Many social irregularities in St. Vincent are handled by the law—the real law. But the more irregular ones are dealt with by the people themselves, and one of the ways is by mock hanging. Sexual molestation of close relatives and animals is greatly frowned upon by the people to the extent that the culprit is subject to ridicule and a mock hanging.
The crime is first reported to a committee which is always ready to take up such a case. The mock policemen investigate and file a case against the culprit who is given a false name. Then preparations are made for the mock trial. By this time, the whole community is alerted and excitement builds. The whole thing becomes the talk of the community and people would gather in little groups whispering the news.
The community hall is usually chosen as the court house. Here the preliminary hearing and the High Court will be heard. When it is time for the first sitting, the public is invited to witness it. The whole is done as a normal court case. There is a judge or magistrate, lawyers, witnesses and police, all of whom carry false names. These names are usually designed to create laughter.
At this preliminary hearing, the witnesses give their statements in quite amusing fashion while the cross questioning provokes more laughter. The first sitting might go on for two nights. The case is then referred to the High Court. At the High Court, there is a jury made up of about twelve members. There are five policemen to call the accused and four at the door of the hall mainly to collect admission fees. There are about five witnesses in this case. This is to ensure that the evidence against the accused is incriminating enough to bring him guilty.
There would be the lawyers of the defence and those for the crown. Here the cross questioning is more detailed and the people laugh themselves to tears at the answers. At the end of the sitting the accused is found guilty and is sentenced to hang by the judge.
A moonlight night is always chosen for the hanging. Two effigies are then built. One, depicting the condemned man and the other depicting the victim of his molestation. Two poles, preferably of bamboo are planted in the ground with a cross piece at the top. A rope is tied to the cross piece with a noose hanging down. There is another end for pulling.
The effigy of the condemned man is built in such a way that by one tug of the rope, the head would be instantly detached from the rest of the body. The head is put into the noose and the hangman tugs at his rope and the effigy is hanged. After the hanging, the body of the effigy is then burned to ash. There is then a big jump up in the streets of the village. The music is supplied by boom drum with the flute playing the following tune:
“Do Reverend, do Reverend save me from the gallows
Me nuh go do that again. Oh!
Fire, fire een me wire wire. Oye! Oye!”
The people fete until morning.
Hanging helps to maintain social order in the areas in which it is practiced. Who knows? Many people who may want to deviate from normal behaviour are restrained by the silent threat of mock hanging. After all, nobody wants to be hanged—real or mocking.