As with everything else in St. Lucia, Christmas has its own peculiar traditions. In sharp contrast to carols, which encourage peace and goodwill to all men, you’ll be treated to the sounds of bamboo-cannons shattering the quietness of cool December evenings. This is called bamboo bursting
Traditionally beginning November 2 and lasting until December end, echoes of explosive sounds are heard over the hills. It’ll often begin by sundown and last deep into the night.
Participants in this traditional folk method of welcoming Christmas are primarily young boys. With next-to-harmless, non-ballistic cannons, each team tries to outdo each other in achieving the loudest ‘booms’.
To craft cannons, mature bamboo stalks about six inches in diameter are cut to varying lengths – the longer, the more resonant the bang, The ends are then trimmed and all nodes inside are broken except for the last one – serving as a receptacle for the fuel.
Above the receptacle, a small one-inch hole is bored away from the end of the bamboo. The bamboo’s open end is then elevated slightly by placing stones beneath it, and the closed end rests on the ground. Lastly, kerosene is poured through the hole and a bottle lamp (A ‘Shal’ in Kweyol) is kept nearby as the ignition source.
To fire, a thin stick is dipped into the kerosene and set alight by the flame from the ‘Shal’. The flaming tip of the stick is thrust into the hole above the receptacle and the expert firer then extinguishes the flame by clamping his hand over the small square hole. This process must be repeated several times to warm the kerosene until a few modest pops are heard. As the kerosene vaporizes, explosions of the fuel and oxygen mixture grow into thunderous roars.
Ferocious blasts of hot air and blinding flashes of light are propelled through the elevated end of the cannon. Sometimes small objects are placed in the bamboo cannon to be hurtled away by the force. While it’s exciting, bamboo bursting is not easy. It requires precision and expertise to avoid a disappointing or dangerous experience.
The cannon crew usually consists of three or four persons. One controls the ‘shal’ and refuels the cannon, one handles the lanyard and another blows to clear the smoke – which is important to do between firings. It’s crucial for the crew to also notice if cracks develop in the bamboo as they continue bursting, as the wood eventually dehydrates and may shatter under the force of explosion.
Despite the hazards however, bamboo bursting is one of St. Lucia’s fun Christmas traditions. Until the kerosene’s exhausted, boy’s island-wide will carry on throughout the night in celebration of the season to come.
This article republished with the permission of: Tropical Traveller - St. Lucia Magazine
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