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 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.



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Looking For Mr Wrong

rockfort5Over the last four months, I’ve been going to the Rockfort mineral bath almost every week. I decided this was excellent therapy for my unconfirmed chik-V. I’d been advised not to lift weights because of the stress on the joints. So exercising in the mineral water was my way of compensating for missing the gym.

The $300 entry fee for senior citizens is a bargain. It gives you 45 minutes in the pool. When I asked about the time limit, I was told that the Ministry of Health had recommended the restriction because of the potency of the minerals. I have absolutely no confidence in the facts and figures coming out of that ministry. So I usually take some ‘brawta’ minutes. I have to drag myself out of the pool.

The mineral bath is an underused resource. It’s next door to the cement factory, so I know that’s an issue. The risk of industrial pollution puts people off. Sometimes, I’m the only person in the pool. But I think the benefits of the mineral water outweigh the risk of inhaling cement dust. And since it’s the Caribbean Cement Company that’s maintaining the bath, one does have to take the sour with the sweet.

One of the lifeguards encouraged me to write about the healing power of the mineral water so more patrons would come. I selfishly felt conflicted. I really wouldn’t want to be in the pool at its full capacity of 50 persons. One week, as I drove into the parking lot, I heard the screams of children on a school outing enjoying themselves. I didn’t even make it to 20 minutes that day. I just couldn’t take the noise.

There are private baths, but these have not been open for quite a while. I gather that they are to be refurbished soon. The last time I used the private baths, several years ago, I was disappointed to see how rundown they had become. So I’m not surprised they’ve been closed.


I certainly missed my soothing mineral bath while I was away. I had gone to King’s College, University of London, to have a public conversation with the Martinican zouk singer Jocelyne Beroard of the band Kassav. We spoke about Caribbean popular music and dance. And we expressed our love for the Creole languages that have been created in the region.

Kassav is the French Creole word for cassava. The band chose that name to signify nutritious local food which, like music, nurtures body and spirit. And they sing in Creole to affirm the value of the language. It’s a political issue – reclaiming the power of our shared African heritage.

Billed as a ‘Moving Conversation’, the event was part of the ‘Modern Moves’ research project directed by Prof Ananya Kabir of the Department of English. This energetic project tracks the movement of African rhythms across the cultures of the diaspora.


The very first morning I came home, I made a move to the mineral bath. I needed to thaw out from the London cold and the Paris tragedy. I was waiting at the intersection of Windward Road and Michael Manley Boulevard to merge with traffic on the highway when a youngish male driver hit my car in the rear.

We both got out of our cars and our conversation went something like this. He asked me, “So what we going to do?” And I said, “How you mean? We going to exchange information.” I suggested that he pull in behind me out of the traffic. He said there wasn’t enough room so he would park ahead of me. Well, you know what happened. Mr Wrong took off at such a speed I’m surprised he didn’t crash.

All I could do was laugh. It was completely ridiculous. And I did understand why Mr Wrong made a dash for it. He took one look at my relatively new car and decided he was not going to take any responsibility for fixing it. He probably didn’t even have a driver’s licence, much more insurance. It made no sense to run him down. Looking for Mr Wrong would be a complete waste of time.


There are so many of these incidents every single day. Hit-and-run driving is a common offence. We really have to do something extraordinary to bring order to the chaos on the roads. Taxi men are a special case. I have seen a taxi man in the right-turn lane move to the left, across two lanes of traffic, and turn left just as the light is changing! Driving is clearly a daredevil sport.

LiteracySignI’m convinced that a high percentage of drivers are not literate and so they haven’t read the road code. And even those who are literate do not seem to understand the language of the code. And if they do understand, they are certainly not obeying the rules. I think the minister of transport and works needs to commission the Jamaican Language Unit at the University of the West Indies, Mona to produce an oral version of the road code translated into the heart language of the Jamaican people.

Until we get drivers to ‘feel’ the meaning of the road code, we are not going to get compliance with the rules. But, I suppose, some of us would rather die on the road than acknowledge the power of the Jamaican language to influence behaviour. That’s a high price to pay for downright ignorance.

Protecting Tourism At What Price?


Dr. Fenton Ferguson

As late as last Monday, Dr Fenton Ferguson was still claiming that there were only 35 ‘confirmed’ cases of chik-V in all of Jamaica. If the goodly dentist has a public-health inspector to spare, I can prove that a full 25 per cent of these cases are concentrated in just two roads in my neighbourhood!

I have chik-V. My neighbours to my right and left and up the road are also afflicted. That’s four of us. And down the adjacent road, there are at least another five cases. So that makes nine out of 35. And that’s just the ones I know about. Of course, the big trick is ‘confirmed’. We are not ‘confirmed’ cases. We have the symptoms, but that doesn’t matter.

As far as the Ministry of Health is concerned, if you haven’t done a blood test, you and your doctor are just guessing. It could be chik-V, dengue or some mysterious combination thereof. You just can’t be sure. That’s why Dr Ferguson could have kept on pretending for so long that there are only 35 ‘confirmed’ cases of chik-V in all 14 parishes! It’s just a word game.


brandmarkLast Tuesday, I decided I’d had enough of the guessing and spelling. So I told my doctor I needed to do the test. I wanted to be ‘confirmed’, or not, as the case may be. She sent me to Caribbean Genetics (Carigen) located in the brand new building that houses the Faculty of Medical Sciences at the University of the West Indies.

Carigen is on the fourth floor and the main elevators were not working. Already? Why aren’t the elevators being maintained, I wondered. But I was there for a blood test. I was not a professional building inspector. I decided to mind my own business. All the same, I felt uneasy. This was not a good sign.

As a victim of unconfirmed chik-V, I was not prepared to take the stairs all the way up to the fourth floor. Fortunately, the service elevator in the back was working. When I got to Carigen and presented the form for the blood test, I was informed by the receptionist that the test could not be done. There were no reagents in stock. And she did not know when they would be coming in.

She said they could still take the blood sample and the test would be done when the reagents were available. I declined the offer. I had no confidence in tests done on ‘stale’ blood. Of course, this must have been the ‘unconfirmed’ chik-V talking. My response was completely unscientific. In other circumstances, I would have readily taken the receptionist’s word for it: refrigerated blood could remain perfectly fresh for quite a while.

But, in my state of frustration, I was quite prepared to diss science in favour of instinct. And, in any case, my response was no more irrational than Minister Ferguson’s insistence for so long that there were only 35 ‘confirmed’ cases of chik-V in Jamaica. As if that was the whole truth of the matter.


jamaica_tourist_boardI’m not surprised that the minister of health finally confessed last week that he’s been concerned about the impact of chik-V on the tourist industry. That now seems to be the primary explanation for why the number of ‘confirmed’ cases of the disease is so low. Of course, the unavailability of reagents for testing is another factor.

I completely understand Dr Ferguson’s anxiety about scaring off visitors with chik-V. After all, tourism is our bread and butter. But I think he’s underestimating the bravery of potential tourists. One of my neighbours with chik-V told me last week that she was expecting relatives from the UK to come on holiday. She warned them about the virus and suggested that they postpone their trip.

They called their hotel and were reassured that there was no problem. And they’re here, having a very good time. For them, the sting of unpredictable English weather is a confirmed fact. Much more certain than the risk of being bitten by a bad-mind mosquito!

I think the minister of tourism and entertainment should launch an innovative chik-V campaign. On departure, each visitor should be given a farewell gift: a badge of bravery that reads, ‘I survived chik-V in Jamaica’. It could become quite a fashion statement. A whole new meaning of ‘chic’!

lying-410x273Seriously, though, the minister of health needs to be far less concerned about tourists and much more worried about the people of Jamaica. The Government has a much bigger problem than chik-V. And, by the way, the Opposition is an essential part of government. Most Jamaicans simply don’t trust the word of politicians.

The health ministry’s concealment of the truth about the spread of chik-V is just another example of why most of us don’t take politicians seriously. Dem too lie! Half a truth is a complete lie. As one of my wicked friends said, if is one person she waan fi get chik-V is Dr Fenton Ferguson. Then him will know fa sure. There are definitely more than 35 confirmed cases of the disease in Jamaica. If is only one more!

Black Protest Shuts Down London Human Zoo

Hottentot_Venus_PosterBelieve it or not, in this day and age, Europe’s largest multi-arts centre, The Barbican, planned to stage last week a human zoo, featuring black bodies caught in degrading poses! The installation is the perverse work of a white South African, Brett Bailey.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, black bodies were put in cages and exhibited in human zoos in Europe and America purely for the pleasure of beastly white people. One of the most famous of these exhibits was the South African, Sarah Bartman, known as the Hottentot Venus.

Hottentot, now a derogatory term for the Khoi people, was joined with Venus, the Roman goddess of love, to show just how ridiculous it was to think of this black woman’s body as beautiful. Funnily enough, her substantial buttocks and breasts were being mocked at a time when white women were pumping up their bumper with nuff padding. Was it plain old envy that made Sarah Bartman so fascinating?

The first of the five images from the show on the Barbican’s website features a man trapped in a metal headpiece that covers his chin and mouth, all the way up to his nostrils. The brace has metal strips that circle his neck and then go up the side of his face, presumably meeting above his head.

This brace is one of the brutal instruments of torture used to discipline enslaved Africans on the continent and throughout the Americas. In the view of the barbaric curators at the Barbican, this dehumanising image is art!


London-Barbican-art-gallery-racism-396837Black people in the UK went ballistic. Sara Myers, a journalist who lives in Birmingham, launched a petition on change.org to close the exhibition. More than 23,000 people signed. In a statement on its website, the gallery takes no responsibility for provoking outrage. Instead, it blames protesters for not allowing themselves to be muzzled – like the black man on display:

“Last night as Exhibit B was opening at the Vaults, it became impossible for us to continue with the show because of the extreme nature of the protest and the serious threat to the safety of performers, audiences and staff. Given that protests are scheduled for future performances of Exhibit B, we have had no choice but to cancel all performances of the piece.

“We find it profoundly troubling that such methods have been used to silence artists and performers and that audiences have been denied the opportunity to see this important work. Exhibit B raises, in a serious and responsible manner, issues about racism; it has previously been shown in 12 cities, involved 150 performers and been seen by around 25,000 people with the responses from participants, audiences and critics alike being overwhelmingly positive.

“The Barbican has done everything we can to ensure London performances can go ahead – including continued dialogue with protesters and senior Barbican staff meeting with the leaders of the campaign and attending a public meeting to discuss the issues raised by the work. We respect people’s right to protest, but are disappointed that this was not done in a peaceful way as had been previously promised by campaigners.

“We believe this piece should be shown in London and are disturbed at the potential implications this silencing of artists and performers has for freedom of expression.”


Who is the ‘we’ that the curators at the Barbican speak for? Obviously, it is the artist, the eager audience willing to pay 20 pounds sterling to view the circus and the actors who prostituted themselves. Nitro, Britain’s oldest black theatre company, provided actors for the exhibition. In a blog post, ‘We’re casting for Exhibit B’, Nitro’s artistic director, Felix Cross, justifies his collaboration on the racist project:

“I believe strongly that the whole point of Exhibit B is to stare at a demon fully in the face, realise its ethical bankruptcy, question how far we have really moved on from then, and leave stronger, more knowledgeable and, yes, empowered.” I Perceptive black people knew they didn’t need to be reduced to spectacle in order to be ’empowered’. They raucously asserted their right to protest. They knew that the exhibition was racist. And even the artist acknowledged that he was reproducing old stereotypes.

0q_PVXG2NEuQqTidcH9beTYTi3E0-Vkqa5c1bGrbvQEBut the spin Brett Bailey puts on the old racism is that he’s actually trying to confront it. By bringing it back! It is this kind of logic that makes me uneasy about the whole ‘truth and reconciliation’ project that consumed South Africans in the aftermath of apartheid. There can be no reconciliation without repentance.

That a white South African feels entitled to reproduce humiliating images of black people and call it ‘art’ is a clear sign that the legacy of apartheid is alive and well. Brett Bailey’s human zoo does not challenge racism; it acts out abuse.

The black British graphic designer Jon Daniel contributed a series of brilliant ‘Barbican and Bailey’ posters to the protest. Taking the model of the Ringling Brothers & Barnum and Bailey circus ads for the greatest show on earth, Daniel wickedly satirised the exhibition: “Good old-fashioned European clownialism”; “A work of unparalleled prejudice masquerading as art”.

I couldn’t help thinking of those monstrous, naked figures outside Emancipation Park. Our version of the human zoo! It’s a pity we don’t seem to understand that this work of clownialism is a monument to the enduring legacy of racism in Jamaica.


Big Tingz A Gwaan Pon NewsTalk93FM


Frederic Cassidy

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.

UWI radio station a broadcast news big an broad inna ‘patwa’! Mi rather call fi wi language ‘Jamaican’. Same like how di English people dem talk English, a same so wi talk Jamaican. Mind yu, wi talk English, too. Dem force it on pon wi. An wi tek it fix-fix it up fi suit wi.

Dem old-time African weh di English people dem tek weh an bring ya, dem mix up di English language wid fi dem owna African language dem. An a so dem mek up one next language: Jamaican. An dem pass it down from generation to generation. It a wi heart language. A it wi talk wen trouble tek wi. An wen sinting sweet wi.

HEARD-EVERYWHERE-550x250A disya month NewsTalk93FM start broadcast news inna Jamaican. Monday to Friday inna di afternoon, 12:15 an 5:20. It a gwaan good-good. Nuff smaddy a listen an dem love it kyaahn done. An a no joke sinting. A real-real news. Serious ting.

A di Jamaican Language Unit a UWI response fi di news inna Jamaican. Professor Hubert Devonish a di head a di unit. Im study language an im write book bout it. A some a im student dem a work pon di news: Honica Brown, Peterkim Pusey, Tyane Robinson an Rexandrew Wright.

One a di big problem dem have fi write news inna Jamaican a fi find di rightful word fi di English. Tek for instance, ‘flexitime’. How yu a go seh dat inna Jamaican? ‘Work fi suit di boss?’ Same like how English capture nuff word from Latin an Greek, dem can dis tek over di word dem from English!


Mi tink it plenty better fi try find sinting inna Jamaican fi carry over weh yu waan fi seh from English. Long time now, mi did change over one a di Budget speech from English to Jamaican. Mi seh six out a 10 dollar a fi pay back money weh govament owe. An education get di biggest cut a di ‘wat lef’.

images-1Wen mi go a JIS fi record di programme, dem never like ‘wat lef’. Dem seh mi nah gi di news straight. A talk mi a talk mi mind. Mi a call down judgement pon govament. Dem rather mi seh ‘balance’. But ‘wat lef’ an ‘balance’ boil down same way. Nutten much no lef fi run di country!

Di Jamaican Language Unit have one next programme pon NewsTalk93FM: ‘Big Tingz A Gwaan’. An dem aks Tyane Robinson an mi fi run di show. Inna Jamaican. Wi talk wi mind bout news. An wi bring on guest. Wi do three programme already. It come on Thursday afternoon, 4:30.

Mek mi gi oonu lickle joke. Some a di uptown guest dem can’t chat Jamaican pon radio! A dem yard language. It kyaahn broadcast. Wat a sinting! Marcus Garvey done tell wi: A wi ha fi free wiself from mental slavery. Nobody kyaahn dweet fi wi. Wi head an wi heart ha fi start talk di said same language.


UWI riedyo stieshan a braadkyaas nyuuz big an braad iina ‘patwa’! Mi raada kaal fi wi langwij ‘Jamiekan’. Siem laik ou di Inglish piipl dem taak Inglish, a siem so wi taak Jamiekan. Main yu, wi taak Inglish tu. Dem fuors it aan pan wi. An wi tek it fiks-fiks it op fi suut wi.

Unknown-1Dem uol-taim Afrikan we di Inglish piipl dem tek we an bring ya, dem miks op di Inglish langwij wid fi dem uona Afrikan langwij dem. An a so dem mek op wan neks langwij: Jamiekan. An dem paas it dong fram jinarieshan tu jinarieshan. It a wi aat langwij. A it wi taak wen chrobl tek wi. An wen sinting swiit wi.

A disya mont NyuuzTaak93FM staat braadkyaas nyuuz iina Jamiekan. Monde tu Fraide iina di aaftanuun, 12:15 an 5:20. It a gwaan gud-gud. Nof smadi a lisn an dem lov it kyaahn don. An a no juok sinting. A riil-riil nyuuz. Siiryos ting.

A di Jamiekan Langwij Yuunit a UWI rispans fi di nyuuz iina Jamiekan. Profesa Hubert Devonish a di Ed a di Yuunit. Im stodi langwij an im rait buk bout it. A som a im stuuydent dem a wok pan di nyuuz: Honica Brown, Peterkim Pusey, Tyane Robinson an Rexandrew Wright.

Wan a di big prablem dem av fi rait nyuuz iina Jamiekan a fi fain di raitful wod fi di Inglish. Tek far instans, ‘flexitime’. Ou yu a go se dat iina Jamiekan? ‘Wok fi suut di baas?’ Siem laik ou Inglish kyapcha nof wod fram Latin an Griik, dem kyan dis tek uova di wod dem fram Inglish!


Mi tink it plenti beta fi chrai fain sinting ina Jamiekan fi kyari uova we yu waan fi se fram Inglish. Lang taim nou, mi did chienj uova wan a di Bojit Spiich fram Inglish tu Jamiekan. Mi se siks out a ten dala a fi pie bak moni we govament uo. An edikieshan get di bigis kot a di ‘wat lef’.

Wen mi go a JIS fi rikaad di pruogram, dem neva laik ‘wat lef’. Dem se mi naa gi di nyuuz striet. A taak mi a taak mi main. Mi a kaal dong jojment pan govament. Dem raada mi se ‘balance’. Bot ‘wat lef’ an ‘balance’ bwail dong siem wie. Notn moch no lef fi ron di konchri!

Di Jamiekan Langgwij Yuunit av wan neks pruogram pan NyuuzTaak93FM: ‘Big Tingz A Gwaan’. An dem aks Tyane Robinson an mi fi ron di shuo. Iina Jamiekan. Wi taak wi main bout nyuuz. An wi bring aan ges. Wi du chrii pruogram aredi. It kom aan Torsde aaftanuun, 4:30.

Mek mi gi unu likl juok. Som a di optoun ges dem kyaahn chat Jamiekan pan riedyo! A dem yaad langwij. It kyaahn braadkyaas. Wat a sinting! Marcus Garvey don tel wi: A wi ha fi frii wiself fram mental slievri. Nobadi kyaahn dwiit fi wi. Wi ed an wi aat a fi staat taak di sed siem langwij.

The UWI radio station is boldly broadcasting news in ‘patwa’! I prefer ‘Jamaican’ as the name of our language. Just as the English speak English, we speak Jamaican. Mind you, we speak English, too. They forced it down our throat. An we took it and adapted it to suit our tongue.

Our African ancestors, who were taken away by the English and  brought here,  cut and mixed the English language with their own African languages. And that’s how they created a brand new language: Jamaican. And they passed it down from generation to generation. It’s our heart language. That’s what we use when we’re in trouble.  And when we’re happy.

NewsTalk93FM started broadcast news in Jamaican this month. Monday to Friday in the afternoon at 12:15 and 5:20. It’s a huge success.  Lots of people are listening and they’re really enjoying it.  And it’s not a joke. It’s proper news. For real.

images-3It’s the Jamaican Language Unit at UWI that responsible for producing the news in Jamaican. Professor Hubert Devonish is the head of the unit. He’s a linguist who had written books on the subject.  It’s some of his students who are work on the news programme: Honica Brown, Peterkim Pusey, Tyane Robinson and Rexandrew Wright.

One the big problems they have with writing news in Jamaican is finding the exact translation for the English words. For instance, ‘flexitime’. What’s the Jamaican equivalent? ‘Work fi suit di boss?’ I suppose the translators could simply take over English words in exactly the same way that the English language captured lots of words from Latin an Greek!


I think it’s much better to try to find a Jamaican equivalent for the English expression. Quite some time ago, I translated one of the Budget speeches from English to Jamaican. I said that 60% of the budget is for debt repayment.  And education gets the highest percentage of the ‘wat lef’.

When I went to JIS to record di programme, they didn’t like ‘wat lef’. They said I was editorialising. I was giving my own opinion.  And I was passing judgement on the Government. They preferred me to say ‘balance’. But ‘wat lef’ and ‘balance’ boil down to the same thing. Nothing much is left to run the country!

53-Ways-to-Market-Your-Google-Plus-Hangout-on-AirThe Jamaican Language Unit has another programme on NewsTalk93FM: ‘Big Tingz A Gwaan’. And they asked Tyane Robinson and me to host the show. In Jamaican. We speak our mind about the news. And we have guests on the show. We’ve done three programmes already. It comes on Thursday afternoon at 4:30.

Let me give you a little joke. Some of the uptown guests can’t speak in Jamaican on radio!  It’s their yard language. It can’t go out on air. What a thing! Marcus Garvey has warned us:  We have to free ourselves from mental slavery. Nobody can do it for us.  Our head and our heart must start talking the same language.

Mirror, Mirror On the Wall

Miss Jamaica World 2014

Miss Jamaica World 2014

I’d decided to stay out of the kas-kas over this year’s beauty contests. But last week, one of my friends who’d been bugging me about the Miss Jamaica World contest started up again when she saw the Miss Jamaica Universe winner: “Yu mean to seh yu not going to write about it?” What difference would it make? It’s the same old tired story. The judges and the audience never seem to agree on who should be the winner of our rather ugly beauty contests.

Here’s the headline of Janet Silvera’s Gleaner report on the finals of the Miss Jamaica World contest: ‘Laurie-Ann Chin crowned Miss Jamaica World 2014 despite crowd’s dissatisfaction’ (July 14, 2014). This is not news. If you follow these beauty contests, it’s easy to predict the outcome. The light-skinned girl is almost always going to win.

The top-three winners of this year’s Miss Jamaica Universe contest are even more uniformly light-skinned than their Miss Jamaica World counterparts. I don’t know why the audience keeps on expecting miracles. I suppose hope springs eternal in the human breast. Especially here in Jamaica where the breast of the vast majority of women is dark-skinned!

snow-white-mirrorFive years ago, I wrote a column ‘Everybody’s Miss Jamaica’, which was published on September 20, 2009. I mischievously suggested that we forget about old-style beauty contests and promote a new model. This is how I put it: “So every year we ask ourselves this very loaded question: ‘Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of us all?’ And we all know the usual answer: ‘the fairest.’ But in an ‘out-of-many-one’ society it’s simply not fair that it’s only one type of beauty that is almost always privileged as the winner.

So why don’t we just agree to judge beauty in clearly distinct racial categories? I suggest five types: ‘African,’ ‘Indian,’ ‘Chinese,’ ‘European’ and ‘Out of Many, One.’ And I use the quotation marks to suggest the fact that these terms are quite arbitrary. There’s not going to be universal agreement on who exactly fits which type”.


shockedOf course, nobody took me seriously. It was satire after all. And we’re still fighting over who should win these beauty contests. As Janet Silvera reports, “Those shocked by the decision spoke loudly at the coronation show, raising their voices emphatically, as they cried ‘no, no’, booing the announcement.” But why were they “shocked”? They should know the score by now.

In the 1960s, one of my friends entered the Miss Jamaica beauty contest. I hope she won’t be vexed with me for reminding her of that lapse into lunacy. Or so it seemed. In the 1960s, Miss Jamaica looked just like Miss Jamaica today. You know exactly what I mean. My aspiring friend was not a Miss Jamaica lookalike. So I couldn’t understand why she would willingly subject herself to public humiliation.

Earlier on, when she’d asked me what I thought about her entering the contest I hadn’t been able to resist the temptation to tell her the truth as I saw it: “You entering Miss Jamaica? You must be mad!” Words to that effect. I guess I could have been much more diplomatic. I could have said, “Well, if they change the rules of the contest you might stand a chance.”

My friend did admit that she appreciated my honesty. Other people were pretending that her behaviour was normal. She was eliminated in the very first round. To give my friend her due, I think she had entered the contest to make a political statement. The politics of beauty! It’s really all about power. Judges assume the right to decide who is ugly and who is beautiful. Who gives them that power? The contestants? The audience? The owners of the competition?


Unknown-2More than two decades ago, I was in a local bookshop and overheard two young women discussing a photo spread of the supermodel Althea Laing in Essence Magazine. One of them said, “She ugly eeh! Wa she a do inna magazine?” Well me an dem! “What wrong wid her? Unu no see how she beautiful?” Under pressure, they grudgingly conceded that maybe she was ‘attractive’. After all, she had attracted their attention. She had the look. But it was hard for these young women to appreciate the model’s beauty.

In a newspaper interview, Althea Laing wickedly describes the supermodel ‘look’ in this way: “The ‘look’ is when people can’t figure out whether you are ugly or pretty. You know you have the ‘look’ when people can’t figure that out.” I suppose the exclamation of that young woman in the bookshop was half question, half statement. She couldn’t figure out exactly what Althea Laing was doing in that magazine. Simply being attractively beautiful!

images-2Then I was intrigued to see that the prizes for this year’s Miss Jamaica World contest included the following: “10 university scholarships valued at $6 million, of which nine are from the University College of the Caribbean, in collaboration with partner universities such as Florida International University, London University, Kursk University; a $1 million master’s degree scholarship in Logistics from the CMI”. I only hope all of the degree programmes on offer are accredited by the University Council of Jamaica! Or it won’t be pretty.

Emancipation Day At Liberty Hall

Unknown-1A century ago, Marcus Garvey launched the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities (Imperial) League on Emancipation Day. Garvey was a man who understood the power of symbols. August 1 was the ideal day to make a grand statement advocating the unification of African people across the globe.

Garvey knew that emancipation was a long and difficult process. The road to full freedom was full of potholes. The journey would not be easy. And Garvey acknowledged the difference between physical and mental slavery. He encouraged us to take full responsibility for the process of liberation.

In a famous speech delivered in Nova Scotia, Canada, in 1937, Garvey prophetically declared, “We are going to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery because whilst others might free the body, none but ourselves can free the mind. Mind is your only ruler, sovereign. The man who is not able to develop and use his mind is bound to be the slave of the other man who uses his mind, because man is related to man under all circumstances for good or ill.”

Bob Marley amplified Garvey’s message in Redemption Song:

Old pirates yes, they rob I

Sold I to the merchant ships

Minutes after they took I

From the bottomless pit

But my hand was made strong

By the hand of the Almighty

We forward in this generation triumphantly.”

Marcus Garvey’s UNIA-ACL was an unquestionable triumph. By the early 1930s, there were more than 1,000 divisions in 38 countries; for example, Australia, Brazil, Canada, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, Liberia, Mexico, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Panama, South Africa, Trinidad and Venezuela.

images-1The rapid growth of the UNIA in the US is an eloquent testimony to the empowering appeal of Garvey’s redemptive vision for Black people. In 1917, Garvey established the New York Division of the UNIA with 13 members. From a single seed, the number of divisions within the US grew to 837 – without Internet or social media to spread the message!


liberty_hall__kingston_jamaicaNot surprisingly, the growth of the UNIA was much slower in Jamaica. The legacy of mental slavery made it difficult for many African-Jamaicans to identify with a black man preaching the gospel of self-reliance. The UNIA in Jamaica started with 17 members and did not exceed 100 by the time Garvey left for the US in 1916. But the tide did turn. Marcus Garvey’s restored Liberty Hall at 76 King Street has now become a major cultural centre, thanks to the visionary leadership of the curator/director, Dr Donna McFarlane.

On Emancipation Day, Garvey’s legacy was celebrated in fine style. First, there was an enlightening conversation with Queen Mother Mariamne Samad and Dr Simon Clarke who had been members of the Garvey Juveniles in the US and Panama, respectively. Mr Arnold Bertram, historian and former minister of government, moderated the discussion.

Unknown-2Queen Mother Samad, who married a Jamaican, Clarence Thomas, came to live here in 1965. She said it was the single most important decision of her life. Recalling her youth in Harlem, New York, with parents who were committed Garveyites, Sister Samad showed the attentive audience pictures of the black Jesus and angels that had a place of honour in her home. These she donated to the Liberty Hall collection.

Dr Simon Clarke, who was born in Panama, also spoke about the issue of race. There were silver people and gold people, so named after their race and the currency in which each group was paid. Black people were silver and whites were gold. Dr Clarke told a most entertaining story of newly arrived black Jamaicans who joined the gold line at the post office.

That line moved much more quickly than the silver; three gold were served to one silver. Obedient people in the silver line implored the Jamaicans to come over into the ‘right’ line. Dr Clarke still remembers the emphatic way in which they declined the invitation: “We naah move!” And the ‘naah’ was appropriately stretched out to fully express resistance to the status quo.


The second feature of the Emancipation Day celebrations at Liberty Hall was a series of short skits performed by the 47 participants in the summer programme in dance and drama. Four students from the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts were employed to teach: Andre Tucker, Rachel Allen, Ricardo McFarlane and Ellisa Douglas.

082d7835c147ea04d30716ef66e2ae56The participants were divided into four groups and were guided by the philosophy of adinkra symbols from Ghana. The ‘Sankofa’ symbol means, ‘Return and get it’ and features either a bird with its head turned backwards with an egg in its beak, or a heart. This image signifies the importance of learning from the past.

Two fish biting each other’s tail is the image for ‘Bi Nka Bi’. This literally means, ‘No one should bite another’ and warns against making contention. ‘Osram Ne Nsoromma’, an image of the moon and a star, symbolises love, faithfulness and harmony, especially between man and woman. The fourth symbol, ‘Sesa Wo Suban’, is a star inside a wheel. It represents a change of character. This was particularly appropriate for the skit that featured skin bleachers who were in total denial about their identity.

Unknown-4All the performances by the children and teenagers from the communities around Liberty Hall and further afield were excellent. Proud parents came out to applaud the talent of the youth.

Marcus Garvey’s inspiring message about learning from the past and looking to Africa in the present to reclaim our collective identity was brilliantly illustrated. The Sankofa bird was in full flight.