golden table

DAVID AND THE GOLDEN TABLE: The legend of the golden table

The nighttime rain of Waterloo, Black River awoke David from his slumber. He was drenched in sweat, the entrails of a bittersweet nightmare leaving his limbs. It was pitch black in the small cottage home, the only indications of life being his small hands resting on the rising and falling bosom of his mother and the silent breaths that escaped her. The air was cold and dry and although he had been sweating in his sleep, he was wintry, colder than ice. They lived in a secluded farming village a few miles from Black River. He had been hearing that river for some time now, thumping into his head like the earworm of the rocksteady music his mother would play on her Saturday morning radio. He had always found the sound of the river peaceful and despite the dangers of wild animals lurking under its seemingly gentle surface, he had never once felt afraid, even reaching into its water and gently sloshing around the murky green in his fingers. 

He felt peaceful thinking of the river, but his mind quickly grew afraid and his clammy shoulders trembled uncontrollably. The river had always come after his nightmares and water was a terror in his family. His father had nearly drowned in the milk river shortly after his seventh birthday last January, latching himself on to a slippery stone for nearly five hours before someone found him there, in all his manhood, crying his eyes out like a baby cooing for his mother. His father was never the same after that incident, turning from an always smiling man into a still smiling, often delirious drunk who staggered in tears every Friday night to their mother who would sit and comfort him into the hours of the night. David’s mother called it “shell shock” and would talk to her sister and reminisce on their British father who had returned from world war 2, slipping into rages and eventually committing suicide in front of David’s five-year-old mother.  David’s father was a farmer, growing sweet cassava and pumpkin sharecropping with other members of their family.  He was known as being the best swimmer of the village and most of all the kindest, giving his family’s food away to anyone in need. Mama had always complained that David’s father had caused them to be poorer than they already were and scolded him that they could never own anything for themselves. When mama got pregnant again, he had seen his father begin to worry more, face wrinkling every time he saw her holding her belly. After his second brother was born, food had become lesser and lesser. David’s father would always try to always carry him out to the river in their small canoe, telling him the stories of the water. It was the only thing David looked forward to and his favourite was the golden table and how many men had tried to find it only to be sucked in by their own greed. 

“I look for that table David. I swim in dem water ere and nothing. I go almost to the bottom and you would think say is a ghost yard. No mermaid, no table”

David would listen keenly, nervously biting his nails for more. 

“But I know it down there. It juss a hide from me. Me is going to find it and give your mama and unnuh a better life. We woulda buy a big house, like in them magazine and a telephone and yuh…”

His father would trail off and David would still be picking at his fingers, blocking out everything his father was saying. David thought of everything he could buy with that golden table. He thought of the multicoloured vest and leather shoes he saw down by the market and how it would impress his friends at school. He owned only 4 shirts and no shoes and what he did own had begun to grow away from him, tautening around his torso and would never absorb his sweat when he was out helping his papa on the fields. His mother had always told him that they had belonged to her youngest brother, who had died and to be grateful that such fine clothes had been passed down to him. He would nod absent-mindedly, his mind drifting away to that golden table. 

David rolled out of the bed, careful not to wake his mother. His father was absent again tonight, as he had been for the past three months. He often overheard his mother crying to their neighbour, Miss Patsy about cheating and Miss Violet and how she was going to beat her up for taking his father away. One of his younger brothers had heard too and when he asked her, her eyes widened until he was sure they were going to pop out. She had run for her switch so fast that she tripped over a pail of hot water scalding her foot and she hadn’t beat them since.

The cold of the wet earth threaded across David’s bare feet. The wind was calm tonight with a gentle cold breeze circumnavigating his naked torso. He began to walk around, taking in the night sky. He never knew any names of the stars, but he knew some of the planets which he had learned in his social studies class. 

He always asked his teachers about the golden table and how to find it, but they never seemed to know. They called it a fable and laughed at his endeavours. Only his father had believed him and would carry him on his journeys to actively search, diving into the murky green water of the river. 

“David. David.” A voice said from behind him. He spun around to his father grabbing his shoulders. David’s father’s ebony skin blended into the night and he was wide-eyed and hugged his son fervently,  lifting him into his arms as if he was a baby again. 

“ David. I found it. I found the golden table.” he whispered happily. David was stunned and wrapped his arms around his father, happily spinning with him. His father placed him down on the grass and disappeared inside the house, reappearing with what seemed to be a bag and keys. He picked up David, swinging him across his back. 

“ Daddy, we going to see it now?” 

“ Yes David. It so bright. It glows in the night like dem sey inna the book dem.” 

“ That's where you've been all this time papa. Mama worry” 

“ I know but I did have to find it. This will make us rich. Mama won’t have to cry seh we cyaa buy shoes anymore. We can have all the shoes in the world. All the clothes. All the food” 

David’s mind drifted back to the leather shoes he could wear to school. He started to imagine his new house, just like Solomon had in the Bible. His mama had told him that Solomon had a beautiful castle with lots of banquets and riches. David had always admired Solomon and wished to be like him. In his admiration, he failed to notice that the air had grown much hotter and the scent of rot had started to thicken the air. 

They arrived at the river in no time and as his father had said, the golden table was right there. 

It was bigger than David had expected, taking up the majority of the river. He could only see the top part that unnaturally glowed in the darkness of the night. On top of it was a hat and a sword. He thought he would have been happy but he was terrified. The golden table almost appeared to be alive, the pulsating sound filling the thick, rotten air. When he looked up at his father. his eyes had gotten even wider as if they were going to pop straight out of his head. His father went to the edge of the river and fell to his knees, crying. David ran over to his father, trying to pull him away from the river. The smell of rot had grown even thicker and the water had started grumbling and gurgling under them.  

The water had now become congealed around the table and glowed a murky congealed green-black. The swampy water began to rise, and take form, red water spurting out of its “mouth”. David was paralyzed in fear and could not move his legs as if cement had firmly planted them to the ground. His father looked up to the figure. 

“What you want? What me need fi give you for this table?” his father bellowed at him.

The figure did not respond to him but eyeless, moved towards David reaching out for him. His father wasted no time, clumsily lifting him into the air as if offering. His father said nothing, looking only in the direction of the figure. 

He began to scream on top of his lungs, fighting the figure that took hold of him. He quickly realized that it was not the figure but his father who had lifted him into the air. His father said nothing, only staring up at the figure who had still been staring down at them. The stream of red engulfed David’s body, a strong metallic taste swathing his tongue and nose. He attempted to cover his mouth, only to feel his limbs seize into place. He could still see his father, holding out his hands to the figure, unmoving. 

He felt his body ascend and then quickly descend, hitting the putrid water with a loud splash. The water-filled his mouth, and then his throat, then he could no longer breathe as it sucked him down.

When he awoke again, he was laying down. The sun stood up top the hill, shining down on the now translucent green water.  His body was as dry as a bone and he was fatigued, coughing fits of green phlegm. He was somehow covered with what looked to be an old potato sack and the surface he was on was hard and metallic. David jumped up quickly as the memories of the previous night consumed and rolled off the tall table, hitting the ground with a thud. The enormous golden table was now sitting on the land as if it had always been there. The table was pulsating, filling the air with an eerie silence. It began to move as he moved, following every move and corner he made. He searched around for his father, calling for him loudly in the bitter bushes. To no avail, he began to trek home, the golden table with his father's wedding ring sitting atop it as his entourage.

 


Jamaican Lore - Annie Palmer

The History of Halloween and Jamaican Lore

Although Jamaica does not celebrate Halloween, it does not mean it is entirely absent from our culture. From our traditional lore to eccentric burial practices, Jamaica is a melting pot for the culture of “darkness”, the dead and some rather comical superstitions. 

How many of us have heard about walking backwards entering the house of a deceased person? or rolling calf? Or salt at our doors so evil spirits cannot enter? But first, let us backtrack a little, to a place way beyond our culture and go back to aeons ago where the echo of modern-day Halloween was conceived.

Halloween has a rich history, too rich that it’s impossible to cover its entirety in one article. It’s not that difficult to picture. Take away the glistening cheap costumes, irreproachable smiles and store-bought pumpkin baskets of young children and sit for a moment.

 The history of Halloween, credited to a Celtic festival by the name of Samhain dates back  2000+ years. This holiday was originally celebrated in November and was extremely important to its native people, signalling the shift in seasons from summer to winter.  The time also marked a time in which the line between the world of spirits of the dead and the living would be at its thinnest and where the spirits of the otherworld, as they called it, would roam the earth. This was not seen as exclusively bad, as they believed some spirits would come back to visit their loved ones and to give valuable information to them. This time also marked a change in the political and social atmosphere of the people, as important legal decisions were made around this time. But, the celts also believed that evil spirits would return and make their mischief.  The festival counteracted this belief by using its people, who would dress in elaborate costumes and disguises to confuse the spirits or hide from them. The usage of bonfires also dates back to this time, this was believed to turn away the spirits as the light from the fires simulated sunshine in a bleak wintry season. This may seem completely insignificant to us in the developed 21st century but this served as a crucial time in various cultures knowing the fate of their lands, crops and livelihoods. So when you’re all dressed up on Halloween night, snuggled in your couch watching Halloween movies, keep that in mind!

By the year 49 A.D., the Romans had conquered the majority of the Celt’s land and a merge of cultures took form. The Romans celebrated this Halloween-derivative day as Feralia, celebrated in late October to honour the passing of the dead. The Romans also had other holidays, such as Lemuria. This festival was curated for the lemures or the dangerous spirits of people who had died unlucky and violent deaths. 

But these festivals and practices came to a, seemingly, screeching halt as the reign of the catholic church took over. By the 9th century AD, Christianity propelled its way into the Celtic lands. Over time, a gradual merge of cultures took place. By the time 1000 A.D came around, Samhain evolved its way into All saints day curated by the Catholic church, who by that time had spread their reach to the majority of Europe. All saints day was celebrated to honour the saints instead of the spirits and continued to evolve over the coming centuries, transmuting into what we know today as Halloween.

This holiday has slowly been creeping into Jamaican society and culture. As of 2020-present, we do not formally recognize Halloween as a national holiday. However, it’s presence is undeniable. Although a still highly Christian society that shuns Halloween, the costumes and small communities partaking in trick or treating speaks differently. But truly, is it just modern Jamaica that recognizes it or our own culture and history is more spooky than we think? 

Jamaican folklore is in its own way, our own emblem of Halloween. For instance, rolling calves. The rolling calf is said to be a malevolent spirit, taking the form of a raging bull with blazing, fiery eyes and a body wrapped loosely in chains. These spirits are said to be the reincarnations of wicked people, especially butchers and are always exclusively male. It is said that rolling calves live near cotton trees, another staple in Jamaican folklore. To escape a rolling calf, one must drop something of value so the bull will be forced to stop and either count or study this item. Many stories of real-life rolling calf encounters take place in the Jamaican countryside, or rural areas, almost always at night. Persons recount hearing the sounds of chains pulling against the gravel of the road and the low grumble of the spirit’s voice.  People often report a sensation of terror flowing through their body and those who do see the calf, often only see his eyes glowing in the dark of the road. The rolling calf is one of Jamaica’s most well-recognized stories and truly, a staple of our culture.

Jamaican Lore - Rolling Calf
Image taken from https://aminoapps.com/c/mythfolklore/page/blog/rolling-calf-caribbean-folklore/zzXa_n8ixuBG1Pg66gLr7ElLEKK5ZEaV7E

 

Halloween often highlights and shuns witches, specifically satanic witches, an archetype of the umbrella of witches and their various representations. These types of witches are strongly represented in contemporary media and are often the ones who are well known. Jamaica has its own witch lore, presenting itself in the story of the “White Witch of Rosehall” named Annie Palmer. Although her true existence has been disputed, some claiming she had never existed in the first place, the gravity of her story has weighed on Jamaican folklore for decades. Annie Palmer, according to legend, was born in Haiti and in lieu of the subsequent death of her parents, she fell into the care of a woman who would eventually teach her Voodoo. 

In later years, she married John Palmer, the heir to a sugar plantation and estate. It is said she grew bored with him, eventually taking on male slave lovers. As the legend goes, Annie’s husband found out about her subsequent adultery and flogged her brutally. Annie, vengeful and humiliated, slipped poison into his drink and killed him, inheriting his estate and riches. As the story goes, she was brutal and wicked, using the male enslaved for her pleasures and then discarding them as she pleased. She was also known to perform black magic and satanic rituals, eventually turning it on a young girl named Millicent, the granddaughter of the local obeah man, Takoo, whom she cursed and indirectly killed with her black magic. As the legend goes, Takoo and his men stormed the great Rose Hall and brutally murdered Annie, sealing her body in a grave with a ritual to keep her from ever returning. But the ritual was never completed and Annie, in all her bloody splendour and glory is often spotted roaming the halls of Rose Hall, as pale as death.

 

Jamaican Lore - Annie Palmer
Image taken from https://www.thepalmsjamaica.com/annie-palmer-white-witch-rose-hall/

 

Jamaican lore extends further into our everyday practices and rites that have become so commonplace, its original purposes have faded to the rear of our minds. Why is it that walking backwards into the house of a dead person is done, or pouring white rum into the grave of the recently deceased? or the belief that cooking at night, will attract unwanted spirits. Jamaica has a plethora of stories, passed down through generations of people. Unfortunately, these stories are dwindling away as the generations pass, as fewer persons are growing with grandparents, the vessels of these stories and the importance placed upon the youth of Jamaica learning about their oral/folk history and culture. Despite this, these stories will always have its place in the heart of books and many Jamaicans and its stark relevance to the Halloween holiday as being Jamaica’s spooky treasure. 

 

 

Sources

https://nationalgalleryofjamaica.wordpress.com/2013/06/09/natural-histories-a-note-on-cotton-trees-and-jamaican-art/

https://www.forbes.com/sites/kristinakillgrove/2015/10/31/how-the-ancient-romans-gave-us-bones-of-the-dead-cookies-for-halloween/#1db922be438a]

https://www.thepalmsjamaica.com/annie-palmer-white-witch-rose-hall/

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/style/river-mumma-the-untamed-potential-of-jamaica_155138