The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #128220 Message #3177374
Posted By: Gibb Sahib
27-Jun-11 - 05:11 PM
Thread Name: The Advent and Development of Chanties
Subject: RE: The Advent and Development of Chanties
I had poked into this when you posted it, but only now just getting time to sort out my notes and reply.
Your question about what Burke means by "Malayan chanty" is certainly the crux of it! If it was a chanty sung by Malays, why the English text? I haven't found an answer, however, I *think* he means to imply that it was indeed a song sung by gents of Malay ethnicity.
Burke mentions the chanty (twice) in his earlier book, _Nights in Town: a London Autobiography_ from 1915. Although this book (as opposed to Limehouse Nights) was of a more journalistic, non-fiction style, my understanding is that the idea Burke grew up in sailortown is something of a myth. However, I think he had been observing these haunts recently as an adult, so is writing from his actual observations. And I don't see any reason to doubt that he actually heard a chanty (or some song that he classed as a chanty) that said "Love is kind to the least of men". In fact, it seems to have really made an impression on him if he is to quote it twice in Nights in Town and twice in Limehouse Nights.
Nights in Town gives what seems to be the context in which he actually heard it, though it still doesn't answer our main questions about whether it was truly "Malay" and (my question) what sort of chanty it might have been (related to a steamship?). Here is the passage, from pg 207 of the American edition:
Sheer above the walls of East India Dock rose the deck of the Cawdor Castle, as splendidly correct as a cathedral. The leaping lines of her seemed lost in the high skies, and she stood out sharply, almost ecstatically. Against such superb forces of man, the forces of Nature seemed dwarfed. It was a lyric in steel and iron. Men hurried from the landing-stage, up the plank, vanishing into the sly glooms of the huge port-holes. Chains rang and rattled. Lascars of every kind flashed here and there: Arabs, Chinkies, Japs, Malays, East Indians. Talk in every lingo was on the air. Some hurried from the dock, making for a lodging-house or for The Asiatics' Home. Some hurried into the dock, with that impassive swiftness which gives no impression of haste, but rather carries a touch of extreme languor. An old cargo tramp lay in a far berth, and one caught the sound of rushing blocks, and a monotonous voice wailing the Malayan chanty: "Love is kind to the least of men, EEEE-ah, EEEE-ah!" Boats were loading up. Others were unloading. Over all was the glare of arclights, and the flutter of honeyed tongues.
Interesting that this earlier version was "EEEE-ah" rather than "Eee-awa". The "awa" seems like it might have inspired the "haul away" adaptation.