Obama Done Know Wa A Gwaan

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.

CHAKA-CHAKA SPELLING

JAMAICA-US-DIPLOMACY-OBAMA-TOWN HALLSo Obama go a youth forum an im greet di massive inna fi wi language. An im big up UWI. An im aks, “Wa a gwaan, Jamaica”? An it sweet nuff a wi. Yeah, man! Obama talk up di ting.   But unu see seh im never talk dat deh talk wen im go a Jamaica House an wen im go meet di govament head dem. Im know wa a gwaan. Fi wi heart language no good enough fi dem deh high-up meeting.

Then chruu mi difend fi wi language, people a run joke wid mi, a aks mi if a mi did teach Obama fi talk Jamaican. Mi? Poor mi, poor gyal! Mi never get fi meet Obama, much less fi a gi im extra lesson. An mi never young enough fi go a di youth forum. By di way, mi wuda love fi know a who pick some a dem deh ‘youth’. Wen mi a watch di forum pon TV, mi see some hard-back, old, old smaddy a try pass fi youth. Mi seh to miself, “Dem must have big links fi get bogus age-paper”! Anyhow, a Jamaica dis. A bandooloo run tings.

Still for all, mi no know how dem deh unconscionable old smaddy no shame fi a tek weh young people seat. Fi dem shame-tree dead, dead, dead. An mi know seh di down-grow ‘youth’ dem a go seh a nutten but bad-mind an grudgeful mek mi a bad-talk dem, chruu mi never have no contact. Mi have conscience. Mi go outa road go watch motorcade pass wen Obama lef UWI fi go a Heroes Circle. Wat a piece a excitement! Fi wi outrider dem inna dem boasy uniform; an di whole heap a secret service guardy dem; an di two Beast dem!

‘WAZ OP WI DAT’?

mothers-tongue_0One a di ting Obama well know a dis: wen yu talk tu people inna fi dem heart language, yu get nuff forward. Mi fren, Prof. Hubert Devonish, send mi dis ya email: “In the whole Obama Jamaica language hoopla, the thing never mentioned is that he is himself a native or near native speaker of Hawaiian Creole (HC)! Check this video in which his ‘deviation’ into HC bears some interesting comparisons with his ‘Wa a gwaan, Jamieka?’ bit.”

Prof. Devonish a one linguist an im a di head a di Jamaica Language Unit a UWI. So im know weh im a talk bout.   Pon di video, President Obama dida gi one speech inna 2012. Im dida talk inna Washington, DC to di Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.   Same time Obama seh im born a Hawai’i, some a di Hawai’an people dem bawl out, “Chee huu”! Im stop braps. An im start laugh. Cau im know weh dem a seh. Dem well glad fi know seh im an dem come from di same place. Dem talk di same language. So hear Obama im, “These Hawaiians here! Waz op wi dat”?

Then music a one next language weh reach people, all wen dem no ketch di lyrics. Look how reggae music gone all over di world! An mi glad fi see seh Obama did go a Bob Marley Museum. Mi ongle sorry seh wen im did go a Heroes Circle im never dis go down a Liberty Hall: The Legacy of Marcus Garvey. An mi know seh some people a seh dem no want Merica pardon Garvey becau im never do nutten wrong. Mi no gree wid dem. Merika fi stop tell lie pon Garvey seh im a jinnal an gi wi national hero di honour an rispek im deserve. Dat’s wa up wi dat.

PRAPA-PRAPA SPELIN

OBAMA_6So Obama go a yuut fuorom an im griit di masiv ina fi wi langgwij. An im big op UWI. An im aks, “Wa a gwaan, Jamieka”? An it swiit nof a wi. Ye, man! Obama taak op di ting.   Bot unu si se im neva taak dat de taak wen im go a Jamaica House an wen im go miit di govament ed dem. Im nuo wa a gwaan. Fi wi aat langgwij no gud inof fi dem de ai-op miitn.

Den chruu mi difen fi wi langgwij, piipl a ron juok wid mi, a aks mi if a mi did tiich Obama fi taak Jamiekan. Mi? Puor mi, puor gyal! Mi neva get fi miit Obama, moch les fi a gi im ekstra lesn. An mi neva yong inof fi go a di yuut fuorom. Bai di wie, mi wuda lov fi nuo a uu pik som a dem de ‘yuut’. Wen mi a wach di fuorom pan TV, mi si som aad-bak, uol, uol smadi a chrai paas fi yuut. Mi se tu miself, “Dem mos av big lingks fi get buogos iej-piepa”! Eniou, a Jamieka dis. A banduulu ron tingz.

Stil far aal, mi no nuo ou dem de ankanshanebl uol smadi no shiem fi a tek we yong piipl siit. Fi dem shiem-chrii ded, ded, ded. An mi nuo se di dong-gruo ‘yuut’ dem a go se a notn bot bad-main an grojful mek mi a bad-taak dem, chruu mi neva av no kantak. Mi av kanshens. Mi go outa ruod go wach muotakied a paas wen Obama lef UWI fi go a Heroes Circle. Wat a piis a eksaitment! Fi wi outraida dem ina dem buosi yuunifaam; an di uol iip a siikrit sorvis gyaadi dem; an di tuu Biis dem!

‘WAZ OP WI DAT’?

Wan a di ting Obama wel nuo a dis: wen yu taak tu piipl ina fi dem aat langgwij, yu get nof faawad. Mi fren, Prof. Hubert Devonish, sen mi dis ya iimiel: “In the whole Obama Jamaica language hoopla, the thing never mentioned is that he is himself a native or near native speaker of Hawaiian Creole (HC)! Check this video in which his ‘deviation’ into HC bears some interesting comparisons with his ‘Wa a gwaan, Jamieka?’ bit”.

Prof. Devonish a wan linggwis an im a di ed a di Jamieka Langgwij Yuunit a UWI. So im nuo we im a taak bout.   Pan di vidiyo, President Obama dida gi wan spiich ina 2012. Im dida taak ina Washington, DC tu di Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.   Siem taim Obama se im baan a Hawai’i, som a di Hawai’an piipl dem baal out, “Chee huu”! Im stap braps. An im staat laaf. Kaa im nuo we dem a se. Dem wel glad fi nuo se im an dem kom fram di siem plies. Dem taak di siem langwij. So ier Obama im, “These Hawaiians here! Waz op wi dat”?

Den myuuzik a wan neks langgwij we riich piipl, aal wen dem no kech di liriks. Luk ou rege myuuzik gaan aal uova di worl! An mi glad fi si se Obama did go a Bob Marley Museum. Mi ongl sari se wen im did go a Heroes Circle im neva dis go dong a Liberty Hall: The Legacy of Marcus Garvey. An mi nuo se som piipl a se dem no waahn Merika paadn Garvey bikaa im neva du notn rang. Mi no grii wid dem. Merika fi tap tel lai pan Garvey se im a jinal an gi wi nashinal iiro di ana an rispek im disorv. Dat’s wa op wi dat.

ENGLISH TRANSLATION:  OBAMA KNOWS WHAT’S UP

Barack Obama,So Obama went to the youth forum and greeted the massive in our language. And he said, “Big up, UWI”! And he asked, “What’s up, Jamaica”? And lots of us were tickled. Yeah, man! Obama got the language right. But you must have noticed that he didn’t use that language when he went to Jamaica House nor when he went to meet the heads of government. He knows what’s up. Our heart language isn’t good enough for those official meetings.

Then because I defend our language, some people had a little fun at my expense, asking if it was me who taught Obama to talk Jamaican. Me? Hardly likely! I didn’t get to meet Obama, much less to give him a tutorial. And I wasn’t young enough to go to the youth forum. By the way, I would love to know who selected some of those ‘youth’. When I watched the forum on TV, I saw  some rather tough-looking old people trying to pass themselves off as youth. I said to myself, “They must be very well connected to get fake birth certificates”! Anyhow, this is Jamaica. Trickery is the name of the game.

All the same, I don’t know how those unconscionable old people didn’t feel any shame at taking the place of young people. Their conscience is dead, dead, dead. And I know that these over-age ‘youth’ are going to say I’m criticising them out of malice.  It’s just because I didn’t have any contacts.  I have a conscience. I went on the road to watch the motorcade pass when Obama left UWI to go to Heroes Circle. What an excitement! Our outriders in their stylish uniforms; and all of the secret service security guards; and the two Beasts!

‘WAZ OP WI DAT’?

images-1One of the things Obama knows all too well is this: when you talk to people in their heart language, you get lots of positive vibes. My friend, Prof Hubert Devonish, sent me this email: “In the whole Obama Jamaica language hoopla, the thing never mentioned is that he is himself a native or near native speaker of Hawaiian Creole (HC)! Check this video in which his ‘deviation’ into HC bears some interesting comparisons with his ‘Wa a gwaan, Jamieka?’ bit.”

Prof Devonish is a  linguist and he’s the head of the Jamaican Language Unit at UWI. So he knows what he’s talking about. The video shows President Obama giving a speech in 2012 in Washington, DC to the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus. As soon as Obama said he was born in Hawai’i, some of the Hawai’ians shouted out, “Chee huu”! He stopped in his tracks.  And he started to laugh. Because he knew what they were saying. They were excited because they were all from the same place. They spoke the same language. And here’s how Obama responded, “These Hawai’ians here! Waz op wi dat”?

Then music is another language that touches people, even when they don’t catch the lyrics. Just think about how reggae music has gone all over the world! And I’m glad Obama visited the Bob Marley Museum. I’m just sorry that when he went to Heroes Circle he didn’t go down to Liberty Hall: The Legacy of Marcus Garvey. And I know that some people are saying they don’t want the US to pardon Garvey because he committed no crime. I don’t agree with them. The US needs to stop perpetuating the lie that Garvey was a con artist and give our national hero the honour and respect he deserve. That’s what’s  up with that.

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Obama’s American Nightmare

UnknownTHOSE CRAZY birthers who insist that Barack Obama is from a foreign country are not completely lunatic. The America of Obama’s youth is not the mainland United States (US). And it’s not mainstream. Hawaii, Obama’s state of birth, was not admitted into the union until 1959. That’s almost two centuries after the American declaration of independence from Britain, and only two years before Obama was born.

The most absurd ‘fact’ I’ve heard about Hawaii is that it has the highest racial minority population of any state in the union – 75 per cent, according to US census figures. How can the majority of people in Hawaii be counted as a minority? Only in the racist United States where whites consider themselves to be the definitive Americans! Forget about the indigenous people. White is the default race and all others are minority. That’s mainland racial politics. But in Hawaii, whites are the minority. That’s what the US census figures actually mean.

AFRICAN-AMERICAN TRAUMA

barackIn a 1999 essay for the Punahou Bulletin, published by his high school in Honolulu, Obama acknowledges the impact of the years he spent in his homeland: “The opportunity that Hawaii offered – to experience a variety of cultures in a climate of mutual respect – became an integral part of my world view, and a basis for the values that I hold most dear.”

Obama’s Hawaiian ‘world view’ is fundamentally at odds with racial politics in mainstream America. Born to a black African father and a white American mother, Obama doesn’t easily fit into a box. He isn’t simply African-American. The hyphen does make a difference. Obama comes to mainland America as an outsider whose personal history does not include the African-American trauma of enslavement and all it entails. Despite Michelle, it is a struggle for Obama to claim the hyphen.

ingodwetrustAnd African-Americans are struggling to give Obama the benefit of the doubt, especially since he’s president of all America. Obama is a biracial, multicultural American who embodies many of the ideological contradictions that constitute the US. The unofficial national motto asserts unity: ‘E pluribus unum’ (‘out of many one’). But America is a divided society. Trusting in God seems to make no difference.

‘POST-RACIAL’ AMERICA

The cold-bloodied slaying of Trayvon Martin and the contested ruling that has freed his assailant have become yet another test case of the fundamental fairness of the US justice system. On all sides of the angry debate about what went wrong, there’s the shameful knowledge that race remains a provocative sign of both criminality and innocence in a supposedly ‘post-racial’ America.

bsr005President Obama has been caught in the crossfire. In a much-analysed speech two Fridays ago, he revealed his somewhat ambiguous identification with Trayvon Martin and, more broadly, African-American culture. This is how he began: “I gave a preliminary statement right after the ruling on Sunday, but, watching the debate over the course of the last week, I thought it might be useful for me to expand on my thoughts a little bit.”

That’s the first problem. Obama’s initial pronouncement on the judgment, appealing for “calm”, appears to be his instinctive reaction. The expansion of his thoughts comes a little bit too late. And it’s really just a little bit too little. Obama shouldn’t need to watch the debate in order to realise that, as president, it was his duty to make a much more nuanced and expansive statement on yet another American tragedy.

Trayvon Martin's parents in Washington DCAfter affirming the “grace and dignity” of Trayvon’s parents in response to the contested ruling that freed their son’s killer, Obama tried, yet again, to identify with the victim: “You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot, I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me, 35 years ago.

“And when you think about why, in the African-American community at least, there’s a lot of pain around what happened here, I think it’s important to recognise that the African-American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away.”

RACIAL PROFILING

strange-fruitIt is precisely this set of experiences and history that Obama does not own. This “set” is not in his DNA. And it’s not only African-Americans who are looking at the issue through the lens of a history that doesn’t go away. Euro-Americans have their own set of experiences and history – of lynching, for example – that influences how they view the death of Trayvon Martin. Furthermore, people of goodwill, of all races, are agitated about the killing and the judgment.

Obama gives three examples of racial profiling of African-American males. In each successive instance, he becomes more and more distant. The first example is “being followed when shopping in a department store”. Obama says, “That includes me”.

The next example is “walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars”. Obama says, “That happens to me”. Present tense. He quickly qualifies it, “at least, before I was a senator”. That’s a big leap away from racial profiling. Not to mention president.

Obama’s final example is “getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off”. Obama doesn’t even pretend that he’s had that experience: “That happens often”.

The race of the generic woman is unmarked. If she’s white, it’s fear of the predatory black man. If she’s black, it’s the same thing. But, in the latter case, it’s now black-on-black crime. Why don’t we ever talk about white-on-white crime? Because white is normative and black is pathological?

Picture1_000In his expanded thoughts, Obama does give some prescriptions for the disease of racial profiling. He pays particular attention to the dilemma of African-American males. But he cannot identify with them fully, no matter how hard he tries to be Trayvon. It’s the hyphen again. Obama inherited his mother’s American nightmare. But he also possesses distant dreams from his African father.