An Uncanny Resemblance

I forget what I was googling for when the cover of Jan Carew’s Black Midas popped up. Suddenly, I was struck by the uncanny resemblance between the cover image and the iconic photograph (the only photo I’ve ever seen, dated 1942 according to the archives of the Museum of Antigua) of Antigua’s own John ‘Quarkoo’ Thomas, singer of benna*, 1920s through the 1940s, the precursor to our unique brand of calypso. I was so convinced for a minute that the late Antiguan bennasonian was somehow a model for the cover by the late Guyanese writer that I distracted myself trying to track down more info on the cover. All I was able to turn up was that it was an updated cover of the classic work and was painted by Carew himself. My google-fu had failed me. But were my eyes also deceiving me? If someone knows more about the inspiration or model for the Carew painting/cover, I’m sure they’ll let me know. Either way, an opportunity to share two classics should never be passed up. So below are Quarkoo and Black Midas.

Quarkoo and Black Midas

Read more about Black Midas here.

Read more about Quarkoo here.

*Benna “is said to be derived from a song-dance, steeped in African rhythm, that the slaves brought to the plantations from Africa. …The benna provided the slaves with a voice and a means of expression. Benna or Ditti is a type of one verse repetitive song – the original folk-style of calypso. The banjo with no musical variations accompanied it. Benna appears to be peculiar to Antigua and Jamaica. Around the 1940’s and 50’s it referred to all secular or non-church music.  …’Quarkoo’ was Antigua’s street crier and his lyrics were nearly synonymous with benna, though his style was purely his own.. He sold small items and his printed songs through the streets of St. John’s, as he announced sales or events, everything that radio does today.  He not only advertised for a small fee, but he entertained as well – singing folk songs and Benna. …He was fearless, full of satire, often relating the latest gossip, he even landed himself in jail for slander!” – Museum of Antigua and Barbuda

As with all content (words, images, other) on, except otherwise noted, this is written by Joanne C. Hillhouse (author of The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, and Oh Gad!). All Rights Reserved. If you enjoyed it, check out my page on Amazon, WordPress, and/or Facebook, and help spread the word about WadadliPen and my books. You can also subscribe to the site to keep up with future updates. Thanks. And remember while linking and sharing the links, referencing and excerpting, are okay, lifting content (words, images, other) from the site without asking is not cool. Respect copyright.


Filed under A & B Lit News Plus, A & B WRITINGS, Caribbean Plus Lit News, Literary Gallery

2 responses to “An Uncanny Resemblance

  1. george imhoff

    Many years ago and this is a long time before coming to Antigua in 1989 I met a man called ‘Thomo” in a gold mining area of Guyana named Mathews Ridge. Thomo’s surname was Thomas and he was from Antigua. He disclosed this late in our initial conversation and stated very emphatically that he did not intend to return to Antigua without lots of gold. Thomo was not a pork-knocker but a gold-man. He had the rights to several ‘gold claims’ and in those days always had a penny weight or two in his trousers pocket ready to make a deal. Every visible tooth in Thomo’s mouth wad fitted with a gold cap and they were all seen regularly if only because of his winsome smile.
    I do not know if the ‘gold fever’ ever left Thomo’ veins so I cannot say if he ever returned to Antigua but Thomas there was in Guyana’s gold backdam.

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