From Rum to Roots
By Lloyd G. Francis
In 1937 near Portland Cottage, in southern Jamaica, on a huge sugar estate, Linton McMann, the illegitimate son of the owner of the plantation, works making rum. Meanwhile in Kingston, Daisy, helps her mother managing an ice business and dreams of joining her elder sister in New York.
Seeking opportunity, Linton leaves the deep Jamaican countryside for New York and the collapse of the ice business and family crises force Daisy to leave Kingston, seeking a new start in the United States. They encounter a vibrant Jamaican-American community in New York, where they meet at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem. Becoming American citizens, they marry, and start a family. Ambition drives them to start a business and Linton capitalizes on a skill he learned as a young man in Jamaica, making a drink known in Jamaica as “Roots.” It proves wildly popular and the company, Family Roots, prospers beyond Linton’s and Daisy’s wildest dreams.
By 1986, the drink is a sensation. Money flows in, but something is missing. Happiness is as scarce as freshwater in the middle of the sea. Wrestling with their past while living in a land of plenty, Linton and Daisy discover that truth is the only avenue to happiness.
Daisy ushered the boys outside. Jonkunnu a come! rippled through an excited, growing crowd.
“Jonkunnu a come!” Daisy repeated.
“The Christmas parade. Jonkunnu is a special celebration this time of year,” Daisy explained. “Jonkunnu is how we celebrate Christmas.”
People carrying pots and pans, ladles and lids, banged them together, creating a rhythmical racket. Cla-ca-lang-lang-cacca-ca-lang-gang! Clarence bounced to the beat, enthralled as the energy built, but Charles clutched Daisy’s hand fiercely.
More people, seeming to materialize out of thin air, joined the clamor of banging pots and pans. Red devils with pitchforks charged through the crowd, scattering terrified children who were then chased by laughing parents. As the devils passed by, Charles cowered behind Daisy while Clarence stood by defiantly, taking it all in.
Pitchy Patchy a come! Is de Wild Indian… Ho! De Devil! The crowd roared. Pitchy Patchy wore multicolored ribbons; red, yellow, purple, green, that swished and swayed with every move and shimmied with the beat. She looked so massive, spectators doubted that even a man inside the costume was big enough to make it jump and dance. The devil pranced about with his extra long horns, and a train of red attendants holding mirrors threw firecrackers, sometimes even scaring the adults with their menacing gestures.
“Look!” cried Daisy, pointing at a woman who appeared very pregnant. “It’s Bellywoman!” Bellywoman, jumping around and obscenely thrusting her belly at the crowd, was also a man dressed as a woman. Behind him was a man wearing a huge cow head.
The crowd seethed in a frenzy of dancing and for a few brief moments, these decendants of slaves were transported back in time and place, temporarily abandoning the colonial yoke and grinding poverty of their routine tropical lives. Jonkunnu was more than a celebration of Christmas, it was a festival of the solstice, the eternal dance between the earth and the sun, mimicked by a human milieu of characters, passion, and rhythms. Clarence jumped and pranced about and Daisy marveled at his fearlessness in the face of Jonkunnu, even as Charles cowered and she protectively held his hand.
About the author
Lloyd was born in Oakland in 1961, a first-generation American child to Jamaican parents. As a child his trips to Jamaica in the 60’s and 70’s shaped who he became. Growing up in Hayward California he was steeped in the island tradition of reggae, Jamaican cuisine, and patois.
After studying engineering, Lloyd became a staff photographer for the San Jose Mercury News. He left newspapers to work for Yahoo Financial News Network and returned to journalism after 9-11. In 2001 Lloyd reported from Iraq for Newsweek Magazine, and went on to cover the war in Afghanistan. In 2004 he accepted a job with the Army Times Publishing Company and worked in Iraq intermittently for two years. Examples of his work can be found here and here.
Lloyd returned to San Francisco in 2006. He lives with his wife, Leanne, his two sons, Marley and Waylon, a yellow nape Amazon parrot named Aquila and a rambunctious Red Lored Amazon parrot named Cosmo. He frequently takes long walks around San Francisco and Golden Gate Park, looking for great Instagram photographs.
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