Drawing Sister P’s Tongue

Don’t draw my tongue! And don’t trouble this girl! Because I don’t fraid a no man, no gyal, nowhere!” Translated into English, Portia Simpson Miller’s infamous declaration sounds rather tame: “Don’t provoke me! And don’t antagonise me! Because I’m not afraid of any man or any woman anywhere!’

That’s the power of the Jamaican language. It gets you in the gut. And in the head! On top of that, body language amplifies the meaning of words. So Sister P repeatedly beats her chest, vigorously waves her right hand emphatically shakes her head from side to side. She pulls out all the stops. After all, she’s at a People’s National Party (PNP) political rally, not an election debate.

Incidentally, the English expression ‘pulling out all the stops’ comes from the language of the pipe organ. As a former organist at the North Street Seventh-day Adventist Church, I do know a thing or two about this musical instrument. Pipe organs have stops that control the flow of air through the pipes. Pulling out the stops literally pumps up the volume.

Nana Yaa Asantewa

Sister P effectively uses her organ of speech to show her supporters (and detractors) that she’s a militant woman in the tradition of Nanny of the Maroons and a whole host of African warrior women like Queen Nzinga of Angola and Nana Yaa Asentewaa of Ghana. Nzinga led a relentless war against Portuguese slave traders in the 17th century.

Much later, Yaa Asentewaa rose up as commander of the Ashanti army in the famous battle against British colonialism in 1900, known as the War of the Golden Stool. The covetous British predators held up the Ashanti people at gunpoint, demanding that they hand over the golden stool, the symbol of the sovereignty of the nation. The Ashanti refused, and war ensued. Yaa Asentewaa defeated the British, reclaiming independence for her people.

‘Tun down di ting’

In the 2007 election campaign, the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) attempted to draw Portia Simpson Miller’s tongue by provocatively distorting her battle cry. Her fierce words became the mouthpiece, so to speak, of the JLP advertising campaign. I suppose it was easier to knock down Portia Simpson Miller than to prop up Bruce Golding.

Sister P’s image was digitally ‘enhanced’ to make the then prime minister look as if she was stark staring mad. The commercial worked beautifully. Even hard-core PNP supporters were duped by the dishonest JLP advertisement which appealed to rank class prejudice. Portia Simpson Miller’s fearless use of the Jamaican language and her fiery disposition turned her into a virago. She was obviously disqualified to be prime minister since she could not represent Jamaica with dignity on the world stage.

Portia Simpson Miller at the ILO, Geneva

I’m surprised that the PNP did not counter that fraudulent depiction of Portia Simpson Miller with compelling images of her commanding presence at global meetings, such as those of the International Labour Organisation, and other transnational forums at which she often receives standing ovations for her stirring speeches.

Just before the 2007 election, I had an amusing conversation at the Papine Market with a middle-class woman who introduced herself as a long-standing member of the PNP. She confessed that she couldn’t bring herself to vote for Sister P. She feared that Mrs Simpson Miller would ‘throw her frock tail over her head’.

I laughingly pointed out the fact that Sister P’s elegantly tailored suits could not go over her head. But, of course, this conflicted woman was speaking metaphorically. In the middle of the Dudus-Manatt debacle, she rather sheepishly made another confession. She was so ashamed that she hadn’t voted for Sister P.

In 2011, the JLP has again resorted to drawing Sister P’s tongue. G2K is desperately trying to revive that discredited commercial. Portia Simpson Miller’s powerful words are misinterpreted as evidence that she needs ‘anger management’. A mocking female chastises her: “No sah! Self-control, Sister P. Tun down di ting, yu behaviour too loud.” Too loud in comparison to what? I suppose the 13 pretty ladies surrounding Andrew Holness.

Voting for the dead

Cynics like to say that most politicians are dead from the neck up. And, in Jamaica, duppies have a way of rising from the grave and voting in elections. But voting for the dead is not only about corrupt politicians and corrupted voting lists. I always vote in honour of my disenfranchised ancestors who never ever got the chance to have a say in who should ‘run tings’ in this country.

The spirit of emancipation: Isaac Mendes Belisario’s hand-colored lithograph “Queen Maam” (1837-38)

For more than three centuries, enslaved Jamaicans could not vote. In 1834 when slavery was abolished, black people became entitled to vote – in theory. In practice, it wasn’t that easy. The right to vote was tied to property ownership. If you couldn’t afford to vote, you had no voice. You definitely had to ‘tun down di ting’.

These days we take the right to vote for granted. So much so that some of us can’t even bother to exercise  that right. We assume that if we don’t vote, we can’t be held responsible for the mess politicians usually make. But non-voters actually end up electing candidates by default. By doing nothing, they choose to vote for whoever wins. It’s as simple as that.

Furthermore, the precious right to vote is a great social leveller. As Louise Bennett put it so pointedly in her poem, Revelation:

Everybody got a vote, an

Every vote gwine swell de score;

Missa Issa, Missa Hanna

An de man wat sweep de store.

This week, as Jamaicans of all social classes go to the polls to elect a prime minister, we are faced with a choice between a self-confident woman and a self-satisfied man. And there’s a world of difference between the two. But don’t draw my tongue.

Canada’s Barefaced Multicultural Lie

Jason Kenney

Canada’s Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Jason Kenney made a stunning announcement last Monday. Muslim women who wish to become Canadian citizens must uncover their faces in public at the moment of taking the oath of citizenship. In effect, Muslim women are being forced to abandon their religious beliefs in order to become good Canadians.

This is how Kenney justifies the new policy: “The citizenship oath is a quintessentially public act. It is a public declaration that you are joining the Canadian family and it must be taken freely and openly.” In a classic case of doublespeak, the immigration minister argues, “This is not simply a practical measure. It is a matter of deep principle that goes to the heart of our identity and our values of openness and equality.”

But if Canadians do, in fact, value ‘openness’ and ‘equality’, shouldn’t Muslim women enjoy the freedom to openly practise their religion in peace? Even if this means claiming the right to cover the face! Why should Muslim women have to choose between their religion and the prospect of Canadian citizenship?

And who is the ‘our’ to whom Kenney appeals? The immigration minister seems to have decided that the Canadian family comes in only one model. And any ethnic or religious group that doesn’t look the part must be excluded. But is it reasonable for the minister to assume that all Canadians share a common identity and identical values?

In this day and age of global diversity, how can Canada’s immigration minister be so backward? Canada’s new policy on the citizenship oath appears to signal a retreat to the dark ages of White Anglo-Saxon Protestant fundamentalism.

Stewing in the melting pot

In the 1970s, as a student at the University of Toronto, I had ’nuff’ respect for Canadians because of the sophisticated way in which they viewed their complex society. The popular image of a mosaic was used to conjure up all the bits and pieces of the cultures of the world that make up the Canadian whole. It was a most attractive way to represent the distinctiveness of each tiny cultural element that contributed to the larger pattern.

By contrast, the symbol of the melting pot that’s been long used to describe cultural diversity in the United States (US) is far less appealing. All of the cultures (and races) in the pot are expected to melt down into one gooey mess. At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work theory. In practice, some races never melt. They stubbornly resist mixing with certain kinds of people. The more they boil, the harder their hearts get.

These are the tough types who turn into crazy conspiracy theorists, like the ‘birthers’. There’s a hard core of deluded Americans who will never accept the fact that Barack Obama was born in the US and is qualified to be president. He is black and, therefore, has no business in the pot, let alone in the White House.

These true-blue American patriots conveniently forget that it is only the First Peoples of the continent who actually have natural rights of possession of the land. Everybody else in the melting pot is a foreigner; and a squatter. But ‘di worl no level, as jackass seh’.

Under the veil

Muslims at prayer in the Kingston mosque

Canada’s new policy will not affect most Jamaicans who wish to migrate to ‘The True North strong and free’. Muslims make up only a tiny percentage of our population. All the same, we should ‘tek sleep an mark death’. Tightening the noose around the necks of prospective citizens who look ‘foreign’ may be an omen of even more stringent immigration policies to come.

One of the excuses given for the new regulation is nothing but a veiled insult. Citizenship judges say they are not quite sure that women who wear the niqab are actually reciting the oath. Since the women’s mouths are covered, they could be speaking mumbo-jumbo, I suppose. But this non-issue could easily be resolved by allowing the use of a microphone. You don’t need to see someone’s face in order to hear his or her voice.

It strikes me that the underlying issue may be the oath itself: ‘I swear (or affirm) that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Canada, Her heirs and successors, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada and fulfil my duties as a Canadian citizen.’ Perhaps, at the root of the new policy is a profound fear that some new Canadians do not, in fact, bear true allegiance to Her Majesty. Their God takes priority over a mere earthly monarch.

Canada seems to be following the lead of France, which last April passed a law that prohibits covering the face in public. This intolerant law effectively puts under house arrest women who wish to wear the veil in public. Ironically, the law was supposedly designed to promote gender equity by emancipating Muslim women from restrictive traditional dress. Instead, the law is imprisoning these women in Western codes of conduct.

All across Europe – in Belgium, Italy, Denmark, Austria, Switzerland and The Netherlands – conservative politicians are pushing for a ban on face coverings. But it’s not really about the veil. As Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights, puts it: “The way the dress of a small number of women has been portrayed as a key problem requiring urgent discussion and legislation is a sad capitulation to the prejudices of the xenophobes.”

Fear of foreigners is the real issue. And the big question seems to be, ‘Who is entitled to be European?’ Or Canadian, for that matter. The image of Canada as a beautiful mosaic of multi-ethnic diversity is cracking up. It looks like it’s nothing but a ‘face card’.

Andrew’s Fairy-Tale Election

Andrew Holness must be living in a fairy tale. He most certainly has a fairy godmother looking after him. I don’t think Andrew expected to be prime minister at the relatively tender age of 39. He must be pinching himself every day, wondering if it’s for real. All of the competitors for the top job selflessly stepped aside and he became the unanimous choice for leader of the Jamaica Labour Party. So, abracadabra! Andrew Holness was magically transformed into prime minister.

Not satisfied with just the seal of approval from his party, Holness has been anxious to get his own mandate from the Jamaican people. So he has fast-forwarded the general election. After two false starts, the date was finally revealed last week.

And it was all quite anticlimactic. Everybody had done the maths and realised that the earliest the election could have been held was December 28.  I suspect that when Holness announced that he was going to ‘call it’ before the end of the year, he hadn’t calculated that the best date would turn out to be December 29. In the exuberance of youth, he spoke without counting the cost. I wonder if he consulted any of the older, and presumably wiser, heads in his party to see what they thought would be the ideal date for the election.

Perhaps, those not-so-youthful contenders who were passed over for the job of party leader have decided to leave ‘di yute’ to his own devices: ‘Im want prime minister work; mek it breed him’. There are so many proverbs that speak to our prime minister’s apparent predicament: ‘New broom sweep clean; old broom know di corner. Cock mout kill cock. Wa sweet a mout, hot a belly. Craven choke puppy dog’.

I’m also wondering if Andrew’s fairy godmother warned him that at midnight on December 31, he’s going to be changed, in the twinkling of an eye, from a fresh prince to an old bullfrog. And no princess is going to want to kiss him and turn him back into a prince. That’s the best explanation I can give for our prime minister’s hasty decision to spring an election on us in the last week of December.

Politics and superstition don’t mix

Andrew Holness’ unshakeable conviction that it has to be this year is just as irrational as Portia Simpson Miller’s stubborn faith that the number 7 is what should have been used to determine the date of the 2007 election. In both instances, it is superstition, not reason, that is the basis of the calculation.

Portia and Peter

Sister P learned her lesson the hard way. She lost the election by dilly-dallying and flirting with the number 7, which figures prominently in many of the world’s major religions such as Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism and Islam. But politics, religion and superstition don’t mix. Sister P too-trustingly believed the predictions of a false prophet. She would have been much better off with a good obeahman. I suppose these days she needs neither. After all, she now has Peter Phillips on her side.

So why did Holness insist, in the first place, that he had to try to get his mandate before the end of the year? What difference would two weeks or a month have made? I suppose it’s the same reason we make New Year’s resolutions. We believe in the magic of a new beginning, however illusory. A new year is an opportunity to reform. We’re going to stop smoking, start dieting, stop getting into debt, start saving, stop stealing, etc.

Most New Year’s resolutions don’t last past the end of January. It’s the same old person doing the same old things. One day, from December 31 to January 1, really doesn’t make a difference. But our prime minister is naïve enough to believe in the temporary magic of the New Year. The Dudus, Manatt, JDIP, NWA and Trafigura scandals will all be miraculously erased from our collective memory. And Holness will get a clean slate on which to write his own legacy.

‘Im young; im wi learn’

Even if the prime minister could have admitted to himself that he’d miscalculated in setting the date of the election, he really couldn’t back down in public: ‘Big man no tek back chat.’ Despite the outcry against a general election in the week between Christmas and the New Year, the prime minister couldn’t find the courage to eat his words.

In his rush to try to get his mandate, Andrew Holness is trampling on Jamaican culture. Traditionally, the end-of-year holiday season is a sacred period of relaxation and merriment. It is not a time for politics. The historians Brian Moore and Michele Johnson confirm this in their chapter of the book Jamaica in Slavery and Freedom: History, Heritage and Culture:

‘During slavery, celebrations began on Christmas Eve. All work ceased and the slaves set about gathering foodstuffs from their provision grounds and the markets. Planters also distributed food items such as meat, hams and wines to their slaves. Slave dances were held all night on 24 December, and early on Christmas morning bands of slaves would regale their masters with music and dance. Planters responded with gifts of clothing and money, and even opened their homes to entertain the slaves with food and drink. These festivities continued all day and night as well as the day after Christmas.’

And also long after slavery. Moore and Johnson report that, “For all practical purposes, the Christmas season in Jamaica in the later 19th and early 20th centuries could be considered to have extended roughly from mid-December to about the end of the first week of January.”

If our PM/minister of education knew his history, he would never have dared to ‘mash up’ the holidays with politics. But ‘im young; im wi learn.’

Limp Men, Useless Condoms


From the BBC website

The BBC World Service carried a startling programme last week called ‘The Trouble With Condoms.’  I caught only the tail end and went looking for the full story on line. I was alarmed by what I heard:  men complaining about using condoms because ‘it’s like having a sweet with the wrapper on it!’  These men need to have their heads examined; both of them.

But it’s not only men who are not thinking straight.  One of the women on the programme admitted that she never uses a condom because ‘it slows down the passion’.  She’s a recently widowed mother who hooked up with a toy boy.  She knew that lover boy was a player so she insisted that they both get tested.  When the tests came back negative she proceeded to have unprotected sex with him on the assumption that he was probably ‘wrapping up’ when he had sex with other women! Pure folly.


Telegraph photo of costumed activists, World Aids Day march, Thailand

Last Thursday was World Aids Day and the theme for the next five years is ‘getting to zero’:  zero new HIV infections; zero discrimination and zero AIDS related deaths.  Zero is quite a big goal, especially since there are still so many people who haven’t gotten the message that HIV/AIDS is a potentially terminal disease.

True, these days, medical treatment is so sophisticated that death is no longer the automatic outcome of infection.  The disease can be carefully controlled.  Survival rates have climbed steadily, especially in the so-called developed world.  But the cost of antiretroviral drugs is very steep. To prevent is definitely better (and cheaper) than to cure.

‘No one can cheat me’

One of the men on the BBC programme confessed that he had carelessly infected his wife.  He had been sleeping around and not using condoms.  Surprisingly, he declared that being HIV positive made him ‘more of a man’.  As he put it, ‘I became more homely and available to my family’.  Well, of course.  Who else but his wife would knowingly put up with him?  I suppose there are all those other women he could casually infect if he kept up his promiscuous behaviour!

Even more troubling was the case of the man who threatened to beat up his wife if she continued to insist on condom use.  The woman said she knew that her husband was promiscuous and that’s why she wanted him to use a condom when he was with her.  But she didn’t have the power to force him to comply.

That’s one of the big issues with the male condom.  Women are often afraid to open negotiations about its use.  But, surely, if a woman is prepared to open her legs, how hard can it be for her to open her mouth and ensure that she is protected against sexually transmitted diseases?  Especially when a woman is starting a new relationship, she needs to be confident about asking for what she wants.  Otherwise, it’s downhill all the way. And that’s not a good ride.

ImageThe female condom provides a welcome solution to the problem of how to protect women from infection.  The BBC programme reported the story of a female hairdresser from Uganda who offers a very valuable service to her female clients.  She supplies female condoms and gives lessons in its use.  As one of her satisfied customers says, ‘Female condom is better than the male condom.  Especially when I am using female condom, I feel I am the one who is using that.  No one can cheat me.  And I am safe.’

Lady Saw on the BBC

One of the delights of the programme was hearing Lady Saw singing just one verse of her ‘Condom’ hit:  playvideo_123.php

A condom can save yu life (men)

Use it all with yu wife (yes)

All when she huff an puff

Tell her without the condom

Yu naa do no work.

Shabba Ranks

Of course, Lady Saw is not the only Jamaican artiste who warns about unsafe sex. Shabba Ranks led a successful campaign in the 1990’s and Buju Banton advised men not to be silly about their willy.  Incidentally, I just got some good news about Buju.  He has recently been transferred to a low security Federal facility in Miami.

Buju Banton

And he sent the following message: ‘I read an article in the Jamaica Gleaner yesterday (Promoters to host Buju Banton Benefit Concert in Florida), where the guy writing the story called me a dancehall icon and said I am a sing jay. What I do is called reggae music which is way different from sing jay so you know that was an attempt to destroy my image as a reggae artist.’

The rest of Lady Saw’s ‘Condom’ song is quite perceptive. She knows that marriage is no guarantee of sexual fidelity.  So she advises both men and women to carefully navigate the dangerous waters of sexual intercourse in the age of HIV/AIDS. Playing shy can be a deadly game and looks can be terminally deceiving. New precautions become absolutely necessary:

Dem seh one man to one woman

Dat naa gwaan again,

So tek precaution

It no matter where yu live or who yu are

Yu could be a millionaire or a superstar

We all are one

Come mek we sit down

A pensive Lady Saw

Lady Saw warns vulnerable young women about the limp excuses irresponsible men make to avoid the use of condoms. She advocates vigilance, not just in the moment of the sex act, but more generally as a strategy for exercising control over one’s life:

No make dem fool yu

Dat when dem use it

Dem no feel yu

Dat no true, girls.

Some wi waan bust it

When dem put it on

So open yu ears an

Watch wat a gwaan.

ImageTaking Lady Saw’s excellent advice, vigilant women need to wrap up their ‘sweety’ very carefully.  Promiscuous men shouldn’t be allowed to get even near the ‘sweety’ jar.  They simply don’t know the value of what they think they want.  And that’s the naked truth.