There appears to be a ceasefire in the war of words between Prime Minister Andrew Holness and Maroon Chief Richard Currie. The conflict escalated in January. At his infamous ‘Argument Done’ press briefing, Holness angrily shut down Andre Wright, news editor for The Gleaner, who dared to ask these questions: “Did, did the Government seek legal advice on its decision to disengage with so-called sovereign Maroons and would the Government not be derelict in refusing to finance projects in any such territories? And a companion question is, ahm, whether the Government, ahm, finds it embarrassing that it seems that different arms of the state, that’s the police and ODPEM, as we found out . . . gave approval to the hosting of the Maroon celebrations.”
Holness failed to answer all the questions. Instead, he aggressively questioned Wright’s sanity: “Are you crazy? Really! Do you know what you’re asking?” And he emphatically declared war: “Jamaica is a unitary sovereign state. There is no other sovereign authority in Jamaica other than the Government of Jamaica. I want that to be absolutely clear. None! And under my leadership, not one inch of Jamaica will come under any other sovereign authority.” Holness’ militant declaration could be interpreted to mean that under another leadership, whether from within his own Jamaica Labour Party or the People’s National Party, the matter of Maroon sovereignty could be placed on the national agenda. But that did not appear to be his intent.
In an Instagram video, Chief Currie immediately shot back with a lovely throw word: “We would like to remind you of a few things. Jamaica is not a unitary state. Elizabeth II of House of Windsor is your Queen and Sovereign. Jamaica is simply fully responsible in Elizabeth’s Commonwealth. Two: You are a signatory to the United Nation[s] Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. Please go read this. You are an intelligent man. Jamaica has an extensive external debt and is constantly begging. So you rely on other sovereign nations. In other words, you are receiving funding from others. So please consider human and indigenous rights before you end up defunded as well. Number four: Jamaica, as a government entity, begged for its independence, whereas the Maroons waged war for 83 years.”
Both Holness and Currie appear to be exhibiting symptoms of testosterone poisoning. This is a disease that was exposed by the American actor Alan Alda. In October 1975, Ms magazine published his amusing essay, “What Every Woman Should Know About Men.” He argued that, “Everyone knows that testosterone, the so-called male hormone, is found in both men and women. What is not so well known, is that men have an overdose . . . . Until recently it has been thought that the level of testosterone in men is normal simply because they have it. But if you consider how abnormal their behavior is, then you are led to the hypothesis that almost all men are suffering from testosterone poisoning.”
It was the 15th century Swiss alchemist and physician Paracelsus who said: “All substances are poisons; there is none that is not a poison. The right dose differentiates a poison from a remedy.” Alda identified seven warning signs of the disease caused by an excessively high dose of testosterone:
“Do you have an intense need to win? When having sex, do you take pride in always finishing before your partner?
Does violence play a big part in your life?
Are you ‘thing’ oriented?
Do you have an intense need to reduce every difficult situation to charts and figures?
Do you tend to measure things that are really qualitative?
Are you a little too mechanically minded?
Are you easily triggered into competition?”
The example Alda gives of the need to win clearly confirms that he’s joking. The victim of testosterone poisoning who always finishes first always ends up last in his sexual partner’s estimation. The related concept, toxic masculinity, is no laughing matter for the psychologist Shepherd Bliss who coined the term. He used it to describe the combative behaviour of his authoritarian father and so many other dysfunctional men.
ART OF CAMOUFLAGE
Both Holness and Currie need to acknowledge the fact that hostility is not the appropriate response to the complex matter of Maroon sovereignty. Dialogue is essential. It is most unfortunate that Holness chose to exclude Currie from his recent consultation with Maroon chiefs. The prime minister may have intended to diminish Currie’s influence. In effect, he only proved how powerful this Maroon Chief is. It appears as if Holness was afraid to confront Currie. One of the consequences of testosterone poisoning is that it affects your judgment and provokes irrational decisions.
In his rebuke of Andre Wright, the prime minister claimed that even a question about Maroon sovereignty is “the stuff of how guerrilla wars come and states break down.” This is a lovely irony. Holness appears to have forgotten that it was precisely through guerrilla warfare that the Maroons defeated the British and established their claim to sovereignty. Currie also needs to remember the lessons of the past. He must reclaim the art of camouflage that was perfected by his ancestors in the war against the British. Subterfuge is often a much more effective weapon than open confrontation.
The Government of Jamaica and the leadership of the Maroons need to establish a crucial distinction between literal and symbolic sovereignty. The Maroons must ensure that their claim to territory is protected by the Jamaican constitution. This is the most vital element of their literal sovereignty. Without land, there is nothing to govern. The Maroons must also recognise that symbolic sovereignty and cultural capital are absolutely valuable. Long before the Haitian Revolution, Jamaican Maroons fought for freedom. And won! Their claim to sovereignty of the mind and spirit is undeniable.
But the antagonistic rhetoric of literal sovereignty is counterproductive. Currie needs to stop baiting Holness. In his provocative Instagram post, he gleefully declared that Jamaica is not all that sovereign. Currie does not seem to recognise that this is exactly why a small village in Jamaica cannot reasonably claim absolute political sovereignty, given its own dependence on a rather vulnerable nation-state. And Holness must concede that under his administration the issue of Maroon sovereignty cannot be dismissed with angry words. Both the prime minister and the Maroon chief should know that cock mouth kill cock. As does testosterone poisoning!