Persistent Perversity On Jews and Slavery

Ainsley Henriques

Ainsley Henriques, honorary secretary of the United Congregation of Israelites in Jamaica, ought to know the African-Jamaican proverb, ‘Cock mouth kill cock’. If he doesn’t, I’d be very surprised.  After all, we’re one people.  We all know each other’s cultures intimately.  In any case, there must be a Jewish equivalent of this proverbial warning.  It’s not only black people in Jamaica who know that sometimes words have to be eaten. And they can be very, very bitter, even toxic.

 In a Gleaner article headlined, “Jews The Victims of Slavery, Too”, published on Friday, August 3, Ainsley gives a most peculiar response to my column, “Jews and Plantation Slavery in the Caribbean”, published on July 8. In his opening sentences, Ainsley launches a childish attack on the messenger, not the message:

 “Your columnist Professor Carolyn Cooper reminds me of the lines often given to recalcitrant school boys. I quote, ‘Persistent perversity provokes patient pedagogue producing particularly painful punishment’”.  Once you get past the tongue-twisting alliteration, what Ainsley seems to be saying is this:  my insistence that Jews played a major role in plantation slavery in Jamaica is ‘persistent perversity’.  Apparently, I’m a recalcitrant schoolgirl who doesn’t know how to behave.

       Having been provoked, Ainsley, the ‘patient pedagogue’, threatens to produce ‘particularly painful punishment’. It all sounds rather sadomasochistic.  Telling the whole story of Jewish history in Jamaica is a dangerous business. Truth doesn’t always set you free.  It sometimes imprisons you in other people’s fictions. Next thing you know, I’m going to be labelled as ‘anti-Semitic’.

It’s not kosher

Oddly enough, having tried to use schoolboy tactics to discredit the messenger, Ainsley does concede the truth of the message. He admits that I’m “correct” in asserting that the Museum of Jewish Jamaican History gives “an incomplete history of the Jews of Jamaica”.  Surprisingly, Ainsley justifies the gaps in the story with the bogus argument that “no history is ever complete”.

It is true that many histories are partial – in both senses of the word:  incomplete and one-sided. But some histories are more complete than others.  There is a lot of historical evidence to support the claim that Jews played a major role in plantation slavery in the Caribbean.  In the case of the incomplete history in the Museum of Jamaican Jewish History, it seems as if the truth has been deliberately concealed.  To what end?

      Ainsley serves up a big red herring in an attempt to explain why “no mention is made of the role of the Jews in Jamaica in the horror of enslavement”.  And it’s not kosher:  “this is because their history with enslavement is much more than just that – too much for a poster board”.  But how is this history different from the other long stories that are compressed and told on those same poster boards?

Furthermore, Ainsley shamelessly switches the topic from the role of Jews as agents in the enslavement of African people.  Instead, he rehearses the story of Jews as victims of slavery, as if that was ever in question.   And, again, Ainsley resorts to attacking the messenger.  He dismisses my call for the whole story to be told on the specious basis that I am ignorant of the history of Jews in Jamaica and I need to read the “eminent historians at places like the University of the West Indians”.  The same scholars, I suppose, who all fail to write ‘complete’ histories.

Setting the Record Straight?

I’m quite sure there are Jamaican Jews who are prepared to admit the truth about their history of participation in the slave trade.  I got an email from one of them.  He sent me looking for Eli Faber’s book Jews, Slaves, and the Slave Trade:  Setting the Record Straight which was published in 2000 by the New York University Press.  I haven’t read the book as yet.  But I’ve seen a most intriguing summary of its thesis posted on Amazon:

“Focusing on the British empire, Faber assesses the extent to which Jews participated in the institution of slavery through investment in slave trading companies, ownership of slave ships, commercial activity as merchants who sold slaves upon their arrival from Africa, and direct ownership of slaves. His unprecedented original research utilizing shipping and tax records, stock-transfer ledgers, censuses, slave registers, and synagogue records reveals, once and for all, the minimal nature of Jews’ involvement in the subjugation of Africans in the Americas”.

How, in Jehovah’s name, could the word ‘minimal’ be appropriate in this context? Having sold their human ‘cargo’ and counted the profit, Jewish traders simply washed their hands of the whole sordid affair, just like Pontius Pilate.  And then there were those Jews who did own slave plantations.

‘Playing Fool Fi Ketch Wise’

The final paragraph of Ainsley Henriques’ response to my column is rather disturbing.  Its smugness suggests a complete failure to acknowledge the complexity of our history on this rock: “We must not wring our hands in despair nor hang our heads in shame, but hold them high and rejoice in the chance that we have been given in this life to redeem ourselves in the present and create a future for the generations to come”.

Who is the “we” for whom Ainsley speaks with such rhetorical flourish?  The enslaved or the enslavers?  The naked mad people in Emancipation Park?  Or the distinguished panel of judges, clothed in their right mind, who selected that bestial image to brand black people? And how can we really ‘redeem ourselves in the present and create a future for the generations to come’ if we can’t manage to speak the truth about our past?

‘Cock mouth kill cock’.   Ainsley’s own words produce ‘persistent perversity’.  Like the Jewish trickster Joha, a distant relative of Anansi, Ainsley is desperately ‘playing fool fi ketch wise’.  It would be so much easier for him to just speak the plain truth about Jews and plantation slavery in the Caribbean.

Pontius Pilate

VMBS Puts a Lien on Love/ VMBS a tai op maagij an marij

The Victoria Mutual Building Society (VMBS) has long acknowledged the fact that marriage is good for mortgages.  This year, the company celebrates the 25th staging of the popular marriage and the family series, which is always held in June, the traditional month of weddings and connubial bliss.  All kinds of practical advice on building relationships and, of course, buying houses is given free of cost.

To mark the silver jubilee of the annual series, there’s been a special promotion billed as ‘The Royal Victorian Affair’. Not quite William and Kate’s, but still.  Couples were invited to submit a 25 line essay outlining why they should win the prize.  Much easier than getting a mortgage, I suppose.  The couple who won the competition will have a grand wedding and reception in Emancipation Park today, compliments of VMBS.

I certainly hope the ceremony will not be taking place anywhere near the so-called emancipation monument.  That would definitely ‘put a blight’ on the affair.  First of all, nakedness isn’t automatically erotic.  Then there’s not a sign of communication between the man and the woman.  They are completely passive.  And there’s no child to symbolise the future of emancipated Jamaica.  Those hulking figures, trapped in a basin of water, definitely cannot cross the floodwaters of marriage.

Incidentally, all those people who are laughing at Mr. Clifton Brown for allegedly twanging on national television and saying “nobody canna cross it” (i.e. the Yallahs River), should listen again to the video.  He clearly said ‘cannat.’

The substitution of ‘a’ for ‘o’ is a standard feature of the pronunciation of some English words by speakers of Jamaican.  So Mr. Brown also passionately declared:  “We lack away in the wilderness.”  A lovely bilingual pun on ‘lock’ and ‘lack.’

Instead of turning Mr. Brown’s self-confident speech into a big joke, as Simon Crosskill and Neville Bell did so disgracefully on TVJ’s ‘Smile Jamaica’, we should be focusing on his quite legitimate complaints about the poor infrastructure that plagues St. Thomas.

And as for the mockery of his statement that ‘the bus can swim’:  this is just a classic example of mental slavery.  We constantly equate intelligence with competence in English.  But, ironically, in this instance, English and Jamaican are quite similar in the use of figures of speech. If time can fly, why can’t buses swim? Mr. Brown’s vivid metaphor could pass for poetry in any language.

True Confessions

I must confess that several years ago, I found myself speaking quite fraudulently in public on a subject I knew very little about.  I had been inveigled into giving a talk in the VMBS series on the topic, ‘How to Keep the Marriage Talking.’  At the time, I had no personal experience of marriage though I had, indeed, observed the trials, tribulations and triumphs of many of my friends.

The rather persistent gentleman who talked me into giving the talk could not reasonably have been accused of holding me down and taking away my consent.  I have never laid eyes on him; the seduction was purely telephonic.   As a big woman, I couldn’t blame anybody but myself for the seemingly compromising position in which I’d found myself. Having carelessly left myself open to persuasion, I was entirely responsible for the predicament I’d gotten myself into.

I was reassured to discover that the Christian marriage counsellor who chaired the second half of the evening’s proceedings had, herself, never married.  Three couples she had counselled shared their ‘True Confessions’.   Perhaps, in these affairs of the heart the less actual experience you have, the more efficiently you can give levelheaded advice.    Naturally, I ended up talking about talking, rather than marriage.  Pure talk.  It was the only decent thing to do.

Biting Conversations

There is an innocent-sounding turn of phrase that some Jamaican women like to use to describe their male sexual partner to whom they are not legally married:  ‘the gentleman I am talking to’:  The sex act as conversation; intercourse as sex talk. Both intercourse and conversation – like sex – are words of Latin origin.  One of the original meanings of conversation is the action of living together.  In 16th century English, conversation meant sexual intimacy.  So I speculate that this is the origin of our Jamaican expression, the gentleman I am talking to.

Like conversation, intercourse can mean both the sex act itself and, more generally, interaction between parties, particularly verbal interaction.  ‘Intercourse’ comes from two Latin words ‘inter’ and ‘currere’ – ‘inter’ meaning ‘between’ and ‘currere’ to ‘flow.’  All kinds of currents, like swollen rivers that only buses can swim across!

One of the joys of teaching English in Jamaica is the stories you hear from your students.  In a class on bilingualism I was told of a married couple who had a truly remarkable problem with conversation.  All of a sudden, out of the blue, the wife insisted that, for the sake of the children’s education, she and her husband were going to operate a monolingual household.

She passed a law:  the only language to be spoken in the house was English.  No Jamaican, no patwa, no dialect – whatever you call our mother tongue.  After a week of silent suffering the husband finally exploded:  ‘Me kyaan talk di way me waan talk inna fi mi owna yaad? Dis a dyam foolishness.’  All of this wrapped in lots of cloth.  Needless to say, that marriage did not keep on talking.  The couple divorced.

Our wannabe English lady should have remembered the Jamaican proverb that warns:  ‘marriage have teeth and bite hot.’  You had better be careful about how you talk to your partner, especially in certain delicate positions.  Or you might get rather badly bitten.  It’s all a question of how you bow, as in defer, to your partner’s wishes.

VMBS a tai op maagij an marij

       A lang taim nou Victoria Mutual Building Society (VMBS) a mek wi nuo se marij gud fi maagij. Dis ya ier, di kompini a selibriet 25 ier a di taak dem we dem put aan bout marij an fambilii.  Evri ier, di taak dem kip op iina Juun.  Fram lang taim, dat a di mont we plenti piipl lov fi marid an a luk fi gud lov laif.  VMBS gi aal kain a advais fi frii bout man an uman tuori.  An dem shuo yu ou yu kyan bai ous.

Fi di silva juubilii a di taak dem, VMBS du wan speshal promuoshan we dem kaal ‘Raayal Victoria.’ Tu raa!  A no laik fi William an Kate sinting.

Bot stil far aal . . . .  Ier ou it go:  yu ha fi sen iin wan leta – no muor an 25 lain – fi kanvins VMBS se a yu an fi yu smadi fi win di praiz.  Kom tu tink av it, dat no haad laka fi get maagij.  Di tuu smadi we win a go get big wedn an risepshan iina Imansipieshan Paak tide, tanks tu VMBS.

Mi ongl uop di serimani naa go kip op saida di so-kaal imansipieshan maniment.  Dat uda dairekli put a blait pan di uol ting.  Fos tu begin wid, niekid smadi no mos an boun fi seksi.  Dem kuda mad laka shad. An di tuu statyu dem naa taak tu dem wan anada.  Dem dis stan op de stif-stif.  Nat iivn wan likl pikni fi reprisent Jamieka fyuucha.  Di tuu big, bluotid bafan dem get kech iina wan pan a waata. Dem kyaan kraas dat de big riba:  lov an marij.

Bai di wie, aal a dem piipl we a laaf aafta Misa Clifton Brown chruu dem tink a twang im a twang pan TV an a se “nobody canna cross it” (dat a di Yallahs Riva), dem fi go lisn di vidyo agen.  A ‘cannat’ im did se.  Mi ier it klier-klier. Ingglish ‘o’ ton iina ‘a’ iina fi wi Jamieka langgwij. A it mek Misa Brown se ‘Wi lak iina di wildanes.’  A tuu miinin fi di wan ‘lak’:  Lak op an lakin.

Misa Brown nuo we im a taak bout.  Insted a laaf aafta im, wi shuda lisn we im a se bout ou tings naa ron rait iiina St. Tamas.  Iz a big disgries ou Simon Crosskill an Neville Bell laaf aafta Misa Brown pan TVJ ‘Smile Jamaica.’  Pan tap a dat, piipl a tek im mek papishuo chruu im se ‘the bus can swim’.  Dat a mental slievri.  Plenti a wi tink se if yu no nuo Inggish gud-gud, yu naa no sens.  Bot dis a wan taim Ingglish an Jamieka a se di sed siem ting. If taim kyan flai, wa mek bos kyaan swim?  Misa Brown ful a liriks!

Chruu Kanfeshan

Den mi ha fi kanfes se kopl ier abak mi fain miself a gi wan taak iina poblik pan wan tapik mi no nuo notn moch bout.  Smadi inviigl mi fi go gi wan taak iina di VMBS sinting bout ‘Ou fi kip di marij taakin.’  Dem de taim mi neva marid, so mi no av no dairek ekspiiriens.  Bot mi du si we mi marid fren dem go chruu.

Di man we kaal-kaal an kanvins mi fi gi taak neva huol mi dong an fuos mi fi dwiit.  Aal nou, fi im yai an fi mi no mek fuor.  A telifuon im telifuon an wier mi dong.  Mi a big uman an a mi rispans fi di preke mi put miself iina.  Mi kielis, mek di man kanvins mi, an mi kyaan bliem nobadi. A mii dwiit.

Mi du fiil likl beta wen mi fain out se di marij kounsila, (shi a Krischan) we ron di sekan paat a di pruogram, shi neva marid.  Shi did gi advais tu chrii kopl an dem kom fi tel fi dem tuori.  It luk laik se if yu no marid yu kyan gi beta advais bout marid dan if yu dip yu fut iina diip riva. A so mi en op a taak bout taakin, nat marij.  Suo-so taak.  Dat a di ongl diistant ting mi kuda du.

Marij bait hat

Som uman iina Jamieka, we no marid tu di man dem de wid, laik fi yuuz wan likl aanda-kova taak fi diskraib di man:  ‘di jenklman mi a taak tu’. So a ongl taak dem a taak.  Dem naa kaal di wod ‘seks.’  Yu si dem Inglish wod ‘intercourse’, ‘conversation’ an ‘sex’.  Di chrii a dem kom fram Latin.  Lang taim abak, ‘intercourse’ did miin se yu a liv wid smadi.  Iina di 16th senchri, ‘conversation’ did mean seksin.  So mi figa se a de so wi get fi wi Jamieka taak bout di jenklman mi a taak tu.

Siit ya nou, ‘intercourse’ it no av wan dege-dege miinin.  It du miin seksin.  Bot it aalso miin regla taakin.  It kom fram tuu Latin wod ‘inter’ an ‘currere.’ ‘Inter’ miin bitwiks an bitwiin; an ‘currere’ miin fi fluo.  Aal kain a korent, laka big riva wa ongl bos kyan swim kraas!

Wan a di ting mi lov bout tiich Ingglish iina Jamieka a di tuori we di styuudent dem tel mi.  Mi a tiich wan klaas bout di tuu langgwij wi taak iina disya koncrhi.  Smadi tel mi bout dis waif an ozban we av wan siiryoz prablem wid taakin.  Eniwe yu waan tek i.  Aal af a sodn, di waif huol haad en an gi out se, siek a di pikni dem edikieshan, a ongl wan dege-dege langgwij dem a go taak iina di ous.

She tek it pan arself fi paas laa:  a suo-so Ingglish dem a go taak iina di ous.  Aal a di taim.  No Jamiekan, no patwa, no daiyalek – no mata wa yu waan kaal fi wi haatikal langgwij.  Aafta wan wiik a ban im beli, di ozban bos out: ‘Mi kyaan taak di wie mi waan taak iina fi mi uona yaad? Dis a dyam fuulishnes.’  Rap op iina nof klaat.  Yu don nuo.  Dat de marij stap taak.  Dem divuors.

Mai liedi we did waan taak suo-so Ingglish shuda memba we uol taim piipl se.  Dem waan wi se:  ‘marij av tiit an bait hat.’  Yu ha fi tek taim taak tu yu piipl dem, espeshali iina sortn teknikal pozishan.  Ar yu maita get a bad-bad bait.  Yu ha fi nuo ou fi bou.  Dat miinz tu se, ou fi gi iin tu wat yu piiipl dem want yu fi du. Siiryos ting!