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Wither the ‘bobolee’

By Felix Edinborough

The word ‘bobolee’ might sound strange to the young people of today but when I was a child, one of the traditions was beating a bobolee on Good Friday.

Well, for those who do not know, since I believe it is no longer common, a bobolee was a stuffed human-sized doll that was supposed to represent Judas who betrayed Christ. Thus, we took revenge on this representation of the betrayer by beating his effigy to a frazzle. Some were also hanged from the branch of a tree.

About 60 years ago or even earlier, on Good Friday you were sure to find bobolees in almost every village in Trinidad and Tobago. As children we walked about the village looking for a bobolee and when one was found, if it still had any ‘life’ in it, we flogged it with big sticks until it disintegrated into shredded cloth.

It was a lot of fun for children to build it, prop it up on the roadside and then take revenge on Judas for what he did.

Later on, the symbol of the bobolee assumed added meaning for as the country grew in political awareness, the bobolee began for many to represent corrupt politicians, and bobolees were fashioned so that the dissatisfied could vent their anger on politicians whom they thought were defrauding the population. The custom even morphed into representing any popular person on whom the populace sought to vent their rancour.

The meaning of the word further expanded to signify any one or any group that was too often beaten, whether in school as a weak child or a sports team. You could hear people talking about how such a team is the bobolee in the competition because everyone takes advantage of their weakness. If a child in school is often bullied by  peers, he or she is considered the bobolee in the class.

This caricature of Judas was the sport of chiefly the youth though at rare occasions you could have seen adults participating. Some may find it surprising that this tradition has lost most of its flavour today, and there could be several reasons for this. One suggestion is that it displayed too much violence.

I do not hold this view, for the youth today revel in games of violence. It is true, however, that those modern vehement games are played indoors, and it has been a lament of parents and teachers alike that the young people nowadays are not very interested in taking part in outdoor activities.

The electronic media have replaced the social togetherness of past open-air activities and sent the bobolee tradition out of the window.

Some may consider this a pity, for the mere fact of seeing how Judas was beaten could have made the young reflect on who was Judas and why he had to end his days in such an ignominious manner.

This activity was not the practice of only religious people or people of any one denomination but just the youth in general, so at some time the beaters must have wondered who this character represents and why he was beaten.

As for me, being a Catholic, I knew the story of Judas, so I was happy to beat the man who was a major cause of Jesus’ humiliating death.

The idea of the bobolee eventually went overseas for I am aware of one emigrated citizen who wrote: “As for our South Florida bobolee. We decided to have him represent the biggest current scourge in our neighbourhood – thieves. Indeed, the persistently struggling economy has bred an increase in break-ins around our area. We haven’t been hit (yet), but like most of our neighbours, we’re a bit stressed about it. So, it was a wonderfully cathartic experience for my kids, my wife, and I to take a baseball bat and a large stick to (beat) this shady character.”

Today it is not as prevalent as in the past but in certain rural communities you can still find it.