I couldn’t agree more with the late great Marcus Garvey when he said, “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin, and culture are like a tree without roots.” 

One’s culture is the sum of the customs, arts, social institutions, and achievements and cannot be revised or changed willy nilly

A lot of our Jamaican culture has been solidified and expressed through mento/folk music. 

Mento is Jamaica’s first recorded music and it evolved from the musical traditions brought by enslaved West African people. The lyrics of mento songs often deal with aspects of everyday life in a light-hearted and humourous way. They were put to catchy tunes and sung by the slaves or those who did backbreaking labour in the fields during the brutal British colonial period to make their chores feel less onerous. 

I am on this topic, as I noticed recently that some Facebook users are determined to dilute and change one aspect of our culture. That is, how land was obtained and farmed immediately after slavery was abolished. This they are trying to do by changing some words of a popular mento song Sammy Dead. 

This song begins; “Sammy plant piece a corn dung a gully, an it bear till it kill poor Sammy.” However, modern-day the revisionists have been changing it to “Sammy plant peas an corn dung a gully…….” 

They almost had me convinced too, until I fact-checked it with an expert in the field of Jamaican culture — Colin Smith, a foundation member of Jamaica Folk Singers and currently leader of Tallawah Mento band. 

Smith spent many years at the feet of the late, great social anthropologist Dr. Olive Lewin, OD OM, studying Jamaica folk music and literature. She died in 2013. 

Wikipedia describes her thus;“Lewin was the author of several books and has made numerous recordings of folk music, performed by the Jamaican Folk Singers, which she founded. She was honoured by the Government of Jamaica, the United Nations, the Organization of American States, the Government of France and by academia for her outstanding lifelong contribution to the arts. In 2001 she was awarded the Jamaican Order of Distinction.” 

Regarding whether Sammy planted piece a corn or peas and corn, Smith was emphatic. “It was piece a corn.”

He then went on to explain the conditions that prevailed when that song was written. In those days, freed slaves who wanted to farm, had no land of their own, so they had to rent/lease piece a land from their former slave/colonial masters. On this small holding they would plant, piece a cane, piece a pumpkin, piece a cane, piece a yam, etc. (In some areas, small yam holdings are known  as yam grung)Those who planted tree crops described their holdings as ‘walk’. Hence you have ‘mango walk’, ‘orange walk’, etc. 

On the other hand, large land barons planted fields or plantations, so their holdings were called cane plantations, banana plantations, etc. 

This other folk song called Missa Potta confirms the use of the word piece in reference to small farming.

He quoted: 

Good mawning Missa Potta ,good mawning to yu sah,

A plant a piece a red peas a Red Sally Lan

Mary Jane an Pidgen cum eat it aff sah

Cum out a mi yaad  mi  nebba call yu yah

Fa yu house rent money no dun pay fah. 

Smith, a St. Elizabeth farmer in his own right, also explained that it is not unusual to plant peas and corn together as red peas has an excessive amount of valuable minerals, mainly magnesium, calcium, sodium, potassium and iron, hence the trash is used to fertilize the corn which matures later. 

Corn and gungo are also planted together, as St. Elizabeth has always suffered from chronic water shortage, so the trash from the corn which matures earlier is used to mulch the gungo. 

Anyway, if this was the aspect of farming that was being referred to in the song Sammy Dead, the lyrics would be; an dem bear till dem kill poor Sammy, for the plural of it is dem!

Joan Williams, a former talk-show host on Power 106, is an author and can be followed at; (90) Joan Williams, author – YouTube and contacted at [email protected]

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