by Jamaica Kincaid
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
"Maude smell donkey, she smell so funky/ Me gee she water, me gee she soap/ And she still smell funky!": with lyrics like this, no wonder Mom doesn't want Girl singing benna in Sunday School.
Okay, so that example—written by a benna singer named Thomas Joseph—was just in bad taste. But benna, like calypso and many other West Indian musical genres, was also used to talk about political scandals. Often they were directed at the ruling British class, and people (like our friend Thomas Joseph) even went to jail for writing and singing the songs. And if you hadn't guessed, the songs also had some sexy double meanings.
So, sexuality, bad taste, and open rebellion all rolled up in a convenient musical package. No wonder Girl defends herself. Singing benna in church would be the opposite of everything that Mom is trying to teach her—it sounds like about the worst thing she could do.
Not to mention that church is a symbol of European influence in Antigua, since Christianity came to the island at the same time that it became an English colony. Benna, on the other hand, is Antiguan culture. So, saying that Girl shouldn’t sing benna in church is sort of like saying, don’t bring Antiguan culture into European places.
It’s obvious that Mom doesn’t hate Antiguan culture, since she practices Obeah herself and teaches Girl about that and Antiguan food. But if we’ve learned anything, we’ve learned that Mom cares a whole lot about appearances. You might use your fingers to eat some tasty fried chicken at home, but never in a fancy restaurant. (Do fancy restaurants even serve fried chicken? They should, because that stuff is delicious.)
In the same way, Mom probably has no problem with Girl singing benna at home, but singing it at church would have been a little like licking your fingers after some fois gras with the queen.