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Renford “Mr Rennie” Barnes: Preserving Cayman Traditions Through Old Time Stories. Part Two

Celebration 22 Apr, 2021 Follow News

Mr Rennie examines his display of Cayman elections, one of many collections on display at his ‘mini museum’

Dr Stephanie Fullerton-Cooper is an Associate Professor of English at the UCCI

Take me back to old lamp light

Which we used for our homework for school

Take me back to summertime where we fly kite,

Play marbles, spin the gig, or fishing on the seashore.

Take me back to where Easter was all day long

On the beach with an old car tire

Take me back to where Mama cooked on that old fire caboose

The delicious dishes like turtle, conch wilks, fish run down…

 

The untainted joy of their childhood shone through as Mr Rennie and Ms Pam told stories of long-ago Easter celebrations in Cayman. According to them, no one would go anywhere on Good Friday, just to church. On Easter Monday, there was a picnic and they would wake early, pack their water and food, and head to the beach. The current practice of beach camping during Easter came out of this tradition, but the event was “just for Easter Monday – not the week like what happens now”. Once the community members got together, they would share meals. For the George Town district, picnics would be held at Smith Cove (now Smith Barcadere), or Spotts beach, or by Pallion beach near The Wharf. Other districts met at beaches in their own areas.

 

Collection & Mini Museum

Mr Rennie and I left Ms Pam to visit the area where he and other senior Caymanians meet monthly to share memories, play games, and discuss local happenings. It was here that he read his poems to me and where his role as storyteller truly shone through. At his mini museum as I have dubbed it, Mr Rennie’s collection of old Caymanian things kept me gawking in amazement. I have read of the caboose, and it was here that I finally saw one! Wall after wall, shelf after shelf, filled with books and pictures, a collection of newspapers from the ’60s till today, samples of Cayman mahogany, ironwood, an old victrola that still works, old time slippers called ‘whoppers’ that Mr Rennie demonstrated by putting on and walking about in, and even an old-time wheel and piece of stick which was a popular toy in his boyhood days. Cayman history comes alive on one wall which has pamphlets, newspaper cuttings and wonderful information on Cayman elections from decades ago to present; another wall boasts information on outstanding persons and events like domino tournaments, several clippings of Ms Cayman winners, including Donna Bush, Ms Teen Cayman 1984/85; another wall tells of Cayman’s seafarers’ history and of thatch rope making. Then there is a wall for Mr Rennie’s family history that tells personal stories of his forefathers, their history with school buses in Cayman, weddings, deaths, and Ms Pam’s first daughter and Cayman’s first woman pilot, Veta Rockett. The most recent addition, proudly shown by Mr Rennie, is a newspaper clipping of his daughter, Renita Barnes, who in early March joined the Governor's Office on a new secondment initiative for potential future leaders of the Cayman Islands.

 

Senior Caymanians’ monthly meetings

It is at his mini museum that Mr Rennie and some older Caymanians meet monthly. It started when he would drive these seniors from district to district, and they would reminisce as they drove along. After a while, the bus trips stopped, and Mr Rennie wanted to offer them another way to get together. “We started initially to just play dominoes, cook a little Cayman food, and reminisce, but now, four years later, it has become a monthly cultural meeting”. Each month a topic is given, and then “we come back and talk about Cayman way back – what town had looked like, coffins on the roof, nine night or set up night, and even about types of mangoes. Authentic Cayman mangoes we don’t see anymore like ‘papaw’ mangoes, cotton, round ‘tubbintime’ mangoes. We just have foreign mangoes now”. In typical Cayman fashion, when they meet, they start with prayer, then they play games and the winner gets a prize - like a supermarket gift certificate, “then we eat and reminisce”. We always start with our theme song – “Glory, Glory, Hallelujah!” Of course, the story is incomplete if Mr Rennie does not break into singing, “England got the money and Jamaica got the rum!” He laughingly admits that even this song is part of the Cayman tradition, as “the marchers” used to sing it at Christmas time, visiting different homes, toasting families and then receiving a gift. This group of senior Caymanians has maintained such Christmas traditions over the last few years, even getting a “veeping villow tree branch”, according to Mr Rennie, “and decorating it with balloons and shells, with sand in the yard…we all had so much fun decorating that tree!”

Mr Rennie admits starting the collection that today makes up his ‘mini museum’ decades ago, simply because he loved it. Later on, he did not see much of the items that had been around when he was a child, and he thought “someone must have something”, so he started asking and he started collecting. What he has today is a mini museum that local schools should consider taking students to see, as there are many stories to be heard and enjoyed. I certainly did! Kudos to Mr Rennie who has certainly preserved Cayman traditions through his collection, his meetings with Cayman seniors, and his poems. A storyteller extraordinaire!


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