News of the Colored Community

Albert E. Bell, distinguished
editor and popular columnist
who was attached to several
leading Isthmian newspapers during
the 30′ and 40’s.

As the Westindian community grew the residents from the Barrios of Panama and Colon tried, as much as possible, to stay in touch as one community. The Westindians identified themselves as “The Colored Community,” with space assured in the locally available English speaking newspapers. For instance, they had columns written in the English pages of The Panama Tribune, The Panama American and The Star and Herald, today known as La Estrella de Panamá.

It was, however, within The Panama American’s English pages in a column entitled West Indian News that I happened to find the more interesting articles.

The West Indian News section was edited by Mr. Albert E. Bell and featured stories from various contributing writers. One story that captured my interest was one that had been submitted by Mr. Elijah Hunter. The story was entitled, Language Inappropriate in Church of Silver City Heights: A Point of Order. The story was primarily about a complaint lodged against the Reverend Father Hill of the St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church of Colon’s colored congregation.

Mr. Hunter was rather descriptive in making reference to things that offended him and the congregation. For example, the writer alluded to the Reverend “making reference to payment of rent, cashing of pay cheques and use of commissary books.” Then the article went on to complain of the Reverend father “associating these things with, “words like wicked and wretchedness from the pulpit in that church.” Further the article referred to the fact that, “young people regretted having gone to church instead of going to Cativá as they were minded.”

The then irate writer gives us a taste of Westindian writing of the times as he continues to declare, “Those expressions are uncalled for, totally extraneous to the question of the day, irrelevant to the issue, frivolous and vexatious.” “And,” he goes on to say, “even if the Rev. Gentleman was complained to, in terms of his unfortunate expressions, by some silly woman who probably only was reaping what she had sown, (so many of them do this.) At the hands of her man. We fail to visualize what connection a family row such as is inferred, by the traditional story of the cross, for any practical purpose.”

Apparently, the priest was involving himself in issues he had no business in after being tipped off by one of the congregation’s female busybodies about all the supposed illegal activity church members were engaged in. Mr. Hunter, however, did not hesitate to offer his opinion regarding the idle gossip that triggered this general and offensive admonition from the pulpit.

The story continues to say, “Especially when they preach to people of dark pigment. And are we to conclude that the Leprosy of complex has so penetrated into the Church, till preachers forget the presence of the ‘Holy Sacrifice’ upon the altar, and descend to use slum language from the pulpit?” Thus ended the story as published on Friday 17 April 1936* and it managed to bring a smile to my face as I caught a glimpse into the more charming aspects of the Westindian English of our forefathers- the English of my childhood.

Some other stories on the same page reveal the gentility of the era as well:

Society to Offer Musical Treat on Sunday April 19th —
Life and Law Friendly Society Choir Sunday After Noon at the Hall of the EDITH CAVEL FRIENDLY SOCIETY, at the Corner of 12th of October and 19th St, Guachapali.

The same page had multiple announcements but the ones that were most interesting to me as a historian was the following:

Monthly Meeting of Teachers of PRIVATE SCHOOLS MEET TODAY- Panama Private School Teachers Association Meet in Panama Baptist School Room – 3 P.M. Today. 

Miss Farquharson Entertains Number of Friends at Home-
Clarice Farquhrson Entertained at a Party at her residence at No 24 Carlos Ycaza Street, San Miguel. On Tuesday Night, the hostess received many valuable presents. M. Myrtle of Paraiso acted as Chairman. In attendance were Madames M. Myrtle of Paraiso, T. Woolcock, E. Josephs, Messrs E. Allison, F. Thompson and L. Pinnock. All indulged in dancing to Music Supplied over the Radio.

AARON CLARE GETS LICENSE TO MARRY CELESTINA SMITH- Colon April 15- Aaron Clarke 46 year old Barbadian resident of Gatun, obtained a licence in United States District Court of Cristobal yesterday to marry Miss Anna Celestina Smith, Panamanian 31 years old. The Marriage Ceremony has not been solemnized.

I consider these classifieds to be a treasure trove of Westindian literature in and of themselves as they point to the unique linguistic nuances of the Panamanian Westindians who, in their turn, were a coming together of people from many diverse West Indian islands.

* April 17, 1936- the year of my birth

This story continues.

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