Pedro Segundo Dolabaille, also known as Papa Goon, is a good example of the conuquero and cocoa expert of yesteryear. He bragged about the intensity of his love for work. ‘I was a devil working. When night catch me in the conuco, I get vex because it come to interfere with my work.’ Papa Goon, like so many of his people also knew how to enjoy himself, after work. ‘When work done, It was parang for so!‘ he exclaimed.
He was born in 1900, and in the 1970’s when he reminisced in Spanish about his youth he still cultivated crops on his hillside conuco. Papa Goon spent his early years in the Caura Valley and worked on cacao estates since childhood. By 1915 he was employed on the El Socorro Cocoa Estate. The owners, said Papa Goon, were the Rapsey brothers, two wealthy Englishmen, according to Goon. He remembered their names: John Howard and Harris. Papa Goon’s father, Juan Dolabaille, was the “hombre de confianza, a sort of attorney to the Rapseys”, Goon explained. “When I start to work, in those days they used to pay the men four shillings a day, cuatro reales por día. The man in charge, the mayordomo, put me to work shelling the cacao. When he see that I know the work, he start me on four reales a day like the big men, I used to real work!”
In Trinidad’s cacao world the ‘Spanish’ peasant or cocoa panyol enjoyed a reputation as a connoisseur of cacao cultivation.
One’s status in life was determined by one’s position within the cacao culture. To possess cacao bearing trees and other productive land was the zenith to which one aspired.
Knowledge about every possible aspect of cacao production was one’s goal. The physical skills associated with cacao cultivation – ‘cutlassing’ 1 , picking cacao – and the ability to perform these tasks expeditiously were highly valued attributes. A man was educated on the estate, conuco and forest – not in the schoolroom. Experience on the land was more important than regular school attendance. Of what use was a book to the man who could handle a machete, find the best cacao soil and produce the finest cacao beans in the world?
1 The cutlass or cutlash is the machete, a knife with a long blade used for cutting undergrowth and low branches.
What books could teach him to hunt, fell trees and prepare antidotes against poisonous snake bites?
Who could sing parang like the cacao panyol, cocopanyol?
Here are four guarapo (warap) verses from Papa Goon’s repertoire of parang songs he used to sing:
Muchacha si tú me quieres Girl if you love me No se lo digas a nadie. Don’t tell anybody. Ponte la mano en el pecho Put your hand on your heart; Dile al corazón que calle. Tell it to be still. Muchacha no diga eso. Girl don’t say that. Que el mundo se atemoriza. Everyone will be in fear. Y los que se están oyendo. Those who are listening Se están muriendo de risa. Are dying of laughter. Mi gallina, mi gallina Chicken, chicken Mi gallina con fideo; Chicken and macaroni; Compuesta de mi muchacha When my girl cooks this dish Yo me lambo hasta los dedos I lick my finger clean Mi gallina, mi gallina Chicken, chicken Mi gallina con arroz; Chicken and rice; Compuesta de mi muchacha When my girl cooks this dish Yo me la como tó. I eat every bit of it.