Since I’m in Barbados with my mother for Barbados’ 50th Independence Day Celebration, I thought I should share a children’s story I had been working on inspired by my mother and Barbados culture. I wanted to write a kind of Bajan Cinderella story after hearing about my mother’s childhood and learning more about the culture in Barbados, like Crop Over festival and costumed characters like Mother Sally.
The story’s title and main character is Jenny, a shortened version of my mother’s name. Jenny lives with her aunt Sheila and three cousins who treat her unfairly and have left her behind to go to the Crop Over Festival. After they leave, Jenny is introduced to a new woman coming up the road named Mother Sally.
Mother Sally is a traditional character in Barbados Crop Over festival. In the festival, men were the ones to dress up as the comical Mother Sally figure, much like in several traditional West African masquerade rituals where men dressed as women deities. It was mostly the men who were the maskers, even if the mask was to represent a female figure or goddess. Feminine masquerade tend to represent fertility and Mother Sally’s figure of exaggerated boobs and butt implies that. Recently, women have been taking on the role and wearing the costume. But I wanted to flesh out the Mother Sally figure into a real full-figured woman not just an exaggerated representation of a black woman (although the character can be used in a discussion on gender identity and gender fluidity). We see that too much anyway (looking at you Tyler Perry). Plus it would be nice to see more black fairy godmothers, especially one who is Caribbean.
Other aspects of Bajan masquerade and festival activities are in the story too. Figures like the Stiltman, Shaggy Bear, Donkey Man, and the Green Monkey, as well as the Tuk Band and the Landship dance. By the way, the Landship will be her “magical carriage.”
Hopefully I can get an illustrator to do the book and when that happens, I would like to turn Jenny into a series of books! But for now, here is a brief excerpt of the story below:
Sometimes the magic you waiting for is just up the road…
Jenny stared up at the sky while sitting alone on the porch. Staring at the blue sky and its parade of clouds was her favorite pastime, her favorite way to dream and her favorite way to forget. She would look up at the clouds and imagine they were all her special friends coming to visit:
a man riding his donkey
a shaggy bear
a giant man
a dancing monkey
a boat full of sailors
a full-figured woman….
in an enchanting dress and hat!
Jenny would smile and giggle sweetly every time she saw them in the sky, especially the last one. A woman who she desperately wished would be true; a woman who would be the mother of her dreams.