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”.



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’.


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.

7 thoughts on “Out of Many, One Problem

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  1. I happen to fall in this mixed ethnic cultural variation myself as you have rightly said many Jamaican are mixed racial and are non-the-less not very comfortable with the manner in which the full negroes were treated especially in pre and early postcolonial era. In spite of this we have a rich legacy which only a fool would try and dispute. My grandmother was born on May 11, 1908 and departed this life in October of 2010 – 102 years on this blessed planet. Her mother was among indentured labourer from India and her father was called Usherwood of a Scottish origin. She was clear in complexion and had long straight mane. My mother who is her daughter has a more African black look because my grandmother had her single child with a pitch black man called Frazer. The definitive skin tone we now embrace if we were to look back a century we would find ourselves in higher hue. I am proud of my rich cultural heritage which is embedded in my mother side of the dynasty.
    I must say I must commend Professor Carolyn Cooper for her indebted research into the psyche of the Jamaican experience over the ages. We must embrace iconic people like these and accelerate our quest to preserve their invaluable and humbling contribution and commitment to the grassroots of the noble isle called Jamaica. She has masterminded the unreservedly commitment in the preservation of the Jamaican Creole without not even a miniscule amount of apology. She has worked assiduously and unwaveringly for the preservation of the vernacular – we the genuine Jamaicans embraces so wholeheartedly. I am eternally grateful for the undying professional and diplomatic manner in which she embraces our treasured language. The class structure is of such that some considers other to be illiterate if they embark on the illumination of the common language of the locals.
    It is alleged you are different and of a lesser academic stableness and accomplishment without saying a word further if you make the mistake and speak the language of the common people before an interviewer by the interviewee before an interview, you are gone. In spite of the unquestionably reality that they too speak to their friends in informal settings they would stamp out a one in a million chance of a young man to achieve upward social mobility. You would have just jeopardized your chance of a promising future. I am a proud speaker of the language I knew from my first breath.
    We love our skins likewise our colour the real Jamaican uses bleach on his/her floor not on skin and the raw chaw Jamaican plays football cricket and netball and runs but we eat ackee we don’t play it. This colour prejudice thing is deep-rooted into the slavery mentality of certain within our midst who are unaware of the challenges it might create for them in the tropical sun with the lessening of the melanin content of the skins. The genuine Jamaican is not a follower of Vybz Kartel’s bleaching precepts but is resentful in the fertilizing of such a thought/practice or precept.
    The article Carolyn wrote depicted the many struggles we have encountered in our readiness to face the real world. The tremendous sacrifices of this loving lady has presented an aura about us as a people wherein people from the four pole of the world can look at us as a dominant people who are very special in every art form they so embrace and pursue. The rural urban drift that was depicted by Carolyn has made the country a source of concern in the manner in which people try to live in search of the Jamaican Dream or ideal. The subhuman manner in which some Jamaican chose to live to satisfy their egos and face the harsh reality of abject poverty, subsequently the survival instinct chips in hence wondering into a world of crime and violence.

  2. Jamaica’s Motto Out Of Many One ‘Somebody’ is the envy of the freeworld in so far as a motto can be seen as a source of inspiration. In a world where the Jews find it next to impossible to live with their centuries old neighbors, the Palestinians…Where Sunnis Muslims find it suicidal to living in close proximity to their Shia next of kin…Where Christians of one order are suspicious of Christians of another order to the extent that they would not hesitate to send the other Christian, where Christians preach against others going. And where we live in a time where blacks of one nation will kill, maim and otherwise anhilate other blacks….where the religious right in US politics will justify in the name of religion the most outrageous of positions; from health to religion , to the non-existent theory of ‘spermicidal assassins’…..

    …..And there in the midst of all this chaos, shining like a rainbow in ‘green, ‘black’ and ‘gold’, is the calming Jamiacan ‘motto”, ‘Out Of Many One Somebody’.

    To Jamaicans living on the Island, their not seeing the country from the perspective of Jamaicans living off the Island, may give rise to the feeling that the reasonable expectations of equality of the species; and dare I say it; of the “races”; and if not equality, just common respect, is taking too long to being realized. But so too, is the age old expectation, that the the two young lovers locked forever in the bliss of marriage would never part, till death, But just as unmindful, the next generation’s two lovers, ignore their own parents unfulfilled death wish, and they too, like their unfulfilled parents, do too, also; now, themselves, ‘lock together in the bliss of what was any thing but bliss, for their now, ‘parents of loggerheads’.

    The desire as well ,for any kind of equality, racial, or gender, must as well be enjoyed in oblivious denial; and enjoyed as the ‘two young lovers locked in the blissful marriage of the present’.

    Jamaica, to the jamaican not living on the island is a source of pride; no matter the rampant crime on the island, The island still enjoys the reputation of being one of the most stable, despite political violence.

    Jamaica, will as easily elect a buffoon as it will elect,Syrian, Caucasian, Black, Woman, Intellectual and the ‘religious based'(now ousted)by an electorate, which is probably, the most democratic example of the excerise of the will of the people, of any country, any where! The United States is a country that praises itself to be the most democratic of countries; and yet find it easier to accept an ignoramus for president(a past president) over a debonair intellectual and professional leader, in their current president. Not Jamaica! No matter the leader; if he/she/the ignoramus, is good; he/she/the ignoramus, has a job for life. And it is precisely because Jamaicans believe that no matter the vintage(“out of many one people”) if it tastes good, that’s what’s ‘going down’.

    ‘Yes Misiss Me proud a mi jamaica’…Yes Mon!

    courtney edwards

  3. I listened with interest to professor Cooper’s presentation; or in the “language” of Jamaica; “professa Coopa leccha”, on the matter of the “Jamaican language” aka “patois” in previous lifetimes.

    I can remember when, as a child, though fluent in “patois”, for so it was referred to, in my generation; yet I was discouraged from communicating in the then ‘unknown as yet, and misnamed “patois”, now named “Jamaican” tongue. I never thought much about the prohibition, and believed that the ‘higher ups’ then; as are the ‘higher ups’ today, ‘wid dem edication an all’, knew what was best for one and all. So I followed without any reservation the path of the ‘rosetta stone’, the path of the English language.

    I have often wondered, now that professor Cooper’s group of ‘higher ups’ hold sway, what would have been the effect if professor Cooper’s group held sway in my generation. Now some sixty years later, I received the answer when I attended a forum sponsored by the Jamaican Caribbean Association of Calgary, Alberta Canada. One of the ‘higher ups’, ‘an edicated way up so person’ from Jamaica, on being asked re the state of the Jamaican language and its effect on the culture, responded with the revelation, that all has not gone well. She offered, as an explanation to the audience, that the performance in the communicative skills in the English language, was just short of appalling. To my amazement, I learned that to have made English, a second language, was a mistake.

    This was bourne out in Dr. Cooper’s presentation, re the child who could not answer a question in the English language; but could, when spoken to, in the Jamaican language.

    Now let us fast forward. That child to whom Dr. Cooper referred, is now the Ambassador of Jamaica to the United Nations(anecdotally so). Luckily for her, English, as a second language, was a prerequisite for the position of Ambassador, English being the first language of the most ‘powerful country on earth’,the US. As second languages go, if they are not in frequent usage, they naturally die, and as seeing as a second language, English was not frequently spoken by our ‘Ambassador’; by the time she was posted for the job, she, as ‘Ambassador’, thought it better to take along with her an interpreter, ‘just in case’! (She had not forgotten her experience, when as a little child she was unable to communicate in the English language).

    Do note; that at the United nations each nation has the deliberations of the chamber(not the ‘pot’)communicated, in the first language of that nation, by an interpreter. So in addition, to having an interpreter by her side, ‘our Ambassador’ has also the luxury of hearing the deliberations in her mother/native tongue.

    When our Ambassador responded to the ‘position’ of the Jamaican government re the debate on Syria, ‘our Ambassador’ in her speech to this august ‘chamber’, began: ‘Missa chair person, mi fella membaship, an all a unnu; greettins from de beautiful Island of Jamaica. Fi wi contribution is shaut an spicy. Wi have a motto, out of many one people’, an we a one people, wich I hope de people dem in a Syria will copiketch from wi. Yu si, in a Jamaica, we liv togeda in a ‘one love’; and dough wi have a lot a violence by de idiat dem, wi stiil no werse dan New York, fi unnu ‘big apple’. Fi wi advice to missa Assad is; look how wi treat a syrian man name ‘Eddie’. De man no look any ting lik wi; yet wi was proud! to mek im wi prime minister. Mas ‘eddie’; him was a good prime minister; him was good so till! an im defend im priministaship, wid fi him version of de secret service im call ‘dons’; an im successor was felled by de don dat mas ‘eddie’ lef behind fi im; an felled, mi fella membaship, by a ‘oman. But even so, ‘omen an men, ladies an gentlemen, wi de people of jamaica, neva fi one moment eva consida to kill wi own flesh an blood, like de syrian leader Assad a do. An so, mi, an, an behalf of mi prime minister an de people of Jamaica, wi vote to sen a delegation to Assad, wid de motive of saying ‘how can yu kill yu own people! Wi no mine fi len yu wi motto’, “outta many one people”…use it an use it wel.

    The foregoing satire is not a joke! If the first/native language of Jamaica, is Jamaican, this would be the method of international communication; and a method of communication of which all Jamaicans would have had to be justly proud(it is our first language!) Or so the ‘higher ups’ would have us to believe.

    It is OK to say that this method of communication will be allright if the island was to be isolated, with little or no contact with the world of the internet, and or other communication, re international trade and commerce and government to government relations. English, French, Spanish, Dutch, German, and other Internationally recognized languages are freely communicated; but with a very important fact; these are international languages, understood ‘internationally’; and where not understood, yet so widely recognized, that either, other communicants may themselves be multilingual, thus understanding each other, or because of the importance of the communication, will have appropriate translators, who would have had academic exposure to the ‘root’ of the language, and hence would be able to effectively communicate.

    Does the Jamaican language enjoy the luxury of having a ‘root’ on which the language could be taught in “Timbuctoo”, with not having to have a ‘higher up’ fluent in communicating and explaining ‘a wa dis?; but not explaining ‘a wah dis’ in the same context as ‘Que es esta’? and ‘What is this’? as is explained in the related language?

    “Que es esta”? and “What is this? are sentences in both Spanish and English. The root of these two languages is common to both; and to learn the language, the ‘root’ must be known in order for the language not to need the benefit of on an explanation re the meaning of each word. Building on the ‘root’ of the language will then make it quite easy for the many other aspects of language formation to take shape.

    Now let’s take a look on the ‘Jamaican language’ and contrast it with the two continentally different languages, Spanish and English. Is ‘A wa dis’? a sentence, a phrase or other? Does it make contextual sense?

    “A” is an indefinite article in both Spanish and English. If “A” in the ‘Jamaican language’ is not an “indefinite article”, then the ‘Jamaican language’ has now defined its parameters as outside the set parameters of languages. The same is true for: “wha”….while at best it is incoherent, still let us give the ‘higher ups’ the benefit of the doubt, and refer to “wha” as a word. “Que” in spanish means “What” in English. “What” in English means “Que” in Spanish….and “Qu’est-ce que”..”What” in the French language. Well! what is “Wha”! or “Wa”! Which of the two is the proper spelling for starters!…and what is the meaning of “Wah/Wa’….”What”! I hear the chorus of the ‘higher ups’…and yes! say I …I agree!

    We continue our analysis of “This”. “Esta” in spanish is “this” and the verb “is”; is “es”.. and like the English, “This” points to a specific object and its specific descriptive connotation. French “Cette” highlights this root word as well as in “Qui est-cette femme”; ‘who is ‘this’ woman?’. Again the word ‘this’ is the same in root, no matter the French language, the English language and or the Spanish language. And so also is the ‘verb’; “is” as it is also similarly identified in all three languages.

    Let us now analyze the ‘Jamaican language’ and its usage of the word, “Dis”. This word like the word “Wha/Wa” means! “This”! you say! and again I say, I agree!

    Since the Spanish language, the English language, and the French language, all construct ‘our’ sentence under analysis; using one and the same root; our ‘Jamaican language’ must do the same to qualify for being a ‘memba’ of the family of languages.

    My final question for the ‘higher ups’ that are proposing the acceptance of the “Jamaican language”, as our ‘first language’ is “this”;…We can identify a “verb” in the stated three internationally known languages of Spanish, English, and French….Could you please identify the ‘verb’ in the sentence under discussion(A wha dis?) re the Jamaican language?

    “A” is never known in any language to be a ‘verb’. Neither is “What”; nor is “This”. If “A Wha dis”? is not a sentence, What is it? If it is a phrase, why is it being used as a sentence? And as a phrase…What is the meaning of ‘A–What–This’! Please help!

    courtney edwards

  4. One imagines that in a world of free discourse, opinions are just that; opinions. I have given mine as you have given yours. Are mine believable, are yours? Interestingly; in your above response, there are apparent contradictions.

    While the Queen’s English portrays a ‘compliment'(your words did not elaborate to the contrary)the ‘Jamaican language’ smacks of cynicism.(the cynicism is seen in; “like yu know wa yu a chat bout!”) The exclamation at the end is a dead give away; and as you would expect, the language is conveying its message via word vehicles. Any person not acquainted with the ‘Jamaican language’ would have had to interpret this expression, based on the ‘root’, as all languages do. “Like”—“You”—“Know”—“What”—“You”—“A”—“Chat”—“Bout”– The only recognizable ‘verb’, at least to me(bereft of ‘linguistic skills’) is “Know”. And while in English(dare I say the word)the construct can be translated :”As if you know what you are talking about”…yet your appeal is to the ‘ root -English ‘ for an interpretation, and there, one is also given clear and concise. It is to the similar ‘root -Jamaican ‘, that one should be turning…Where Is The Root! I beg!
    Certainly; the last word in ‘your’ expression ‘Jamaican’ makes my point…this is “a-bout” a ’bout’;or it is not!

    Was this ‘message’ intentional! If it was; you have used the English language to say one thing; and the ‘Jamaican language’ to say something completely different. If it was unintentional; then it shows the inconsistency of proclaiming(the message) in the ‘Jamaican’ language; because not even in a simple construct does the ‘Jamaican language’ convey an identical meaning(re the message) as in the English language; as this example shows… And as it clearly did in:” A—What—This”.

    …..and this is not a question re “authority”…..just pure and simple “logic”.

    My point, by now, ought to be obvious. It is impossible to understand the ‘Jamaican language’ without an appeal to English transliteration.

    I do not in any way disapprove communication in our ‘Jamaican tongue’; but referring to it as a language must conform to standards as required by all languages. If those standards are not met…then the ‘Jamaican language’ does not meet the qualifications required to be classified as a language.

    ‘Umm; wey yu seh to dat now’?


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