Friday, 19 May 2017

Change the name of St Hugh's Girls School to highlight femininity

This blog post contains some of my thoughts which are not affiliated in any way with any organisation. Traditions are wonderful when they help the youth of today to achieve. 

Change the name of St Hugh's High School for girls to highlight femininity

St Hugh of Lincoln
Bishop of Lincoln (1186-1200)
It is an interesting state of affairs that not one of the schools that were established for the education of girls in Jamaica has a name that projects positive feminine qualities of the Jamaican woman which, for the purposes of this blog, I am limiting to the condition of being female in Jamaica. I have thought, in particular, about the name St Hugh's High School For Girls.

What's In A Name?
This school was established in 1899 for the education of children up to the elementary level and girls at the secondary level. It was founded by a faith-based institution, The Deaconess Order, and they lovingly called the school Deaconess High School in honour of the work that they did in Jesus' name.

In 1925, the Jamaica Schools Commission requested that the name be changed, and the then principal selected the name of her prestigious college at Oxford University in the UK. The Jamaica Schools Commission nodded, the school owners offered no objection, and with ongoing astute leadership and practical support for infrastructure and academic staff, the school's reputation grew under the St Hugh's brand.
The Jamaica High School that was founded in 1921 suffered the same fate in 1929 when the Jamaica Schools Commission requested that the name be changed; the accepted name was St Andrew High School for Girls.
Andrew the Apostle who was
said to have been crucified on the saltire
So, after 26 years of existence, Deaconess High School had a name change. St Andrew, Mt Alvernia and Hampton also underwent name changes for different reasons, so names are changed to serve current needs, not to elongate traditions, for the sake of traditions. 

This is my view and my view only.
In 2019, St Hugh's will achieve its 120th anniversary, and I propose that this significant milestone be used to return the name of the school to one that puts femininity at the centre of its purpose guided by a Christian philosophy. I would further want the word Jamaica added to the name so that it has a cultural resonance.

Today's Jamaica has fifteen secondary schools for girls, two of these are named after women, one is after the city it is located. Aside from Montego Bay High School that was founded in 1935, no other school has a name that is distinctly linked to the culture and traditions of the nation of Jamaica. In this regard, Mo Bay High is for us, a beacon in the West. I also uphold the name of Merl Grove as beautifully sentimental, as it is an acronym formed from the first letters in the names of the five children of the fatherly founder.  

Shield of Munro College,
St Elizabeth located at Munro
"A city set upon a hill cannot be hid"
On the other hand, the schools for boys deepen and highlight aspects that can be more easily accepted as a male condition. I have listed the names at the end of this article. The names for boys schools reflect ownership of the country and the spaces that the schools occupy; preserve the name of their benevolent founder or, in the case of Calabar, contain aspirations and pride of being a black person of African ancestry. These names, and the iconography and branding that have been developed for them, are attachments that help to build confidence in character during youth. 

Someone who is reading this is saying, "This is so not necessary", which is a Jamaican idiom and also a euphemism for "I do not want to talk about this because it makes me uncomfortable," but it does not change the fact that the girls are being short changed!

In the lead up to the 2017 ISSA champs, I spoke with a woman who was in her backyard in a ICHS 5K T-shirt, and I remarked that she was already in her colours. Her reply was memorable for me:
    "No, no. I support Calabar. My husband used to be on the school track team."

Perhaps even a small step like a renaming exercise will motivate many women and girls to consider celebrating the good aspects of their own scholastic adolescence . To support a school team is to hopefully support today's youth and or nurture your own nostalgia; to support a national team is hopefully an act of civic pride; and to support a sports club is to indulge in fanaticism and maybe some hero worship. We, in Jamaica treat high school sports, starring children who are not connected to us, as if they were club sports. Let us acknowledge the purpose of school sports as one aspect of childhood development and celebrate it appropriately.

This is my idea only and does not represent any other person or any organisation
My current re-naming exercise for the former Deaconess High School brings together four ideas by identifying: 
  • The nation that sponsors the school - Jamaica
  • The population that the school serves - females
  • The curriculum that is offered - academic
  • The ownership of the school - a faith-based institution.
The proposed name is The Holy Jamaican Woman Academy short form Holy Woman. The swan mascot still applies. This encompasses femininity, Christianity, the type of education that is offered and Jamaican culture and identity. 

I propose that the word woman instead of girl be placed in the name of the school as a way to promote the title of woman as a positive state of being that girls should anticipate with pride, joy and a sense of purpose and also responsibility.

Emancipation Now
I close by highlighting the stories of the names of all-girls secondary schools in Jamaica using the Educate Jamaica 2016 Ivy League ranking:
  1. Immaculate Conception - Named for the conception of God's One Son
  2. Montego Bay - Place name in Jamaica where the school is located
  3. Westwood - An abstract place name
  4. Hampton - Place name in UK, the former name was a place in Scotland
  5. St Andrew - Male name and place name
  6. Wolmers - Sir name of male founder
  7. St Hilda's - Female academic and outstanding spiritual leader of the early Middle Age UK
  8. Convent of Mercy (Alpha) - Spiritual reference point for God's One Son, (I Am The Alpha and the Omega)
  9. Bishop Gibson - Name of 20th century male spiritual leader in Jamaica
  10. Mount Alvernia - Named after, La Verna, a place in Italy connected to a famous male spiritual leader St Francis of Assisi
  11. Holy Childhood - Named for the childhood of God's One Son
  12. Merl Grove - An acronym for the founder's children  (Miriam, Effey, Reginald, Ruth, Lucille) which is a beautiful tribute
  13. St Hugh's - Named after a college at Oxford University which was itself named in honour of an influential male spiritual leader in the UK of the Middle Ages
  14. The Queens - Named in honour of the coronation of the current monarch of Jamaica
  15. Marymount - Derived from a place name in Jamaica. Original name after an influential religious figure
For extra measure the name of the only all-girls primary school in Jamaica is St George.

All-boys secondary schools Educate Jamaica 2016 Ivy League ranking:
  1. Wolmers - Male founder
  2. Munro - Sir name of one of the male founders
  3. Kingston - The country's capital
  4. St George - Patron saint of UK who magnificently slew dragons 
  5. Jamaica - They named the country after the school (it is said)
  6. Calabar - Place name in Nigeria to reinforce the proud black man effect
  7. Cornwall - Named for the county where the school is located.

Caribbean Secondary Schools for Girls

Trinidad and Tobago
Lakshmi Girls' Hindu College - Named for a high ranking Hindu goddess
Naparima Girls' High School  - Place name of Taino origin
St. Augustine Girls' High School - Early Christian influential male theologian

Barbados - None
Guyana - None

St Vincent - St Vincent Girls' High School

“We are going to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery because whilst others might free the body, none but ourselves can free the mind. Mind is your only ruler, sovereign. The man who is not able to develop and use his mind is bound to be the slave of the other man who uses his mind….” Marcus Garvey, Nova Scotia, October 1937.

"Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds." Bob Marley on the Uprising album, 1980.

I edited this heavily on May 21 because I realise that my expressions were bruising dearly held opinions. My goal is not to ostracise.

Friday, 17 March 2017

The Star-Apple Kingdom

To me, The Derek Walcott poem,  The Star-Apple Kingdom, connects him to Jamaica.
It also showcases how he is inspired by plants. As a tribute to him, here is a chronological list of the plants of the Caribbean and references to Jamaica that are named in the poem:


  1. Star-apple
  2. Lime
  3. Casurinas
  4. Mahogany
  5. Bougainvillea
  6. Lily
  7. Flame Tree
  8. Cocoa
  9. Magnolia
  10. Ginger-Lilies
  11. Tangerine
  12. Macca
  13. Cactus
  14. Bay
  15. Grass
  16. Moss 
  17. Tobacco
  18. Sugar
  19. Bananas

  1. Trelawny
  2. St David
  3. St Andrew
  4. Great House
  5. Nanny
  6. Custos
  7. Jamaica
  8. Botanical Gardens
  9. Root-rock music
  10. Yallahs
  11. August Town
  12. Wareika Hills
  13. Dread beat
  14. Kingston 
  15. Quadrilles
  16. Rock stone
  17. Port Royal
  18. Palisadoes
  19. Penna and Venables
  20. St Thomas

Friday, 24 February 2017

Level mek we settle the argument!


Level mek we settle the argument!

The February 18, 2017 staging of the celebrated Youth View Awards (now called Your View Awards) has found itself in an inelegant situation because its selection process awarded the Favourite Local Artiste of the Year (Male) and four other awards to someone who corrupts public officials in the field of national security, and this led to outrage from sections of the public.

Level mek we settle the argument about whether illicit commercial recordings have been smuggled from high security correctional institutions and into legitimate business activities. I am not an entertainment or a corrections insider, so what I have set out here is from my observances using information was shared through public discourse on national media outlets. Let's start with a kickoff from the centre circle with memorable plays from 2016:
Las May Feb 25 Daily Gleaner

  1. June 2016, Boomshots Magazine reviewed the Dancehall album King of the Dancehall which had dropped that month. The writer: "So all my time just gone?” Vybz Kartel intones at the start of the tenth track on his thirteenth albumKing of the Dancehall. “All these years—them waste it. If me rob every watch inna the jewelry store, me can’t get back the time.” This is the closest Adidja Palmer comes to addressing the five years (and counting) that he’s spent behind bars on his new album King of the Dancehall, which debuted at No. 1 on the iTunes Reggae chart today;
  2.  Justin Beiber’s international hit on the Sorry riddim was released in October 2015, and in April 2016 the imprisoned one released the off-album single All I Wanna Do on the same riddim;
  3. The off-album single Round Corna was released in October 2016 as a diss track insulting the current leading artiste "blind bwoy” (time code 1:51) who was not popular in 2011.

    I agree with the reviewer of the Boomshots article which closed, "Despite the impossible odds, he moves with complete confidence, secure in the knowledge that his loyal subjects would follow him all the way to the gates of hell."
    Two-Face, an arch enemy of Batman
    as portrayed in Arkham videogame
    (DC Comics)

    The YVA took a left wing defence to the public outrage over their disregard for what many see as clear family resemblance of corruption. They found a narrow space to pass the ball with the quote "we support all artistes", suggesting that the natural arbiter of the matter was the Broadcasting Commission, the matter was dribbled briefly by the Jamaica Observer. 

    On February 23, 2017 The Jamaica Observer, a sponsor of the event and one of the newspapers of record for Jamaica, made a move for the net and said in its Editorial  "We find it difficult to argue with that view from the (YVA) organisers." The Editorial ends, "Only the young can enjoy youth."

    That same day, The Broadcasting Commission of Jamaica also took a header for the goal through a news release saying that it had met with its fellow public agency, the Department of Correctional Services, and concluded that "as it concerns convicts, their privilege or ability to create music whilst incarcerated is governed by correctional rules".   It was a creditable attempt that was appreciated by the YVA fan base.

    The Hon Louise Bennett Coverley, OM
    Foremost cultural icon of Jamaica
    The Jamaica Association of Composers and Authors (JACAP) was not called up for the match, but had a right to be on the field, to clarify if the album was produced by one of it's members, and whether information submitted to them under Rule 4 was in good order. This is relevant in making a decision whether recordings make it on playlists.

    The other supporting player who should have been on a starting eleven is the Television Jamaica programme Entertainment Report which has the current weekly countdown of top ten on the local charts. Some questions could include, "Are the selections registered with JCAP?"; "From what data is the countdown derived?" I could be at fault for posing such questions as perhaps the answers are public knowledge, but I am not aware as I had not been following the programmes.

    The Chairman of the Jamaica Federation of Corrections did make the starting side however as a surprise call-up four days later when he spoke to a radio station on February 28, "Recent recordings are coming out from behind the bars, but as I said before, it must be done in a structured way, it has not been structured, and therefore if it is not structured, it is not legal".  Among the many wonderful Jamaican proverbs this one I think applies to this situation: If fish come up from down a river bottom and tell you seh shark down deh, believe im.

    February 28, 2017: The Minister of State in the Ministry of National Security took control of the game with a fast break by accepting that there was a serious problem when he said, "What now exists is a dysfunctional system,where we have to contend with contraband entering our correctional facilities and the allegations of complicity of our staff in this matter. This poses a potential threat to our national security and to our efforts to redefine and transform the Department of Correctional Services”.  He created some damage, but the ball reached a defender and not a forward attack.

    March 2, 2017: Despite the minister's acceptance, the Gleaner publishes the Commissioner of Corrections stepping sideways, perhaps to avoid an offside, saying, "These are allegations that you hear, I would have heard them on the news, and there are suggestions that it could be happening, but in terms of pinning persons down, having concrete evidence, we don't." 

    Clovis, March 2, Jamaica Observer
    It is timely to recall that the court  that convicted persons for the death of Lizard relied a lot on digital - perhaps even more so than physical - evidence. (WARNING DISTURBING VIDEO)
    The ministry with responsibility for national security tackled his own defender and followed up its statement on March 5 with the announcement "We have assembled all the key recommendations in a structured matrix, delegated specific responsibilities and are renewing responsibilities and are reviewing budget allocations to advance the process of stamping out corruption and criminal activity in our correctional facilities."

    The Joker , an arch enemy of Batman
    as portrayed by Heath Ledger
    (DC Comics)
    Altogether, the lauding of illicit recordings that have made their way into the legal economy continues and the acceptance of such material for prestigious awards and selecting tracks for playlists in dancehalls and on bandstands is watering and fertilizing the playing field for more of this kind of crime to flourish. Airbrushing criminality at a youth event by saying we "support all artists" can be compared to looking the other way while crime photobombs your beautiful stadium selfies.

    In 2013, the collaborator of the autobiography of the artiste in an open letter to the then Minister of National Security said  'scamming” has been reported as a problem in Jamaica since 2006, whilst the little known song “Reparation,” only started being played in the public domain in the summer of 2012'. The collaborator also said in that letter "a potential juror may be influenced to convict Adidja Palmer for a song Vybz Kartel did about an aspect of Jamaican life," 
    Your View Awards Jamaica, YVAs

    This shows that there are persons who are ahead of the law, proposing that the stage persona has a separate legal identity from the individual.  

    When the match seemed to be settling down for a draw, the referee "Magnum New Rules March 25", allowed a penalty kick that was rewarded by a goal as described by Andre Williams of The Star.

    And the final outcome of the beautiful game? A fog descended on the field rendering low visibility, and it was called off before the end of full time, and without a decision. What is clear is that the artiste on the track  Don't Know Someone is upset, "So all my time just gone, all these years, them waste it; me can't get back the time?" but he has found a way to be on the field. 

    Fifteen days after the YVAs, the finals of the Jamaica Invitational Badminton Championships was held in the same venue, the National Indoor Sports Centre. A vocal and enthusiastic group of badminton teens and young adults were enjoying themselves. Slovakia and India were warming up for the men's doubles when the selector decided to turn up the excitement and he put on a dancehall recording that was met with loud shouts of "No! no!" and arms clearly signalling a wipe-out. It was a scammer chune, and they would have none of it. Badminton youth stood up for something decent, they rock.

    Official Website of the recording label of the artiste

    Mark 4  A Lamp on a Stand  21 He said to them, “Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed? Instead, don’t you put it on its stand? 22 For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open. 23 If anyone has ears to hear, let them hear.”
    Note to self 
    24 “Consider carefully what you hear,” he continued. “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you—and even more. 25 Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.”

    Monday, 30 January 2017

    Tek Yuh Han Off A Mi! - The Play - January 29 2017 review

    Review - Tek Yuh Han Off A Mi!
    I had geared up myself for a gruelling two hours to sit through a theatrical performance that focused on a difficult subject matter, that of the beating of a woman by her boyfriend, but found myself, along with the full house, laughing out loud right through.
    Playwright Michael Dawson used the tropes behind the personalities of the four characters to bring out humour that took the edge off the brutal purpose of the production, which was to expose the wrongs of beating up your girlfriend.
    The well-meaning mother Audrey, played by Rosemary Murray, is clear in her philosophy about how women can get ahead in life and often quotes the bible, wrongly, such as when Moses was brought out of the den of lions. Audrey's role was largely responsible for taking the play out of the realm of misery to an easier place where the audience could be comfortable to face domestic violence without wanting to leave the venue, and Murray played the part lightly and brilliantly. I am sensitive that anyone who has endured and survived or witnessed abuse or of any kind may be uncomfortable of being reminded about his or her experiences, even in this way.
    The boyfriend, Vincent Marzouca as played by Jean-Paul Menou, gave the audience plenty of reasons to kiss dem teet as they watched him easily slip from playing the dutiful son-in-law, to diligently seeking therapy for his long-standing problems, to declaring undying love with the woman he so terribly abuses. Menou had the most challenging role of the psychopath switching between loving beau and terrible tyrant from moment to moment. Job well done!
    Karen Anderson, played by Shana Wilson is the abused young woman at the centre of the production. The interplay between her modern outlook and her mother's traditional views tickled the audience, greatly. Yet, the audience agreed that it was traditional values that have advanced Jamaica to where we are, and perhaps they should not be abandoned. Wilson's script carried the key messages that women and girls should all know so that they can stay away from, or lift themselves out of, domestic violence. They were heavy words that she delivered clearly and with conviction.
    Tonisha (Toni), played by Brittany Bailey, is Karen's androgynous best friend, and the first person to break through the ironclad mother/daughter bond, to become Karen's confidante. Audrey is highly suspicious of the influence that Toni has over her daughter, and this interplay also amused the audience, which was also suspicious of Toni's motives. Toni changed the status quo within the pernicious family triangle, and Bailey was strong and spot-on for that job.
    Theatre critic Michael Record, in his Gleaner review on January 27, said that he, and the audience, were unsatisfied at the end. I can understand why he said that, and add that it was probably the best ending for patrons who want an evening of enjoyment and not having to leave the theatre vexed and with tear-soaked eyes. Of course, the house relished the moment when it could cry out in unison with the victim "Tek yuh han offa mi!", which was the herald of the show. At the end, the audience gave Menou stingy applause as his reward for portraying the sickening abuser so well.
    The audience reaction to the action onstage is an integral and fun part of the Jamaican theatre experience, and this night was no different. The hostess for the evening, Deon Silvera, was very welcoming and humorous. In addition, Rosie Murray had baked a sweet potato pudding that was raffled off for the price of adding your name and telephone number to a box. I had really hoped that I would have been the one.
    The half-time show was a performance by smooth rapper, King Lopo, who is also Rosie's son. It was all fun.
    I would say that the playwright succeeded in his message of denouncing the beating-up of women by lovers. I hope that this script becomes a small screen film so that audiences that desperately need this message get to see it and be inspired to do the right thing. This play would be a great benefit performance for a civic organisation, and I would say that it would be appropriate for children to attend in the company of their families so that conversations can begin, or continue.

    The Venue - Family-friendly Dancehall Culture ----------------------------------------------------------- I had never been to Green Gables so I cannot compare the former outlay with what is there now called the Jamaica Shopping Club Theatre. The space has an indoor playhouse seating 100, an outdoor playhouse seating 300, a bar featuring dancehall music, and no parking. The entire space is a family-friendly dancehall cultural experience where you can pay for all products using cash or plastic. The food was sold from a cookshop setup by a cook wearing a chef's outfit, complete with hat. There was a handcart man selling cold jelly coconut and also sugar cane and of course there is music and I did not sense any enjoyment of smoking. Persons were enjoying the outdoor space with their children.
    The bar (not for children) is a remodelled step-up deep verandah of what was a 1930s - 1950s era Kingston family house, as can be found still in the Richmond Park area or even in the Golden Triangle.
    I was intrigued by the graphic art of the bar ceiling, which is the Jamaican flag depicting the history of Jamaican music. Inside the bar is also a gift shop selling Kartel apparel. The servers were young women of various racial backgrounds dressed in sexy shorts uniforms. Under the watchful eyes of their mistress, they were alert and kept moving.
    With no parking for patrons inside the yard, it was a spacious place for pedestrians to move about and feel safe. Parking is streetside and two men in safety vests offer directions, decently. A night out at at this location gives an authentic Kingston city experience.
    There are actually three playhouses on Cargill Avenue. Jamaican Shopping Club at # 6, The Vibes Theatre (The Ashe Company) at #8 and another at #3 which was full at the same time.
    I was not paid to write this review and I bought my theatre ticket, full price.

    Centre for Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse (CISOCA)
    A department of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF)
    3 Ruthven Road, Kgn 10

    Call 876-926-7318 or 876-926-4079 or 119

    Tuesday, 23 August 2016

    The Vintage of the 80s Winepress

    The Vintage of the ‘80s Winepress

    By Gwyneth Harold Davidson
    This article first appeared in the 2016 edition of The Jamaica Teachers Association Magazine, The Clarion
    Jamaican author Mr Marlon James is a big deal. He is the winner of the 2015 Man Booker Prize – arguably the world’s most prestigious prize for a novel in English literature - and I am proud that a book written by a born yah Jamaican writer has been so recognised.

    His novel, A Brief History of Seven Killings, breaks ground, showing writers more ways to expand the boundaries of Jamaican English in literature. James describes his writing as beyond post colonial, a state where the dominant cultural reference is the USA and not the UK. He suggests that today’s creative writers from the Caribbean are more expressive of who they are, as opposed to who they are not. If beyond post colonialism puts the USA at the heart of the progressive Jamaican experience, I fear we may have exchanged black dawg fi monkey.

    I believe James when he said, “I’d spent seven years in an all-boys school [Wolmer’s]: 2,000 adolescents in the same khaki uniforms striking hunting poses, stalking lunchrooms, classrooms, changing rooms, looking for boys who didn’t fit in.” I disagree with him when he said that he received a colonial education and that he first became informed about Caribbean history and literature at The University of the West Indies, Mona. In a few interviews, the picture that James painted of the suburban secondary school in Jamaica is one of an educational system stuck in colonialism. This view is so contrary to my experience of secondary school, thirty years after independence, and only one Kilometre away from him in the Cross Roads area of Kingston.
    I am led to think that James may be reflecting the sentiment of Trinidadian author, V. S. Naipaul of an earlier age, when he said “we pretended to be real, to be learning, to be preparing ourselves for life, we mimic men of the New World”.

    At the school that I attended, St Hugh’s High School, we had three Jamaican women who set the tone for the culture in the school: Mathematics teacher, Netball player, and Principal, Miss Marjorie Thomas; Physical Education Mistress, English Teacher and Vice Principal, Miss Margaret McIntosh; and English teacher and all round motivator, Miss Daphnie Morrison. They were unified in giving our Jamaican experience authority above any foreign cultural expression.

    Let me give an example: hair is at the vanguard of culture wars, and there was no restriction on the styling of natural hair at that institution. You were expected to wear your hair in keeping with wearing a uniform (neat and clean), that was about it. I remember AC was spoken to after appearing with the letter “A” beautifully shaved and dyed magenta on the scalp of her Chinese head; and that kinky singleton plaits were in vogue at the school, while they were banned in corporate settings.
    Our inter-house competitions included Culturama,which incorporated the visual and the performing arts. I won a prize for floral arranging using plants from our yard, including the much underutilized coralita, not imported flowers. We visited the National Gallery of Jamaica, and had art classes at Port Royal and in the Cross Roads market where respect was shown to the vendors who allowed us to sketch them working at their stalls. We did geography field trips to the government’s prize farming project, Spring Farm; visited the Ewarton Bauxite factory and also a sugar estate (one of our own later became a senior engineer at Jamalco); we toured the state-of-the-art Jamaica Conference Centre when it opened. These are not cosmopolitan affairs, but they gave us children a sense of dignity about fi wi owna place.

    The academic teaching included mandatory History up to Grade 11, which meant you would have been exposed to Caribbean and American history as well as European History. We discussed current affairs in Form Time. I remember that NMcD  was the only one who had read the Gleaner editorial the day after Russia invaded Afghanistan. By the end of Grade 11, each girl would have been exposed to three novels by African writers, three plays by Shakespeare, three or more American novels, and of course writing by Caribbean and European writers. We were not mimicking the New World, we were learning about the world through our own lenses. Now I really wanted to know if the boys down at Heroes Circle had been, as James seems to say, locked up in a Dickensian world.

    James says that he yearned for Jeanie Hastings’ pop music show. Many of us were also listening to Michael Campbell, the Dread at the Control -  both shows were on JBC Radio 1. I felt the same amount of thrill to see my friend TMcM dance Dinki Mini across the stage, as I did when Michael Jackson showed us the Moonwalk on MTV. The bus stop was where we saw our stars, Jamaica’s future models, diplomats, sports sensations and entertainers going through puberty and acne breakouts with us.

    One man who went to school with James, remembers learning about South American civilizations, but James has said that his first experience of West Indian history was at the UWI. Another man who attended Kingston College (KC) said that his exposure to the history and novels of the Americas started when he read his brothers’ schoolbooks from Wolmers….Is there a late demerit here for James? He seems to have missed those classes.

    The book series, The People Who Came, exposed the history of the Caribbean islands and civilizations of Central America. It was written by educator Alma Norman; African culture scholar Kamau Braithwaite; Jamaican historian Jimmy Carnegie; and librarian Patricia Patterson. It is unlikely that these writers would write acknowledging the UK as their centre.
    The KC old boy said that his school infused Jamaica’s history and culture in the learning, and mentioned a memorable school trip to the historic maroon town Accompong. This is the same school that produced the musician Augustus Pablo, and his music from the 70s inspired James as he wrote his famous novel in the 2000s.

    The Wolmarian mentioned earlier suggested that the feeling of neo-colonialism at the school at that time could have been because the teachers would have been women who neither looked like, nor spoke like, people in the homes and communities of many of the students. That experience would indeed be an additional layer of alienation for some students, and supports arguments that there should be more male teachers in boys’ schools, and so on.
    Over at Calabar, a past student said that the background of the teachers there harmonized with the proud black man ethos of the school’s founding institution, the Jamaica Baptist Union. A female friend says that her teaching stint at Calabar in 1973 was where she first saw the novel by Jamaican YA author Vic Reid, Young Warriors, which is about children resisting an unjust government; she says that she was frightened and thrilled all at once.

    I retract my position, a bit, as it may be true to say that Jamaica’s latter-day writers are just catching up with the narrative of beyond the post colonial. The migrant workers, sportsmen and musicians had gone beyond long before.  Stories about the earlier waves of Jamaicans in the USA in the 1920s and 1930s were written down by Claude McKay, and Marcus Garvey, and they shaped our movement.
    Sports administrator Mortimer Geddes, Olympian Herb McKinley, and others, used the Jamaican secondary school system to nurture a generation of athletes who built the Jamaica brand name in the USA starting with the first school team to run in the Penn Relay Carnival in America in 1964. The study of street dances by Jamaican dance professionals, such as Miko Blanco, L’Antoinette Stines and Orville Hall who disassembled them, and then rebuilt them and for commercial use has helped to make many of our moves a part of the repertoire of pop stars from Harry Belafonte to Beyonce and Rihanna.  Our celebrity crossover creatives like Marlon James, Buju Banton, Shaggy and Sean Paul, all educated in Jamaica, express  aspirations of beyond neo colonialism. They are the vintage of the winepress of a 1980s schooling in Jamaica.

    So where is the radicle that roots the idea that schooling in the 1980s saw the UK as the dominating reference point? It can be more strongly argued that we are now overwhelmed by USA culture. We are long overdue a Naipaul for the beyond post colonial era.

    It cannot be ignored, though, that James, and many other Jamaicans, feel that our education system short changed them in various ways. That is their true and deep sadness. There needs to be greater listening to students to reach those who will feel alienated in our culture. There are still areas of acceptance that our society needs to address, and the Jamaica Teachers Association can lead the way to make justice and truth be a part of Jamaican society, forever.

    Our St Hugh’s lady leaders did not speak loudly, and they held discussions over tea; but talking through difficult subjects in an atmosphere of love helps us to do the brave and important work of thinking.


    Sunday, 1 May 2016

    Read Across Jose Marti Tech High, May 2016

    May is Child Month in Jamaica, and the Jamaica Writers Society (JaWS) is promoting books by Caribbean authors by scheduling and promoting the reading of Caribbean books in schools. 

    I will be displaying books by Caribbean authors and and also reading at the Jose Marti Technical High School on Wednesday, May 11. 

    Please help me to choose a Caribbean poet in English to read to the children on the day.

    Friday, 12 February 2016

    The Influence of Habit and Associations - On Listening to the book Twelve Years A Slave


    Librivox Recording of Twelve Years A Slave
    "I don't want to survive, I want to live.” ― Solomon Northup, Twelve Years a Slave

    This is a slave narrative and I listened to it on LibriVox narrated by Rob Board. The quality of the recording was very good and, for me, the narrator's British accent did not detract from his skill as an evocative reader.

    I would agree with the comment that although this is a narrative, the book "reads" like a novel. Northup includes not only detailed descriptions about what happened to him and the general lifestyle of places where he lived before and after bondage, but he also provides his reflections on the internal thoughts and feelings of the persons around him. 

    One often quoted passage from the book that shows his capacity to reflect on the motivations of the people around him is: "It is not the fault of the slaveholder that he is cruel, so much as it is the fault of the system under which he lives. He cannot withstand the influence of habit and associations that surround him. Taught from earliest childhood, by all that he sees and hears that the rod is for the slave's back, he will not be apt to change his opinions in maturer years."

    My reading caused me to think that Northup seems to be more naturally inclined to be immersed in the emotions of the enslaved and free women who were around him, in contrast to the many men who actually influenced the course of his life.
    One example is the enslaved woman Eliza whose harrowing experience is detailed. Eliza was removed from being the recognised "wife" of her owner, sold into miserable slavery by his debtors and then having her beloved children removed from her protection. Northup describes her rapid decline from being a regal woman with a "natural intelligence" that was "broke with the burden of maternal sorrow," before she died of heartbreak.

    Patsey, who he met on the plantation was "a joyous creature, a laughing, light-hearted girl" even though she constantly endured severe abuse from her owner and his jealous wife in addition to carrying her burden of hard manual labour. When Northup was removed from bondage Patsey was genuinely happy for him, even as she lamented her own situation. “Oh! Platt, you’re goin to be free – you’re goin’ way off yonder where we’ll neber see ye any more. You’ve saved me a good many whipping Platt; I’m glad you’re goin’ to be free – but oh! De Lord, de Lord! What’ll become of me”.

    Northup even observed, with sensibility, the estate owner's wife Mrs Epps. Even as he detailed her jealous malice, he wrote, "In other situations – in a different society from that which exists on the shores of Bayou Boeuf, she would have been pronounced an elegant and fascinating woman. An ill wind it was that blew her into the arms of Epps."

    More than any other theme in the book, I am reminded that society's suffer when its population is not developed. Lack of innovation holds a society back from natural advancement. Northup's education and life experiences before he was enslaved, enriched his slave society, gave him whatever advancement he could achieve, and also saved his life.

    These skills included: playing the violin well; transporting logs down a river using a cart and a raft; carpentry in building and in making an angled axe handle; his ingenuity in creating a fish pot; and of course that he was literate.

    A society that does not develop its people, I think, is at greater risk of becoming dismantled and assimilated by stronger societies. It has been documented that in the English speaking Americas, the ratio of enslaved to free citizen was sometimes 10:1. Based on descriptions by Northup, the enslaved far outnumbered the free white people; the entrenched system that underused human potential crippled that very fertile and pleasant area.

    The Southern states of the USA, during the centuries of plantation slavery, put themselves at a clear disadvantage, in part, because their enslaved people were not educated, and their free citizens devoted their time and effort to maintaining the debasing system of slavery.

    Despite generating great wealth and comforts for the overlords, could it be successfully argued that these societies led the USA in the advancement of their civilization in philosophy, science or art?
    It was not the South where the teeming masses from Europe headed when their own societies had not provided opportunity for advancement.
    The effect of inducting children in maintaining the slave society was shown in Northup's description of the attitude of the estate owner's young son towards an elderly enslaved man.

    "Epps' oldest son is an intelligent lad of ten or twelve years of age, it is pitiable, sometimes, to see him chastising, the venerable Uncle Abraham." This behaviour reinforces the system of wasting away the spirit and talent of vibrant, but enslaved people.
    The economic system that supported slavery produced inter generational "habits and associations" that went beyond commerce and were infiltrated a growing country. These thoughts caused me to recall other books that offer descriptions on the theme of habit and associations, and how they helped or hurt societies.

    Going back to the upbringing of the son of estate owner Epps, this is in direct opposition to what is retold in the book of Daniel in the Bible, where a Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, insisted that talented enslaved boys, like Daniel and his friends, were given the very best education, because he saw where they could help to develop his society.

    Using the King James version, just for nostalgia, Daniel 1 verse 4 says the leader asked for, "Children in whom was no blemish, but well favoured, and skilful in all wisdom, and cunning in knowledge, and understanding science, and such as had ability in them to stand in the king's palace, and whom they might teach the learning and the tongue of the Chaldeans."

    Of course, the visible difference that race presents in the slave systems as practiced in the Americas, may not have been a factor between the Babylonians and their vassals.

    Within her enormous world of domestic life, Jane Austen would have agreed that the influences on the young son of the slave owner and his mother who was spiteful in her treatment of an enslaved rival would have become a part of his character.
    In Mansfield Park she said, "Children of the same family, the same blood, with the same first associations and habits, have some means of enjoyment in their power which no subsequent connections can supply; and it must be by a long and unnatural estrangement [...] if such precious remains of the earliest attachments are ever entirely outlived."

    Dickens whose writing puts him both in the camp of voice of the oppressed and also of being a racist in December 1943 had his book A Christmas Carol published. In one scene the Ghost of Christmas Present reveals his emaciated and hideous children Ignorance and Want with a discussion that evokes the importance of society to see to the welfare of underprivileged children. Ten years later in 1953, Northup's words seem harsh where he describes the enslaved Mary but jar in harmony with that of Dickens. "Brought up in the ignorance of a brute, she possessed but little more of a brute's intelligence." This is another literary observation about the nurturing and education of children and of people whatever their abilities and situations.

    James Gatz, before he became Jay Gatzby in F Scott Fitzgerald's book  The Great Gatzby learned that he did not have the habit and associations that were needed to put him into contact with a higher social status, so he invented them and then cultivated them until it drew him to the woman that he loved. He also loved her because of her association with money and the powerful men that possession of her represented. "It exited him, too, that many men had already loved Daisy - It increased her value in his eyes."
    Twelve Years A Slave reminds us of the dangers of stagnation and neglect of populations of people. Societies that do not provide opportunities will not advance, but will lose their most talented and most ambitious citizens to ignorance or to some form of migration.
    The book ends on a positive note when Northup is restored to his freedom and reunited with his family. When it was published, the book was popular and it supported a general discussion on the evils of slavery, but unfortunately, the discussion did not result in dismantling of the slave system by peace, but it was ten years later through armed strife in the American Civil War.

    The effects of the entrenched slave system are still being felt today across regions where enslavement for economics was practiced, and still too much human potential is still not being realised. 
    I think that this book is a good addition to a Young Adult reading list.
    The Influence of Habit and Associations - other books
    1. Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen - Lifestyle restricts outcomes
    2. A Short Account of The History of the History of Mathematics - W W Rouse Ball