I’ve seen sports events around the world.
Royal Tennis at Hampton Court. A world series that only Americans and Puerto Ricans play. Frisbee golf on a cruise liner. Wellington-boot tossing in Yorkshire. Marbles on ice – or curling.
But now this.
When my boat docked at Freetown, the tiny capital of the South Sea island state Saint Cribbage, I was immediately struck by the fact that everyone, and I mean everyone was wearing coveralls. The usual staid colors – black, dark blue and ISIS-orange were the most popular. But every once in a while there were coveralls in pink, russet, Tobago yellow and even one in rainbow.
“Why?” I asked no one in particular.
As if everyone in particular had heard me, it seemed as though all at once a thousand people were screaming “kippers” at the top of their voices.
The foghorn sounded on a local trawler and then mayhem ensued. Later I was to discover I’d arrived on St. Cribbage on the annual day of the patron saint for whom the country is named.
Let me take you back 1,500 years.
When Cribbage of Catalonia set sail into the unknown he survived on herring and nothing else for six months. After a few weeks, of course the fish began to decay. At that point he smoked the fish, which more than a millennium later became known as the kipper.
By the time he arrived on a 50 square mile island in the South Pacific, he’d eaten an estimated 1,000 kippers and miraculously not choked on a single bone. Hence, as he introduced Christianity to the island, the natives honored him by naming their homeland Cribbage. With the conversion from animism to Christianity and spread of the news of the miracle of the kippers, Cribbage of Catalonia was canonized.
But I digress. But only partly.
On St. Cribbage Day citizens of this fine island, all 4,563 of them (according to the 2013 census), don coveralls and prepare for a fine game of Where’s the Kipper, Skipper?
As the foghorn was sounded 4,562 kippers were unceremoniously dumped on the quay from the giant bucket of the island’s only Caterpillar vehicle.
What happened next is anyone’s guess. All I know is that many a soul ended up in the murky waters, mothers fought daughters, neighbors battled, and at the end of it all one tiny chap waved both hands and screamed “I don’t have a kipper.”
He was then borne aloft, a hidden hurdy-gurdy began to play and much merrymaking was had. The young boy was placed on a throne and there he sat for day leading the homage to St. Cribbage and the miracle of the kippers.
I left the island the following morning thoroughly confused but mightily entertained.
You can see the madness for yourself every year on November 16. The best way to reach St. Cribbage is to fly to Auckland, New Zealand. From Auckland the round trip via flight (once monthly to Areora) and then two-day boat trip to Freetown will set you back $SG 567,324. (More information at http://www.SaintCribbageTourism.gov.sc)