Posted by: David French | January 31, 2016

Jamaica and the Panama Canal

Folk Song from Jamaica

colon snapshot new

Lyrics of Colon Man A-Come are printed in ‘Mango Walk, Jamaican Folk Songs and Games’ by Ouida Hylton-Tomlinson.

This light-hearted song tells about the Colon Man, returning home from Panama to Jamaica. He is much better off than when he left, as shown by the swagger of a watch chain and smart ‘zoot suit’.

  • Recording details: made around 1984 using a battery cassette tape recorder. Cubase was used (2016) to enhance the audio.
  • Venue and session: ILEA music centre; ‘Caribbean Songs’ in service training for Inner London teachers – mainly English accents!

Please also listen to the version by Cedella Booker Marley (youtube) for that essential Jamaican vibe.




“The religious sentiment is strong upon them and as the sun goes down in the waste of waters the wail of hymn tunes sung to the accompaniment of a fiddle and divers mouth organs rises over the whistle of the wind and the rumble of the machinery………..

……..and when their service is ended the United States government is obligated to return them to Jamaica where for a time their money will make them the idols of the markets, lanes and yards.” Willis J. Abbot is writing about the boat journey from from Jamaica to Colon, Panama. He also refers to the earthquake of 1907, Kingston, Jamaica.

Abbot W.L. (1913) Page 22, Panama and the Canal in Pictures and Prose, Syndicate Publishing Company. Internet Archive:


Colon – Bolivar Street

Section of photo 120217 from Postcardmen website

The song has a cheerful and comical feel. In reality though, life for the Colon Man was very tough. Colon was the port of disembarkation for thousands of Jamaican labourers who went to work on the Panama Canal. Risks to life and health included poor living conditions, venomous snakes, dynamite blasts in mountains, drowning in swamps, mud slides in rainy season, railroad accidents, exhaustion and tropical diseases.

panama canal icon for slideshare

Panama Canal 1914 – 2014 Slideshare, guimera, August 2014.

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