Cleophas, The Village Crier
by Margaret Sullivan and Nelcia Marshall Robinson
We would hear the ringing of the bell before we saw him. We would wonder whether he had a death announcement, or a notice of a Meeting of the Chauncey Penny Union Society.
The Chauncey Penny Union Society was a Friendly Co-operative Society that met the financial needs of the community at the time when most persons did not have access to a bank. “Society,” as it was commonly called was the village bank. The two major objectives of the “Society” were the provision of a funeral grant to the family of the deceased, and a safe place to keep the family savings for Christmas. There was nothing more humiliating at that time than for a family member to die and the family be left unable to give them a “decent burial”. Each member paid what was called “death dues or death tax”, a small charge for each member that died, during the year, plus an extra sum at their discretion whenever they could afford it.
The “death dues” were mandatory. At the end of the financial year which was in early December, the executive body of the Society would meet and ensure that every member’s “death dues” and other operating expenses were fully paid. This meant that they were “financial members”. Any money left over was repaid to them, with the option for them to leave something in their “book” as a carry over into the New Year. For many members at the time this was their Christmas savings. Most members made the effort to save a little extra money each time with the intention of having it for their Christmas expenses. Once you were deemed a financial member you could rest assured that in the event of death, your family would receive your funeral grant.
He was Mr. Mack, better known as “Cleophas” a name by which he was more popularly and affectionately called. We waited eagerly with bated breath and cocked ears for him to draw near. With a ring of his bell and in as loud a voice as he could without assistance of any Public Address System he would shout “Members, four o’clock funeral for Sister “So and So”, or Brother “So and So”. “Turn out in your numbers, at Chauncey Methodist Church, Chauncey Burial Ground, or wherever village the member lived and where the funeral was taking place.
He would start on this mission very early in the morning. He wanted to be sure that everybody could hear the news before they left for work so that they could make the necessary arrangements to attend the funeral. He would diligently and single handedly go thoughout all the villages in the South Leeward district – up hills and down valleys, in alleys and by ways, main road and side roads, nowhere was missed. No hill was too high for him to climb, and no road was too rugged for him to walk. Cleophas was also the one to notify us by the same method if the “Society” was going to have a Meeting for its members. He cried out the day, date and time of the meeting making sure he reminded members that “All is Invited”. Cleophas performed these duties with great enthusiasm and zeal.
Mr Mack , better known as “Cleophas” , was the ‘Village Crier’ – the original cell phone. His duty it was to pass on news of importance to the village. All we knew of ‘Cleophas’ was that he was brother to Mrs Harry who was married to that Harry with the shop at Choice Hill, the Big Car, and the Big House. We knew that he was Uncle to John, Sarah and Derek, his sister’s children. He was the son of an elderly lady whom everyone in the village called “Auntie Mack”, to whom he became a most remarkable caregiver. He was also a very staunch and devout Anglican, who never missed a Mass at Pembroke Church until he could not walk the distance any more. All of this was of little significance to us. What awed us was his ability to transmit good and bad news. We had great admiration for him being able to bear the strain of walking up and down hills, and shouting a continuous message at the same time.
When Cleophas could no more travel the roads, none of his replacements could ably fill his shoes. By then, radio had become popular and announcements could be made through this medium. Today, it is the cell phone with its email, texting and twittering, that is the swift bearer of news.
With the embracing of modernity, and the redundancy of the role of people like ‘Cleophas’, a community governance and communications structure has been lost.