In keeping with the cultural theme, I decided today to write about myself as a Jamaican, GROWING UP THERE, what it means to me and what I believe it means to other Jamaicans, who like myself loves our ‘Island in the Sun’, in the words of our Harry Belafonte.
I was born in Kingston, Jamaica ….33 Nelson Road, Kingston 13 to be precise. I went to Maxfield Park primary school My years, although living in Jamaica I can say with conviction have been the best years of my life. My earliest memory in Jamaica I believe is when I was age 3. I can remember although slightly vaguely, I had a yellow nipple bottle with a big hole in the nipple and would demand warm mint tea that was mixed using brown sugar EVERY night before I went to sleep. I remember laying on my parents’ bed watching the huge television that we had, the one station that was available then drinking my bottle and playing with my toes, my thumb replaced my bottle after a while, i miss my thumb sucking, I swear!
I remember the Julie mango tree in the yard and Mr. Henry’s hairy mango tree that spread all the way over into our yard. The mangoes would fall and we would eat those whenever they fell. Under the Julie mango tree that was in the front of the yard was a little pipe that we used to bend and drink water from – never tasted water like that (sweet like sugar). Across the street from us was a 2-story building that had lots of shops that belonged to Mr. He, the Chinese man from Hong Kong and his wife Miss. He who didn’t know a tip of English except of course for every Jamaican bad word. They had their grocery shop attached onto the building and people lived upstairs in the many rooms that they rented. Across the street from our yard 2 higglers would sell their goods every day. The one to the left was Ms. Hilda, her granddaughter Junie was my friend and we used to play hopscotch and hoola hoop together in my yard and Miss Joyce who had 14 children and lived in Frog city was on the right. For some reason I did not like Ms. Joyce, maybe it was my childhood spirit telling me something. Ms. Joyce had an effeminate son named Lloyd who looked like he was related to Barrington Levy, except he wore an apron. Next door to Ms. Joyce was the bar, Irma was the bar maid. Next to the bar was the dumpling shop and next door to the dumpling shop was the dry cleaner with a plus sized woman by the name of ‘fatty’.
In Jamaica, you are called by whatever your occupation is, how you look, or by your behavior; for example, if you sing you are called ‘singy singy’; if you are crazy then ‘mad’ is attached to your name eg. Mad Jennifer; if you are fat of course ‘fatty’; if you are slim ‘slimmaz or mawga’ if you are black ‘ blackie, blacka, or black gyal’; if you are a chef then its ‘cookie or cheffy’; if you are Indian, that’s yuh name; Chiney, dats yuh name; white dats yuh name (you get the point right). Where I grew up was always vibrant and alive with music and much festivity. There was always a vibe there, something was always happening; we did not need to go anywhere to be entertained. If you look down the street, there is a fight; if you look up the street there is quarreling; if you look down the way there are probably some guys singing or deejaying. Music is always pumping from the bar and the smell of food pungent in the air.
On Saturdays my mother would go to the market on Maxfield Avenue, the marketers would be spread along the sidewalk with dozens of different food groups to choose from. Then she would go back home and soup would be cooked that day (Saturday was soup day for most Jamaicans). On Sunday mornings the radio would blast with church songs and the hustle and bustle of people going to church with their many different colorful hats on their heads while every yard cooked the traditional rice and peas and chicken which is cooked by most Jamaicans on a Sunday for dinner. By Sunday afternoon after dinner was finished you could hear the ice cream man or ‘fudgie’ as he was commonly called, coming down the road on his bike, tooting his horn and shouting ‘fudgie, ice cream, nutty buddy’ and we all would gather outside to purchase our goodies and at night-time the peanut man would pass with his peanut cart shouting ‘peenut!, crack eeee!’ amidst the loud whistling sound that came from his cart which was most times ear-piercing / deafening even. Those were the days to rawtid, who nuh memba mi sarry fi oonu.
Jamaican vibes were wonderful vibes and even the dogs felt it and showed it in how they acted. A Jamaican dog would lie in the middle of the street in front of an oncoming vehicle and unless you asked politely for pardon, it would challenge you and not move. And remember if you offend a Jamaican dog today, it is sure to wait around the corner for you tomorrow often times lay waiting you with its friends to get its revenge. Now dat mi tink bout it, yuh noe sey ah probably we di dawg dem ah mimick….caw ah same way nuff ah wi tan….. Peeple tawk di chute.
Unfortunately there is classism in Jamaica and it is divided into the uptown and downtown people. Uptown you will find the lawyers, the politicians, the doctors, people with visas who travel a lot around the world, and people who can send their children to good schools and then on to University. While downtown are those that sell in the market, sell fish, have regular jobs yes but cannot afford to live up in the hills, buy cars, shop in supermarkets or send their children to Universities, and so the ones Uptown scoff and turn up their noses at those who lived Downtown. The vibes of the people classified as downtown garrison inner city, people is what creates the energy of Jamaica that the world has come to know and love.
We the poor people, through music and dance have placed Jamaica on the map internationally. Because of oppression and economical woes music and rhythm lifted the voices of the oppressed in songs and chants and rhymes protesting inequality, brutality and poverty; reaching the ears of the world across the waters which highlighted our plight and at the same time uplifting our artistic expressions which inspired and influenced other people to express themselves through our same medium. Hip hop is known as reggae’s younger sister; out of dance hall reggae hip hop was born. It is so sad that the government in its quest to hold down ghetto people, has not spent money on our reggae music as they do with tourism. Coming from poco to mento to ska, rocksteady, reggae and now dance hall where many non Jamaicans throughout the world are making a hefty living off our culture and we in Jamaica, the poorer class, cannot find food to eat at times. It is sad. Where is our reggae museum? What about our intellectual property? Why is it that in the dictionary ‘bling bling’ doesn’t say Jamaica beside it? How come many companies uses ‘One Love’ with the red green and gold colors beside it and we are not getting paid? Or if we are, only the politicians know about it. Come on government, do better than that. Look at our dancers, our musicians our singers, our poets; the talent in Jamaica is insurmountable but where is our reward?
Jamaica has influenced every country throughout the world in one way or the other. In 2008 I was in France and when the French people heard me speak with my thick Jamaican accent I was treated like a queen and questioned about Bob Marley and our Jamaican culture; I was even given free drinks at the hotel bar. When I am in Africa, the Africans gather around me, questioning me about Jamaica. This makes me feel so proud.
What’s good about Jamaica? The people, the lifestyle, the music, the beautiful faces, our educational system, our food, good ole Jamaican Ganja, de Weed, de Herb, de Marijauna did I mention de Good ole Jamaican Ganjah! What’s good about Jamaica di white rum, our art carvings and sculpture and to us women wi lovely, lovely dark chocolate sexy bodied men, and some ah de brown one dem tuh (BIG UP UUNUH SELF KINGS)); and from the mens point of view, the shapely good-looking women (caw di whole ah wi pretty like money). What’s good about Jamaica? Dandy shandy, baseball, hopscotch, stew peas & rice, curry goat, bammy, roast fish, good ole mint tea and di bitta cerasee… Whats good about Jamaica, the Blue Mountains, the blue lagoon, duns river falls, Portland, St. Mary, Montego Bay, Ochi….. What’s good about Jamaica? Di good ole pa paw tree where many of the local boys gather and await their turn to do only God knows what….What’s good about Jamaica? Poco, Revival, Kumina, Nyabinhgy, the Rasta Man, the Maroons, Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff, Louise Bennet, Rex Nettleford, Oliver Samuels, Stone Love, Beenie Man, I-Wayne, Capleton, Sizzla, The Weather, rain beating on the zinc roof top while people do what dem want (inject anyting yah suh), the smell of the earth, Nature, the sun set, the sun rise, the Ocean, the trees, the plants, What’s good about Jamaica? di vibes, di vibes and on a whole juss di vibes, di vibes, di vibes, di vibessssssssss!!!!!! Lawd GOD DE VIBESSSSSSS!
So, people as Jamaicans we have a lot to be proud of, so mek wi stap live like crab inna barrel and support and love each other and I assure you, you will feel a lot better about yourselves in the end. Jamaicans we are one!! Bless up!
no whey nuh betta dan yard…we Jamaicans sey so!!
Obara Meji is a spiritualist, Ifa-Orisa practitioner, and teacher of metaphysics. Since 2011 she has used her online platform to share her personal experiences to those seeking answers about spirituality. Her teachings will expand into short stories, novels, and public speaking to continue her mission of bringing enlightenment to the world.