Photo: Generation New Status band at Arrowroot Jollification.

 

By Mark Yokoyama

In the first National Intangible Cultural Heritage Inventory of St. Maarten, jollification has a modest entry: A traditional gathering of people to help build a house, well, or fence and at which food is served as compensation.

To most of the world, and even most of the Caribbean, a jollification is a just a party. Parties are great and jollification is a great word for party. But the meaning of the word on St. Martin is more complex. It also tells us a lot about local culture.

On St. Martin, neighbours had to come together to help each other. Some tasks, like fixing a roof or digging a well, couldn’t happen any other way. Before the modern era, most labour was done by hand. People had to lift and dig and carry together.

St. Martin was a small island and it was a poor island. But the people of the island provided for themselves by combining their talents and labour. There was not just an idea of community; people truly depended on each other.

Working together also makes sense in St. Martin’s climate. Crops had to be planted in time for the wet season. A well can only be dug during the dry season. People used jollification to do things when they needed to be done.

It would not be surprising if the roots of jollification stretch back to the time of slavery. Enslaved people were forced to work long hours. They typically worked six days a week. But they were also growing their own food and taking care of their basic needs during the little time they had left. It is hard to imagine how they could have survived without helping each other.

Today, the tradition of jollification is in decline. People are busy with their jobs. There are companies that build houses and replace roofs. Most St. Martiners aren’t digging wells or reaping provision grounds. Thankfully, the tradition is kept alive by events like the Arrowroot Jollification in Colombier.

Jollification is a key part of local culture, but it also has a place in today’s society. When people come together to volunteer, the spirit of jollification lives on, especially when there are food and drinks. After all, volunteering isn’t really a jollification unless you also have a party.

What does jollification mean to you? Tell us by writing in to The Daily Herald or [email protected]