Featured Story

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Irene Ann Samuda-Smith

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St Ann

(A tribute to Irene Ann Samuda-Smith)

© 2006 Norman Samuda-Smith

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My mom flew away to Zion on 13th June 1987. Although I’ve grown to accept her loss, a gap remains inside me. Especially when her Birthday and Mother’s Day comes around. Cancer took away mom’s life here on Mother Earth. Her friends said it was because she was a smoker, but I knew it wasn’t that. In my opinion, it was worry and stress. This is her story.

Irene Ann Samuda was born on 10th December 1929 in the Parish of Trelawny, Jamaica. There were many conflicting stories about why she originally came to England, however, my sister Tatlyn, who is the family historian, told us that mom was the youngest and most talented of the three children of our grandparents Albert and Adina. The eldest was Uncle Isaac, the middle child was Aunt Hilda.

Mom’s family are descended from the Maroon Nation whom the Spanish, (they colonised Jamaica before the British took over) called Cimarrons, meaning wild or untamed. The Maroons were Israelite slaves taken in to captivity and shipped across the Atlantic via The Middle Passage. They freed themselves from bondage and chains in Jamaica, eventually they established communities and their own culture in the Trelawny, St James and St Thomas parishes of Xaymaca. They fought the British Army, (The Red Coats) for 94 years to preserve their freedom and in 1738, Cudjoe, (Mountain Lion Chief of the Maroons) and Red Coat Colonel Guthrie signed a treaty at Petty River Bottom. This treaty meant the Maroons gained the right to govern themselves and autonomy from British rule; that treaty still exists today.

During her formative years, mom developed a genius for making men and women’s clothes, especially wedding dresses. It was said, and my dad bears witness to this, mom used to take the measurements of clients and make their garments without the guidance of a pattern. The end results were clothes that fitted like a glove. Tatlyn told us it was for this reason that my grandparents decided to send mom to England to further her career, since the economics and job prospects in Jamaica at that time were not good. So, in May 1951, she left Crossroads Maroon Town and arrived in England, The Mother Country at the age of 21, along with multitudes of West Indians of that period who had high hopes and dreams of a better future.

Mom’s first impressions of England were, in one word: “grim”. During the 1950’s she experienced being spat at on the streets and being called names by men, women and children. She came across colour bars from places of entertainment. Landlords and landladies refused to offer her accommodation because of the colour of her skin. She even encountered colour bars from churches.  Racism of the highest degree, which she and her fellow brethren and sistrens couldn’t understand. Mom once told me that England’s boasting of being The Mother Country for over 200 years did not ring true: “You show me a mother who would greet her children by calling them horrible names, initiate colour bar and refuse to give them accommodation in her own house…”

Despite all of these adversities, the West Indians stayed and tried to live a normal life as British citizens. They went to their respected jobs each day in an effort to help their Mother Country, or in mom’s words: “Clean up Hitler’s mess.” Although my parents managed to buy a house and car and build a happy family life, it wasn’t enough for mom. Something was missing. Her sombre feelings and anxieties had a lot to do with the Maroon blood running through her veins and, just like her ancestors, she wanted to be free from being bossed around. She wanted to be her own boss.

In March 1962, mom was awarded a World Diploma with honours from the National Hairdressers Federation for passing her final exams. She had received three other diplomas from them prior to that, and, in June 1962, she opened her own hairdressing salon.  The sign outside her shop read: Women’s World Hair Boutique. Mom often voiced with pride that she was the first black woman in Birmingham to drive a car and own a business; she probably was. In her glory days of the ’60’s and ’70’s, her shop was packed 6 days a week with women of all colours and creeds flocking to mom to have their hair cut, styled, permed, and straightened. Many brides and bridesmaids were coiffed in that boutique. Mom and her many assistants, who she trained, did their best to see that their clientele were given the best service. This is where I enjoyed my formative years, surrounded by the female energy and raised by the matriarchs of our family; The Mighty Three I called them. My mom, her sister Aunt Hilda and my eldest sister Tatlyn.

My favourite times with mom only a couple of years after she launched her successful hair salon business was during the musical era of Blue Beat and Ska. Not only was mom a class act at styling hair, like I said earlier, she was a bespoken master tailor and seamstress. She designed and made an abundance of brides’ wedding dresses and the bridesmaid’s outfits too, as well as the bridegroom’s suits. This meant nearly every other Saturday we were invited to many wedding receptions and house parties. So when mom finished work on a Saturday evening, my brother Bruce and I would help her sweep up and tidy the salon, then we’d put on our party clothes and forward to the wedding receptions and parties, where the sound systems would play the Rock Steady beat.

Aside from being a successful business woman, she was a great mother, the best, and my best friend. In the summer of 1964, she took us on a one week guided tour of France and Belgium. She also financially helped my Aunt Hilda pay the fare for her children, our cousins to come from Flagstaff Maroon Town to London. Every year without fail, right up to our eighteenth birthdays, Bruce and I had a birthday party. Mom achieved so much in a short space of time.

Mom, Bruce and Norman on the Hover Craft journey to France 1964

When we told mom she had cancer, I could see it in her eyes she knew it was too far gone for her to fight it. Thinking back now, eighteen months before she flew to Zion, she was visiting her doctor too many times each month for my liking. She knew what was happening and I’m guessing that, knowing mom’s character, she wouldn’t allow anyone to try and fix things at a time when they could have made a difference. Was it fear of the operating table? Or was it an acceptance that her time had come? I still wonder. She took the news like the brave warrior queen she was; she shrugged her shoulders and said: “I’m in God’s hands now.”   

From February to April 1987, only Jah knows how mom went to hell and back while she was in hospital, being poked and prodded by doctors and jabbed with needles. They took her blood and gave her some back. She was asked numerous questions about her problem, followed by test after test, all in vain to find out what was wrong with her.

On Saturday June 13 1987 after Tatlyn, Bruce and I  spent all day at mom’s beside until 8 pm, we received a phone call from the hospital that mom had taken a turn for the worst. We drove there as fast as we could and arrived at five past ten.  As we ran down the corridors with Bruce leading the way, everything was moving in slow motion. When a doctor stopped Bruce in his tracks and whispered something to him and Bruce reeled away from him saying: “Oh no!” I knew mom had flown to Zion. She was still warm when I touched her.  I could tell by her features she was at peace, they were relaxed for the first time in eight months.

I write this tribute to her because we all live on and share Mother Earth. I believe we should share with each other our experiences we gain in life whether it’s good, bad, happy or sad. I believe this, my experience should be shared among the multitude and I truly believe Jah stretched forth his hands and welcomed mom into his kingdom. I know right now her love-light is shining down on them and those people she loves the most. St Ann is truly our Queen Amina, a woman as capable as a man.

For those of you who have gone through an experience similar to mine, or who are going through it now, have faith and stay strong, cos even in death, there is glory.

Jah Love.

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*All rights reserved.  No part of this story may be reproduced in any form or by any means without prior written permission of the writer Norman Samuda-Smith.*

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One Response to “Featured Story”

  1. Moqapi Selassie Says:

    Hail norman
    give thanks for the link and the opportunity to read some more of your stuff. Love the picture of you and Bruce!!! Just keep on keepin on as they say. keep telling those stories of how InI came up in the B10! Small Heath side of Brumtown. Raspect in every aspect. You on the front of Bad Friday the iriginal cover is that Sarge?

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