*photo courtesy of the film After Mas, taken by Joseph Mora
It’s that time of year, when Jab emerge to haunt the streets of the Eastern Caribbean! I’ve always been fascinated (and slightly frightened) by Jab since I was a kid–Blue Jab, Red Jab, Green Jab, Mud Jab, Jab that spit fire, Jab with bat wings, Jab with devil mask, Jab in chains threatening to attack unless you “pay de devil!” But by far, my favorite are the Jab Molassie–oil slick, jet black, scowling, snarling, axe-carrying, rat-tail eating, rum-guzzling, conch-shell blowing, posse-deep and out-of-control like some horde climbed up from Hell! But wait, allyuh doesn’t know what Jab is? What? Well lemmee learn yuh…
“Don’t accept no food from Mr. Ramkisoon. Neighbor say Mr. Ramkisoon hands not clean.” The names have been changed to protect the accused, but this was the warning given by my parents before I got on a plane bound for our house in Trinidad. For those who might not be aware of the phraseology, the concern about Mr. Ramkisoon’s unclean hands has nothing to do with his hygiene. It was a warning that Mr. Ramkisoon possibly dabbled in some “simi dimi,” or more likely had done something foul to earn a curse placed upon him. My parents (who now live in the US) had it on good information–an Indian neighbor on our block who kept them apprised of the goings on back home. Like the song say, “Trini talk talk talk talk talk…”
So here were my Afro-Trinidadian parents, who are nominally Christian, concerned with superstitions rooted in Hindu (specifically Indian-Trinidadian) folklore. Welcome to the cultural mash-up of my childhood, or as I like to call it, a little bit chutney and a little bit pelau.