Writing a new chapter in history

News post October 9, 2015

Danny Glover addressing yesterday’s breakfast forum at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel in Kingston. (PHOTO: BRYAN CUMMINGS)

“If you don’t mash ants, you won’t find him belly.” Yes, there is value in ancestral sayings.

Up to a week ago, we were under the illusion that all was hunky-dory between us and Mother England. We might not have been able to visit her with as much ease as we’ve done in former years, as it is no longer any and every body who can push her gate and enter as we could, like one time.

We can’t colonise in reverse again, but we weren’t quarrelling…until now.

Then into Kingston town comes British Prime Minister Cameron, on a brief visit — a few hours here, a few hours there — short enough to confuse us and set off a bombshell announcement. He was going to give us money, not to do with as we would like, but to do what he wanted, and that was offer us a prison to warehouse prisoners with Jamaican origins who have run afoul of the British system, and who Cameron and company feel should be packed off Down Here to finish sentences earned by their criminal activity Up There.

What wasn’t emphasised was that the money which would be so “generously given” towards their upkeep would not be enough to keep them in fish and chips. But when push comes to shove, I suppose we could boil up some yam and pitater and feed them, whether they want it or not. If all else fails, I imagine we could add a likkle salt fish wid some dumpling like Cameron’s ancestors — the slave masters — used to dish out to ours, the slaves.

Furthermore, a few days ago a member of today’s royalty, Princess Anne, turned up in Kingston Town, too. And, having done whatever it was she came to do, she dined on a meal which had a noticeable Jamaican flavour, but not “coarse fare”, as we once heard our food described by one of our nuff and plenty people.

Cameron came in one afternoon and departed next morning. His plane had barely crossed the line beyond our borders (yes, we have such) when Bangarang buss out, provoked by the spirit of electioneering. Nobody seemed to have told the visiting Brits how we don’t joke in election season. No date has been yet announced, but that is not stopping us from boiling up like pot pon fire. Election will come when it will come. Our mission now is to go about chopping one another down to size, metaphorically speaking, it is to be hoped.

The very thought of the word “prison”, a gift brought by British PM Cameron, has set us off. It is not even Christmas yet but we’re lighting the clappers. Lest we forget, we did try a pre-Christmas-season election not so long ago. Some people never got a greeting card from Santa, and they have been trying to get even since then. That could account for why we’re so antsy now.

Well, the British PM’s gift has turned out as dysfunctional firecrackers trying to go off, resulting in big preckeh as we await the real bang. I once commended to a visiting archbishop of the English church the handy usefulness of that word ‘preckeh’. He was never the same thereafter. He couldn’t stop using the word — even if he did pronounce it “preh-kay” — at least when he was here on his visit. A nuh lie me a tell.

Our prison preckeh, as I think this matter should hereafter be known, is kicking up a rumpus in England as much as here. Over the waters, the media is living up to mark, busy giving its opinion on the state of Jamaican prisons and why the earnings of British taxpayers should not be squandered thusly.

The Guardian’s online edition has taken the opportunity to let us know what they think of us and Cameron’s attempt at beneficence. He might not have said it that way, but imagine him thinking: “I will go forth and enrich the natives with the gift of a prison. Considering the ghastly ones they have now, who wouldn’t be glad to get one, even if they have to help foot the bill?” When we responded negatively, as any Jamaican would do, the Guardian didn’t spare us:

“If Jamaicans would let the steam through their ears, they would understand that the country’s major penitentiaries are dingy, dungeon-like tributes to the 18th century that do more to harden potentially-redeemable criminals and increase the likelihood of recidivism.”

Steam through our ears? We nuh know bout dat! By this you will have picked up on the fact, dear reader, that the country which stands accused of owning dirty dungeons is our own Jamaica. Why are we being put down? We didn’t invent dungeons. So, why blame us? That is tekking liberty, yuh nuh!

The Guardian then turned to the thorny issue of reparation. They wrote: “The decades-old campaign for reparation, historically led by Rastafarians, but co-opted by academics and politicians more recently, has been increasing as Jamaica and other Anglophone Caribbean nations try to make the case for compensation.” The formidable British publication also dismisses all hope of reparation as “wishful thinking”. They are declaring that it is unlikely that the UK will flinch from a looming face-off with Caribbean governments who have signalled that they will be demanding debt forgiveness and more, for nearly two centuries of what we in this part of the world (Britain) call “terror and torture”.

To this we JA people would respond. What is the alternative? It certainly is not sun, sand, sex and a weekend on the north coast.

Some of the feedback to the Guardian included this one: “Even if they were lucky enough to be paid what is owed, the reparations most likely would be squandered away by the people who have mismanaged the countries since we left.” The “we” apparently had feet planted both in Caribbean soil and on British roadways. Apparently when Britannia ruled the waves, we, the slave kinfolk, were assured that we had nothing to complain of. “There would be a much better state if we took over the administration, but that is never going to happen,” said another Brit in his/her response.

Other comments were so emotion-filled (including inappropriate language) that the posts were edited or removed from the site. So now, both Us and Them are “wrought-ed” and “worked-up” over reparation.

As to the prison, will it ever be built? Will it be named Hotel Cameron? Will we send Mr C a thank-you card? I wouldn’t recommend you hold your breath.

The Brits are united in their disfavour of their hard-won taxes to be wasted. We could try this on for size: “Thanks for your gift, but next time, let us know in advance so that we can prepare for the bangarang…for that there will be.”

One walkout has already taken place in our Parliament. Dat ah nuh nutten! How many more will come? Who will win or lose an election because of this? Who knows? Who cares?

Danny Glover

The actor, film producer, social activist Danny Glover has been in town talking up his plans and quest for funding to produce a film on Toussaint L’Overture, the Haitian hero. He’s also an active voice for reparation for which he has been accorded much respect. He and University of West Indies (UWI) Vice-Chancellor Sir Hillary Beckles held the platform at the UWI on Monday evening, contributing to an informative and interesting conversation on reparatory justice. The regret, for me, was how so many students seemed strangely missing in the conversation. And, where was Rasta? They too were strangely absent; or, if present, strangely silent. Really?



Published by: The Observer

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