The Happy Hour: A Socio-historical Discourse

Arley Gill

By Arley Gill

It may not be historically accurate to say that the “happy hour’’ tradition, held after funerals in Grenada, existed from time immemorial. However, it is a fact, as confirmed by the leading funeral director in Grenada, that over the last 10 to 15 years, it has become traditional in Grenada, that after the burial of a loved one, food and drinks are provided by the bereaved family to persons attending the funeral. Sometimes, this is accompanied by music.

This practice of ‎what is now popularly referred to as “happy hour’’ has firmly established itself as folklore in Grenada culture. After years of consistent practice, nationals expect to be treated and families, despite their economic reality, refuse to disappoint. It is now a deeply entrenched cultural practice.

In West Africa, from where our ancestors came, these practices exist. In many traditional Ghanaian societies, for instance, death is an occasion not only to mourn loss but also to reflect and celebrate the life of the deceased. In Grenada, the “wake’’ ritual or three days of prayer ‎highlight the mourning of the deceased.

This wake usually takes place in the home of the deceased; religious songs are sang, prayers are offered to bless the soul of the departed and, of course, to soothe and bring comfort to the bereaved family. Here, also, refreshment is served and that includes porridge, bread and saltfish; and, of course, alcohol or strong rum is served to take a “drink on the head’’ of the deceased. When the bottle of strong rum is opened, some is thrown on the ground ceremoniously, in respect for the soul of the departed.

I am advised, by a leading funeral director, that the early practice of happy hours was strongly influenced by returning UK nationals. Now, this is interesting. Because, it raises the question of who influenced them in the UK? Is it West Africans? It is clear also that in researching the funeral traditions in West Africa, after European invasion and colonization, European musical instruments and Christian songs were incorporated in the traditional African ceremonies. This is an interesting observation that I intend to follow to see where it leads. ‎

The term “happy hour’’ is maybe a fitting — and yet curious name — for a funeral celebration. It seems to be a borrowed term from the cheap sale of beers, where a certain brewery company had a promotion that sold three beers for ten dollars. That promotion was referred to as, “happy hour’’. But, that term is now the well-known reference to what amounts to a “fete’’, after the burial of a deceased.

The period after the burial — and before the official commencement of the happy hour — there is what is described by one funeral director as an “appetizer’’ with the vendors. In Grenada, it is common to see mobile bars on top open-back trucks selling alcoholic beverages, strong rum, (not least babash), malts and other drinks.

The nuts’ vendors also will be present. This, too, is a practice which started a few years ago. Traditionally, the village rumshops would close their door when the hearse carrying the deceased leads the procession to the burial ground. That is still the case; however, with the mobile bars there is no door to close. This entrepreneurship is widely accepted and is not generally frowned upon. That also seems to be part of an emerging folklore.

Now, back to the “happy hour’’. Growing up it was not uncommon for a sandwich and a glass of juice to be served at the burial ground. Nowadays, it is plenty food cooking: from goat, beef and pork stew, with rice and peas; to oil down, fish broth, you name it. All of this served with soft drinks and alcohol beverages. Most times, there are more sympathizers in the happy hour than in the church.

And, the happy hour goes well beyond the hour. Indeed, it only comes to an end when the food finishes and the drinks are done, not before. If the bar is “closed’’ — meaning there is still more drinks — it is not uncommon for some persons to wait until it is reopened; or, at least, wait to see if it is reopened.

Moreover, it is a habit for persons to take away food to their homes for supper, or to the homes of those who were not able to attend the funeral. I am advised by the leading funeral director that when it started it was the family of the deceased that would rent a venue and provide drinks and the sympathizers will bring the food. Well, as it is now the family of the deceased do everything with contributions from the wider family circle and close friends. Some well-to-do families even hire caterers.

Now the eating and drinking is usually accompanied ‎by music. Led by Upsetter of the “Jolly Boys’’, they can be hired through La Qua Brothers for the princely sum of $200.00

It is a live performance that is also fast becoming a cultural folkway. It is not uncommon to have music from a stereo or “Dee Jay’’.

The music usually starts with some sobriety before diverting into full dancehall repertoire.

This emerging folklore can no longer be ignored or frowned upon. There are still persons who dictate to their families that when they pass they do not want a happy hour. I know of quite a few cases where that was the case, and it started as light refreshment. But, bit by bit, it grew into a “happy hour’’.

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