Jehovah Witness Big Up Fi Wi Language

JLUTwo 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.


watchtower_2010454aAnytime mi go Papine Market pon Saturday morning, mi see bout four Jehovah Witness a gi out tract. Dem tush, yu see! Dem sit off pon chair eena shady an dem have one stand weh dem put out di tract dem pon. One morning mi go faas wid dem. Mi aks dem a wa kind a easy-life witnessing dem a do. Wa mek dem nah walk up an down eena sun-hot like dem odder one? Di whole a wi start laugh.

Anyhow, one Saturday, one a di woman dem tell mi seh dem a go keep big meeting an dem waan mi fi come. A one special meeting cau di speaker a go chat pure Patwa. Unu see mi dying trial! Any Patwa bell ring mi suppose fi di deh. Mi promise her seh mi wi try come. Mi never write down di date an it fly outa mi head.

Den mi go pictures a Sovereign an mi meet one next set a Witness from August Town Kingdom Hall. Dem tell mi seh pon February 26, di preacher a go chat Patwa so mi fi come. Dem mek sure dem send email fi remind mi. Mi no ha no excuse.

Di meeting a di said same day a di opening a di Biennial a National Gallery. So mi run downtown fi ketch piece a dat, den mi go a August Town fi ketch piece a di preaching. An mi go back downtown fi ketch piece a di Grounation weh di Jamaica Music Museum put on fi Reggae Month. A pure piece a dis an piece a dat fi di whole day. Dat night, mi lucky fi ketch di whole a di Jamaica Reggae Industry Association (JaRIA) award show.


Di Jehovah Witness preacher did gwaan good-good. Lickle English did mix up wid di Patwa. It no so easy fi some a wi chat so-so Patwa eena certain situation. Den mi get one next email from di Witness dem a tell mi bout di Patwa talk dem weh deh pon dem website, Yu click pan ‘Publications’. Den yu go a ‘Books and Brochures’. Den yu pick ‘Jamaican Creole’. An a wi dat.

Unu fi go listen. A 9 talk di deh. See di topic dem ya. An dem all write eena prapa-prapa spelling. Mi change it over to chaka-chaka: Yu tink pain an suffering a go done one day? Wa yu tink a go happen inna di future? Wa a di main ting fi mek yu fambili happy? Di kingdom a God – a wa? Who really a control dis ya world ya? Wa yu tink bout di Bible? Weh wi can find answer fi di question dem weh worry wi di most eena life? Yu tink seh dead people can come back alive? Listen to God an yu wi live fi ever!

change-the-world_0.jpgDi Jehovah Witness dem know seh yu ha fi preach to people eena fi dem heart language if yu waan fi reach dem heart. An some a fi wi heart well hard. It tek whole heap a preaching fi mek it soft. A long time now nuff preacher eena Jamaica know how fi use fi wi heart language fi touch people. If yu go certain church eena disya country, a pure Patwa yu a go hear.

A more an 750 language Jehovah Witness a use fi spread fi dem message. Dem know seh English a one worl language. But a no di ongle language eena di whole world. A nuff a dem. An Massa God know di whole a dem. Mi glad fi see Jehovah Witness a help carry fi wi God-bless language to di world!


Enitaim mi go Papine Market pan Satde maanin, mi si bout 4 Jehovah Witness a gi out chrak. Dem tush, yu si! Dem sit aaf pan chier iina shiedi an dem av wan stan we dem put out di chrak dem pan. Wan maanin mi go faas wid dem. Mi aks dem a wa kain a iizi-laif witnisin dem a du. Wa mek dem naa waak op an dong iina son-at laik dem ada wan? Di uol a wi staat laaf.

Eniou, wan Satde, wan a di uman dem tel mi se dem a go kip big miitn an dem waahn mi fi kom. A wan speshal miitn kaa di spiika a go chat pyur Patwa. Unu si mi daiyin chraiyal! Eni Patwa bel ring mi sopuoz fi di de. Mi pramis ar se mi wi chrai kom. Mi neva rait dong di diet an it flai outa mi ed.

Den mi go pikchaz a Sovereign an mi miit wan neks set a Witnis fram August Town Kingdom Hall. Dem tel mi se pan Febieri 26 di priicha a go chat Patwa so mi fi kom. Dem mek shuor dem sen iimiel fi rimain mi. Mi no a no ekskyuuz.

Di miitin a di sed siem die a di opnin a di Biennial a National Gallery. So mi ron dountoun fi kech piis a dat, den mi go a August Town fi ketch piis a di priichin. An mi go bak dountoun fi kech piis a di Grounation we di Jamaica Music Museum put aan fi Reggae Month. A pyur piis a dis an piis a dat fi di uol die. Dat nait, mi loki fi kech di uol a di Jamaica Reggae Industry Association (JaRIA) awaad shuo.


il_340x270.683382019_i7g3Di Jehovah Witness priicha did gwaan gud-gud. Likl Ingglish did miks op wid di Patwa. It no so iizi fi som a wi chat suoso Patwa iina sortn sitiyieshan. Den mi get wan neks iimail fram di Witness dem a tel mi bout di Patwa taak dem we de pan dem websait, Yu klik pan ‘Publications’. Den yu go a ‘Books and Brochures’. Den yu pik ‘Jamaican Creole’. An a wi dat.

Unu fi go lisn. A 9 taak di de. Si di tapik dem ya. An dem aal rait iina prapa-prapa spelin: Yu tingk pien an sofarin a-go don wan die? Wa yu tingk a-go apm iina di fyuucha? Wa a di mien ting fi mek yu fambili api? Di Kindom a Gad – a wa? Uu riili a kanchuol dis ya worl ya? Wa yu tingk bout di Baibl? We wi kyan fain ansa fi di kwestiyan dem we wori wi di muos iina laif? Yu tingk se ded piipl kyan kom bak alaiv? Lisn tu Gad an yu wi liv fi eva!

Di Jehovah Witness dem nuo se yu a fi priich tu piipl iina fi dem aat langgwij if yu waahn fi riich dem aat. An som a fi wi aat wel aad. It tek uol iip a priichin fi mek it saaf. A lang taim nou nof priicha iina Jamieka nuo ou fi yuuz fi wi aat langgwij fi toch piipl. If yu go sortn choch iina disya konchri a pyur Patwa yu a go ier.

A muor an 750 langgwij Jehovah Witness a yuuz fi spred fi dem mechiz. Dem nuo se Ingglish a one worl langgwij. Bot a no di ongl langgwij iina di uol worl. A nof a dem. An Maasa Gad nuo di uol a dem. Mi glad fi si Jehovah Witness a elp kyari fi wi Gad-bles langgwij tu di worl!



Anytime I go to Papine Market on  a Saturday morning, I see about four Jehovah’s  Witnesses  giving out tracts. They are so sophisticated! They’re seated on chairs in the shade and they put out the tracts on a stand.  One morning, I nosily asked them how come they were taking it so easy with their witnessing. Why weren’t they walking up and down in the sun like other Witnesses?  We all started to laugh.

Anyhow, one Saturday, one the woman told me that there was going to be a big meeting that she wanted me to attend.  It was quite special meeting because  the speaker was going to talk in only  Patwa. You see my troubles! Anytime there’s a  Patwa issue, I’m supposed to be involved.  I promised her I would try to attend.  I didn’t make a note of the date and it completely escaped me.

Then I went to the movies at Sovereign and met some other Witnesses from the August Town Kingdom Hall. They told me that on February 26, the preacher was going to be speaking in Patwa so I should come. They made sure to send an email to remind me. I had no excuse.

The meeting was the very same day of  the opening of the  Biennial at the National Gallery. So I hurried downtown to get a bit of a that, then I went to  August Town for a bit of the  preaching. And I went back downtown to catch a bit of the the Grounation put on by the Jamaica Music Museum in Reggae Month. It was only bits and pieces for the entire day. That evening, I was lucky to catch all of the Jamaica Reggae Industry Association (JaRIA) award show.



The Jehovah’s Witness preacher did very well. A little bit of  English got mixed up with the Patwa. It’s not so easy for some of us to speak only Patwa in certain situations. Then I got another  email from the Witnesses telling mi about the Patwa recordings on their website, You click on ‘Publications’. Then you go to ‘Books and Brochures’. Then yu select ‘Jamaican Creole’. And that’s us.

You should check it out.There are  9 recordings there. Here are the topics. And they are all written in the official writing system for Jamaican. I’ve translated them into English: Do you think  pain and suffering will end one of these days? What do you think the future will bring? What’s the main thing to make your family happy? Di kingdom a God – what’s that? Who really controls this world? What do you think about the Bible? Where can we find answers to the questions that  worry us the most in life? Do you think dead people can come back to life? Listen to God and you will live for ever!

The Jehovah’s Witnesses know that you have to preach to people in their  heart language if you want to reach their heart. And some of our hearts are quite hard. It takes a  whole lot of  preaching to make it soft. Many preachers in  Jamaica have long known how to use our heart language to touch people. If you go to certain churches in this country, all you’re going to hear is nothing but Patwa.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses  are spreading  their message in more than 750 languages. They know that English is a world language. But it’s not the only language in the whole world. There are many of them. And God recognises all of them. I’m glad to see that Jehovah’s Witnesses are helping to take our God-blessed language to the world!

Samson an di Liar Talk di Truth

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.


Yes, a Samson an di liar. No Delilah. Dis a no di Bible story. A Jamaican reality mi a chat bout. Di play weh put on a Little Little Theatre. By di way, mi see seh mi fren Michael Abrahams a wind up nuff a unu wid im column dem bout Massa God an di Bible. Some a dem Bible story no pretty fi true. Massa God a God, so im do anyting im feel like.

stdas0277Look pon all poor Job. Di man a gwaan good-good a serve God. An di devil go to God an seh, “Boss, yu done know seh di ongle reason Job a serve yu a chruu im have life easy.” An hear wa God tell di devil: “Mi a gi yu power over Job. Do anyting yu waan do to im. But no bodder kill im.” Dat sweet di devil. Im mash up Job life. Im kill off Job pikni dem, im mek people thief all a Job cow an donkey an camel. Im sheep dem burn up. An wen Job hear, all im seh, “Massa God gi an Maasa God tek weh.”

Dat bex di devil. So im go back to Massa God. An God boast off pon im: ‘See mi tell yu seh Job naa diss mi!’ An di devil seh bet anyting if im sick bad im a go cuss yu. An God seh, ‘Gwaan, but no kill im.’ An Job get one piece a leprosy! Till all im wife tell im fi dis cuss God an dead. An im neva dweet. An wen God done enjoy imself a tek bet pon Job wid di devil, im dis gi back Job more pon top a wa im did have. No sa! Mi no kyah who bex. Dat a one wicked story.


Anyhow, back to Samson an di liar. Dat a one story weh Winston ‘Bello’ Bell did start fi write. Im a one actor turn parson, so im know bout Bible story. But fi im story no wicked lakka Job. Two man a live eena one bus shed eena New Kingston. Downtown crosses gone uptown! An di man dem act out dem life inna di play.

Tony ‘Paleface’ Hendricks an Ricky Rowe tek Bello story an devel it up. Hendricks a Samson. Im get dip from England chruu dem seh im set fire pon im owna house an kill off im wife an pikni. An Ricky Rowe a di liar, Earsring. Im did love fi bet lakka Massa God an devil. But im lose. Wife an house. An chruu Massa God neva tek no bet pon im, im no get back nutten. So im deh outa road. Samson a music teacher an im a write opera bout fi im life. An Earsring a DJ. Nuff talent. So im an Samson put together an mek up song an perform fi money right deh so inna di bus shed. Di play full a joke.


Yes, a Samson an di laiya. No Delilah. Dis a no di Baibl stuori. A Jamiekan riyaliti mi a chat bout. Di plie we put aan a Little Little Theatre. Bai di wie, mi si se mi fren Michael Abrahams a wain op nof a unu wid im kolom dem bout Maasa Gad an di Baibl. Som a dem Baibl stuori no priti fi chruu. Maasa Gad a Gad, so im du enting im fiil laik.

suffering_job-705x500Luk pan aal puor Job. Di man a gwaahn gud-gud a sorv Gad. An di devl go tu Gad an se, “Baas, yu don nuo se di ongl riizn Job a sorv yu a chruu im av laif iizi.” An ier wa Gad tel di devl: “Mi a gi yu powa uova Job. Du enting yu waahn du tu im. Bot no bada kil im.” Dat swiit di devl. Im mash op Job laif. Im kil aaf Job pikni dem, im mek piipl tiif aal a Job kou an dangki an kyamel. Im shiip dem bon op. An wen Job ier, aal im se, “Maasa Gad gi an Maasa Gad tek we.”

Dat beks di devl. So im go bak tu Maasa Gad. An Gad buos aaf pan im: ‘Si mi tel yu se Job naa dis mi!’ An di devl se bet enting if im sik bad im a go kos yu. An Gad se, ‘Gwaan, bot no kil im.’ An Job get wan piis a leprosi! Til aal im waif tel im fi dis kos Gad an ded. An im neva dwiit. An wen Gad don enjai imself a tek bet pan Job wid di devl, im dis gi bak Job muor pan tap a wa im did av. Nuo sa! Mi no kya uu beks. Dat a wan wikid stuori.


Eniou, bak to Samson an di laiya. Dat a wan stuori we Winston ‘Bello’ Bell did staat fi rait. Im a wan akta ton paasn, so im nuo bout Baibl stuori. Bot fi im stuori no wikid laka Job. Tuu man a liv iina wan bos shed iina New Kingston. Dountoun kraasiz gaahn optoun! An di man dem ak out dem laif ina di plie.

Tony ‘Paleface’ Hendricks an Ricky Rowe tek Bello stuori an divel it op. Hendricks a Samson. Im get dip fram Ingglan chruu dem se im set faiya pan im uona ous an kil aaf im waif an pikni. An Ricky Rowe a di laiya, Earsring. Im did lov fi bet laka Maasa Gad an devl. Bot im luuz. Waif an ous. An chruu Maasa Gad neva tek no bet pan im, im no get bak notn. So im de outa ruod.  Samson a myuuzik tiicha an im a rait opra bout fi im laif. An Earsring a DJ. Nof talent. So im an Samson put tugeda an mek op sang an pafaam fi moni rait de so ina di bos shed. Di plie ful a juok.


Yes, it’s Samson an di liar. Not Delilah. This is not the Bible story.  It’s Jamaican reality that I’m talking about. The play that was on at the Little Little Theatre. By di way, I see that my friend Michael Abrahams has been provoking a lot of you with his columns about God and the Bible. Some of those Bible stories are quite unappealing.   God is  God, so he does as he pleases.

Think about poor Job. He was doing alright just serving God. And the devil went to God and said, “Chief, you do know that the only reason Job is serving you is because he’s had an easy life.” And here’s what God told the devil: “I’ll give you power over Job. Do anything you want to him. But don’t kill him.” That really pleased the devil. And he made a complete mess of Job’s life. He killed Job’s children, and he allowed all of Job’s cows, donkeys and camels to be stolen.  His sheep were all burnt up. And when Job heard, all he said was, “God gives and God takes away”

That angered the devil. So he went back to God. And God was rather boastful: ‘See, I told you Job wouldn’t lose faith in me.’ And then the devil said ‘I bet you anything if he gets really sick he’s going to curse you’. And God said, ‘Go ahead, but don’t kill him.’ And Job was struck down with leprosy! So much so that even his wife told him to just curse God and die. But he didn’t. And when God finished enjoying himself at Job’s expense, taking bets with the devil, he gave back Job more than he’d had before.  No way! I don’t care who gets vexed. That’s a really wicked story.


Anyhow, back to Samson an di liar. That’s a story Winston ‘Bello’ Bell started to write. He’s an actor turned parson, so he knows about Bible stories. But his story isn’t as wicked as Job’s. Two men are living in a bus shed in New Kingston. Downtown troubles have gone uptown! And the men act out their lives in the play.

Tony ‘Paleface’ Hendricks and Ricky Rowe took Bello’s story and developed it. Hendricks is Samson. He got deported from England because he allegedly set his own house on fire and his wife and child burned to death.  And Ricky Rowe is di liar, Earsring. He loved to gamble like God and the devil. But he lost. Wife and house. And because God wasn’t betting on him, he lost everything. So he’s out on the street.Samson is a music teacher and he’s writing an opera about his life. And Earsring is a DJ. Lots of talent. So he and Samson join forces and compose songs that they perform for money right there in the bus shed. The play is very entertaining.

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.


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.

Wa A Joke To You A Death To Me

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.


Charlie Hebdo office

Charlie Hebdo office

Wen mi see weh di Kouachi bredder dem gwaan wid a Paris, mi seh to miself mi better seh sorry quick-quick to di whole heap a KC old boy weh bex wid mi all now chruu mi did run lickle joke wid dem inna mi column, ‘KC old boys desire male sex’. Dem never waan no woman go a dem big dinner. So mi seh a ongle man dem waan: di male sex.

Wa burn some a di man dem a di next meaning a di headline weh mi did a play wid inna di column. Mi mek it sound like seh dem waan fi sex man. God know, mi never know dem wuda tek it so hard. Mi did tink seh dem must see seh a romp mi a romp wid dem. How mi kuda tink seh every Jack man no waan Jill? No must joke mi a mek!

Nuff a di old boy dem never tink it funny at all at all. Dem seh mi a seh dem funny fi true. An dem threaten fi kill mi. See one a di deadly email weh mi get ya: “You are truly a disgusting piece of protoplasm. I hope you spend the rest of yuh life ah look behind you because kc roots run deep in the communities of downtown Kingston and rural Jamaica.”

Some a di confident KC old boy dis laugh it off. Dem never bawl out chruu no stone no lik dem. One young old boy weh go a UWI seh to mi, “Miss, I don’t know why dem going on like dat. Because is long time dem saying dat bout us. And me don’t mek it bodder me.” A no dat im seh word fi word. But a dat im mean.


It look like seh di old old boy dem tek it harder than di young old boy dem. Mi did hear seh some a dem did a threaten fi sue Gleaner. Dem no sex man an Gleaner a scandalise dem. Mi no waan no KC old boy, young or old, go a Gleaner office go shoot up poor Oliver Clarke an di editor dem sake a mi column.

images-3Put fun an joke aside. Wen mi tink bout it, sex come een like religion. Who yu sex a who yu be. A di said same way people feel seh di god dem worship a who dem be. Dem a Christian, dem a Jew, dem a Muslim, dem a Rasta. Dem religion a dem livity. It a dem nature. Same like how yu sex a yu nature. An eena fi wi Jamaica language, wi all use di word ‘nature’ fi mean sex life. Like how wi seh lime cut yu nature.

By di way, mi wonder if LIME a go change fi dem sour name when dem married to Flow. Dat deh name never mek no sense. It no sweet wi. A no like eena Trinidad an Tobago weh lime mean party. An wat mi no understand, di company no name LIME down deh. Dem a Cable and Wireless. Anyhow mi ongle hope LIME nah go cut Flow nature.

Di Charlie Hebdo cartoonist dem shuda did know seh dem no fi tek Prophet Muhammad mek poppyshow. Still for all, dat no mean dem shuda dead fi dat. An mi shuda did know seh mi no fi run joke wid Jamaica man seh dem waan fi sex man. Mi jook dem pon dem nature. An mi sorry. Old-time people seh, “Wa a joke to you a death to me.” An a true.


jack-n-jillWen mi si we di Kouachi breda dem gwaan wid a Paris, mi se tu miself mi beta se sari kwik-kwik tu di uol iip a KC uol bwai we beks wid mi aal nou chruu mi did ron likl juok wid dem ina mi kalam, ‘KC old boys desire male sex’. Dem neva waan no uman go a dem big dina. So mi se a ongl man dem waan: di miel seks.

Wa bon som a di man dem a di neks miinin a di edlain we mi did a plie wid ina di kalam. Mi mek it soun laik se dem waan fi seks man. Gad nuo, mi neva nuo dem wuda tek it so aad. Mi did tingk se dem mos si se a ramp mi a ramp wid dem. Ou mi kuda tingk se evri Jak man no waan Jil? No mos juok mi a mek!

Nof a di uol bwai dem neva tingk it foni at aal at aal. Dem se mi a se dem foni fi chruu. An dem chretn fi kil mi. Si wan a di dedli iimiel we mi get ya: “You are truly a disgusting piece of protoplasm. I hope you spend the rest of yuh life ah look behind you because kc roots run deep in the communities of downtown Kingston and rural Jamaica.”

Som a di kanfident KC uol bwai dis laaf it aaf. Dem neva baal out chruu no stuon no lik dem. Wan yong uol bwai we go a UWI se tu mi, “Miss, I don’t know why dem going on like dat. Because is long time dem saying dat bout us. And me don’t mek it bodder me.” A no dat im se wod fi wod. Bot a dat im miin.


It luk laik se di uol uol bwai dem tek it aada dan di yong uol bwai dem. Mi did ier se som a dem did a chretn fi suu Gleaner. Dem no seks man an Gleaner a skyandalaiz dem. Mi no waan no KC uol bwai, yong ar uol, go a Gleaner afis go shuut op puor Oliver Clarke an di edita dem siek a mi kalam.

Put fon an juok asaid. Wen mi tingk bout it, seks kom iin laik rilijan. Uu yu seks a uu yu bi. A di sed siem wie piipl fiil se di gad dem worship a uu dem bi. Dem a Krischan, dem a Juu, dem a Muslim, dem a Rasta. Dem rilijan a dem liviti. It a dem niecha. Siem laik ou yu seks a yu niecha. An iina fi wi Jamieka langwij, wi aal yuuz di wod niecha fi miin seks laif. Laik ou wi se laim kot yu niecha.

Bai di wie, mi wonda if LIME a go chienj fi dem sowa niem wen dem marid to Flow. Dat de niem neva mek nuo sens. It no swiit wi. A no laik iina Trinidad an Tobago we laim miin paati. An wat mi no andastan, di kompini no niem LIME dong de. Dem a Cable and Wireless. Eniou mi ongl uop LIME naa go kot Flow niecha.

Di Charlie Hebdo kyaatuunis dem shuda did nuo se dem no fi tek Prafit Muhammad mek papishuo. Stil far aal, dat no miin dem shuda ded fi dat. An mi shuda did nuo se mi no fi ron juok wid Jamieka man se dem waan fi seks man. Mi juk dem pan dem niecha. An mi sari. Uol taim piipl se, “Wa a juok tu yu a det tu mi.” An a chruu.


18BROTHERS_IDS-articleLarge-v2After seeing how the Kouachi brothers terrorised Paris, I said to myself I’d better apologise right away to all those KC old boys who are still angry with me because of my joking around with them in my column, ‘KC old boys desire male sex’. They didn’t want women to attend their grand dinner.  So I said they only wanted men:  the male sex.

What hurt some of the men was the other meaning of the headline that I was playing around with in the column. I made it seem as if they wanted to have sex with men.  God knows, I didn’t know they would take it so hard.  I thought they must see I was teasing them. How could I think that every Jack man doesn’t want Jill? I must have been joking!

Many of the old boys didn’t think it was funny at all.  They said I was saying that they are really ‘funny’.   And they threatened to kill me.  Here’s one of the deadly emails I got: “You are truly a disgusting piece of protoplasm. I hope you spend the rest of your life looking over your shoulder because kc roots run deep in the communities of downtown Kingston and rural Jamaica.”

Some of the confident KC old boys just had a good laugh.   They didn’t protest because they didn’t feel attacked.  One of the young old boys, who is a student at UWI, said to me, “Miss, I don’t know why they’re getting on like that. Because people have been  saying that about us for a long time now. And I don’t let it bother me.” That’s not what he said word fi word. But that’s what he meant.


It seems as if the old old boys took it harder than the young old boys.  I heard that some of them were threatening to sue the Gleaner. They don’t have sex with men and the newspaper is scandalising them.  I don’t want any KC old boy, young or old, to go to the Gleaner office and shoot poor Oliver Clarke and the editors because of my column.

images-2All joking aside. When I think about it, sex is like religion. Your sexuality is your identity. In the same way, some people think that their religion is their identity. They are Christian, Jew, Muslim, Rasta. Their religion is their way of life. It’s their nature. Just as one’s sex is seen as natural. An in our Jamaican language, we use the word ‘nature’ to mean sex drive. For example, we say that  lime slows down your sex drive.

By the way, I wonder if LIME is going to change their sour name when they get married to Flow. That name made no sense. It doesn’t appeal to us. It’s not like in Trinidad and Tobago where lime means partying. And what I don’t understand is that the company isn’t named LIME there. It’s Cable and Wireless. Anyhow, I only hope LIME isn’t going to slow down Flow.

The Charlie Hebdo cartoonists should have known not to make a mockery of the Prophet Muhammad.  All the same, that doesn’t mean they should be killed for it. And I should have known not to  joke around with Jamaican men about their being homosexual.  I hit them at the core of their identity. And I’m sorry. Proverbial wisdom warns, “What’s a joke to you is deadly serious to me.” And that’s the truth.

High Time Fi Woman Bishop

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.


Look how long woman a run church a Jamaica! An it tek two thousand year an more fi di Anglican dem inna England decide dem mind fi mek woman turn bishop. Wat a sinting! An some a di man dem – an all woman too – bex, bex, bex.

Unknown-1Di bishop dem claims seh dem a tan up inna one long, long line weh go right back to Jesus an im twelve disciple. From man to man come down. Dem call it ‘apostolic succession’. Dem seh Jesus never have no woman disciple. A so-so man. So a man fi run tings ina di church. Woman no business fi waan turn no bishop. Unu tink it easy?

Di Anglican church do have woman bishop inna odder country laka Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Merica an Swaziland. But no inna England. Dem a hold on pon ole-time sinting. Some a di man priest dem so harden, dem seh if a no man bishop ordain dem, dem no ordain fi true. Wat a way dem backward! Mi sorry fi dem.


Tings an times a change. An all who naa change a go get lef. Anyhow, it look like seh di one dem weh waan bring een di woman bishop dem a try see wid dem odder one weh no ready. Dem no waan di church mash up. So hear wa dem a go do. All who no waan no woman bishop can aks fi one man.

imagesMi no know how dem a go manage if half a dem waan man an di next half waan woman. Dem mussi a go end up wid two bishop inna di one district weh dem call ‘diocese’. Then mek mi gi unu lickle joke. Di word bishop come from Greek: episkopos. Di epi part mean pon top; an skopos mean fi look. So bishop a overseer.

See ya! We done know bout overseer. Not a nice sinting fi a beat people fi work out dem soul case fi nutten. But dem ya holy-holy overseer supposen fi a look after wi soul an wi soul case. So wat happen to woman soul an soul case? Wi a no smaddy? Wa mek wi cyaan oversee fi wi owna soul an case? An fi di man dem to? Wa mek a ongle man can oversee?

Then through di Anglican church a di official church a England, di woman-bishop vote ha fi go a Parliament. An if it pass deh so, then di woman dem gone clear. An member seh it never easy fi woman turn priest. A no til 1994 dem ordain di first woman priest dem. Mi no understand wa mek it so hard fi Christian see seh man an woman supposen fi have di said same rights.

Old-time people seh, ‘woman luck deh a dungle heap; fowl cratch i out’. Dat simple mean seh good luck can drop pon woman anywhere. All inna dungle. Mi naa seh Anglican church a dungle. Mi no waan no overseer beat out mi soul case. But it look like seh nuff cratch-cratch a gwaan inna dat deh chuch fi root out some a di man dem an mek space fi woman. After all!


15anglican-master315Luk ou lang uman a ron choch a Jamieka! An it tek tuu touzn ier an muor fi di Anglikan dem ina Inglan disaid dem main fi mek uman ton bishop. Wat a sinting! An som a di man dem – an aal uman tu – beks, beks, beks.

Di bishop dem kliemz se dem a tan op ina wan lang, lang lain we go rait bak tu Jiizas an im twelv disaipl. Fram man tu man kom dong. Dem kaal it ‘apostolic succession’. Dem se Jiizas neva av no uman disaipl. A suo-so man. So a man fi ron tingz ina di choch. Uman no bizniz fi waahn ton no bishop. Unu tingk it iizi?

Di Anglikan choch duu av uman bishop ina som ada konchri laka Aaschrielya, Nyuu Ziilan, Kyanada, Merika an Swaazilan. Bot no ina Inglan. Dem a uol aan pan uol-taim sinting. Som a di man priis dem so aadn, dem se if a no man bishop aadien dem, dem no aadien fi chruu. Wat a wie dem bakwod! Mi sari fi dem.


Tingz an taimz a chienj. An aal uu naa chienj a go get lef. Eni-ou it luk laik se di wan dem we waahn bring iin di uman bishop dem a chrai si wid dem ada wan we no redi. Dem no waahn di choch mash op. So ier wa dem a go du. Aal uu no waahn no uman bishop kyan aks fi wan man.

Mi no nuo ou dem a go manij ef aaf a dem waahn man an di neks aaf waahn uman. Dem mosi a go en op wid tuu bishop ina di wan dischrik we dem kaal ‘diocese’. Den mek mi gi unu likl juok. Di wod bishop kom fram Griik: episkopos. Di epi paat miin pan tap; an skopos miin fi luk. So bishop a uovasiya!

100_9513_midSi ya! Wii don nuo bout uovasiya. Nat a nais sinting fi a biit piipl fi wok out dem suol kies fi notn. Bot dem ya uoli-uoli uovasiya sopuozn fi a luk aafta wi suol an wi suol kies. So wat apn tu uman suol an suol kies? Wi a no smadi? Wa mek wi kyaahn uovasi fi wi uona suol an kies? An fi di man dem tu? Wa mek a ongl man kyan uovasi?

Den chruu di Anglikan choch a di ofishal choch a Inglan, di uman-bishop vuot a fi go a Paaliment. An if it paas de so, den di uman dem gaan klier. An memba se it neva iizi fi uman ton priis. A no til 1994 dem aadien di fos uman priis dem. Mi no andastan wa mek it so aad fi Krischan si se man an uman supuozn fi av di sed siem raits.

Uol-taim piipl se, ‘uman lok de a dongl iip; foul krach i out’. Dat simpl miin se gud lok kyan jrap pan uman eniwe. Aal ina dongl. Mi naa se Anglikan choch a dongl. Mi no waahn no uovasiya biit out mi soul kies. Bot it luk laik se nof krach-krach a gwaan ina dat de choch fi ruut out som a di man dem an mek spies fi uman. Aafta raal!


UnknownWe’ve had women in charge of churches in Jamaica for so long! And it has taken more than two thousand years for the Anglicans in England to agree that women can be bishops. What a thing! And some men – and even women, too – are quite angry.

The bishops claim that their authority was established with Jesus and his twelve disciples. From man to man right down the line. They call it ‘apostolic succession’. They say Jesus did not have any female disciples. Only men. So it is men who must be leaders of the church. Women should not even want to be bishops. Can you believe it?

The Anglican church does have female bishops in some other countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the U.S. and Swaziland. But not in England. They are hanging on to tradition. Some of the male priests are so stubborn they argue that if they are not ordained by a male bishop, their priesthood is not legitimate. They are so backward! Too bad for them.


Things and times are changing. And all those who don’t want to change are going to be left behind. Anyhow, it seems as if those who support the proposal to make women bishops are trying to compromise with those who don’t. They don’t want the church to break up. So this is what they’ve decided to do. Those congregations that don’t want a female bishop can request a male.

I don’t know how they’re going to manage if half of them want a man and the other half want a woman. They’re going to end up with two bishops in one diocese, as they call the district for which a bishop is responsible. Then this is so funny. The word bishop comes from Greek: episkopos. Epi means above; and skopos means looking. So a bishop is an overseer!

Look here! We do know about this overseer business. It’s not a nice thing to have to beat people to exhaustion, body and soul, forcing them to work for nothing. But these sanctified overseers are supposed to look after both body and soul. So what’s the story with woman’s soul and body? Aren’t we human? Why can’t we overseer our own soul and body? And the men’s as well? Why is it that only men can be overseers?

ANGLICAN-master675Then because the Anglican church is the official church of England, the issue of female bishops has to be put to the vote in Parliament. And if it passes there, then the women would be free to take up office. And, remember, it wasn’t easy for women to become priests. It wasn’t until 1994 that the first female priest was ordained. I don’t understand why it’s so hard for Christians to accept that men and woman are supposed to have equal rights.

Traditional wisdom declares, ‘woman’s luck is in the garbage heap; the fowl scratches it out’. That simply means good fortune can fall on woman anywhere. Even in the dump. I’m not saying that the Anglican church is a dump. I don’t want to be beaten by any overseer. But it seems as if a lot of digging up is being done in that church to uproot some of the men and make space for women. After all!

‘Bring In All Rastas, Dead Or Alive!’

Sir Alexander Bustamante

Sir Alexander Bustamante

Those are the infamous words of Sir Alexander Bustamante, national hero and first prime minister of independent Jamaica. Bustamante’s turn of phrase comes straight out of the Wild West: “Wanted dead or alive.” Bustamante apparently conceived all Rastafarians as outlaws in a Hollywood western who had to be exterminated by any means necessary.

Issuing a death sentence, Bustamante literally turned all Rastafarians into villains. Guilty or innocent, they could no longer expect to enjoy the protection of the law. All Rastafarians were completely demonised and became victims of comprehensive state brutality. How did this come about?

images-6Half a century ago, at about 4 a.m. on ‘Holy’ Thursday, six bearded men set fire to a gas station in Coral Gardens. They were armed with machetes, guns, bows and arrows. I suppose it was cowboys and Indians, Jamrock style. The leader was Rudolph ‘Franco’ Franklyn, who had a big grievance against the owner of the gas station, Ken Douglas.

Franklyn and several other bearded men had long been squatting on land in Coral Gardens. They lived in relative peace until the land was sold to Douglas. Naturally, the new owner asserted his right to the property and attempted to drive the squatters off the land. As is often the case, the squatters refused to budge.

During one of several attempts at eviction, Franklyn was shot by the police. He survived but was told by a medical doctor that he would die sooner rather than later from a bullet lodged in his body. Determined to take revenge on his assailants, Franklyn sought allies to launch his counter-attack.


images-3At the time, there were two groups of Rastafarians living in MoBay: the dreadlocks and the combsome. The dreadlocks lived on Railway Lane and the combsome squatted in Coral Gardens. Franklyn irrationally proposed that both groups of Rastas join forces to burn down Montego Bay. The dreadlocks rejected the scheme on the basis that Rastas defend ‘peace and love’.

Franklyn, who seemed to subscribe to the philosophy “I don’t give a damn, I done dead already”, pressed along with his plans. Instead of burning down all of MoBay, he settled for Douglas’ gas station, an obviously flammable target.

On the morning of the attack, there was only one attendant at the station, Mr George Plummer, who fled for his life to the nearby Edgewater Inn Motel. He, clearly, had no shares in the company. A Mr Marsh, who was at the motel, foolishly ventured out to investigate the matter. In a most unfortunate turn of affairs, he was murdered. By midday, seven others lost their lives, including Franklyn.

According to a Gleaner report published on April 13, 1963, “The Montego Bay Fire Brigade had responded to the fire alert at 4:53 a.m. from the house of Dr Carol Delisser. The blaze at the gas station was brought under control after 5 a.m. led by Supt Sydney Burke, who joined the police squad that rushed up from Montego Bay under Inspector Fisher. Five vehicles, including two civilians, started into the hills after the Rastafarian gang. Among those chasing the gang was Mr Causwell, who was on his way to Kingston but decided to give some help to the chase.

Rose Hall Great House

Rose Hall Great House

“They drove through two miles of rough terrain from the ruins of Rose Hall Great House. The search party ran into the gang or rather ran into an ambush. The bearded men attacked from an overhanging cliff above. In the fight which ensued, two of the gang were shot to death and Corporal Melbourne and Mr Causwell were cut down. By then, it was discovered later that Headman Fowler had been already cut down about a mile from his home on Tryall Farm.”

The day’s gruesome events became known as ‘the Coral Gardens Incident’. But this was much more than an isolated ‘incident’. Franklyn’s murderous rampage was a sign of the fundamental inequities of Jamaican society. Landlessness is a recurring a problem which has never been properly addressed by successive pre- and post-Independence governments.


images-1The response of Bustamante’s government to the terrible actions of six bearded men was brutally excessive: “Bring in all Rastas, dead or alive!” Why should all Rastafarians be exterminated because of the actions of six men, especially since the ringleader had already been killed? Bustamante’s irrational call signified much more than a need to restore the peace. The Coral Gardens ‘Incident’ was a chilling episode in a long history of state violence against Rastafari.

In 1954, under the premiership of Bustamante, a major Rastafarian encampment, Pinnacle, was burnt down. The camp was located in St Jago Hills, close to Sligoville. Pinnacle was a productive agricultural hub, yielding rich crops such as cassava, peas, corn and, of course, ganja. Maintaining African traditions of collective labour, Pinnacle flourished under the leadership of Leonard Howell.

images-2French journalist Hélène Lee, author of The First Rasta: Leonard Howell and the Rise of Rastafarianism, published in 2004, proposes that Howell was the first Jamaican ‘don’ in the best possible sense of that word. He was a don in the British sense of a university professor. Howell was a Garveyite who valued scholarship.

He was also a charismatic community leader who gave hope to landless Rastafari who left Kingston’s concrete jungle for the hills of St Catherine. Pinnacle comprised approximately 5,000 acres, even though Howell owned only a conservative estimate of 150 acres and, possibly, up to 400.

Winston Churchll

Winston Churchll

According to anecdotal evidence, much of the ganja produced at Pinnacle found its way to the warfront during the Second European War. Ganja was seen as therapy for the troops. It was even rumoured that Winston Churchill’s famous cigars contained much more than tobacco. In 1953, Churchill visited Jamaica, staying at the Tower Isle hotel. Was there any connection between his visit and the destruction of Pinnacle? I leave the answer to conspiracy theorists.

Happy Birthday All The Same, Buju!

It’s Buju Banton’s 39th birthday today and it ‘hurt mi to mi heart’ that he’s behind bars.  Buju should be walking like a champion down Redemption Street.  Instead, he’s trapped in Uncle Sam’s conspiracy to derail his career.  It’s not an easy road he’s been forced to travel.

The Jamaican poet Lorna Goodison certainly understands the difficult path of the Rastaman as he ‘trods’ through creation.  In her poem, “The Road of the Dread”, she declares:

Lorna Goodison

That dey road no pave

like any other black-face road

it no have no definite color

and it fence two side

with live barbwire

And no look fi no milepost

fi measure you walking

and no tek no stone as

dead or familiar

for sometime you pass a ting

you know as . . . call it stone again

and is a snake ready fi squeeze yu

kill yu

or is a dead man tek him

possessions tease yu.

That poem, published in 1980 in Goodison’s first collection, Tamarind Season, uncannily predicts the way in which a snake-in-the-grass squeezed Mark Myrie, teasing him with the possessions of a dead man.  That trip to the warehouse to inspect a boat turned out to be a one-way street to catastrophe.

Spreading propaganda

Brought down by a paid informer, Mark Myrie seems to have carelessly forgotten what Buju Banton knows about the ways in which the political systems of the West work to spread propaganda against the innocent.  In his prophetic pan-Africanist chant, ‘Til I’m Laid to Rest, on the ‘Til Shiloh album, he details his sense of alienation in the Diaspora and his longing for repatriation.

‘Til I’m laid to rest, yes

Always be depress

There’s no life in di West

I know di East is di best

All di propaganda dem spread

Tongues will ha fi confess

Oh I’m in bondage living is a mess

And I’ve got to rise up alleviate the stress

No longer will I expose my weakness

He who seek knowledge begins with humbleness

Work 7 to 7 yet mi still penniless

Fa di food upon mi table Massa God bless

Holler fi di needy an shelterless

Ethiopia await all prince and princess

A decade ago, when ‘Til Shiloh was released, Buju’s bondage was metaphorical.  Today, it’s all too literal. Having foolishly exposed his weakness – running up his mouth with a stranger – Mark Myrie is paying a terrible penalty.  He’s facing the prospect of incarceration for fifteen years.

Myrie could have been given a mere three-year sentence if he had yielded to the temptation of a plea bargain.  But he has resolutely refused to concede guilt.  Some may say he’s foolish to hold out for justice.  But those of us who believe in his innocence completely understand why Mark wants his name cleared.

Stamina Daddy and Mr. Mention

‘Til Shiloh was a decisive turning point in the artist’s stellar career.  It marked his transition from dancehall DJ to roots reggae Rastafari icon.  Buju’s first two albums, Stamina Dadda and Mr. Mention, both released in 1992, are classic dancehall.  Most of the tracks focus on sexual love.  Buju pays respect to the shape and flexibility of the well-endowed woman in tunes like Mampy Size, Bxtty Rider and Love How the Gal Dem Flex.  But it’s not only the woman’s body that Buju admires.  It’s also her intelligence and her capacity to make her way in the world:  “Unu move up inna life no doubt about that”.

The early albums also include the exceptional ‘bad-man’ tunes Gun Unnu Want and Man Fe Dead.  Assuming the persona of the Hollywood gangster, Buju Banton discharges dangerous lyrics with unbelievable bravado: “Di amount a gun wi have wi can’t run outa stock”; and “Gun shot fi bus up inna informer head”.

But there was also the occasional politically charged song that anticipated Buju’s later preoccupation with social justice.  In How the World A Run from the Mr. Mention album, Buju takes up the mantle of the Warner man:

Where food is concerned there is a problem

Uman can’t find food fi gi di children

While di rich man have di chicken back a feed di dog dem

But woe be unto dem

He who rides against poor people shall perish inna di end

Voice of Jamaica, released in 2002, featured even more tunes focusing on social issues: Deportees (Things Change), Operation Ardent and Wicked Act featuring Busta Rhymes.

On tour in France in the 1990s, Buju had a Damascus Road conversion.  At the launch of his Rasta Got Soul album at the University of the West Indies, Mona, Buju told a compelling story of the impact of Burning Spear’s performance:  “Di man deliver such a set dat if dem never call mi right weh, mi just run come back a Jamaica. So mi inna di dressing room now an mi start tink inna mi self, it start come to me, ‘Mark, you’re not ready for this. No, you’re not. Yu lickle Bxtty Rider an yu lickle Love Mi Browning weak. Dis bigger dan you, man.’”

The very next day, Buju turned to Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry for a spliff and advice: “Lee, mi waan music, Iyah! Weh mi see di I dem a do, an mi see dem a play, mi cyaan, mi mi waan music, man.” This is how ‘Scratch’ responded: “Heh heh heh heh heh! Yu have to go out and make the music that the people can feel wid a humanistic approach.” The result was the masterful Til Shiloh.

Marcus Garvey

Til I’m Laid to Rest documents Buju’s trod across Africa and his ‘overstanding’ of Marcus Garvey’s vision of African Redemption:

What coulda bad so bout di East?

Everybody want a piece

Africa fi Africans, Marcus Mosiah speak

Unification outnumber defeat

What a day when we walkin down Redemption Street

Banner pon head, Bible inna hand

One an all mek wi trod di promised land

Buju go down a Congo stop inna Shashamane Land

Di city of Harare is where Selassie come from

In Addis Ababa then Botswana

Left Kenya an end up inna Ghana

Oh, what a beauty my eyesight behold

Only Ethiopia protect me from the cold

Keep the faith, Buju!  You’ll soon be walking down Redemption Street again.