I know of jackass corn (love it!) but never heard of jackass rope. By the way, for those of you who’ve never heard the term before, jackass corn (jackass cawn) is a very hard, very tough biscuit made of coconut, flour and sugar. It probably got its name because, like the donkey or jackass, it is tough and durable (Senior 2003, p. 249). Eating a jackass corn, just one, can be challenging (make sure your dentures are securely fit!) but so much fun!
So back to jackass rope … what exactly is this? This is a type of crude tobacco that was once popular among the peasantry. According to the Dictionary of Jamaican English (Cassidy and Le Page 2002, p. 239) this locally grown tobacco was twisted into long ropes, like those used to tie donkeys or jackasses. Hence the name, jackass rope. These would then be coiled into large balls for transportation to the market.
Once at the markets, the tobacco would be cut into lengths for sale and later cut finely and smoked in short clay pipes by both men and women.
So how much would these be sold for? Here’s an example. According to the Gleaner on Saturday, June 25, 1921, in an article titled “The Latest News from Brown’s Town, Saint Ann” a yard of Jackass rope was sold for 3d (pence).
In 1930, the Secretary of the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS) reported that “St. Elizabeth grows the best of the Jackass Rope tobacco;” however, due to the low prices for tobacco at the time “many of the other parishes would soon be dropping the cultivation on a large scale” (The Daily Gleaner, Friday, June 17, 1930. p. 20).
I plan to do some more research on this type of tobacco and see if it is still being sold today. I’ll let you know how this goes.
*Update (April 25, 2015): Based on responses to this article on Jamaican Echoes’ Facebook page, I can confirm that locally grown tobacco is still very much alive today, but goes by another name: grabba. A big shout out to George Bond (see George’s comment below) for sharing his own personal use of grabba! 🙂
In the meantime, we’ve learnt something new today. What did you think of this little tour into a small aspect of Jamaica’s tobacco history? Drop me a line and let me know what you think.
Until next time…
Senior, Senior (2003), Encyclopedia of Jamaican Heritage. St. Andrew: Twin Guinep Publishers, Ltd.
The Gleaner (1921), “The Latest News from Brown’s Town, Saint Ann. Saturday, June 21, p. 13.
The Daily Gleaner (1930), Association St. Catherine Branches J.A.S. Friday, June 17, p. 20
Jamaicans.com, Jamaica Nostalgia Gallery