Ori­gin of Tallawah phrase

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION&COMMENTARY - PETER KNIBB pknibb@hot­mail.com Rock Hall, St An­drew


MY GRAND­MOTHER, the late Flori­dine Pit­ters, could al­ways be re­lied on to en­ter­tain with a good story re­lated to her run­ning away from her cruel hus­band to Panama, or one re­lated to her ac­tiv­i­ties with Garvey’s Univer­sal Ne­gro Im­prove­ment As­so­ci­a­tion, among many oth­ers.

I re­call clearly a story she told about a very sick tiger cub at the Hope Zoo named Tallawah, that, though very sick and on the brink of death, stub­bornly re­fused to die. She re­called that each morn­ing, many would await the ra­dio news up­date on his con­di­tion. Some days his out­look was grave, on oth­ers it was bad, on oth­ers it was not so bad. This went on for what ev­ery­one thought was a very long time, well be­yond what was con­sid­ered his ex­pi­ra­tion date.

The lit­tle tiger fought hard – harder than most would have – and long – longer than oth­ers could – hold­ing on de­spite what was ev­i­dently an im­pos­si­ble and ter­mi­nal sit­u­a­tion. Out of all of that was coined, by one long for­got­ten, the phrase un­der­stood only by Ja­maicans, ‘Im likkle but im tallawah’. I have asked around for some oth­ers to con­firm the ve­rac­ity of this story and the ori­gin of the phrase which all Ja­maicans know and love, but could find none.

All that ap­par­ently re­mains of the tiger cub Tallawah in our recorded his­tory is a report on the front page of the Daily Gleaner of Thurs­day, April 4, 1968, which reads, in part, “The par­lia­men­tary sec­re­tary, who is di­rectly re­spon­si­ble to the min­is­ter for the op­er­a­tions of the zoo, also said that two Ben­gal tigers have been pur­chased from the Ok­la­homa and Chicago zoos and are now the lat­est at­trac­tion at the Hope Zoo. These two tigers, he said, have been se­cured to re­place the one named Tallawah, which died in 1966”.

So com­plete is the loss of this mem­ory of our once-loved Tallawah that the Ja­maican fran­chise of the an­nual T20 Caribbean Cricket Com­pe­ti­tion has, in ig­no­rance, cho­sen a croc­o­dile to sym­bol­ise Tallawah, the young in­domitable tiger cub.

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