Human zoo in Hope Pastures

Almost a year ago, there was big scandal in London about ‘Exhibit B’. This was a human zoo that should have been installed at the Barbican, Europe’s largest multi-arts centre. Conceived by a white South African artist, Brett Bailey, this human zoo was a throwback to 19th- and early 20th-century exhibitions of black bodies put on display in Europe and America for the entertainment of white people.

Bailey’s ‘Exhibit B’ featured black actors in cages. There was a woman chained to a bed. This primal scene was based on the rapacious life of a French colonial officer who kept black women as sex slaves, literally imprisoning them in his bed. I suppose he knew that if they had a choice, they wouldn’t be there.

Another scene featured a black man sitting in a cage. Attached was a bilingual sign in English and Afrikaans, ‘The blacks have been fed.’ That’s right. You know the usual sign in non-human zoos, ‘Don’t feed the animals’! The message was clear.

mgid-uma-image-mtvWhite people have been fixated on the bodies of black people for many centuries. The current obsession with Serena Williams is typical. Unwilling to concede that Serena is actually a beautiful woman, lunatic racists insist that she’s really a man. Supposedly repelled by her magnificent structure, they are, nevertheless, magnetised by her alluring form. And not just on the tennis court.

It is this fascination with the ‘other’ that drives racist exhibitions like the human zoo. Though Brett Bailey claimed that he was actually criticising the historical zoos, hardly anybody believed him. It wasn’t just black people who denounced the ‘show’. People of all races objected to the way in which racism was masquerading as art. Vigorous protest erupted and the London exhibition was shut down.


Believe it or not, there’s a real-life human zoo right here in Kingston. It’s definitely not a work of art. And the exhibits in this human zoo are not victims of a racist artist projecting stereotypes. These humans have deliberately imprisoned themselves in the zoo. To be honest, I haven’t actually seen anybody in the zoo. But I’ve viewed the cage. And what a sight it is!

I was recently driving through Hope Pastures and, luckily, I was not stopped by the police for a spot check. But I had to stop, almost on the spot, when I saw the spectacular human zoo. From the fence to the house, there’s a solid web of grillwork covering the entire yard, it seems.  The Jamaica Observer published pictures:

ksacI wondered who would live like that so I went to have a chat with one of the neighbours. She said she didn’t know the occupants of the house but she’d heard that there had been a break-in. So the grilling of the yard seems to be an extreme response to crime. All the same, the psychology of the inmates is troubling. To feel so vulnerable that you would imprison yourself in this way!

Neighbours watched in dismay as the invasive prison architecture took shape. Then the citizens’ association contacted the Kingston and St Andrew Corporation (KSAC) asking them to visit the site. Naturally, the association wanted to know if grilling the yard was a violation of building regulations. Up to the time of my conversation with that neighbour, the KSAC had not inspected the premises.


Proverbial wisdom asserts that one’s home is one’s castle. Many Jamaicans aspire to own a castle – Comrades, Labourites and sceptics. Returning residents, especially from the UK, are notorious for building homes that look like a wannabe Buckingham Palace. After putting up with racism and bad weather for decades, they think they deserve a castle.

Even if they haven’t lived ‘a farin’ and earned hard currency, many ambitious Jamaicans feel entitled to a castle. Big ego, bigger house! But the whole point of the proverb is not to encourage ‘castledom’. It’s the principle of privacy and security that is to be protected, no matter how small one’s house is.

107449Of course, one person’s castle can become another’s eyesore. So how do we balance the right to privacy versus respect for the vision of one’s neighbours? The human zoo in Hope Pastures is a classic test case. Is the occupants’ need for security more compelling than the neighbours’ desire for ‘normal’ grillwork? And will the KSAC insist that the grills be removed from the yard? We’ll just have to wait and see.

It strikes me that, eyesore aside, the grilled yard poses a serious security risk. And I don’t mean just the security of the occupants of the house who could get trapped in the yard in an emergency. Enterprising criminals might see the grilled yard as an Olympic challenge: “Dem tink dem whole heap a grille a go stop we? Don’t test!”

Then I suspect that the house is soon going to become a major tourist attraction, drawing spectators from far and wide. This must be the only house in Jamaica, if not in the entire Western world, that is fortified in this way. Residents of Hope Pastures are going to have a hell of a time policing traffic to the human zoo. Perhaps they should ask Kenny Benjamin for help. He’s an expert on animal zoos. Not to mention security.

That Cowardly Leggo-Beast Apology

imagesPolitics is a beastly business. It’s very hard for most politicians to speak the truth and speak it ever, cost it what it will. Memory gems from primary school mean absolutely nothing to politicians, especially when national elections are around the corner. They don’t dare risk telling the truth and offending potential voters.

Deacon Thwaites, minister of education, is no exception. He’s bowed to public pressure and apologised for his vivid leggo-beast remark, made recently, to much applause, at the annual conference of the Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA). In an age of political correctness, it’s not politic to call things by their right name. These days, ‘labelling’ children is very, very bad, especially if they actually fit the profile.

Here are the minister’s exact words: “And, also, the second thing we have to do, members of the JTA – Ministry of Education takes on the challenge with you – it is time that your association, now gone past the the [sic] crucible of wage negotiations, join with us and whoever else in saying not angrily, but resolutely, to the society, ‘Look here! Manage your own children! Do not send leggo beasts to our school and expect us to make the difference’!”

Last Tuesday, Thwaites was adamant that there was “no need for leggo beast apology”. But the very next day, he changed his mind. This is how he put it in a statement issued by the ministry: “On reflection and having listened to all the comments, I would like, even at this late stage, to withdraw my use of the term ‘leggo beast’ to describe uncontrollable children spoken at last week’s JTA Conference.”


imagesOne of the influential comments came in a press release from Senator Johnson-Smith, opposition spokesperson on education and youth: “Parents who have troubled children need help, and the minister of education must recognise the role of the school system, his ministry and himself as key tools in the resocialisation of troubled children. Classifying children as ‘leggo beasts’ has no place in the conversation about the challenges facing the system and its solutions. This disrespectful and divisive epitaph must be withdrawn.”

Senator Johnson-Smith meant ‘epithet’, not ‘epitaph’. The leggo beasts are very much alive. That’s a relatively minor error. It’s the “parents who have troubled children” statement that is troubling. Leggo beasts are not born; they are made. Often by parental neglect! So parents don’t just happen to “have” troubled children. They are responsible. True, some of them don’t know how to parent and need help. But where can they get it?

Leader of the Opposition, Andrew Holness, went even further, describing the leggo-beast remark as “reprehensible, disgraceful, unlawful and ignorant!” The “unlawful” charge seems to be based on the dishonest conclusion that Thwaites was telling parents not to send bad-behaving children to school. This is leggo-beast politics at its worst: wildly trying to score political points at the expense of the truth.

The minister of education was actually appealing to parents to give their children home training so that they could perform well in school. Thwaites said, “Manage your own children.” That’s a preventative measure to stop them from turning into leggo beasts. Schools can’t be expected to make up for what parents fail to do at home.


In his contradictory apology, Thwaites declares that, “Despite the difficulties, teachers must not label students.” But he, himself, does use the label ‘uncontrollable children’. The issue isn’t the label. It’s the language of the label. It’s ‘leggo beast’ that’s the real problem. So we’re back in the familiar territory of English versus Jamaican. The same old Sankey!

Check_The_ClassificationI would bet my last devalued dollar that if the minister had originally said “uncontrollable children”, rather than “leggo beasts”, even the Opposition would have joined the teachers in applauding his appeal. But he made the mistake of using a well-known Jamaican label that describes antisocial behaviour quite precisely.

The Dictionary of Jamaican English notes that ‘lego’ comes from ‘let-go’. The first meaning given is ‘Let-go, loose, disorderly, out of control’. Then it cites the phrase ‘lego-beast’. This is defined as ‘an animal or person without an owner or protector, that runs wild; anyone of loose morals’. Incidentally, this useful dictionary, published locally by the University of the West Indies Press, is on the e-Learning Jamaica Educational Materials platform and can be accessed for free by all secondary schools.

The first definition of ‘leggo beast’ accurately conveys Thwaites’ concern about the protective role of parents in preparing their children for school. But, he caved in: “The serious issue facing the society of weak parenting and inadequate community support to socialise so ma[n]y schoolchildren is likely to be overlooked by controversy over the appropriations [sic] of a phrase I used.”

I think Thwaites meant ‘appropriateness’, not ‘appropriations’. But as with ‘epitaph’ and ‘epithet’, this is a relatively minor matter. The bigger concern is truth versus controversy. The truth is, ‘leggo beast’ is a perfectly good translation of ‘uncontrollable children’.

Instead of avoiding controversy, Ronnie Thwaites should have courageously taken the opportunity to reflect on the function of our local language in public conversations about the educational system; and its use in schools! He knows the power of the language. Perhaps, the leggo beasts would be tamed by seeing themselves in the dictionary and knowing that their home language is on the curriculum.

John Crow, Jankro an Vulture

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 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.


Seet deh now! Language a one powerful sinting. Unu memba dem ya liriks wi did larn a primary school? ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never harm me.’ Pure lie! Nutten no go so. Throw-word a one big stick. An it lik hot. Wen yu a pikni, an dem odder one a throw word pon yu, yu ha fi a gwaan like seh it no bodder yu. Cau yu cyaan do better.

694But wen yu grow big, yu naa tek it. Yu ha fi defend yuself. So mi understand wa mek di Labourite dem bex an a carry on bad bout wa Peter Bunting seh: “Some in the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) leadership have been behaving like a set of John Crows, like vultures, gleefully reacting to every loss of life as an opportunity to gain political mileage.”

A di ‘John Crow’ bex dem. If Bunting did lef out di ‘John Crows’ an kip so-so ‘vultures’, di lik wuda never feel so hot. Trust mi! ‘Vulture’ no pretty. But inna fi wi culture, ‘John Crow’ worserer. All wen yu gi it di rightful sound inna fi wi language! Jangkro! No sah! It sound bad-bad.

So wa mek jangkro worserer than vulture? One a English an one a Jamaican. Vulture come outa book an jangkro down a dungle heap. Wi know vulture inna wi head; an wi feel jangkro inna wi heart. Fi wi language carry feelings. An a dat di language specialist dem mean wen dem seh Jamaican a fi wi heart language. It mek wi tek tings hard.


Still for all, if me was Andrew Holness, mi wudn waste no time pon ‘jangkro’. Dat bad an no so bad. A ‘political mileage’ mi wuda kick up gainst! Dat a one serious charge Bunting a mek. One big-big lik. Fi tink seh di JLP politician dem no cyah bout di whole heap a people weh a dead off? Murder top a murder! An a ongle vote dem a look, mek dem a bawl out? Dat bad – if a true. An mi no hear none a di Labourite dem a talk bout dat. All dem a stick pon a di jangkro throw word.

All eena Parliament, Desmond McKenzie im seh, “Once a John Crow, always a John Crow.” Wa dat good fa? A Bunting im a throw word pon? Dat a no how some a di PNP member dem tek it. Ascorden to Gleaner, dem laugh an seh, “Yuh seh so! Yuh seh so!” Dem a tek McKenzie mek poppy show. Dem a tell im seh cock mout kill cock. Mi no know if Bunting sorry fi true fi weh im seh. But it look like dem odder one inna fi im party no sorry to dat. Or dem wudn bodder seh nutten to McKenzie fi blaze up more fire.

Anyhow, mi tink seh Andrew Holness shuda condemn Bunting fi di ‘political mileage’ big lik. Opposition party supposen fi bawl out gainst govament wen tings naa run right. An if PNP did deh inna Opposition, dem wuda do di said same ting. Dem naa no argument. An if mi a jangkro, mi wuda well bex fi see how di politician dem a mix mi up inna fi dem nasty business.


Siit de nou! Langwij a wan powaful sinting. Unu memba dem ya liriks wi did laan a praimeri skuul? ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never harm me.’ Pyuur lai! Notn no go so. Chruo-wod a wan big stik. An it lik at. Wen yu a pikni, an dem ada wan a chruo wod pan yu, yu a fi a gwaahn laik se it no bada yu. Kaa yu kyaahn du beta.

Peter Bunting

Peter Bunting

Bot wen yu gruo big, yu naa tek it. Yu a fi difen yuself. So mi andastan wa mek di Liebarait dem beks an a kyari aan bad bout wa Peter Bunting se: “Some in the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) leadership have been behaving like a set of John Crows, like vultures, gleefully reacting to every loss of life as an opportunity to gain political mileage.”

A di ‘John Crow’ beks dem. If Bunting did lef out di ‘John Crows’ an kip suoso ‘vultures’, di lik wuda neva fiil so at. Chros mi! ‘Vulture’ no priti. Bot ina fi wi kolcha, ‘John Crow’ wosara. Aal wen yu gi it di raitful soun ina fi wi langwij! Jangkro! Nuo sa! It soun bad-bad.

So wa mek jangkro wosa dan vulture? Wan a Inglish an wan a Jamiekan. Vulture kom outa buk an jangkro dong a dongl iip. Wi nuo vulture ina wi ed; an wi fiil jangkro ina wi aat. Fi wi langwij kyari fiilinz. An a dat di langwij speshalis dem miin wen dem se Jamiekan a fi wi aat langwij. It mek wi tek tingz aad.


Stil far aal, if mii woz Andrew Holness, mi udn wies no taim pan ‘jangkro’. Dat bad an no so bad. A ‘political mileage’ mi uda kik op gens! Dat a wan siiryos chaaj Bunting a mek.  Wan big-big lik. Fi tink se di JLP palitishan dem no kya bout di uol iip a piipl we a ded aaf? Morda tap a morda! An a ongl vuot dem a luk mek dem a bawl out? Dat bad – if a chruu. An mi no ier non a di Liebarait dem a taak bout dat. Aal dem a stik pan a di jangkro chruo wod.

Aal iina Paaliment, Desmond McKenzie im se, “Once a John Crow, always a John Crow.” Wa dat gud fa? A Bunting im a chruo wod pan? Dat a no ou som a di PNP memba dem tek it. Azkaadn tu Gleaner, dem laaf an se, “Yuh seh so! Yuh seh so!” Dem a tek McKenzie mek papishuo.  Dem a tel im se kak mout kil kak. Mi no nuo if Bunting sari fi chruu fi we im se. Bot it luk laik dem ada wan ina fi im paati no sari tu dat. Ar dem udn bada se notn tu McKenzie fi bliez op muor faiya.

Eniou, mi tingk se Andrew Holness shuda kandem Bunting fi di ‘political mileage’ big lik. Opozishan paati supuozn fi baal out gens govament wen tingz naa ron rait. An if PNP did de ina Opozishan, dem uda du di sed siem ting. Dem naa no aagyument. An if mii a jangkro, mi uda wel beks fi si ou di palitishan dem a miks mi op iina fi dem naasi bizniz.


imagesThere you have it! Language is a powerful thing.  Do you remember this proverb we learnt in primary school? ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never harm me.’ A total lie!  It’s simply not true.  Hurling abuse can be very effective.  It hurts a lot. When you’re a child and someone says something hurtful, you have to act like it doesn’t bother you.   Because you can’t do better.

But when you’re an adult, you just won’t put up with it. You have to defend yourself. So I understand why Labourites are angry and are carrying on so much about what Peter Bunting said: “Some in the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) leadership have been behaving like a set of John Crows, like vultures, gleefully reacting to every loss of life as an opportunity to gain political mileage.”

It’s the ‘John Crow’ that’s angered them. If Bunting had left out the ‘John Crows’ and kept only ‘vultures’, it wouldn’t have hit so hard. Believe me! ‘Vulture’ isn’t good. But in our culture, ‘John Crow’ is rather worse.  And especially the way it’s pronounced in our language!  Jangkro! No, man! It really sounds very bad.

So why is jangkro worse than vulture? One is English and the other is Jamaican. Vulture is very bookish an jangkro is just down at the garbage dump. Vulture is a kind of abstraction and jangkro we know intuitively. Our language evokes feelings. And that’s what the linguists mean when they say Jamaican is our heart language. It makes us take things to heart.


All the same, if I were Andrew Holness, I wouldn’t waste any time on ‘jangkro’. That’s bad and not so bad. It’s ‘political mileage’ I would protest against! That’s a very serious charge Bunting is making. A forceful attack. To think that JLP politicians don’t care about all of the people who are dying? So many murders! And it’s only because they are looking for votes why they’re speaking  out? That would be disgraceful – if it’s true. And I don’t hear any of the Labourites protesting about that. All they’re stuck on is the jangkro label.Peter

Even in Parliament, Desmond McKenzie said, “Once a John Crow, always a John Crow.” What was that about? Was he trying to get back at Bunting ? That’s  not how some of the PNP MPs took it. According to a Gleaner report, they burst out laughing and said, “You say so! You say so!” They were having fun at McKenzie’s expense.  They were saying that his own words condemn him. I don’t know if Bunting  is really sorry for what he said. But it seems as if his colleagues aren’t all that sorry. Or they wouldn’t bother to answer McKenzie and pour more oil on the fire.

Anyhow, I think Andrew Holness should condemn Bunting for that ‘political mileage’ attack. Opposition parties are supposed to protest against the government when things are not right. And if the PNP were in Opposition, they would do the very same  ting. So they have no case.  And if I were a john crow, I would be very annoyed at the way in which politicians are dragging me into their nasty affair.

Patwa: Bridge or Barrier?

13384_10153329148929369_1805303501038876440_nJuly 1 was International Reggae Day (IRD). Long before February was branded as Reggae Month, a mere seven years ago, Andrea Davis ‘sighted’ the need to pay annual attention to reggae’s global impact. For more than two decades, this energetic creative industries consultant has worked very hard to make IRD a calendar event, not just in Jamaica but around the world. And she has certainly succeeded!

One of the highlights of the IRD media festival is a forum, streamed live on the Internet, which focuses on current issues in the music business. This year’s theme was ‘Securing Jamaica’s Competitive Advantage in the Global Market’. The packed programme included a wide range of speakers such as HBO’s corporate VP of affiliate sales, Javier Figuera; and attorney Cordel Green, executive director of the Broadcasting Commission of Jamaica.

Billboard journalist Patricia Meschino confirmed that Jamaican artistes have lost their dominance on both the album and singles reggae charts. Our music has gone to the world and we no longer control the market. I suppose that was to be expected. All the same, it makes you wonder if we in Jamaica really understand the economic potential of the reggae music industry.


I was asked to speak on the topic, ‘Cultural Authenticity – Patois: Bridge/Barrier’? I really don’t like that generic term ‘patois’. I prefer ‘Jamaican’, which specifically confirms the link between language and national identity. Language is, indeed, a powerful expression of cultural authenticity.

185639_216714311798932_390570728_nBut ‘authenticity’ can be very tricky. Who decides what is authentic and what is not? It all depends on who is talking to who. Or whom, as the English-language purists would prefer. Jamaican is the heart language of the majority of the Jamaican people. Some of us would say it is an authentic expression of Jamaican cultural identity.

But our school system does not take this language seriously. It’s not on the curriculum. As far as the Ministry of Education is concerned, the mother tongue of most Jamaicans is not a proper language. It’s a bastard child of legitimate English – an ‘outside pikni’. To be truly educated in Jamaica, you must leave that ‘backward’ non-language far behind.


By contrast, foreigners clearly recognise that Jamaican is a real-real language in its own right. And it has to be learnt systematically. So they open their minds. Last month, I got an email with this subject heading: “I can’t seem to figure out what ‘fi wi’ means.” Based on the name and email address, I assumed it was from a Jewish-American male.

After giving some examples from my blog in which I used ‘fi wi’, he asked, “Can you help?” Of course, I could. I explained that ‘fi wi’ means ‘our’. He sent another email: “Interesting! So what is our ‘sinting’? And thank you very much for your prompt reply.”

Again, I translated. ‘Sinting’ means ‘something’. And I elaborated. For an individual, ‘fi mi (me) sinting’ would be personal possession. On the other hand, ‘fi wi’, first person plural, suggests collective possession of cultural traditions – intangible assets. I was amused by his response: “Wow, so complex! Thank you again for taking the time to answer my questions.”

motivationIt would be quite rare for a typical victim of our school system to conceive Jamaican as a ‘complex’ language. Because it is the language of home and heart, it’s ‘simple’. We learn it naturally, not as a result of hard effort, so we don’t even realise that Jamaican has its own grammar.

If you want to hear ungrammatical Jamaican, just listen to a foreigner who hasn’t mastered the language! We don’t understand how difficult it can be for non-native speakers to become proficient in Jamaican. Many of them are highly motivated and they invest a lot of time, energy and money in the enterprise.


A classic example is Mike Pawka, who compiled the online Rasta/Patois Dictionary in December 1992. It’s regularly updated, the last time on April 13, 2014. Here’s link to the dictionary:  <>  I emailed Mike to ask what made him do the dictionary. By the way, his email address is It sweet mi fi true!

Here’s his response: “When I became interested in reggae music in the early ’80s, a lot of it was hard to understand, and I was looking for glossaries or dictionaries to help me out, but didn’t find any. I began to collect definitions that I found in the back of books.

51L63gcxZtL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_“I started the newsgroup in the early ’90s and got a lot of definitions from contributors to that group. From there it just grew, as you can see, from the sources section in the back. Later, I added phrases and proverbs.”

There’s also a Japanese/Jamaican dictionary, The Patois Handbook: Let’s Speak Jamaican!, written by Yvonne Goldson, a Jamaican who has lived in Japan for quite some time. Her book was first published in Tokyo in 1998 and has become a best-seller, now in its 10th edition. Incidentally, there are quite a few Japanese who don’t know English but are fluent in Jamaican.

So is the Jamaican language a bridge or a barrier? It’s both. For many Jamaicans, our mother tongue is nothing but a barrier to upward social mobility – even though it speaks to our heart. And then there are all those non-Jamaicans who learn the language as a sturdy bridge to understanding another culture.

Selling Jamaica To ‘Mr Chin’

mr-chin-marqueeFor many black Jamaicans, ‘Chin’ is still the generic name for all Chinese people. It doesn’t seem to matter that Chinese Jamaicans have many other names such as Chang, Chuck, Chung, Fong, Kim, Kong, Lee, Leong, Lim, Lue, Mock, Shim, Tenn, Yap, Yee, Yen and Yeong.

I think it’s completely disrespectful to clap the label ‘Chin’ on all Chinese. And I like to ask perpetrators how they would feel if Chinese people called all of us Miss, Mr and Mrs Black. They usually laugh. A no nutten! Most Africans born in Jamaica were forced to give up our ancestral names. So, perhaps, we have no investment in the foreign names we were arbitrarily assigned.

And many Chinese seem to be quite philosophical about being addressed as ‘Chin’. They just answer to the name. It doesn’t appear to bother them that their fellow citizens stubbornly refuse to learn their true-true names. I wonder if it’s because they don’t take us seriously. Perhaps, it doesn’t matter what we call them. As long as we continue to do business with them!


512SDQF910L._SX310_BO1,204,203,200_In 1998, the University of the West Indies Press published a book by the Trinidadian historian, Walton Look Lai, on The Chinese in the West Indies. It covers the period 1806-1995 and pulls together a whole set of fascinating documents.

There’s an 1803 letter from Kenneth McQueen to John Sullivan, undersecretary of state, outlining the arguments to be used in inveigling Chinese to come to the Caribbean as indentured labourers. Racial stereotypes are presented as hard facts.

McQueen proposes: “The most desirable accommodation to a Chinaman is good eating, especially solid animal food, as beef or pork … and a liberal supply of that article is more likely than anything else to reconcile them to their new situation.” As it turns out, ‘solid animal food’ was not enough to keep indentured Chinese labourers on the plantation.

As soon as their five-year contract was up, many abandoned agricultural work. In an account of ‘Chinese entrepreneurs in Jamaica in the 1940s and 1950s’, Look Lai lists the following businesses: “grocery stores, bakeries, aerated water factories, ice cream parlours, restaurants, laundries, Chinese grocery stores, hardware stores, dry-goods stores, bars and taverns, haberdasheries, wholesale groceries, agencies and others”.


In Jamaica, the Chinese still control the distribution of imported food. Whoever owns the keys to the grocery store rules the nation. Our British colonisers knew this all too well. I speculate that they enabled the Chinese to take over this sector as an act of revenge for the emancipation of enslaved African-Jamaicans. After all, they did conceive the Chinese as a barrier. An obstacle to black empowerment!

Before Emancipation, blacks controlled local food production and distribution at weekly markets. Plantation owners who wanted to lower operating costs allowed them to cultivate provision grounds to feed themselves. Surplus food was owned by these farmers and they made good money selling it locally and even exporting to other islands.

Screen-Shot-2012-11-05-at-12.19.51-PMAfter Emancipation, instead of allowing blacks to extend our management of the business of food distribution to include the import trade, the British colonisers deliberately allowed the Chinese to clip our wings. Given a chance, black people would have been able to build food empires high and low, generally taking control of this sovereign sector.

On my morning walk a few days ago, I had an informative conversation with a Chinese senior citizen named Mr Chin. Yes, a real Mr Chin. He told me that in the early years of shopkeeping, the profit margin was very low. The British colonisers controlled the import trade. Mr Chin said that on a case of condensed milk, for example, the profit was one tin! But things have certainly changed. The trade in imported food is a highly profitable business.


There’s a new wave of Chinese immigrants in Jamaica who are certainly not indentured labourers. They are our new colonisers. Mr Chin told me that these recent arrivals even have contempt for the earlier Chinese immigrants. The new Chinese claim that the old Chinese are unpatriotic because they did not return to China after indentureship. And these arrogant new Chinese have a sense of entitlement that is alarming.

images-1I recently heard that a long-time resident of Hope Pastures was driving home when he was stopped by the police for a spot check. He was told that the Chinese had been complaining about strange people driving through Hope Pastures. A lot of new Chinese have been buying houses there. I have no issue with that. But to assume that black people are trespassers in their own community is pure impudence.

Even worse, in supposedly independent Jamaica, politicians are selling off the birthright of the people to our new colonisers. If we’re not careful, they will soon own the best of this country. Unscrupulous politicians are now behind the counter. And the new Chinese are the customers. They’re not buying salt fish, mackerel, rice, flour and cornmeal.

They want the Goat Islands and Roaring River and Cockpit Country. And the politicians are ‘trusting’ away our heritage. In the old-time Chinese shops, there would be a spike on which the names and goods of ‘trusters’ would be placed. I don’t suppose our politicians are even keeping any records. It’s a straight sell-out.

Getting ‘Bun’ In the Chinese Grocery


Confucius Institute, UWI, Mona

The Confucius Institute at the University of the West Indies, Mona, hosted its first conference in June. The theme was ‘Dragons in the Archipelago – the Chinese-Caribbean Experience’. This ‘experience’ wasn’t just about the Chinese. It also included their encounters with other racial groups in the Caribbean.

The history of the relationship between Africans and Chinese in Jamaica is quite troubling. And it’s all the fault of the British. In those long ago days when Britannia ruled the waves, the British assumed the right to move people across the seas as they saw fit. Chinese were exported to the Caribbean as indentured workers in the 19th century.

Dr Victor Chang, a retired senior lecturer who taught literature at the University of the West Indies, Mona, gave an excellent talk on the Chinese riots that took place in Jamaica almost a century ago. Dr Chang quoted an excerpt from Colonial Office correspondence between Attorney General Gloster and Marryat, sent from Trinidad and dated April 3, 1807.

Writing about the immigration of Chinese workers into Trinidad, Gloster states: “For my part, I think it is one of the best schemes; and if followed up with larger importation, and with women, that it will give this colony a strength far beyond what the other colonies possess. It will be a barrier between us and the negroes, with whom they do not associate; and consequently to whom they will always offer a formidable opposition.”


imagesSo it was a set-up from the very beginning. The newly arrived Chinese were supposed to be permanently at war with black people. But what shortsighted cynics like Gloster did not anticipate is the fact that some barriers can be easily overturned, given the right motivation. The sex drive is a powerful social leveller.

The 1918 Chinese riots in Jamaica were a direct result of the lack of Chinese women. Dr Chang quotes the account of events given by the Jamaican historian Howard Johnson: “Fong Sue, the Chinese grocer, had left his shop on Sunday, 7 July, in charge of his paramour, a Creole woman, Caroline Lindo. He was not expected to return that night.

“Acting Corporal McDonald, who was in charge of the Ewarton Police Station, took advantage of Fong Sue’s absence to sleep with his paramour. Fong Sue returned that same night unexpectedly, at about 11 o’clock, to find McDonald in an intimate embrace with Lindo and, as one contemporary police report delicately noted, ‘in plain clothes’.

“McDonald was given a beating by Fong Sue, with the help of a few Chinese friends, and then made good his escape. He did not return to the police station but remained hidden in the bushes for two days. He eventually reappeared at the police station on the night of Tuesday, 9 July, to resume his duties.”

In less academic language: Fong Sue get bun inna im owna shop. And I wonder about Miss Lindo. Was she just using Fong Sue to get a regular supply of groceries? Trading salt fish for salt fish! And as for acting Corporal McDonald! He seemed to be doing a very good job of acting for Fong Sue. Until Fong Sue, acting like a real Jamaican, beat up his you know what.

I doubt very much that McDonald was wearing plain clothes when he was surprised by Fong Sue. Most likely, he wasn’t wearing any clothes at all. And he certainly wasn’t on official duty – unless Ms Lindo had summoned him to report a robbery in progress. Or to offer herself to be carried away!


So how did this unfortunate episode of Fong Sue getting bun turn into a race riot? Both men and women get bun in Jamaica all the time. Yu either tek yu lickle bun and eat it quietly. Or yu mek up whole heap of noise an carry on bad. But it doesn’t become national news. Unless yu head tek yu an yu decide to act like a mad man or woman and commit murder.

HappySabbathFaceSo what made this particular bun so hot? Well, a rumour started that acting Corporal McDonald had actually been murdered by Fong Sue. And The Gleaner is partly to blame. Dr Chang reports that, “The Gleaner of July 8 provides a more sinister and innuendo-filled account which ignores the sexual aspect altogether.”

Chang elaborates: “It claims that McDonald, ‘on whom a savage act is alleged to have been committed by the Chinese, is now missing … a decent, intelligent young man, and a strict disciplinarian had spoken to the Chinese about violating the law of the land by selling on the Sabbath’.” So Fong Sue is now a villain, not a victim.

How does an allegedly ‘strict disciplinarian’ like acting Corporal McDonald end up in Fong Sue’s shop at 11 p.m. locked down with Ms Lindo? And what’s the mysterious ‘savage act’ that Fong Sue is supposed to have perpetrated? It was rumoured that he had pickled McDonald, possibly for sale as salt meat.

That’s the kind of idiocy that results from using people as barriers. Ignorance breeds distrust and starts riots. Even after McDonald turned up very much alive, if not well, the rioting continued and spread across four parishes! Chinese shops were burnt to the ground. A very high price to pay for one ‘bun’!

Patwa Gold Chain Inna Fashion Show

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.


It sweet mi so til! Patwa step up inna life an a bling pon gold chain. Di Friday night a Caribbean Fashion Week (CFW), mi buck up one journalist mi know long time. Im name Rob Kenner an im fly een from New York fi CFW. Im run an im av one TV show pon Youtube an one Internet radio show. Im deh all bout.

Rob did a wear one chain hitch on pon one piece a plastic. Mi aks im a wa dat. Wen mi look good mi see seh di plastic did cut out fi show writin. An guess weh it a seh? TUN UP. Rob tell mi seh a one a im fren mek di chain an she deh pon di fashion show dat deh night. Im ha fi represent.

ReshmaB-chains-CFW2015-selfie-BOOMSHOTSDi designer name Reshma B. She a music journalist an she call herself Reggae Girl About Town (RGAT). Fi her website a bawl out. Reshma born a London an from she a pikni she a listen reggae music. An she love Jamaica culture an fi wi language. One a di first gold chain she mek a REGGAE GAL.

Everywhere Reshma go, people a aks ar bout di chain dem. So she mek up her mind fi launch di line last year an she call it Reshma B chains. Rob do one interview wid her weh come out inna April inna Vibe magazine. Hear weh she seh: “I’m inspired by the street slang in my travels from London to Brooklyn to Kingston”.

Some a di Jamaican liriks pon di chain dem a DASH OUT, BRUCK OUT, SLAP WEH, BENZ PUNANY an MAAD. Some a di other word dem a TRILL, WAVY, FADED, RATCHET, SWAG an NANG. An Reshma just put out some new chain wid so-so ganja leaf.


Out a di whole a di chain dem, di one weh sell off nof nof a WAH GWAN. Mi did ha fi tell Reshma seh WAH GWAN no spell right. She lef off one a di A inna GWAAN. An she shuda put one next A inna di miggle a WAH an GWAAN. Dat naa stop di chain dem from sell.

An wen mi tink bout it, mi see seh same way wi fix up English fi suit wi, a di said same way English people a fix up fi wi language fi suit dem. Dem a chat patwa wid English accent. So ‘wa a gwaan’ turn inna ‘wa gwan’. An wi dis ha fi lou dem. Wi cyaan chain up fi wi language. It change up wen it go a foreign. Same like reggae music.

chain2Reshma B du special chain fi all kind a cebrelity. Popcaan did love WAH GWAN chruu Worl Boss did av one liriks weh im aks, “Wa a gwaan Papcaan?” So im link Reshma an she mek a chain fi im an im Unruly Crew: TR8. Dat stan fi “Straight”. Popcaan seh, “Real thugs never figet di dump land or weh we come fram”.

An lickle before Reshma come a Caribbean Fashion Week, she mek up one special order fi Madonna fi ar “Rebel Heart” tour. Seet deh! Mi av nof rispek fi Reshma B. Shi done know bout ‘total fashion’, as mi breda, Kingsley, seh inna di ad fi CFW.

An talking bout cebrelity, all a unu weh did read mi column two week aback, “Celebrity Wedding at UWI Chapel”, an did a aks mi fi picture a Erica Reid an Nardo Currie, unu better buy Gleaner. Dem inna Flair magazine. TUN UP!


It swiit mi so til! Patwa step op ina laif an a bling pan guol chien. Di Fraide nait a Caribbean Fashion Week (CFW), mi bok op wan jornalis mi nuo lang taim. Im niem Rob Kenner an im flai iin fram New York fi CFW. Im ron an im av wan TV shuo pan Yuuchuub an wan Intanet riedyo shuo. Im de aal bout.

Rob did a wier wan chien ich aan pan wan piis a plastik. Mi aks im a wa dat. Wen mi luk gud mi si se di plastik did kot out fi shuo raitn. An ges we it a se? TUN UP. Rob tel mi se a wan a im fren mek di chien an shi de pan di fashan shuo dat de nait. Im a fi reprizent.

ReshmaB-chains-CFW2015-13Di dizaina niem Reshma B. Shi a myuuzik jornalis an shi kaal arself Reggae Girl About Town (RGAT). Fi ar websait a baal out. Reshma baan a London an fram shi a pikni shi a lisn rege myuuzik. An shi lov Jamieka kolcha an fi wi langgwij. Wan a di fos guol chien shi mek a REGGAE GAL.

Evri we Reshma go, piipl a aks ar bout di chien dem. So shi mek op ar main fi laanch di lain laas ier an shi kaal it Reshma B chains. Rob du wan intavyuu wid ar we kom out ina Iepril ina Vibe magazine. Ier we shi se: “I’m inspired by the street slang in my travels from London to Brooklyn to Kingston”.

Som a di Jamaican liriks pan di chien dem a DASH OUT, BRUCK OUT, SLAP WEH, BENZ PUNANY an MAAD. Som a di ada word dem a TRILL, WAVY, FADED, RATCHET, SWAG an NANG. An Reshma jos put out som nyuu chien wid suoso gyanja liif.


Out a di uol a di chien dem, di wan we sel aaf nof nof a WAH GWAN. Mi did ha fi tel Reshma se WAH GWAN no spel rait. Shi lef aaf wan a di A ina GWAAN. An shi shuda put wan neks A ina di migl a WAH an GWAAN. Dat naa stap di chien dem fram sel.

reggae_RGATCHAINSwahgwanbigsmall1An wen mi tink bout it, mi si se siem wie wi fiks op Ingglish fi suut wi, a di sed siem wie Ingglish piipl a fiks op fi wi langgwij fi suut dem. Dem a chat patwa wid Ingglish aksent. So ‘wa a gwaan’ ton ina ‘wa gwan’. An wi dis a fi lou dem. Wi kyaahn chien op fi wi langgwij. It chienj op wen it go a farin. Siem laik rege myuuzik.

Reshma B du speshal chien fi aal kain a sibreliti. Popcaan did lov WAH GWAN chruu Worl Boss did av wan liriks we im aks, “Wa a gwaan Popcaan?” So im link Reshma an shi mek a chien fi im an im Unruly Crew: TR8. Dat stan fi “Straight”. Popcaan se, “Riil tugz neva figet di domp lan ar we wi kom fram”.

An likl bifuor Reshma kom a Caribbean Fashion Week, shi mek op wan speshal aada fi Madonna fi ar “Rebel Heart” tour. Siit de! Mi av nof rispek fi Reshma B. Shi don nuo bout ‘total fashion’, az mi breda, Kingsley, se ina di ad fi CFW.

An taakin bout sibreliti, aal a unu we did riid mi kalam tuu wiik abak, “Celebrity Wedding at UWI Chapel”, an did a aks mi fi pikcha a Erica Reid an Nardo Currie, unu beta bai Gleaner. Dem ina Flair magaziin. TUN UP!


I was really amused.  Patwa has gone upmarket and is blinging on gold chains. The Friday night of Caribbean Fashion Week (CFW), I ran into a journalist I’ve known for quite some time. He’s Rob Kenner and he flew in from New York for CFW. He runs and he has a TV show on Youtube and an Internet radio show. So he’s large.

Rob was wearing a chain with a bit of plastic attached. I asked him about it. When I looked closely, I saw letters cut out of the plastic.   And guess what the word was? TUN UP. Rob told me that one of his friends had made the chain and she was on the fashion show that night. He had to represent.

11094513_953402994711747_1889982551_nThe designer was Reshma B. She’s a music journalist who goes by the name Reggae Girl About Town (RGAT).  Her website is hot. Reshma was born in London and she became a reggae fan quite early.   She loves Jamaican culture and our language.

Everywhere Reshma went, she was asked about the chains. So she decided to launch the line last year.  And she called it Reshma B chains. Rob did an interview with her that was published in April in Vibe magazine. Here’s what she said: “I’m inspired by the street slang in my travels from London to Brooklyn to Kingston”.

Some of the Jamaican expressions on the chains are DASH OUT, BRUCK OUT, SLAP WEH, BENZ PUNANY and MAAD.  There’s also TRILL, WAVY, FADED, RATCHET, SWAG and NANG. And Reshma just put out some new chains with a ganja leaf desgin.


OF all the chains, the bestseller is WAH GWAN.  I had to tell Reshma that WAH GWAN wasn’t spelt correctly.  An A was left out of GWAAN. And she should have put another one between WAH and GWAAN. That’s not affecting sales at all.

And when I thought about it, it struck me that just as we adapt English to suit ourselves, English people adapt our language to suit themselves in exactly the same way. They speak patwa with an English accent. So ‘wa a gwaan’ becomes ‘wa gwan’. And we just have to let it be. We can’t chain our language. It changes when it goes abroad. Just like reggae music.

MASSIV-PopUpShop-KGN-JA-Dec-18-2014-ReshmaB-Chains-URL-TopReshma B does custom chains for all sorts of celebrities. Popcaan loved WAH GWAN because Worl Boss had a song in which he asked, “Wa a gwaan Popcaan?” So he got in touch with Reshma and she made a chain for him and his Unruly Crew: TR8. That’s “Straight”. As Popcaan says, “Real thugs never figet di dump land or weh we come fram” [Real thugs never forget the dumped up land or where we come from].

And just before Reshma came to Caribbean Fashion Week, she did a special order for Madonna for her “Rebel Heart” tour. There you have it! I have a lot of respect for Reshma B. She understands ‘total fashion’, as my brother Kingsley, says in the ad for CFW.

And talking about celebrities, all of you who read my post, “Celebrity Wedding at UWI Chapel”, and were asking for pictures of Erica Reid and Nardo Currie, you must buy the Gleaner. They’re in Flair magazine. TUN UP