Hard Man Fe Dead

Hardamanfedead

Prince Buster recorded one of his most famous tunes, Hard Man Fe Dead, in 1966. The following lyrics detail the humorous tale of a man who is, to quote one of my favorite movies, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, “not dead yet.” The mourners prepare for his burial with nine night, so I thought I would devote today’s blog to a discussion of the nine night. Before I do, here are the lyrics to that classic tune, Hard Man Fe Dead:

You pick him up, you lick him down
Him bounce right back,
What a hard man fe dead! (Hard man fe dead!)
You pick him up, you lick him down
Him bounce right back,
What a hard man fe dead! (Hard man fe dead!)

Them seh, the cat’s got a nine life
But this man got ninety-nine life, cause…
Them pick him up, you lick him down,
Him bounce right back,
What a hard man fe dead! (Hard man fe dead!)

Them boil one pot of chocolate tea.
And all the fried fish they caught in the sea
They also got six quart o’ rum
Saying that they waiting for the nine night to come

The last time I heard them say
That this man was dead (this man was dead)
They find him black eyes
And them lay it all upon his head (the man was dead)

Now the procession leads to the cemetery
The man all a howl, Don’t you bury me,
You pick him up, you lick him down
Him bounce right back,
What a hard man fe dead!

(Hard man fe dead, … hard man fe dead)

/Instrumental interlude/

Them boil one cup of chocolate tea
And all the fried fish they caught in the sea
They aso got six quart o’ rum
Saying that they waiting for the nine night to come

The last time I heard them say
That this man was dead (this man was dead)
They find him black eyes
And them lay it all upon his head (‘pon his head)

You should see them goin’ to the cemetery
The old man holla howl, Won’t you bury me?
Them drop the box and run,
What a whole lot o’ fun!
What a hard man fe dead! (hard man fe dead)

You pick him up, you lick him down
Him bounce right back,
What a hard man fe dead! (Hard man fe dead!)
You pick him up, you lick him down
Him bounce right back,
I am a hard man fe dead! (Hard man fe dead! … Hard man fe dead!)

Nine Night is a death ritual that stems from the revivalist religions and revivalists believed certain rituals had to be followed out of respect for the deceased otherwise they would return through obeah to torment the living. The first night featured the wake, the second and third days were the funeral and the remaining days brought visitors, but the ninth night highlighted the entire ceremony with singing and feasting until morning. A memorial service may occur on the anniversary of the departed. Nine Night is still observed by many Jamaicans today, even if they have no association with a revivalist cult.

Dr. Rebecca Tortello, contributor to the Jamaica Gleaner writes in her article “”A Time to Die: Death Rituals,” about the ritual of Nine Night. “It was important that the rituals were followed in a particular order so as not to offend the dead and ensure the spirit’s safe journey back to God. In African belief the self has three components – the body, the spirit and the shadow or duppy. Once the body is dead and the spirit began his/her journey to God, the duppy or shadow could live on and wreak havoc for the living if not given due respect. Long ago, it was believed that the spirit would return to Africa and therefore sometimes messages were sent to loved ones in activities that occurred during the nine-day period which gave the living the time to ensure that the spirit understood that it should depart from its home. Technically, the nine night is the period of mourning after death that culminates in ceremonies involving food and dancing on the ninth night. Following Christian custom, the soul’s ascent to Heaven is emphasised while African traditions call for more emphasis to be placed on placating the spirit of the dead person. Religious ceremonies tend to be staged first so as to ensure that the dead understands that it is time to leave his/her old home. If this is not done the spirit is said to haunt the living,” writes Tortello.

As a side note, Steely & Clevie’s “Nine Night Version” features a rhythm used in Pukkumina, one of the revivalist religions. Also, Dinkie Minnie was a function that was held to cheer up the family of the dead person or to banish grief and was performed by Miss Lou (Louise Bennett) during her presentations. She explains, “The Dinkie is eight nights after the death. From the first night to the eighth. The Ninth Night is a more religious ceremony. The Dinkie Minnie is to keep the family from grieving. And the number eight is definitely significant.”

A Daily Gleaner article I found on April 4, 1936 with the headline “Nine Nights After Death” and the explanation, “Being an account of the goings on at “Nine Night” Ceremonies when a proper and final adieu is said to the duppies at beloved but deceased ones” (By JACK O’KINGSTON),” is not only a detailed description of the Nine Night ritual, but a glimpse into the culture of the time and the haughty perspective of the writer. It is not only an examination of Nine Night, but also a study into the attitudes that shape the lingering harms of colonialism and classicism. It’s long, but I feel well worth the read.

Mr. O’Kingston, (if that is his real name!!) states: “Without doubt, the oldest and most popular of all African ceremonies carried out in Jamaica is “The Nine Night.” Not even all of the better class Jamaicans have found it possible to do away with this ceremony. In the wattled hut on the hillside, in the (unreadable) structure in the suburbs; great Jamaicans and small, with one and all, the “Nine Night” is an institution. There is the “Set Up” too, when close friends sit with near relatives all through the night following the departure of one from this world to the next; but this ceremony is sometimes passed over. No one is worried if a “Set Up” is not kept up; but to fail to hold a “Nine Njght”—such a thing is just not done. In the better class home the ceremony is not carried out with any rigid attention to ritual. Friends and relations gather in the drawing room, play the piano, sing softly a few hymns, look and act piously until midnight when a psalm is read, a prayer said and a farewell hymn sung in the apartment in which the deceased breathed his or her last. After that, innocent card games, jokes and idle chat among the young; a pipe and current topics among the old, pass away the time for an hour or two. Then quietly, one by one, sometimes in twos, the mourners disperse, never saying good night, for legend says it is the illest thing to say when leaving a “Nine Night.” So they drift off until only the homemates are left; and they also take to their apartments in like mysterious manner; and the doors and windows are closed-one after the other without haste. Then the lights, one by one, in this room and that, go out even as the people went, until it seems that darkness, step by step is gradually coming on, till, with the last existinguished light, thick shadows settle down upon the house of mourning.

THE REAL THING With the peasant folk, however, it is a different thing, as a fact it is The Thing— rites and rituals from beginning to end. The humble Jamaican looks upon the type of “Nine Night” kept up by the better class as “a pyah-pyahting,'” which means that it is woefully and completely lacking in the true dignity of a real honest-to-goodness-“Nine Night.” Indeed no real “Nine Night” can be held in a house. The proper thing to do is to spread a large tarpaulin on high sticks over the better portion of the yard in which the deceased lived, put a little table in the centre of this make-shift tent, arrange as many rough seats as possible under the canvas and throw the gates ajar. Of course the room to which the deceased lived and died must be left unoccupied, the bed immaculately spread, and a small table covered with a spotless cloth in one corner. A dimly burning lamp sends its feeble rays from the centre of the little table, while a pint of finest old Jamaica rum makes company for the lamp. The stage is thus now set, and waits, but not for long, upon the players who begin coming in from around seven o’clock. The first and principal performer to appear on the scene is the character known throughout “Nine Nightdom” as “de leadar.” There are scores of these leader chaps. They know “Nine Night” procedure, from A to Z. Not always can they read, but the right hymn and Bible passage are always, as one might say, at their fingertip. They know by heart every hymn from the front cover of Sankeys to the back page of Dr, Watt’s Hymnals; and every verse in the Bible dealing with the departure of human soul to the Great Beyond. These “Nine Night” officials have an uncanny instinct tor smelling out the location of “Nine Nights.” Hold your “Nine Night” in the depths of the sea or in the bowels of the earth and they will be there in numbers. The first one to arrive and take the chair which is set at the table in the centre of the tent will be the leader, and as the position carries with it a surprising allowance of rum, fried fish, bread and coffee, it is not necessary to describe the intensity of the “World War” that is fought ere the chair is taken.

HOWLING SUCCESS. A “Nine Night” is never a poorly attended ceremony. No matter how unpopular the deceased, how unknown, his “Nine Night” is always a howling success. Indeed there are persons who take up their stands near by the May Pen and other cemeteries and count the corpses that pass daily, ask diligently after the place from whence they come and count the days so as to be present at the “Nine Night.” Others there are, too, who walk about at night with ears pricked up and heads cocked like a bird of prey, listening, listening for the plaintive wail expressed in song that tells there is a “Nine Night” on. Still others there be too, who, on hearing of a person stricken ill enquire regularly of neighbors how fares the ill one. Yes, they even gather on the streets close to the “sick yard” and sing in “Nine Night” fashion such hymns as “On the Resurrection Morning,” “Sleep on Beloved” and “There is a Better Land,” because “it call de adder duppies fe come fe im.” After a couple days of mourning even the real mourners await with a thrill “The Nine Night,” Yet it is they, the close relatives of the deceased who carry the burden of the expenses. They must provide rum aplenty, fried fish, bread and coffee if there is to be any “Nine Night.”

AND NOW IT STARTS. “De Leadah having called for “Ardah frens” begins to track out the first verse of a hymn. Somewhere in the crowd a voice raises the tune; then altogether in one great inharmonious roar things get underway, women screeching loud, long and wrong, men bellowing in awful raucous tones. Everybody trying to outdo everybody else in volume, content to sacrifice every vestige of melody. A few such hymns and “de Leadah” calls out “Sola,” he really means that some person is to track out his or her own favourite hymn and sing all the verses while the crowd joins in the chorus. At the command “Sola,” a score or more persons leap to foot and there is a confused “tracking” of favourite hymns until “de Leadah” appoints who shall sing. Words cannot describe the screeching of the female or the roaring of the male which follows as the singer shows off on the crown how much he or she knows about fancy singing. Things follow this count of perfect inharmony until the leader, making a noise with his throat, announces that that section of his make-up is “dry.” That proclamation is a kind of code meaning “Time to pass around the rum.” The leader’s throat noise is at once echoed and re-echoed. So cups and cans, glasses and every imaginary drinking convenience are produced and rum is served plentifully. To the leader goes a half-a-pint. Throats are no longer “dry” and so the grand disharmony is resumed and vociferously continued until tea time (around eleven). By now there are no starving wolves, no vixen with a dozen yelps; indeed, no creature anywhere in the universe with a

GREATER AND MORE RAVENOUS desire for eatables than The Group huddled by choice under the limited confines of that tarpaulin. Scores and scores of small fishes go up to the entrance of wide and rapidly moving mouths, and in a split second vanish from view forever. Junks of bread share similar fate. Cups and more cups of hot coffee disappear before even the steam can pass off them. Half an hour passes in this vain effort to satiate the appetite of the “Nine Nighters.” Then when everyone is fully satisfied that there is nothing left to eat around, a droll lament is sung as the opening of a new phase of the ceremony. During this half hour until midnight only very important songs are sung. They are sung as softly as “Nine Nighters” can sing, which is just a wee bit below “FF.” Close to 12 o’clock they sing “Good Night, Good Night, Good Night” at the close of which plaintive tune the leader gets up and states, “Frens, de fambilr af de dead is gwing to leave we an gadder in de dead-room an discharge de dead; de res’ of we mus stay wey we is.” This announcement was expected, waited for. The close friends and relations of the deceased move towards the room in which the deceased expired. This room has been kept inviolate since nine days; to-night the bed is covered with spotless linen. On a table in a corner is a small lamp and a pint of White rum. The closest male relation to the deceased present, is selected. This selection always causes numerous male persons to vie with one another to establish claim as next of kin. When the matter is finally settled, if there is not a fight, the elected one calls out the words of a hymn which is sung in a low, dirgy sort of way, as if the singers were

SINGING IN THEIR SLEEP. Then they bow their heads and the leader leads in prayer. It is a kind of patent prayer. The same is said on every occasion with a little variation here and there, but the idea is never changed. The leader prays standing while the others kneel voicing their agreement with what is prayed by long grunts, sighs and low wails. Then the master of these quaint ceremonies takes hold of the sheet on the bed, pulls it off and tosses it to the floor. The mattress in like manner is treated. Then the bed laths are gathered in a bundle and thrown to the floor with a racket—the bed remains a mere skeleton standing in the little room. A lath is then taken and used

TO BEAT THE BED THINGS on the floor as though some evil person or thing sheltered between its folds. Finally the Master of Ceremonies takes hold of the pint of rum. By right the greater portion of the liquid spirit is to be sprinkled at the four corners of the room and the bed frame, some thrown through the window and a small quantity swallowed by the Master of Ceremonies. But this worthy “Nine Night” official usually reverses this order of things. On gulping down three-quarters of the pint of liquor the Master of Ceremonies calls the deceased by name, Say—”Obediah Wilson, you is discharge from dis ‘ouse in de name of de fatha, de son, an’ de Oly Gose.” The group sings “Good Night, Good Night, Good Night” and as the tune ends voices are heard cheerfully saying “good-bye, Obie, Good-bye.” Then led by the now staggering Master of Ceremonies the little group files out into the yard under the broad canvas to play dominoes, play cards, tell Nancy stories, ask for the (unreadable) riddles, sing popular songs, make love, gamble, fight—and on a certain occasion in Smith’s Village—Murder.”

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