JE: Do you know the kitchen bitch?
You (frowning): The kitchen bitch?
JE (eyes bright with internal laughter about to bubble over): Yes, the kitchen bitch.
You (now looking very concerned & a little uncomfortable): Uhm, I’m not sure but … are you talking about a person or a thing?
Okay, let me put you all at ease. No I’m not using a derogatory term in reference to someone, or talking about a female dog. The kitchen bitch was once a common item in many households in Jamaica. The kitchen bitch was actually a: “Small oil lamp used by the poor, consisting of a tin can filled with kerosene oil with a cloth wick, and a handle attached by the local tinsmith” (Senior 2003, p. 269). It had no shade.
It is assumed that the kitchen bitch was called so because it was primarily used in the kitchen, which, in the old days, was a separate building from the main house.
It was also called “cowgut” in some areas across the country. I don’t know why but will do some further research on this and let you all know.
On November 5, 1974, the Jamaican Movement for the Advancement of Literacy (JAMAL) Foundation was founded to advance adult literacy across the island and selected the kitchen bitch as its symbol, reflecting the Foundation’s motto, “Lighten Our Darkness.”
As their symbol of literacy, the kitchen bitch was incorporated into all of JAMAL’s activities, such as their JAMAL Month All-Island Run, which was put on to carry the JAMAL Month Message around the island, using the kitchen bitch as the container for the message. The message was read in each town by a JAMAL student or a community leader (Daily Gleaner, Monday, October 1, 1979, p. 15).
FYI: The JAMAL Foundation is now the Jamaican Foundation for Lifelong Learning (JFLL).
Have any of you ever seen a kitchen bitch before? Well, if you haven’t, you’ve now been provided with a brief tour into one of the items from our past that many of our own family members may have used . Why not ask your grandparents and parents and let me know?
Until next time…
Daily Gleaner, Monday, October 1, 1979, p. 15
The Gleaner, Thursday, September 9, 1993
Senior, Olive (2003), Encyclopedia of Jamaican Heritage. St. Andrew: Twin Guinep Publishers, Ltd.