story icon Jean White

Contributed by: Jean White - Leeds Barbados Association



I was born in Barbados on 13 July 1930. I grew up in a village near St James on the north coast in the Parish of St Thomas. There were sugar factories around and cane fields. The people woke up by the horn of the sugar factory, at 6am; it blew every few hours. I was born within the sound of the factory horn. It was the way the workers in agriculture knew when to have a break. I was Deputy Lord Mayor 1999-2000. During that time it was the 50th anniversary of a Barbados cricket team. They came to Leeds and it was my first engagement. They were from St Thomas and brought back memories.

I did well in infants school, then went to Alexandra Secondary School in St Peters. It was a girls' school, but now it's mixed. I wanted to be a nurse, and left school at 17 1/2. I got a scholarship to study in England and did my nursing qualifications. I married Owen in 1960. I started work at St James Hospital Leeds, setting up the mental health section. I worked almost 30 years there. I joined the Barbados Association quite early and was the Secretary from 1981. It is part of a national association, of which the High Commissioner is the patron. The Leeds branch is highly regarded.

In 1988-89 I went back to Barbados and returned in 1990. I worked in the community, hospital, church, and for the Council. I was a Councillor from 1995,for Roundhay Ward. I was the first black person to be Deputy Lord Mayor. During my year of office I went to Dortmund, one of our Twin Cities and visited the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

In the village people would go round selling things like yams. I remember a butcher who would serve the villages. He'd do the butchering on Wednesday. so you would get sheep head or mutton that day. The ladies would sell vegetables on the sidewalk. They'd make a stand on a barrel to put things on - mangoes, green bananas, and shallots; on a Saturday they'd have a stand in a certain place. We had pots made from special red clay from the parish of St Andrew. It was called a monkey, round like a kettle; we'd put water in there and it would stay cool for a week.

We'd see the smaller flying fish boats would leave the big boats and bring fish up onto the beach. Now the flying fish are caught in the Trinidad waters so not seen as much in Barbados. Sometimes there would be a scarcity, sometimes a glut. Now it's protected. Flying fish and cou-cou is a Bajan dish.

My dad was a carpenter and wheelwright and after the crop season, during June, we called it the hard time, after the harvest when there wasn't so much money coming in. He had a donkey and horse, made a dray to transport sugar cane to the factory. People would do all sorts of jobs to get money.



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The Mawby woman with her can on her head sells this refreshing drink to workers on the Careenage at Bridgetown, Barbados

Catalogue Reference:
() INF10/39/008

We would have a picnic at the beach with all the buses going there. We'd dress up in pretty clothes, took potted chicken, corn beef sandwiches, bananas, soft drinks, breadbasket, it was beautiful. Sometimes you couldn't get the buses down to the beach. Foul Bay and Crane beach were popular spots, I've been there. The buses would race each other to get there first. At the beach we'd just relax and eat food, walking on the sands, it was too dangerous to swim.

The Mawby woman would balance the container on her head. It was a homemade drink. You ask her for the mawby and she'd reach up - she carried the glasses - and she'd turn the tap and pour you enough. She'd do all that with it balanced on her head. It would be heavy when full. It would be 5 gallons or how much she could manage comfortably. It was lovely, made from mawby bark, a little bitter, nice and tangy, with spices, very refreshing. It would quench your thirst and was better than soda drinks. She'd have some ice and it was chilled. I don't think you'd see the mawby women so much now. It was a drink that working people had during the day, those on the waterfront or in the cane fields. This would be their lunch - coconut bread, fish cakes and mawby, or there'd be a sandwich called a ham cutter or cheese cutter. When the horn blew at 11 o'clock you knew it was lunchtime.

We would eat Conkies round about 5th November. Here people have parkin, and conkie was like our parkin, made from coarse cornmeal, a portion of sweet potato, grated pumpkin, essence, margarine, sugar. coconut, spices. I used to go round to my friend Vivian after work and we'd make conkies, we had conkie parties. Now in Barbados, they have conkies at Independence Services, round about 30th November.

Soursop is a bit like a lychee. It ripens very quickly. The riper it gets, the sweeter it becomes. It's green, and the flesh is tender. You can use it to make the soursop cooler, a cooling drink with water from the monkey storage jars. You can take the skin off easily, crush it, get juice out, add water, ice, whatever you like, it's a cooling drink. You can eat it as well.

This story was recorded as part of a project involving Leeds Barbados Association and Moving Here.



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