Letter From Grenada: Revenge of the Cat

I recently noticed an article in the Trinidad Guardian about two male teenagers who had been charged with savagely "chopping" an old man (though not to death). Each youth received a sentence of 42 years in prison plus 20 strokes of the birch. It was the latter part of the sentence, the instrument designated by the learned judge, that surprised, but throughout the ex-British colonies "strokes" with a cane have become a fairly routine court order for rapists and for incestuous and violent men in general. The famous caning incident in Singapore hardly drew a ripple of interest in such independent, ex-colonial deposits.

An order of "strokes" in a Caribbean magistrate's court is given by the presiding authority (quite often a woman) and carried out immediately. The instrument generally used is the whippy tamarind or "tammy," which is similar to that in the schools of my youth; Singapore employs the rotan. The infamous cat-o'-nine tails, which the French writer Pierre Daninos claims to lurk in every Englishman's subconscious, no longer exists in penal reality. Its last judicial use in England was probably in the case of the three so-called "Mayfair playboys," who in the 30's assaulted an old lady and were sentenced to, and each received, eight strokes of the cat, given in two doses, for leniency's sake.

One may therefore be permitted a certain equanimity...

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