Chanting down greedy hoteliers

Last week’s post, ‘No Beach For Local Tourists’, touched a very sensitive nerve. I got so many emails from both Jamaicans and other Caribbean citizens who are very concerned about the way in which hoteliers dominate the conversation about public access to our beaches.


Diana McCaulay, CEO of the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET), highlights this troubling issue of special interests in her excellent article, ‘The Problem of Beach Exclusion’, published in The Gleaner on Wednesday, January 11: “In 1997, the NRCA [National Resources Conservation Authority] began work on a beach policy to address issues surrounding public access and a Green Paper was drafted which proposed open access. There was immediate pushback from the tourism industry”.

Of course, there was pushback! Hoteliers don’t want open access to beaches because this will reduce their control of valuable resources. Their all-exclusive hotels would become much too inclusive for their liking. They want to erect barbed wire fences, stretching into the sea, to keep out the locals.

We cannot sit back passively and allow our beaches to be captured by greedy hoteliers, irresponsible politicians and all those who benefit from the current state of affairs. We have to take action. We, Jamaicans, like to think of ourselves as militant. We boast about our Ashanti warrior heritage. But we don’t always put up a fight for important causes. We need to follow the example of our uncompromising Caribbean neighbours who refuse to be shut out of their beaches.


I got an inspiring email from Antigua. Here’s an excerpt. I’ve deleted the name of the hotelier: “A few years ago, [a Jamaican hotelier] tried to get the Government of Antigua and Barbuda to ‘allow’ him to turn one of our most visited and, by far, favourite beaches – among locals and visitors – into a private enclave for his guests. The protests from the locals and nearby residents were not only unrelenting, but in your face. Some of the protests even went viral. He eventually backed away and the Government did not have to intervene … the people with the power had spoken.”


One of the most outspoken warriors in the fight to keep Caribbean beaches out of the grasp of hoteliers is the Barbadian calypsonian The Mighty Gabby. His 1982 calypso, “Jack”, was a classic piece of throw word confronting Jack Dear, chairman of the Barbados Tourist Board. Dear, who was certainly not dearly beloved, had declared that hotel owners had the right to develop their property up to the waterfront of the island’s beaches.

This is how Gabby launched his counterattack:

“I grow up bathing in seawater

But nowadays dat is bare horror

If I only venture down by the shore

Police telling me Ah can’t bathe no more

Cause Jack don’t want me to bathe on my beach

Jack tell dem to keep me out of reach

Jack tell dem I will never make the grade

Strength and security build barricade

Da can’t happen here in this country

I want Jack to know dat di beach belong to we

Da can’t happen here over my dead body

Tell Jack dat I say dat di beach belong to we”.

Gabby knows that the barricades are all about the tourist dollar. And he’s not prepared to sell his birthright:

“Tourism vital, I can’t deny

But can’t mean more than I and I

My navel string bury right here

But a tourist one could be anywhere

Yet Jack don’t want me to bathe on my beach”.

Gabby’s use of “I and I” is an assertion of Rastafari consciousness. It empowers him to chant down the forces of oppression.


Tourism is now vital to our economies across the Caribbean. But we have to find a way to balance the requirements of the tourist industry and the needs of citizens. We can’t just fence in tourists and fence out locals. Many hoteliers assume that their property is like a cruise ship. And the ship is the destination. But some tourists actually want to escape the all-exclusive prison. They want to meet the people outside the barricades.

Diana McCaulay shows us the way forward: “It is true that harassment is a problem for the tourist industry – or indeed for any visitor to a Jamaican beach. But the response cannot be exclusion. The response has to be commitment to a set of articulated principles – frequent access points; provision of well-managed public beaches, including the requirement for behaviour by beach users that does not present a nuisance or threat to others or to the beach itself”.

thThis week, the Jamaica Environment Trust launches ‘Big Up Wi Beach’ on Facebook. It’s an open forum for debate on beach access and related issues such as beach erosion. Readers are invited to post images of their favourite beaches and to write about their memories of great beach outings.

JET is also developing a petition to the Government advocating a definitive policy on beach access for all Jamaicans. I trust that the Urban Development Corporation will support the petition. I won’t hold my breath. I still haven’t gotten an answer to my email to the director of corporate communications about access to Pearly Beach. And I hope Jamaican musicians will create a song in support of the campaign. Like Gabby, they simply must chant down greedy hoteliers.

‘Bring In All Rastas, Dead Or Alive!’

Sir Alexander Bustamante

Sir Alexander Bustamante

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Rose Hall Great House

Rose Hall Great House

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

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


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

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

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

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

Winston Churchll

Winston Churchll

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

Jews and Plantation Slavery in the Caribbean

Two Sundays ago, when I visited the Shaare Shalom synagogue for the Kingston on the Edge (KOTE) concert, ‘Music Is Sacred’, I got a grand tour of the Museum of Jamaican Jewish history that is located next door.  My distinguished guide was Mr Ainsley Henriques, leader of the Jewish community in Jamaica.

The exhibits tell a captivating story of triumphant survival in exile.  The display of sacred objects and cultural artefacts was supplemented by Ainsley’s informative commentary.  He’s a historian and genealogist with a passion for heritage preservation.  In fact, he’s the current chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Jamaica National Heritage Trust.

Schroeter Watercolour of Richmond Estate, 1800

I was somewhat surprised to see that the museum didn’t tell the whole story of Jewish history in Jamaica.  The role of Jews in plantation slavery is not documented at all.  This silence is troubling especially since so many students visit the museum each year.  They end up getting a rather distorted account of Jamaican, not just Jewish, history.

In his prophetic song, “Columbus”, reggae philosopher Burning Spear warns that

“A whole heap a mix up, mix up

A whole heap a bend up, bend up

Go ha fi straighten out”.

Burning Spear was, primarily, contesting the falsehood that Christopher Columbus ‘discovered’ Jamaica:

“I an I all I know

I an I all I say

I an I reconsider

I an I an see upfully that

Christopher Columbus is a damn blasted liar”.

The reconsidering and upfull revisioning that Burning Spear advocates can be applied as well to the many other partial histories we’ve inherited.  Especially this year, as we celebrate 50 years of Independence, we must acknowledge Burning Spear’s challenge to set the record straight.

Songs of lamentation

Rembrandt painting of Jeremiah lamenting the destruction of Jerusalem

As it turns out, Jewish people played an undeniable role in plantation slavery in Jamaica.  Ironically, Jewish exiles in the strange lands of the so-called ‘New’ World were complicit in the process of enslaving Africans.  Forced to sing King Alpha’s song, Africans in the Diaspora found consolation in the sacred book of the Jews.  They created their own dub version of Jewish songs of lamentation.

On that score, I got a rather stern response on Facebook to last week’s column, “Rastafari Reclaim Jewish Roots”, from Barbara Blake Hannah:  “‎‘Reclaim’ or ‘share’ Carolyn? ‘Reclaim’ would mean Rastafari originated from Judaism, not Christianity as I&I proclaim. And where were the Rastafari participating in the ‘Nyabinghi’? Seems more like a Red Bones concert in the Synagogue with reggae Rasta artists! You mean to tell me that ‘Selassie is God’ was being chanted by those gathered? If so, sorry I missed the ‘binghi’”.

Of course, ‘reclaim’ does not imply a singular origin.  The roots of Rastafari are rhizomatic, like ginger.  And I was using binghi metaphorically.  But, as I’ve learnt after almost three years of writing this column, some readers are quite suspicious of metaphors, preferring to take everything literally.  Barbara insists on a ‘correction’.  So, to make her happy, I hereby renounce my use of the metaphor of the binghi.  It was, literally, only a concert.  And the roots of Rastafari really have nothing in common with ginger.

Movement of Jah people

How Jewish people came to be engaged in plantation slavery in the Caribbean is a rather long and complicated story. The Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition, more popularly known as the Spanish Inquisition, launched a holy war against non-Catholics in 1480.  Jews and Muslims were the targets of attack.  The tribunal was not abolished until 1834, the very same year that slavery was outlawed in the British Caribbean.

Muslims from North African, who were called Moors, had invaded the Iberian Peninsula in 711 and occupied it for almost 600 years.

The Spanish Inquisition was a belated attempt to purify the land of ‘foreign’ religions.  Many Jews supposedly converted to Christianity but practiced Judaism in secret.  The Alhambra decree, issued in January 1492, put an end to the pretence.  It demanded the expulsion of Jews.

Human trafficking routes

Columbus’ ‘discovery’ opened doors of opportunity for Jews expelled from Spain and Portugal.  Many Sephardic Jews went to Brazil where they made fortunes in plantation slavery.  According to Ralph Bennett in an essay, “History of Jews in Brazil”,  “It is believed that the first sugar cane was brought by a Jewish farmer from Madeira to Brazil in 1532. Sugar cane became the foundation of the Caribbean economy for several centuries”.

First synagogue in the Americas, Recife (1636)

At the end of the fifteenth century, the Pope had imperiously divided the ‘New’ World between the Spanish and the Portuguese.  The grasp of the Inquisition reached Jews in Brazil.  Many were again forced to convert to Catholicism.  But in 1630, the Dutch West India Company captured the city of Recife in the north of Brazil and the religious freedoms enjoyed in Holland were extended to the colony.  Jews could now openly practice their religion.

But freedom was short-lived.  In 1645 the Portuguese launched war against the Dutch and reclaimed Recife in 1654, round about the same time that Jamaica became a British colony.  Jews expelled from Brazil made their way to the Caribbean, first to Barbados and then Jamaica, taking with them the capital and technology of sugar production.

Historian Karl Watson notes that, “Barbados presented opportunities for trade. By the mid-seventeenth century it was quite apparent that the English experiment in creating colonies in the West Indies for the export of tropical crops was working exceptionally well in Barbados. These newcomers were well placed to exploit this burgeoning sugar economy as part of their extensive Sephardic trading network extending from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean”.

The Jewish exile in the Caribbean enabled the transatlantic trade in enslaved Africans and the migration of waves of indentured labourers from Europe and Asia.  This is the other half of the Jamaican Jewish story that must be told.  ‘Jack Mandora mi no choose none’.

Rastafari Reclaim Jewish Roots

Stuart Reeves photo

Last Sunday evening, a binghi was convened on the sandy ground of the Shaare Shalom synagogue, located downtown at the intersection of Duke and Charles Street.  This crossroads, named for British royalty, was transformed into a gateway to the roots of Rastafari.  Majestic Nyahbinghi singers and players of instruments celebrated the survival of both Jewish and African people who learned to chant songs of freedom in a strange land.

Grounded in the Bible, much of Rastafari symbolism is rooted in Judaism.  Though Rastafari themselves reject ‘ism and schism’, their philosophy and livity owe much to the ‘ism’ of the Jews. Captive Africans in the Americas identified with Jews enslaved in Babylon.  Zion became a code word for Africa; and Babylon was the Diaspora.

It was the Melodians who composed and first recorded the Rastafari chant, “By the Rivers of Babylon”, which was adapted from Psalm 137: 1-4.

“By the rivers of Babylon

Where we sat down

And there we wept

When we remember Zion

For the wicked carry us away captivity

Require from us a song

How can we sing King Alpha’s song

In a strange land?”

The holy book of the Jews provided vivid imagery for many other reggae songs, as in Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song”.

“Old pirates, yes, they rob I

Sold I to the merchant ships

Minutes after they took I

From the bottomless pit

But my hand was made strong

By the hand of the Almighty

We forward in this generation


Marley’s lyrics echo Genesis 49:24: “But his bow abode in strength, and the arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob”.


King Alpha, Emperor Haile Selassie I, empowered Rastafari to refrain from weeping in exile.  He facilitated the process of repatriation to the continent of Africa.  In 1948, the Emperor set aside 500 acres of his own land for Rastafarians in Jamaica and members of the Ethiopian World Federation Incorporated (EWF), based in the United States, to establish a settlement in Shashamane. The EWF took its mission from Psalm 34:14 – “Depart from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it”.

Kingston on the Edge

The cross-cultural groundation in the synagogue was part of Kingston on the Edge (KOTE), the exhilarating urban arts festival that ended yesterday.   First staged in 2007, KOTE continues to cross borders and level barriers.  This year’s theme was “Identity The Opened I”.  The sacred concert in the synagogue was certainly an eye-opener.

The photograph taken by Stuart Reeves documents the grandeur of the occasion. The sand on the floor is a reminder of the wandering of the children of Israel in the desert for 40 years after they escaped Egypt.  It is also a symbol of the divine promise recorded in Genesis 22:17: “That in blessing I will bless you, and in multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies”.

The Spanish Inquisition

During the Inquisition, many Jews were forced to convert to Christianity to escape death.  But they continued to practice Judaism in secret – in much the same way that many Christians in Jamaica practice obeah, I suppose. According to legend, the undercover Jews used sand on the floor to muffle the sounds of their prayers.

Behind the magnificent mahogany doors in the synagogue is the sacred space in which the Torah is housed.      These doors also provided a towering backdrop for the musicians. Earl ‘Chinna’ Smith, popularly known as ‘Melchizedek, the High Priest of reggae guitar’, was the chief celebrant.  The Hebrew word Melchizedek means ‘my king is righteousness’.

Enola Williams photo

All of the ‘Inna de Yard’ musicians who performed with Chinna Smith lived up to their righteous, royal calling: Kiddus I, Cedric Myton, Jesse Royal, to name just a few. Della Manley and Suzanne Couch also performed.  After the concert, Ras Sangie confided that it was he who had written “Wake Up and Live”, a song he gave to Bob Marley.

L A Lewis Almost Famous

Other events for this year’s KOTE festival included an Open House with the Rose Town Potters; a short film festival at Red Bones curated by David Morrison; a public forum on “Copyright Laws and the Creative Arts” at the National Gallery.  The Kapo Gallery was re-opened last Sunday.  One of my favourite Kapo paintings is titled ‘You Are My Plumbubi’.   It shows a man and woman tightly locked in an erotic embrace – a divine encounter.

Last Friday evening, the infamous L A Lewis, whose purported signature defaces many public spaces, made his debut as a ‘real-real’ artist at Redbones.  Described as a ‘conceptual’ artist, L A created an installation that included, according to the KOTE brochure, “some items that he has ‘actually touched’”.

More conventional artists like David Muir, Maxine Gibson, O’Neal Lawrence, Carol Crichton, Mortimer McPherson, Gisele Gardner, Garfield Morgan, Olivia McGilchrist, Mark Harrison, Ingrid Coke and Inasi also exhibited during the festival.

Thanks to the founders of KOTE – Enola Williams, Beatriz Pozueta, Carolyn Lazarus, Joaquin Portocarero and Omar Francis – we’ve been reminded yet again that, despite all the crime and violence, Kingston is a capital city.

Dawn Scott Flies Home


Dawn and her daughter, Nakazzi


This week I didn’t have the time to translate my Sunday Gleaner column into Jamaican (Where are the Eligible Men?).  The memorial service for my friend, Dawn Scott, was held on Saturday and I wrote a remembrance for her.

Traditional African wisdom tells us that when a great spirit passes the elements take notice.  So we all acknowledged the torrential rain as a sign of Dawn’s extraordinary powers.

The L’ACADCO drummers and dances performed a brilliant work, “Passion,” celebrating Dawn’s passage to join the ancestors. Artistic director and principal choreographer, L’Antoinette Stines, reclaimed ancient pelvic movements, that have resurfaced in Jamaican dancehall culture, to signify regeneration.

The traditional Rastafari chant, “Fly Away Home,” popularised by Bob Marley, was sung in full voice by the congregation. It gave us the consolation we needed to carry us through:

I hear the words of the Rasta man say

Babylon your throne gone down, gone down

Babylon your throne gone down

Said, I hear the words of the  Iyahman say

Babylon your throne gone down, gone down

Babylon your throne gone down

And I hear the angel with the seven seals

Babylon your throne gone down, gone down

Babylon your throne gone down

I say fly away home to Zion, fly away home

I say fly away home to Zion, fly away home

One bright morning when my work is over

I will fly away home.


Dawn Scott batik, 'Gud Fren', a gift on my 50th birthday


Remembering My Friend, Dawn Scott

One of my most vivid images of Dawn is seeing her dressed for work purposefully heading down Wellington Drive on her way to Ann Hodge’s Kingston 10 Architects office on Lady Musgrave Road.  Dawn’s uniform was her sturdy boots, well-worn jeans, loose-fitting cotton shirt, a string of beads and her bag slung over her left shoulder.

Now that bag was legendary.  Without warning, I once allowed Dawn to ‘help down’ her bag on me and I almost collapsed to the ground.  In complete disbelief at the extraordinary weight of the bag, I demanded to know what, exactly, was in the dyam bag.  Dawn laughed enigmatically and breezily said, with typical understatement, “things.”

“‘Things’?  How yu mean ‘things?’  Is what you have in that bag?”  Dawn absolutely refused to let me look in the bag.  I recently asked Kazzi, “What yu mother really had in that bag?”  Kazzi laughed, exactly like her mother, with complete abandon and declared, “It was her house.  She had everything in it.”

Kazzi perceptively elaborated:  Dawn’s bag was a sign of her nomadism.  And no matter how much she wandered, her bag, like a tent, provided shelter – both psychological and literal.  And I finally understood the full weight of the burdens Dawn carried on her shoulder.

Dawn knew that wherever her wanderings took her each day, when she set her head down to rest she would have with her the basics for her trod through creation; I use creation here both in the sense of her own creativity; and in the generic, biblically-derived Rastafari sense of the word – creation as the natural world and all that it contains.

Every now and then I would be privy to some of the contents of the seemingly bottomless bag.  On occasion, I’ve seen Dawn triumphantly pull hardback art books out of this bag to illustrate a point she was making about aesthetics.  Or she would take out her formidable mask to hurriedly protect herself from the merest whiff of environmental fumes.

There is an equally memorable image I have of Dawn, dressed not for work, but to party.  Usually in full black or full white or, for really special occasions, in glorious indigo, Dawn would step out in regal splendour bedecked in rows of amber almost as weighty as her shoulder bag.


Duke University Press


When Dawn and I went to DC for the launch at the Jamaican embassy of my first book, the cover of which was enhanced by Dawn’s batik painting, “Plastic Instincts,” we stayed with my sister, Donnette.  When we saw Dawn pull out her bag of jewellery, wi nearly dead wid laugh.  Wi say, “Dawn, where yu going wid so much jewellery?”  She just laughed and said she wanted to have choice.  And she certainly had some choice pieces.

Unfortunately, in later life, Dawn became reclusive, sacrificing the pleasures of socialising for the sake of her health.  She was allergic to the carcinogenic chemicals that so often masquerade as perfumes.  Knowing how much Dawn missed socialising in comfort, I hosted an unscented birthday party for her a couple of years ago.

No one was allowed past the gate who was wearing ‘perfume’ in any way, shape, form or guise:  no sweety-sweety shampoo, conditioner, soap, body lotion, cologne, perfume.  No clothes washed in high-smelling soap powder or bearing the lingering traces of deadly dry-cleaning solvent.  But, of course, all of Dawn’s guests respected the health code and she had a grand time.

Thanks to Dawn, I live in a reasonably healthy house.  All of the household cleaning products I now use conform, as much as possible, to Dawn’s exacting standards.  My laundry detergent is unscented and though it’s quite expensive I also use it to clean the terrazzo tiles.

Dawn had an illuminating book that revealed all of the harmful contents of every single commercial household product.  I can’t remember the exact title.   It just might be The Safe Shopper’s Bible:  A Consumer’s Guide to Nontoxic Household Products, Cosmetics and Food, co-authored by David Steinman and Samuel Epstein, which I found on


Dawn's Bible?


These days, when I go into the supermarket, I literally turn up my nose at the run-of-the-mill household products that are brandishing on the shelves – to use a clever dancehall verb I first heard DJ Shabba Ranks draw.  Dangerous chemicals claim to be ‘natural’ by being branded in the deceptively metaphorical language of fruit, essence and breeze.

So you have air ‘fresheners’ named green apple breeze; fresh mountain scent; island breeze; summer breeze; early morning breeze; invigorating breeze; cherry blossom; vanilla and blossoms; lemon; jasmine; lavender; potpourri; citrus meadows; citrus zest; summer citrus; clean scent; outdoor scent; spring waterfall; ocean paradise; ocean bloom;

I learned to comply with Dawn’s directives.  Not just for the sake of my own health.  I never knew when Dawn would imperiously announce that she would be coming to stay with me.  Like another famous houseguest, Ras Dizzy, Dawn would arrive for a few days and, before you knew it, she would have spent a good few months.   Only some carefully dropped words would make her pull down her tent.

But Dawn’s extended visits had their distinctive pleasures.  Dawn was a gourmet cook who was generous with her recipes.  I learnt to cook exotic dishes, thanks to Dawn.  Her baked fish was legendary.  I have now mistressed the art and science of that dish and I willingly share the recipe with delighted guests.  The key ingredient is garam masala.

Then there was Dawn’s pumpkin rice seasoned with the unusual galangal, an Indonesian relative of our much more common ginger.  As for Dawn’s tofu in peanut butter sauce; it would make the most anti-tofu sceptic a complete believer.  And Dawn’s homemade salad dressing, so easy to concoct, put a zing in the most basic mix of greens.

Here’s the recipe:  blend together

Juice of 2 fresh limes

¼ cup cider vinegar

½ cup olive oil

1 teaspoon mustard

2 gloves garlic

½ teaspoon paprika

¼ scotch bonnet pepper

2 stalks skellion

1 tablespoon brown sugar

¾ teaspoon salt

Right at the end, add a sprig of basil.  Enjoy!

The balance to Dawn’s nomadic life was her unrelenting quest to buy a piece of land and put up a little house where she could settle her body, mind and soul.  The closest she came to this dream was the time she lived in Portland in a beautifully situated house that she’d rented.  There Dawn engaged in activities like pollinating flowers by hand.  She wasn’t leaving it up to bees.

On that score, Dawn remains the most knowledgeable person I have ever met.  Dawn read widely and deeply.  I used to tell her that what she knows is worth several PhDs.  In Portland, Dawn spread out, finding space for her books, her art supplies and her wide range of specialist cooking utensils.  I must tell you about one of Dawn’s absolutely unforgettable parties at her home in Portland.  She’d invited us for lunch and long past three o’clock there was no sign of food, except for tantalising smells.

Dawn was holed up in the kitchen cooking each dish serially, it must have been, and refusing to let anyone enter her domain.  To be honest, there were quite a few uninvited guests who, knowing Dawn’s reputation for extraordinary cuisine, had brazenly appeared out of the blue.  I don’t know if it was to spite them that Dawn was taking her time with the meal, hoping they would give up and leave.  But we, the legitimate guests, were dying of hunger.  So I decided to courageously storm the kitchen and asked for reinforcements.  I clearly remember Donna McFarlane volunteering to come in with me.

To much protestation from Dawn, we rushed the door and told her in no uncertain terms that this was dyam foolishness and we were coming in to help her.  She relented and in about another hour or so we settled down to a sumptuous meal that included delicacies like heart of palm.  Certainly not from a can but lovingly harvested in the neighbourhood by Dawn.

Dawn could be so stubborn on even life-threatening matters and we sometimes ended up in big quarrels.  There is an African proverb from the Nupe people that says it so well, “Even the tongue and the teeth quarrel now and then.”  In the last months of her life we had fierce quarrels about her staying at St. Joseph’s hospital.  It was I who had gotten her in there in the first place because that’s where the orthopaedic surgeon I’d found operated.  I felt obligated to get Dawn out alive.  St. Joseph’s is like a once-beautiful woman who has fallen on very hard times and who stubbornly refuses to acknowledge her graceless decline.

Dawn insisted that she had to have a private room, a luxury that was not readily available at either the University Hospital of the West Indies or the Kingston Public Hospital.  Her fear of chemical contamination was intense. So I asked her if the potential damage could be as great as what I considered to be the actual compromised care she was getting at the ‘hospital.’  She was adamant and refused to budge.

I haven’t come to terms with the fact that Dawn is gone.  I still expect to see her striding down Wellington Drive.  I know her wanderings are over.  But mi wish she was still here so she could fight lickle more to get her owna piece of ground.  There is a West African proverb that can console us all:  you never truly die ‘til no one remembers you.  Dawn, we will always remember.

Pricks of conscience/ Conscience a bite

Source: Associated Press

In this bilingual blog, Jamaica Woman Tongue, I translate into Jamaican the column I write each week in English for the Sunday Gleaner.  On the rare occasions that I write for the newspaper in Jamaican, I’ll translate the column into English.

Earlier this year, I wrote a column, “Reading and Writhing,” in which I focused on the difficulties many Jamaicans have reading Jamaican. I reproduce that column in this post.  I hope that by reading this blog regularly many Jamaicans will become literate in our mother tongue.

I plan to expose readers to the specialist writing system for the Jamaican language developed by the linguist Frederick Cassidy and refined by the Jamaican Language Unit at the University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica, headed by Professor Hubert Devonish.

This week, for the Jamaican translation of the English text, I use what I call a ‘chaka-chaka’ writing system for the Jamaican language.  That compound word, ‘chaka-chaka’ comes from the Ewe language of Ghana – tsaka, meaning to mix, to be mixed.  The Dictionary of Jamaican English defines chaka-chaka as “disorderly, irregular.”

My chaka-chaka system is based on the disorderly ‘conventions’ of English spelling.  At first, some readers will find it easier to read than the specialist writing system.  Once you become familiar with the custom-made system, I bet you’ll change your mind.

Conscience a bite

Is long time now mi sight seh yu ha fi send pikni go a church regular fi gi dem protection gainst all kind a bogus religion dem mighta pick up when dem grow big.  Is like yu ha fi a vaccinate dem soul. Pikni weh no get injection naa go able fi put up resistance.  Dem a go end up a join all sort a spirit cult.  From dem a go ‘church’ – no matter which one – dem a go build up dem immune system.

If yu a lickle pikni, an big people tell yu Bible story bout good angel weh live inna heaven an bad angel weh live inna hell, yu naa go tink notn bout dem mek-up Hollywood flim dem weh a deal wid out-a-space creature.  From yu get yu injection, yu naa go see no flying saucer.  Yu naa go get no night vision.   Yu just cool wid yu regular church runnings.

Unfortunately, di vaccination fi yu body not so reliable like di one fi yu soul.  Last August, di Rastafari Millennium Council put on one symposium an mi learn someting weh surprise mi.  Some Rasta very sceptikle bout vaccination.  An dem feel seh govament a persecute dem.  Rasta pikni kyaan go a govament school if dem no vaccinate.

Rasta inna good company pon disya issue.  George Bernard Shaw, one Irishman weh write nuff play, im never mek fun fi talk im mind.  Im seh yu might as cheap aks a butcher if ital food have any use if yu a go aks a doctor if vaccination a good sinting.  Dis joke woulda sweet Rasta cau yu done know dem defen ital livity.

Yu see dis must-an-bound vaccination business.  It cause nuff contention.  Some people a gwaan like seh a di god truth seh vaccination a go save pikni from get sick.  But a nex set a people just doan sing dat deh Sankey.   Tek for instance Rick Rollins.  Im a one American weh kip up big fight gainst vaccination.  Im claims seh a di measle, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccination mek im pikni turn bafan.

Same like Mr. Shaw, Mr. Rollins im come up wid a good piece a lyrics fi fight down di don gorgon dem.  Im seh if yu a go aks di public health authority fi investigate if vaccination have anyting fi do wid bafanism, den yu might as well aks di tobacco company dem fi investigate if smoking have anyting fi do wid lung cancer.

If it no go so . . .

Even di medical doctor dem a talk out bout vaccination. Dr. Robert Mendelsohn write two cantankerous book, Confessions of a Medical Heretic an How to Raise a Healthy Child . . . In Spite of Your Doctor. Im mek a point bout di money-making side a vaccination:  If a pikni-doctor shoulda talk out gainst vaccination an box bread outa a nex doctor mouth, it woulda come een like seh Father a admit seh di pope can mek mistake.

Facts is facts.  Di doctor dem gwaan like dem join Lodge.  An if yu not a member, yu naa no chat. Yu kyaan challenge di doctor dem.  Dem tek up fi one another.  If yu convince seh vaccination no good fi yu pikni, dem mek yu feel like seh yu no know weh yu a talk bout.   If yu seh, ‘if it no go so, it nearly go so,’ dem seh yu a eedyat. An di high an mighty doctor dem turn gainst any doubting Thomas weh raise question bout di effect a nuff vaccination, one top a one, pon di lickle baby dem.

Rasta no ha notn gainst immunisation.   Wat dem tink is dat di doctor dem shoulda put emphasis pon natural protection.  Rasta claims seh di evidence di deh fi support di argument dat breastfeeding gi protection gainst nuff disease all like meningitis, whooping cough, tetanus an polio.

A vaccination a di problem.  An when yu see weh di word come from, yu do understand di shituation.  A animal product use fi mek di vaccine dem. Vaccination come from Latin ‘vacca’.  Dat mean cow.   Yes.  Di fos vaccine develop from cowpox virus.

So a how Rasta get round di problem a must-an-bound vaccination?  Wa dem do is put dem pikni inna private school.  Dem deh school no so strict bout vaccination like di government school dem.  But dis no suit plenty parents cau dem just kyaan afford di big school fee.

Di Ganja Commission

Fifty year aback, University College of the West Indies (UCWI) did publish di Report on the Rastafari Movement in Kingston, Jamaica. Arthur Lewis, di principal, did send a letter to di Premier, Norman Manley.  Im warn im seh di movement large, an trouble dis a bubble.  Rasta problem supposen fi get priority treatment.

Since dem deh time, Rasta step up inna life.  Nobody naa call Rasta no cult.  Rasta a bonafide religion all over di world.  An whole heap a people who a no no Rasta tek up Rastafari consciousness an livity.  All like ital food. Ganja now, dat is anodder story.  By di way, mi wonder wa happen to di report from di Ganja Commission.  Mi hope it no wrap up inna ‘rizzla.’

To tell di truth, inna di 1960’s yu done know seh some suspish old people mighta well an did waan find one vaccine fi immunise dem pikni gainst Rasta.  All yu a hear a di dread lamention, ‘Guess who turn Rasta?’  And yu turn Rasta inna Jamaican, not English.  From yu start turn to Africa dat mean yu no civilise again.  Yu turn savage.  An from yu a locks, dat directly mean seh yu head an yu tongue knot up-knot up.

Inna dem ya time, dreadlocks a style an fashion. Yu coulda seet pon Zahra Redwood, Miss Jamaica Universe fi 2008.  She just royal.  She never come een high like Yendi Phillips inna di international competition.

But still for all, di whole a Jamaica proud a her.  She show di world seh her knotty head beautiful kyaan done:  inside an outside.

Ministry a Education shoulda gi priority treatment to di case a must-an-bound vaccination a Rasta pikni.  After all, pikni entitle to education, same like how govament a seh dem entitle to vaccination.  Rasta no suppose fi ha fi a choose between education an health fi dem pikni.  Dat deh wicked choice shoulda bite di whole a wi conscience.


















Pricks of Conscience

I’ve long come to the conclusion that regular injections of religion in early childhood provide excellent immunisation against spiritual infection in later life. Unprotected children become vulnerable adults who are easily seduced into joining all sorts of weird cults.  Going to ‘church’ – whatever the religion – builds up your immune system.

If you grow up with sacred stories about good and bad angels who live in heaven and hell respectively, you’re not likely to get carried away by fictional Hollywood films about extra-terrestrial beings. Religiously inoculated adults don’t tend to see flying saucers.  You’ve been saved from night visions by repeated injections of ‘ordinary’ faith.

Unfortunately, earthly vaccination is not always as reliable as the heavenly kind.  Last August, the Rastafari Millennium Council put on a symposium at which I learnt a startling fact.  Some Rastafari are quite sceptical about the presumed value of medical vaccination.  And they feel persecuted by inflexible government policies that prevent unvaccinated children from attending state-run schools.

Rastafari are in excellent company on this issue.  George Bernard Shaw, the irreverent Irish playwright, once declared, ‘As well consult a butcher on the value of vegetarianism as a doctor on the worth of vaccination.’  This witticism would certainly resonate with Rastafari for whom vegetarianism is a central principle of their ‘livity.’

Compulsory vaccination is quite a contentious matter. Although the practice of vaccination is now accepted as gospel, there are non-believers who question its power to save.  The American lobbyist Rick Rollins blames the combined measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccination for his son’s autism.

Like Shaw, Rollins uses a clever analogy to challenge received wisdom: ‘Asking the public health community to investigate the role of vaccines in the development of autism is like asking the tobacco industry to investigate the link between lung cancer and smoking.’

Conspiracy theorists

Even medical doctors offer their dissenting voices to the public debate on vaccination. Dr. Robert Mendelsohn is the author of two provocative books, Confessions of a Medical Heretic and How to Raise a Healthy Child . . . In Spite of Your Doctor. He highlights the tricky business of the economics of vaccination:  “For a pediatrician to attack what has become the ‘bread and butter’ of pediatric practice is equivalent to a priest’s denying the infallibility of the pope.”

Indeed, the medical profession is a lot like a Masonic Lodge.  It’s a secret society that excludes the uninitiated.  So doctors often close ranks against ordinary citizens who challenge the authority of the experts. Parents who have reservations about vaccinating their children are made to feel like conspiracy theorists.  Turncoat doctors who express doubt about the safety of giving numerous vaccinations in quick succession to young children are cast out of the fold.

Rastafari don’t object to immunisation on principle.  Instead, they believe that more emphasis should be placed on natural means.  They argue that there is good evidence to support the claim that breastfeeding provides protection against a range of diseases such as meningitis, whooping cough, tetanus and polio.

It’s vaccination that’s the problem.  The origin of the word confirms one of the major objections: the use of products derived from animals.   Vaccination comes from the Latin word ‘vacca’, meaning cow.   In fact, the first vaccine was developed from the cowpox virus.

So how do Rastafari get around the problem of compulsory vaccination?  One solution is enrolling children in private schools that tend to be less rigid about compliance than government institutions.  But this not a viable solution for many parents who simply cannot afford the high school fees.

The Ganja Commission

Half a century ago, the Report on the Rastafari Movement in Kingston, Jamaica was published by the University College of the West Indies (UCWI).  In a letter to the Premier, Norman Manley, the principal, Arthur Lewis, warned that “The movement is large, and in a state of great unrest.  Its problems require priority treatment.”

Since those days of ‘great unrest’, the Rastafari faith has gained respectability.  The mass movement is no longer dismissed as a cult but recognised globally as a religion.  Some Rastafari beliefs and cultural practices have become mainstream, particularly eating ‘ital’.  The ritual smoking of ganja has not.  Incidentally, I wonder what has become of the findings of the Ganja Commission.  I hope the report isn’t wrapped in a ‘rizzla.’

It is true that in the 1960’s suspicious parents might have wished for a vaccine to immunise their children against the seductions of Rastafari.  The dreaded lament, ‘Guess who turn Rasta?’ was a frequent cry.  And you became Rasta in Jamaican, not English.  Turning to Africa meant that you had turned away from civilisation to savagery.  Dreadlocks were a clear sign of knots in the head and the tongue.

These days, dreadlocks make a beautiful fashion statement, as was demonstrated with such elegance by Zahra Redwood, Miss Jamaica Universe 2008.  She didn’t do nearly as well as Yendi Phillips in the international competition but all of Jamaica is still very proud of her.  She showed the world the spectacular beauty of her knotty head:  inside and out.

Conscientious objection to vaccination ought to be given ‘priority treatment’ by the Ministry of Education.  After all, the right to education is as legitimate as the presumed right to vaccination.  Parents shouldn’t have to choose between the education and the health of their children.  That dilemma should prick our collective conscience.


Reading and Writhing

Most Jamaicans can’t easily read and write in our mother tongue.  Call it broken English, dialect, patois, patwa, Creole, Jamaican Creole or just plain Jamaican.  It doesn’t make a difference.  As the poet Mutabaruka puts it so wittily, ‘the language we talk, we can’t write; and the language we write, we can’t talk.’  Some of us just can’t face the Jamaican language on the page.

Two of my recent columns, written mostly in Jamaican, have provoked a fair bit of debate.  The subject, not just the language, upset some readers who seem to be quite prepared to forgive and forget the scandalous conduct of politicians.   They just want to ‘move on.’  Where to?  I fear that it may be to a state called ‘more of the same.’

For other readers, the language itself was very much the problem.  I’d composed a fictional prayer on behalf of the prime minister, ‘Dear God, is me, Bruce.’  I speculated that, in his moments of repentant anguish, the PM would pour out his heart to God in his mother tongue, not English.  And God would have to answer in Jamaican to prove that it’s a divine language.

An aggrieved reader responded on the Gleaner’s blog:  ‘Why write like this? I started reading and had to stop.  I speak Jamaican dialect anytime, anywhere so I don’t have a problem with it.  However, it’s not something I want to read in a Gleaner article.’  This reader obviously thinks that the Jamaican language has no business being written down; and certainly not in The Gleaner, a newspaper with pedigree, presumably, unlike that unmentionable, ‘hurry come up’ tabloid.

Incidentally, the word ‘pedigree’ has quite ordinary origins.  It comes from Middle French, ‘pie de grue,’ meaning ‘foot of the crane.’  The branches of the crane’s foot resemble the spreading lines of genealogical charts.  Like the Jamaican expression, ‘crab toe,’ which we use to describe illegible handwriting, the French ‘pedigree’ takes an image from nature to represent the markings of culture.

Corrupt language

I’ve corrected the spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors in the quotes from that dismissive reader cited above:  ‘Columnists should think about their audience when they are writing.  If Carolyn is trying to reach out to the ordinary Jamaicans, I know for sure they will not waste their time to read this as they will not be able to follow it. This is absolute rubbish. Your intellect should tell you that the Jamaican dialect\Patois is effective only when someone is listening to another person speaking it.  This article is suited for one of your university lectures or some other public forum where you are required to deliver a speech, definitely not The Gleaner.’

But all of that is simply not true.  Jamaican has long been a written language, as illustrated so beautifully in two books edited by the Jamaican linguists Jean D’Costa and Barbara Lalla.   Voices in Exile, published in 1989 by the University of Alabama Press, gives examples of written Jamaican from as early as the 18th century.  Language in Exile, which appeared a year later, is sub-titled Three Hundred Years of Jamaican Creole.  Quite a long time.

Furthermore, many so-called ‘ordinary Jamaicans’ actually take pleasure in reading and writing in their mother tongue, as we see on the internet.  It is the extraordinary Jamaicans who have trouble with the language.  About two decades ago, Morris Cargill wrote a contemptuous newspaper column entitled ‘Corruption of language is no cultural heritage.’  I decided to write a response using the ‘corrupt’ language.

Too often, we ‘defend’ Jamaican in English, playing right into the hands of those sceptics who assume that Jamaican is not a language of analytical thought.   I decided to use the specialist writing system for the Jamaican language developed by the linguist, Frederick Cassidy. Instead of using the notoriously irregular writing system of English, he designed a phonetic system.

Cargill, trained as a lawyer, claimed that he ‘couldn’t make head or tail of the maze of phonetics.’   Mr. Andrew Sewell, the postman in my neighbourhood, whose head was not in his tail, could certainly find his way through the ‘maze.’  It all depends on your politics.  Mr. Sewell is a Rastaman who is committed to learning, unlike many supposedly educated people who have no real interest in scholarship.

For Mr. Sewell, the Cassidy writing system confirms the fact that Jamaican is a language quite different from English:   ‘it full di space of our real African language.’  Better yet:  ‘it ful di spies af owa rial Afrikan langgwij.’  Mr. Sewell acknowledges the African pedigree of the Jamaican language.

In anguish and pain

So why is it that so many Jamaicans can’t read and write Jamaican?  The answer is quite easy.  Our school system has failed us.  Because we don’t take Jamaican seriously – it’s seen as a language of brawling entertainment – no effort is made to teach literacy in the mother tongue. Instead, many primary school children struggle to become literate in English, a language they don’t know: reading and writhing in anguish and pain.

The Jamaican Language Unit at the University of the West Indies, Mona, led by Professor Hubert Devonish, has taken a giant step on the long journey to prove that bilingual primary school education makes sense.  The Unit has translated English textbooks into Jamaican and a select group of primary school students has been taught literacy in both Jamaican and English.

The Ministry of Education must now ensure that every single child is given the opportunity to talk and write in both English and Jamaican.  The Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights, signed by UNESCO, affirms that education in one’s mother tongue is a human right.  It’s high time we start taking language rights seriously in Jamaica. Chat bout.