Twenty Years Of Reggae Day

Last Tuesday, July 1, was International Reggae Day. One of the highlights of the celebration was a huge video installation projected on to the exterior wall of The Jamaica Pegasus hotel. From Emancipation Park, it was quite a sight. Reggae posters from across the world were displayed, demonstrating the magnetic power of Jamaican popular culture, especially our music.

5-taj-francis-jamaicaI overheard a woman complaining with typical arrogance: “Mi a see picture from all bout an mi naa see nothing from Jamaica.” Mi naa lie. As soon as she said it, Taj Francis’ brilliant poster of Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, the Upsetter, appeared with a big flag of Jamaica beside it. Seet deh! My lady laughed contentedly.

The moral of this little story is that we’re often so nationalistic we just can’t appreciate the global impact of Jamaican culture. It’s quite ironic. The fact that so many of the reggae posters came from outside Jamaica should be a cause for pride, not complaint.

We don’t seem to realise just how far Jamaican popular music has spread. We take our creativity for granted and we rarely stop to think about why so many people from such diverse cultures are attracted to the music produced on this little rock. And it’s not just the beat and the lyrics that fascinate foreigners. It’s also the academic value of the music.

ROOTZ RADICALS

Just last Friday, I got a telephone call from Christian Moll, a graduate student specialising in English/American studies and music at the University of Regensburg in Germany. He was trying to find an external supervisor for his thesis on dancehall. Moll is also a reggae artiste who has been performing for over a decade. His band, Rootz Radicals, plays original music, both roots and dancehall.

http://rootzradicalzsound.wix.com/rootzradicals

Of course, I’m going to take on the project. It sweet mi so til! Twenty-five years ago, this month, I presented my first academic paper on dancehall at the annual conference of the UK-based Society for Caribbean Studies, ‘Slackness Hiding From Culture: DJ Rule’. I am indebted to DJ Josey Wales for the title. That pioneering work has inspired a younger generation of scholars, both local and international, to take dancehall culture seriously.

So we’ve given reggae music to the world. But sometimes we act as if reggae was stolen from us. We conveniently forget that the roots of reggae run deep into other black musical traditions. African-American R&B, fused with jazz and mento, produced ska – Jamaican jazz! Ska evolved into rocksteady, then reggae, and now dancehall. And we hear the riddims of religious revival music in dancehall.

Jamaican popular music is a ‘mix-up an blenda’ of musical traditions, both sacred and secular, that take us straight across to the continent of Africa. We don’t ‘own’ the music. Of course, this certainly does not mean that individual creators of song lyrics, melodies and riddims are not entitled to claim all the benefits of their intellectual property.

PROTECTING THE FUTURE

Unknown-1One of the tragedies of our music industry is that so many of the pioneering artists were cruelly exploited. Not by foreigners, but by unconscionable Jamaican producers who knew that for some never-see-come-see artistes, just hearing their tune on the radio was enough of a reward.

Leading up to International Reggae Day, there was an excellent conference held on June 30. One of the sessions focused on ‘Copyright Term Extension: Preserving the Past and Protecting the Future’. No matter how many of these conferences are convened, there are still so many players in the creative industries who do not know their rights.

Another session examined ‘Social Design: The Power of Art to Transform Space’. Like the exterior wall of the Pegasus hotel! Thanks to Michael ‘Freestylee’ Thompson, founder of the International Reggae Poster Contest (IRPC), art moved out of the gallery and into public space. Phase Three Productions, one of the sponsors of International Reggae Day, provided technical support for the video installation.

reggea-poster-map-1The 2012 IRPC attracted 1,142 entries from 80 countries. In 2013, there were 1,100 submissions from 78 countries. The 2014 contest was launched on International Reggae Day, and within hours entries came in from Slovenia, the UK, India, Portugal, Croatia, Spain, Greece, Japan, Venezuela and, of course, Jamaica – as that anxious woman in Emancipation Park will be pleased to hear.

Andrea Davis, founder of International Reggae Day, must be commended for her grand vision. Two decades ago, she recognised that the globalisation of reggae should be acknowledged and celebrated. It hasn’t been an easy journey. Sometimes, vision isn’t enough. You also need plenty backative.

I think it’s most unfortunate that six years ago when the bright idea of a Reggae Month came from out of the blue, somebody forgot that we already had a Reggae Day. It would have been so sensible to build on the foundation laid by Andrea.

134_imgaWe could easily have dubbed July Reggae Month. It would now fit so well into the Government’s plan for ’90 Days of Summer’. There’s Sumfest, which, like its predecessor Sunsplash, helps to fill empty hotel rooms in the slow summer season. But we always have to keep on starting from scratch. We forget that protecting the future also means remembering the past.

A Tale of the Magical Calabash

imagesOnce upon a time, three friends, Colin, Kwame and Justine, set out looking for treasure.  Not quite.  They weren’t children playing in the sand.  They were adults who understood that treasure isn’t something you just find.  It’s what you create.  And they certainly knew about creativity:  Colin Channer, the novelist; Kwame Dawes, the poet; and Justine Henzell, the producer of events from scratch.

So they conjured up this international literary festival and set it in an improbable location, Treasure Beach, St. Elizabeth, Jamaica.  It would add a whole new dimension to Brand Jamaica!  They named the festival ‘Calabash’.  And they invited the world and his wife to attend.  Mateys were welcome too.  And admission was free.  Whosoever willed could come.

photos_1But why this quirky name?  Well, the festival was going to be held at Jake’s Hotel in Treasure Beach.  But that’s not a single beach.  It’s a string  of fishing villages: Billy’s Bay, Frenchman’s Bay, Great Pedro Bay and, yes, Calabash Bay.    Colin chose the name to honour the location of the festival.  And calabash also suggests creativity.  As we say, turning our hand to make fashion.

res1_07aThe hardy calabash, from both the tree and the vine, is very versatile.  It has several practical and artistic uses.  In many cultures of the world, the hollowed-out gourd is a water vessel.   And musical instruments are also created with calabash.  For both the sitar from India and the kora from West Africa, calabash is used as a resonator.  So the multi-functional calabash is a brilliant image for a homegrown literary festival that includes musical performance.

‘GLOBALICIOUS’
The twelfth staging of the Calabash International Literary Festival, a month ago, was dubbed ‘globalicious’ by Kwame Dawes, the programmer for the event.  And it certainly was both global and delicious.  The calabash was full to the brim and running over with both literary and musical delicacies.

Calabash2014Logo-300x256The writers came from twelve countries:  Antigua, Barbados, Belarus, England, India, Ireland, Jamaica, Kenya, Nigeria, Trinidad and Tobago, Scotland and the USA.  And the musical performers were from Haiti, Jamaica, the UK and the USA.

For me, the most engaging writer/reader was Jamaica Kincaid.   She “shell down di place”, as one of my friends put it.  We’re now so attuned to the culture of the gun that excellence in all spheres of life is celebrated with a gun salute – whether verbal or literal.  A real pity!  Blame it on the military and all those Hollywood movies that big up gun violence.

boutique-hotel-Jakes-Hotel-Villas-and-Spa-St.-Eli-1-8-3-2-thumbA very close second was Salman Rushdie who turned out to be quite different from what I expected.  He was very cool; not at all stuck up.  As another of my wicked friends said, “nothing like a fatwa to keep you real”.  After the festival, I stayed on for a few days at Jake’s.  And the young man who carried my bags announced with quite a flourish that Salman Rushdie had stayed in that very cottage.  I must admit I felt like a groupie.

ngugi_wa_thiongoThen I was so looking forward to hearing Nguigi wa Thiong’o read.  He’s one of the stalwarts of the anti-colonial war on the African continent. Unfortunately, his daughter, Wanjiku, stole the show.  Literally.  She read for forty-five minutes, instead of her allotted twenty.  And her brother Mukoma read for thirty minutes.  So the Big Man had to be cut off soon after he began.  And it was such a powerful story he’d started to tell about coming home from boarding school to find that his village had disappeared.

OPEN MIKE, MAIN STAGE

 One of the highlights of the festival always is the Open Mike.  There are so many entertaining surprises.  Like the farmer and fisherman whose stage name is “The Incredible Steel”!  He rode 48 miles on his bicycle from Jerusalem, Santa Cruz to perform his poem, “The Voice”, in tribute to Tessanne Chin.  He got a standing ovation.  Then there was the cosmetologist, Venise Samuels, who performed a brilliant poem about unconscionable taxation.  So much talent!

Treasure Beach Sc_bc_TreasureB28The only disappointing aspect of Calabash is the lack of comfortable accommodations.  Of course, there’s very little the organisers of the festival can do about that.  After all, Treasure Beach, is a fishing village.  But some of the people in the rental business have rather grand names for very basic lodgings.  ‘Villa’ is a most pretentious word for a small four-bedroom house.  And there are ‘resorts’ that bear absolutely no resemblance to their upscale namesakes.  All you can say in their favour is that they are a last resort if you absolutely can’t find anywhere else to stay.

calabash-2007-stageBut all you really need for Calabash is a place to crash.  If you try to keep up with the programme, you would go non-stop from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m. the next day!  And even if there are not too many villas and resorts in the fishing village, there is always the sea.  It’s a magnificent backdrop for the main stage.  I can’t imagine that there’s any literary festival anywhere on Earth that has a better setting.  It’s all in the magical calabash.

 

Gomes No Gone No Weh

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

JamaicaforJusticeB20080815C

Carolyn Gomes

Wednesday gone, mi see big-big headline pon front page a Gleaner: ‘Gomes goes’. An mi seh to miself, “Ah weh shi gone?” Ongle fi find out seh ah no gone shi gone. A resign shi resign from di board a Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ). Cho! Whosoever write dat deh headline tek alliteration ketch mi. Dat a one a dem tapanaaris English word weh come from Latin.

Alliteration simple mean yu a mek style. Yu pick couple word weh start off wid di said same sound an join dem up. Gomes goes. Dem sound nice together. No matter if di niceness confusing. Pon top a dat, di second sound inna dem deh two word sound same way. Dat a di o. An dat a assonance. But mek mi lef di literature lesson. Back to politics. A wa mek Gomes resign?

BackdoorYu mighta tink a shame shi shame bout di back-door sex education weh Jamaicans for Justice leggo pon di pikni dem inna di six private home weh supposen fi a look after pikni weh no got nobody fi mind dem. No, sah! From wat mi get fi understan, Gomes go because shi bex wid dem odder one inna Jamaicans for Justice. Dem mek mistake go seh dem sorry seh bandooloo sex education get weh pon di poor pikni dem.

Ee ee now, Spanish Town! Unu no know wa dat mean? Unu a figet unu kolcha! Dat a wa yu seh wen smaddy get inna trouble. An yu flash finger fi show seh dem a go get beatin. ‘Spanish Town’ stand fi prison. An dat a metonymy, one next style. Mi sorry fi Jamaicans for Justice. Dem inna big trouble wid Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition (CVC).

NUFF BACKATIVE

Mi a wonder bout dem ‘Vulnerable Communities’. A wa ‘vulnerable’ mean fi true? Mi know seh ‘vulnerable’ a one next English word weh come from Latin. ‘Vulnus’ mean one chop or one lick fi hurt yu. An ‘vulnerable’ mean seh it easy fi people do bad sinting to yu. Lacka di poor man weh di dutty man dem rape. Mi hear seh im kill imself. Mi ongle hope a no true.

941504_532759043426665_1166567449_nCarolyn Gomes an fi har people dem weh a defend ‘Vulnerable Communities’, dem no vulnerable at all at all. Dem big an bad. An dem got nuff backative. A yard an a farin. Plenty powerful smaddy wid nuff money a defend di Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition. Wat a sinting! An member seh a CVC gi JFJ money fi put fi dem sex education inna di children home dem. An yu done know seh who pay fi di sound system, ah dem run di dance.

So Jamaicans for Justice no got no chat. Who tell dem fi go seh dem sorry bout di sex education autoclaps? Carolyn Gomes seh dem chat too quick. Dem shoulda wait an tek advice. An a it mek shi wheel out. Shi gone lef JFJ. But shi a head cook an bocklewasher fi CVC. Six a one, half dozen a di odder!

grange-hanna2

Lisa Hanna and Babsy Grange

An mi no like how Babsy a point finger pon Lisa. Dis ya one a no fi Lisa fault. JFJ dis slip een di sex education undercover. Di said same ting coulda did happen wen Babsy a minister fi yute. So shi fi memba seh a no party politics wi a defend. A di pikni dem. An a dem vulnerable fi true!

PRAPA-PRAPA SPELIN

Wensde gaan, mi si big-big edlain pan front piej a Gleaner: ‘Gomes goes’. An mi se tu miself, “A we shi gaan?” Ongl fi fain out se a no gaan shi gaan. A rizain shi rizain fram di buord a Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ). Cho! Uusoeva rait dat de edlain tek alliteration kech mi. Dat a wan a dem tapanaaris Inglish wod we kom fram Latin.

Alliteration simpl miin yu a mek stail. Yu pik kopl wod we staat aaf wid di sed siem soun an jain dem op. Gomes goes. Dem soun nais tugyada. No mata if di naisnis kanfyuuzin. Pan tap a dat, di sekan soun ina dem de tuu wod soun siem wie. Dat a di o. An dat a assonance. Bot mek mi lef di lichricha lesn. Bak tu palitiks. A wa mek Gomes rizain?

marka-yoneticisinin-ozellikleri-720x320Yu maita tink a shiem shi shiem bout di bakduor seks edikieshan we Jamaicans for Justice lego pan di pikni dem ina di siks praivit uom we supuozn fi a luk aafta pikni we no gat nobadi fi main dem. Nuo, sa! Fram wat mi get fi andastan, Gomes go bikaa shi beks wid dem ada wan ina Jamaicans for Justice. Dem mek mistiek go se dem sari se banduulu seks edikieshan get we pan di puor pikni dem.

Ii ii nou, Spanish Town! Unu no nuo wa dat miin? Unu a figet unu kolcha! Dat a wa yu se wen smadi get ina chrobl. An yu flash finga fi shuo se dem a go get biitn. ‘Spanish Town’ stan fi prizn. An dat a metonymy, wan neks stail. Mi sari fi Jamaicans for Justice. Dem ina big chrobl wid Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition (CVC).

NOF BAKATIV

Mi a wanda bout dem ‘Vulnerable Communities’. A wa ‘vulnerable’ miin fi chruu? Mi nuo se ‘vulnerable’ a wan neks Inglish wod we kom fram Latin. ‘Vulnus’ miin wan chap ar wan lik fi ort yu. An ‘vulnerable’ miin se it iizi fi pipl du bad sinting tu yu. Laka di puor man we di doti man dem riep. Mi ier seh im kil imself. Mi ongl uop a no chruu.

strengthCarolyn Gomes an fi ar piipl dem we a difen ‘Vulnerable Communities’, dem no vulnerable at aal at aal. Dem big an bad. An dem gat nof bakativ. A yard an a farin. Plenti pouwaful smadi wid nof moni a difen di Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition. Wat a sinting! An memba se a CVC gi JFJ moni fi put fi dem seks edikieshan ina di chiljren uom dem. An yu don nuo se uu pie fi di soun sistim, a dem ron di daans.

So Jamaicans for Justice no gat no chat. Uu tel dem fi go se dem sari bout di seks edikieshan aataklaps? Carolyn Gomes se dem chat tuu kwik. Dem shuda wiet an tek advais. An a it mek shi wiil out. Shi gaan lef JFJ. Bot shi a ed kuk an baklwasha fi CVC. Siks a wan, aaf dozn a di ada!

An mi no laik ou Babsy a paint finga pan Lisa. Dis ya wan a no fi Lisa faalt. JFJ dis slip iin di seks edikieshan aandakova. Di sed siem ting kuda did apn wen Babsy a minista fi yuut. So shi fi memba se a no paati palitiks wi a difen. A di pikni dem. An a dem vulnerable fi chruu!

ENGLISH TRANSLATIONalliteration

Last Wednesday,  the Gleaner’s front page carried a huge headline:  ‘Gomes goes’. And I wondered, “Where has she gone?” Actually, she hadn’t gone anywhere.  She’d resigned from the board of Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ). Cho! Whoever wrote that headline caught me with alliteration.  That’s one of those highfalutin English words that come from Latin.

Alliteration simply means you’re making style. You pick a couple of words that start with the same sound and join them up. Gomes goes. They sound nice together. It doesn’t matter if the niceness is confusing. And the second sound in those two words is identical. That’s the o. And that’s assonance. But let me cut the literature lesson. Back to politics. Why did Gomes resign?

back_door_open_300x200You might think she was ashamed about the back-door sex education  programme that Jamaicans for Justice let loose on the children in the six private homes that are supposed to be taking care of abandoned minors.  Not at all! As I understand it, Gomes went because she was vexed with the other members of the board of Jamaicans for Justice.  They made the mistake of apologising for the unapproved sex education programme that the children were exposed to.

Ee ee now, Spanish Town! You don’t know what that means? You’re forgetting your culture! That’s what you say when someone gets into trouble. And you flash your fingers to show that they’re going to be beaten. ‘Spanish Town’ stands for prison. And that’s metonymy, another literary device. I’m sorry for Jamaicans for Justice. They’re in big trouble with the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition (CVC).

LOTS OF BACKING

Latin-imageI wonder about those ‘Vulnerable Communities’. What does ‘vulnerable’ really mean? ‘Vulnerable’ is another one of those English words that come from Latin. ‘Vulnus’ means ‘wound’.  And ‘vulnerable’ means it’s easy for people to abuse you. Like that poor man who was raped by those vile men. Rumour has it that he has killed himself. I only hope it’s not true.

Carolyn Gomes and her colleagues who are defending ‘Vulnerable Communities’ are not at all  vulnerable. They’re big and bad. And they’ve got lots of  backing. Locally and internationally. Many powerful people with lots of money are defending the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition. What a thing! And you must remember that it’s CVC that funded the JFJ sex education programme for the children’s homes.  And, as you know, he who who pays the piper calls the tune.

images-1So Jamaicans for Justice don’t have a voice. They had no right to apologise for the sex education scandal.  Carolyn Gomes argued that they’d apologised prematurely.  They should have waited and taken advice. And that’s why she walked out. She’s left JFJ. But she’s the a head cook and bottle-washer for CVC. Six of one, half dozen of  the other!

And I don’t like the way Babsy is pointing fingers at Lisa. This one really isn’t Lisa’s fault. JFJ just slipped in the sex education programme undercover. The very same thing could have  happened when Babsy was the minister of youth. So she should remember that we’re not defending  party politics.   It’s the children. They are ones who are truly vulnerable!

 

Men Who Have Sex With Men and Women

There’s a very vulnerable group of women who don’t seem to be on the agenda of Dr Carolyn Gomes and her Caribbean Vulnerable Communities (CVC) Coalition.

LogoSmallAccording to their website, CVC focuses on “Caribbean populations who are especially vulnerable to HIV infection or often forgotten in access to treatment and health-care programmes. These groups include men who have sex with men, sex workers, people who use drugs, orphans and other children made vulnerable by HIV, migrant populations, ex-prisoners, and youth in especially difficult circumstances”.

Since sexy acronyms are now fashionable, let’s call this forgotten group WSMSMW: women who have sex with men who have sex with men and women. Yes, it’s a mouthful. But it’s only words. It could be far worse. There’s a big difference between WSMSMW and MSM. Obviously, men who have sex with men know what they’re doing. By contrast, most women who have sex with men who have sex with men and women are totally ignorant of the fact that they are in a very messy situation.

doubt_diceIn this instance, ignorance is definitely not bliss. It can be deadly. These vulnerable women may suspect that they are sharing their partner with a matey. But they naively assume that the matey is a woman. There are some women who do have their doubts about their husband’s sexuality. But they are afraid to face the truth: Ah so im lie an wicked? No, sah! By the time these women discover that their matey is a man – if they’re so lucky – it’s much too late for informed consent. Their partners have robbed them of their right to choose; or, much worse, infected them with HIV!

PERFECTLY PAIRED

jack-sprat-mother-goose-nursery-rhymesMost men who have sex with men and women (MSMW) deliberately and methodically deceive women in order to pass for straight. The woman becomes a front or a beard, as it is more popularly known, protecting the MSMW from exposure. In some cases, the role play is consensual. The wife is a lesbian and the husband is gay, and they choose to be each other’s beard. Like Jack Sprat, who could eat no fat, and his wife, who could eat no lean, the gay man and the lesbian are perfectly paired. There’s no fighting over beef.

I have a lot of respect for MSM who don’t bother with the fiction of getting married to a woman. Disdaining pretence, these courageous men just brazen it out. They don’t hide under the frock tail of women. They accept themselves for who they are and just gwaan bout dem business. And they take the necessary precautions to protect their health. I do sympathise with vulnerable young men who are embarrassed about buying condoms and lubricants. As a teenager, I was quite distressed about buying sanitary pads. Everybody in the shop knew it was that time of the month.

But you grew up and just accepted the course of nature. Admittedly, this is often much harder for MSM. All the same, when you hear the propaganda spouted by Dr Gomes’ Coalition, you would think that no MSM are sensible enough to take care of their health.

This is the way the Coalition’s argument goes: The buggery law stigmatises MSM. Therefore, they are afraid to buy sexually sensitive health-care products. Furthermore, criminalised MSM are unable to get medical care because they are afraid their doctors will report their illegal sexual activities. The only solution is to repeal the buggery law.

SHOCK OF THE FIST

imagesLike many clever Jamaican higglers, Dr Gomes’ Coalition is trying to ‘marry’ goods of unequal appeal. You know the trick: If you want scarce produce, you have to also buy goods that are in plentiful supply. Everybody wants treatment for HIV/AIDS to be readily available for all. But not everybody wants the buggery law to be repealed. So the price we have to pay for HIV/AIDS care is repeal of the stigmatising law.

I have no objection to getting rid of the law. What consenting adults do in the privacy of their home is none of my business. Nor should it be the business of the State.

stop-stigmaBut the stigma associated with anal sex will not magically disappear once the buggery law is repealed. The Jamaican word for MSM vividly expresses the disgust associated with anal sex. The body part stands for the whole man. Some sexual practices are quite distasteful to the uninitiated. But that’s not a good reason for criminalising them.

The first time I heard about fisting, I was alarmed. A man makes a fist and puts it up another man’s anus, all the way to the elbow! I quickly recovered from the shock when I realised I didn’t need to empathise with the fisted anus. It wasn’t mine.

In some cultures, MSM don’t practise anal sex. They use their thighs. Remember how, as children, we would bend our elbow, squeeze and there would be a fairly good imitation of female labia! Same principle with the thighs. There’s no fooling around in the anal canal. The female partners of these MSMW do not risk HIV infection.

Having failed to acknowledge the special needs of vulnerable WSMSMW in the Caribbean, Dr Gomes and her Coalition now need to take extra lessons on inclusiveness from Professor Brendan Bain.

‘Man To Man Is So Unjust’

I recently heard an alarming interpretation of the first line of Bob Marley’s song Who the Cap Fit.

The proverbial statement, ‘man to man is so unjust’, is now being decoded as a condemnation of male homosexuals. Or, to use the politically correct term, men who have sex with men (MSM). Incidentally, the ‘homo’ in ‘homosexual’ does not mean ‘man’. It’s not Latin; it’s Greek. And it means ‘same’.

So, technically, ‘homosexual’ refers to both men and women; and, more recently, to all other genders who have sex with each other. These days, sexuality is not a straight-forward business at all. Queer sex is not always a simple case of ‘same’ sex. Some sexual combinations cross multiple lines. And new sexual positions require sophisticated acrobatic skills – both literally and psychologically.

Bob Marley knew his words could be distorted. In an interview published in Everybody’s Magazine in 1981, this is what he said about the Kaya album: “You have to play it and get your own inspiration. For every song have a different meaning to a man. Sometimes I sing a song, and when people explain it to me, I am astonished by their interpretation.”

deceptionSome inspired interpretations make absolutely no sense. There’s no evidence in Who the Cap Fit to support the ‘same-sex’ interpretation of that opening line. The song is not about sexuality. It focuses on trust, hypocrisy and deception. Admittedly, these issues do come up in sexual relationships across the board. But the song is not about condemning men who have sex with men.

IRRATIONAL HOMOPHOBIA

Jamaica is back in the news for our irrational homophobia, as evidenced in that astonishing misinterpretation of Marley’s song. UK Channel 4 has done an exposé on outcast youths who are living underground. Here’s an excerpt from the promo for the documentary which aired last Friday:

“Jamaica has a reputation for intolerance of homosexuality. Male gay sex is punishable by 10 years’ hard labour and violent hostility is entrenched in the island’s culture. Unreported World meets one group of gay and transgender people who are now living in a gully, which is usually designed to carry flood water and rubbish from the city.

“It’s hot, crowded, infested and filthy. But it’s the only place these 25 people are able to call home. There are no facilities: cooking and washing-up are done in the gutter. Water comes from a broken pipe under a road bridge. And it’s not in a poor part of town, but in the middle of New Kingston, the capital’s business district.”

outerdarknessThis is a complete disgrace. Not on the homeless who have taken refuge in the gully; but on all us who live somewhere! We cannot self-righteously keep on singing the same old Sankey from the Book of Leviticus. We have to move past the rhetoric of abomination and change our inhumane attitudes to queer people. We cannot continue to cast them into outer darkness.

UNJUST GAY-RIGHTS ACTIVISTS

We also have to challenge unjust gay-rights activists when they misuse their collective power and victimise others. The recent termination of the contract of Professor Brendan Bain, director of the Caribbean HIV/AIDS Regional Training (CHART) initiative, is a complicated case of competing rights.

The press release issued by the Office of the Vice-Chancellor of the University of the West Indies states: “The issue in question arose about two years ago in a high-profile case in Belize in which Caleb Orozco, a gay man in Belize, challenged the constitutionality of an 1861 law that criminalises men having sex with men (MSM).

“Professor Brendan Bain provided a statement on behalf of a group of churches seeking to retain the 1861 law. Many authorities familiar with the brief presented believe that Professor Bain’s testimony supported arguments for retention of the law, thereby contributing to the continued criminalisation and stigmatisation of MSM. This opinion is shared by the lesbian, gay and other groups who are served by CHART.”

I speculate that many of Professor Bain’s detractors have not read his now-infamous statement. There, he clearly affirms that he was “given no instructions by any party”. He makes no reference to the contested law. Professor Bain gives well-documented scientific evidence on public-health issues relating specifically to men who have sex with men.

53108bainprotestj20140521ng_300The UWI press release comes to a disturbing conclusion: ” … It has become increasingly evident that Professor Bain has lost the confidence and support of a significant sector of the community which the CHART programme is expected to reach, including the loss of his leadership status in PANCAP [Pan Caribbean Partnership Against HIV& AIDS], thereby undermining the ability of this programme to effectively deliver on its mandate.” That’s not a good reason for firing Professor Bain.

I do support repeal of the Belize law that criminalises “carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any person or animal”. But I am appalled by the decision of the UWI administration to bow to belligerent gay-rights activists, bringing down disgrace on a distinguished academic who has done so much to protect the health of MSM. Man to man is so unjust. Who di cap fit, mek dem wear it.

THE BLOG IS BACK!

webmd_rm_illustration_of_stroke_causes_My computer had a stroke a few months ago and I’ve been in denial.  I’ve finally accepted the fact that my old iMac will never be the same again. Its hard drive has become very, very soft.  So I bought a new computer and I’m back in business.  I hope you enjoyed my first post about driving conditions on Jamaican roads.

Dutty Tribal Politics

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Damion Crawford

Damion Crawford’s “unfortunate” apology is quite inadequate. He takes no responsibility for his words. He “got carried away”. I suppose he was possessed by evil spirits (both JLP and PNP) and ended up speaking in tongues: “Yuh suppose to can look pon a man an” sey a PNP dat enuh, or yuh look pon a woman an’ sey a PNP dat. Some a unnu haffi have on orange fi wi know, cause unnu lifestyle come een like a dutty Labourite.”

11084282-two-cute-cows-and-three-sheep-on-pasture-with-a-wooden-fence-and-landscape-in-background-1Under the influence of the spirits, Crawford highlights a problem that is particularly troubling for politicians who can never be sure exactly how many sheep they have in their pen. Jamaican voters are a slick crew. They follow you up and down on the campaign trial. They wear your T-shirts. They eat and drink with you and, behind, they don’t just ‘susu pon you’, as Bob Marley warned. It gets worse than that. Many of your apparent followers are not even registered to vote. And even if they are, there’s no guarantee they’re actually going to vote for you. They know they’re free agents.

This is a lesson many politicians, both JLP and PNP, have had to learn the hard way. Don’t trust the size of the crowd! So Damion Crawford’s ‘inspired’ words can be interpreted as a pastoral altar call, pleading with his flock for integrity. If you start to kiss your teeth at the analogy, just substitute ‘Christian’ for ‘PNP’, ‘heathen’ for ‘Labourite’ and ‘church clothes’ for ‘orange': “Yuh suppose to can look pon a man an’ sey a Christian dat enuh, or yuh look pon a woman and sey a Christian dat. Some a unnu haffi have on church clothes fi wi know, cause unnu lifestyle come een like a dutty heathen.”

OUTWARD APPEARANCE

dressMy reformulation of Damion Crawford’s damning words is not intended to let him off the hook. Instead, I want to underscore just how foolish his presumptions are. Neither ‘orange’ nor ‘church clothes’ is a sign of character. A wo/man’s true colours are not the ones s/he wears. As Jesus said, “You will know them by their fruit” (Matthew 7:26, International Standard Version). Politician or pastor, Crawford does not seem to understand that outward appearance is not to be trusted. Dreadlocks don’t signify Rasta. And some baldheads are steadily trodding on the path to Zion.

Another troubling issue is Crawford’s assumption that ‘PNP’ and ‘Labourite’ are permanent identities, fixed by your DNA: you are who you vote for. This conviction sustains tribal politics in Jamaica. Voters are not expected to use their intelligence, selecting the best political representatives in any election cycle. Well, best as far as you can tell. Instead, like a robot, you should simply vote generically for your party, i.e., yourself. Complete lunacy!

Talking-out-of-both-sides-of-your-mouthThese days, it’s so easy to get caught up in tribalism. If it’s not politics, it’s religion. We barricade ourselves in garrisons: we and them; saved and damned; uptown and downtown; queer and straight; green and orange; ‘dutty Labourite’ and ‘plyboard-an-zinc PNP’. (In this instance, Crawford appears to be an equal-opportunity chastiser, talking out of both sides of his mouth). Once you choose your camp, it’s not so easy to change sides. Worse, if you don’t choose a side, you run the risk of being shot at from all angles.

CRAWFORD’S TRUE COLOURS

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Robert Montague

JLP Chairman Robert Montague had every right to demand an apology from Damion Crawford for that ‘dutty’ throw-word. He couldn’t allow Crawford to just dish the dirt and get away with it. Montague had to stand up for principle. But it was also a question of party pride. And Montague coudn’t resist the temptation to be tribalist. He had to draw the class card.

36614610In a press release issued on May 27, Senator Montague stated, “We know that generally when the PNP says they love the poor it’s about politics and not development, [sic] but now Minister Crawford has shown his true colours, too. The very same classist behaviour he accuses others of, [sic] is clearly in his heart if the card he draws to make a point, [sic] is one of the worst classist phrases to ever be brought by the PNP into the politics of Jamaica.”

The JLP equivalent of ‘dutty Labourite’ is ‘classist PNP’. Unfortunately, in the tracing match of tribal politics, ‘classist’ just doesn’t have the sting of ‘dutty’. And the reason is quite obvious. ‘Classist’ is English (from Latin); and ‘dutty’ is hard-core Jamaican, with all the authority of a big, phat bad-word. One could easily mistake ‘classist’ for a compliment. It sounds so stush. Not like ‘dutty’.

According to the Dictionary of Jamaican English, the noun ‘dutty’ (doti) comes from the Twi language of Ghana. Its primary meaning is ‘soil, earth, clay’. The dictionary makes it clear that ‘there is no necessary sense of uncleanness”. But it concedes that the meaning of the word has been influenced by English ‘dirty’. And, in fact, the second meaning of ‘dutty’ is ‘excrement, dung’.

sexism1As adjective, ‘dutty’ has come to mean ‘dirty’. But it’s much more than physical uncleanliness. In the Jamaican vernacular, ‘dutty’ covers a host of sins. Classism is dutty. Sexism is also dutty. I’m surprised nobody has challenged Crawford’s sexist view of women as lazy predators, waiting for Friday to telephone men for money.  That’s a whole other load of dutty.