The Breadfruit Feast
Nanko dipped his spoon into the bowl of cornmeal porridge and took up another spoonful. He ate it and then put some more ackee and saltfish onto the hard-doe bread. He made a sandwich with it and bit off a piece. Their cornmeal porridge was made of grated corn with coconut milk. They had used wet sugar to sweeten it and grated a nutmeg in it to give it some more flovour. Butty, Dedco and Bully were also eating their porridge.
“You think we’ll find him today?” Butty asked.
The men were casual workers on several properties around the Mc Kenzie Lands area and they were looking for Berbice Morgan reputed to be a great eater. Stout eaters themselves, they were no match for Berbice. A feast was coming up and they wanted somebody to bet on. Wimple, one of the best eaters in the village, had withdrawn from the contest because his elder brother, Bam, a man with a fierce temper, had threatened to give him a terrible beating should he dare enter the contest.
“Berbice is the only man capable of beating Bagda,” Nanko said. They were filling up themselves with this load of food for the long haul into the woods to find Berbice.
“He must be at his shack up in Lobban’s Ridge. That’s where he stays when he is burning coal,” Bully said.
They saw Hustay Willie coming towards them. He was riding on a grey mule. Hustay was also a coal burner. He was a big strapping man and a great eater himself. He had entered several eating contests, but had never finished anywhere in the top three. He was not well liked in the village. Hustay had always boasted that his grandfather had been the driver on the nearby Goodall Eastate. In fact Hustay now carried his whip.
Hustay saw them eating and remembered that he had not eaten his breakfast as yet. He stopped his mule and got off and tied it to a nearby tree stump.
“You guys loading up, it seems as if you have some hard work ahead of you,” he greeted them as Sonia, Dedco’s woman, came out of the house with a pail of lemonade.
“Join us, Hustay,” Dedco invited him. Sonia greeted him too before putting down the pail and returning inside. Hustay took up a platter and poured out the rest of the ackee and saltfish into it. He took ten slices of the bread, each almost an inch thick in width and threw in his plate. He put down the plate and took two pears out of his bag. He passed one to the men while pealing the other and putting it into his plate. He poured a cheese pan full of lemonade and sat back to shovel the food into his mouth.
“We are going to look for Berbice,” Bully said belatedly in reply to Hustay. They were all watching the pile of food on Hustay’s plate. They could have done with another helping, but Hustay had shoveled all the food that was left onto his platter.
“Think you guys can find him? I might enter the contest because I hear that Whipple will not be in it,” Hustay said.
“We are looking for somebody to beat Bagda. You’ve come up against him several times and lost,” Dedco said.
“I’ve beaten Bagda already and Berbice too,” Hustay said before stuffing his mouth full of food.
Hilda, Nankoo’s woman, came out of the house.
“Any of you want any more food?” she asked. “Wait, Mister Hustay, I didn’t know you were here.”
“Hilda, I could do with some roasted plantains if you have any and some cocoa tea too,” Hustay told her.
The others told her that they had had their fill and she returned inside for the food for Hustay.
“It’s so you guys eat light. You can’t be cutting cane or doing the kind of hard work we do and eat so light,” Hustay said as Hilda returned with the roasted plantains and a pot of cocoa tea.
“We are going up into the woods to look for Berbice. Chances are he’ll have more food up there for us,” Dedco said.
Berbice was at his hut in the woods of Lobban’s Ridge. He was putting the finishing touches to his breakfast. He was having fried dumplings, ackee and saltfish and cocoa tea. It was a big meal with a dozen dumplings, a pot full of ackee and saltfish and a pot full of tea. Berbice sat down at his self made table to eat. He was a huge man with big rippling muscles. He had to fall huge trees and cut them up for making coal to sell in the May Pen market.
As Berbice ate his meal he thought about the upcoming contest. A feast was to be held in their village and it included a eating contest. The winner would receive a domestic animal and Berbice had heard that a goat was the prize this time around. Of the four contests in which he had participated he had won two and Bagda two. So both were now even. Whipple and another man Polack had come close to dethroning them. Hustay Willie had participated, but had never finished any of those contests. There would be horseracing and running too and many other games. These were always held on the first day of August each year. This was how they celebrated Emancipation Day. Berbice finished his meal and waited for his food to be digested. Already he was thinking about his lunch and he has green gungo peas soaking and pig’s tail also soaking. He would roast two breadfruits and cook some yams, banana and dumplings.
Berbice was packing his kiln and hid lunch was cooking when the men burst in on him. He had been expecting them thus his pots were full of food and he had picked and thrown half a dozen more breadfruits into the fire.
“Berbice, what’s going on?” Dedco greeted him. The others greeted him too.
“I know you guys were going to check me so I cooked enough lunch for all of us.”
“This morning, we were eating breakfast when Hustay joined us. He was trying to show off on us like he’s any great eater and nearly had colic,” Bully said.
“I had to hit his back several times for him not to choke. He could only eat half the food he put on his platter,” Nanko stated.
The men continued eating their food after a good bout of laughter at Hustay’s expense.
“Hustay is no great eater. He has always entered eating contests and never won anything,” Berbice declared.
“He says he has beaten you and Bagda already,” Dedco said.
“That was a long time agoand those weren’t any big contest.”
“We are looking for somebody to bet on. Everybody we talk to says that they are going with Bagda,”Dedco said.
Berbice continued eating.
“There is a science to eating a lot of food. Today is Saturday and Monday is the contest so for tomorrow I will be doing only some drinking.”
“Listen, how I see eating. When your belly is full and you can’t go anymore just stop. Don’t over eat. I lost to Bagda, two time and it was because of that. You can bet on me but I can’t promise that I’m going to win.”
His friends were nodding in agreement with him.
The men returned home to find out that Bagda was installed as the overwhelming favourite.
The fair was in full swing when the eating contest started at midday. The men had to eat a bowl of soup as an appetizer. In this were various meat kinds, corn, chocho, pumpkins, carrot and irish potato. In the morning they had cornmeal porridge hardough bread and callallo. Bagda had won these two contests. Bam had relented and allowed Whipple to partake in the contest but he was performing poorly. Bam was standing in a corner of the room eating a plate of curry goat and drinking a beer while watching the eaters. Each man was now given a platter consisting of one roasted breadfruit, yams, dumplings, and pear. A bowl consisting of saltfish, pork, gully-beans and run down plus a gallon of lemonade. At the bell the men started eating with loud cheers going up from Bagda’s supporters but he was three quarters way through his meal when he started choking and despite some generous drinks of lemonade he couldn’t continue while Berbice’s supporters started shouting as they looked at his empty plates and him finishing the last of his lemonade. Whipple had also dropped out so had Hustay and Polack. Warsop and Brim had their foreheads on the table as the crowd lifted Berbice in the air. Later on that evening he was presented with his prize.