Birthday traditions in Jamaica are almost identical to most countries worldwide. Friends and family gather to express their well wishes, all sharing the merriment of the moment and huge slices of cake. But when you're celebrating your special day on the island, you can expect to be covered from head to toe with sticky globs of a floury paste.
The tradition may have started as a schoolboy prank, but its popularity spread across the island like wildfire. Whether you are 9 or 99, no-one is immune the birthday tradition of Flouring. Loved ones buy bags of flour and spend days devising cunning ways to liberally throw the stuff on you, the unsuspecting victim. It isn't uncommon for crafty relatives to top off your 'Flour Shower' with a liquid of some kind, resulting in you being covered in a sticky mess of floury goo. The nanosecond that the calendar lands on your big day, you'll spend the entire time figuring out this year's attack plan.
The tradition isn't meant to be evil; in fact, it's a great way to have a belly full of laughs with your loved ones
Jamaicans are very superstitious. We have countless practices and customs, all designed to bring fortune and keep bad luck at bay. One such superstition states that if a couple marries on the birthday of either the bride or groom, then the marriage is destined to fail.
The Jamaican Birthday Song
Even the traditional 'Happy Birthday' song is given a Reggae twist. The Jamaican Birthday Song was made popular by the island's cultural icon, Louis Bennett-Coverely. Miss Lou, as she was affectionately called, devoted her life to bringing traditional Jamaican culture to the world stage. In the 1960s and 1970s, Miss Lou's popular TV show Ring Ding, introduced the local masses to many deep-rooted practices and one such custom, the Jamaican Happy Birthday Song, was a frequent feature in the series.
As a side note, there are a few birth rituals that were once common place in the local culture as recently as the 1970s. One such practice is the Birth Tree. According to tradition, the umbilical cord of a newborn was buried in the backyard (along with a few choice objects) and a fruit tree was planted at the spot. The ritual is of African origin and symbolized a child's connection to a certain place.
Back then, much like today, plots of land were passed down through the generations. The expression, "Mi navel string cut under [insert tree type] tree," is still widely used today and is in reference to the Birth Tree custom. It's used to show your intense love of an object, person, or food.
"I love apples as if mi navel string cut under apple tree."
So should you happen to spend your birthday in Jamaica, enjoy the festivities of your big day by singing along to Miss Lou's birthday song over a slice of your favourite cake. Just be prepared to flour-bombed.
And don't forget to capture it on video and send it to all those who got you on a Mango Salute thank you greeting card.
Happy birthday wherever you are!
Nadya attended the University of the West Indies (Mona) where she earned a B.Sc. in Chemistry and Management and a Masters in Natural Products and Bio-Organic Chemistry. After 7 years in the Pharmaceutical Industry, she followed her passion for writing and now works freelance as a ghost-writer.
Her first novel, I was a Demon of a Grand-daughter: Stories of a Jamaican Childhood, will be available online in January 2013. Nadya is a self-proclaimed 'Jill-of-all-trades', who speaks German and adores belly dancing.