Paul H. Williams, Gleaner Writer
A recent newspaper story about an increase in the consumption of crocodile meat and a subsequent warning from the National Environment and Planning Agency have jolted my memory.
They carried me back to a chat I had with a taxi driver earlier this year which started with the unconfirmed claim that the district of Heartease in St Thomas was full of 'jackets', the ones that walk on two legs.
But Duckenfield, in the said parish, came into the picture with an assertion by the driver, who sometimes plies the Morant Bay to Duckenfield route, that the situation is the same there.
While I wasn't told why Heartease is the "Jacket Capital of St Thomas", the rationale for Duckenfield was that out-of-area seasonal cane-cutters earn more than the parishioners so the women gravitate to them.
After the crop is over the seasonal workers return to their districts, leaving their seeds firmly planted all over Duckenfield. These seeds are subsequently given to and nurtured by other men, the driver alleged.
Then the chat took a very shocking turn when the driver also declared, "Nuff a dem pickney deh who born after 2000 have alligator inna dem".
Baffled, I asked incredulously what he was talking about.
"Nuh alligator egg, man," was his reply. I was still puzzled.
In my bewilderment, I told him we have no alligators in Jamaica. What we have are crocodiles. He stood corrected, but the name change didn't
Constantly smiling, he said the eggs have been used since 2000 to make a punch for sexual stamina. In other words, they are used in the Duckenfield area as an aphrodisiac.
"So if a pickney born from dem time deh him have a touch of alligator fah de man dem a feed pon de punch. Dem a go soon start crawl like de alligator. Maybe dem get all the mouth," he predicted.
He said at first he didn't know why when he used to drink a certain concoction he had bought in Duckenfield he had to sleep on his back at nights. It was extremely hard for him not to. I was now struggling not to laugh at this poor man and his cock-and-bull story, pun intended.
But two other men, one from Duckenfield, and another from Old Pera, jumped in to confirm the driver's story.
"Common assault," one said.
They went on to support the driver's claim that the eggs are also eaten scald as they take as many as 10 hours to become hard.
"God liveth!" the other swore.
They argued that consuming the crocs' eggs is a way of keeping the crocodile population down since they can't kill them.
"A deh only way fi get rid a de alligator dem. If yuh kill dem, government lock yuh up," the oldster argued.
Duckenfield is situated near a major wetland, ideal for crocodile habitation and breeding. One nest, the men said, comprises as many as 50 fist-sized eggs. The hunt for the eggs is very risky, but perhaps worth the chance. It's about the thrill later and not the clear and present danger.
"When you drink dem suppen deh enuh man, every minute yuh want wife enuh," the driver, seemingly enjoying the discussion, continued. "It's a normal punch, same like Irish moss, and mek you 'trang' like how de alligator dem 'trang'".
The punch also consists of peanut, okra, stout, among other things.
Yet, he said since he found it was the crocodile punch and soup that used to set his 'tail' on fire all night long he had stopped drinking them. It was torture he said, especially when there was no one around to put out the flames.
But the appetite for things crocodilian is not satisfied by the egg punch only. The tails and hind legs of this feared reptile are also cooked in soup with other types of meat such as pigs' tails and chickens' feet.
Upon detecting the horror on my face, the man from Old Pera said, "Den alligator nuh cyaan nyam, man."
The driver chipped in: "Yuh see de alligator tail? A oxtail, enuh." He said it was not uncommon to see crocodiles with their tails gone. The tails, which are said to taste like regular meat and "red like beef", are also grilled.
Now, my next big task is to go searching for long-mouthed jackets that crawl on four legs.
The National Environment and Planning Agency says it is illegal to interfere with or be in possession of any part of a crocodile, which is an endangered species and is protected under Jamaica's Wildlife Protection Act.
The penalty for capturing the animals, harming them or having any part of the creature in one's possession, living or dead is $100,000 and/or a prison term of up to two years.
Persons are urged to stay away from the animals, noting that they serve a useful purpose by helping to clean Jamaica's marine system and are also beneficial to the ecosystem.