Phillips Sweetens “Bitter Medicine”

imagesIn a hopeful Budget speech that insistently focused on facts, Finance Minister Dr. Peter Phillips demolished the false claims of both Opposition Leader Andrew Holness and the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) spokesman on finance, Audley Shaw, about the state of the Jamaican economy. Ironically quoting both Shaw and former Prime Minister, Bruce Golding, Phillips underscored the urgent need to place the national interest above political opportunism.

On the contentious matter of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Phillips emphasised the failure of the JLP to “undertake the necessary structural reforms in order to achieve a sustainable balance of payments”.  Instead of administering the “bitter medicine” that Holness had prescribed in 2011, the former JLP government simply “took the money and ran,” according to Phillips. Now, the JLP insists that the passing of IMF tests is “contrived”.

asl-alphabetIn a witty aside, Phillips asserted, in reference to Audley Shaw, “him want the horse but not the bridle”. I wished there had been more of that kind of vivid language in Phillips’ rather technical speech. I kept on wondering just how many listeners really understood the ins and outs of Phillips’ arguments. I got lost at times. It struck me that the deaf were much better served than the majority of Jamaicans. They had access to sign language. For most of us, the minister’s technical words fell on deaf ears.

I believe that for important national matters like the Budget debates, translators should be employed to turn technical English into accessible Jamaican Creole. All our talk of democracy is pointless if we continue to exclude the majority of Jamaicans from public discourse. As one woman said to me, “From dem start wid dem ‘per cent’, mi stop listen. Because mi no know weh dem a seh”.

korting_TUINederlandWhat is so sad is that “per cent” is such an easy concept to translate: “out of every 100”.   But those of us who know English don’t think it’s essential to include in our national debates those Jamaicans who don’t know the language. We claim that they understand when they don’t. And it doesn’t seem to matter to us that so many Jamaicans stop listening when we start to talk to ourselves.

I am convinced that many more Jamaicans would buy into the government’s Budget if they fully understood our options. We would come to accept the fact that the price of hope is sacrifice.   Eucalyptus oil is, indeed, bitter medicine. But it really is therapeutic. That’s the message Peter Phillips needs to communicate in a language that everybody can understand. Including Mr. Shaw and Mr. Holness!

Mi No Want No Woman Look Mi!

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.

CHAKA-CHAKA SPELLING

imagesEverywhere mi turn, macca jook mi. Look how mi a try emancipate miself from mental slavery. Mi a defend gay people rights inna fi wi country. It look like mi mighta ha fi go stop. Trouble deh a road, mi naa bring it a mi yard.

Di whole a wi inna Jamaica grow pon Bible. An from yu a pikni, big people tel yu seh man an woman business a no fi pikni. An wen yu grow lickle bigger, dem mek yu know seh man fi sex woman an woman fi sex man. No man an man an woman an woman slackness! Dem seh a so God seh inna Bible.

Mi memba di first funny man mi know. Im did work inna one beauty parlour pon di same road weh mi did live. Mi a bout eight, nine. Dem deh age. An mi get fi understand seh im never ‘normal’. Im did walk an wine, an im hair did straighten. An im a hairdresser! Dem deh time, dat a woman work.

Mi can’t member di first funny woman mi know. It look like seh wi no so fussy bout dem deh woman inna Jamaica. A di funny man dem wi tek set pon. An chruu woman an woman a fren, an woman love hug up dem fren, woman coulda funny an yu no know.

‘BRAZEN PROPOSITION’

All dis fi seh, mi did get one next email from ‘Jordan’ last week. It funny. But it never sweet mi. A now mi know how di man dem feel wen man try hold dem down an dem no want it. Mi a big woman. Mi know mi mind. Mi naa follow ‘Bible’ go burn fire pon gay people. Mi have lesbian fren. But mi naa sex dem. Mi no gay, an mi no want no woman look mi.

Si di email ya: “Good day Prof Cooper, how are you? I took a look at your blog it’s nicely set up. The articles are interesting.The patois makes me dizzy though as we read only english during my time at UWI. I know you don’t remember me but we ‘met’ briefly on the jogging trail a few mornings. I’ve always hoped you were gay but i never had the courage as a student to make such a brazen proposition!

books_4“It would be good to have intelligent gay role models for homosexual youth in Jamaica, however i don’t think our society is ready for this.The PM seems to share the same sentiment as evidenced by her apparent avoidance of the issue which i believe to be a wise decision at this time. Developing a thriving economy and minimising corruption should be top priority …. well things may change unexpectedly … look what happened in Brazil a few years ago! Anyhow take care and keep up the exercise …. you look good girl !”

Liberty come from carelessness. It look like mi ha fi go stop write column fi Gleaner an tek bak mi privacy. If a no cuss dem a cuss mi, a look dem a look mi. Di ongle smaddy mi want look mi a one nice, ageable genkleman. No young boy. No old man. No married man. No man weh a sex man an uman. Yu ha fi can read an write. Yu ha fi have teeth. If yu qualify, come put argument. Otherwise, beg yu please lef mi in peace!

PRAPA-PRAPA SPELIN

Evri we mi ton, maka juk mi. Luk ou mi a chrai imansipiet miself fram mental slievri. Mi a difen gie piipl raits ina fi wi konchri. It luk laik mi maita a fi go tap. Chrobl de a ruod, mi naa bring it a mi yaad.

Di uol a wi iina Jamieka gruo pan Baibl. An fram yu a pikni, big piipl tel yu se man an uman bizniz a no fi pikni. An wen yu gruo likl biga, dem mek yu nuo se man fi seks uman an uman fi seks man. No man an man an uman an uman slaknis! Dem se a so Gad se iina Baibl.

Mi memba di fos foni man mi nuo. Im did work inna one beauty parlour pon di same road weh mi did live. Mi a bout iet, nain. Dem de iej. An mi get fi andastan se im neva ‘naamal’. Im did waak an wain, an im ier did chrietn. An im a ierjresa. Dem de taim, dat a uman work.

Mi kyaahn memba di fos foni uman mi nuo. It luk laik se wi no so fosi bout dem de uman iina Jamieka. A di foni man dem wi tek set pan. An chruu uman an uman a fren, an uman lov og op dem fren, uman kuda foni an yu no nuo.

‘BRAZEN PROPOSITION’

Aal dis fi se, mi did get wan neks iimail fram ‘Jordan’ laas wiik. It foni. Bot it neva swiit mi. A nou mi nuo ou di man dem fiil wen man chrai uol dem dong an dem no waahnt it. Mi a big uman. Mi nuo mi main. Mi naa fala ‘Baibl’ go bon faiya pan gie piipl. Mi av lesbiyan fren. Bot mi naa seks dem. Mi no gie, an mi no waahn no uman luk mi.

dizzySi di iimiel ya: “Good day Prof Cooper, how are you? I took a look at your blog it’s nicely set up. The articles are interesting.The patois makes me dizzy though as we read only english during my time at UWI. I know you don’t remember me but we ‘met’ briefly on the jogging trail a few mornings. I’ve always hoped you were gay but i never had the courage as a student to make such a brazen proposition!

“It would be good to have intelligent gay role models for homosexual youth in Jamaica, however i don’t think our society is ready for this.The PM seems to share the same sentiment as evidenced by her apparent avoidance of the issue which i believe to be a wise decision at this time.Developing a thriving economy and minimising corruption should be top priority …. well things may change unexpectedly …. look what happened in Brazil a few years ago! Anyhow take care and keep up the exercise …. you look good girl !”

Libati kom fram kielisnis. It luk laik mi a fi go tap rait kalam fi Gleaner an tek bak mi praivisi. If a no kos dem a kos mi, a luk dem a luk mi. Di ongl smadi mi waan luk mi a wan nais, iejibl jenklman. No yong bwai. No uol man. No marid man. No man we a seks man an uman. Yu a fi kyan riid an rait. Yu a fi av tiit. If yu kwalifai, kom put aagyument. Adawaiz, beg yu pliiz lef mi in piis!

ENGLISH TRANSLATION

I Don’t Want Women To Proposition Me!

emancipate-ourselves-from-mental-slavery-big-text1At every turn, I’m under attack.  I’ve been trying so hard to emancipate myself from mental slavery. I’ve been defending gay  rights in Jamaica.  But it seems as if I might have to stop and start minding my own business.  I can’t take on other people’s troubles.

All of us in Jamaica were raised on the Bible. As children, we were told by adults that sex was not for minors.  As we grew older, we were taught that heterosexuality was the norm.  Homosexuality was condemned by God:  that’s what the Bible says.

I can still remember the first gay man I became aware of.  He worked in a beauty parlour on the same road where I lived. I was about eight or nine years old at the time.  And I came to realise he wasn’t ‘normal’.  He walked with a swing in his hips and his hair was straightened.  And he was a hairdresser!  Those days, that was women’s work.

I can’t remember the first gay woman I became aware of.   It seems as if we’re not so obsessed about them in Jamaica. It’s gay men who are constantly scrutinised. And since women are open about friendship and love to embrace each other, they could be gay and no one would be any the wiser.

‘BRAZEN PROPOSITION’

All that to say, I did get another email from ‘Jordan’ last week. It was funny. But I wan’t amused. Now I know how men feel when a man tries to have sex with them and they don’t want it. I’m an adult. I can make up my own mind. I’m not going to uncritically accept any interpretation of the Bible that claims we should call down hellfire on gay people. I have friends who are lesbian. But I’m not having sex with them.  I’m not gay and I don’t want to be propositioned by women.

Here’s the email: “Good day Prof Cooper, how are you? I took a look at your blog it’s nicely set up. The articles are interesting.The patois makes me dizzy though as we read only english during my time at UWI. I know you don’t remember me but we ‘met’ briefly on the jogging trail a few mornings. I’ve always hoped you were gay but i never had the courage as a student to make such a brazen proposition!

SMILEEE“It would be good to have intelligent gay role models for homosexual youth in Jamaica, however i don’t think our society is ready for this.The PM seems to share the same sentiment as evidenced by her apparent avoidance of the issue which i believe to be a wise decision at this time. Developing a thriving economy and minimising corruption should be top priority …. well things may change unexpectedly … look what happened in Brazil a few years ago! Anyhow take care and keep up the exercise …. you look good girl !”

People take liberties with you if you’re not careful. It looks as if I’m going to have to stop writing for the Gleaner and reclaim my privacy. If it’s not abuse, it’s unwelcome advances.  The only person I want to proposition me is a suitable gentleman of an appropriate age. No young boy. No old man. No married man. No man who is having sex with men and woman. You have to be literate. You must have teeth. If you qualify, you can make an offer. Otherwise,  please leave me in peace!

Coming Out In Jamaica – Dead Or Alive

Last Wednesday, I got two emails that forced me to write this column. I’d already been thinking about sharing a schizophrenic email that came in response to last Sunday’s column. Homophobia in Jamaica is still so fierce that even writing about the subject makes people point fingers at you. But my back is broad. So mi just a gwaan.

coming-out-450x429Here’s the first email, which I’ve not edited for punctuation errors, etc. So mi get it, so mi give it: “Hello Ms Cooper, how are you?I am an occasional reader of your column and it seems like homosexuality is one of your favourite topics.Tell me something are you in the closet yourself? If not then why such passion and sympathy for these folks. Well, if i am right and you need a hook up feel free to let me know. Peace, love and respect.”

My response: “Thanks for taking the time to send feedback. If you were to read my columns regularly, not just occasionally, you would see that I write on a wide range of topics. I would say that chik-V (and the failure of the Ministry of Health to protect) is one of my recent favourites. You can catch up on my blog – the link is below.

“Then you wonder if I’m in the closet. Your question is a classic example of the fool-fool assumption that a newspaper columnist only writes about his or her personal issues. In any case, I must decline your facetious offer to “hook up” with me. I do not embrace abusive relationships. Best of luck with finding a suitable sexual partner!”

LIVING IN LEVITICUS

That email came from ‘Jordan’. Could be male or female. I suppose s/he was not necessarily proposing her/himself for the ‘hook up’. But the tone of the email is abusive. And what I find intriguing is that s/he is willing to source a lesbian for me, even though s/he appears to disapprove of homosexuality.

Then why does this ‘bright’ person feel I’m not able to find my own sexual partners? Why would I need his/her help? The email is not only facetious; it’s facety. And instinct tells me that the author is male. And Jamaican. There’s a type of Jamaican man who just loves to tell women what to do. Especially if it’s directing them to engage in sexual practices he enjoys watching under cover.

I’d decided not to bother to write about that out-of-order email. And then I got these two others. The first came from my friend Maria, co-organiser of the International Reggae Poster Contest, who lives in Greece.

http://www.reggaepostercontest.com

It was about a story in Pink News, ‘Europe’s Largest Gay News Service’, published on March 10.

The headline was sensational: ‘Report: Gay man stoned to death in Jamaica’. The actual ‘report’ is more cautious: “Video has emerged reportedly showing the bloodied body of a gay Jamaican man who it is claimed was stoned to death.” If this is true, we’re back in the Old Testament, in the book of Leviticus. This is not a good place to be in the 21st century.

‘BOYS WHO DIDN’T FIT IN’

The second email came from another friend, Ben, an attorney in the US. It was a link to a beautifully written personal essay by the novelist Marlon James, published in The New York Times on March 10. The essay is headlined “From Jamaica to Minnesota to Myself”. It opens with an unsettling quote: “I knew I had to leave my home country – whether in a coffin or in a plane.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/15/magazine/from-jamaica-to-minnesota-to-myself.html?_r=0

James’ account of growing up as an outsider in Jamaica is disquieting: “I’d spent seven years in an all-boys school: 2,000 adolescents in the same khaki uniforms striking hunting poses, stalking lunchrooms, classrooms, changing rooms, looking for boys who didn’t fit in.

“I bought myself protection by cursing, locking my lisp behind gritted teeth, folding away my limp wrist and drawing 36-double-D girls for art class. I took a copy of Penthouse to school to score cool points, but the other boys called me ‘batty boy’ anyway every day, five days a week. To save my older, cooler brother, I pretended we weren’t related.”

But we are related. No matter how religiously some of us deny it, gay Jamaicans are us: mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, cousins – not-so-distant relatives. I suppose ‘Jordan’ could have been one of the boys who would have hunted Marlon James. And s/he might very well email me again this week, like a stalker, looking for confirmation that I’m in the closet. Another column on homosexuality, so I must be gay.

After writing the first draft of this column with those sentences, I did get a seemingly conciliatory response from ‘Jordan': “Sorry Carolyn, no offence meant…Peace, Love and respect to you. Keep up the good work.” Makes no sense. But this is Jamaica. Conflicted about sexuality.

OverTheEdge_logoMarlon James writes about being suicidal: “One day after school, instead of going home, I walked for miles, all the way down to Kingston Harbor. I stopped right at the edge of the dock, thinking next time I would just keep walking.”Marlon found the courage to stay in Jamaica and not walk over the edge. He has written three brilliant novels that are rooted in our fertile/arid landscape. Thank God Marlon James came out of Jamaica in a plane, not a coffin!

KC Old Boys Won’t Kiss and Make Up

Bishop Gibson, Founder of Kingston College

Bishop Gibson, Founder of Kingston College

Last year, I got a lovely invitation from Dr. Patrick Dallas, president of the KC old boys’ association. It was to give the Kingston College Founder’s Week lecture, scheduled for next month. I was delighted to accept. KC is the brother school of my high school, St. Hugh’s; and my own brother is a KC old boy. We’re family!

Then, a few months later, completely forgetting about the invitation, I foolishly had a little fun at the old boys’ expense in my now-infamous column. I won’t even repeat the scandalous headline because I’m afraid of arousing the old boys’ passion again. That’s not the kind of passionate arousal I like to provoke.

When I saw the murderous responses to my satirical column, I immediately emailed Dr. Dallas. Given the ‘trauma’ I had caused, I told him, I would completely understand if the old boys decided to withdraw the invitation. I felt it was the right thing to do at the time. The wounds were fresh and the old boys were hurting.

Then, after the Charlie Hebdo shootings, I publicly apologised in another column for pulling the old boy’s legs: “Wa A Joke To You A Death To Me”, published on January 18, 2015. Sex and religion are very delicate subjects. Especially in Jamaica, homosexuality is no laughing matter.

DEEP DISTRESS

All the same, I hoped that the old boys would eventually forgive, even if they could not forget. But alas! That was not to be. Late last month, I got a rather disappointing email from Dr. Dallas. The invitation to give the Founder’s Week lecture has, indeed, been formally withdrawn because “the distress still runs deep among many persons in the KC Family and this makes such a possibility too difficult at this time”.

I’m disappointed not because I no longer have to prepare a lecture for the Founder’s Week event. I give lectures for a living. So it’s not like I’m dying to speak in public to old boys and young men who may be carrying feelings. What surprises me, though, is that some of the KC old boys are still keeping malice – after four months!

I say “some” because I really can’t imagine that it’s a unanimous decision to withdraw the invitation. There must be a few men on the committee brave enough to say, “Wi no fraid fi her”. They must know that on a grand occasion like the Founder’s Week lecture, I would behave myself. Not a word about same-sex dinners would slip out of my mouth!

stereotypesThe problem with having a reputation for being ‘controversial’ is that you get stereotyped. It’s assumed that you delight in controversy for the hell of it. In my case, this is certainly not true. I don’t go looking for controversy. It’s the other way around. Controversy stalks me. And I have to keep running away.

By now, the KC old boys must have found an uncontroversial substitute to deliver the Founder’s Week lecture. So it’s not like I’m begging them to reconsider their decision to uninvite me. What I am hoping for is that the ‘controversy’ ignited by my column will inspire more frank discussion about sexuality in Jamaica today.

GAY ROLE MODELS

At the core of that satirical column was the expectation that one-day, one-day, gay men could, indeed, come out in Jamaica and not feel ‘a way’ about their sexuality. It was a serious joke I was making. And the fact that so many KC old boys got so angry at the very thought of the Fortis name being ‘tarnished’, means that I touched a very sensitive nerve.

largeI keep wondering about the young people all across Jamaica who may be wrestling with their sexuality. And I don’t mean hands-on combat. Conflicted young men and women need reassurance that it’s OK to be gay. Where are they going to find support? Where are the gay men and women who could be role models for these youth? Without exploiting them!

This is a conversation that needs to be taken out of the proverbial closet and put on the public agenda. We can’t keep on hiding from the subject. We must take the shame out of sexuality in all its variations. My edgy column on the male-only dinner was an opportunity to seriously consider the taboo topic of sex at school. In and out of the water closet!

Admittedly, the ironic tone of the column made it look as if I was not just mocking the old boys for their folly in excluding women from their special dinner. I seemed to be turning homosexuality into a weapon of abuse! That’s the trickiness of satire. It both is and isn’t what it appears to be.

I certainly understand the persistent desire of long-time buddies to reunite annually.  Without the prying eyes of females who may be tempted to pass unwelcome judgement! Old boys are entitled to their homosocial world. Social means just that: innocent socialising.

And even though I did say I would understand if I were uninvited, I thought the KC old boys would be able to kiss and makeup. But I now see that it’s going to take a very long time for me to be accepted back into the family. If ever! And I would have given such a nice lecture, you know.

Chikungunya Spells Death

hqdefaultReverend Glen Archer, our champion spelling coach, seems to have died from chik-V complications. According to a Gleaner article published last Sunday, “He had been suffering from renal failure for the past five years, requiring dialysis two to three times per week.



 But his condition worsened in December when he got the Chikungunya virus”.

I don’t suppose the ministry of health would count Reverend Archer’s death as chik-V-related. He was probably not a ‘confirmed’ case. But there is so much anecdotal evidence of death as a result of the virus. Why has the ministry refused to acknowledge the high number of suspected cases?

And why has chik-V vanished from the news? It certainly has not left the bodies of its victims. Many of us are still suffering: fingers cramped up; feet hurting; constant pain all over with very little prospect of lasting relief. Chik-V is now chronic. It’s stale news.

Apart from the announcement of Reverend Archer’s death and Dr Shane Alexis’ warning of worsening complications (‘Chik-V combo’, February 12, 2015),  one of the most recent references to chik-V on the Gleaner web site turned up in Dr. Michael Abrahams’ amusing poem, “2014 Year in Review”, posted on January 5, 2015: “CHIKV pop dung almost everybody”. Dr. Abrahams’ estimate of the spread of the disease is much higher than that of the ministry of health.  And probably far more accurate!

OUT OF NOWHERE?

On the Observer’s website, the report on Reverend Archer’s death published last Monday also pointed fingers at chik-V. Before that, the latest reference to chik-V appeared in Mrs. Barbara Gloudon’s column, “From CHIKV to scepticism in the nation’s health care”, published on January 9, 2015. Neither Dr. Abrahams’ poem nor Mrs. Gloudon’s opinion piece is hard-core news.

Mrs. Gloudon proposed that chik-V “could be regarded as one of the most disturbing events we have experienced in a long time”. And, as a veteran journalist, she fully understands how news works. So she adds: “One is tempted to brand it a nine-day wonder . . . . ” That’s the temptation the media, in all forms, must always resist – the big story that quickly burns out.

Mrs. Gloudon doesn’t end her sentence there. She continues, “but it has turned out to be more than that”.  Chik-V is noteworthy “for the sneakiness of its attack and how painful the hurt it brought us, the likes of which we had never known before. The pains still continue for many.

images-1“Last September, when out of nowhere it descended on us the minister of health soon became eligible for the unenviable title of most battered politician of the year. Beaten into submission by the growing tide of public disaffection over CHIKV, the national health system trembled”.

But chik-V did not sneak up on us. It did not descend from nowhere. In 2011, the Pan-American Health Organisation (PAHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned us that chik-V was coming. They jointly published a document, Preparedness and Response for Chikungunya Virus Introduction in the Americas.

NO BETTER PORK, NO BETTER BARREL

I don’t know when that document reached Jamaica. Unless it arrived after December 29, 2011, the Jamaica Labour Party would have been the government in office. Was the minister of health, Dr. Baugh, aware of the threat of chik-V? And, if so, what did he do about it?

In an article published in the Observer on September 26, 2014, with the headline, “Baugh: Chikungunya now a full blown epidemic”, the former minister of health speaks out: “According to Dr Baugh, all the doubts raised by the Government in response to the Opposition’s complaints about the uncontrolled spread of chikungunya in Jamaica have now been erased. He accused the Government of being arrogant and out of touch with reality on the ground”.

PAHO-technical-reportDr. Baugh is right. But it’s a case of no better pork, no better barrel. Both the JLP and the PNP failed us. Chik-V should not have come on us like a thief in the night.   The security guards should not have been sleeping on the job. I suppose the JLP government was too busy campaigning in 2011 to pay attention to chik-V.

But what’s the ‘excuse’ of the present Government? In May 2012, PAHO and the CDC put on a training workshop on chik-V at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel. Fourteen people from Jamaica attended that meeting. Did they spread the word? It doesn’t seem so. They should all be fired for negligence.

I recently gave an old lady a ride to the University hospital. She thought she had chik-V. A friend of hers had recommended kerosene oil for the rash. After using it one time, she stopped. She didn’t like how her skin was looking.

One of the tragedies of the chik-V epidemic is that the medical doctors had no idea how to help us. At first, they prescribed Panadol. And that was it. Then they added steroids to their bag of tricks. So we resorted to all kinds of self-medication: leaf of life, bizi, guinea hen weed, single bible, kerosene oil!  On and on we experimented.

If chik-V didn’t kill us, the combination of ‘cures’ certainly could. The doctor who tried her best to treat my unconfirmed chik-V told me recently that a new strain of the virus is on its way. And dengue is here as well. PAHO estimates that there may be more deaths from dengue than Chik-V across the Caribbean. Only God can help us.

Big Tingz A Gwaan Fi Mis Lou

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.

CHAKA-CKAKA SPELIN Miss Lou dead an gone. But wi naa figet weh shi do fi big up fi wi Jamaica culture. A she mek plenty a wi know seh wi no ha fi shame bout fi wi heart language. It a no no bad talking. A one good-good sinting. Wen wi long-time people dem did come from Africa, dem never get no chance fi walk wid dem bag an pan. Dem come wid dem two long hand. Tie up. A thief dem thief de man bring dem ya so. Dem never plan fi come. miss_lou_cover_final_2

Still for all, dem bring nuff culture inna dem head cup. It did full up. Dem bring dem talent an dem skill. Dem a farmer, artist, doctor, lawyer, teacher, soldier, banker, cook, stylist – all kind a different-different profession. An dem bring dem whole heap a language from all bout. Wen di English people dem force on fi dem one dehgeh-dehgeh language pon di African people dem, dem dis twist it up, an bruck it up, an mix it up wid fi dem owna language dem. An dem mek up one new language. Jamaican.

Tuesday gone, di first book weh write bout Miss Lou launch up a University of the West Indies, Mona. A Prof Mervyn Morris write it. An a Ian Randle Publishers bring it out. It name Miss Lou: Louise Bennett and Jamaican Culture. Prof Morris tell wi bout di whole a Miss Lou life.

Den im talk bout how shi did act inna pantomine an shi write some a dem. An shi did collect up Anansi story. An shi do Ring Ding programme pon TV. An shi write nuff poem. An Prof Morris tell wi bout Miss Lou an fi her Aunty Roachy weh did deh pon radio. Di last-last ting Prof Morris tell wi bout a di dead lef. Wa Mis Lou call di ‘whole a heap a culture an tradition an birthright’ weh left fi wi.

RESPECT DUE!

An a Prof Eddie Baugh launch di book. Im show wi seh a long time now Prof Morris did a study Miss Lou. In a 1963, im did preach one sermon, ‘On Reading Louise Bennett, Seriously’. Yu see dat deh comma. It serious. It mean fi seh a no joke Prof Morris a joke.

Im know seh wen certain people hear bout ‘reading’ Miss Lou, dem a go waan laugh. Dem no know seh Miss Lou write down her poem dem, fi instance. Dem tink she shi dis get up an chat. Nutten no go so. Wi ha fi understand seh Miss Lou sit down an tink bout wa shi a go get up an seh. Respect due!

Dis ya Thursday, Prof Morris an Prof Baugh a go deh pon NewsTalk 93FM a talk bout di book. A di programme “Big Tingz a Gwaan”, weh mi an di yute Tyane Robinson do. It broadcast 4:30 in a di afternoon. An it come on back pon Saturday 3:30. So unu fi try ketch it. Wi talk in a so-so Jamaican. http://www.newstalk93fm.com/programmes/big-tingz-ah-gwaan/

Den mi deh a Liguanea Plaza last year an one man pass mi an seh, “Miss Lou daughter”! It sweet mi so till. One a di ting mi find out in a Prof Morris book a dis: Miss Lou womb did tek out chruu it did a gi her problem. So shi couldn’t have no pikni. Well, mi know seh Miss Lou got nuff culture pikni an gran-pikni an great-gran-pikni. Give thanks!

PRAPA-PRAPA SPELIN Mis Lou ded an gaan. Bot wi naa figet we shi du fi big op fi wi Jamieka kolcha. A shi mek plenti a wi nuo se wi no afi shiem bout fi wi aat langwij. It a no no bad taakin. A wahn gud-gud sinting. Wen wi lang-taim piipl dem did kom fram Afrika, dem neva get no chaans fi waak wid dem bag an pan. Dem kom wid dem tuu lang an. Tai op. A tiif dem tiif de man bring dem ya so. Dem neva plan fi kom.

imagesStil far aal, dem bring nof kolcha ina dem ed kop. It did ful op. Dem bring dem talent an dem skil. Dem a faama, aatis, dakta, laaya, tiicha,suoja, bangka, kuk, stailis – aal kain a difran-difran profeshan. An dem bring dem uol iip a langwij fram aal bout. Wen di Inglish piipl dem fuos aan fi dem wan dege, dege langwij pan di Afrikan piipl dem, dem dis twis it op, an brok it op, an miks it op wid fi dem uona langwij dem. An dem mek op wahn nyuu langwij. Jamiekan.

Chuuzde gaan, di fosbuk we rait bout Mis Lou laanch op a University of the West Indies, Mona. A Prof Mervyn Morris rait it. An a Ian Randle Publishers bring it out. It niem Miss Lou: Louise Bennett and Jamaican Culture. An Prof Morris tel wi bout di uol a Mis Lou laif.

Den im taak bout ou shi did a kina pantomain an shi rait som a dem. An shi did kalek op anansi tuori. An shi du Ring Ding pruogram pan TV. An shi rait nof puoem. An Prof Morris tel wi bout Mis Lou an fi aar Aunty Roachy we did de pan riedyo. Di laas-laas ting Prof Morris tel wi bout a di ded lef. Wa Mis Lou kaal di ‘whole a heap a culture an tradition an birthright’ we lef fi wi.

RISPEK JUU!

An a Prof Eddie Baugh laanch di buk. Im shuo wi se a lang taim nou Prof Morris did a stodi Mis Lou. In a 1963, im did priich wahn sorman, ‘On Reading Louise Bennett, Seriously’. Yu si dat de kama. It siiryos. It miin fi se a no juok Prof Morris a juok. Im nuo se wen sortn piipl ier bout ‘reading’ Mis Lou, dem a go waahn laaf. Dem no nuo se Mis Lou rait dong aar puoem dem, fi instans. Dem tingk se shi dis git op an chat. Notn no go so. Wi a fi andastan se Mis Lou sidong an tingk bout wa shi a go get op an se. Rispek juu!

Prof Morris

Prof Morris

Dis ya Torzde, Prof Morris an Prof Baugh a go de pan NewsTalk 93FM a taak bout di buk. A di pruogram “Big Tingz a Gwaan”, we mi an di yuut Tyane Robinson du. It braadkyaas 4:30 in a di aaftanuun. An it kom aan bak pan Satide 3:30. So unu fi chrai kech it. Wi taak in a suoso Jamiekan.

Den mi de a Liguanea Plaza laas ier an wahn man paas mi an se, “Mis Lou daata!” It swiit mi so til. Wan a di ting mi fain out in a Prof Morris buk a dis: Mis Lou uum did tek out chruu it did a giar problem. So shi kudn av no pikni. Wel, mi nuo se Mis Lou gat nof kolcha pikni an gran-pikni an griet-gran-pikni. Giv tangks!

ENGLISH TRANSLATION

Miss Lou is dead and gone. But we won’t forget what she did to celebrate our Jamaican culture. She is the one who made a lot of us understand that we don’t have to be ashamed of our heart language. It’s not talking bad.  It’s a very good thing. When our ancestors came from Africa, they didn’t get the chance to bring all their belongings. They came empty-handed. And their hands were tied.  They were abducted and brought here. They hadn’t planned to come.

All the same, they brought lots of culture in their heads. Full to the brim. They brought their talents and skills. They were farmers, artists, doctors, lawyers, teachers, soldiers, bankers, cooks, stylists – all kinds of different professions. And they brought a whole variety of languages from the continent. When the English people imposed their single language on the Africans, they twisted it, an mangled it up, an mixed it up with their own languages. And they created a new language. Jamaican. Unknown-2

Last Tuesday, the first book to be written about Miss Lou was launched at the University of the West Indies, Mona. Prof Mervyn Morris is the author. And it was published by Ian Randle Publishers. The title is  Miss Lou: Louise Bennett and Jamaican Culture. Prof Morris tells us all about Miss Lou’s life.

Then he focuses on her career.   She acted in pantomimes and she even wrote some of them. And she collected Anansi stories. And she hosted the Ring Ding programme on TV. And she wrote lots of poems. And Prof Morris tells us about Miss Lou and her Aunty Roachy who were on radio. The very last thing Prof Morris talks about is legacy. What Miss Lou herself described as all of that culture and tradition – the  birthright –  that’s left for us.

RESPECT DUE!

And it was Prof Eddie Baugh who launched the book. He said Prof Morris has been studying Miss Lou’s work for a very long time. In 1963, he preached a sermon, ‘On Reading Louise Bennett, Seriously’. That comma is very significant. It means that Prof Morris really isn’t joking.

He knows that when certain people hear him say ‘reading’ Miss Lou, they’re going to want to laugh. They don’t know that Miss Lou wrote her poems, for instance. They think she just got up and chatted off the top of her head. That’s not so at all. We have to understand that Miss Lou sat down and thought about what she was going to get up and say. Respect due!

This Thursday, Prof Morris and Prof Baugh are going to be on NewsTalk 93FM  talking about the book. It’s the programme “Big Tingz a Gwaan”, which the young man, Tyane Robinson, and I  do. It comes on at 4:30 in the afternoon. And it’s aired again on Saturdays at 3:30. So you should try to try to catch it. We speak pure Jamaican.  (How yu like that bilingual pun!)

Then I was at the Liguanea Plaza last year and a man passed me and said, “Miss Lou daughter”! I was so amused! One of the things I found out in Prof Morris’ book is that Miss Lou had had a hysterectomy because she’d been having lots of problems. So she couldn’t have children. Well, I know that Miss Lou has lots and lots of  culture children and grand-children and great-grand-children. Give thanks!

Bob Marley’s Literary Legacy

Bob Marley is one of the finest poets Jamaica has produced. His skilful use of language – both English and Jamaican – compellingly affirms his highly charged literary sensibility. Biblical allusion, proverb, riddle and Rastafari symbolism are all potent elements of his creative writing. His words require the careful critical attention we usually give to poets who don’t know how to sing.

In “One Drop”, Bob Marley vividly defines reggae as a “drumbeat … playing a rhythm/resisting against the system.” And the central concern of his songs is, most certainly, beating down the oppressive social system. Babylon, the whore, the fallen woman of St John’s Revelation, must be chanted down in fiery poetry.

The Rastaman’s chant against Babylon echoes the fall of biblical Jericho. The power of the spoken word is brilliantly manifested in the distinctive language of Rastafari. With upful lyrics, Rastafari condemn downpressors of all stripes. And they teach a revolutionary philosophy that puts truths and rights at the very centre of the new curriculum.

In “Crazy Baldhead”, from the Rastaman Vibration album, the theme of revolution resounds. The social institutions of Babylon are seen as dysfunctional – the educational, religious and penal systems. “Brain-wash education” must be rejected and the con-man/crazy baldhead sent running out of town:

Build your penitentiary

We build your schools

Brain-wash education to make us the

fools.

Hateraged you reward for our love

Telling us of your God above.

We gonna chase those crazy

Chase those crazy bunkheads

Chase those crazy baldheads

Out of town.

Here comes the con-man

Coming with his con-plan

We won’t take no bribe

We got to stay alive.

ROBBERS AND SELLERS

Marley’s lyrical “Redemption Song”, from the Uprising album, is a classic example of the songwriter’s literary skill. The opening lines telescope time, compressing a whole history of exploitation and suffering into minutes:

Old pirates, yes

They rob I

Sold I to the merchant ships

Minutes after they took I

From the bottomless pit

Marley’s use of the word ‘pirates’ confirms the fact that many heroes of the British empire were nothing but common criminals. Sir John Hawkins and Sir Francis Drake were key actors in the slave trade, earning great wealth from the business of human torture. But Marley also reminds us that Africans were implicated in the mercenary enterprise of transatlantic slavery.

The ambiguous placement of Marley’s neutral ‘they’ inextricably links both the robbers and sellers. There is no real difference between the ‘they’ who rob and the ‘they’ who sell. True, if there were no buyers, there would be no sellers. But the instinct to exploit seems to be our common inhumanity.

iaap2In “Redemption Song”, Marley also acknowledges the divine hand that enabled victims of enslavement to rise from the bottomless pit of horror that was the Middle Passage:

But my hand was made strong

By the hand of the Almighty

We forward in this generation

Triumphantly.

This triumph requires of us a song, as the Melodians so plaintively chanted in Rivers of Babylon. Putting to music Psalm137, verse 1, they, like Bob Marley, knew that song is therapy:

Won’t you help to sing

These songs of freedom?

Cause all I ever have

Redemption songs.

HEAD-DECAY-SHUN

Redemption SongsBob Marley appears to be contrasting songs of freedom with redemption songs. There’s a popular hymnal, Redemption Songs, that was first published in London in 1929 or thereabouts. It has become part of the religious culture of Jamaica, regularly showing up at wakes. The title page describes the book in this way: “A choice collection of 1,000 hymns and choruses for evangelistic meetings, solo, singers, choirs and the home.”

Redemption Songs seems to have come to Jamaica with evangelicals from the United States. It was my friend, Erna Brodber, a historical sociologist and novelist, who persuaded me that Marley is actually rejecting “redemption songs”. They are part of the Euro-American religious legacy. And that’s all he was once forced to have.

But there’s another meaning of redemption that I think we should also take into account. Redemption is the act of buying oneself out of slavery. The religious and commercial meanings of ‘redemption’ converge in Marley’s song. Redemption songs are also songs of freedom. There is divine grace – the hand of the Almighty. But there is also the practical justice of freeing one’s self from both physical and mental slavery.

Marley’s Redemption Song is both a rejection of evangelical Christian orthodoxy and an affirmation of a new redemptive vision. So, Marley pays tribute to Marcus Garvey, who 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.”

But Garvey does not stop there. He gives a profound warning: “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.”Garvey is advocating a new kind of education. Not ‘head-decay-shun’, as Rastafari mockingly describe colonial schooling. If that’s all we ever have, we will continue to be enslaved by old notions of redemption. Like Bob Marley, we must create our own new songs of freedom.