the walls, which in consequence look low, and the roof high. The house is divided into three, and sometimes four apartments. The room in the middle, occupying the whole breadth of the house, has a door on each side, to admit a circulation of air. This is the sitting apartment, and here the poorer class make fire and cook their victuals; the more wealthy have a separate kitchen at a little distance. The smaller houses have the sitting room in one end, and two sleeping apartments in the other.
Behind the house is the garden, filled with plantains, ochras, and other vegetables, which are produced at all seasons. It abounds also with
cocoa-nut and calabash trees. A good cocoa-nut will be a meal to a man, and boiled among the sugar (which the negroes frequently do), would be a feast to an epicure. It contains also about a pint of a delicious juice, called 'cocoa-nut milk;' the leaves, which are thick, and twelve or fifteen feet long, are shed occasionally all the year and not only make excellent fuel, but are sometimes used for thatch. The nut also yields oil for lamps, and the shell is made into cups. Thus one tree affords meat, drink, fuel, thatch, oil for lamps, and cups to drink out of! No wonder it is so great a favourite that every negro village looks at a distance like a cocoa-nut grove. This singularly valuable and beautiful tree (the fibry part of which is in the East Indies manufactured into ropes and clothing), serves also another purpose : from its great height, and perhaps in some degree from the pointed form of its leaves, it is very liable to be struck by lightning, and it affords near a house the same protection as a metallic conductor. Many a headless trunk stands a memento of violent thunderstorms. But though thus liable to be blasted and occasionally rent by the electric fluid, it is never shivered or thrown down ; and its slim elastic stem bids defiance to the utmost fury of the hurricane. Blossoms, ripe fruit, and green, are to be seen upon it at all seasons of the year, and it thrives in the most indifferent soils.
The calabash tree produces a large fruit, not eatable, but nevertheless valuable, as-the skin of
it is a hard and solid substance, like the shell of a nut, and when scooped out, answers the purpose of holding water, or cut across the middle, makes two cups or dishes. Every negro has his calabash, and many have them carved with figures like those which are tattooed on the skins of the Africans. They are used to carry out their breakfast to them when at work in the field; and from their lightness and strength, are preferable for this purpose to almost any other kind of dish. Tin pans, however, are sometimes used. In the garden too, and commonly under the shade of the low outbranching calabash tree, are the graves of the family, covered with brick tombs.
They have also their hogsties: poultry houses are not wanted; the chickens are carefully gathered at night, and hung up in baskets, to preserve them from the rats. The fowls lodge at all seasons in the trees about the houses. The premises belonging to each family are commonly surrounded with a fence; their provision grounds are generally at some distance.
The furniture in the negro houses of course varies very much according to the industry or otherwise of the family. Some of the Africans have no idea of domestic comfort, and are so improvident that it is utterly impossible to make them comfortable. They will sell their very clothes to buy rum, nay, the pot given them to cook their victuals in ; and I have known several instances of their pulling down and burning the
very watling of the houses provided for them, rather than take the trouble to collect fire-wood, although in abundance almost at their doors. With these nothing can be done; but their number is now small. The ordinary class of negroes have fixed beds, covered with deal boards and mats, on which they sleep under a single blanket or sheet, which is all that the climate requires. The rest of their furniture consists of a trunk or chest to hold their clothes, a small cupboard for their cups and dishes, iron pots and tin pans for cooking, a plain deal table, bench, and a few chairs. The more wealthy, of which the number has increased much during the last ten years, sleep on beds filled with the dried leaves of the plantain tree, used also by the free people of colour: and the whole of their furniture, as I have before observed, is such as would astonish an English visitor, who, seeing it, would not easily believe himself in the house of a slave.
The longest and shortest day differ only about two hours in Jamaica, and the negroes are always. home between six and seven o'clock in the evening, except those detained in their turn at the works during crop time. The evening is their time of enjoyment, and they sit up late, visiting and entertaining one another. About half-past eleven is the hour at which they generally go to bed, and they rise about half-past five, taking only six hours of sleep; but many of them take also a short sleep between twelve and two, their resting hours
in the middle of the day. They designate the hours of the night by the crowing of the cocks• before cock crow,' signifies before two o'clock; then follows ' second cock crow'—then cock crow fast—and, lastly, 'day cut,' or dawn. The noise which some hundreds of cocks make about daydawn in a negro village, amidst the usual stillness of a tropical morning, cannot easily be imagined by those who have not heard it.
Regularly when the work of the day is over, the driver goes to the overseer, to give an account of what has been done, and receive instructions for the following day. These instructions he communicates to the people under him, that they may know where to meet at work the following morning. When they get up at day dawn, the first thing each does is to take his breakfast to the cook. It consists of plantains, edoes, or yams, or a few of each, with a little fresh or salted fish, or crabs, which are very abundant. These articles are sometimes boiled plain, sometimes made into a soup with some other vegetables, according to the various tastes and means of individuals. Women having young children generally cook their husbands' breakfast, and take it out to them when they go to work, or, if not going to the same field, give it to the cook to take out. Any of the people that feel unwell, instead of going to work, are in attendance at the overseer's door in the morning, to obtain admission to the hospital ; and although there may be nothing the matter