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Reael 'Limping Jack' Frett- Culturist, Village Town Crier

Reael “Limping Jack” Frett, culturist and town crier, and I were classmates at Major Bay Primary School (now Williard Wheatley) at Major Bay, East End, Tortola, VI (British). Since leaving Major Bay Primary School over 40 years ago, Limping Jack and I saw and have communicated with each other a handful of times.

Over the years though, while listening to local radio stations from afar, I learnt of his participating actively in the Road Town August Monday Emancipation celebration and the East End/Long Look Emancipation celebration with a variety of old time, cultural and heritage exhibits/props. And through the effort of my nephew Wallace “Bonds” Leonard a few days ago, Limping Jack and I reconnected. It was a healthy, refreshing, and enlightened reconnection; it was like old times. He and I engaged in a substantive, impressive and thought-provoking discussion on a myriad of topics ranging from our days at Major Bay Primary School and beyond. Limping Jack is passionate about promoting, advancing, and preserving local culture and heritage.

He is a passionate culturist, deep thinker with deep insights into what may be good for as well as what ails the VI.

The VI has over the decades moved the growth, development, and progress needle forward and upwards, enhancing the quality of life and standard of living of residents but that progress comes with an opportunity cost. The VI has changed over the decades and some of the changes are bothersome and concerning to Limping Jack. Some of the wide-ranging topics discussed, focused on, and emphasised included a) Village, b) Book vs. Common Sense, c) Old vs New, d) Analogies, e) Stress and Strain of Procuring Assets, f) Laws and enforcement, g) Saving for Rain Day, h) Organic Food and Healthy Living, i) Rising Crime among other things. I was moved and motivated by the inspiring discussion with Limping Jack to pen these few rambling lines, summarising our discussion.

Village


It takes a village to raise a child is a widely accepted, embraced, and often stated African proverb. To this proverb, can be added that it takes a village to build a community, a country; the village is the heart and soul of a community. Post slavery/emancipation, residents in East End/Long Look, as well as other areas of the VI, cooperated, collaborated, and banded together to create village(s) outside and away from the plantation setting. These villages developed into strong communities with a sense of collective belonging. In the villages, each one helped one and the village developed and grew together.

Another African proverb states that if one wants to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. Village residents worked together and went far. The Village(s) developed a culture and standards that were the community norms; the norms were guiding principles. Further, elders were respected in the community, serving the common good for the Village. For example, in the Village, if an elder observed a young child exhibiting behaviours that were outside of the norms, the elders could correct the behaviour without fear of fire and brimstone hailing down upon them from either parents or guardians.

Of course, that was when most residents were basically at the same economic and social level and the village was smaller and less diversified. And with progress and growth came increasing changes and challenges. Now individualism has supplanted collectivism with a cost to the community. The Village has lost its purpose and function to the demise of the community. Limping Jack mourns the loss of the Village and posits that the East End/Long Look area is, in essence, may be village-less and so goes the village so goes the territory. But he is hopeful that with effective, collective, and purposeful community village engagement a renaissance, rebirth can be ignited.

Book Sense Vs. Common Sense


Though Limping Jack didn’t go on to secondary school, UVI or UWI or other institutions of higher learning, he is well-versed in history, geography, as well as a myriad of other issues and their close relationships to real life and living in the VI. He is of the opinion that the pendulum has swung too far favouring booking sense over common sense, ignoring the wisdom and experience of the “Lil Man” that may not have any alphabet soup letters before or after their names. The opinions of “locals” are given less weight than the opinions of those coming from the outside, including locals that travelled to St Thomas, Puerto Rico and beyond and returned home. If you were to travel outside the territory, your opinion, expertise is sought, trusted, and valued more than the expertise of the home-grown “Lil Man”. The experience, wisdom and expertise of locals are too often shunted aside. Furthermore, too often common sense is slaughtered on the altar of book sense. Too often also solutions for issues defer strongly to book sense at the expense of local experience, wisdom, and common sense.

Old vs. Current (New)


Limping Jack is a collector, preserver, and a connoisseur of a myriad of old-time things/items, i.e., straw work, coal pot, straw fish pots, coal goose, 1- or 2-wheel runners, wash basins, tops………etc. He maintains a small repository of old-time things and is generous in sharing his collections; he is a mobile museum/display. I have used and benefitted from his collection.

He embraces progress but feels and believes that artefacts should not just be pitched on the “dung” heap. Rather the old should be preserved and built upon. The Holy Book says there is nothing new under the sun. What is old will become new again. Instead of the old-time things just being relegated, neglected, and discarded in the dung heap, they should be preserved, built upon, blended with, and co-exist with the new to the maximum extent possible and practical. As such and to preserve customs, courtesies, culture, and history, the VI should go all out to preserve things of old for the education, enjoyment, and experience of current generations and for generations yet unborn. The Ministry of Education and Culture must soberly look at developing, constructing, maintaining, and operating a modern, state-of-the art museum(s) of history, culture, heritage, and science, along with integrating culture in the school curriculum. The VI cannot forget where it was and the way it was. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it---George Santayana.

Analogies


Limping Jack is adroit at comparing and contrasting his life experiences with current situations and scenarios in the VI. During our discussion, he consistently and amply supported his positions with relevant and powerful analogies. For example, in earlier times, a ‘cotta’ was used as a cushion to carry loads on one’s head. Sometimes when a load was too heavy help was needed to place it on the carrier’s head. However, destination reached, the carrier would at times need help to offload the load. The moral of the story is that you should not take on a load that is so heavy that you cannot safely lift it up, carry it and offload it by yourself, i.e., procuring a mortgage, car payment……. etc. that you may qualify for yet cannot afford. Additionally, don’t hang your hat where you cannot reach it or push your head through where your body cannot pass. Limping Jack has a litany of other relative analogies to current situations and scenarios, i.e., hurricane preparedness and readiness, construction, politics, crisis management, learning trades……...etc. His life lessons are priceless, worth listening to and acted upon.

Stress & Strain of Procuring Assets


Proverbs 22:7- The rich rule over the poor; and the borrower is slave to the lender. The VI’s economy has transitioned from subsistence agriculture to services---tourism and financial services---improving residents standard of living and quality of life. However, the new VI economy is fragile and heavily dependent on external investment and is highly susceptible to external shocks; Coronavirus (COVID-19) has exposed the economy’s structural weaknesses, i.e., sensitivity to external shocks (fragility and sensitivity of tourism). To accelerate the feeling, pride, and speed of owning assets, many VI residents borrow to procure assets. However, assets procured, many often have to forego and sacrifice the quiet and enjoyment of owning the assets and family time by undergoing much stress and strain hustling to meet high payment obligations, especially in a fragile and stalled economy. Though asset ownership is exciting, ownership can prove stressful and unnerving if a couple of payments are missed, and lending institutions are knocking at the door, threatening to take ownership of the asset. Who owns an asset, lender, or borrower? Economic downtown in a small, open economy such as the VI could prove perilous to borrowers’ health and well-being.

As such, prudence should and must be exercised, taking sensible risk. Concerningly, many borrowers may be facing the probability of losing assets. Limping Jack is concerned about the natural treasure, i.e., land, being lost due to a faltering economy and borrowers/residents overextending themselves. Banks are a business but are not usually in the real estate business and will take action(s) to recoup what is owed to them through foreclosure if needed. Moreover, banks provide a valuable service that can be mutually beneficial to both lender and borrower. Nonetheless, the borrower must exercise prudence in borrowing.

Moreover, in times that seem so long ago, young men work with skilled craftsmen to learn a trade, i.e., carpentry, mason, electrical, plumbing…...etc. The compensation was the benefit of acquiring a skill and gaining experience; now the unskilled want big money. Limping Jack promotes building a house where practical a little at a time. He remembers when you could buy bags of cement, gravel, sand, steel……etc. and family/ friends (Village) would give you a hand building your house. He acknowledges that those days are long gone.

Laws & Enforcement


Laws on the book that serve only as good book ends on shelves or are just stored in a computer are useless if not enforced, i.e., rules of the road, noise nuisance (motorbike), rules of the sea (boats creating waves in inner harbour) ……...etc. Unenforced laws posed a risk to and impact the standard of living and quality of life of residents.

Saving for Rainy Day


Limping Jack reminded me that our parents and grandparents, i.e., Silent and Baby Boomer generations despite their meagre earnings developed the habit of saving for a rainy day. As such, we (parents)/community should teach children about the need, importance, responsibility, and benefit of saving for a rainy day and should encourage them to save. Children cannot squander everything they work for on wants, not needs, and when a crisis occurs, they lean on and expect parents to consistently bail them out. They cannot see their parents as a ready ATM. Limping Jack put forth another analogy. When cows, goats, hogs……etc. weaned their young, the mothers move on leaving the young to fend for themselves. Birds too fly away one day and don’t return, leaving chicks to fend for themselves. Parents too should give their children wings and let them fly.

Organic Food & Healthy Living


Back in the day most of the food eaten were organic, i.e., fresh fish, milk (cow milk), pork, mutton, and chicken; ground provision, vegetables, fruits………etc. Today processed food laden with calories, salt, sugar, fats……. etc. are commonplace. Canned food was an occasional substitute. Moreover, there is a growing alarm and concern about the increased/increasing chronic diseases, e.g., sugar (diabetes), pressure (hypertension), obesity………etc. The rise in chronic diseases warrant studies to determine cause(s) and suggested corrective action(s).

Rising Crime


Feeling nostalgic for the days of old when homes/houses could be left open (lock and key?), cars left unlocked, walk without fear any and everywhere at night, murders were a rarity, jails were the province of a few habitual offenders……...etc. Nonetheless, in recent times, property and violent crimes have ticked upward, increasing apprehension among residents, and increasing the prison population. Rising crime is a safety and security concern that is impacting resident’s standard of living and quality of life and if not arrested can adversely impact the economy and livelihoods. It will take the whole community working together to arrest/lower the crime rate, i.e., parents/guardians, police, schools, churches, government, social clubs/groups, NGOs, the community, and the village.

Finally, Limping Jack has good ideas about governing, living……...etc. that are worth hearing and sharing. During our conversation, I encouraged and exhorted him to continue to share his wisdom, ideas……. etc. through community engagement. As such, he should be recruited to partake in community engagement workshops, i.e., at schools. Limping Jack indeed is a culturist and town crier and has much to offer the community. He has demonstrated a passion to protect and preserve VI culture, customs, courtesies, and heritage.

If you see Reael “Limping Jack” Frett around town, give him a shout out.

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