Home Culture & Society A Virgin Islands Christmas tale: King Fungi and ‘’Christmas Long Ago’’

A Virgin Islands Christmas tale: King Fungi and ‘’Christmas Long Ago’’

by caribdirect
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Contributing Author Dickson Igwe

The fungi song, ‘Christmas long ago,’ composed by a National Calypsonian is written in regular English, and not the local vernacular in this story. This is to aid better understanding of Virgin Islands culture by a global readership

 This is a story of Country Bumpkin, also known as King Fungi, a legendary calypsonian, local hero, and farmer of these rustic and majestic Virgin Islands. The Legendary farmer is this Christmas season, and on this cool and breezy full moon night, seated on the tomb of his Grandfather and Grandmother in the small cemetery at Cane Garden Bay, British Virgin Islands. The ‘powerful and thoughtful yokel’ is melancholic and reflective this yuletide. But paradoxically, he is also filled with gratitude to his Maker: life has been good to Fungi and his small family!

Back home, high on top a fertile hill in Fungi’s tiny hamlet of Ballast Bay, Mrs. Bumpkin, Fungi’s lovely and delectable wife is roasting a marinated pig in a large traditional firewood oven. She is also preparing myriad local delicacies: tarts, puddings, cakes, condiments, all this for family and friends who will be popping in and out of the family home during this festive season.

The sweet smells of delicious food and various native meats and morsels being cooked by Fungi’s wife hover around the large clapboard home: an intoxicating odor and epiphany indeed! Theirs is a dwelling place of faith, compassion, giving and generosity. His two little Bumpkins are fast asleep. The family bull terrier Sergeant is also snoring in his kennel. However, the whiff of roasting pork makes him drool; the canine is highly alert even while in dog slumber.

Cane Garden Bay is a pristine and luxuriant valley surrounded by hills and mountains, separated from the sea by a stunning white sand beach, itself separated from the village’s well dispersed homes by a strategically but divinely placed thick line of coconut trees and tropical vegetation. This is a barrier to the elements, and a veritable forest of magnificent palms, brilliant fronds, and island foliage that protect the villagers from the odd hurricane or tropical storm that visits these shores from time to time. This is a protective wall of nature.

The lively and large village is widely spread out over hills and valleys, including two mountainous peninsulas, providing spectacular views of the channel and islands below. This idyllic piece of geography includes the hamlets of Ballast Bay, Soldier Hill, Johnny Hill, and Sage Mountain:  a quintessential Caribbean paradise.

It is another brilliant West Indian evening with the light from the dominant full moon lighting up nearby Jost Van Dyke and the surrounding islets, bays, coves, channel, and sea. The moon, a natural illuminant, hanging over a calm Caribbean Sea is breathtaking, and produces a mosaic of the sky on top the still waters of the channel, this is a night that produces a moon so close it can be touched; the stars in the sky are a rendition of the Creator’s creative genius. The soothing sound of hundreds and hundreds of palm fronds rustling in the night breezes is simply magical. Welcome to the fabled Xanadu!

The lights of St Thomas, and lesser illuminants of Jost Van Dyke, further light up the splendid Antillean evening and magnificent backdrop. The sound of waves lapping upon the beach close to where our maestro performs in profound solitude is simply majestic, and perfects a gorgeous West Indian evening. The hush of the night is interrupted only by the dive of a pelican into the waters of the bay:  a rendition of wildlife that disturbs a shoal of terrified fry. This is a classic a quest for food and survival.


local music legend Quito Rymer

In another vein, a continual murmur of the voices of natives, revelers and tourists at a nearby inn and hotel is the main activity on this night of yuletide. A number of small fishing boats, sloops, and schooners, bob quietly in the bay: the lights from the boats are picturesque and add to the magic of the night.  The music of another legendary musician, ‘Quito’ emanates from a large restaurant, bar and night club hanging over the paradisiacal bay. A large well lit yacht with a number of noisy but enchanted carousers and frolickers on board is close by, a motorized dingy darts between the vessel and the restaurant:  a shuttle taking guests to and fro.

Across a spectacular channel, on the island of Jost van Dyke, another legendary calypsonian is performing before a number of persons, eminent and somewhat so. This time, it is for scores of guests from the United States and around the world who make the annual pilgrimage to listen to the exotic sounds of an internationally renowned musician and artiste; frequently Fungi and Foxy perform together to the entertainment benefit of hundreds of tourists and locals over the Christmas season: tonight our hero is feeling solitary: his fishing boat bobs close by. On another evening maybe, he will start the engine and swing across the seas to visit his chum in Jost, on a musical adventure.

With a banjo in his powerful hands, the legendary performer sings a ‘’fungi’’ tune: ‘’Christmas Long Ago.’’ Our ‘’yokel’’ hero is reflecting upon days gone by; he sings and strums his banjo with his unique ability and gusto.  His powerful baritone offers a natural symphony, harmonizing with the rural surroundings and pristine geography.  His wide brim straw hat is translucent as light from a brightly lit night sky filters through the tiny grooves of straw lighting up our maestro’s joyous and expressive face.

His large magnificent teeth reflect the light from the full moon.  His large and expressive hazel eyes are melancholic as his cornea rotates around his eyeballs in circular motion, and to the music and rhythm: he sings old tunes passed on by his powerful slave forbears. A single tear drop falls from each large eye: King Fungi is emotional this evening. December is always a time of deep reflection for our cultural hero.

His powerful body aches from the day’s toil: our magnificent calypsonian has been hard at work ‘’stumping:’’ digging out the roots of old trees so as to get his land ready for cultivation.  He has also been ‘’banking:’’ terracing his land with stones to hold the soil.  After both these tasks, he then had to begin the process of holding: plowing up the soil for planting. It has been a hard day on his farm.

But even before Bumpkin started work on his vegetable farm, very early this morning, he has been corralling and dipping, and herding and washing, his substantial livestock of pigs, cows, sheep, and goats for shipment to the meat market in St. Thomas. He has also thoroughly cleaned up his chicken coop, and the eggs are being well utilized by his beautiful wife in their traditional kitchen. His tree orchards of mango, traditional orange, papaya, banana, plantain, golden apple, and much more, add his pineapple, corn, sweet potato, yam, and tanya plantations and grounds have been tended thoroughly, as is Fungi’s habit. Fungi is a substantial landowner and one very strong and hardworking farmer!

His ‘buddy,’ the local ‘scamp’ Pig Farmer, fled when Bumpkin approached him for help. Pig Farmer is terrified of hard work, and expert in getting others to do his work for him.  He is a ‘colossal scamp’ who is especially weary when asked to do anything by the hard working Fungi. Working with Fungi means just that: work, no cutting corners, but hard tough graft. Fungi is upset at this deception, after all he helped Pig Farmer castrate his pigs recently so as to increase their meat value, and he did all of the work himself while the notorious scamp just watched, giving Fungi his usual rendition of ‘bull.’ Pig Farmer is proving a ‘fair weather’ friend indeed. Pig castration is very hard work indeed, which fungi incidentally undertook for nothing.

As he sings, the day’s pains and the disappointments fade away, especially the irritation over Pig Farmer’s ‘bad attitude’ his concerns float up and away in the breeze toward the sea channel ’yonder and beyond;’ the choir from a nearby church further soothes, and can be heard faintly singing the Christmas carol, ‘The First Noel.’

This is a quintessential Caribbean evening at Christmastime: Miss Divine Coconut Palm and Lovely Blonde Lady, accompanied by Ms. Hot Bajan Flambo waltz past the cemetery, cutting through the powerful silhouette of our singing fungi maestro flung like a dark sheet across the street: the ladies casting admiring glances at the rhapsodizing bush man singing away in the night, a jack and jenny ass nearby, tethered to a large breadfruit tree appear to sway in unison at the rhythm from the legendary Calypso King .  These two West Indian beauties faintly remember when Fungi was young, free, and single.  Those were the good ’old days’ they ponder admiringly.

Fungi sings the tune:




‘’ I was sitting one night by the cemetery

Listening to old talk of how Christmas used to be

One fellow got up to speak

Another said keep your tongue betwixt your teeth

I should be the one to explain

So when I listened, I heard a sweet refrain


Chorus: 1


Christmas Christmas

As I could recall

Christmas Christmas

Was for big and small

Whether you were rich or you were poor

We went to each other’s door

Without any fuss

That’s how we celebrated our Christmas


Well I listen and I listen attentively

As they talk about Mrs. Blyden and guavaberry

the anisette and the anniserve

the crèmediment they made with love

A fellow says, ‘don’t forget the cane rum,

Without that Christmas wasn’t no fun


Chorus 2:


Christmas Christmas

What a romance

Christmas Christmas

caroling and the practice dance

it was a gala affair

young and old would be there

it was a must

thats how we enjoyed our Christmas



The talk getting heated, they shouting loud

By this time they attracted a big big crowd

One fellow says, as I could remember

Them days we had an interior decorator

They got catalog paper and flower paste

And in a night they changed the whole place.


Chorus 3:


Christmas Christmas

tissue paper and fly catcher

Christmas Christmas

the place looking better

fishing rod, Christmas tree

with candles, no electricity

It wasn’t no fuss

That’s how we had our Christmas



From where I was sitting I could not show my face

But by now I am feeling quite out of place

One fellow says he could fire one

Another just uncorked a dimijon

Taking his buttercan

He knocks back his head

I would take a bigger one if I wasn’t dead.


Chorus 4:


Christmas Christmas

What a culinary spread

Christmas Christmas

From dove pork to cassava bread

Old bag ham and mutton stew

With a dish of callaloo

That wasn’t no fuss

That’s how we enjoyed our Christmas



Chorus 5:


Christmas Christmas

A time to remember

Christmas Christmas

I would do it all over

With my belly full of ham

And my guitar in my hand

Not a piece of fuss

That’s how we enjoyed our Christmas.

A ‘spine chilling’ growl from the nearby tombstone of a legendary murderer sends our hero into a profound fright: a ‘moko jumbi’ appears before our Fungi King. It is all white and frightening and strikes Fungi viciously on the head with the soft side of a large broom. King Fungi is terrified. He is a simple and traditional fellow, despite his tough aspect and disposition, and he profoundly believes in the afterlife, supernatural, and the existence of forces of darkness: demons, ghosts and such. He shudders violently then screams; finally he collapses in fear and passes out.

Minutes later, a bucket of cold water thrown into his face stirs our unconscious Fungi back into rustic reality.  A number of concerned village folk are standing over his fallen aspect: Reverend Religious, Mrs. Always Anxious, Miss Divine Coconut Palm, Mr. Powerful Intellect, and Mr. Enigmatic Freemason.

Fungi looks at his ‘wayward’ friend Pig Farmer with a profound annoyance as Pig Farmer, clasping a large white sheet and a long coconut broom is bending over backward, he is in  ’stitches,’ bursting at the seams with laughter, tears streaming from both eyes.  The toughest man in the Virgin Islands, Fungi of Ballast Bay lies flat on his back ’shivering’ with a cold fear. The incorrigible Pig Farmer is in hysterics. What a ting meh son!

Local Terms:

  • Miss Blyden- a drink made from the fruit of the prickle pear which is a cactus plant
  • Guavaberry- a plant found in the BVI and on various West Indian Islands such as St. Martin and the Dominican Republic out of which the guavaberry drink is made. The fruit is a marble shape.
  • Anise- a shrub that used to be found in the Virgin Islands. A sweet smelling plant from which two liqueurs Anisette and Aniserve are made.
  • Bag Ham- imported salted and smoked ham.
  • Dove Pork- a local steamed and stewed fresh pork.
  • Callaloo- a cook up of lots of local green vegetables and a seasoned meat, crab, salt beef, crayfish, shrimp or pork- add vegetables include the Tanya leaf, spinach, ochre, egg plant.
  • Cassava Bread- bread made from strained and grated cassava. This is put on a grid over a fire.
  • Mutton stew- a stew made from local goat meat.
  • Cremdiment- a liqueur made with mint.
  • Practice Dance: all the people in the Little Apple Bay and Capoons Bay Area who went caroling would meet together for a big social evening after New Years: this used to be called the practice dance.  The friends and family of carolers who were all related in those days were invited to the practice dance. Older folk used the opportunity to teach younger folk how to dance.
  • Fire one- local term meaning to have a drink or a shot of rum.
  • Dimijon- a big glass container of 5 gallon or more that is used for storing rum or guavaberry. The dimijon is protected by either weaved straw or knitted brown bags.
  • Brooms: pistacle, moran, and coconut were all brooms used for sweeping the yard or indoors.
  • Moko jumbi: a man dancing on stilts, however, also a name for demons, witches, wizards, monsters, and the like. Associated with folklore that arrived with the slaves from West Africa.

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