Sun | Sep 23, 2018

Those flashy men from Colon

Published:Wednesday | April 15, 2015 | 12:01 AM


With reference to the historical reference made by Gordon Robinson in his thought-provoking column titled 'Don't beg!' in The Gleaner (April 14, 2015) viz:

"For those of you who permitted cable boxes to teach your children Jamaican heritage, poor Jamai-cans travelled to Panama ('ColÛn' to Jamaicans, pronounced like intestines) in the early 20th Century to work on Panama Canal construction. They made good money but no educational improvement. Many returned with expensive watches hung from fancy chains. Predictably, on their return, folk music ridiculed them."

I wish to set the record straight on a minor inaccuracy expressed in the two sentences emphasised above.

false impression

The ridicule was not aimed at those who made good money and returned from Colon/Panama with expensive gold watches attached to gold chains. These persons were admired and probably envied.

It was, instead, directed at those who squandered their money and could not afford gold watches (or any watch, for that matter) but still wanted, on their return home, to appear prosperous. These poor souls resorted to buying highly polished brass chains (without the watch) and proudly wore them hanging from the fob pockets of cheap flashy suits in the manner of the real thing.

This ruse may have fooled some home folks for a little while until someone would ask them for the time, and not having a watch to tell the time, they resorted to guessing/estimating the time by checking the position of the sun in the sky.

This then gave rise to the song of ridicule which, incidentally, also commemorates an important but now somewhat forgotten bit of our history and the enormous contribution made at the beginning of the 20th Century by so many of our Jamaican forebears to the development of the region.