DESCRIPTION: In each verse a ship is put "on the dock" and painted black, but is white when it comes back.
EARLIEST DATE: 1952 (Blind Blake Higgs: see WIHIGGS01)
LONG DESCRIPTION: In each verse a ship is put "on the dock" and painted "black, black, black," but is "white, white, white" when it comes back: "Bellamena ... in the harbour", "Maisy... set me crazy... awfully lazy," "Mystery... used to carry whiskey... awfully frisky," "Managa... stuck in New York Harbour... got to bring a lovely cargo."
KEYWORDS: travel return colors ship nonballad
FOUND IN: West Indies(Bahamas)
Blind Blake Higgs, "Bellamena" (on WIHIGGS01)
NOTES [227 words]: Why paint a ship black one time and then white the next? Is it so that it would be hard to see at night and would fade into the crowd during the day?
While the title of the track is "Bellamena" Higgs sings "Ballamina." Belafonte turns this into a romantic story with his 1961 "Bally Mena (authorship credits to Robert De Cormier and Irving Burgie (Lord Burgess)). I assume the ship's name is "Ballymena."
Although it seems a stretch I wonder if the Higgs song isn't based on "Yard-O 'Yaddo." - BS
Gordon Bok (who calls the song "Belamena") has an explanation what is going on: The ships were rum-runners during the Prohibition era. To make it harder to track them, they were regularly repainted. If the revenuers were looking for a black boat named "Managa," but encounter a white boat of that name, they might not look it over as carefully.
Young: Ron Young, Dictionary of Newfoundland and Labrador, Downhome Publishing Inc., 2006, p. 211, has an even more interesting version of the tale, also involving rum-runners: They would paint one side of the boat black, the other side white. So when the revenuers saw a boat come into harbor, they'd see the side that was one color, then see the other color when she headed back, and (perhaps) not realize it was the same boat. Of course, that only worked if the revenuer stayed on the same side of the harbor! - RBW
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