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Monday, July 25, 2011

Number 226: Evan Jones "The Song of the Banana Man"

The Song of the Banana Man

Touris, white man, wipin his face,
Met me in Golden Grove market place.
He looked at m'ol' clothes brown wid stain ,
An soaked right through wid de Portlan rain,
He cas his eye, turn up his nose,
He says, 'You're a beggar man, I suppose?'
He says, 'Boy, get some occupation,
Be of some value to your nation.'
I said, 'By God and dis big right han
You mus recognize a banana man.

'Up in de hills, where de streams are cool,
An mullet an janga swim in de pool,
I have ten acres of mountain side,
An a dainty-foot donkey dat I ride,
Four Gros Michel, an four Lacatan,
Some coconut trees, and some hills of yam,
An I pasture on dat very same lan
Five she-goats an a big black ram,
Dat, by God an dis big right han
Is de property of a banana man.

'I leave m'yard early-mornin time
An set m'foot to de mountain climb,
I ben m'back to de hot-sun toil,
An m'cutlass rings on de stony soil,
Ploughin an weedin, diggin an plantin
Till Massa Sun drop back o John Crow mountain,
Den home again in cool evenin time,
Perhaps whistling dis likkle rhyme,
Praise God an m'big right han
I will live an die a banana man.

'Banana day is my special day,
I cut my stems an I'm on m'way,
Load up de donkey, leave de lan
Head down de hill to banana stan,
When de truck comes roun I take a ride
All de way down to de harbour side—
Dat is de night, when you, touris man,
Would change your place wid a banana man.
Yes, by God, an m'big right han
I will live an die a banana man.

'De bay is calm, an de moon is bright
De hills look black for de sky is light,
Down at de dock is an English ship,
Restin after her ocean trip,
While on de pier is a monstrous hustle,
Tallymen, carriers, all in a bustle,
Wid stems on deir heads in a long black snake
Some singin de sons dat banana men make,
Like, Praise God an m'big right han
I will live an die a banana man.

'Den de payment comes, an we have some fun,
Me, Zekiel, Breda and Duppy Son.
Down at de bar near United Wharf
We knock back a white rum, bus a laugh,
Fill de empty bag for further toil
Wid saltfish, breadfruit, coconut oil.
Den head back home to m'yard to sleep,
A proper sleep dat is long an deep.
Yes, by God, an m'big right han
I will live an die a banana man.

'So when you see dese ol clothes brown wid stain,
An soaked right through wid de Portlan rain,
Don't cas your eye nor turn your nose,
Don't judge a man by his patchy clothes,
I'm a strong man, a proud man, an I'm free,
Free as dese mountains, free as dis sea,
I know myself, an I know my ways,
An will sing wid pride to de end o my days
Praise God an m'big right han
I will live an die a banana man.'

--Evan Jones

Hap Notes: I would never have known this poem if not for the valuable work poet Robert Pinsky did as U.S. Poet Laureate. His "Favorite Poem" project where he asked people to choose their favorite poems and read the poems they loved aloud was a stroke of genius. The documentary that was made of this project just floored me, gave me hopes that poetry mattered to more people than I had ever dreamed.

Here is the "Song of the Banana Man" excerpt;

Evan Jones (born 1927) was born in Portland, Jamaica (this is the Portland he refers to in the poem) and was the son of a banana farmer. His mom was a Quaker missionary who defied convention and married a native planter. Jones went to Haverford College in Pennsylvania and Oxford, studied literature and taught at Wesleyan in Connecticut. He has made a living as a writer of poetry, plays and screenplays.

The gorgeously expressive Jamaican patois in this poem is particularly effective and moving. Gros Michel and Lacatan are varieties of bananas. A Gros Michel was a tasty banana often imported to the U.S. in the 40's (the time this poem takes place) but they were practically wiped out by disease in the 60s. Lacatan bananas are supposed to be the cream of the banana crop – sweeter and firmer with a richer banana taste. The banana you may have had for breakfast or lunch is a Cavendish. When your grandparents tell you that bananas tasted better when they were young, they are right– they got a much better and tastier banana (the Gros Michel) than you get.

The banana industry (especially with the United Fruit Company which is now Chiquita, I think) has a very sad and bloody history, especially in Latin America, which we will explore a bit more with a poem later in the week. But for now let's just enjoy the era of the poem and the amazing tropical taste of whatever bananas we can get – Americans consume as many bananas as they do apples and oranges combined. It's sort of amazing that this exotic thing has become so much a part of our lives.

Here's a good Jones quote: "The Song of the Banana Man" was "written as a memory of my childhood and a tribute to my county. For I was born in one of the chief banana-growing parts of Jamaica - Hector's River, Eastern Portland. My father was a prominent banana planter there."

Outside of today's poem it's difficult to find any more of Jones' poems online. Today's poem, however, is extremely popular.


  1. Fantastic!, I so love your blog. The food looks amazing and delicious. I wanna try making that recipe. By the way thank you for sharing your recipe and for being so generous. I hope you could also visit my site, more fun stuff that you would actually love. Enjoy! Selamat tidur..

  2. I read your blog.I thought it was great.. Hope you have a great day. God bless.


  3. I read your blog.I thought it was great.. Hope you have a great day. God bless.


  4. Sorry, but Gross Michelle was the cream of the crop...then Lacatan and black Rubuster.Excuse any misspellings.

  5. Wicked and wild poem.We did it in primary school in the early 70s.It means a lot and is the spoken words of the very fibre of life that does not change even today.Jamaica is the yardstick that measures the potential and progress of the down trodden Afro decendants whose history is akin to the Israelites of 400 years in Egypt.It brings out a colourful unity of flavour in humanity thats charismatic and contributes to support the love of freedom and a noblier and kindler way of life .may Almighty God never let us fail to do it in the dignity of the human spirit.

  6. I learnt that poem at primary school,my children didn't.😑

  7. Beautiful poem , so complete, for every walk in life there is a joy.