Monday July 24th: Blessed be The Listening Ear
July 24, 2023
Vacation Revision Programme can boost learning… but only if students attend
July 24, 2023

Celebrating World Day for Grandparents and Elderly: The village midwife

As we celebrate the third World Day for Grandparents and Elderly on July 23, 2023, which has as its theme His mercy is from age to age (Lk 1:50), Yvonne de Peiza shares a reflection on her grandmother Henrietta Marcelle Griffith.

She walked with grace, her head held high, her dark-skinned Carib descendancy showed the tower of strength and resilience of what she was made.

Her silver tresses glistened in the morning sunlight; small waistline and hips, firm buttocks, medium-built stature, but when she walked, she commanded a measure of respect.

She was the lifeline of the village. The villagers depended on her; they looked to her to solve all their ailments. In the absence of a village doctor or nurse, she delivered the newborns and solved most of the villagers’ medical problems using her instincts, knowledge, and natural medicines. She gave herself to humankind and humankind reciprocated.

There were few vehicles in the village – those who owned one were fortunate. The village had the typical donkey and bison cart, or you walked to nearby Palmiste to get a taxi from the village of Diamond.

So, she walked from place to place with grace, village to village, and did her job with dignity and passion. She placed her heart and soul in her job.

I admired her strength. She was a woman of substance; her bold Carib look showed her a force to be reckoned with.

The village was predominantly East Indian in population and culture, and she embraced it all. The villagers respected her to them, she was ‘Miss Mamin’, ‘Ma’, ‘Gang-Gang’, the village midwife who would rub many bellies.

To others she was ‘Auntie Mamie’, but to us her siblings, her descendants, her lineage, she was fondly known as ‘Ma’, the woman who loved and cherished each one of her grandchildren, the one who, as grandchildren, we turned to for solace. The one who rubbed our heads to ease the headache, our tired and sore feet, and backs as we walked from village to village estate in search of a standpipe to fetch water for the empty oil drums.

She was the one who would put the pregnant mother-to-be to bed, which meant the mother-to-be was ready to go into labour.

She lived in Hermitage village with her husband Joseph, lovingly called ‘Joe’ or ‘Pa’, a watchman for the only Caucasian [white] family on the estate. In the minds of the villagers, he “worked for the white man”. He tended to the animals on the farm, taking the horses and the Shetland ponies to drink from the large pond located in the green lush extensive parcel of land with tall, huge trees towering over the savannah. That expanse of land was where we as children played and frolicked on many a Sunday evening.

That piece of pasture is now known as Palmiste Park.

Ma spoke fluent Patois and Hindi; she had known every Hindu ritual that took place in the village and loved her Bollywood movies. Amitabh Bachan was her favourite actor.

She would leave her marital home for long periods, days, sometimes weeks, when she had to deliver a baby. Those days, most of the women in the village and the surrounding villages like Debe, Penal, La Romaine, La Fortune, Woodland and as far as Siparia trusted her. They looked to her as their saviour in time of need.

The famous, naturally made bottle of Coconut oil wasi used in every rub and massage.

She learnt the art of jharaying babies from blight, bad eyes, to massage the baby’s neck for hasoolie, to rub the baby’s tummy for nara and to rub the chest wall when the butchet drop.

She was also skilled in turning a breech baby in her mother’s womb and putting a cold washrag on the mother’s tummy for the baby to wake up and kick. As a child, I was ever present and curious, so I learnt a few of her skills.

Her husband knew of his wife’s worth and was never daunted when she left on her week/s long mission to do her yeoman service. A drink or two in the shop would always do him well. He too was a loving man, short in stature, but a gentle giant of a man.

For many of the village children, who today are now full-grown men and women she delivered, she was to them a giant among men and women who walked this Earth.

As a village midwife, she covered many villages with her natural talent, which she would’ve gotten from her mother and her ancestral grandmother. She never had

any formal education but had basic knowledge of things. Her ancestral skills never bore fruit with my mother for she showed no keen interest in inheriting the art. Sadly, that was where my grandmother’s art ended.

Her payment was a pair of silver bracelets [bera] or a cup of lagoon or hill rice, a few shillings, and a piece of cloth to make a new dress. She was contented and happy with her payment, never asking for much in those days.

She was indeed a colorful character, she played the only Carnival character in the village on Carnival Monday, dressed up in rags, face painted and an empty pitch oil tin which she would beat with a piece of stick, going from house to house collecting pennies and shillings.

On a Sunday afternoon, Ma would sell her favorite chip-chip sugar cake and anchar at Chapman Park where there would be an inter-village cricket competition. Many times, I would receive a slap on the hand for stealing a sugar cake or two, all in good fun!

She would be present in every Bhagwaath [Hindu Ramayan prayers] which took place in the coothiah [Hindu temple]. She would never miss Holi- Phagwah or Ramleela on the grounds of Chapman Park. She was most present in the weddings, dancing and frolicking and going to the standpipe with a wooden tray on her head, followed by a procession of women singing and dancing and performing the rituals by the standpipe, before the actual wedding took place between the dullahin and the dullaha [bride and groom].

There were times in the dark night with the lonely streetlight flickering in the dark, we would all sit on the steps, the place where she narrated her stories most of the times of douens, lagahoos, soucouyants, madman Mahal or the no-head man who rode through the village on his white horse. Her stories would always make us afraid of the dark, and fearful to sleep.

Her stories would always end with ‘Cric crac, monkey break he back for a piece of pommerac’.

At nights before she went to bed, she would light up her favourite pipe filled with tobacco and puff on it as if she revelled in the scent and taste of tobacco. As she grew older, she stopped smoking and stopped her work as the village midwife. By then she was just Ma.

At the age of 90, Ma was diagnosed with cancer of the stomach, she just got this bulging lump that developed, and stopped eating harsh foods like rice which was too difficult for her to swallow and digest.

She still tried to be as active, enjoying her life. We never knew if she was in pain; she never showed it. Ma lived a fulfilled life and in return she showed compassion, commitment, and dedication to her village and by extent her villagers, which they reciprocated in their expression of love and large numbers at her home going ceremony.

Hermitage village was Henrietta, and Henrietta was Hermitage; her spirit lives on in all of us, her strength, fortitude, resilience, command of space, value, the quest for knowledge, the appreciation of various culture and languages personified in all her eleven grandchildren.

Henrietta Marcelle Griffith, we honour you and cherish the memories.

Jharay – a small spiritual ceremony done mostly by Pundits using a strand or two from the cocoyea broom to ward off evil spirits from babies, children and even adults.

Nara – tummy ache

Hasoolie – a strain at the collar bone derived from not holding the baby’s neck in an upright and correct position.

Butchet – a bone near the chest causing pain like muscle spasm.