TISHOF Home Categories Inductees Articles Archives Contact Pan Jumbie Home

February 28, 2015 - Volume 1, No. 18

Panyard Stories - 4 of 4


It was still mid-day when Ellie decided to go to the panyard. He started to play in the steelband last carnival. Ellie was one of those college boys who attended one of the nation’s elite colleges. His parents did not like the idea that their son was playing pan. And, the steelband was from Laventille, which was considered another depressed area in the City. Still, Ellie loved the arranger’s music and decided to join the band. Ellie had to combine his studies with pan playing. It was difficult but he was not going to give up his pan.

The panyard was at the back of Chinese John shop on Ovid Alley. John gave the band permission to use the yard since it was empty. John was one of those Chinese who mixed with the community. He gave the residents credit which they paid every Friday night. The little boys played in his shop. And, there was a rumor that John was dating a Black woman. But, it was a secret because nobody ever saw them together. Chinese John was one of the few Chinese who lived in the community. There was a rumor going around that he fled from China after the communist came to power. He belonged to a rich family who had to leave the country. He came to Trinidad with his family. After his parents died he opened a shop in the community.

Ellie used to be in the panyard every afternoon when he finished his studies at the town’s library. He would arrive around 6pm and would stay until about midnight. The Panyard was a hub of activity from Tuesday to Saturday. On Sunday and Monday the Panyard was closed. The panyard housed all the steelpans of the band. There were signs put up by the captain of the band. “NO SMOKING.” “NO OBSCENE LANGUAGE.” “THE LAST PERSON TO CLOSE THE YARD WHEN YOU LEAVING.” “NO WOMEN IN THE YARD DURING PRACTICE.” The last sign had meaning for the band. The captain felt it was necessary to put up the ‘women’ sign because of an incident that happened two years ago.

One evening while the band practiced, Gubby and his woman walked into the yard. She was one of his new girlfriends. Gubby was one of the soprano (tenor) panplayers. He said hello to the boys in the yard and went to his pan. He and his girl friend were talking when Charlie came in to the yard and saw them. As soon as Charlie saw the Gubby and the woman he walked up to Gubby and said, “What you doing with my woman?” Everybody knew what that meant. It was fight. Gubby replied, “If she is your woman what she doing with me.” Charlie said to her, “Girl, come here.” Gubby said, “Stay where you is.” And so the fight began.

Gubby was no match for Charlie so he pulled a knife and cut Charlie in his face. When the other fellas saw the blood one of them went to get the captain. When the captain came into the yard some of the pans were on the ground and Charlie had a kerchief on his face. Gubby sat on a bench holding his head. The captain looked at both of them and said, “From now on, I don’t want any woman in the yard when the band practicing.” That was when he put up the sign.

Ellie loved the panyard. When Chinese John gave the band permission to use the yard, the captain called the band together. “I want some help this Sunday to clean up the yard.”

That Sunday all the band members showed up. They cleaned up the yard and put a fence around it with a gate. The next Sunday, they built a roof to cover the pans. And so another panyard was born. From the beginning of the steelband movement, the panyard held a sacred reverence to pan players. Seldom was the yard, as it was called, disrespected. The panyard was always open and someone was always there even on a Sunday and Monday when it was officially closed. Next to the church yard and the school yard, the panyard was held in high esteem.

But, not everyone had any love for the panyard. Most parents, who did not like the steelbands, saw the panyards as havens for indiscipline and bad behavior. Some even saw the panyard as the temple of evil. So, when Ellie’s mother found out that he was visiting the panyard regularly she was quite upset. She mentioned it to his father and insisted that he put a stop to it. Ellie’s father did not talk much. He was a cab driver and worked seven days a week. On holidays he would stay home in bed or go to the movies. His wife and Ellie’s mother was a teacher at one of the girls school. Everybody called her Miss Broomes. The notion that a teacher’s son was playing pan was too much for Miss Broomes to take. She believed that her job and status was threatened due to her son’s irresponsible behavior. She had to put a stop to it right away. Or rather, Mr. Broomes had to stop it.

Every Sunday morning, Ellie and his parents went to the Anglican Church. Mr. Broomes liked to takes his family to church. It was a time when he was able to relax as he drove them to the church door. He was a careful driver and never had an accident. He worked for one of the cab companies. His route was the airport where he took visitors to their destination from the airport. To Mr. Broomes, it was a prestigious job. The owner of the cab company gave the airport route to his best drivers. And, Mr. Broomes was the best. He felt honored to have it. So, Mr. Broomes was not going to let his son’s behavior interfere with his job. He was going to speak to Ellie.

The panyard was a place of retreat where the panmen felt in control. The status of panmen was very low in the society. But, in the panyard the panmen were in charge. It was their space. They kept it clean. They repaired things when they broke. They painted it. Other steelbands also respected the panyards. One of the unwritten rules was that no steelband attacked a panyard. If you were fighting a panman and he ran into his panyard, you stopped dead at the entrance and hoped that you catch him outside the next day. There was to be no fighting in a panyard. There were panyards in Laventille, Belmont. Carenage, St. James, Woodbrook, San Juan, Curepe, Morvant, St. Ann’s, Morvant, Marabella, San Fernando and as far as Point Fortin. Wherever a steelband arose there was a panyard. In a society that discriminated against its panmen, it was important to have and control your own space. The panmen’s space was his panyard where he reigned supreme.

The panmen created their dress codes while in the panyard. Every evening the panmen dressed up to go to practice in the yard. Most panmen belonged to a group called saga boys. The saga boys were today’s playboys. They were always well dressed with shoes that were always shinned. They also paid attention to hair styles. On a weekend, you could see their women hanging out near the panyard waiting on their panmen boyfriends. Of course, they were not permitted into the yard. One of the places that attracted panyards was the nite clubs. There were a few panyards attached to clubs in the City, namely City Syncopators behind Morgan’s club at the bottom of Fromager Hill and Trinidad All Stars upstairs Maple Leaf club on Charlotte Street. Years later, some panyards became attached to community centers. Steelbands like Desperadoes and Renegades were attached to community centers. Lastly, one other important aspect of the panyard was the community spirit it engaged. The panyard was the liming spot for the panmen where he spent most of his free time.

During the carnival season, the yard would be packed with people who came to hear the band. All in the streets people would be standing to listen to the band. In those days there was no bar in the panyard. People had to bring their drinks or buy the hard stuff from the club. The community shops and parlors made some extra money as people bought mauby, beers, cakes and sweet drinks. The women dressed in their best. Also, the men wore their best. People start gathering in the panyard around eight o’clock in the night. The band practiced until midnight. After the band stopped practicing, couples would walk from the panyard to their homes. Some couples would continue liming on the corner as young men and women courted.

In late 1968, as the Black Power movement gathered momentum, there was a move to rename the panyard “Pan Theatre”. As a result, you had Casablanca Pan Theatre, Renegades Pan Theatre and Desperadoes Pan Theatre. Soon, those steelbands began to hold parties in their Pan Theatres. Most famous were the parties held at Casablanca Pan Theatre on Argyle Street and the Desperadoes Pan Theatre up the Hill on Laventille Road. Up until the 1980s, all panyards represented an integral part of their community. The panyard was the hub that breathed life into several communities, especially for young men who were coming of age. At night, during pan practice all the young girls would gather outside the panyard waiting for their men. Sometimes you would have fights if two women were seeing the same panman. One time, a saga boy panman had to hide in the bathroom behind the band because two women were looking for him. One said that he owed her money for his child and she was not leaving till she got her child money. The other said: “I don’t know bout that, he said that he loves me and I is he only woman.” After that, the other panmen started calling him “Bout”.

The beginning of the 1980s brought an oil boom. As oil prices increased and filled the nation’s coffers, it shifted the cultural paradigm. Soon, money was not a problem. As the income gap widened, no one noticed as a new plague hit the nation. Drugs. Cocaine. As money spread throughout communities many people were sucked into the well of drugs. The panyard was disappearing. This hub of the community was no longer the place where young men met and displayed friendship and understanding.

The panorama competition started to change. Suddenly, steelbands were learning one tune, a panorama tune. The emphasis became winning the panorama at all costs. Steelbands no longer were learning regular tunes besides the panorama tune. Parties stopped hiring steelbands to play. Now, panmen gathered in their panyards after Christmas to start practicing their panorama tune. Many bands became a one tune band. In the course of the year it became customary to see many panyards empty on the weekends. A new era was entering the steelband movement as the elder panment retired and young people join the bands. The custom of liming in the panyards started to disappear. The young pan players only came to practice their panorama tune, stood behind their instruments and left after practice. The era of the panyard and its glory in the community was gone. The role of panyards in the community has disappeared.


<< back


2006 CATRIVER Design