IT’S A FACT ARTICLES - 5



The Phagwah or Holi holiday is truly unique. It’s a joyous Hindu holiday - full of fun. To really participate in it, one has to really let oneself go. 

Holi is a Spring festival, observed wherever Hindus live and practice their religion. Of course, it originated in India, where it is generally called Holi or Holika or even Horika. Only in the north-east is it called Phagwah, a name also common in the Caribbean, where descendants of Indians from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar predominate. 

The name Phagwah is based on “Phalgun,” the last month of the year in the Indian calendar which falls somewhere between mid-February and mid-March. The date on the western calendar is not fixed but determined annually. 

The festival itself is said to have had its origin in the legend about the virtuous Prahalad and the wicked king Hiranyakasipu, in which Holika, the aunt of Prahalad was burnt to death while trying to destroy Prahalad with fire. Phagwah is therefore a celebration of the triumph of good over evil.

The story goes that a demon king, Hiranyakasipu, who ruled over the kingdom of earth, commanded everyone to worship only him. However, his own son, Prahalad who became an ardent devotee of Lord Naarayana and refused to do so.

Hiranyakasipu tried several times to kill his son. After failing on his own, he finally asked his sister, Holika to enter a blazing fire with Prahlad in her lap. Holika agreed because she knew that she had protection from destruction by fire. What she did not know was that this protection worked only when she entered the fire alone.

Holika coaxed young Prahlad to sit in her lap, then took her seat in a blazing fire, hoping to destroy him. But she herself was destroyed and Prahalad was unscathed.

Some Hindus enact the scene of 'Holika's burning to ashes' every year. They burn effigies of Holika in huge bonfires and throw cow dung into the fire, shouting curses at Holika. As they do this, they also shout 'Holi-hai! Holi-hai!'. Because of this, Holi is also called the Festival of Fire.

In the Caribbean, the observances in the areas with the larger Indian populations closely resemble one another. A castor oil tree would be planted about forty days before Holi. This tree would then be burnt as Holika the night before Holi.

Between the planting and the burning, the celebrants participate in chowtal and taan singing, accompanying themselves on dholaks (hand drums) and majeeras (cymbals).

At Holi time, people engage in much revelry. This includes sprinkling or drenching others with plain water or with water colored red with abeer.

White was the traditional color of dress for phagwah. However, some now wear clothes that they could discard later, as they get discolored during play.

 Apart from water (plain or scented), talc and other powders (called abrack in Guyana) are poured or sprayed over the bodies of the celebrants. The colourful water jets are called pichkaris.

Food and beverages are prepared and shared at temples and other places where people gather. Among the goodies you can find not only the well-known channa, phulourie and potato ball, but also gulgula, bara, Prasad, ghoja, mambhoog, keer and others

Phagwah provides Hindus an opportunity to enjoy play with family, neighbors and friends and to take friendly liberties with others in ways that enhance relationships.


A Story from 1901

On the very day Theodore Roosevelt assumed the presidency of the United States, he wrote to Booker T. Washington: "I must see you as soon as possible. I want to talk over the question of possible future appointments in the South exactly on the lines of our last conversation together."

This fateful communication and the resulting dinner at the White House on October 16, 1901 were to have an unpleasant aftermath for both the new president and for Washington.

Roosevelt was thrust into the presidency of the United States in 1901 as a result of the assassination of President McKinley by a deranged anarchist who shot the President twice as he stood in the receiving line at the Buffalo Pan-American Exposition. President McKinley died eight days later and Roosevelt, then 42 years old, became the youngest president in the country's history.

As Roosevelt urgently prepared for the job ahead, especially as regards his Southern strategy, he considered it important to consult Booker T. Washington. Washington was then the most prominent and powerful spokesman of the blacks and wielded enormous influence among whites even in this Jim Crow era. He was educator, orator and author, and even though among blacks his strategy for their advancement was controversial, his reputation was high. 

Roosevelt was later to write “When I asked Booker T. Washington to dinner, I did not devote very much thought to the matter one way or the other. I respect him greatly and believe in the work he has done.” 

Freed from slavery as a child, Booker T. Washington had worked and studied his way up from a dirt-floor farm kitchen in Virginia to head of the new Tuskegee Institute, then a teachers' college for blacks. This was a significant achievement for a black in those days. 

The news reports about the dinner at the White House in the next morning’s newspapers gave no hint of the storm that was about to break. But the next afternoon the Memphis Scimitar labeled the event a "damnable outrage," and spat out a term that the mainstream press had not used for years.  

It said:  The most damnable outrage which has ever been perpetrated by any citizen of the United States was committed yesterday by the President, when he invited a nigger to dine with him at the White House. It would not be worth more than a passing notice if Theodore Roosevelt had sat down to dinner in his own home with a Pullman car porter, but Roosevelt the individual and Roosevelt the President are not to be viewed in the same light.

In vilifying Roosevelt, the paper said that Southern women could no longer accept invitations to the White House "with proper self-respect," and that President Roosevelt was no longer welcome in Southern homes.

Even the relatively genteel Nashville American rejected what Roosevelt did as totally unacceptable:  "The South refuses social recognition or equality to Booker Washington not because of any hatred of him, not because of his respectability, but in spite of it. It denies him social equality because he is a negro. That is the South's reason. ... To accord social equality to negroes of Booker Washington's stamp would be a leak in the dam. It would cause other negroes to seek and demand the same recognition."

Although Roosevelt thought the invitation "absolutely justified from every proper standpoint save that of expediency," he never again repeated the “error” of political judgment.

Things have changed somewhat. Haven't they?



Which fruit do you love best?  For much of the world, bananas are best. They taste great and are packaged right. Can you imagine your world without bananas?  Yet it’s possible that we might just have to do without them.

The banana you eat now is called the Cavendish. That is what is being cultivated in all the plantations in Latin America and the Caribbean. One hundred years ago, the bananas on the plantations, in the markets, and on people’s tables were not the Cavendish, but the Gros Michel or Big Mike. No More! Big Mike is dead.

How did this happen? Gros Michel’s cultivation resulted in a deadly lack of  genetic diversity. And so any disease that affected one affected all.  A fungus or bacterial disease that infected one plantation could move around the globe and destroy everything in its path.

Up till the 1950s, the banana plantations in Latin America and the Caribbean grew the Gros Michel type. It was larger and tastier than the fruit we now eat. And it was the favorite in both the Americas and in Europe.

But starting in the early part of the last century, a fungus called Panama disease began infecting the Big Mike harvest. The fungus appeared first in Suriname, then moved through the Caribbean, finally reaching Honduras - at that time the world’s largest banana producer.

Producers tried to deal with the problem, but did not act quickly enough. Among other things, growers shifted crops to unused land, and in the process destroyed millions of acres of rainforest, but to no avail.

By 1960, the major importers, Chiquita and Dole, were nearly bankrupt, and the future of the fruit was in jeopardy.

Eventually, the Cavendish took Big Mike’s place. Its advantage was what seemed to be its resistance to Panama disease. Billions were spent to make the infrastructural changes necessary to accommodate its different growing and ripening needs.  

 But in 1992, a new strain of the fungus- one that affects the Cavendish -was discovered in Asia. Since then, Panama disease Race 4, as it’s called, has wiped out plantations in Indonesia, Malaysia, Australia and Taiwan, and it is now spreading through much of Southeast Asia. It has not yet reached Africa or Latin America, but most experts are convinced that it is coming, and could wipe out Cavendish bananas worldwide. There is no known cure for the disease, and no viable replacement for Cavendish.  

 A global effort is now underway to save the fruit. Two different approaches are being used.  The first is that traditional banana growers are trying to create a replacement plant that looks and tastes so similar to the Cavendish that consumers won´t notice the difference. The other is that bioengineers are using genetic manipulation to produce a tougher Cavendish that will resist Panama and other diseases.

Dr Emile Frison, who heads the French-based International Network for the Improvement of Banana and Plantain, says the biotechnology and genetic manipulation it might take to save the fruit could put off some consumers. Many people find genetically modified crops scary and are already talking about frankenbanana.

In the New Scientist magazine, Frison says the survival of the Cavendish banana is threatened not only by Panama disease, but by a few other diseases and pest threats as well.

In villages in many parts of the world, other types of banana are doing just fine. There are fig bananas and red bananas and other types of bananas. But those bananas are not suitable for mass production and transportation.



The Bible’s Genesis account of what took place in the Garden of Eden mentions the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, but does not name its fruit. Scholars and speculators tried to identify the fruit involved in the fall of Adam and Eve, and over time claims were made that the forbidden fruit was the apple, the grape, the fig, the tomato, the grapefruit and several others.

Perhaps the most widespread belief is that the apple was the forbidden fruit. This fruit is the most commonly used illustration of the biblical story, at least in the West.

However, it was with the grapefruit that Barbados came into the story, and today the Barbados Tourism Encyclopedia lists the grapefruit as the legendary Forbidden Fruit and one of the Seven Wonders of Barbados.

The claim is that grapefruit was first developed in Barbados, “in the beautiful Welchman Hall Gully.” Most botanists agree that the grapefruit is a cross between a pummelo (or pomelo) and an orange that took place in the Caribbean area.

The Dutch name of the pummelo is pompelmoose. Today, people in the Caribbean call it by the name shaddock as the fruit was brought to the Caribbean from the East Indies in the late 17th Century by a Captain Shaddock of the East India Company.

The shaddock, still available in Caribbean markets, is a large citrus fruit, nearly round to oblate or pear-shaped, and may be about the size of a cantaloupe or a medium-sized watermelon. Native to southeastern Asia and Malaysia, it has a thick, soft green-to-yellow rind.

The first known documentation of the forbidden fruit of Barbados was done in 1750 by the Reverend Griffith Hughes in his book, "The Natural History of Barbados". John Lunan, in his 1814 botanical work about Jamaica, Hortus Jamaicensis, used the word “grapefruit” for the first time.

The unlikely name of grapefruit was given, it was believed, because the grapefruit grows in grapelike clusters on a tree. Imagine yellow grapes, or green unripe grapes. However, the citrus grapefruits never taste like grapes.

Before the 19th century the grapefruit was grown as an ornamental plant. Only later did it become popular as a fruit to eat. Today, grapefruit trees are grown commercially not only in the Caribbean, but in many other parts of the world, including the southern-most United States: Florida, Arizona, Hawaii and California.

Unfortunately, for people taking certain drugs medicinally, grapefruit is genuinely a forbidden fruit. Chemicals in grapefruit interfere with the enzymes that break down certain drugs in people’s digestive systems. This can cause excessively high levels of these drugs to remain in the bloodstream and increase the possibility of serious side effects.

However, grapefruit provides many valuable nutrients, including vitamin C and lycopene, and is excellent for most people.

As if to lay full Caribbean claim to the fruit, it is said that grapefruit is particularly good when sprinkled with Trinidad’s Angostura Bitters.


A good bird 

Most people agree that the house wren, Troglodytes aedon, does no harm. In fact, it seems that its hunt for insects is beneficial. Generally, it is considered a good bird.

No wonder it is also called the God Bird in many parts of the Caribbean. In Surinam, the God Bird is rendered as “Gado fowroe.”

House wrens live in Canada all the way down to the bottom of South America, and the Caribbean.

Practically everywhere, the house wren is a favorite. People admire it for its fearlessness and pluck.  It doesn’t wait for an invitation to enter your home but just flies into the house through a window and goes about its business - looking for insects and spiders -whether you’re near or not.

A songbird, it often perches on a window-sill or other convenient place, to sing its heart out. Its rich bubbly song is often heard during the nesting season but rarely afterwards.

Adult house wrens are 11.5 cm long and weigh 12 g. Their coloring varies, with upperparts ranging from dull grayish-brown to rich brown, and the underparts ranging from brown, to buff and pale grey, to pure white. House wrens have a faint eye-ring and eye-brow.

The song of the house wren also varies. Its song in North America, for instance, may be somewhat different from its song in various parts of the Caribbean.

The bird builds its nest wherever there is a convenient cavity, such as in a house, church, shed, or a hole in a tree. Both sexes build the nest. First the male claims the location. The cavity may be in a beam, rafter, or even an old, disused pipe, a flower pot, mailbox, calabash, boot or a pocket in a garment - practically anywhere that seems safe.

The male builds a nest and then tries to attract a female. If he is successful and the female joins him, she usually redecorates, discarding his rough sticks and adding a cup with a lining made of feathers and other softer materials.

She would then lay her eggs and sit on them until they hatch in about 14 days. Both sexes feed the young in the nest. When the female is on the nest, the male provisions her with food. After the eggs are hatched, both parents provide food for the baby birds.

In the world outside, house wrens can be pugnacious. They are sometimes hostile to other birds nesting in their territory, breaking the shells of their eggs or making their nests unusable by filling them with sticks.

House wrens mainly eat insects, also spiders and snails. They frequent inhabited buildings such as houses and churches, foraging for food. They are common sight, hopping about with upturned tail, or rustling under bushes among fallen leaves.

A curious picture is sometimes presented by house wrens when a large group gathers to take a bath in the sand in a backyard or garden. They make small cups in the ground and, gleefully flapping their wings, shower themselves with the sand.

People generally like house wrens. Even young boys who like to capture birds tend to set them free after capturing them. It seems too that wherever these creatures are known by the name of God Bird, they tend to get some added respect and protection.


Is It Good or Bad For You?

 There was a time when only good things were spoken about coconut oil. Then we began to hear unfavorable reports. Now scientists are beginning to say that coconut oil unfairly got a bad name. What is the truth? 

Coconut oil has long been recognized as excellent for cooking and frying. Its flavor and odor are appealing to many. Among the most stable of all oils, coconut oil is slow to oxidize and therefore takes a relatively long time to go rancid. 

Just as it was considered good for use as food inside the body, it was trusted to do good externally. Coconut oil has long been used in soaps and beauty products, body lotions and lip balms, skin softeners and massaging oils, shampoos and other products. 

The coconut on the whole is fascinating. Called the bountiful palm, it is often mentioned that the whole tree is useful. Every part of it could be used – even the trunk for wood and the leaves for shelter. 

Coconut water is a celebrated beverage, but young coconut water is also a suitable substitute for glucose in medical emergencies, and has been also used successfully when there is a shortage of suitable blood donors or plasma.

However, we started hearing bad reports. Coconut oil, consisting of about 90% saturated fat, was said to be dangerous to . Coconut oil is not good for you, the reports said, since consumption of saturated fats can increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Since coconut oil contains a high proportion of saturated fats, regular consumption of coconut oil, it was believed, would elevate this risk. 

It might be good for the outside of the body.  But not on the inside.

How did this happen? The condemnation of coconut oil was widely circulated in an early study published by commercial competitors represented by such organizations as the American Soybean Association (ASA), the Corn Products Company (CPC International). The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also supported their general position. 

The study was based on hydrogenated coconut oil. Hydrogenation was sometimes done to increase the melting point of the oil in warmer temperatures. The study did not take into consideration that just as there is good cholesterol, there are also good saturated fats. It just maintained that "saturated fats are bad for you."  

The U.S. Center for Science in the Public Interest at one point complained that most theaters have been cooking their popcorn in coconut oil and claimed that coconut oil's capacity to raise blood cholesterol exceeds that of butterfat, beef tallow and lard. 

The favorite cooking oil of many, once widely used in baked goods and fried goods, now had a black eye. Intense publicity campaigns roundly discredited coconut oil and nearly completely eliminated it from the American diet. 

More recent studies however indicate that virgin coconut oil reduces the LDL cholesterol associated with cardiovascular disease, while raising beneficial HDL levels. Prominent nutritionist Dr. Mary G. Enig, highly recommends virgin coconut oil.  Studies by other scientists have found that coconut oil can help in weight loss and poison recovery. 

"It's still a saturated fat," says Lalita Kaul, a nutrition professor at Howard University in Washington, D.C. "If you use it once in a while, you probably shouldn't be concerned. But if you're using it every day, maybe you should stop and think about it." 

Hydrogenated coconut oil is unhealthy because hydrogenation changes the fatty acid structure of coconut oil fats. To get the best coconut oil  benefits, use virgin coconut oil. That’s what the people of the Caribbean do.



 Guyana’s greatest folklorist is often said to have been most appropriately named. His name: Wordsworth McAndrew connects him with words. And not only was he an excellent conversationalist and writer, but he was a student of words, especially those with cultural significance. 

Everybody called him Mac. But because of his varied activities, he was called other things as well: culturologist, poet, performer, radio broadcaster, among them.

His burning passion was the celebration of the cultural aspects of Guyanese life especially at the level of its varied roots.  He promoted folk things with missionary zeal, and wanted Guyanese to understand, love and accept them as part of their existence.

Wordsworth McAndrew was born on November 22, 1936 and grew up in the Cummingsburg and  Newtown, Kitty areas in Georgetown, Guyana.

His early working life took him to places where words were important, including the Guyana Information Services (GIS), the Guyana Graphic newspaper and The Daily Chronicle newspaper. He also worked as a broadcaster with the Guyana Broadcasting Service (GBS), after training at the BBC in the United Kingdom in 1968.

As far back as anyone can remember, Mac was consumed by folk life. He was widely regarded as an authority and was sought after by those researching folklore and related matters. John Rickford of the Department of Linguistics at Stanford University, reports that he got to know Mac quite well from about 1974 when they did fieldwork together in Guyana at Better Hope and other rural areas, interviewing people about language, folklore, and folk life. This was just one of Mac’s numerous such projects.

Mac gathered information from anywhere, including the street and the rum-shop, and he would spend long hours, especially with rural folk, immersing himself in African, Indian, Amerindian and other folk life.

In a 1970 article he wrote: “In the far interior, Amerindian tribes or tribal groupings still dance their native dances (even if to a European beat these days), along the coast, the que-que, yamapele, cumfa dance, Kali Mai Poojay, Bhagwat, Katha and the like still proliferate, and it is all ritual wherever folk men still exist.”

Mac was also a poet.  When A J Seymour’s A Treasury of Guyanese Poetry, was published in 1980, Mac’s poems “Barriat”, “Blue Gaulding”, “Legend of the Carrion Crow”, “Lines to a Cartman”, “Pushing”, “Independence” and “To A Civil Servant” were included. Ian McDonald, the litterateur, noted that “a few of his poems will always find a place in any Guyanese or West Indian anthology of poems.” 

Mac’s poem "Ole Higue," has long been a favorite.  Not only did he himself perform it on stage at theTheatre Guild in Georgetown and elsewhere, but it was a favorite of other performers such as Francis Quamina Farrier and Marc Matthews.

Although Mac was more than competent in Standard English, his radio programs were done, to the dismay of some, in creolese.  While he was dealing with Congo music and describing the settings for songs, the drums etc or while he was describing playing taw, for example, he was using creolese.

Mac contributed significantly to the "Festival of Guyanese Words" conference in Georgetown, featuring research presentations by students and faculty of the University of Guyana and the general involvement of just about anyone of any walk of life who could contribute.

In 1970, an important publication “Co-operative Republic Guyana 1970 – A Study of Aspects of our Way of Life” featured a chapter by McAndrew titled Guyana – A Cultural Look.”

Mac also published a small folklore magazine called Ooiy! Naturally, the magazine dealt with various subjects, but among the most memorable was the issue in which he documented his famous 40 stages of Guyanese "typee" - love, Guyanese-style.

After Mac emigrated to the United States, admirers encouraged him to publish once more. However, the New York environment was not kind.

In some matters, Mac was puzzlingly unbending. As in Guyana, he insisted on dressing unconventionally. His regular attire was an African daishiki, trousers and rubber slippers or sandals. Nor would he respond to offers to publish the scripts he was believed to have carried around in his ancient knapsack. Businessman and former broadcaster Vic Insanally tried to persuade him to return to Guyana, if that would make it easier for him to do the work he loved - to no avail.

Recognizing Mac’s contributions, the Guyana Folk Festival organization in New York established the Wordsworth McAndrew Awards in 2002. The award honors Guyanese who made outstanding contributions to Guyana's Cultural heritage, many of whom had gone unrecognized over the years.

Vibert Cambridge at the University of Ohio, prominent among the voices insisting that Mac’s work and life be remembered and celebrated, had already researched his life and published an article on him in June 2004 - Wordsworth McAndrew  - A Guyanese National Treasure.

Professor Cambridge and others had been already working on a symposium in Mac’s honor in connection with  Carifesta 2008 in Guyana when Mac died in New Jersey on April 25,  2008.

 Mac had written: “In fact, the march of progress has been so unkind and unyielding in its forward movement that a lot of the ritual tradition of yesterday’s Guyana will be unknown to the citizens of the new Republic.”

This shared concern drives the efforts that are being made to honor his work.

Read his 1970 article: Guyana - A Cultural Look



On Sorrel and Hibiscus 

Sorrel drink with its unique, tart, cranberry-like flavor is probably the most popular special events beverage in the Caribbean. For many people in all parts of the Caribbean, Christmas would not be Christmas without sorrel, but it is an established favorite in and out of the season.

 Jamaica has a special claim to sorrel. There, when served chilled and sweet it is called “Jamaica”. Served hot, it is called “hibiscus tea” or “karkade” (pronounced kar-ka-day).  Another name for sorrel is roselle – almost sorrel with its first three letters reversed in order.

 Sorrel is popular not only in the Caribbean. In Mexico, “agua de Jamaica”, as it is called there, is a popular item in restaurants. It is often made from dried sorrel in a packet labeled “flor de Jamaica.” Sorrel is also a growing favorite in Southern California and Central America.

 The beverage is prepared by steeping the fresh or dried calyces of the sorrel flower in boiling water, straining the mixture, pressing out the juice, and adding sugar. It is then served chilled.

Sorrel, Hibiscus sabdariffa, is a member of the hibiscus family. Hibiscus tea is very popular in some parts of the Middle East. In Egypt and Sudan, wedding celebrations are traditionally toasted with a glass of hibiscus tea. In downtown Cairo, vendors do good business selling the drink to native Egyptians and tourists alike.

Back in the Caribbean, a Trinidad and Tobago brewery, creatively produces a sorrel shandy in which the tea is combined with beer.

Sorrel’s pleasant taste and growing reputation for being high in Vitamin C has made it into a pro- drink these days. It is also believed to be a mild diuretic and to reduce high blood pressure. Sorrel also has anthocyanins - powerful antioxidants that are the subject of research, as it is suspected to have  benefits affecting cancer, aging, neurological diseases, inflammation, diabetes and bacterial infections.

Traditionally, the people of the Caribbean grew hibiscus in their front yards and sorrel on the farm or in their backyards. In the front yard, hummingbirds could be seen sipping nectar from the hibiscus. Notable among these birds is the resplendent Jamaica Hummingbird, or “doctor bird” as Jamaicans call them.

We ourselves can make more use of the hibiscus. After enjoying the delicate beauty of the flower in our gardens, we can use it to make food coloring, syrups, sweet pickles, tart and pie fillings, jellies and jams.

Strange as it may seem to some of us, many are already enjoying double benefit from the hibiscus, and sorrel too, this way. 



One of the hot favorites among flavors used in refreshing drinks nowadays is passion fruit. And many people from the Caribbean are asking about it - not knowing that passion fruit has been, and still is, very common in the Caribbean. 

Passion fruit comes from a huge family of plants. The fruit has many relatives and a thousand names. In Guyana, the most common name is semitoo (passiflora laurifolia), sometimes yellow granadilla or just granadilla. Others call it water lemon, bell-apple, sweet cup, Jamaica honeysuckle, vinegar pear, even golden apple. 

Passion fruit is readily propagated from seeds or cuttings and grows on a vine. The rind is leathery, thick, white and spongy. Within the rind, the fruit holds a juicy viscous pulp composed of seeds, with the aroma of a pleasant perfume and a somewhat pleasantly sour taste. 

Passion fruit is common in South America and the Caribbean. It is well known and enjoyed in Surinam, Guyana, French Guiana, Venezuela, and down through the Amazon region of Brazil to Peru. Though it is more plentiful in the interior areas of Guyana, in season the fruits are regularly sold in coastland markets. The vine is also cultivated in Trinidad, Barbados, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Hispaniola and Cuba.

Semitoo or passion fruit is nearly round or ovoid, between 1-1/2 and 3 inches wide. The most popular varieties have a light yellow or pumpkin-color, but some types are closer to purple. Within the fruit is a cavity more or less filled with double walled sacs containing a pulpy juice and as many as 250 small, dark seeds.

One popular way children and adults enjoy passion fruit is to make a hole in one end of the fruit and suck out the pulp and seeds. Some people cut or tear the fruit open, spoon out the pulp, and enjoy its strong, sweet, tart flavor. North Americans generally buy thick concentrated passion fruit, dilute it with water, add sugar, and drink it.

And why is it called passion fruit? The origin of the name has nothing to do with strong amorous feelings. The story goes that a group of priests who encountered the plant used the flower to illustrate Christ' Passion. According to Encyclopedia Brittanica, the corona represents the crown of thorns; the styles represent the nails used in the Crucifixion; the stamens represent the five wounds; and the five sepals and five petals represent 10 of the apostles, excluding Judas, who betrayed Jesus, and Peter, who denied him three times on the night of his trial.


Alive With Strangeness

No other body of water in the world has so many names. Its best known name, first used by Greek writers, is the “Dead Sea.” Among its other names are the “Sea of Lot," the "Sea of Salt," the “Sea of Sodom,” the "Sea of Death", the “Sea of the Devil,” the “Stinking Sea” and the "Eastern Sea.”

Not a sea in the normal sense of the term, it is a large, narrow, salt lake lying between Jordan and Israel.  It is called "dead" because its high salinity means no fish or other sea animals can live in it, though small quantities of bacteria and fungi are present.

At 1371 feet below sea level (year 2006), the Dead Sea is the lowest exposed point on the Earth's surface. It is about 48 miles long, varying in width from 3 to 11 miles.

Its dead qualities arise from the fact that whatever goes into the Dead Sea stays there. The Jordan River is the only major stream flowing into it, but nothing flows out. It receives between 2 and 4 inches of rainfall a year.

The Dead Sea has attracted interest and visitors from around the Mediterranean basin for thousands of years. It was a place of refuge for ancient Israel’s King David, the world's first  resort for Herod the Great, and the supplier of products as diverse as balms for Egyptian mummification and potash for fertilizers.

The mineral content  consists of about 53% magnesium chloride, 37% potassium chloride and 8% sodium chloride (salt). The rest is made up of various trace elements. Because of its unusually high concentration of salt, (about six times as salty as regular ocean water), anyone can easily float in the Dead Sea because the higher density of the water gives it natural buoyancy.

From the Dead Sea brine is manufactured large quantities of  potash,  elemental bromine,  caustic soda, magnesium metal, and sodium chloride.

The water of the Dead Sea has a greasy feel to it. It causes even minor cuts to sting, and is painful to the eyes. However, some tourists apply its mud to their bodies, believing or hoping that the minerals would benefit them in some way.

One of the most unusual properties of the Dead Sea is its discharge of asphalt. The Greeks knew the Dead Sea as "Lake Asphaltites," due to the naturally surfacing asphalt.  The Dead Sea constantly throws up small pebbles of the black substance.  After earthquakes, however, huge chunks may surface.

Just north of the Dead Sea is Jericho, reportedly the oldest continually occupied town in the world. Somewhere, perhaps on the Dead Sea's southeast shore, are the cities mentioned in the Book of Genesis which were destroyed in the times of Abraham: Sodom and Gomorrah and the three other "Cities of the Plain".  The later King David hid from the then King Saul at Ein Gedi nearby.

Jesus, John the Baptist and Herod the Great were associated in history with the Dead Sea and its surroundings in more recent times.

The ancient Nabateans discovered the value of bitumen extracted from the Dead Sea needed by the Egyptians for embalming their mummies.

In Roman times the Essenes settled at Qumran on the northern shore of the Dead Sea. There, they carved out storage caves for their library in the soft marl in the area.  Two thousand years later, their library was found and given the name "the Dead Sea Scrolls."

Although no animals can survive in the water of the Dead Sea, there is a fair amount of animal life on land in the area. Among them are the human species – among other things, enjoying, as tourists today, the unusual feeling of  being kept afloat by the high density of water that would not let them sink. 


Exactly how P.T. Barnum, the American showman, learnt that in British Guiana (now Guyana) he could find a person so unusual that hundreds of thousands would pay to see him, we may never know. We do know however that in 1889 he had such a person brought to the United States. 

The young man, born to Hindu parents in 1871with neither arms nor legs, was then eighteen years old. Barnum transported him from the “Demerara district” and right away exhibited him as a “human oddity” or “freak” – a practice common in those days. 

He was named “Prince Randian” and was billed as "The Caterpillar Man”, "The Armless and Legless Wonder”, “The Human Torso” even “The Human Worm” and for 45 years, entertained audiences primarily at Coney Island, in Brooklyn, New York, but also in other parts of the United States - at circuses, carnivals and museums.  He drew large crowds who watched him perform tasks using only his lips and teeth where one would ordinarily use one’s hands.

He was often introduced as the 'human caterpillar who crawls on his belly like a reptile.' This was because he moved from one place to another by wiggling his shoulders and hips. In his performances he wore a woolen garment of one piece that covered him like a sack. At one end was a busy head. The rest was torso. 

One of his so-called “tricks” was rolling cigarettes, which was really making cigarettes out of raw tobacco leaf and paper. His other activities included writing with a pen or pencil, painting with brushes and shaving with a razor fixed in a wooden block – all done by the skilful use of his lips.

Randian claimed that the box in which he kept his smoking materials and the other paraphernalia for his act had been made by him, using a saw, knife and hammer. He also said he had painted it, holding the brush with his teeth and that it was he who fitted it with a lock.

“Someday,” he used to say, “I’ll build myself a house.”

 Randian also became an actor. When Tod Browning made his famous movie "Freaks" in 1932, Prince Randion was featured rolling a cigarette.

Prince Randian spoke English, German and French. He also raised a family. The “Prince” had a wife, “Princess Sarah,” four sons and a daughter. Their home was at 174 Water Street, Patterson, New Jersey.

He died at the age of 63, shortly after a performance at Sam Wagner’s 14th Street Museum in New York City on December 19, 1934. The newspapers of the day, calling him Randian, or Randion, or Radion, or Radian took note of his passing.

A picture of Prince Randian



Way back in the 1850s, there was serious outbreak of cholera in the Caribbean which decimated many populations. It was frightening especially because very little was known about how to deal with this ugly and fatal disease.

Cholera is described as an acute, diarrheal illness caused by infection of the intestine with the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. Severe infection results in profuse watery diarrhea, vomiting, and leg cramps. The rapid loss of body fluids leads to dehydration and shock. Without treatment the patient dies within hours.

Cholera is typically caused by drinking contaminated water or eating contaminated food.  In an epidemic, the source of the contamination is usually the feces of an infected person. The disease can spread rapidly in areas with inadequate treatment of sewage and drinking water.

In 1851 cholera swept the island of Jamaica and more than 40,000 people died. The burial registers there contain entries stating that the bodies of unidentified persons were buried in great haste - 25, 75 or more at a time, sometimes in the dead of night. The intention was to stop the spread of the disease.

It seems that the disease traveled from Jamaica to Barbados on the ship "Derwent" and by 14th May 1854 the first report of a Cholera epidemic came from Barbados. Within a few weeks the disease had raced throughout the entire population and by early June the death toll was already 745.

 Inter-island trading was affected. Traffic between Barbados and other islands dried up. In spite of this, by July cholera moved on and appeared in Saint Lucia. Although Castries saw a great number of cases of cholera, most were treated successfully. However, in Soufriére as many as 50 died of the disease. Vieux-Fort was hit the hardest. About one-sixth of the inhabitants died from the disease and many fled from the area. Among them was a doctor.

In St Kitts 3920 people died.  The need for burial plots created a crisis, which the Government dealt with by buying land at Springfield for use as a Cemetery for the Parish of St. George. In 1858, the government passed legislation prohibiting burials anywhere else in Basseterre than at the Springfield Cemetery.

The disease struck Trinidad and not only brought death to the island, but when on June 10, 1854, cholera appeared among Artillerymen at Fort George in Grenada, the source was known to be Trinidad, through men recently arrived from that island. The disease then spread to the general population. A cholera hospital was set up in the barracks buildings behind the fort, and became the beginning of today’s Grenada General Hospital.

Guyana was only relatively lightly affected. However, Rev. W.H. Brett, a Missionary in British Guiana, recorded in his diary that cholera had turned up at the Mission at Cabacaburi in the interior in February1857.

The first case was that of an Amerindian boy who fell ill with the disease in a corial (dugout canoe) on the river. He was so weak he could not climb the hill get home, and got into the corial and paddled himself to his settlement. Two men went to assist him but they fled in terror of the disease, having never seen anything like it before. Eventually the boy was brought to land but he died in a few hours.

 The next day, Sunday, after Divine Service, cholera attacked the church congregation at the settlement. The wife of a man who helped move the boy became ill and died in a few hours. Two other young people from the same house succumbed. Panic spread, and many Amerindians fled from the Mission leaving about 25 who remained to attend the sick.

Cholera did not begin in the Caribbean. The first pandemic of the disease which ran from 1816-1826, began in Bengal, spread across India by 1820, then moved into China and reached the Caspian Sea. The second pandemic1829-1851 reached Europe, Canada, New York and the Pacific coast of North America by 1834.

It was during the epidemic in Jamaica that Mary Seacole started the work that culminated in the worldwide recognition of her achievements as a nurse. She gained invaluable experience and learnt much from a doctor who was one of her lodgers at that time.

Curiously, an unusual number of marriages took place during that time. At Castries, for a period of twelve months, the number of marriages increased five-fold. The reason? It is reported that cholera “had put the "Fear of the Lord" into people and that many irregular unions were regularized by the Church.”


Fish eggs have been very popular as a food. Perhaps the best known of them is caviar. Caviar is a delicacy, much spoken of, if not as much eaten, because of its great cost. However, that’s changing in a way.

Most traditional caviar comes from three types of sturgeon fish: beluga, ossetra, and sevruga. However, because it is so expensive, eggs from other species such as flying fish, paddlefish and salmon have become popular as well, especially because they also taste good. Flying fish eggs have earned the name Golden Caviar and are much sought after today. They have become a staple at sushi and other restaurants.

Flying fish lay eggs on drifting pieces of wood or grass in the sea. When the flying fish season comes in some parts of the world, fishermen

traditionally lay straw mats on the water. When they retrieve them later, thousands of yellow fish eggs would be found on the mats. These are then prepared and eaten.

Flying fish eggs have had great impact on the economy in the Mandar Province in Indonesia. The Mandarese depended for centuries upon successful exploitation of the products of the sea. Important among them was catching flying fish Flying Fish (Cypselurus spp.)

There, during the East Mon-soon, flying fish once traveled in dense "flocks" or swarm like sparrows and bees. They would come gliding and skimming over the surface of the straits like silver missiles. The traditional way of capturing Flying Fish was based on buaro traps. Buaro traps are barrel-shaped baskets made with bamboo tied together with twine and covered over with tresses of vegetable material. They are so constructed that when flying fish dart into them they cannot exit.

Mandarese fishermen made a good living catching flying fish. They also knew that the schools of flying fish search for floating debris on which to deposit and fertilize their eggs. The buaros, launched and floating on the ocean surface took the place of naturally occurring seaweed and twigs, and the fish would deposit their eggs on them.

So when the buaros are hauled back to the boats, heavy with flying fish, there were also eggs deposited on the tresses and the sides of the traps. These were a nice byproduct of the search for flying fish and were distributed freely among neighbors and villagers.

When however, a Japanese market for flying fish eggs opened up, the eggs became more profitable than the flying fish themselves. Mandarese fishermen focused on maximizing the intake of eggs.

Today, the fishermen now use gill nets with such efficiency that overfishing and intensive collection of flying fish eggs have resulted in a serious reduction of flying fish populations in the area. Scientists are now saying that continued use of devices focused on egg collection are likely to reduce stocks of flying fish below acceptable levels for reproduction.

Sushi chefs, who continue to use them in California rolls - sushi made with rice, avocado and flying fish eggs rolled up in seaweed – will probably find that prices will steadily go up.

Meantime, restaurants are increasingly calling flying fish eggs "caviar." They taste just as good to most people, and can be made to look black, green, brown, yellow or gray like the original caviar.



 This is a very ugly and painful story. The saddest thing about it is that it is also true. The story is often titled the "Tuskegee Syphilis Study." 

Starting in 1932, in Macon County, Alabama in and around the county seat of Tuskegee, a terrible experiment was conducted. It involved 600 black men - 399 of whom had syphilis, and 201 who did not have the disease, but were chosen to serve as controls. 

The study was set up by the United States Public  Service to study "untreated syphilis in the male Negro." Initially, the plan was to compare it to a study of white men and women done in long before in Oslo, Norway, at a time when doctors did not know of any cure for syphilis and other venereal diseases.

All the syphilitic Macon County men were in the late stage of the disease when the study began. There was still no cure. However they were led to believe that they were patients of a federal and local medical program at the Tuskegee Institute and that they were going to be treated for their "bad blood." To them “bad blood” could mean a lot of different things, including syphilis and anemia.

In the fall of 1932, fliers were circulated among church goers. They promised "special treatment" for men with "bad blood." Medical care of any kind was expensive, but this was free and there was no lack of men willing to sign up.

Taliford Clark of the  Service, said in a report that Macon County was "a natural laboratory; a ready-made situation. The rather low intelligence of the Negro population, depressed economic conditions, and the common promiscuous sex relations not only contribute to the spread of syphilis but the prevailing indifference with regard to treatment."

Reliant as it was on federal money, the Tuskegee Institute, founded by Booker T. Washington to educate former slaves and their descendants, readily volunteered office space and its hospital for exams and autopsies.

In order to get and maintain their involvement, officials lied to the men, even coerced them whenever they felt it was necessary. According to Herman Shaw, a survivor of the experiment, “We got three different types of medicine. A little round pill--sometime a capsule--sometime a little vial of medicine--everybody got the same thing.”

In answer to questions about why the painful "back shots" (spinal taps) were necessary,  researchers told the men the shots were treatments when in fact they were intended to observe how the disease was affecting the spinal canal and the brain.

 From 1947, penicillin, established as effective in curing syphilis, was available. Centers were set up for people with syphilis to be given the drug, but the doctors withheld it from the men in their study. The medical staff examined the men as they provided them with a number of placebos, tonics and aspirins.

A black nurse named Eunice Rivers, helped with transportation to the clinic, free meals, and free burials. And when one man, Herman Shaw, went to Birmingham to get a penicillin shot, she followed him to ensure that he did not get it. Shaw said they gave him breakfast and put him on the bus and sent him back to Tuskegee. He was told, “You ain't supposed to be there--you're a Macon County patient.”

Many of the men suffered neurological complications, mental dysfunction and blindness. In the end, many died without ever being given penicillin. As they observed the manner in which syphilis ravaged the subjects’ organs and tissues, the authorities got the men or their families to agree to allow autopsies while they provided burial insurance to encourage cooperation.

It may seem strange to us today that the researchers involved saw nothing wrong with what was going on. They had the support of the United States Surgeon General and defended what they did in the name of science. Meantime, fifteen reports on the study were published in medical science journals of good standing such as the Journal of Venereal Disease Information to the Archives of Internal Medicine.

The painful deception was still continuing in 1972 when, in late July that year, Jean Heller of the Associated Press broke the story. The ugly goings-on were leaked to AP by Peter Buxtun, a former  Service employee. The AP story mentioned "serious doubts about the morality of the study."

In 1974, while 120 of the men were still alive, the federal government settled with affected men their families out of court. The settlement included payments to wives and also children that contracted congenital syphilis during delivery.

In 1997, twenty-five years later, President Bill Clinton finally tendered the government's apology to the eight survivors living at that time, to their families, and to African Americans generally. He also promised funds for a bioethics center at Tuskegee University.

 President Clinton said, “The United States Government did something that was wrong, deeply, profoundly, morally wrong. It was an outrage to our commitment to integrity and equality for all our citizens. We can end the silence. We can stop turning our heads away. We can look at you in the eye and finally say on behalf of the American people what the United States Government did was shameful, and I am sorry.”


About the reply of a former slave to a letter from his former master offering him employment.

One of the important documents available today is a touching letter from a former slave of the American South to his master who wanted him to return. The former master was offering better conditions of work.

The letter is remarkable for its dignity and its lack of bitterness. It is clear however that the writer was clearly not about to be lured into a situation that resembled the one from which he was now free.

The slave was Jourdon Anderson. He had escaped from his master in Tennessee at the close of the American Civil War. President Abraham Lincoln had already issued his emancipation proclamation, which declared free the more than three million slaves living in confederate states still “in rebellion.”

 Free slaves were now reorganizing their lives based on the new realities. Jourdan Anderson, now in Ohio, had secured good wages for himself and schooling for his children.

Many former slave masters, themselves adjusting to new realities, found it difficult to live in their accustomed fashion without servants. Jourdon Anderson’s former owner, Major Anderson, had written his former slave requesting that he return to work for him.

Jourdan’s reply was committed to paper by Lydia Maria Child, a white abolitionist woman, who was inspired by a strong sense of justice and love of freedom. The letter went:

Dayton, Ohio, August 7, 1865

To My Old Master, Colonel P.H. Anderson, Big Spring, Tennessee

Sir: I got your letter and was glad to find you had not forgotten Jourdon, and that you wanted me to come back and live with you again, promising to do better for me than anybody else can. I have often felt uneasy about you. I thought the Yankees would have hung you long before this for harboring Rebs they found at your house. I suppose they never heard about your going to Col. Martin’s to kill the Union soldier that was left by his company in their stable. Although you shot at me twice before I left you, I did not want to hear of your being hurt, and am glad you are still living. It would do me good to go back to the dear old home again and see Miss Mary and Miss Martha and Allen, Esther, Green, and Lee. Give my love to them all, and tell them I hope we will meet in the better world, if not in this. I would have gone back to see you all when I was working in the Nashville Hospital, but one of the neighbors told me Henry intended to shoot me if he ever got a chance.

I want to know particularly what the good chance is you propose to give me. I am doing tolerably well here; I get $25 a month, with victuals and clothing; have a comfortable home for Mandy, —the folks here call her Mrs. Anderson),—and the children—Milly, Jane and Grundy—go to school and are learning well; the teacher says Grundy has a head for a preacher. They go to Sunday- School, and Mandy and me attend church regularly. We are kindly treated; sometimes we overhear others saying, “Them colored people were slaves” down in Tennessee. The children feel hurt when they hear such remarks, but I tell them it was no disgrace in Tennessee to belong to Col. Anderson. Many darkies would have been proud, as I used to be, to call you master. Now, if you will write and say what wages you will give me, I will be better able to decide whether it would be to my advantage to move back again.

As to my freedom, which you say I can have, there is nothing to be gained on that score, as I got my free papers in 1864 from the Provost- Marshal- General of the Department of Nashville. Mandy says she would be afraid to go back without some proof that you are sincerely disposed to treat us justly and kindly; and we have concluded to test your sincerity by asking you to send us our wages for the time we served you. This will make us forget and forgive old scores, and rely on your justice and friendship in the future. I served you faithfully for thirty-two years and Mandy twenty years. At twenty-five dollars a month for me, and two dollars a week for Mandy, our earnings would amount to eleven thousand six hundred and eighty dollars. Add to this the interest for the time our wages has been kept back and deduct what you paid for our clothing and three doctor’s visits to me, and pulling a tooth for Mandy, and the balance will show what we are in justice entitled to. Please send the money by Adams Express, in care of V. Winters, Esq., Dayton, Ohio. If you fail to pay us for faithful labors in the past we can have little faith in your promises in the future. We trust the good Maker has opened your eyes to the wrongs which you and your fathers have done to me and my fathers, in making us toil for you for generations without recompense. Here I draw my wages every Saturday night, but in Tennessee there was never any pay-day for the Negroes any more than for the horses and cows. Surely there will be a day of reckoning for those who defraud the laborer of his hire.

In answering this letter please state if there would be any safety for my Milly and Jane, who are now grown up and both good-looking girls. You know how it was with Matilda and Catherine. I would rather stay here and starve, and die if it comes to that, than have my girls brought to shame by the violence and wickedness of their young masters. You will also please state if there has been any schools opened for the colored children in your neighborhood, the great desire of my life now is to give my children an education, and have them form virtuous habits.

P.S. —Say howdy to George Carter, and thank him for taking the pistol from you when you were shooting at me.

From your old servant,

Jourdon Anderson  

This letter, composed in 1865 and published inThe Freedmen’s Book”, a collection of African-American writings compiled by Lydia Child, tells its own story. 

It is most unlikely that Jourdan Anderson returned to work for his former master.  



Do the people of the Caribbean eat rodents? For many, even thinking about it is unpleasant. Rodents or rats are creatures generally considered dirty, destructive and prone to spread terrible diseases. 

Our resentments are generally for the "true rats," members of the genus Rattus. The ones that normally invade our lives are the black rat, Rattus rattus, and the brown rat, Rattus norvegicus. However, other rodents are also called rats and share many characteristics with true rats.

Almost nobody in the Caribbean eats true rats, but many eat “bushmeat,” and it is here that we encounter rodents. Bushmeat is the term used for meat obtained from animals hunted in the wild. Sometimes it is called “wild meat.” Europeans had long referred to the gains of the hunt as “game.”

Guyanese love to say that foreigners who visit and eat labba meat and drink creek water in Guyana will long to return to the country repeat the experience. The labba is a rodent. Outside of  Guyana, it is mostly called paca or Agouti Paca. In Belize, they call it gibnut, and in Trinidad it is called lappe.

The capybara, popularly called watrash in Guyana, and the  largest rodent in the world, is also bushmeat in Guyana. Venezuelans and Columbians, among others, also enjoy its meat.

People of the Caribbean are already familiar with the meat of the Guinea pig. These animals, which are rodents, have been raised for food in the Caribbean area for a long time. They seem to have been eaten by the Andean people of South America since the time of the Inca civilization.

In fact, rodents of many kinds are eaten all over the world. Among those eaten in the United States are squirrels, beavers, and woodchucks.

In Africa, one such rodent is the cane rat (Thryonomys swinderianus) also called the grass cutter. It is both an agricultural pest and a delicacy.

The cane rat has a meaty body, short tail, small rounded ears, and a short nose. It can be up to 2 feet in length and, in the wild, can weigh up to 19 pounds. It has bristly brown fur speckled with yellow or grey. Its forefeet are smaller than its hind feet and it supports its weight on only three toes.

The cane rat lives in marshy areas and along river and lake banks, feeding on grasses in the wild and on cultivated cane plants on sugar plantations. On the plantation it is a severe pest and it is in this context that it got the name cane rat.

Although cane rats are not the most prolific breeders among rodents, they reproduce enough so that they are far from being an endangered species. Females give birth to litters of two to four young at least once a year. They are sexually mature and able to reproduce at 6 months of age and live for more than four years.

As is the case with the guinea pig, the meat of the cane rat has higher protein content and  lower fat content than beef or pork. The meat is also appreciated for its tenderness and flavor.

In the past this animal was hunted extensively. Hunting expeditions sometimes included setting bushfires during the dry season to drive cane rats out in the open. There is less bushfire lighting today, largely because of environmental concerns.

In the savanna area of West Africa, people traditionally captured wild cane rats and fattened them in captivity before consuming them.

This practice has moved one stage further. Cane rat breeding is now accepted as a profitable mini-livestock activity in many parts of West and Central Africa. The high demand, good market prices, and the relatively low level of investment involved make the enterprise quite attractive, resembling raising rabbits in other parts of the world.

Today, governments are backing the industry in countries such as Benin and Togo, Côte d'Ivoire, Gabon, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, and Zaire. Recent research, covering two decades, has even provided information that can be used in the selection and improvement of stock.

And so, along with the fufu or pounded yam, and the okra soup on the plate of some Africans, the lean meat of the cane rat or grass cutter is often present these days. Or it may sit there separately in a meat pie.


People ring out the old year and ring in the new in their own different ways. Some will begin the new year on the dance floor, toasting with glasses of champagne, singing "Auld Lang Syne", watching the goings-on at New York City's Times Square on their TVs at home, or go to a New Year’s Eve church service.

Some of those who go to church will attend a watchnight service. In the United States, watchnight observances take place mainly in predominantly Black, hardly predominantly white Christian churches.

For such people it is important that the passing of the old year and the dawn of the new take place in a setting of worship. They gather at the church from anywhere between 7.00 pm. and 10 p.m. on Old Year’s Eve for services that climax at midnight with the arrival of the New Year.

Some history: On December 31, 1862, blacks came together in churches and other places in America awaiting confirmation that the Emancipation Proclamation had really become law. When at the stroke of midnight it became January 1, 1863, slaves in the Confederate States now legally free, shouted and sang, prayed, and gave God thanks. Since then, at a moment called “Freedom’s Eve,” black Christians in certain churches have gathered on New Year's Eve praising God for the arrival of a new year.

The initial idea of Watch Night began with the Moravians, a small Christian denomination whose roots lie in part of present-day Germany.

Moravian missionaries were the ones who launched the first large scale Protestant missionary movement anywhere in the world. Within the first 30 years, the church sent hundreds of Christian missionaries to the Caribbean, North and South America, the Arctic, Africa, and the Far East. The first of these missionaries went to the Caribbean island of St Thomas in 1732. Moravians were also the first Protestant denomination to minister to slaves.

John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement, got the watchnight idea from the Moravians. When Wesley met Moravians shipboard, on his way as a missionary to the then colony of Georgia, he was impressed by their sincerity and spirituality as he worshiped and observed a Watch Night vigil with them.

Wesley adopted the Watch Night practice, incorporating it into Methodist discipline. It survives today as a yearly Covenant Renewal service on New Year's Eve.

The first Methodist Watch Night in America took place in Philadelphia in 1770 and spread throughout the new nation. When racism in the congregation led to a split and the formation of the first African Methodist Episcopal congregation, Watch Night became a part of African American tradition. It got added momentum on Freedom’s Eve and spread to other black churches outside of Methodism.

Because Moravians were active as missionaries in the Caribbean, the watchnight practice easily took root and flourished there too.

At watchnight services there is often, but not always, much spontaneity. Along with the preaching and hymn-singing, there are often testimonies of blessings received during the past year, thanksgiving, and expressions of Christian hope. The mood is one of celebration and joy.  


 The Jewish festival of Hanukkah (also called Chanukah) is known as the Festival of Lights or the Feast of Dedication. It is an eight-day holiday commemorating the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt of the 2nd century BCE.

Hanukkah begins on the 25th day of Kislev according to the Hebrew calendar, and falls somewhere between late November and late December according to the Gregorian calendar, thus coinciding with the Christmas season.

The festival is observed by the kindling of lights on a special candelabrum, the menorah or hanukiah. Starting from the left side of the menorah, one light is lit each night, progressing to eight lights on the final night.

An extra light, called a shamash (Hebrew for "guard" or "servant"), is also lit each night, and is given a distinct location, usually higher or lower than the others. The shamash is used to light the others, in order to observe a prohibition in the Talmud  against using the Hanukkah lights for anything other than publicizing and meditating on the Hanukkah story.

Blessings are pronounced as the candles on the menorah are lit and families sing traditional songs together afterward. Lit at nightfall, the lights remain illuminated for at least thirty minutes past dark.

The origin of Hanukkah can be traced back to the recapture of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem by a Jewish band of rebels from Greek Syrians who had defeated the Jews and  had ransacked the temple.

Three years later, to the day, the desecrated temple was cleansed and rededicated. Tradition says that, when the Jews were ready to light the holy lamp, their sign that God was present, they could find only one jug of oil that was fit to use. The oil was only enough for one day. However, it lasted for eight days. This 'miracle of the oil' is the reason why Hanukkah is eight days long.

Traditionally, fried foods and dairy are eaten during Hanukkah. Fried foods are reminders of the miracle of the oil. Dairy is used as a reminder of the story of the Jewish heroine, Yehudit (Judith).

Judith is said to have saved her town while it was under siege by the Syrians. The Syrians had attempted to starve the Jews into surrender. Judith, a beautiful widow, took cheese and wine to the head of the Syrian troops, gained his confidence, entertained him and got him drunk. When he collapsed, Judith cut off his head and took it back to her town in a basket. The next morning the Jews attacked the Syrian troops. When the Syrians located their leader and found him headless, they panicked and fled. 

The tradition of eating dairy, especially cheese, during Hanukkah is a reminder of what Judith did.



Clem Clemson’s family is a real family, though they do not bear that name. They, like Martin Luther King Jr., have had a dream and are making a contribution to it. They feel good about what the presidency of Barack Obama promises, even though they know that the dream has not reached fulfillment and may never do so. Yet they feel a surge of hope. 

The Clemsons have long realized that the future for black Americans depends a little bit on them and have always determined to play their part. They realize that their bit part and the bit parts of other black Americans add up to something that matters. 

Clem and Kim Clemson have a boy and a girl. They see themselves and their children as one. They want success for themselves and for their children. They find it difficult to think about their own success without their children’s success and sometimes go without things they would like to have because acquiring them would mean that their children would have to go without. 

Clem and Kim work hard at their jobs and have cultivated in their children the ethic that they too, should work hard, doing preferably something that they love, but that at times they may have to do things that they don’t really love. 

The Clemsons  have said to their children that it is best to get the best education possible, to live clean lives and stay out of the criminal justice system; but that they should be prepared to stand up against criticism and attack for doing what is right. They realize that the best way to teach is to live out exemplary lives before them. 

The Clemsons applaud not only Martin Luther King Jr for his inspiration and his courage, but also all those brave ordinary black people who faced water hoses, police dogs and myriad painful punishments because they were committed to their cause.  And also those brave white people who marched with them. 

They applaud also the likes of Jackie Robinson who took endured ridicule and provocation but moved on. 

They are teaching their daughter to live a life of dignity, to reject the content of some popular songs that denigrate black women and to set her face against anything that gave support to such sentiments. 

They are bringing up their son to accept that he should take the long view and be prepared to raise a good and happy family, with the help of a wife who shares his values, and that he should love and honor her and be a good father to their children. 

The Clemsons had told their children some time ago that for a black person to become President of the United States would be a hard thing, but that it was going to be possible some time in the future. They had also said to them that what was clearly possible, even now, was for them to become worthy of being President. 

A few months ago (in 2008), sooner than they expected,  Clem and Kim said to their children: “You see, it’s beginning to happen.” Barack Obama will be President.

They told their children not to expect the immediate or even remote realization of Martin Luther King’s dream that “every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.” Not in this imperfect world.

The time is not yet that “we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope” and that now “we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.”

In the meantime, they said, they expect that things will be, perhaps are already, somewhat better. With all the Clemsons working at it, this should be true. 


On New Year's Eve, 1995, French President Francois Mitterrand ate and served Ortolan to his guests at his last formal meal and, because of this action, made many of his countrymen quite angry. Perhaps he didn’t care. He knew he was dying of cancer anyway, and just felt that he and his 30 guests were entitled to have the delicacy they enjoyed, regardless.

So he consumed not one, but two, whole birds. The gluttonous act done, he died just 8 days later.

Environmentalists have long been concerned that the bird is gradually being hunted to near extinction. Once numerous, the estimated French population of Ortolans in 1992 was down to just 15,000 pairs. At the time of Mitterand’s dinner, it was already a protected species in Europe and its sale was illegal in France. However, the full legal status of the Ortolan was made clear only in the year 2007 when, for the first time, a government order made it clear that the law would be enforced and that catching the bird would be punishable by a $10,000 fine.

The Ortolan, Emberiza Hortulana, a small song bird of the bunting family, is native to most European countries and western Asia. The French have long regarded it as a very special delicacy.

Over the past 150 years or so, huge numbers of these birds have been captured alive in baited traps, fattened up, drowned in Armagnac brandy and cooked in boiling fat. They were then eaten whole, innards and all.

For the fattening process, the captured birds were blinded and kept in small cages or dark boxes where they could not see; or the birds were kept in either artificially lighted or darkened rooms. Some believe that sightlessness disrupts the birds’ biorhythms in such a way that they gorge themselves on the grain and millet provided for them.

When the bird has fattened to four times its natural size it is promptly drowned in the brandy. It is then plucked and roasted for five minutes.

At the table, the diner puts the whole bird in his mouth, leaving only the beak protruding. He then bites down, severing the bird from its beak. The rest of the bird is chewed: bone, guts and all. The bones often cut the mouth, but this is part of the exquisite experience of eating the Ortolan. Chewing it takes about 15 minutes.

The proper traditional way to dress when eating Ortolan is to cover the head and face with a large napkin. This way one traps the maximum odor and flavor. Some even believe that the napkin was introduced to help the guilty diner hide from God. In a sense, he eats the ortolan under cover.

Those who enjoy it say the flavor is different at every stage. Each layer has its own rewards: crisp skin, supple meat, exhilarating fat, giblets with their somewhat bitter taste, pea-sized lungs with their gushing Armagnac, the mostly crunchy small bones that lacerate the gums in the mouth, blended bird flesh and human blood.

Such are the joys of dining on the Ortolan.

It’s a fact Page 5

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