Tek Di Obeah Offa St. Thomas!

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.

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CHAKA-CHAKA SPELLING

51IMF01L6bL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_A long time now wi a call St Thomas ‘di obeah parish’. An obeah a no good sinting. Hear wa Dictionary of Jamaican English seh bout obeah: “The practice of malignant magic as widely known in Jamaica. Its origins are African.” An ‘malignant’ no pretty. It come from one Latin word weh mean ‘malicious’. Keep up malice. Bad mind an grudgeful. So a dat wi tink bout all a di people dem from St Thomas?

By di way, a long time now Cambridge University Press put out dat deh Jamaican English dictionary. Inna 1967! An fi wi owna University of the West Indies Press buy di right fi sell it. From 2006. An all now, plenty a wi no know bout di dictionary. A fi who fa fault? Ministry of Education. Ministry suposen fi put dat deh book eena every school library eena di whole a Jamaica. Di pikni dem fi learn bout dem language.

Den di title a di dictionary a bait an switch. A no directly English it a deal wid. A fi wi Jamaican language. But dem deh time when Frederic Cassidy an Robert LePage did a write di dictionary, it did suit dem fi call fi wi language ‘Jamaican English’. Like seh fi wi language a one dialect a English. Wa dem did waan show a how wi change up English eena Jamaica.

But plenty a di word dem eena di dictionary a no English at all, at all. Tek, for instance, ‘obeah’. Dictionary of Jamaican English tell wi seh it come from ‘ubio’. Dat a Efik, wan African language. An a di said same bad meaning: “a thing or mixture of things, put in the ground, as a charm to cause sickness or death”. Dat wicked fi true. But dat a no di whole a di story. Di odder side a obeah a myal. An a dat tek off di obeah. Same like how di blood a Jesus save from sin! Mi know seh plenty Christian naa go like hear dat. But a true.

KUMINA SPIRIT

So a how St Thomas turn eena di obeah parish? An no figet myal! After Emancipation, bout 10,000 African did come a Jamaica fi work. Same like di Indian an di Chiney people dem. An dem did go live a St Thomas. Dem did come from Central Africa an dem bring fi dem culture. An dem keep it up. All like kumina.

518R3CSPW3L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Professor Maureen Warner-Lewis from Trinidad did teach a University of the West Indies, Mona, fi more than 30 year. She write one book, Central Africa In the Caribbean. An one a di subject she study a kumina. An she interview one kumina queen, Miss Queenie, bout myal. Hear wa Miss Queenie seh:

“Myal is de ting dey call a spirit where you’ head ‘pin roun’ an you drop an’ you ‘kin pupalick ‘pon you neck, you see? Dat a myal spirit. Dat a bongo myal spirit which all de hol’ African dem – de dead African dem dem come roun’ an’ dem lick you all a’ you’ headside an’ ride you ‘pon you’ neck an’ you drop. You see? Dat dere mean to say myal hol’ you now.”

So a di myal spirit deh pon St Thomas mek plenty a wi tink seh di parish backward. An wi naa see seh St Thomas a one pretty-pretty parish. So much development a gwaan a west. An wi naa look east. A time wi open wi yai an see di good-good myal spirit eena St Thomas.

PRAPA-PRAPA SPELIN

A lang taim nou wi a kaal St Thomas ‘di uobiya parish’. An uobiya a no gud sinting. Ier wa Dictionary of Jamaican English se bout uobiya: “The practice of malignant magic as widely known in Jamaica. Its origins are African.” An ‘malignant’ no priti. It kom fram wan Latin wod we miin ‘malicious’. Kip op malis. Bad main an grojful. So a dat wi tingk bout aal a di piipl dem fram St Thomas?

Bai di wie, a lang taim nou Cambridge University Press put out dat de Jamaican English dikshaneri. Ina 1967! An fi wi uona University of the West Indies Press bai di rait fi sel it. From 2006. An aal nou, plenti a wi no nuo bout di dikshaneri. A fi huu fa faalt? Ministry of Education. Ministry supuozen fi put dat de buk iina evri skuul laibri iina di uol a Jamieka. Di pikni dem fi laan bout dem langgwij.

Den di taikl a di dikshaneri a biet an swich. A no dairekli Ingglish it a diil wid. A fi wi Jamiekan langgwij. Bot dem de taim wen Frederic Cassidy an Robert LePage did a rait di dikshaneri, it did suut dem fi kaal fi wi langgwij ‘Jamaican English’. Laik se fi wi langgwij a wan daiyalek a Ingglish. Wa dem did waahn shuo a ou wi chienj op Ingglish iina Jamieka.

Bot plenti a di wod dem iina di dikshaneri a no Ingglish at aal, at aal. Tek, far instans, ‘uobiya’. Dictionary of Jamaican English tel wi se it kom fram ‘ubio’. Dat a Efik, wan Afrikan langgwij. An a di sed siem bad miinin: “a thing or mixture of things, put in the ground, as a charm to cause sickness or death”. Dat wikid fi chruu. Bot dat a no di uol a di stuori. Di ada said a uobiya a maiyal. An a dat tek aaf di uobiya. Siem laik ou di blod a Jesus siev fram sin! Mi nuo se plenti Chrischan naa go laik ier dat. Bot a chruu.

KUMINA SPIRIT

So a ou St Thomas ton iina di uobiya parish? An no figet maiyal! Aafta Imansipieshan, bout ten tousan Afrikan did kom a Jamieka fi wok. Siem laik di Indiyan an di Chaini piipl dem. An dem did go liv a St Thomas. Dem did kom fram Sentral Afrika an dem bring fi dem kolcha. An dem kip it op. Aal laik kumina.

kuminab20060330STProfessor Maureen Warner-Lewis fram Chrinidad did tiich a University of the West Indies, Mona, fi muor dan torti ier. Shi rait wan buk, Central Africa In the Caribbean. An wan a di sobjek shi stodi a kumina. An shi intavyuu wan kumina kwiin, Miss Queenie, bout maiyal. Ier wa Miss Queenie se:

“Myal is de ting dey call a spirit where you’ head ‘pin roun’ an you drop an’ you ‘kin pupalick ‘pon you neck, you see? Dat a myal spirit. Dat a bongo myal spirit which all de hol’ African dem – de dead African dem dem come roun’ an’ dem lick you all a’ you’ headside an’ ride you ‘pon you’ neck an’ you drop. You see? Dat dere mean to say myal hol’ you now.”

So a di maiyal spirit de pan St Thomas mek plenti a wi tingk se di parish bakwod. An wi naa si se St Thomas a wan priti-priti parish. So moch divelopment a gwaahn a wes. An wi naa luk iis. A taim wi uopn wi yai an si di gud-gud maiyal spirit iina St Thomas.

ENGLISH TRANSLATION

For quite a long time, we’ve been calling St Thomas ‘the obeah parish’. And that’s no compliment. This is how the Dictionary of Jamaican English defines obeah: “The practice of malignant magic as widely known in Jamaica. Its origins are African.” And ‘malignant’ is no better. It comes from a Latin word meaning ‘malicious’. Keeping malice.  Envious and grudgeful. So that’s what we  think bout all of the people from St Thomas?

By the way, Cambridge University Press published that Jamaican English dictionary a long time ago. In 1967! And our own University of the West Indies Press bought the rights to republish it. From 2006. And even now, a lot of us don’t know about the dictionary. And whose fault is that? The Ministry of Education. The Ministry should put that book in every school library in all of Jamaica. Children need to learn bout their language.

Then the title of the dictionary is deceptive. It doesn’t focus on English. It’s actually the Jamaican language. But at the time that Frederic Cassidy and Robert LePage were writing the dictionary, it made sense to think of the language as ‘Jamaican English’. As if our language was a dialect of English. What they wanted to show is the way we’ve adapted English in Jamaica.

But a lot of the words in the dictionary aren’t English at all. Take, for instance, ‘obeah’. The Dictionary of Jamaican English notes that it comes from ‘ubio’. That’s Efik, an African language. And it has the very same negative meaning: “a thing or mixture of things, put in the ground, as a charm to cause sickness or death”. That’s really evil. But that’s not the whole story. The other side of obeah is myal. That takes off the curse of obeah. Just as the blood of Jesus saves from sin! I know a lot of Christians won’t appreciate the comparison. But it’s valid.

KUMINA SPIRIT

So how did St Thomas become the obeah parish? And don’t forget myal! After Emancipation, about 10,000 African came to Jamaica to work. Just like the South Asians and the Chinese. And they settled in St Thomas. They came from Central Africa and brought their culture. And they preserved it. For example, kumina.

Professor Maureen Warner-Lewis, from Trinidad, taught at the University of the West Indies, Mona, for more than 30 years. She wrote a book, Central Africa In the Caribbean, and one of the subjects she covered was  kumina. She interviewed a kumina queen, Miss Queenie, about myal. Here’s what Miss Queenie said:

“Myal is de ting dey call a spirit where you’ head ‘pin roun’ an you drop an’ you ‘kin pupalick ‘pon you neck, you see? Dat a myal spirit. Dat a bongo myal spirit which all de hol’ African dem – de dead African dem dem come roun’ an’ dem lick you all a’ you’ headside an’ ride you ‘pon you’ neck an’ you drop. You see? Dat dere mean to say myal hol’ you now.”

[Myal is a spiritual thing. Your head spins and you fall to the ground and you do somersaults, you see? That’s the myal spirit.  The bongo myal spirit of the African ancestors who surround you and hit you in your head and ride you and you fall.  You see?
That means that myal holds you now]

So it’s the myal spirit that’s on St Thomas that makes a lot of us think that the parish is backward. And we’re not seeing that St Thomas is a beautiful parish. So much development is taking place to the west. And we’re not looking to the east. It’s time we open our eyes and see the positive myal spirit in St Thomas.

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