The Jamaican Society Scout Troop

The infectious enthusiasm of the cub scouts.

Learning to work together in the cub scouts.

The infectious energy and enthusiasm of the Cub Scouts.

When my Scout chaperon and I finally arrived at the Jamaican Society Hall I couldn’t believe my eyes. Before me stood a group of boys much older than myself neatly grouped by aged. Before I was placed in the group to which I would be assigned I’d find out that I was the youngest child amongst all the troops since there were some baby boys there who were a little older than I was.

“Not many of my age,” I thought a little uneasy but soon the smaller boys took me by the hand and welcomed me into their group. I looked at their Boy Scout uniform shirt with awe noticing the pins and the beautiful blue scarf around their necks sure that I would be coming to many meetings like this with my great looking uniform.

The Scoutmaster looked my way and said to me, after a pause, “What is your name son?” I answered without hesitation, “Cobert Reid Junior!” I said proudly, and then he asked, quizzing me for intelligence and bravery, I suppose, “What they call you at home?” “Everyone calls me Juni,” I answered without fear. “Ok, you can stay with that group but the next time you come you will have to have your scarf on first. We will get it for you. Now you all go over there and line up!” The group of smaller boys, all a little older than me, as I said before, led me over to the spot and started to show me how to salute.

I was so excited that my little hand could hardly make the three fingers salute but the boys were committed to teaching me. I was so proud of myself for having been accepted into the troop that I would have done anything they asked of me just to belong. That would have been my first encounter with a group of all Westindian “Silver” kids in a long time since the Fourth of July picnic in Colon where I heard them sing Joe Ba’linda and the Engine Building song returning home from the Black Canal Zone. I was so overjoyed to be there that I was hoping the meeting would never end.

The meeting did come to an end, however, and the same respectful, enthusiastic young man who had brought me had me in tow again and took me back home. Then he said to me before he turned me over to my mother, “Scout salute!” My arm automatically rose to my head and my small hand manoeuvred to try to make the three fingers salute while my mother looked on and smiled happily. Then my escort said, “See you next time Juni!” With that he left hurriedly and my mother, all smiles, lingered with me at the door of our one-room as we watched the young Scout run across the street back to his group.

That night I could hardly sleep and for the next few days I waited patiently for the young man to come pick me up for Scout meeting again. At last he appeared one evening just as he had promised, saying, “Miss Rosa, I come to take Juni to Scout meeting.” This time, however, and to my total astonishment, my mother said to him, “I’m sorry but Juni’s father will not allow him to be in the Scouts.” I was absolutely floored fighting back anger and tears, and I could not believe she was uttering those words with such finality and without emotion. “How mean!” I thought as I noticed my mother impassively telling the disappointed young man that I would never be able to become a Scout.

With those few words my dream just evaporated. Broken-hearted I then started to become suspicious of that man that had greeted me with a scowl at my grandparents’ home in Colon, the man who called himself my father. My childhood dream of ever becoming a Jamaican Society Cub Scout had been reserved for me I thought for it to then be dashed to pieces by so mean and unfeeling a gesture. The resentment over this indifference on the part of my parents would accompany me into my adult years. Those profound hurts and resentments had a terribly implacable way of following me right into my adult life.

In the meantime, the man that I had met as a scowling stranger had really been venting his anger against me in particular, I reasoned. From that moment on I set myself to the task of finding the reasons why. By the end of that decade of the 40’s there’d be some things about the struggles in the Canal Zone that I would never understand or ever think of myself a part of.

It was the legitimate struggle of my people the Silver Roll of the Panama Canal Zone that, years later, would take a college educated and unrelenting researcher, working long and hard, refusing to totally hate myself and his people to understand. I would wind up viewing this struggle, however, as having produced few changes for Silver Roll labor as part of Panamanian and United States history.

This story will continue.

6 responses to “The Jamaican Society Scout Troop

  1. Kyle and Svet Keeton




  2. I read your entries early in the morning because inevitably the memories you evoke bring tears to my eyes that I don’t want others to see. Today, my tears are for what you missed.

    I did not become a scout until almost 10 years old in Camp Coiner. The silver Zone scouts were the International. I was a Cub in troop 13; in Gamboa and Paraiso, troop 7 or 8. My brother became an Eagle Scout and travelled to the Jamboree in the USA in 1967.

    The scouts went on bivouac or what the call camping in the USA every so often. In Paraiso, we found a nice spot just beside the church in Chiva Chiva. It was the site of the Canal Zone jamboree, and the first one was in the abandoned church, due to the density of the jungle surrounding the area. The American scout troops were in attendance also, and this was one of the only integrated events the Zone would witness.

    I remember clearly as if yesterday, the event that will forever stick in my brain about these jamborees. We had cleared the jungle. We had scoutmasters both American, West Indian, Panamanian, etal roaming through everything and everyone. It gave them power. I found out to my surprise one of these was a janitor at a school, but he knew how to command boys trying to be men. The bivouac resembled something of a movie set for a movie like Apocalypse Now with smoke billowing from the encampments from Colon, Parque Lefebre, Balboa, Cristobal, Gamboa, Santa Cruz…

    The younger scouts, like me, were given the harsh duties like latrine digging. Keep in mind, since most Americans had had military duty our bivouacs were run the same way: harsh, brutal; fun. We hiked in or depending on your leader RAN in from the Gaillard Highway to the site.

    My story is both hilarious (today) and heartbreaking on this jamboree. I am selected on the Sunday we pack up to lower one of the flags. There were the American, Panamanian and Scout flags. Of course, many of the silver scouts wanted to impress their gold counter parts as equals; and of course we were but laws of segregation dictated differently. I am tense, nervous, because I represent all black West Indians in this ceremony.

    If you have never heard reverie on a bugle live, you have missed a musical event. The American bugler along with the International blew notes with impeccable clarity. Flanking me are two of my best Scout friends from both Gamboa and Paraiso. My father, who was never a scout for the same reasons your father never allowed you to be a scout, is in attendance as a honoree scoutmaster.

    Everything is proceeding with perfection except my frets. I am trembling trying not to disappoint my father, the Scouts, the silver scoutmasters, myself and the entire silver community. The steel cord encased in plastic slips between my palms. The flag falls out of sync with the others. It crashes and the grumbling and cursing among the silver section is heard. The buglers, white and black pause, stop; my two friends flanking me glare in astonishment and anger.

    I never saw my father leave; Jamaican/West Indian men are a proud unforgiving sort. We marched all the way back to Gaillard Highway. I was in the back of the line. Prior to this, of course, I was subjected to a belt line. I was made to run part of the hike, with curses spitting in my ears. My faux pas was not discussed on the drive home. Today I laugh about it.

  3. Ocho Gritos,

    Wow, I think the rest of the “Silver” missed the whole point about scouting.

    They should have taken that very incident as an opportunity to show you solidarity and support for someone as young as you who was trying his best. These kinds of experiences are really the jewels we really appreciate hearing about where we relate the good, the bad, and the ugly.

    Thank you for revealing this scouting experience for us.


  4. Anita Cumberbatch

    I was also a member of the Girl Scouts. We used to attend many picnics at Summit Garden.I loved Summit Garden. We also had many “cocinaitos”(cookouts) in the open areas in Rainbow City.

    One year our Scout leaders planned a weekly camping somewhere in the jungles or rainforest along the Canal area.
    Girls from the entire Black Canal Zone would be attending, I was told.
    My parents ran our house like a government. First I went to my mom to ask permission to go and then she would ask my father.
    I always felt I should ask my dad first because I knew the power I had over him.

    My father was uncomfortable saying the word “no”. Before this,I didn’t remember him ever saying “no” to me.
    This event later became so complicated that it was the first time my father declined my petition.
    But anyway. I followed the rule of the house and went to my mother, and my father gave the permission.

    I planned my trip well. We bought a light blue cloth to make the skirt.Mrs. Carmen in Colon sewed my Scout skirt uniform. I also bought everthing to take camping.
    Two days before our departure, my mother changed her mind. She made the decision that I could not attend camping.
    I asked her “why?”, and she told me she feared that a snake would bite me.
    I am the youngest child so I was very good at screaming and crying. I also had a degree in temper tantrums I was very upset because all of my friends were attending. I ran around our house crying and throwing my toys everywhere.

    I waited for my father to come home from work.When my father came home and I told him,he felt sorry for me, but as I said, my parents represented an administration.

    I also understood that the next time I should have bend the rule and gone directly to my father in the first place.
    I remembered vividly that it was my last temper tantrum. I learned that I had grown up and I had to use my head much better.

    The week my friends went camping I was the only little girl left back in Camp Bierd section.

    I spent the week going to the library,reading, and watching kids swimming in the pool.
    When my friends returned, they had so much to talk about that I realized it was a great experience I had missed.

    I never understood why my mom did not want me to attend camping, because the Canal Zone was one of the safest place in the world.

    Anita Cumberbatch

  5. Anita,

    Talk about manipulating females!:-)) Well, at least your father allowed you the joy of the Girl Scout experience. That your parents were a little uneasy about allowing you to go on that one particular camping trip might be understandable but I feel I was deprived of the general and beneficial influence of the entire Scouting experience.


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