Div­ing into the ar­chives

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY - An­nie Paul An­nie Paul is a writer and critic based at the Univer­sity of the West Indies and au­thor of the blog, Ac­tive Voice (an­niepaul.net). Email feed­back to col­umns@glean­erjm.com or tweet @an­niepaul.

ABOOK project I’m work­ing on had me trawl­ing the Gleaner ar­chives for in­for­ma­tion last week be­cause I wanted to get a sense of what the war years were like in 1940s Ja­maica. There’s noth­ing I en­joy more than div­ing into pe­ri­od­i­cal ar­chives, and The Gleaner’s collection of digi­tised news­pa­pers dat­ing from the 1800s is a par­tic­u­larly rich trove.

The ad­ver­tise­ments of yesteryear are a treat. In 1942, op­ti­cians busily flogged their ser­vices, with up to three ads on a sin­gle page. “The BEST and noth­ing else is good enough for your only pair of eyes,” urged A. Roy Muschette of 40 Church Street, Kingston. “Par­ents, don’t hand­i­cap your school chil­dren. Let me ex­am­ine their eyes each year.”

“Wear COR­RECT glasses!” ad­vised Dr H.U. Robin­son, op­ti­cian. “Wise are the work­ers who watch their eyes. If you do not see things cor­rectly and dis­tinctly, you need our COR­RECT GLASSES.”

Issa’s – “Kingston’s smart shop” – ad­ver­tised “a sen­sa­tional group of fine tow­els”, while Mr D.B. Dad­lani an­nounced his new store on King Street, the Bom­bay Bazaar.

“MORE HOUSES ARE DE­STROYED BY ANTS THAN NAZI BOMBS,” pro­claimed a Hard­ware and Lum­ber ad for a prod­uct named At­las A be­neath a photo of floor­boards de­stroyed by ‘wood ants’. “The preser­va­tive that pre­serves – At­las A wood preser­va­tive is death to wood ants.”

Mean­while, there ap­peared to be folk in Ja­maica who ac­tu­ally WANTED curly hair, un­like the black pop­u­la­tion who, even to­day, are ob­sessed with straight­en­ing theirs. The mak­ers of a prod­uct named Curly Top claimed it was used by two mil­lion “de­lighted moth­ers”, was “ab­so­lutely harm­less”, and made hair grow curly by nat­u­ral means, “gen­tly feed­ing it with the nat­u­ral or­gan­ism lack­ing in straight hair”.

The virtues of ex­pe­di­ency were touted. “Ha­rassed housewives are hap­pier when they have a good store of OXO cubes in the house, for some­thing nour­ish­ing, tasty yet eco­nom­i­cal can be pro­duced, at the short­est no­tice, for fam­ily or for un­ex­pected guests.”

I have no idea why there was a market for woollen items in Ja­maica, but The London Shop ad­ver­tised a Jan­uary clear­ance of moth­e­aten sweaters or “im­per­fect woolies”. “It’s al­ways a ‘nip and tuck’ race be­tween us and the moths,” ad­mit­ted the ad. “De­spite our con­tin­ued vig­i­lance, the moth wins oc­ca­sion­ally.”

My favourite was the fol­low­ing small ad that popped up disin­gen­u­ously be­tween col­umns of newsprint: “CUT ME OUT and send me with your name and ad­dress to Kinkead Ltd, King Street, Kingston. It will bring you FREE un­der plain cover a med­i­cal leaflet of Santi Oil, which will tell you how to re­gain lost vigour and man­hood at home by a ra­tio­nal treat­ment.”

DRA­CO­NIAN MOTHER COUN­TRY

Amid these signs of brisk com­merce, an ar­ti­cle pointed to a com­pre­hen­sive re­view of West In­dian trade con­di­tions, with par­tic­u­lar ref­er­ence to wartime reg­u­la­tions and con­trol. It seems Bri­tain was con­cerned about Amer­i­can in­cur­sions into this out­post of its em­pire. “No ar­ti­cle what­ever should be al­lowed to re­main not sub­ject to con­trol. “Ex­cept in cases where ur­gency is a vi­tal con­sid­er­a­tion, li­censes for dol­lar goods should never be granted when ster­ling goods are avail­able.”

The mother coun­try was noth­ing if not dra­co­nian. “It is clear there are a num­ber of ar­ti­cles of a non-essen­tial na­ture, the im­port of which in ev­ery colo­nial de­pen­dency ought to be pro­hib­ited en­tirely from all sources, whether ster­ling or non-ster­ling.”

The ar­ti­cle noted that there was re­sis­tance to these con­trols. “One of the strong­est ob­jec­tions to the rec­om­men­da­tions of the Com­pe­tent Au­thor­ity here has been that im­port of dol­lar goods is not per­mit­ted, even when ster­ling goods of the kind re­quired are not avail­able from any source Bri­tish or Em­pire.”

There were lots of ads for movies and plays. Wolmer’s Girls’ School pre­sented tableaux and car­ols in aid of the War Fund at the Ward Theatre, while Eric Cover­ley’s morn­ing Christ­mas show ‘Yule­tide Yodel­ings’ was go­ing to be held at Harold Cock­ings on Church Street.

The Glass Bucket Club ad­ver­tised a Hawai­ian Night, or­gan­ised by Bramp­ton Old Girls, where “Pic­turesque hang­ings, flow­ers and multi-col­ored lights would trans­form the at­mos­phere into one rem­i­nis­cent of Hawaii – land of beauty and flow­ers.” A mid­week dance night at the same club ad­ver­tised the en­chant­ing melodies of The Royal Hawai­ians. What was this fas­ci­na­tion with Hawaii about? I won­dered.

On a more sober note, a letter to the ed­i­tor from a Mr G.R. Bowen elicited in­for­ma­tion about “un­pleas­ant­ness” in­volv­ing a del­e­ga­tion of jour­nal­ists from the West Indies vis­it­ing Eng­land on a Bri­tish Coun­cil-spon­sored jun­ket. The “re­gret­table and un­pleas­ant hap­pen­ing” oc­curred en route to Eng­land in Ber­muda (where the party was forced to land due to bad weather) and in­volved the dif­fi­culty of find­ing ho­tel ac­com­mo­da­tion for the “coloured mem­bers” of the WI press del­e­gates “due to the at­ti­tude of the Amer­i­can tourists and the fact that Ber­muda lives al­most en­tirely off the tourist trade”.

I scratched my head. In 1942, wouldn’t a colour bar have been par for the course in Ja­maican ho­tels as well?

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