6th Edward Baugh Distinguished lecture

Edward Baugh

This year, I will give the 6th annual  Edward Baugh Distinguished Lecture which  is put on by the Department of Literatures in English at the University of the West Indies, Mona.

Professor Emeritus Edward Baugh has earned an international reputation as an authority on Anglophone Caribbean poetry in general and on the work of Derek Walcott in particular.

An outstanding teacher, Professor Baugh has guided the  intellectual development of several generations of students at Mona.  I, myself, chose to do my PhD dissertation on Derek Walcott’s poetry and plays, largely because of Professor Baugh’s passion for the subject.

TheDistinguished  Lecture Series pays tribute to his stellar career.  Previous speakers  include Trinidadian writerEarl Lovelace,  Guyanese author/scholar Mark McWatt and Australian literary critic  Helen Tiffin, one of the co-authors of the foundational post-colonial text, The Empire Writes Back .  

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.

Perkins, Seaga and the Mongrel, Part III

Wilmot Perkins

P: Please stop. Because what we are discussing, hold on little bit,

C: Mr Perkins you are asking me how black people

P; What we are discussing is not why black people vex. What we are trying to do is to analyze Mr Seaga’s statement and to devise his meaning.

C:And why black people vex.

P: Now hold on just a moment. You are an educated woman

C: Yes, and I teach literature

P: Right? You are an educated woman. And an educated woman has an obligation of leadership. Hold on little bit.

C: That is why

P: You have an obligation

C: Perkins

P: not to come here and try and fool up black people and to get them to believe something other than what the man meant.

C: Mr. Perkins I’m not, I’m not. Listen Mr. Perkins,

P: That’s what you doing, you know.

C: I wrote a column, you know, in which I said

P: And you now coming to tell me

C: Mr Seaga might have

P: You start out by telling me that mongrel mean dog and is a disparaging statement, and then you turn around and start telling me that mongrel is high caste. In Jamaica.

C: But you not listening.

P: So then there should. No, but if mongrel in Jamaica means high caste, if mongrel in Jamaica means high caste then what you should be interpreting Mr. Seaga as having said is that the PNP is a high caste party. Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!

C: Mr Perkins what I’m saying is that mongrel operates in two domains, in these two domains symbol simultaneously. So at one stage mongrel is positive and at another stage mongrel is negative.

P: So the PNP, what Mr. Seaga then should have been saying, ma’am, is that the PNP [break in tape; end of side one]

C: . . . being fair, you are not allowing me to answer the question.

P: No ma’am, I am going to transcribe this con con conversation and offer it to, offer it to the newspapers to publish and let us see the fallacies of your reasoning.

C: Up to now I don’t get to my point yet, you know. You won’t mek me finish. You ask me how we move from the symbolic

P: I didn’t ask you any such thing

C: meaning of degenerate,

P: I didn’t ask you any such thing

C: Well you never put it that way, but

P: I never asked you any such thing.

C: Your question to me is

P: No such thing.

C: Mr. Perkins, let me finish. What you are saying is that Mr. Seaga simply meant that the PNP of now is a low rate, low class

P: Is a degenerate, no I never said anything about low class. I said degenerate. That it had degenerated from the high standards of Norman Manley

C&P: and Michael Manley

C: And, what you’re asking me, how could these wicked people take Mr. Seaga’s innocent remark and configurate it

P: I never said any such thing

C: Alright, this is how I’m interpreting it

P: No, no, no, no! Tell me what I said, don’t tell me what you would like me to have said.

C: I’m, I’m talking now for the transcript so I’m being even more careful than before. Mr. Perkins, you’re asking me how did these people now move from that – not, you not going call it innocent

P: Which people?

C: From that symbolic

P: Which people?

C: domain

P: Which people?

C: The black people like me who vex Mr Perkins! How we get to dog?

P: I never, I’m not, I’m not interested in how you vex, why you vex

C: But you should be

P: No, I’m not interested

C: because it has become an election issue.

P: I am not a, I’m not a politician, ma’am.

C: You ask me how people took race out of what Seaga said and I still don’t get there.

P: I’m not, I’m not talking about people. I’m, I haven’t addressed any issue about people. I am talking to you. Hold on little bit.

C: But I represent a whole heap of people.

P: A highly educated woman, right?

C: Yes, Mr. Perkins. You would not believe how many people thank me for writing that column

Edward Seaga

P: Educated precisely in this area and you are a specialist, you are a teacher of English, you are supposed to understand language and I’m asking you why is it that you are setting out to create the impression that Mr. Seaga made a racist remark.

C: Nnnh, nnnh. I am not doing that Mr Perkins.

P: You are not doing that?

C: I am not doing that.

P: Would you then agree with me that he did not make a racist remark?

C: Wait nuh, man!

P: Would you then agree with me that he did not make a racist remark?

C: Wait, Mr. Perkins, let me talk. Two of us can’t talk one time.

P: I’m asking you, would you agree with me that he did not make a racist remark?

C: No, Mr. Perkins. I could never agree with you that

P: So you are saying that he did make a racist remark!

C: I did not say that. I said I’m not agreeing with you that he did not make a racist remark.

P: But then you must either believe that he made a racist remark or that he did not make a racist remark. One of the two.

C: Save that for high school debating. That kind of strategy don’t work with big people. That is high school debating.

P: It is not high school debating, ma’am.

C: High school debating.

P: It is not high school debating. It is strictly logical.

C: No, no, no!

P: It is either that he made a racist remark or that he did not.

C: Nnnnh nnnnh.

P: One of the two.

C: Life is not as simple as that.

P: Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!

C: Mr. Perkins, racism is something that is perceived as well as given, OK?

P: Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!

C: Mr. Seaga

P: Hold on just a moment. Hold on just a moment for me please.

[commercial break]

P: Thank you very much. We’re back here with you ma’am.

C: Yes Mr Perkins. Now in the break I thought and said, you know, I must tell you I’m trying my best to not behave like a mongrel. I’m trying to behave like a high breed dog. So please, don’t interrupt me so that I have to shout at you and carry on bad.

P: But if you, if you talk rubbish I have to interrupt you.

C: No, Mr. Perkins. You must have courtesy. Courtesy means that even if the person is chatting rubbish, you give them a chance to finish and then you can

P: But you’re going on forever.

C: No

P: If I allowed you to go on, you would go on for the next half an hour and the programme would be over.

C: No, I don’t want to do that Mr. Perkins but as we’re having transcript conversation now, I want that when you transcribe the thing I can actually say what I mean and not get, you know, flustered and chat foolishness in the heat of the moment. So what I’m saying quickly now, to just wrap up, how did we move from, ahm, the symbolic meaning of mongrel as degenerate, you know the the, you know, applied to a person as a term of contempt; how did we move from that level now to the original meaning, the literal meaning of a dog of no definable breed. And I was trying to explain about how mongrel in the racial sense is highly valued but, ironically – we don’t even touch irony now – because the first thing I said but wait, look at the levels of irony in Mr. Seaga’s use of this metaphor. PJ Patterson is not a visible mongrel in the way that Michael and Norman Manley are visible mongrels.

P: And Seaga himself.

C: Let me finish nuh! So that when the notion of ahm ahm you know racial purity is applied, PJ would be less of a mongrel than ahm, you know, the Manleys. Now the vast majority of the people look at that comparison and say, “but wait, what is this man saying?” What he seems to be saying is

P: Ha, ha, ha, ha

C: we no longer have ‘high brown’ people

P: Ha, ha, ha, ha

C: we no longer have good mongrels leading the party what we have is bad pure-black people leading the party. And that is how the symbolic leap now is made back to the literal. And that is how people say, “But wait. What Mr. Seaga is really saying is that if ideologically, ahm, old PNP and new PNP not really that different, because I don’t know up to now, I don’t know if anybody has said what he meant by the party being degenerate. In what area has it degenerated? In ideology? Has the ideology changed? How do you constitute the degeneracy? So people seh, “a mussi race im a talk bout. Im must a seh PJ black and dem brown an den im a seh, ahm, a mongrel. So maybe im a seh mongrel a black people.” That is how metaphor works Mr. Perkins.

P: Oh, so I, I see.

C: Language operates simultaneously

P: That’s what you teach at, is that what you teach at the university?

C: Yes, that is what

P: That’s what you’re teaching there.

C: That’s what we teach in our department

P: I follow you. I follow you.

C: And I’ve taught not just at UWI and I don’t mean because I’ve taught elsewhere that mean that me teaching at UWI therefore

P: Well I’m glad that you didn’t teach me

C: Because I can compare it with other universities

P: In other words, what I understand you to be saying

C: Yes, now let me hear if you understand me properly, and I will listen now

P: Is that when Mr. Seaga was saying that the PNP was a mongrel party what he really meant was that it was a purebred party. Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!

C: Ahm, no, that is not what I’m saying.

P: Then what are you saying?

C: Mr Seaga, hear me, “Mr Seaga,”

P: You are saying that PJ Patterson, hold on little bit, hold on just a moment, hold on little. You are saying that in Jamaica mongrel is a high-class thing.

C: Racial

P: A mongrel in Jamaica

C: Racial mongrel

P: Hold on little bit.

C: At one level

P: Hold on little bit.

C: But you also have mongrel dogs at the same time

P: Hold on little bit. Hold on little bit. You, you as a teacher

C: Mr Perkins you don’t understand that?

P: But you interrupting me now.

C: You don’t understand?

P: You’re interrupting me now.

C: That is true but I mean

P: You as a teacher of English at the intellectual ghetto

C: Ghetto is a good term you know. A lot of good people live in ghetto.

P: Maybe so.

C: And a lot of people who are not in the ghetto would love to get in.

P: You are telling me that in Jamaica, that Jamaica people understand the word mongrel to mean a high-class dog.

C: No, no, no!

P: Yes ma’am.

C: I did not. Now you see, you see what you doing?  You mixing categories.

P: How you mean?

C: High-class

P: A high-class

C: When we looking at mongrel as high-class we not talking about dog anymore. We talking about race.

P: Yes, but then listen. But hold on little bit.

C: I know you don’t go to university but

P: Oh, so hold on little bit. No I don’t go to university. I don’t go to, I didn’t go up there and have you people like you teach there.

C: You understand

P: Now hold on little bit. Do I understand you to be saying that a mongrel dog is a low-class dog?

C: Right.

P: But a mongrel man is a high-class man in Jamaica?

C: Depending on

P: That is the way the symbolism works!

C: if you talking about race. Yes!

P: A mongrel man in Jamaica

C: But we wouldn’t call them mongrel

P: What we would call them?

C: We would call them ‘high colour’.

P: We’d call them but if, but if, we wouldn’t call them mongrel?

C: No, we wouldn’t call them mongrel.

P: So if, so if where the word mongrel is used in relation to human beings in Jamaica

C: It is usually pejorative.

P: It does not mean, hold on little bit, ma’am, it does not mean high-class brown man, then.

C: No. It means, it means something contemptuous so that is why

P: It means something contemptuous.

C: White racism and notions of racial purity

P: So hold on a moment

C: This is why mongrel is something negative

P: So hold on a moment. So when Mr. Seaga says

C: You gone back to Mr. Seaga?

P: Yes, yes, because that is what we’re talking about. When Mr. Seaga says that the PNP has become a mongrel party

C: What did he mean? Tell me!

P: Hold on little. What you are saying,

C: You tell me what he means

P: what you understand him to be saying is that the PNP was a mongrel party under Norman Manley and now it has become a purebred party under PJ Patterson,

C: No, Mr. Perkins!

P: and that is disparaging!

C: No, I’m not saying that!

P: But what are you saying?

C: But I’ve said it and when I try to say it again you interrupt

P: Say it again, ma’am!

C: Let me say it again.

P: Say it again.

C: Alright. You promise you’re not going to interrupt?

P: Yes ma’am.

C: Promise, promise, promise, promise?

P: I’m sure my, my listeners are going to find this amusing.

C: I know.

P: You go ahead.

C: Listen to what I’m saying again. See if you can catch it now Mr. P. Alright. What I’m saying is that when Mr. Seaga said the PNP of today is not like ahm Manley and so, it is now mongrel, OK, I agree with you, give him the benefit at the doubt of the doubt that he had no reference to dog in mind and relating it to PJ being black.

P: Oh, you agree with me.

C: Wait nuh, I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt.

P: You came with something different at the start. But anyway, carry on.

C: I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt. What he was responding to wasn’t mongrel as dog, he was responding to the notion of mongrel as a person not of pure race, chiefly disparaging or he meant it as a person, as a term of contempt. All he wanted to do was just diss the PNP. Alright. Give him the benefit of the doubt. Unfortunately, the analogy that he used, the word mongrel, had certain emotive overtones, resonances – that’s why when you’re dealing with oratory and political campaigning you have to be careful what you say

P: Yes.

C: in the heat of the moment.

P: Yes.

C: Because I do not believe that if Mr. Seaga was thinking rationally he would have said this.

P: Yes.

C: Knowing what mongrel mean in Jamaica. Mongrel is dog a street weh you kick and carry on bad about. Nobody no respect mongrel dog.

P: A follow you.

C: Alright. So this is the mistake that I think he made. Is the language trap him up.

P: What did he mean? What did mongrel mean as he used it?

C: How me fi go know wa Mr. Seaga mean, boss?

P: What!

C: Me no inna Mr. Seaga head! Me cyaan tell yu weh im mean!

P: Oh!

C: All me a tell you is how

P: But you seem to be telling me a great deal about what he means.

C: Me never tell you yet what him mean. Me tell you what the dictionary seh di mongrel mean,

P: Yes

C: An me no tell – how me coulda go tell yu wa Mr. Seaga mean, boss?

P: But how you mean? He used a word whose meaning you must – that word mongrel is an English word

C: Yes, that mean dog

P: That is used in Jamaica and that is used to communicate an idea and you as a university teacher

C: How the university come into it, Mr Perkins?

P: A teacher of English, an expert in Jamaican dialect, you must know what mongrel mean! What does it mean?