"Santa tief ah big man from St James and tie him like ah cow in Morvant; sun and rain wetting de man and he cyah get away, poor fella...." King Solomon–Samuel Ryan
This column is in honour of the "Arima Kid"–Holly Betaudier, who taught us to appreciate our cultural/artistic creations; essentially, our value as creative human beings. This calypso is connected to the navel string of the culture, and told with deep insight, pathos, tragi-comedy, farce, titillating double entendre and with use of the folk language in a manner of the great bards of literature.
Holly taught us to recognise these and more features of the calypso and its power.
The latter part of that lingering chorus line that has resonated at Best Village for decades, is sung with a kind of pathos, a resignation forced upon "de big man from St James" to a fate predestined for him. Composer of that classic piece of storytelling in kaiso–which I frequently use as an example to young reporters of great storytelling, character creation and more–King Solomon, never bothers to give a name to this "big man from St James".
Maybe he was not worthy of a name; or maybe King "Solo", who was quite a character himself, wanted him to be a nameless representative of all "big men" who fall prey to the capacities and wiles of a powerful woman like Santa. I have never been able to work out why the name "Santa", why not Emelda or Gertrude or one of the others popular at that time?
Set in the late 1950s, the story begins with a policeman going on a mission to arrest and charge a woman for an unusual crime–stealing a man. But the policeman, seemingly feeling the power of Santa, and or thinking it ridiculous for a "big man" to be captured in such circumstances, adopts a measure of deference, even apology, when faced with Santa.
"Good morning, Miss Santa living here?" Immediately the reply comes with assurance and boldness and with a tinge of irritation from Santa. "Yes, yes is me." Continuing his deferential tone, the police officer informs Santa of his mission: "Look ah woman from St James report to me dat you tief she man from she, and as ah police is my bounding (word boy!) duty to charge you for larceny."
In his undertone, the officer is saying I would have preferred not to make out a case against you, maybe it's too ridiculous a charge or too demeaning to manhood for ah woman to tief a man; but as an officer of the law I don't have a choice.
Having laid out perfectly the core of the story in the first stanza, in his second stanza, King Solomon follows (he is not leading her) Santa to the magistrate's court. And in keeping with her boldness, Santa pleads guilty not wasting the court's time. She offers a rationale for her actions of "tiefing" the big man from St James in a bold and dismissive statement: "Ah pick up this man last Friday because he say he ain't got nobody, but when ah find out he so stupidy, ah cut de rope he shoulda gone ahready."
And with utter contempt for the man, who from town, St James, and she from Morvant, country at that time, Santa is done with her case to the magistrate, sure that she will be freed from so absurd a charge of larceny.
In the third verse to tell his side of the story to the magistrate, the nameless man of weak character and questionable size ("Big man from St James ... don't know what was being measured, character or other properties) says, and without contestation: "Santa tell me dat ah have a light on me and come up Morvant she could bathe me; after de bath she gave me ah butt and from then ah doh know meh head from meh foot; Santa tief...." What glorious, if even inelegant and groveling submission by this Big Man from St James.
Flooding my mind are the images of those large and powerful Baptist women who held corner meetings on Friday nights in and around the city in the 1950s/1960s. As the Spirit moved, the "Mother Leader" (Santa) would latch on to some poor suffering man on the pavement and deliver a couple shoulder bounces to him, shake him (as if shaking out the spirit-light) and ring de bell to the four corners. Case close!
Against that background, King Solomon places the nameless Big Man from St James on the stand to say his piece in the concluding verse of the calypso.
"De court start to sigh like if all ah dem in pain, some say she addle (word boy Solo) de man brain," as the magistrate displays a measure of impatience with the slowness of the reaction of the man and inquires of the big man: "What you want me to do before passing sentence on Santa ... I am waiting on you."
The Big Man, now almost on his hands and knees, says: "Santa tie me in Morvant so long ah get accustom to de grass on the ground, butt�for-butt ah going back dey because ah really can't get away, yuh see! Santa tief...."
Holly must have put King Solomon on stage at some time; farewell my teacher.