The Jamaican Rum Ritual: Canada's Century's-old Connection with Carribean Nation
Newfoundland is the eastern province of Canada, situated in the country's Atlantic region. A trip to the wonderful place can never be complete without undergoing the Jamaican rum ritual.
Representative image (Getty Images)
We've always stuck together, with a rant and a roar.
To those who've never been, soon they'll understand,
From coast to coast, we raise a toast, we love thee Newfoundland."
On knees, they stand and now pucker up to the codfish they hold in their hands. It's time to kiss the fish, either on its cheeks or its pouting lips. Some even give it tongue! Now follow the kiss up with a shot of Screech, the Newfoundland rum, a drink vastly inspired by Jamaican spirits.
Congrats, you are screeched-in! You're now an honorary Newfoundlander. Receive the certificate!
Newfoundland is the eastern province of Canada, situated in the country's Atlantic region. A trip to the wonderful place can never be complete without undergoing the Jamaican rum ritual you have just read.
You may be wondering what Jamaica in the Carribean sea has to do with a ritual in Newfoundland at far north. Well, there was a time when the sea near Newfoundland was teeming with cod fish, something Jamaica under the colonial rule desperately wanted. John Cabot who discovered Newfoundland for the British in 1497 claimed that in those days the sea was so lively with cod fish that "one could walk across their backs."
So Jamaica received its favorite cod fish from Newfoundland. In return, it supplied the Canadian province with its precious Carribean rum.
Back then rum was loaded into ships from Jamaican ports at a very high alcohol content - 140 proof, potent enough to sizzle and scald human entrails. It had to be diluted once it landed on Newfoundland, which was the condition. But few bothered. That made the sailors screech as they gulped down the drink.
Another interesting account tells us that during World War 2, Newfoundland was a pit stop for American soldiers on the way to in battlefronts in Europe. Bars were frequented and on one particular night, a visiting captain was drinking rum with a native. He took up the challenge of the local host, guzzled a straight shot of 140 proof rum and screeched in horror! A general sitting nearby turned uneasily and asked: "What was that screech?" The native replied: “The screech? T’is the rum, me son.”
Ta-dang! Screech! The name was born. So what is the ceremony like?
The ritual begins with a short recitation of a poem by a true blue Newfoundlander. After it, the visitor is asked to kiss a frozen cod. Well, you have just paid respect to the fish which once propelled the economic engine of the land. Next the leader will ask you in a heavy Newfoundland accent (very hard to understand, however good your English is): “Is ye a Screecher?!” Don't sit blank. You must call out: “Deed I is, me old cock! And long may your big jib draw!” Which means: Indeed I am, old mate, and may there always be wind in your sails!" Time to take the shot.
Don't worry, gone are the days when you had to down that 140 proof Jamaican stuff to get through the initiating ritual. Laws have brought the temperature down to 70 proof. Once you are screeched-in you will be treated as an honorary Newfoundlander.
(Manu Remakant is a freelance writer who also runs a video blog - A Cup of Kavitha - introducing world poetry to Malayalees. Views expressed here are personal)
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