Big Tingz A Gwaan Pon NewsTalk93FM

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Frederic Cassidy

Two spelling systems are used for the Jamaican language below. The first, which I call ‘chaka-chaka’, is based on English spelling. The second, ‘prapa-prapa’, is the specialist phonetic system designed by the Jamaican linguist Frederic Cassidy. It has been updated by the Jamaican Language Unit at the University of the West Indies, Mona. After the two Jamaican versions, there’s an English translation.

CHAKA-CHAKA SPELLING
UWI radio station a broadcast news big an broad inna ‘patwa’! Mi rather call fi wi language ‘Jamaican’. Same like how di English people dem talk English, a same so wi talk Jamaican. Mind yu, wi talk English, too. Dem force it on pon wi. An wi tek it fix-fix it up fi suit wi.

Dem old-time African weh di English people dem tek weh an bring ya, dem mix up di English language wid fi dem owna African language dem. An a so dem mek up one next language: Jamaican. An dem pass it down from generation to generation. It a wi heart language. A it wi talk wen trouble tek wi. An wen sinting sweet wi.

HEARD-EVERYWHERE-550x250A disya month NewsTalk93FM start broadcast news inna Jamaican. Monday to Friday inna di afternoon, 12:15 an 5:20. It a gwaan good-good. Nuff smaddy a listen an dem love it kyaahn done. An a no joke sinting. A real-real news. Serious ting.

A di Jamaican Language Unit a UWI response fi di news inna Jamaican. Professor Hubert Devonish a di head a di unit. Im study language an im write book bout it. A some a im student dem a work pon di news: Honica Brown, Peterkim Pusey, Tyane Robinson an Rexandrew Wright.

One a di big problem dem have fi write news inna Jamaican a fi find di rightful word fi di English. Tek for instance, ‘flexitime’. How yu a go seh dat inna Jamaican? ‘Work fi suit di boss?’ Same like how English capture nuff word from Latin an Greek, dem can dis tek over di word dem from English!

DI WAT LEF

Mi tink it plenty better fi try find sinting inna Jamaican fi carry over weh yu waan fi seh from English. Long time now, mi did change over one a di Budget speech from English to Jamaican. Mi seh six out a 10 dollar a fi pay back money weh govament owe. An education get di biggest cut a di ‘wat lef’.

images-1Wen mi go a JIS fi record di programme, dem never like ‘wat lef’. Dem seh mi nah gi di news straight. A talk mi a talk mi mind. Mi a call down judgement pon govament. Dem rather mi seh ‘balance’. But ‘wat lef’ an ‘balance’ boil down same way. Nutten much no lef fi run di country!

Di Jamaican Language Unit have one next programme pon NewsTalk93FM: ‘Big Tingz A Gwaan’. An dem aks Tyane Robinson an mi fi run di show. Inna Jamaican. Wi talk wi mind bout news. An wi bring on guest. Wi do three programme already. It come on Thursday afternoon, 4:30.

Mek mi gi oonu lickle joke. Some a di uptown guest dem can’t chat Jamaican pon radio! A dem yard language. It kyaahn broadcast. Wat a sinting! Marcus Garvey done tell wi: A wi ha fi free wiself from mental slavery. Nobody kyaahn dweet fi wi. Wi head an wi heart ha fi start talk di said same language.

PRAPA-PRAPA SPELIN

UWI riedyo stieshan a braadkyaas nyuuz big an braad iina ‘patwa’! Mi raada kaal fi wi langwij ‘Jamiekan’. Siem laik ou di Inglish piipl dem taak Inglish, a siem so wi taak Jamiekan. Main yu, wi taak Inglish tu. Dem fuors it aan pan wi. An wi tek it fiks-fiks it op fi suut wi.

Unknown-1Dem uol-taim Afrikan we di Inglish piipl dem tek we an bring ya, dem miks op di Inglish langwij wid fi dem uona Afrikan langwij dem. An a so dem mek op wan neks langwij: Jamiekan. An dem paas it dong fram jinarieshan tu jinarieshan. It a wi aat langwij. A it wi taak wen chrobl tek wi. An wen sinting swiit wi.

A disya mont NyuuzTaak93FM staat braadkyaas nyuuz iina Jamiekan. Monde tu Fraide iina di aaftanuun, 12:15 an 5:20. It a gwaan gud-gud. Nof smadi a lisn an dem lov it kyaahn don. An a no juok sinting. A riil-riil nyuuz. Siiryos ting.

A di Jamiekan Langwij Yuunit a UWI rispans fi di nyuuz iina Jamiekan. Profesa Hubert Devonish a di Ed a di Yuunit. Im stodi langwij an im rait buk bout it. A som a im stuuydent dem a wok pan di nyuuz: Honica Brown, Peterkim Pusey, Tyane Robinson an Rexandrew Wright.

Wan a di big prablem dem av fi rait nyuuz iina Jamiekan a fi fain di raitful wod fi di Inglish. Tek far instans, ‘flexitime’. Ou yu a go se dat iina Jamiekan? ‘Wok fi suut di baas?’ Siem laik ou Inglish kyapcha nof wod fram Latin an Griik, dem kyan dis tek uova di wod dem fram Inglish!

DI WAT LEF

Mi tink it plenti beta fi chrai fain sinting ina Jamiekan fi kyari uova we yu waan fi se fram Inglish. Lang taim nou, mi did chienj uova wan a di Bojit Spiich fram Inglish tu Jamiekan. Mi se siks out a ten dala a fi pie bak moni we govament uo. An edikieshan get di bigis kot a di ‘wat lef’.

Wen mi go a JIS fi rikaad di pruogram, dem neva laik ‘wat lef’. Dem se mi naa gi di nyuuz striet. A taak mi a taak mi main. Mi a kaal dong jojment pan govament. Dem raada mi se ‘balance’. Bot ‘wat lef’ an ‘balance’ bwail dong siem wie. Notn moch no lef fi ron di konchri!

Di Jamiekan Langgwij Yuunit av wan neks pruogram pan NyuuzTaak93FM: ‘Big Tingz A Gwaan’. An dem aks Tyane Robinson an mi fi ron di shuo. Iina Jamiekan. Wi taak wi main bout nyuuz. An wi bring aan ges. Wi du chrii pruogram aredi. It kom aan Torsde aaftanuun, 4:30.

Mek mi gi unu likl juok. Som a di optoun ges dem kyaahn chat Jamiekan pan riedyo! A dem yaad langwij. It kyaahn braadkyaas. Wat a sinting! Marcus Garvey don tel wi: A wi ha fi frii wiself fram mental slievri. Nobadi kyaahn dwiit fi wi. Wi ed an wi aat a fi staat taak di sed siem langwij.

ENGLISH TRANSLATION
The UWI radio station is boldly broadcasting news in ‘patwa’! I prefer ‘Jamaican’ as the name of our language. Just as the English speak English, we speak Jamaican. Mind you, we speak English, too. They forced it down our throat. An we took it and adapted it to suit our tongue.

Our African ancestors, who were taken away by the English and  brought here,  cut and mixed the English language with their own African languages. And that’s how they created a brand new language: Jamaican. And they passed it down from generation to generation. It’s our heart language. That’s what we use when we’re in trouble.  And when we’re happy.

NewsTalk93FM started broadcast news in Jamaican this month. Monday to Friday in the afternoon at 12:15 and 5:20. It’s a huge success.  Lots of people are listening and they’re really enjoying it.  And it’s not a joke. It’s proper news. For real.

images-3It’s the Jamaican Language Unit at UWI that responsible for producing the news in Jamaican. Professor Hubert Devonish is the head of the unit. He’s a linguist who had written books on the subject.  It’s some of his students who are work on the news programme: Honica Brown, Peterkim Pusey, Tyane Robinson and Rexandrew Wright.

One the big problems they have with writing news in Jamaican is finding the exact translation for the English words. For instance, ‘flexitime’. What’s the Jamaican equivalent? ‘Work fi suit di boss?’ I suppose the translators could simply take over English words in exactly the same way that the English language captured lots of words from Latin an Greek!

DI WAT LEF

I think it’s much better to try to find a Jamaican equivalent for the English expression. Quite some time ago, I translated one of the Budget speeches from English to Jamaican. I said that 60% of the budget is for debt repayment.  And education gets the highest percentage of the ‘wat lef’.

When I went to JIS to record di programme, they didn’t like ‘wat lef’. They said I was editorialising. I was giving my own opinion.  And I was passing judgement on the Government. They preferred me to say ‘balance’. But ‘wat lef’ and ‘balance’ boil down to the same thing. Nothing much is left to run the country!

53-Ways-to-Market-Your-Google-Plus-Hangout-on-AirThe Jamaican Language Unit has another programme on NewsTalk93FM: ‘Big Tingz A Gwaan’. And they asked Tyane Robinson and me to host the show. In Jamaican. We speak our mind about the news. And we have guests on the show. We’ve done three programmes already. It comes on Thursday afternoon at 4:30.

Let me give you a little joke. Some of the uptown guests can’t speak in Jamaican on radio!  It’s their yard language. It can’t go out on air. What a thing! Marcus Garvey has warned us:  We have to free ourselves from mental slavery. Nobody can do it for us.  Our head and our heart must start talking the same language.

Emancipation Day At Liberty Hall

Unknown-1A century ago, Marcus Garvey launched the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities (Imperial) League on Emancipation Day. Garvey was a man who understood the power of symbols. August 1 was the ideal day to make a grand statement advocating the unification of African people across the globe.

Garvey knew that emancipation was a long and difficult process. The road to full freedom was full of potholes. The journey would not be easy. And Garvey acknowledged the difference between physical and mental slavery. He encouraged us to take full responsibility for the process of liberation.

In a famous speech delivered in Nova Scotia, Canada, in 1937, Garvey prophetically declared, “We are going to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery because whilst others might free the body, none but ourselves can free the mind. Mind is your only ruler, sovereign. The man who is not able to develop and use his mind is bound to be the slave of the other man who uses his mind, because man is related to man under all circumstances for good or ill.”

Bob Marley amplified Garvey’s message in Redemption Song:

Old pirates yes, they rob I

Sold I to the merchant ships

Minutes after they took I

From the bottomless pit

But my hand was made strong

By the hand of the Almighty

We forward in this generation triumphantly.”

Marcus Garvey’s UNIA-ACL was an unquestionable triumph. By the early 1930s, there were more than 1,000 divisions in 38 countries; for example, Australia, Brazil, Canada, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, Liberia, Mexico, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Panama, South Africa, Trinidad and Venezuela.

images-1The rapid growth of the UNIA in the US is an eloquent testimony to the empowering appeal of Garvey’s redemptive vision for Black people. In 1917, Garvey established the New York Division of the UNIA with 13 members. From a single seed, the number of divisions within the US grew to 837 – without Internet or social media to spread the message!

VISIONARY LEADERSHIP

liberty_hall__kingston_jamaicaNot surprisingly, the growth of the UNIA was much slower in Jamaica. The legacy of mental slavery made it difficult for many African-Jamaicans to identify with a black man preaching the gospel of self-reliance. The UNIA in Jamaica started with 17 members and did not exceed 100 by the time Garvey left for the US in 1916. But the tide did turn. Marcus Garvey’s restored Liberty Hall at 76 King Street has now become a major cultural centre, thanks to the visionary leadership of the curator/director, Dr Donna McFarlane.

On Emancipation Day, Garvey’s legacy was celebrated in fine style. First, there was an enlightening conversation with Queen Mother Mariamne Samad and Dr Simon Clarke who had been members of the Garvey Juveniles in the US and Panama, respectively. Mr Arnold Bertram, historian and former minister of government, moderated the discussion.

Unknown-2Queen Mother Samad, who married a Jamaican, Clarence Thomas, came to live here in 1965. She said it was the single most important decision of her life. Recalling her youth in Harlem, New York, with parents who were committed Garveyites, Sister Samad showed the attentive audience pictures of the black Jesus and angels that had a place of honour in her home. These she donated to the Liberty Hall collection.

Dr Simon Clarke, who was born in Panama, also spoke about the issue of race. There were silver people and gold people, so named after their race and the currency in which each group was paid. Black people were silver and whites were gold. Dr Clarke told a most entertaining story of newly arrived black Jamaicans who joined the gold line at the post office.

That line moved much more quickly than the silver; three gold were served to one silver. Obedient people in the silver line implored the Jamaicans to come over into the ‘right’ line. Dr Clarke still remembers the emphatic way in which they declined the invitation: “We naah move!” And the ‘naah’ was appropriately stretched out to fully express resistance to the status quo.

ADINKRA SYMBOLS

The second feature of the Emancipation Day celebrations at Liberty Hall was a series of short skits performed by the 47 participants in the summer programme in dance and drama. Four students from the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts were employed to teach: Andre Tucker, Rachel Allen, Ricardo McFarlane and Ellisa Douglas.

082d7835c147ea04d30716ef66e2ae56The participants were divided into four groups and were guided by the philosophy of adinkra symbols from Ghana. The ‘Sankofa’ symbol means, ‘Return and get it’ and features either a bird with its head turned backwards with an egg in its beak, or a heart. This image signifies the importance of learning from the past.

Two fish biting each other’s tail is the image for ‘Bi Nka Bi’. This literally means, ‘No one should bite another’ and warns against making contention. ‘Osram Ne Nsoromma’, an image of the moon and a star, symbolises love, faithfulness and harmony, especially between man and woman. The fourth symbol, ‘Sesa Wo Suban’, is a star inside a wheel. It represents a change of character. This was particularly appropriate for the skit that featured skin bleachers who were in total denial about their identity.

Unknown-4All the performances by the children and teenagers from the communities around Liberty Hall and further afield were excellent. Proud parents came out to applaud the talent of the youth.

Marcus Garvey’s inspiring message about learning from the past and looking to Africa in the present to reclaim our collective identity was brilliantly illustrated. The Sankofa bird was in full flight.

“Talk Like Miss Lou, Mi No Talk Like Foreigner”

I don’t usually give in to the demands of domineering men.  But two weeks ago, in response to my last Sunday Gleaner column, “Out of Many, Fi Wi Langgwij”, which was also posted here on the blog, R. Oscar Lofters made me an offer I could barely resist: “I demand that from now on the professor writes her columns totally in Patwa. I refuse to read anymore of her columns written in English. Since Jamaicans all speak, write and understand Patwa, why waste time writing in a mixture of both”.

   I suppose Mr. Lofters was being sarcastic.  But the very thought that he might possibly be sending a serious message to the Gleaner’s Opinion Page Editor sent waves of pleasure rushing through my being.  Here was a man after my own heart who was up for creativity; a man with a lofty vision of what my mother tongue could do.  Mr. Lofters seemed to be celebrating the unlimited potential of the Jamaican language as a tool of communication worthy of the Sunday Gleaner’s editorial page.

Mr. Lofters doesn’t stand a chance in hell of having his ‘dream’ come true.  However much my brain was stimulated by the thought of submitting to Mr. Lofters’ seductive proposition, I knew it was all anti-climactic.  My hands are tied.  I’m not allowed to write a whole column in Jamaican. I’m restricted to one paragraph per week. It’s the Gleaner’s editorial policy from time immemorial, it would appear.  Well, at least from 1834 when the ancient newspaper was established.

‘You can’t do science in Patwa’

      In any case, I really don’t want to use ‘so-so Patwa’ each week even though I thoroughly enjoy the challenges of writing expository prose in my mother tongue.  It’s a language we’ve been taught to diss:  it’s ‘limited’.  Sceptics keep on making silly claims like ‘you can’t do science in Patwa.’  They don’t know that speakers of a language can make it do anything they want.  It’s not the language that’s doing the thinking.  And if you need technical vocabulary for new concepts, you simply make it up or ‘borrow’ from another language.

Still for all, I’m never going to give up writing in English.  I just love the quirkiness of the language.  I think of English as the world’s greatest patois.  Its vocabulary is a grand mix-up of basic Anglo-Saxon words and a host of borrowings from other languages such as Greek, Latin, Old Norman, French, Arabic, Hindi, Japanese, Yoruba, Twi, Maori, Yiddish and, these days, even Jamaican!

Native speakers of English are often not hooked on ‘correctness’ in the way that up-tight second-language learners often are.  They actually experiment with their mother tongue, making it do all sorts of interesting things.  Words like ‘bling’ and ‘diss’ have found their way into English – not just as slang – but as ‘respectable’ new vocabulary.

Vote of confidence

   Ideally, I’d like to write a bi-lingual column for the Gleaner as I did for the Observer in the 1990’s. Then, I insisted that in our culture English and Jamaican are happily married, with no prospect of divorce.  It wasn’t easy to get the conservative editors of that young newspaper to agree.  Youthfulness is no guarantee of creativity.  And old age is no guarantee of wisdom.

       That newspaper stopped publishing the column because of Motty Perkins.  No, it wasn’t Motty’s fault.  It was a case of collateral damage. But that’s a whole other story.  I’ve almost given up on trying to help the editors of the Gleaner see the value of a bilingual column. Until they ‘sight’ the light, I’m saving my pearls for my blog.

‘Nation Language’

“Talk like Miss Lou, mi no talk like foreigner”.  So Anthony B seh inna fi im song, “Nah Vote Again.”  Im a one conscious DJ weh know seh how im talk reveal im history an im culture.  Im naa put on no twang an a try gwaan like seh im come from foreign.  Im a one heartical yardie.  An a so im a talk.

Professor Kamau Brathwaite, one big-time history man an poet from Barbados, im call fi wi creole language dem ‘nation language’.   Im know seh yu language talk yu nation.  It mek people know weh yu come from, who yu be an wa yu a defend.  A di said same ting Anthony B a seh.

Professor Brathwaite write one lickle book, History of the Voice, weh come out inna 1984. Im talk bout how di ‘system’ never set up fi mek African people over ya so member fi wi owna African language dem.  An wi no fi put no value pon di new language dem weh wi mek up.  Seet ya:

“What our educational system did was to recognize and maintain the language of the conquistador – the language of the planter, the language of the official, the language of the Anglican preacher. . . . And in terms of what we write, our perceptual models, we are more conscious (in terms of sensibility) of the falling snow, for instance . . . than of the force of the hurricanes which take place every year”.

A true.  Christmas a come an plenty a unu a go buy Christmas card wid snow pon Christmas tree.  And unu a go sing Christmas carol bout ‘I’m dreaming of a white Christmas.’  So unu no bodder gwaan like all a di foreign culture no deh ya pon top a wi, a beat wi dong inna di grong. A it mek IMF a tek step wid wi, cau wi love foreign tings so much.   Wi ha fi tek fi wi owna culture an fi wi owna language serious.  No true, Misa Lofters!

Seet deh now!  Gleaner never publish dis ya column sake-a it have een four ‘patwa’ paragraph.

Men Who Sing While Women Take Charge

I try to keep reminding myself that Robert Mugabe was once a towering figure in the epic anti-colonial wars on the African continent.  These days, it’s so easy to dismiss him as a very senior citizen who really ought to withdraw from public life.  Mark you I’m not saying Mugabe is senile.  But we shouldn’t ‘nyam up’ ourselves so much over his provocative generalisations about gender politics in Jamaica.  After all, Mugabe today is not his finest self.

In the 1920s when Robert Mugabe was growing up in what was then Southern Rhodesia, he was destined to become an obedient Catholic.  His parents raised him in the faith and he attended Kutama College, an all-boys high school run by Jesuit priests.  But Mugabe did not take refuge in religion. He became a man of the world.

Kwame Nkrumah

After graduating in 1951 with a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Fort Hare in South Africa, he became a lecturer at a Teacher Training College in Zambia. Mugabe then went to teach in Ghana where the pPortian-Africanist Kwame Nkrumah was prime minister.

Fired up by the radicalism of the times, Mugabe returned to Southern Rhodesia in 1960 and became a member of the National Democratic Party (NDP).  Led by Joshua Nkomo, the NDP was later rebranded as the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU).

Mugabe and Nkomo

In 1963 a rival liberation movement emerged: the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU).  Mugabe joined ZANU and was arrested in 1964 and detained indefinitely when both parties were banned by Prime Minister Ian Smith’s white racist regime.  While in prison, Mugabe took several correspondence courses, earning more degrees from London University. In 1974, shortly before he was released, he was elected as leader of ZANU.  By 1980, Mugabe was prime minister of the new nation Zimbabwe.

Mugabe sings a different tune

As is now well known, Bob Marley was invited to chant down Babylon at the independence celebrations.  His song Zimbabwe had inspired freedom fighters. I suppose Mugabe had no problems then with men who sing for a living.

Natty Dread it inna Zimbabwe

Set it up in Zimbabwe

Mash it up-a inna Zimbabwe

Africans a liberate (Zimbabwe), yeah.

No more internal power struggle;

We come together to overcome the little trouble.

Soon we’ll find out who is the real revolutionary,

‘Cause I don’t want my people to be contrary.

Three decades later, contrary Mugabe is singing a quite different tune.  His irrational attack on Jamaican men who supposedly sing, smoke and drink themselves into unconsciousness seems completely childish.  And the charge can be easily dismissed.  It’s simply not true.  The vast majority of Jamaican men are not dysfunctional.

Yes, Bob Marley did sing and he smoked a considerable amount of ganja in his time, but the holy herb does not appear to have harmed him.  In fact, many artists claim that herb heightens their awareness and creativity, making them ‘sight’ wisdom that they might not ordinarily ‘vision’.  True, some people’s head cannot manage ganja and they go off the deep end.   In exactly the same way, some people’s head cannot manage alcohol – a legal drug – and they also lose their way.

Cooking books

Quite frankly, what is even more troubling is Mugabe’s attack on Jamaican women.  It’s the same old sankey.  High-achieving women are to be blamed for the failures of men.  We constantly conspire to make young women feel that their success is at the price of their male peers.  We do not focus on the many ways in which our school system consistently fails to address the learning styles of boys.

Tsitsi Dangarembga

Robert Mugabe is the product of a fiercely patriarchal culture in which women still struggle to be educated.  One of the novels I’m teaching this semester is set in Zimbabwe.  It’s Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga.  Incidentally, I didn’t have to resort to sexy advertising to sell the African/Diaspora Women Writers course this year. It filled from the get go:  residual benefits of my marketing strategy.

Tambu, the central character in Nervous Conditions, is discouraged from going to school by her father.  He asks her a most vexing question:  “‘Can you cook books and feed them to your husband?  Stay at home with your mother.  Learn to cook and clean.  Grow vegetables.’”  With the reluctant support of her mother, Tambu plants maize in order to earn her school fees.

She describes her mother’s ambivalence in this way:  “I think my mother admired my tenacity, and also felt sorry for me because of it.  She began to prepare me for disappointment long before I would have been forced to face up to it.  To prepare me she began to discourage me. “‘And do you think you are so different, so much better than the rest of us?  Accept your lot and enjoy what you can of it’”.

Portia Simpson Miller

When Robert Mugabe looks at Jamaica what he sees is a woman who has taken charge as prime minister.  Portia Simpson Miller is a tenacious woman, like Tambu, who refused to accept her lot in life as a poor black girl destined for domestic service.  Cooking is a vital job, not to be dissed.  But men can cook just as well as women if they put their mind to it.  Just think of all those male chefs who have made a very good living from cooking up a storm.  Their meals are a great pleasure – just like a fine song.  Put that in your pipe, Mr. Mugabe, and smoke it!

Out of Many, One Problem

Miss Lou

In 1948, Louise Bennett’s subversive poem ‘Nayga Yard’ was published in Public Opinion. I don’t know what or who provoked Miss Lou. Beneath the humour of her poetry, there was always a serious intention to expose the true face of Jamaican society. This is how ‘Nayga Yard’ blasted off:

Cock cyaan beat cock eena cock own yard

We all know dat is true

Is who-for yard Jamaica is?

Is who dah beat up who?

Fast-forward to 2012. Last week, I got a most distressing email. Here’s an excerpt: “I too made my way to the Jamaica village to mark the celebration of our nation on Monday, August 6 with my daughter. My heart beating with pride, my body decked out in the national colours and my hands waving the flag, I excitedly joined the festivities. Then it was back home to Waterhouse where I live.

“This morning, I woke up feeling a sense of loss, not because ‘mi menopausal effects a kick mi an mek mi feel like a drug addict weh want a fix’, but because my daughter, who graduated from the UWI, went to a job interview a few months ago and was asked “is this address where you will come from to work every day?” Weh dem mean by dat? A yah so she live, so wah? So I, in my motherly wisdom, that is, trying to steer the child in the way of survival, caution her to change her address”.

COLOUR AND CLASS PREJUDICE

Waterhouse

As we celebrate the Olympic victories of our male and female athletes, we cannot afford to forget that after the festivities, we all have to go back home to Waterhouse. We have to confront the deep-rooted problems of colour and class prejudice in Jamaican society. This is how that distressed mother ended her heartbreaking email:

“If an interviewer says to a young person who is fresh out of college and has limited resources, that to have a car would help your personal development, what exactly do they mean, and if young people are not trained, where will the years of experience come from? If class and colour still takes [sic] precedence over character and hard work, should we be surprised when some of us decide ‘fi tun cruff’?”

In 1948, Miss Lou was much more optimistic than this mother from Waterhouse about the prospects for black people in colonial Jamaica:

Call fi Jamaica fastes sprinters

Gal or bwoy, an den

De foremos artis, doctor, scholar -

Nayga reign again!

Miss Lou humorously admits that ‘nayga’ are also dominant in less desirable spheres:

Go eena prison, poor house, jail

Asylum – wha yu see?

Nayga dah reign predominant!

De place belongs to we!

Who is fooling who?

Nobody in their right mind could look at the crowd of people in the National Stadium on August 6 and not see that Jamaica is a predominantly black society. Ninety per cent of Jamaicans are black, black, black. Bleach or no bleach. So why is our national motto, ‘Out of Many, One People’? Who are the ‘many’ and who are the ‘one’? Who came up with this motto? And what was its purpose? Who is fooling who? Or ‘whom’, in deference to the purists.

Incidentally, ‘whom’ is fast dying. The English language keeps on reinventing itself and bits and pieces fall by the wayside. But some of us in Jamaica will be the very last to know. We’re convinced that English grammar is divinely ordained. So a grammatical error is a sign of sin, not just a slip of the lip. For example, we assume that the use of ‘whom’ shows that we’re very righteous. Some of us even wrongly use ‘whom’ for ‘who’ as in, “May I say whom is calling?” It just sounds so ‘stush’.

TEDxIRIE

Anyhow, when I was asked by a newspaper ‘a farin’ to write an opinion piece on Jamaica to be published on Independence Day, I decided to focus on troubling questions about identity. I suppose I could have written an obviously celebratory piece ‘bigging up’ our athletes and singing the glories of Jamaica in many other fields of accomplishment.

I’d actually started off with the headline, ‘Jamaica – A Speck of Greatness’. I’d spoken on that topic at a TEDxIrie event held in April 2011 in Kingston. TED talks are designed to promote technology, entertainment and design. The x brand signifies a local event. The ‘Irie’ forum was organised by Knolly Moses, CEO of the cleverly named Panmedia, a digital agency specialising in mobile, social media, online marketing, and web development.

The forum’s goal was “to show the world that Jamaica’s size doesn’t limit what we can contribute globally in all areas of human activity”. TEDxIrie featured speakers in a range of fields: Ebony Patterson (fine art); Jacqueline Sutherland and Mark Jones (contact centre services); Kaiton Williams (information sciences); Wayne Marshall (not, Tru Tru Tru; this Marshall is an American ethnomusicologist with expertise in Caribbean popular music); I kicked off the forum, with a talk on repositioning Brand Jamaica.

As I started to write that Independence piece, the national motto kept on bothering me. It was forcing me to reflect on some of the deep-rooted contradictions of our society. So I decided to focus on the spirit of resistance to imperialism and racism in Jamaican culture, another form of celebration, I would argue: who-is-jamaica.html

Marlene Malahoo Forte

In a recent radio interview with Marlene Malahoo Forte, I was most surprised by her interpretation of the motto. ‘Many’ could mean people from different walks of life. It doesn’t necessarily signify race. Not even her predecessor Motty Perkins, in his worse moments of Anancyism, would make such claim. We’re still afraid to confront the issue of race and that’s why we continue to take comfort in our deceptive national motto. One people? Just ask that mother from Waterhouse.

Why Is Marcus Garvey A National Hero?

Michael ‘Freestylee’ Thompson poster

I suppose it would look bad.  The leader of the largest organised mass movement of African people in the twentieth century disregarded in his country of birth!   All the same, given the anxiety in some quarters about the African heritage in Jamaica, it is truly remarkable that the political elite had the good sense to recognise Garvey’s heroic stature and honour him accordingly.

Born in 1887, only 21 years after the Morant Bay rebellion, and 53 years after Emancipation, Garvey grew up in a Jamaica that was still trapped in psychological bondage.  As a child, he would probably have heard the denigrating mantra, ‘Nutten black no good’.  He might even have been asked, ‘How yu so black an ugly?’  As if he had anything to do with it.

Garvey grandly rose above the hateful definitions of blackness in Jamaican society and prophetically affirmed, “We are going to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery because whilst others might free the body, none but ourselves can free the mind”.  Many of us sing along with Bob Marley, who popularised Garvey’s words in his “Redemption Song”.  But do we fully comprehend the profundity of the exhortation to free the mind?

Garvey made that liberating statement in 1937 at a meeting in Halifax, Nova Scotia.  By then, he was almost at the end of his tumultuous life.  He died less than three years later in London.  Like many Caribbean migrants of his day, Garvey caught the spirit of exploration.  He went to Central America when he was twenty-three, then to the UK, returning home in 1914.

UNIA Parade, Harlem, N.Y.

In August that year, Garvey founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) in Jamaica.  He went to the U.S. in 1916, and by 1917 had launched the New York Division of the UNIA with all of 13 members. After three months, there were 3500 dues-paying members!

‘The Moses of the Negro Race’

Without access to Facebook and Twitter, the UNIA grew exponentially.  Almost one thousand UNIA divisions were established within seven years.  Garvey was soon described in messianic terms.  The headline of a 1920 article published in the New York World loudly and, perhaps sceptically, proclaimed“The Moses of the Negro Race Has Come to New York and Heads a Universal Organization Already Numbering 2,000,000 Which is About to Elect a High Potentate and Dreams of Reviving the Glories of Ancient Ethiopia”.

Van der Zee photo

       At the heart of Garvey’s vision of a universal movement of black people committed to self-improvement was the expectation that the colonised African continent would be liberated. Garvey asked himself some unsettling questions:“Where is the black man’s government? Where is his King and his kingdom? Where is his President, his ambassador, his country, his men of big affairs?”  His answer:  “I could not find them and then I declared, ‘I will help to make them.'”

You have to admire Garvey’s nerve.  A lesser man might have quailed at the prospect of taking on such a superhuman mission.  At the beginning of the twentieth-century there were only two independent African countries:  Ethiopia and Liberia.  The rest of the continent had been captured by European squatters.  Lion-hearted Garvey, girded with his philosophy of African Fundamentalism, militantly declared, “Africa for Africans, at home and abroad.”

Liberty Hall, Harlem, N.Y.

Garvey saw parallels with the struggles of other oppressed groups who were demanding the right to self-government.  In a speech delivered at Liberty Hall in New York in 1920, Garvey related why he’d started his career as a street preacher, spreading the good news of African redemption: “Just at that time, other races were engaged in seeing their cause through—the Jews through their Zionist movement and the Irish through their Irish movement—and I decided that, cost what it might, I would make this a favorable time to see the Negro’s interest through.”

“The Place Next To Hell”

Despite the global reach of Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association, and his overarching vision of economic enterprise, his wings were clipped when he was arrested on bogus charges of using the mail to defraud.  Imprisoned, he took flight, writing The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey, with the sustained editorial oversight of his second wife, Amy Jacques.

Deported in 1927, the indomitable Garvey launched a newspaper, The Blackman (1929-1931), then The New Jamaican (1932-1933).  Perhaps Jamaica wasn’t ready for the black man.  In his first editorial, for The New Jamaican, Garvey spoke the plain truth:  “Jamaica is a fine country from a natural viewpoint—it is a terrible country from economic observations. To consider how the people of Jamaica live, that is, the bulk of the population, is to wonder if we, at all, have any system of economics. We shall endeavour to enlighten the country on the possibility of creating a better order of things for everybody through a system of education in economics—a thing not generally known nor taught in Jamaica.”

Eighty years later, things have not changed ‘to dat’, despite political independence.  We still haven’t gotten the economics right.  In frustration with Jamaican politics, Garvey once described the island in an issue of The New Jamaican as “the place next to hell”.  Despite the almost hellish circumstances in which he sometimes found himself, Garvey was always self-assured.  An article published in The Daily Gleaner on January 19, 1935, quotes Garvey:  “My garb is Scotch, my name is Irish, my blood is African, and my training is half American and half English, and I think that with that tradition I can take care of myself”.

This afternoon at 3:00 p.m., Professor Tony Martin, a distinguished Pan-Africanist scholar, will deliver the 3rd annual Marcus Garvey lecture at Liberty Hall in honour of the 125th birthday of our First National Hero:  “If Garvey Dies, Garvey Lives: The Enduring Relevance of Garvey’s Ideas”.   This lecture will certainly silence those cynics in this “place next to hell” who object to the teaching of Garvey’s philosophy in our schools.  Claiming Garvey’s legacy for our children is full freedom.

Who is Jamaica?

The morning after Emancipation Day, August 1st, I took out my prized Independence commemorative plate from the hand-carved mahogany cabinet in which it’s kept.  It was a gift from the mother of a long-ago boyfriend who, incomprehensibly, complained constantly that she loved me more than him.  Needless to say, he didn’t last.  Gender politics in Jamaica can be quite complicated.

The plate does have a little chip, but it really doesn’t matter.  It’s the spirit of the thing that counts: a little bit of tactile history.  The decorated plate features the Jamaican coat of arms.  On February 3, 1661, Jamaica became the first British colony to receive its own arms.  The Latin motto grandly declaimed: ‘Indus uterque serviet uni’ (Both Indies will serve one).  From East to mythic West, colonial relations of domination were inscribed in heraldry.

1661 Coat of arms

The coat of arms memorializes the Amerindian people of Jamaica.  There is a woman bearing a basket of pineapples and a man holding a bow.  At school we were taught that they were Arawak.  These days, they are Taino.  But the subtle distinction is purely academic.  The native people of Xaymaca, as the island was once called, are extinct. In their culture, the pineapple symbolized hospitality.  Genocide was their reward for the naïve welcome they gave Christopher Columbus.   They survive only in the coat of arms and in the modest museum that is dedicated to their history.

Perched above the Taino man and woman is a crocodile.  This reptile has fared much better than the indigenous people.  Its descendants are still alive.  A popular tourist attraction is the Black River safari which allows foolhardy explorers to get up close and personal with crocodiles.  An ad for the safari promises:  “A smiling crocodile right alongside the boat.  You can touch him if you are brave”.

At Independence in 1962, the national motto, enshrined in the coat of arms, was changed to “Out of many, one people”.  Though this might at first appear to be a vast improvement on the servile Indies, both East and West, the new motto does encode problematic contradictions.  It marginalizes the nation’s black majority by asserting compulsively that the idealized face of the Jamaican nation is multiracial.  In actuality, approximately 90% of the population is of African origin; 7% is mixed-race; 3% is European, Chinese and East Indian combined.

It was my high school English teacher, Miss Julie Thorne, who, for me, first interrogated the racial politics of the supposedly unifying motto.  She had come from the United Kingdom to teach on an international   development program much like the Peace Corps.  As an outsider, she could immediately detect the fraudulence of the homogenizing racial myth.  She asked us students a rather cynical question.  “Out of many, one people?  Which one?”

The classic Jamaican film, The Harder They Come, released in 1972, documents the mood of the earlier decade.  Optimistic rural youth migrated to Kingston and the smaller towns, looking for fulfillment of the promise of Independence.

On my commemorative plate, there’s a map of Jamaica which highlights Kingston, Spanish Town, Mandeville, Montego Bay and Port Antonio.  These were the centres of commerce to which ambitious youth gravitated.   Jimmy Cliff, the star of The Harder They Come, sang their hopes:

‘You can get it if you really want,

But you must try, try and try, try and try

You’ll succeed at last’.

Cliff’s lyrics echo a famous 19th century exhortation that has been much spoofed:  “‘Tis a lesson you should heed, try, try again.  If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again”.  Schoolchildren in Jamaica memorized that gem.  It motivated us to excel.  But ‘it’ often proved elusive, especially for the underclass who had no sustained access to formal education even after Independence.

The Jamaican sociologist Orlando Patterson wrote an empathetic novel The Children of Sisyphus, published in 1965, which skillfully recounts the uphill battle of those who tried to make it in Kingston, or ‘Killsome’, as Peter Tosh wittily dubbed the city.  The crushing boulders of oppression kept rolling back down.  Trapped in a cycle of repetitive failure, pauperised people struggled, nevertheless, to make meaning out of despair.

Reclaiming ancestral traditions of resistance, the urban poor fashioned new languages of survival.  Reggae music became the heartbeat of a people who refused extinction. In the words of Bob Marley’s “One Drop”:

“Feel it in the one drop

And we still find time to rap

We making a one stop

The generation gap

So feel this drumbeat as it beats within

Playing a rhythm resisting against the system”.

Reggae music filled the gap between reality and expectations. It articulated the philosophy and opinions of pan-Africanist Marcus Garvey.  The reggae drumbeat evoked Rastafari philosophy and livity, a coinage that is the decided antithesis of levity. With biblical authority, Rastafari claimed the coronation of Emperor Haile Selassie in 1930 as fulfillment of the prophecy recorded in Psalm 68:31:  “Princes shall come out of Egypt; Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God”.

Marley’s conception of reggae as a rhythm of resistance brilliantly traces the lineage of ‘word, sound and power’ that connects African Jamaicans across several generations and to the continent.  The deployment of music as a therapeutic weapon of resistance is a long- established tradition in African Jamaican culture.

The abeng, a wind instrument of West African origin made from cow horn, is preserved in Jamaica by the legendary Maroons who emancipated themselves from enslavement.  In highly tactical wars of resistance, they defeated the British, asserting their right to self-government. The abeng sounded the alarm, protecting the Maroon strongholds from sudden attack.

The relationship of the Maroons to the wider community of African-Jamaicans is complex.  They signed a treaty with the British which demanded that they return belated runaways to plantation slavery.  Betrayal of other blacks was the price of their own freedom.  It is a familiar tale – divide and rule.

But even on the plantations, maroon traditions of resistance took root.  Forced to survive in the very belly of the beast, enslaved

Africans perfected weapons of war from within.  Silent poisoning of their supposed masters was a deadly tool.   And music, the drumbeat of resistance, was a potent language of communication through which those who were forced to simulate accommodation to servitude were empowered to exercise agency.

The word ‘abeng’ is of Twi origin.  This language provided much of the African-derived lexicon of the Jamaican Creole language that is now the mother tongue of most Jamaicans.  Devalued by the elite, the language of the majority speaks to the marginality of African culture in the construction of the nation state.

Conversely, cultural icon Louise Bennett, affectionately known as Miss Lou, has used her heart language to affirm Jamaican identity.  In her humorous poem “Independance”, [sic], which satirizes the song and dance of the elitist project of constitutional decolonization, Bennett creates a vociferous working-class persona, Miss Mattie, who has a rather grand vision of Jamaica’s geopolitical location:

Jamaican

She hope dem caution worl-map

Fi stop draw Jamaica small.

For de lickle speck cyaan show

We independantness at all!

Moresomever we must tell map dat

We don’t like we position –

Please kindly tek we out a sea

An draw we in de ocean

English 

She hopes they’ve warned the mapmakers

To stop drawing Jamaica so small

Because that little speck

Can’t show our greatness at all!

Moreover we must tell the mapmakers

That we don’t like our position –

Would they be kind enough to take us out of the sea

And relocate us in the ocean

Jamaicans are island people with a continental consciousness.  We remember our origins across oceans of history.  For us, Independence is not just about constitutional rearrangements.  It’s in our blood.  From Miss Mattie’s perspective:

Jamaican

Independence is we nature

Born an bred in all we do

And she glad fi see dat Government

Tun independent to

English

We are independent by nature

That’s how we’ve been born and bred

And she’s happy to see

That the government has now become independent

Elitist and popular conceptions of the Jamaican character finally converge.  Independent is who Jamaica is.

‘Worl-map Fi Stop Draw Jamaica Small!’

In a series of humorous poems written at the height of Independence euphoria in the early1960s, Louise Bennett, affectionately known as Miss Lou, raises some quite serious questions about Jamaica’s readiness for the rigours of independence.  In the opening verse of the poem, “Independance” – yes ‘dance’ – Miss Lou expresses her misgivings about the strains of the nation’s new political status:

Independance wid a vengeance!

Independance raisin Cain!

Jamaica start grow beard, ah hope

We chin can stan de strain!

Miss Lou acknowledges the fact that Independence is much more than the song and dance of Festival celebrations. It requires a capacity for self-sacrifice that some Jamaicans may stubbornly resist:

No easy-come by freeness tings,

Nuff labour, some privation,

Not much of dis an less of dat

An plenty studiration.

In “Independence Dignity” an excited speaker addresses a Jamaican away from home:

Dear Cousin Min, yuh miss sinting,

Yuh should be over yah

Fi see Independence Celebration

Capture Jamaica.

Miss Lou’s choice of the word ‘capture’ suggests that Independence may prove to be a rather restrictive state of affairs.  Like the ‘privation’ and ‘studiration’ that are the price of Independence, the level of discipline that the new nation’s status requires seems far different from the usual unruly conduct of some out of order Jamaicans:

Yuh waan see how Jamaica people

Rise to de occasion

An deestant up demself fi greet

De birt a dem new nation!

Not a stone was fling, not a samfie sting,

Not a soul gwan bad an lowrated;

Not a fight bruck out, not a bad-wud shout

As Independence was celebrated.

This amusing catalogue of all the bad behaviour that is temporarily suspended suggests that after rising to the occasion for one ‘degeh-degeh’ day, a lot of people will soon fall back on their old ‘lowrated’ ways.  The strains and stresses of behaving properly might prove to be very taxing.

The Higher Monkey Climb

Louise Bennett

In “Jamaica Elevate” Miss Lou creates yet another enthusiastic character who also writes to a Jamaican in the Diaspora, singing the praises of the new state of Independence.  But the speed with which the weight of Independence is dropped on Jamaica – biff, buff, baps – leaves the letter-writer dizzy:

So much tings happen so fas an quick

Me head still feel giddy!

Biff Referandum! Buff, Election!

Baps, Independence drop pon we!

Jamaican High Commission, London

At the root of the poem is the cautionary Jamaican proverb, ‘the higher monkey climb, the more him expose himself.’  The presumptuous elevation of Jamaica to a scanty army, an unformed navy, consuls and ambassadors who ‘Dah rub shoulder an dip mouth/ Eena heavy world affairs’, is clear evidence of the pride that goes before the fall.

The make-do armaments of the newly independent nation are remarkably similar to the stones that are not flung in “Independence Dignity.” The more things change, the more they remain the same:

We defence is not defenceless

For we got we half a brick,

We got we broken bottle

An we coocoomacca stick;

But we willin to put down we arms

In Peace and Freedom’s name

An we call upon de nations

Of de worl to do de same.

‘Me Heart Go Boop’

Sir Clifford Campbell,
first native governor-general

In “Jamaica Elevate” Miss Lou also raises the vexing issue of colour and class politics in the newly independent nation.  She highlights an amusing case of mistaken identity, underscoring old antagonisms. The new, native Governor-General, the Queen’s representative, resembles a family member, Bada John.  At Independence, the changing face of authority would seem to confirm the ‘elevation’ of not just the Jamaican state, but, more important, black people.

But with wicked wit Miss Lou reveals the purely superficial nature of what appears to be fundamental social change.  The immediate response to what looks like Bada John’s picture in the newspaper humorously defines the usual circumstances in which a black person would be deemed newsworthy in the media politics of the times – the heralding of misfortune:

Di fus day im picture print, de

Paper drop outa me han;

Me heart go boop, me bawl out

‘Something bad happen to John!

Sir Kenneth Blackburne, last British governor and first
governor-general of independent Jamaica

‘Meck dem draw de picture big so?

Him too ole fi pass exam!

Him no buy no sweepstake ticket?

Someting bad happen to John!’

Of course, nothing bad has happened to John.  But in the eyes of some backward Jamaicans, the resemblance between him and the Governor General would have been a clear sign that something bad had happened to that high office.  The representative of the queen really ought not to look like her subjects.

A Speck of Greatness

In all of the mockery of the grand rhetoric of Independence, Miss Lou does affirm the high self-esteem of so-called ‘ordinary’ Jamaicans. Miss Mattie, for example, has a rather expansive vision of Jamaica’s geopolitical location:

She hope dem caution worl-map

Fi stop draw Jamaica small

For de lickle speck cyaan show

We independantness at all!

Moresomever we must tell map dat

We don’t like we position –

Please kindly tek we out a sea

An draw we in de ocean

What independent-minded Miss Mattie does acknowledge is the fact that map-making is not an exact science.  Territorial borders shift as power dynamics change.  Furthermore her vivid image of repositioning us out of the sea and putting us into the ocean is a recognition of the transatlantic origins of the Jamaican people.

Our history is one of migration.  All of us foreigners who came, willingly or not, and now call this island our own, do have a sense of ancestral homelands. This speck of Jamaica is great because our conception of ourselves is not dependent solely on our present insular location. Beyond the boundaries of this little island, we envision landscapes of greatness that we can also claim as ours.