Here the reputable ‘lady of healing hands’ Leoneal Callwood-Jack lived. There is hardly a household that does not speak fondly of their many interactions with her and the peace and contentment a worried mother of a sick man would feel after such visits.
Family members spoke with VI Life&Style Magazine to discuss the legacy of Mama’s healing hands. While it is uncertain at what age Mama’s hands started to give relief to family and community members, it is understood that her gifts and talents were passed down from her great-grandmother Betty and her grandmother Iris Cameron from Carrot Bay.
Being a small and closely knit Caribbean territory, the BVI has a deep and rich history of midwives and ‘bone setters’, who have minimal formal training but has been a bedrock in communities for minor health issues. While most of these informal medical practitioners were women, there have been men, such as Daniel Fahie from Brandywine Bay, who engaged in these practices. However, most people know if you wanted a gentler hand and more comfort in those moments, Mama provided that.
Traditional bone-setting is classified as a type of folk medicine where practitioners engaged in joint manipulation. Traditionally, the practice is done without much formal training in accepted modern medicine. Nonetheless, the bonesetters often reduce joint dislocations and massaged overworked, pain ridden muscle mass to reduce muscle spasm and pain.
Mama became entrenched in the art of bonesetting and massage in her early 40s. Around this time, she became a Prison Officer, and she began to develop the practice and business. However, she was introduced to the concepts at an earlier age.
There’s no doubt this type of job is not for the faint of heart. Physical strength, dexterity and stamina were demonstrated daily. Callwood was short in stature, roughly 5″6 inches tall. However, many people described her as being built like a Chevy truck, “tough and built to last”. Coupled with those characteristics, with her faith and integrity, she would make quick assessments of anyone who came to her. Most would not have the ability to adequately pay for her services but rest assured, she never refused anyone in need.
As time went by, Mama did a bit of training in massage therapy in Minnesota where she completed a certificate in Professional Massage. Still, she and many of her customers believe her concepts, techniques and practices were hereditary and spiritually intuitive (Gift from God). She also, travelled internationally to
attend competitive events to display her gift and talent while also picking up a few tricks.
Being a caring person, Mama was a keen listener. She ensured she listened carefully to her client’s concerns and created an atmosphere for healing through a candle-lit prayer before performing any massage. From the time you shout at her and tell her you need her, even on her poor days she would say “mi child I ain’t feeling too good you nah but come let me see what I could do”. Clients would be shouting from the road announcing their arrival because her beloved dogs would be on the porch guarding her and she would speak to them softly showing her approval for you to feel comfortable in their presence. They stayed close,
never really leaving her side.
She was always careful with her clients and ensured that any clients with serious conditions beyond her capabilities would consult with medical professionals. Sport is a favourite pastime in the Virgin Islands and as such, a lot of Mama’s clientele included athletes thus she employed several techniques when conducting her massages.
She would watch your posture and the way you moved your limbs as you walk towards her. Her learnings were easily seen as she rubbed and stretched your body. You can see her taking time to trace the veins, and arteries protruding under the pressure. She would follow your body contour to give herself a sense of compass, as to where to begin. Sometimes as you begin to describe the pain, you would see her nod her head. Her effleurage and petrissage stoke were on point, like every good masseuse to prepare the body for heavier movements.
Cupping of the chest and friction rubbing strokes to loosen those canons sure could make you catch your breath or even cry. But oh the sweet release when she lifted her big thumb and say “ok that one is gone”, let’s see what else we have”. She had a way of distracting you when she knows hurt was on the way, you had to admit she was slick at getting you to relax under her fingers to make the work easier and less painful for the client.
She was an encyclopedia when it came to the use of local bushes and liniments in daily life. She fed off the energy exuding from each person and understood the safeguards that were required for caregivers and clients alike. In general, she had life advice and you could sense her love of family as she spent so much of her time fielding calls all day to make sure everyone behaved.
When you were silly enough to pull so hard that you opened our back or chest, she had the fingers. No matter how thick you were, or how heavy, Mama
would tell you to sit still and she would brace her body, encircle yours with her fingers and slowly close the gap, releasing her grasp with a satisfying pop as your
body respond under her hands. Many women might have become good friends with the cup she would use to fetch the womb back in place, and many have
brought newborn babies by to visit and say thank you.
This tradition like many others in the British Virgin Islands is slowly dying, but she has kept up her end of the bargain in this regard. As Mama slowed down, she engaged her oldest son Ellis as her second. Ellis quickly learnt the craft as well as other alternative therapies such as Reiki.
A legend to be sure and a nomination for heroine day. While not wearing a politician hat, she served not only her country in the capacity of Prison Officer, but she has contributed like many others in the medical profession to the longevity and growth of our nation. We salute you Mama, our fallen soldier.