Monday, May 20, 2024
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HomeEducation / CultureWhere there’s Poke

Where there’s Poke

By Tony Deyal

“In spite of their diversity in ancestry and language, the countries of the West Indies share a largely common culture, the result of their somewhat parallel experiences as plantation colonies. The culture of the Caribbean people is a blend of African, American Indian, European, and, in some cases, Asian influences.” One thing that Caribbean people know is the song by the Calypsonian, the Mighty Sparrow, “If Sparrow say so is so/ I want the whole world to know.”

Fortunately, he didn’t tell the world that our culture includes as the second and third in command, the American Indians and the Europeans, with the “Asian influences” having very little, if any, influence in what I call “our” culture. For the 32 years this column has been running, especially in Barbados, Jamaica, and once upon a time, Trinidad and Tobago, I have insisted that we have more in common than we have differences. But to get back to Britannica and its “Kids” or “Students” Homework Help, “Most of the population is descended from enslaved Africans or from Spanish, French, British or Dutch colonists or is of mixed ethnicity.”

It is true that we have some big differences based on the fact that while it is said that “No man is an island but a piece of the continent and a part of the main”, each island is supposedly a class in itself. Each little bit of sand and rock surrounded by the Caribbean Sea has a demi-god prime minister who calls the shots and, for the most part, lives in riches and splendour. Yet, regardless of how poor they are kept by their masters, the people believe that their place alone is “God’s” country and they are the only “God’s people” in the region. We also have other issues but not many to sneeze at except what I call “CARICOMMESS”. The others, apple, peach and kiwi fruit, are not Caribbean. What we have in our countries are some with different names depending on where you live.

The Africans have the same kind of problem. My favourite example is the fruit that in Nigeria is “Agbalumo” to the Yoruba, “Chiwo” to the Hausas, and “Udara” to the Igbo. In Jamaica it is “Star Apple” and in Trinidad it is “Caimit”.

Another fruit there is the “Star Fruit” which is known in other places as “Carambola”, “Chinese Jimbelin”, “Coolie Tamarind” and “Five Fingers.” Obviously, our fingers don’t just do the walking but also a lot of talking.

Trinidad also has a fruit called “Jamoon” and “Pommerac” but known in Jamaica as “Otaheite apple.” I lived in a place called “Otaheite” in Trinidad and there was none there but Guyana has. However there it is named, “Titi Apple”. What we know as “Pommerac”, they call “Cashew”, and what we call a “Zabocca” they say is a “pear”. What Trinis call “pommeseetay” is June Plum in Barbados and “Dew Plum” or “Golden Apple” in other countries.

So, the question is, “Do we have anything in common that other countries and people don’t call by the same name?” Well folks, I found one. The word is “Pokey”.

I will start with the great American president, Abraham Lincoln. His nine-year-old son, Tad, could not read, write or dress himself. Lincoln did not worry and said, “Let him run. There’s time enough yet for him to learn his letters and get pokey.” US experts say that we should keep in mind that “pokey” is not listed in Webster’s dictionary and has mysteriously acquired the meaning of dull, stupid or slow. So is that the only meaning of pokey and, if not, what are the others? One group has “pokey” as “A word used to describe a girl you’re very fond of.” In other words, it means that “she’s beautiful, funny, smart and means a great deal to you.” It adds, “a pokey is your ride or die, your go to girl and your one and only.” For example, Guy 1 says, “She’s kinda hot man.” The other replies, “Nah man, she’s more than that. She’s my pokey.”

Then, I decided to go further and got “COPILOT”, the new AI-powered chat mode of Microsoft. It gave me summarized answers and what it thought was creative inspiration: “The term ‘pokey’ is a slang word for jail. It’s an informal way to refer to a prison and is often used in a light-hearted or humorous context. The word ‘pokey’ has been in use since the early 20th century and is an alteration of ‘pogey’ which had an early sense of being a hostel for the needy. The term may have been influenced by ‘poky’ meaning small and cramped, which describes the conditions of many jails.”

A British Dictionary sees “pokey” with adjectival words “pokier” and “pokiest” as “small and cramped” or “without speed or energy”, or “slow”. The adverb is “pokiness.” It claims that in American English is “not lively” but “slow, dull, dilatory, small and uncomfortable, stuffy etc” like a “poky room”. “Jail” for them is the poky of pokies, “They put him in the poky for carrying a concealed weapon.” Other examples of the use of “poky” include: “We got used to it, but the house is poky in the extreme” (Sunday Times); “What you find is a poky little afterthought crammed into a corner of the top floor.” (Sunday Times); “The downside is that some rooms remain authentically poky, with poor views or no balconies.” (Sunday Times); and from Susan Coolidge in What Katy Did, “It is all dark and poky, you know.”

Some of the other meanings and uses of “pokey” outside of the Caribbean are like, “The old computer feels so pokey compared to the new one” and one wonders how the owner worked that out. Coming closer to the Caribbean we get, “Poki is a fantastic online gaming platform that offers a wide variety of free games. Whether you’re playing solo or with friends, Poki has someone for everyone!” I heard a children’s song, “Pokey Pokey” which goes, “You put your right hand in, / Your put your right hand out, / You put your right hand in, / That’s what it’s all about!”  However, when I found that “Pokey” is Australian slang for “slot machines” I decided to go straight home.

In Jamaica, while “pork” is known by some as “poke”, the word “pokey” (sometimes known as “coochie”) is a slang expression for a woman’s vagina. Example sentences are: “Yuh need fi wash out yuh pokey” or “You need to clean your coochie.” I remember my reaction when I first entered the University in Trinidad and heard Jamaican boys referring to one of their countrymen as “Pokey”. The Trini girls and the boys from Guyana, Trinidad and several other Caribbean countries laughed, “You hear what they calling him?” However, it is the Caribbean Dictionary that makes it clear, “The vagina. The female sexual organ” with alternatives like cat, fanny, fat pork, good good, pumpum, punani, youyum, saltfish, tonky and, the one that will get me killed, “wife”.

*Tony Deyal was last seen with the Urban Dictionary which says “Pokey” is “when something pokes you repeatedly in the mouth or any other area.”

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