Orlando PATTERSON – Jamaica



Orlando Patterson was born in Jamaica. He was studed in Kingston and the London School of Economics. He was Professor of Sociology at Harvard.


Published writtings : 'The Children of Sisyphus' (novel 1965) ; 'An Absence of Ruins' (novel 1967) ; 'The Sociology of Slavery' 1967 ; 'An Analysis of the Origins, Development and Structure of Negro Slave Society in Jamaica' 1968 ; 'Die the Long Day' (novel 1972) ; 'Ethnic Chauvinism: The Reactionary Impulse' 1977 ; 'Slavery and Social Death' 1982 ; 'Freedom in the Making of Western Culture' 1991 (renamed 'Freedom, Vol. 1: Freedom in the Making of Western Culture ' winner of National Book Award 1991 ; 'Rituals of Blood: Consequences of Slavery in Two American Centuries' 1999 ; 'Freedom: Freedom in the Modern World' 2006 ; 'The Cultural Matrix: Understanding Black Youth' (with Ethan Fosse). 2015




The Children of Sisyphus


([extract from the novel 'The Children of Sisyphus' 1982, original text in English]



Twilight come down quick-quick. A vast red splash across the grey, calm sea. As the deceptive peace of night fell upon the place, little mysterious kerosine glows began to twinkle from within the shanty hovels, coops and sheds, clustered together like little flocks of wet crows. And the flags of the great Emperor hovering above them, gold and red and green all shading now for oneness, rising every now and then in the wake of the evening breeze, then falling limply, drooped, the little flags of glory.


The little spots in the golden splash grew larger till the vague outlines of small canoes could be seen, then the black skin of the naked fishermen. There were four of them, tall men, strong men. They all wore beards and kept their long hair uncombed till it dignified their shoulders in wiry, woolly braids. As they reached the shore they headed for the little notch of dark blue water. It was an indent perfectly suited for tying their boats, as it was not only near to the shore, but took the form of a sudden drop, so that they could step out of their canoes right on the edge, which they called the rap-trap, and the water that settled there was warm and seductive, coming from the bowels of the nearby power station.


Cyrus stepped out on the black silty shore. It had been a bad day. But his face, if it betrayed weariness, showed little disappointment. He was too used to bad days to make it bother him. He would go to his hut and eat the food his woman had prepared for him. Perhaps if he had mind for it, or the energy, he would make use of her before the sailors did. Oh, mighty God of Ras, it pained him so much to know that his woman went whoring to help support him. But what to do. It was prophecy. They were the children of Israel suffering for the misdeeds of their fathers. But the day of departure would soon come. The Holy Emperor had sent his prophet already to lead them out of this land of bondage. It was just a matter of time.


But until the time came it was suffering and more suffering.


It was damnation and injustice at the hands of the white overlords and their brown lackeys. They would have to suffer at the hands of Babylon and it would be a sin to try to evade it. It would be blasphemy in the sight of God Rastafaria, who must have had just cause for punishing them. So when he allowed his woman to follow the paths of e and the ways of whoredom he was actually doing what was right. He might even receive some recompense in Ethiopia for his penitent submissiveness. But, oh, Sellassie, Holy Emperor, who leads against the foe, it was such a terrible suffering, how terrible is thy wrath.


He helped the other men out with their nets and walked towards his hut. As he passed one of the disty little shanties held upright on either side by two sticks on which the red, green and gold flag of Ethiopia waved, the tinkling of money he had managed to scuffle that day. He must have made a lot, for Cyrus remembered him going out dressed up as an old cripple in the morning.

– Peace an’ love me god-brother, Cyrus greeted, pushing his head into the little oblong door.


– Ow de scufflin’ today ?

– Love again, me Brother, but de Lord say mind thou thy own business an’ thy awn business will mind thee well, was the curt reply.


Money-man, even to his best friends, never played the fool when it came to matters dealing with the other brethren, and many despaired of him, saying that he was too mean and selfish to be a true Rastafarian. But Money-man, or « A Certain Jew’ », as some preferred to call him, always pleaded that he was saving up his passage to go tho Ethiopia. He wasn’t putting all his hopes on the delegation, as the other clutists did, for the wickedness of the white man was such that they would put everything in the way ot hte delegation to prevent from succeeding. A more laudable reason for being mean could not be found. But many of the cultists still remained to be convinced of his sincerity.


Cyrus laughed and walked away. Money-man was still his good friend despite what they might say about him. He reached his hut and hurried inside, for he was beginning to feel hungry.


No one was there. He looked towards the box in the corner where Dinah always left his food in case she had to leave before he arrived. There was nothing. But that was funny. He was sure she had a little money when he left this morning.


Getting angry, he walked outside and looked at the three sooty stones on the ground beside the hut which they used as a stove to cook on. The ashes were cold and it was clear that no fire had been caught there that day. He saw his son walking with a group of boys a little way off and called him.


– Nicholas, whe’yu mother ?

– Don’know. Me was playin’in de common an’when me come she gone.

– She don’say whe’she gone ?

– No. An’it look like she gone fo’ good too. She tek her clothes an’ever’thing wid her.

– Wha’yu say ! Cyrus ran inside to verify the boy’s statement. Then he dashed back. outside. His features became contorted with a kind o painful stupidity. His dark brown eyes gleamed fire. He plucked his beard ; he swore by the name of the Holy Emperor till even Brother Nathaniel had to wake from his evening slumber.


– God bli’me ! God ! Rastafaria ! Babylon let loose !’he screamed, rushing towards Mary’s hut.

– Whe’Dinah gone ? Whe’Dinah gone ? he roared.

– Hush ! Yu wakin’up me baby, yu wakin’up de little angel, she said.

– Baby ? Which blasted baby yu talkin’’bout ? Tell me, woman, tell me quick before me wrath fall’pon yu, whe’me woman gone, whe’Dinah is ?

– She is a baby to me. Don’t care how big she get she is still my baby, my - - -

– Oh, your bombo-hole woman ! Damn an’ blas’ yu stinkin’ soul to hell ! Don’ mek me wring yu rass neck, tell me whe’ me woman !

– But’ow me mus’know ? Is de firs’me hearin’ now dat Dinah not here. Jus’ leave me out. Lawd, look wha’ yu mek ‘appen. She ran towards the bed and held the girl in her arms.


– Baby, baby, not even a little sleep yu can get, eh, sleep, me pretty, sleep, me baby.


It would be useless talking to Mary, so he dashed towards the 1939 Ford carcass wher Rachael lived. The old woman was roasting a piece of cod-fish for her supper. He held her roughly by her arm and spun her round. She yelled with pain and pulled away her hand.

– Wha’ de backside wrong wid yu ? Is mad puss piss yu drink or wha’!

– Whe’ she is ? Whe’ she gone ? Don’tell me yu don’ know or else ah wring off yu stinkin’ neck.

– Wring it off ! Wring it off ! she dared him boldly.’Is long time I been waitin’fo’somebody to do dat fo’me.


Cyrus released her, but still glared at her menacingly.

– So yu not tellin’ me whe’ she is, yu bleedin’ ol’ og, not tellin’me.


Racheal’s beady little eyes marrowed on him. Then they softened with a condescending kind of pity. A pity which she felt only she had a right to give.

– Sorry, Cyrus, don’know whe’she is. But don’ worry, she will come back. She will come back.


Bitterly, he spun round to face the little crowd that his shouting had attracted. They were mostly women and thier children, ragged and half naked, staring at him idly.

– Yu all lying to me ! Yu know whe’ she is ! But Babylon shall fall. Ah goin’to find her. An’when ah dind her, as there is a black god, ah goin’to kill her. Ah goin’to murder her an’ teach her de place o’woman-kind. Ah goin’to teach her not to follow de ways o’Babylon.

– Ahh me god-bother, glory be. Babylon seem to set a plague on de mind o’we woman dem. Dem jus’seem to be walking out on we into de land o’ Babylon one by one.


It was Crocus, a short, stocky man, who, though not yet a true cultist, was a strong sympathizer. He had wicked black eyes that were moist and gleaming. As he came towards Cyrus, rocking on his bandy legs, he had every right to sympathize with since Mabel, his own woman, had left him not too long ago. A few yard away from Cyrus he held his hand ceremoniously towards the east and shouted :

– De black god of we, de true Children of Israel, descendants of de black King Solomon an’ de black Queen Sheba, they shall burn up de white dogs an’ de brown traitors fo’ pollutin’ we woman wid dem evil ways.

– Whe’she gone ? Why she leave ? She don’know is here she belong until we ready to return, Cyrus pleaded aloud to himself.

– Is a conspiracy ! Is de white men dem conspiring’ gainst we an’ we woman. Dem know that de time is near when we shall leave dis’ell, dis land of bondage. Dem know dat not’in, dem Firs’ dem start whe’ boyt birth control an’all kind o’ tripe ddat we mus’practice if we is to improve we lot. An’ when we find out dem scheme dem tryin’ dis new one now. Dem tryin’ fe get’ way we woman dem from we. Is a plot, birth control and all dem other stunt is a plot fe kill de negro race !

– Ah mus’ find her, Crocus. De time fo’ departure is drawin’ near. The delegation them soon write and sen’ the date. Ah did want to carry her to Ethiopia with me as me queen. Whe’ she is ? Whe’ she gone ?


His anger started to boil up in him again. He would find her. Now-now. He marched to his hut and put on black drill pants and his green, gold and red shirt. Taking up his staff, he dashed outside. He turned towards the Marcus Garvey Drive when suddenly he heard a sharp commanding voice calling his name.


Instantly he turned round. He stared for one long moment at the figure standing at the doorway. His anger melted. His face smoothed into an almost submissive countenance.

– What ails thee ? Brother. Has the wickedness of Babylon infected you ? Brother Solomon’s woice was the same calm lowness.


Cyrus jumped to attention. He stuck his forefinger out and drew up his forearm ceremoniously until the side of his palm rested on his right breast.

– Peace an’ love, glory, Brother Solomon.


There was a long, piercing glance. Brother Solomon was thinking. He always seemed to be thnking.

– Come inside an’ make me give you some words of wisdom, Brother, you seem to need it.


Cyrus found it difficult to believe. He would be going into that room again. That strange mysterious room that had all the knowledge of the world in it. Slowly, hesitantly, he walked towards the door, he walked up the little step, the only one in the Dungle, since Brother Solomon’s hut was the only one with a floor. Then, with extreme deference, his head bowed unconsciously, he entered. He closed the door behind him.

The room was clean and neat. There was a chair in one corner and a table in the next. On the table stood a large frame with the picture were written the familiar words which, though Cyrus could not read, he was able to as The Prince of Peace. In another corner was tall pole with the flag of Ethiopia hanging from it. Right below the window, which looked out into his legs and on it was and oddly shaped lamp. Around the lamp were three candles, one red, one gold, the other green. In front of them was a queer-looking container with a burnt, brownish substance in it.


But it was the writing on the wall that interested Cyrus most. Those mysterious scribblings. If only could read. Suddenly he heard Brother Solomon.

– we must not forget the holy ritual, Brother Cyrus.


Cyrus jumped to attention again, holding his arm in the ritual position. They both repeated the cult’s version of the Ethiopian national anthem :

Ethiopia, the land of fathers,

The land where all gods love to be ;

As the swift bees to hive sudden gather

Thy children are gathered to thee

With our red, gold and green floatin’ o’ us,

With the Emperor to shield us from wrong,

With our God and our Father before us,

We hail thee with shout and with song.



Orlando Patterson

extract from 'The Children of Sisyphus', Longman Publisher, London 1982