THE CHANTEY

Guyana Tales by Peter Halder

THE   CHANTEY

    by  Peter Halder

     Fr Alfred MacTaggart was the Priest -in-charge of St.Aidan’s Anglican Church at Wismar, Upper Demerara River.

The Church’s congregation was made up of persons from Wismar, Christianburg, Silvertown, Silver City, Wismar Hill and Mackenzie.

Fr. MacTaggart hailed from Scotland and his Scottish brogue oft intrigued his congregation when he delivered his sermon on Sundays.

His elocution, for whatever reason, was often punctuated by thin streams of spit.

The Father was also well- known for his strong  tenor voice. It gave vibrancy and appeal to the Hymns sung in Church on Sundays.   

His Diocese was not limited to Christianburg-Wismar-Mackenzie and environs. Southward it extended as far as Mallali, some 45 miles away. He visited Mallali and delivered sermons at the Mallali School building on a Sunday once every six months.

On one such visit, he was persuaded by a friend Pancho Fiedtkou to lunch. Pancho, a timber dealer, lived in his beautiful home on the right bank of the Demerara River, above Kaikuchekabra Rapids. The Mallali School was on the left bank of the river.

After a gourmet meal of tortoise soup and smoked labba, with sweet potato, eddoe, yam and plantain, Pancho and the Father struck up a conversation about the situation in the area.

Their conversation was interrupted after a long while by a sudden outburst of thunder, lightning and heavy rainfall.

The tropical storm was also accompanied by heavy winds which felled several trees. The trees blocked the path over the hill that would have taken the Father to his launch, which, due to its size, could not, in any case, navigate the narrow channel through the rapids.

There was no other way for Fr MacTaggart to return but by river, which Pancho explained. With the Fr’s concurrence, Pancho arranged for a canoe and two oarsmen to take Father by river, through the narrow channel of Kaikuchekabra Rapids to the launch.

One oarsman sat at one end and one at the other. Father sat in the middle.

All went well until they reached the Rapids.

The narrow channel was a maelstrom from the heavy rain and heavy wind. The dark brown water of the channel dashed itself against the protruding rocks on both sides, sending white sprays across and above.

“Dat ting luk lika hell, Father,” observed one oarsman, “but we goh get ya thru, na foh worrie.”

“Praise the Lord,” said Father MacTaggart gratefully, “praise the Lord!”

The oarsmen whispered the 23rd Psalm and made the Sign of the Cross as the canoe entered the channel.

Fr MacTaggart raised in the air the Golden Cross on the chain around his neck and joined in saying the 23rd Psalm loudly.

The canoe was tossed from side to side along the narrow channel by the savage turbulence of the water.

Father finished the Psalm and began the Lord’s Prayer when they reached the middle of the channel.

The maelstrom was worse there and the boat began to take in water as it tossed from side to side.

The oarsmen encountered grave difficulty in controlling the canoe and keeping it from being dashed against the huge rocks.

Sweat ran from their heads, through their hair and down their forehead. Their eyes were rolling in their sockets.

Fear drove them into their tradition and custom.

The two, as one, began to sing a chantey as they desperately paddled forward.

” Dem ah tell lie pon me

Dem ah tell lie pon me

Dem ah tell lie pon me

Seh me gie gal belly.”

Their faces were grim but their hands never stopped. Their bodies were soaked with perspiration but they showed courage.

Fr MacTaggart, buoyed by his Prayer, was nevertheless shaking.

But what worried him most was the bawdiness and lewdness of the chantey.

He started to sing the Hymn “Onward Christian Soldier” to the dismay and anger of the oarsmen.

The rapidly churning water was pushing the canoe towards a great big, jagged rock with sharp edges.

The men shouted to the Father to stop singing his Hymn and join them in singing their chantey.

“I can’t do that,” shouted back the Father,” only God can save us.”

“Well in dat case,” shouted back the men in unison, ” we goh down we oars. Ef yoh doan sing we song we gon stop rowing and we all gon die right hey. Up to yoh, sing or die.”

Seeing he had no choice but to do as they asked. Father told them all right, and launched into the chantey singing:

” They are telling lies on me

They are telling lies on me

They are telling lies on me

Saying I gave a young lady abdomen. ”

and he continued singing the same words.

The boat steadied. The oarsmen plied all their skill and paddled the canoe safely through the channel.

END

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED :  Burnett A. Halder 2013   

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