I sat in the Square on Sunday and reflected on my childhood when I literally haunted the Square. Nothing could keep me out of the Square, at least during the day and the early evening hours. Not even Mr. Jackson. Mr. Jackson was the keeper of Pall Mall Square. I learnt its name only after I had fallen in love with it. We boys used to say Paul Maul, but our head teacher told us it was Pall Mall. We thought that was a strange way to pronounce Pall Mall but when we were in his presence we dutifully called it the way he taught us and reserved our own style of pronunciation for when we were unsupervised on the lawns and under the great big Evergreen tree. Mr. Jackson was a strict old gentleman. He might not have been that old but to our very youthful eyes he was a man who had been around a long time. He was a big man, tall and broad. His real job was Chief Fire Officer and he was stationed just across he road from the Square. I can now imagine that the thinking was that since Fire Officers did not have much work to do outing fires they should spend their time managing the Square. So every day the firemen would clean the Square, and with their brooms and rakes they would keep the Square clean of bush which had fallen from the many trees which grew in that selected spot. And Mr. Johnson would take note of the efficiency or lack of it as he evaluated the work done By his men. The other old man the young boys of Basseterre feared was Mr. Guishard. He was a caretaker of Warner Park. He like Jackson was proud of his job and made sure every boy in town knew it. Mr. Guishard’s most serious problem from the boys was their penchant of climbing the big Evergreen tree at the Eastern end of the Park. That tree was very old as was judged By the many stilts which has grown down and rooted themselves into the earth. We used to like to climb the big Evergreen tree but Mr. Guishard thought otherwise. During a pitching game or a tops match a few of us who were not playing would try to dispel our boredom By chasing one another from huge branch to huge branch. Usually before we got involved we would glance in the director of the pavilion to ascertain whether Mr. Guishard was sitting on his bench at the foot of the steps of the pavilion. When he was not there we took it as the signal to parade the Evergreen. But sometimes right in the midst of our happy abandonment playing Tarzan in the tree one of us would receive a wallop with the roar “Don’t climb the tree” and the rest of us would fall from the foliage like mangoes. As we hit the ground and beheld the face of Mr. Guishard with his broad belt threatening another wallop, we would take off in all directions while the angry Mr. Guishard made it back tot he pavilion. Mr. Jackson was strict on how people used the Square but when it came to little boys, he was more tolerant. For instance, if he saw us climbing the tree he would shout to us or send one of his men to tell s to come down out of the tree. Mr. Jackson was from Colonial times when everybody had to know their place. He did not like the Square being used as a thoroughfare, although he would let the folk walk through during the daytime. He was not wary about people walking through the Square at night and though he could not rule against it, he tried very hard to discourage it. In the colonial morality of the 1930s and ’40s, men like Jackson frowned on black people using the dark shadows of Basseterre to make love and the Square was one such place with dark shadows of trees and shrubs very conveniently placed in the middle of Basseterre within easy walking distance of loves. Myths and superstitions developed to dissuade after hours adventurers from using the Square as their rendezvous. Jumbies were supposed to inhabit the Square at night time and these jumbies mesmerised people and made them lose their bearings and wandered confusedly in circles in the Square until the break of dawn. As farfetched as these tales now appear, there were actual people in the 1940s and before who testified to having passed through this jumbie experience. The taboo was effective thanks to those who sought fame By boasting that it happened to them and in decades pedestrians avoided the Square late at night. There were two different accounts of who the jumbies were and where they came from. One was that the spirits of our African ancestors wandered there at night confused about the new land to which they had been brought on their journey across the Middle Passage. According to legend about the Square it used to be a pasture in the days of the Slave Trade, where the young Africans were sold By public auction. The other account was also ancestral but of more recent vintage. In 1890 there was a devastating flood which originated at Monkey Hill and descended on Basseterre with fury. Normally, when there was plenty of sustained rainfall, the waters cascaded from St. Peters and raced down College Street into the sea. When the water was more than usual, some of it used to run into Market Street. Boys and girls who grew up in the 1940s remember when it was College Street Ghaut and Market Street Ghaut rather than the present College and Market Streets. In 1880 the waters diverged from College Estate overflowing its bank into Victoria Road, inundating the area of the Square and West Square Street. It washed away houses, destroyed businesses and claimed lives. Some of the bodies were said to be buried in the Square and it was the legend that jumbies were the restless spirits of the victims who did not get a proper burial. Continued next week.
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