Fri | Sep 21, 2018

Origin of Tallawah phrase

Published:Monday | November 7, 2016 | 12:00 AM


My grandmother, the late Floridine Pitters, could always be relied on to entertain with a good story related to her running away from her cruel husband to Panama, or one related to her activities with Garvey's Universal Negro Improvement Association, among many others.

I recall clearly a story she told about a very sick tiger cub at the Hope Zoo named Tallawah, that, though very sick and on the brink of death, stubbornly refused to die. She recalled that each morning, many would await the radio news update on his condition. Some days his outlook was grave, on others it was bad, on others it was not so bad. This went on for what everyone thought was a very long time, well beyond what was considered his expiration date.

The little tiger fought hard - harder than most would have - and long - longer than others could - holding on despite what was evidently an impossible and terminal situation. Out of all of that was coined, by one long forgotten, the phrase understood only by Jamaicans, 'Im likkle but im tallawah'. I have asked around for some others to confirm the veracity of this story and the origin of the phrase which all Jamaicans know and love, but could find none.

All that apparently remains of the tiger cub Tallawah in our recorded history is a report on the front page of the Daily Gleaner of Thursday, April 4, 1968, which reads, in part, "The parliamentary secretary, who is directly responsible to the minister for the operations of the zoo, also said that two Bengal tigers have been purchased from the Oklahoma and Chicago zoos and are now the latest attraction at the Hope Zoo. These two tigers, he said, have been secured to replace the one named Tallawah, which died in 1966".

So complete is the loss of this memory of our once-loved Tallawah that the Jamaican franchise of the annual

T20 Caribbean Cricket Competition has, in ignorance, chosen a crocodile to symbolise Tallawah, the young indomitable tiger cub.


Rock Hall, St Andrew