Saturday, October 15, 2011

That Oh So Special Time

I recently came across a Jamaica travel video done by called Hands-On History.  It features Bellefield Great House, Montego Bay.   Not one to pass up anything to do with great houses, one of my favourite archetypes, I settled down to watch the little 7-minute flick.  
Sepia hued Bellefield Great House coutesy of Voyage TV
To the beat of African kette drums a disembodied voice says:

“It really is a step back in time, you know, in the heyday of our sugar production.   So, you know, that’s kind of what we try to do here: take people back in time, you know, to 1805 before the abolition of slavery when Jamaica was a really special place….”


“Special  place” FOR WHOM???

Ms Rousseau, owner of the disembodied voice, takes Voyage TV’s host and the viewer on a tour of the Great House and the sugar mill whilst bringing us up-to-date on the illustrious history of the Karr-Jarrett family; all to the sounds of a Rastafarian chanting and beating his kette drum.

The Family came to Jamaica in 1655…David Kerr was posted as a physician…the Great House is thought to have been a crack cholera hospital…married Sarah Jarrett, Col Jarrett only had daughters, hence the hyphenated ‘Kerr-Jarrett’.   (Whichever) Kerr-Jarrett was a forefather of nation building in Jamaica…a philanthropists and “strong supporter of Jamaican culture and history.”

Ms Rousseau tells us that Jamaica was one of the largest sugar producing islands as she walks us over to the 100 year old cane press, the Chattanooga, where a black labourer (‘slave’?) feeds the press and guides the donkey.   Journeying over to the sugar mill, built in 1794 of ships’ ballast, we are called to admire its beautiful thatched roof “supposedly the largest in the Caribbean”.  Visibly impressed, Ms Voyage TV mentions “so this is where it really would have gone on, in here”  “Yup!” Ms Rousseau responds, “It really would have gone on in here.”

Hold that thought.

The camera pans out to show the viewer the conical structure, as a ‘slave’ lady walks past. 
We are shown how the mill worked and how the workers worked it, the mill’s points of entry and egress, and where the cane juice would be stored in barrels before being sent to the boiling house to be reduced to molasses, then sugar:

“For eight-hour shifts at a time.  So...labour intensive but well worth it.  I think all appreciate the joys of sugar.”

Labour intensive but well worth it.


As Ms Voyage TV follows Ms Rousseau and the ‘slave’ into the great house, she turns to us the audience to inform us “Michelle Rousseau is an expert in local history, specifically about this plantation, so we’re so lucky to have her to show us around.”

Someone drank the sugared Kool-Aid.

We climb up the monumental staircase and into The Great House and Kette drum gives way to the dulcet sounds of refined chamber music.  Inside, we get a brief rundown of the passive cooling/heating strategies employed building the house: the strategic siting of the house on a hill and turned to take advantage of high ground and cross ventilation, large fenestrations, thick walls (thermal mass) etc. 

We’re now ushered into the main hall where both ladies sit under the portraits of Custos Kerr-Jarrett & his wife.   Ms Rousseau proudly tells the story of Custos Kerr-Jarrett being knighted in the early 1930s and his insistence on being knighted in his home country: 

“and so the Queen came to Jamaica and um he was knighted here…”

Ms Rousseau has overlooked the obvious fact that there was no Queen of England in the early 1930s!  England’s monarch in the early 1930s was George V (1910 to 1936).  Elizabeth II’s reign began in 1952.  While she narrates the Queen knighting Custos Kerr-Jarrett, simultaneous film footage shows no Queen; just a very regal Sir Clifford Campbell, Jamaica’s first visibly black Governor-General (1962-1973) and Elizabeth ll’s representative, dubbing Custos Kerr-Jarrett Sir KnightA quick Boolean search of Sir Francis Kerr-Jarrett yields documentation of his knighthood taking place on 31 August 1965. 
Last line: Frances Moncrieff Kerr-Jarrett was
knighted for public services on 31 Aug 1965

Chamber music interlude now brings us to the formal dining room, ‘slave’ lady trailing behind.   Over the lavishly laid out dining table, Ms Rousseau tells us of Lady Nugent referring to “festivities and feasts” she would attend in such a setting where a “plush array of food including crab patties and Sangaree” would be served.   Seems like more scholarly research went into the unearthing of an 18th century cookery book with all these “plush” recipes that are now recreated at Bellefield Great House.
On to the pantry room annexed to the outdoor kitchen; ‘slave’ lady silently in tow.  We see her one active role: that of holding on to the pestle and touching the ginger jar.  She is obviously speaking to someone, but no voice is heard.  Her voice like that of her ancestors', excised.  The taster is jokingly surmised by Ms Rousseau to have been a rather large lady as her duties comprised no more than sitting on a chair and tasting food.   Boys would bring the food from the kitchen, whistling so that the Kerr-Jarretts and their guests would be assured that their food was not being eaten on its way in.

[and we wonder where this ingrained culture of treating helpers and 'yard boys' so badly comes from.]

The ‘slave’ lady stands aside as the ladies walk out to the verandah: Ms Rousseau’s favourite part of the house (no doubt for the vantage point it affords her of the vast, picturesque estate).  One gets a glimpse of the impeccable gleaming polished floors, white shutters and fretwork, wall sconces and Chippendale and Queen Anne chairs as the ‘slave’-in-waiting stands uncomfortably in the room that is as much hers as anyone else’s.   Houses need to be maintained:  floors polished, furniture and windows dusted, walls repainted, linens washed, ironed, straightened….

On the verandah the ladies clink their white wine glasses and the scene fades to black to the trill of violin and harpsichord.

That seven minutes could be so packed with anachronistic, misrepresented drivel, that belie the blatant callousness and crude baseness of the era of slavery beggars belief!  Even more shameful is that this grossly aberrant snippet serves a marketing device for tourism.  What we are seeing is a biased version of history.  A history being viewed through the eyes of the regional elite, or those who think themselves as such.  Ms Rousseau tries hard to appease the white man, shamefully and ingratiatingly, she tries to identify with the white ancestors of yore as she meanders through sugar mill and Great House with absolutely NO CLUE what it is that she aspires to be connected to.  In her ignorance she perpetuates the tyranny of the ancient inhabitants and the mores of their time by having staged ‘slaves’ and African music confined to the outdoors whilst refined chamber music plays indoors.  The sanitized era of the 21 century cannot and does not excuse the ghosts of tyranny that once existed and moved between Great House walls and roamed their estates.

Let’s take Ms Rousseau at her word and flesh out exactly what “really would have gone on” in the sugar mill, the boiler room, the estate, the country and the era of Colonialism for that matter. 
Learning from the Portuguese and the Spanish by way of their colonies in the Atlantic (Azores, Madeira, Canary Islands, Saõ Tomé and Princípe, etc), the British imported and forced African labour to grow sugar in their West Indian colonies.  Africans were not originally used for the labour in West Indian colonies.  Indigenous Taino, lost to European diseases (eg, smallpox, measels), the indentured poor of England and Ireland, and condemned criminals were also used, but these sources were not as strong, adaptable, or as cheap as the African slave.  One cannot dissociate sugar from slavery.  

By the turn of the 18th century sugar became big business in Europe.  In the early 1700s five pounds of sugar was consumed per capita in England, rising to 30 pounds per capita by the 1800s.  Sugar was Britain’s largest imported commodity after cotton.  Europe needed sugar to make new exotic drinks such as China tea, Arabian coffee and Central and South American xocolatl palatable.  It was prescribed as medicine, moulded into elaborate displays, used as preservative, and as status symbol (including its effect of rotting teeth, which were proudly displayed as a signifier of wealth).  Sugar is also the chief ingredient in rumbullion, via the fermentation and distillation of molasses.  Rum was a staple of plantation life.  What wasn’t drunk by the planters was exported for huge profit.

By the 1730s Jamaica was the largest single producer of sugar in the British Caribbean.  By 1800 nine out of every ten people in Jamaica were enslaved.  In 1805, Jamaica exported more tonnes of sugar than any other country.  Slaves were needed to maintain this sweet life both on the plantations and abroad.  They toiled excessively, working from dawn til dusk, and were punished severely for the slightest infraction.  They lived in crude, flung-up dwellings situated nearby the sugar works.  Man, woman and child planted, weeded and harvested under the watchful eye of the overseer (Busha) and his whip.  Mature cane was cut, loaded and dragged to the mill where it was pressed through huge rollers to extract the juice, which would then be taken to the boiling house.  This was dangerous business.  Those unfortunate enough to get a hand caught in the rollers would be caught up and pressed to death.  Axes were kept nearby to chop the hands/arms off anyone who got a hand caught in the mill-press.  Boiling houses were insufferably hot and slaves were prone to being burnt severely by boiled sugar:  “If a boyler get any part into the scalding sugar it sticks like Glew, or Birdlime, and ‘tis hard to save either Limb or Life.” [1]
Lashed and cudgelled, slaves would have salt rubbed in their wounds or molasses poured on them to attract biting flies and ants.  Firebrands were applied to their bodies; ears would be cut off, roasted then forced fed to them.   From Thom Thistlewood’s diary, author Douglas Hall narrates:

In July, Port Royal, who had run away, was taken and brought home.  ‘Gave him a moderate whipping, pickled him well, made Hector shit in his mouth, immediately put in a gag whilst his mouth was full & made him wear it 4 or 5 hours.’

Next day, the 24th, a woman slave, Phillis, caught breaking canes, was similarly treated, but spared the gag.

Friday, 30th July 1756: Punch catched at Salt River and brought home.  Flogged him and Quacoo well, and then washed and rubbed in salt pickle, lime juice & bird pepper; also whipped Hector for losing his hoe, made new Negro Joe piss in his eyes & mouth &c.

On the 4th, Derby was again caught, this time by the watchman as he attempted to take corn out of Col Barclay’s Long Pond cornpiece.  He was severely chopped with a machete, his right ear, cheek and jaw almost cut off.  On the 27th of the same month Egypt was whipped and given ‘Derby’s dose’ [that is Derby was made to shit in his mouth] for eating cane.  On Thursday, 5th October, Hector and Joe and Mr Watt’s Pomona were similarly punished for the same misdemeanor. [2]

Innumerable accounts of such unbridled atrocities committed against slaves exist.  Physical and mental. Planters discouraged slaves from suicide (a last ditch attempt by them to return to Africa via the afterlife) by chopping the heads off suicide slaves, telling the living that they would be resurrected in Africa without their heads.  The same sugar that was reduced in the boiling house also played a role as reducer:  coloniser and colonised were both reduced to something subhuman.  Whilst the former produced sweet results, the latter produced bitter; with an aftertaste lasting for generations. 
Barbarities in the West Indies
"B___t your black eyes. what you can't work because you're not well.  but i'll give you a warm bath to cure your ague & a curry-combing afterwards to put spunk into you." [3]
(nb the severed limb and ears nailed to the wall.)
I’ll leave it up to the reader to decide if, per Ms Rousseau, the production of sugar through slavery, was “labour-intensive but well worth it” for so much as a hogshead of molasses or a puncheon of rum.

The untenable situation of Plantation slavery led to many revolts, which produced more brutal, tyrannical masters.  Yet too often are we led to believe that these well-dressed, smartly depicted colonisers, landed proprietors, and their families were paragons of virtue.  An unbiased look at history reveals that more often than not plantation/colonial life seemed to socialise one to being base minded, brutal, murderous, and sexually immoral:  

British abolitionist Zachary Macaulay worked as a bookkeeper in Jamaica in the 1780s.  Observing the violence, punishments and degrading conditions of slaves he remarked,

“The air of this island must have some peculiar quality in it, for no sooner than a person set foot in it than his former ways of thinking are entirely changed.” [4] 

 Abolitionist Mary Prince often wondered

“how English people can go out into the West Indies and act in such a beastly manner.  But when they go to the West Indies, they forget God and all feelings of shame, I think, since they can see and do such things.  They tie up people like hogs – moor them up like cattle, and they lick them, so as hogs, or cattle, or horses never were flogged.” [4].

From the Journal of the aforementioned Lady Nugent:

         “There is but little Society in Spanish Town or the neighbourhood”,”…  “[General Nugent] described one member of the Assembly as “a gentlemanly Character, which is no trifling Merit in Jamaica”, and another as “decent in his Conduct but of low Origin in common with the great Majority of the Inhabitants.”  It was difficult to find suitable men to fill the position of custos*, or chief magistrate of a parish – “in some of the Parishes, the white Population is so ill composed and so trifling in Numbers.”

          But what troubled her more than the low origin of the planters was their ungodliness.  This was a commonplace, remarked by all who had written about them [5]
*Custos Rotulorum.  Part of the parochial administrative body.  There was one for every parish.  The Custos represented the governor and was chief magistrate.  

 James Stewart’s account of the goings on Jamaica:

“male licentiousness was at the root of the island’s problems, not slavery.  “every unmarried white man, and of every class, has his black or his brown mistress, with whom he lived openly; and of so little consequence is this thought, that his white female friends and relations think it no breach of decorum, to visit his house, partake of his hospitality, fondle his children and converse with his housekeeper – as if that conduct, which they regard as disgraceful in their own class, was not so in the female of colour.” [4]

Lewd, base, savage, sadistic Thom Thistlewood was legendary for his uber voracious sexual appetite. When not administering Derby’s doses and pickling his flogged slaves, he was busy rutting 138 slave women in over 3,800 encounters, documented by him in Latin: “Cum Susanah (a Congo negro) Stans, in curing house”… “Cum Phibbah supt lect…”  Thistlewood did not sleep with his white peers.  Just the slaves.   (nb – a slave did not own his/her body, therefore had no consensual rights.)  Sex was used to derive pleasure, to exert power and to administer punishment.  No stranger to the mercury pill, being well familiar with the clap, one wonders how his drippy, calcified John Thomas didn’t just dry up and drop off.  
Some sangaree for you Sar?
These characterizations of the settlers and inhabitants of Colonial Jamaica are nothing new and show a Jamaica that had not come far since the arrival of the English in 1655.
The Torrid Zone, Or Blessings of Jamaica
depicts the plantocracy resting in Death's scythe between images of death. nb the unladylike poses...whose illustrious ancestors are these???
Ned Ward, an English writer who travelled to Jamaica in 1697 had this to say of the colony:

                Jamaica, he wrote, was ‘Sweating Chaos’.  The climate was deadly: ‘As sickly as a Hospital, as Dangerous as the Plague.’  Nature itself was also ill, producing wild disorders such as hurricanes and earthquakes.  The food was bizarre and disgusting: the planters’ favourite, the spicy Africa-originated pepperpot, was like consuming brandy mixed with gunpowder, ‘an excellent breakfast for a Salamander’; the local “Cussue”* apple was ‘so great an Acid…that by the Eating of one, it drew up my mouth like a hens Fundament’.  The pork was ‘luscious’, but, Ward warned, caused scurvy and leprosy. [6]

                Most disgusting of all, though, were the people.  The men looked as if ‘they had just knock’d off their Fetters’.  The women, with nicknames such as ‘Salt Beef Peg’ and ‘Buttock-de-Clink Jenny’, were ‘such who have been Scandalous in England to the utmost degree, either Transported by the State, or led by their Vicious Inclinations; where they may be Wicked without Shame and Whore one without Punishment.’ …  [6]


“Jamaica, he wrote, had been somehow’ ‘neglected by the Omnipotence when he form’d the World in its admirable Order’.  Proper rank and degree, the bedrock of English society, appeared to be absent.  Instead, arrivals of whatever hue could be transformed by the island:  ‘A Broken Apothecary will make there a Topping Physician; a Barbers Prentice, a good Surgeon; A Ballifs Follower, a passable Lawyer; and an English Knave, a very Honest Fellow.’” [6]
*I assume he means the cashew fruit, which if not eaten when well ripened will indeed draw up one’s mouth like a hen’s arse.

Ward describes a colony peopled with the what lef of British society.  The not-first-born sons who didn’t stand to inherit and were ill suited for the clergy or scholarly pursuit, women of dubious character, failed professionals, criminals and vagabonds. 

We are also told by Ms Rousseau of 1805 Jamaica (and by extension the Colonial era) being a “special place” in time.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  1805 was a turbulent time.  War was brewing between North America and Britain.  France, Spain, Portugal and Britain were fighting the Penninsular Wars; a segue from the French Revolutionary wars.  Spain was courting rebellion from New Spain (Mexico).  The winds of abolition began blowing in 1787 with the formation of the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade.  Slavery was quickly being viewed as a national disgrace.  America too felt these winds of change.  In 1787 Rhode Island prohibited its citizens from engaging in the trade.  In 1791 the first of several bills was introduced in British Parliament for the end of the slave trade.  In 1804 the region’s most successful revolt occurred on the island of Saint-Domingue and gave birth to the first black republic, Haiti.  Lady Nugent (then just Mrs Nugent), who arrived in Jamaica in 1801 during the Penninsular Wars was terrified that revolting Haitian slaves’ sentiments would spread to her happy blackies in Jamaica. 

In 1805 Jamaica was under Martial Law and in imminent danger of being attacked by the French.  The Slave Trade Act was finally passed in March 1807 and enforced on 1 January 1808.  Lady Nugent didn’t arrive in Jamaica to sip sangaree at lavish parties.  Her presence in Jamaica is a result of her husband, GENERAL George Nugent being sent to the colony as Lieutenant-Governor and part of Britian’s military regiment charged with defence of the colony and suppression of slave rebellions.

These wars impacted the way of life in the Colonial Caribbean.  Eastern Caribbean colonies were being traded quickly and cavalierly like cards in a game of pass round donkey.  (St Lucia, for eg, changed hands between the French and the English seven times as result of these wars). 

We have debunked the fable of slavery being sweet and harmless, the mythos of European and British plantocracy being fine upstanding paragons of virtue and the false notion of the 18thC Fin de siècle being a “special time”.  Yet the skewed, gross, misplaced nostalgia for the Colonial Era remains extant.  Why?  What drives Ms Rousseau and many others to bubble over with it?  What fosters the misplaced pride felt by the descendants who post numerous websites peppered with half-truths regarding the lives and times of their ancestor plantation proprietors (landed and absentee)? They create Facebook pages extolling the workmanship of some bent up teaspoon etched with a family crest, or some bric-à-brac china encircled with scenes from their forefathers’ plantations. 

Retirement Estate, St James     J B Kidd
Good Hope, c 1826    J B Kidd
Europe has a long tradition of pastoral paintings, not the least of which is the Picturesque genre.  Mid 18th century saw the advent of the Age of Romanticism: a reaction to the preceded Age of Enlightenment/Reason.  Romanticism rejected the notions of the Enlightenment and its rationalism in favour of a focus on the individual, the subjective, the instinctual, the trancendental, the emotional and the visual.  There was a deeper appreciation of nature and Man's relation to his physical world.  Nature is now portrayed to dominate insignificant, dimunitive Man. 
The sublime 'Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog,' 1818 Caspar David Friedrich
Sensibility, an emotive response to something that gives one an understanding of it, replaced the logic and rationalism of the Enlightenment.  Romanticism in art and its preoccupation with nature and counter-rationalism concerned itself with the triumvirate: sublime, picturesque and beauty.  

Sublime -    in nature is an aesthetic quality referring to awesome (and even horrific; grotesque), incalculable greatness; portrayed as a natural landscape feature or architectural feature (folly).

Picturesque -     an aesthetic ideal of beauty characterised by a preoccupation with the pictorial values of architecture and landscape in combination with each other. 

Beauty -     derived from instinct and sensibility vs derived at through reason and calculations (as in the Age of Enlightenment); serene, calm, arcadian.

The picturesque, therefore, existed on the spectrum between the sublime and beauty.  Beautiful West Indian vistas immortalized by the 19c oils, line-etchings and aquatints of artists such as George Robertson, Joseph Bartholemew Kidd and architect/artist James Hakewill are powerful in their renderings of nature, but portray a sanitised version of reality that belie and neutralise the horrors of slavery and the realities of plantation life that existed within the natural environment.  

Scotsman J B Kidd, master of the picturesque, and his architect/artist counterpart James Hakewill painted similar subjects in the same style.  Though a huge admirer of their brilliant, breathtaking work, I acknowledge that these works and similar others created by artists of the time are responsible for many utopic images we have of Jamaica that are misleading.
Aquatint of Montego Bay c 1821  J Hakewill
Cocoa Nut Walk on the Coast near Ruanway Bay   J B Kidd
Much artifice was used in picturesque paintings to bring them to life. The artist began with the natural setting, which was true, then implemented common themes of the genre: the irregular, anti-classical (thus anti-Enlightenment); ruins (by way of Follies, ie, artificial ruins) & ruined people. 

Travellers at a Well, 1769 Phillipe-Jacques de Loutheburg
Seemingly wild nature was juxtaposed with tame swaths of land; large, skewed trees were drawn aside like curtains to reveal happy serfs, farmers, peasants going about their happy, contented lives, engaging in faked interrelations and tending to their pastoral flocks and crops.  Sweeping vistas with depths of field approaching infinity suggest a never-ending day.  These scenes are contrived.  A depiction of what the observer imagines must take place in such a beautiful and awesome setting.  A mash-up of disparate things used to portray an ideal (idyll??) picture of a utopia that DID NOT EXIST. 

The Romantic use of nature suggests innocence.  Tamed nature is what we are seeing.  Even the slaves in it are tamed.  Revolts are painted civilised and orderly. 
Line-Engraving of Roaring River Estate, 1778  (orig painting by George Robertson)

The Attack of the Rebels on Monpelier Old Works Estate
in the pasrish of St James's
Adolphe Duperly 1832
nb the round sugar mill (encircled) similar to that at Bellefield
Jamaica's beauty was used against her to dispel the unpleasant truth of life in the colony.  Who couldn't be entranced and enamoured of the place and lives depicted in these paintings?
Winward Fall, near Kingston   J B Kidd
The Date Tree   J B Kidd
(again, nb sugar mill to the right)
The Fern    J B Kidd
From Planter William Beckford Esqr’s Descriptive Account of the Island of Jamaica, 1790:

          The cascades, the torrents, the rivers, and the hills, are enchantingly picturesque in their different features, and exchange sublimity and repose of their scenes, according to the variations of the seasons, or the turmoils of the elements.

The docks and weeds of which the foregrounds in Jamaica are composed, are the most rich and beautiful productions of the kind I have ever seen; and the banks of the rivers are fringed with every growth that a painter would wish to introduce into this agreeable part of landscape; and those borders which Claude Lorrain, Poussin, and Salvator Rosa took apparently so much pleasure and pains to enrich, and are excelled by the hand of Nature alone. [7]
nb Beckford's use of the words "Picturesque", "sublimity" and "beautiful".

I agree with the man!  He’s saying one needed very little artifice to improve upon Jamaica’s brand of Nature.  I think Jamaica exceedingly, hauntingly, mystically, timelessly beautiful.  But I’m not blind to the evil and the profane and the injustice that occurs there at the hand of its inhabitants.   

Idealized appearances appealed to the spectator-owner.   This is how they, the plantocracy, chose to see themselves and the relationship they had with their human chattel.  Not as the indurate brutes that they were.  These picturesque scenes belie the horrors of slavery, the displacement of the Middle Passage and the realities of plantation life.
Spring Head of Roaring River, 1775    George Robertson
George Robertson's Spring Head of Roaring River, 1775 (Roaring River flowed through the property of William Beckford Esqr) depicts a bucolic, pastoral scene.  Note the human subjects foregrounded.  The woman is depicted postured with regal bearing.  She is adorned: wearing something around her neck (that almost looks like a string of pearls).  Her clothing, though plain, is neat and shows her figure off to advantage.   The male, supplicated before her, shows her his provisions in a 'rustic act of kindness' that the art historians tell us was a favoured theme amongst the English painters of the picturesque genre.   He is of a darker complexion and is much more humbly dressed, just like the cattle herder in the background.   The unspoilt, arcadian, pastoral beauty of nature that surrounds them mimics many landscape scenes popular in Britain at the time,

excepting the race and legal status of the people.    

How many observers of this painting and others similar would question the race and legal status of the human subjects?  How many observers would pick up on the fact that these humans are afforded non-status in plantation society?  How many observers did it occur to that the humans  -  slaves - are as much chattel as the livestock being driven behind them?

The above section regarding art and its interpretation merely skims the surface.  A more thorough analysis was forfeited for expediency's sake.  But one can see how such scenes, create(d) cognitive dissonance in many of their observers: There’s nothing brutal and inhumane going on here?! What are these abolitionists playing at? Why get rid of this life? What’s wrong with it? They seem happy to me?!?

This dissonance was/is so powerful; so potent, it spanned the geographic distance between Jamaica and Britain, and spans the temporal distance between slavery days and the 21st century, so that 200 years later we get:

“It really is a step back in time, you know, in the heyday of our sugar production.   So, you know, that’s kind of what we try to do here: take people back in time, you know, to 1805 before the abolition of slavery when Jamaica was a really special place….”

Where, pray tell, are the 7-minute promotional soundbites and the Facebook pages that proudly display the ancestral portraits, soup toureens, mercury phials, penis syringes, bidets and other tchotchkes of the rag-tag descendants of Thom Thistlewood, 'Salt Beef Peg' and 'Buttock-de-Clink Jenny'?



Barringer, Tim, Gillian Forrester, and Barbaro Martinez-Ruiz. Art and Emancipation in Jamaica: Isaac Mendes Belisario and His Worlds. New Haven and London: Yale Centre for British Art in association with Yale University Press, 2009. [3] [4] [7]

Hall, Douglas. In Miserable Slavery: Thomas Thistlewood in Jamaica 1750 - 1786. Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago: University of the West Indies Press, 1989. [2]

Parker, Matthew. The Sugar Barons: Family,Corruption, Empire and War in the West Indies.  New York: Walker & Co, 2011. [1] [3] [6]

Wright, Philip. Lady Nugent's Journal: of Her Residence in Jamaica from 1801 to 1805. Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago: University of the West Indies Press, 2002. [5]

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Every Man for Himself and God For Me Alone!

Continued from: The Lack of Organized Public Protest By The silent Majority

Are we actually interested in permanent solutions to our problems? I think we have given up on the Government’s ability to fix anything and have decided to provide for ourselves the things they have failed to do. In most developed countries the people would take to the streets to demand that the Government deliver on what they are suppose to deliver, it is why we pay taxes, so that we do not have to worry about these basic services.

Take the dilapidated state of our roads and infrastructure, faced with this problem do we organize and demand that our hard earn tax dollars go towards fixing our basic needs? The average Jamaican choose the alternative they go to the bank and take out loans to buy the biggest SUV they can find to navigate the potholes, the more dilapidated the roads the bigger the vehicle. Big SUV's are more a status symbol than a requirement, peoples way to profile and separate themselves from the have not. Problem solved, those who can afford it are happy and those that cannot suck salt.

A friend was telling me about a person he knows, this person lived in Portmore in one of those prefab houses with an SUV that took up every square inch of the front yard. It was taller than the house and valued about 12 times as much.

 With the introduction of satellite dishes most Jamaican household began to install these massive ugly metallic structures in their yards and on top of their house, they would walk around boasting of their size, who had a 15 footer and who had a 20 footer and how much channels then had. It was also amazing to drive through the ghettos to see a 20 footer dish that was much bigger than the house made of board and zinc that it shared the yard with, even more amusing to see a satellite dishes on top of a house that looked like it could not and should not be able to support the weight of these monsters.

Every summer Jamaicans go through a series of water lock off’s due to drought and every summer the brains of our society write various articles proposing various schemes on how to solve this problem, it is a yearly ritual because as soon as it starts to rain everyone forgets about the summer drought, plans are shelved to be republished next year. We have these two dams, Hermitage Dam in Stony Hill, opened in 1927 and Mona Reservoir, opened in 1947, that we have totally out grown, the population size of the city has more than doubled and these dams I am sure are filled with more dirt and debris than water. So what do we do? Do we take to the streets in protest to force the Government to build new Dams or increase the capacity of the old dams or do we take hard earned money and buy these ugly personalized black tanks that sit on top of our houses? You guessed it, given the option the average Jamaican would rather take a financial hit, taxes plus the cost of ugly black water tanks rather than confront the government, also its a status symbol to be able to afford this, peoples way to profile, to show that they have the means and again those who can afford it are happy and those who cannot suck salt. 

Security and crime is a big problem in Jamaica our governments have failed to provide adequately security for our country and as such it is affecting us in a negative way. Our GDP would increase if we could bring about a solution to crime, it would free our minds to be more creative, to build and develop.  Faced with this problem the Jamaican people would prefer to provide their own security other than force the government to tackle the issue of crime. One of the biggest business is Jamaica is security firms, private police forces, armed rent a cops used to guard entire families and homes, you call them to tell them you are on your way home and they send a car to wait for you at your gate, they enter your property for a quick look around then escort you into your home, soon I believe they will tuck you into bed, read you a bedtime story and get you milk and cookies. Most of these people have never been a victim of crime, even before the days of the security firms, they do not live in crime ridden areas so this is more of a status symbol, keeping up with the Jones, to separate themselves, the look at me syndrome, more profiling and in order to justify it they go on and on about crime.

Houses have become bunkers, fortresses as we imprison ourselves by placing iron bars on every window and doors, there have been cases where fire have destroyed entire families because they could not exit their own house/prison cell, they could not find the keys to the grilled iron gate. Walls around properties have shot up some 12 feet with remote control gates and gun ownership has gone up as most walk around with bulged hips and while coming home from late night parties are forced wait on slow moving electric gates to open with their guns in hand, at the ready half-cocked or full-cocked. More and more people are leaving stand alone houses with massive front and back yards for Gated Community Compounds with 24 hour security and again those who can afford it are happy and those who cannot suck salt.

Frequent power cuts across Jamaica affects GDP growth and the personal lives of the people, but faced with this problem Jamaicans would rather buy Delco Generators than force the Government to guarantee constant power supply and again those who can afford it are happy and those who cannot suck salt.

We have a selfish society that only cares about me, myself and I, every man for himself and God for me alone, the educated class is only thinking about themselves, there is little or no concern for wider society and when you engage them in conversation they will provide a million and one reasons why that is so. In order to care less about their fellow Jamaicans they must portray them in such a way that would force a mental disconnect, they are animals, they are this and that, which empowers them to care less and only for themselves but we are creating a cycle that will come back to bite us in the butt as the number of people we care less about gets large.

All of Jamaica’s achievements in the past came about because the educated class engaged the lower class and the upper class in a fight for social justice, workers rights and universal adult suffrage. None of this would have been possible if it was not for the unique position of the educated class, their proximity to power-base of the ruling upper class and their ability to organize the power of the common people to bring about the required changes. These days however they care about nothing but themselves, want everything for themselves and give nothing back to the process of Nation Building.

So instead of confronting Government we now provide our own power, water, security and transport while still paying taxes to a Government who provide very little. I write not to condemn but to try and inspire change, I want us to become a nation that cares about our fellow man, woman and child, I want us to build a Nation State that would be a shining example to others, I want us to be more pro-active and I want us to come together as one people, not as JLP or PNP, not as rich, poor, educated or uneducated but one people because the problems we face are not limited to a certain sector of society, it is our problem, this is our country and its future depends on all of us. I beg you all to reengage the Nation Building process.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Lack of Organized Public Protest By The silent Majority

I cannot help but wonder why there is an almost lack of organized public activism and protest in Jamaica. I am having a hard time remembering when last Jamaicans organized a massive, peaceful, progressive, socially cohesive movement against anything. I am not talking about the politically organized partisan, out of control tire burning gas riots of the past or the protest in defense of Dons, warlords and gang members but a more productive outcry. A socially conscious Nation Building movement against poverty, injustice, mismanagement and corruption within the Jamaican society.

The lack of organized public outcry in Jamaica either means that we are all content, yard nice, everything sweet, session a run, henny a flow and everything is right in our world or that we are such a fragmented society that it is almost impossible for us to come together as a people to confront the problems we face as Jamaicans. I know for a fact that all is not right with our world, even though some of us like to pretend it is. I know we are all concerned about the alarming crime rates in our country, mismanagement of the Government sector and attacks on our environment. I know we are concerned with high unemployment rates. I know we are concerned with dilapidated infrastructure and the declining education system that is turning out students who are incapable of 21st century productivity. So why then are we so complacent in the face of Government corruption, crime and the declining economy? I have said it before that the people of Jamaica are afraid to hold the Government accountable fearing that the Government would then turn around and hold them accountable and there is nothing Jamaicans hate more than Accountability. I think Jamaicans are afraid of a society with rules, equality and Justice because we are addicted to the crab in a barrel lifestyle.

Jamaica have become an online petition country. We have adopted this non productive lazy form of protesting like a fish to water but with minimal response. While people in more technologically advanced countries are not afraid to put boots on the ground to defend their national interest, Jamaicans prefers to sit in their Y-Fronts at home and pretend to protest online.

People in other countries throughout the world do not seem to suffer from this complacency. People around the world are organizing and taking to the streets to voice their discontent. From the UK various groups have organized and hitting to the streets, the massive student protest against raising student fees almost shut down cities across England. Disgusting far right groups have organized and protest to make their voices heard. A protest against police shooting that turned in a mass riot in England which highlighted deep rooted social and economic problems that exist across the UK and more organized protest are being planned as we speak against government cuts, Brexit, increasing unemployment and economic hardship, anti-austerity.

In the United States the Occupy Wall Street Movement is a protest against the greedy bankers who run the financial system that caused global economic collapse, which is set to spread to other cities and countries as people take to the streets to send a message to the ruling class that enough is enough. We are tired and we are not taking it anymore. The Tea Party Movement represents people standing up for what they believe in even if it is misguided (right or wrong) and making their voices heard. I remember the million man march which was perfectly organized and executed with precision. Jon Stewart’s rally to restore sanity  just to name a few. Not to mention the uprising the in the Middle East, Arab Spring.

 Million Man March

So what of Jamaica? We complain daily about the negative things happening within our society but we never seem to get past that, complaining. Our Governments knows that we are incapable of organizing a dance or a piss up in a brewery, much less a massive socially conscious movement and so they are free to do what they want, when they want and like us they only pay lip service to the problems we face as a nation. The year (2009) when we had 1681 murders across the island, where was the outrage? Where was the organized movement to force our government to take the issue of crime seriously? When are we going to stand up and demand accountability from not only the Government, but the Private sector and ourselves? We are afraid to protest because we think it will affect our earnings, disrupt the well oiled wheels of our economy (lol) but crime, mismanagement and corruption is actually affecting our earnings and causing the wheels of our economy to grind to a halt.  

When the mid 90’s Orane Report on waste and mismanagement in the Government was published and the Government did not implement it, I expected the people to demonstrate and demand that the Government implement the requested changes for making the Public sector more accountable and streamlined this would save millions of tax payer’s money. In doing so the people would have demonstrated that they have reached a level of political sophistication, demanding not only short term but also long term changes from the Government. This would have set precedence, showing that the people are no longer waiting for crumbs from the politician table but wanted exactly what they employed them to do.  I remember a group organized a protest against the rising crime rate but only about 200 people bothered to show up at that event however keep a street dance on Knutsford Boulevard and the people will descend like locus to part take in the merriment,” Easy skanking, skanking it easy”.

OK the memory of Morris Cargill ripping into Bob Marley about the following lyrics just comes to mind, Morris thought it was a low class and boogoyagga thing to say ... 

I want to disturb my neighbour,
'Cause I'm feelin' so right;
I want to turn up my disco...

Mass Social Activism/Movements, Protest and Rallies:

All progressive societies have dynamic and well organized groups designed to push progressive Nation Building Agendas. These progressive societies understand that the people are an integral part of Government, a vital part, a valid branch of Government. It is not vote and forget but vote and engage, they understand that the concept of Government is not limited to the elected officials alone but extends to the entire population who must communicate their desires, their intentions and displeasure by organized mass public activism designed to send strong messages to the Elected Officials, kind of like guiding sheep in the right direction.

All our Non-Governmental Organization NGO's, like our unions are nothing but extensions of the political parties. They do not have the people's interest at heart, they are NOT Nation Builders but exist to serve their political masters and do their biddings. They exist to help influence public opinion for their political parties, they are partisan in nature and they are rewarded for their work and efforts with access to resources and titles.

Politically motivated protests are almost always organized with the intention of destabilizing the country and the existing Government, so as to propel the opposing party into power. It is almost never organized for the greater good of the country but for the selfish needs of that party for power. Real Progressive Pro-Active organized groups do not care about which party is in power, their purpose is the same regardless of party, they do not want political rewards because their sole intention is to force the Government of the day to do the right thing by the people, to build a nation.

Year Mass Rallies Notes
1979 Gas Riot Not a socially conscious Mass Rally but a smash and grab organized by opposing the Political Party, VIOLENT PROTESTS, looting and shootings triggered by a hike in fuel prices brought Jamaica to a standstill rioters started fires, looted shops and set a large sugar cane plantation ablaze. Block roads and charge motorist a fee to pass.
1985 Gas Riot Not a socially conscious Mass Rally but a smash and grab organized by opposing the Political Party, VIOLENT PROTESTS, looting and shootings triggered by a hike in fuel prices brought Jamaica to a standstill rioters started fires, looted shops and set a large sugar cane plantation ablaze. Block roads and charge motorist a fee to pass.
1999 Gas Riot Not a socially conscious Mass Rally but a smash and grab organized by opposing the Political Party, VIOLENT PROTESTS, looting and shootings triggered by a hike in fuel prices brought Jamaica to a standstill rioters started fires, looted shops and set a large sugar cane plantation ablaze. Block roads and charge motorist a fee to pass.
2011 Occupy Half-Way-Tree Only a handful of Persons turned out(20) for the Occupy Half-Way-Tree protest organized by Child rights group “Hear the Children's Cry” and the “New Nation Coalition” who chained themselves to a median near the historic clock in Half-Way-Tree Square in protest against what they say were "Inequities and Injustices in the Jamaican society".
2012 Police Corruption and Killings Jamaicans for Justice Called for a mass protest but ONLY 60 People turned up.
Government Corruption, Lies and Empty Promises No Mass Rally or Protest have ever been organized to send a strong message to the Government that this is a serious issue and needs to be addressed A.S.A.P. Both the people, Political Parties and the Government continue to “Pay Lip Service” to this matter in order to score political points. I do believe that even if a Mass Rally or a Protest was organized that only a hand full of people would bother to show up, unless off course you get a sound system, some semi-literate DJ’s and hand out free rice from the back of a truck.
Increasing Murder/Crime Rate No Mass Rally or Protest have ever been organized to send a strong message to the Government that this is a serious issue and needs to be addressed A.S.A.P. Both the people, Political Parties and the Government continue to “Pay Lip Service” to this matter in order to score political points. I do believe that even if a Mass Rally or a Protest was organized that only a hand full of people would bother to show up, unless off course you get a sound system, some semi-literate DJ’s and hand out free rice from the back of a truck.
Economic Mismanagement and Hardship No Mass Rally or Protest have ever been organized to send a strong message to the Government that this is a serious issue and needs to be addressed A.S.A.P. Both the people, Political Parties and the Government continue to “Pay Lip Service” to this matter in order to score political points. I do believe that even if a Mass Rally or a Protest was organized that only a hand full of people would bother to show up, unless off course you get a sound system, some semi-literate DJ’s and hand out free rice from the back of a truck.
Crumbling and/or missing infrastructure No Mass Rally or Protest have ever been organized to send a strong message to the Government that this is a serious issue and needs to be addressed A.S.A.P. Both the people, Political Parties and the Government continue to “Pay Lip Service” to this matter in order to score political points. I do believe that even if a Mass Rally or a Protest was organized that only a hand full of people would bother to show up, unless off course you get a sound system, some semi-literate DJ’s and hand out free rice from the back of a truck.
Child abuse on rise in Jamaica No Mass Rally or Protest have ever been organized to send a strong message to the Government that this is a serious issue and needs to be addressed A.S.A.P. Both the people, Political Parties and the Government continue to “Pay Lip Service” to this matter in order to score political points. I do believe that even if a Mass Rally or a Protest was organized that only a hand full of people would bother to show up, unless off course you get a sound system, some semi-literate DJ’s and hand out free rice from the back of a truck.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Preserving All Of Our History

Many Jamaicans have a romantic notion of life in old colonial Jamaica, somehow they feel that life was better for all under British colonial rule and I sometimes wonder just where they got this idea from. Yes life was very good for a chosen few, the colonial class. Yes it was a simpler time but back then the vast majority of Jamaicans lived in poverty the only difference is back then they accepted their lot in life. Just before independence one quarter of the adult population could not read or write, one quarter of the total workforce had no jobs and the distribution of land ownership and the means of production represented gross and growing inequalities and at that time pre-independence Jamaica had a very small middle class.

  • During colonial Jamaica, just before independence only 30% of the population could read and write 
  • During colonial Jamaica the unemployment and underemployment rate was as high as 45% to 50% of the population. 
  • During colonial Jamaica there were very little investment in infrastructure, very little investment in housing for the people. There was no distribution of water or electricity, most of the population lived in darkness and had to travel miles for water.
  • During colonial Jamaica disease ran rampant with regular outbreak epidemics across the island due to poor sanitation and water supply. There were regular widespread outbreak of malnutrition, such was the state of British controlled Jamaica.
  • What Investments the British made was done for the purpose of efficiently extracting wealth and for the white ruling class to live comfortably while the vast majority of Jamaicans lived way below the poverty line. 
  • The Colonial office commissioned Lord Moyne to investigate the reasons for the discontent and riots, the result was the Moyne Commission Report that outlined the disgusting, impoverished state of the Colonies especially Jamaica with several recommendations for change but instead of implementing the recommendations the British Colonial Office did not like what they were reading and buried/hide the report.

If you ask some old-timers about life back then they would go into great details about how wonderful it was when they were a child, what they use to do, it was a fun simpler time. But they were children, with not a care in the world, most not responsible for putting food on the table. However when you sit down and do the research into the lives of the people, read the social and economic historical archives, you get a completely different picture of life in colonial Jamaica. Yes it was safer but harder times and most seems to be contented with the hard life they lived, no light, running water, horrible living conditions and very little hope of progress.

I think people were very simple back then and accepted and enjoyed simpler things, I think they accepted their status, position and station in life and did not question it. A lot of times the life they described was not their own but the life of the British colonial class. A life they could not take part in but could only observe and they seemed happy that the colonial class was able to live so well, usually at their expense. I love to interrogate the older generation about life back then, I once spoke to an old friend of the family who loved to talk a lot about the glory days but only in terms of the big house she use to work in, not the house she lived in, how great the lady of the house was, how stylish and upper class, they were, a fine white Lady and gentleman who belong to the upper echelons of Jamaican and British society and even though these people lived in Jamaica most did not consider themselves Jamaicans. Jamaica was not an option for them after independence, the gravy train had ended and so they packed up their belongings and returned to the mother country with the country's wealth.

The words Jamaicans used to describe colonial Jamaica was taken from the British, the idea that Jamaica was the pearl of the Caribbean or the jewel in the British crown was a British concept based purely on the benefits Britain received at the expense of the native population and not its development. Britain cared very little about how the native population lived, cared very little about their education and well-being and more about pacifying the people so that they would continue to work hard and support the British economy.

Sometime ago I joined a Facebook group called the Jamaica Colonial Heritage Society created by Brett Ashmeade-Hawkins, who is a passionate historian with a wealth of knowledge, he presents historical artifacts with detail descriptions of names, dates and places.  The Jamaica Colonial Heritage Society’s group love of history excites me and I support their desire to preserve our colonial past. I love the artifacts they have on display and I understand why each time they see another colonial artifact from our past being destroyed they get very upset. I too get very upset that we as a people have not taken advantage of our history, we see it as something to forget, to be pushed aside, as we set out to destroy everything colonial.

Unlike some members of the group I will not lash out against the Jamaican people in a very stereotypical way, painting all with the same ignorant brush. Somehow some of these people believed that the British had created a perfect society, instilled the perfect values in us but for whatever reason we are incapable of retaining values, thus reverting to our savage dark nature destroying the perfect society that was created and given to us.
Rose Hall Great House

One thing I most admire about the Jewish community is how they set out to preserve various Holocaust sites and Jewish artifacts because they realized that these sites have value and needed to be preserved even though they represented great suffering and hardship for their people. The sites are preserved so that future generations will not forget what had happened to their ancestors.
I view the plantations and the great houses as a Holocaust sites that should be preserved for future generation to understand what had happened to our ancestors, how they suffered, to see how the ruling class lived at the expense of the slave class. It is amazing that in almost all the plantations the slave section of these estates have almost vanished leaving behind the majestic mansions of the white colonial class, which makes it difficult for our young people to imagine the human suffering that took place. Out of sight out of mind, as everyone involved push the greatness and sing praises to the people who lived in these massive Great Houses.

I am particular interested in our colonial architecture but most Jamaicans seem to see these old buildings as something to knock down and rebuild into something awful. It is correct to say that most Jamaicans do not see any value in preserving historical artifacts from our colonial history because they were never educated to see any value in it. Our past Colonial Masters did not set out to create an educated society with values or else we would not be in the situation we are currently in since values are normally passed down from generation to generation and our current Home Grown Colonial leaders learned from the very best. They too are not too concerned about values within our society. My estimate is that if we have 100 historical sites 85 percent of them are almost gone, turning into dust.

Greenwood Great House 
Built by the Barretts of Wimpole Street London in 1800

The shocking thing is, we expect poor, uneducated, ignorant, low income, materialistic people to acquire a sense of value and historical perspective as if people are genetically engineered with values or acquire them through osmosis. The fact is not even our foreign minded, foreign educated, middle and upper-class have these values. At least the poor have an excuse, what is the excuse of the educated class? A well traveled educated Jamaican will tell you about the old historical ruins in Greece, England and France with joy while totally ignoring those at home.

I am a huge admirer of Jamaica’s Environmental Groups, they play an active role in preserving the natural eco-system. They organize lectures and various events such as beach cleaning days, they are environmental activists/warriors as they protest and fight to force our government to put in place measures to protect environmentally sensitive areas, they create petitions so the world wide community can assist them in their fight, they go out to schools and communities, they reach out to explain the importance of the environment to young, old, rich and poor alike, they try to make uneducated low income people understand the importance of the environment to their existence.

There is a need to duplicate this effort with regards to historical sites and artifacts, there needs to be a more pro-active group that is interested in the complete history of our people, not just trying to glorify Colonialism and Slavery as if they wish to return to the good old glory days. It is not suppose to be about which plantation Slave owner you are related to, like any association you can draw elevates your status in life, the nostalgia of a life you did not live but now try to live by proxy, as they praise how great their ancestors were, how big their plantation was, how massive the Great House was and how many heads of slave they had at their disposal, I cannot imagine descendants of Nazi Germany boasting the same way about getting rich at the expense of Jewish suffering. This is not the way to get the Black population on-board, when they read things like this, they then want nothing to do with preservation of these sites. History is suppose to be inclusive, the story of everyone involved must be told, lay bare for all to see and read.

One of my favorite author and Historian is Niall Ferguson even though I do not agree with some of his conclusions on British Colonial History, the fact is he is a brilliant writer and historian and have the ability to describe history in details and take me back in time. In a part of his book Empire “The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power” Ferguson states “If not the British then who?”  As if to say, who would you rather to enslave you, use you and abuse you, beat you and rape you, the French would have made your life 10 times worst and the Germans would put you against the wall and have you shot, so count your blessing it was the British. That is what I dislike about his writings but his writings are so much more than this.

For the average Jamaican, colonialism was not pretty, life was not easy and the British for all its 350 years of rule did not invest out of love for Jamaicans, they did not invest in Jamaican minds, They were never interested in building a nation, they just did not create a society capable of valuing, understanding  or embracing history.  History can be a very profitable business, if we take the time to invest in our past, we could have a very bright future, a revitalized Downtown Kingston to recapture 17 Century architecture, how it use to be, centuries old quaint villages across the island rebuilt to capture historical life, Spanish Town the 16 century capital of the Island, in any other country would be a major tourist attraction with the ability to transport its occupants back to the 16 Century, to see and feel history.

Now I agree that people who know better should do better, it is not enough to just curse poor people because they do not share your superior sense of value, you the materialistic educated class is a waste of space if you do not attempt to use your education, wealth, position in society, your proximity to power to mold our society for the greater good, to build a nation state with values to appreciate our history and historical artifacts, so that everyone can get a better understanding of their future. Today’s educated middle and upper-class have no excuse for not pushing values unless they are truly bankrupt of it , by not doing so you are behaving like the British Colonial Masters of the past but this time with an American outlook on life, if its old… bulldoze it.......

I am a huge fan of shows that trace people’s heritage like “Who Do You Think You Are?” on the BBC. It is fascinating to see how far back these people can go, finding relatives that are spread across the globe.  The British Government seems to keep records of everything and everyone and all has been computerized, just by entering your name in the search engine and you can track your family roots going back centuries, even with pictures in some cases, now how cool is that? My mother died when I was 9 months old and I have no idea how she looked as the family have no pictures of her, it seems strange in this day and age but back them people had more important things to do than to stand around taking pictures it seems, so I cannot even connect her face to mine.

I know my last name, is my last name but not really my last name, I know it was given to me based mainly on which plantation my ancestors was sold to. I know name assignment was a simple process, for example, there goes Stewart’s slave and before you know it an entire generation of people with the last name Stewart started spreading all over Jamaica and Stewart could be the owner of the plantation or the overseer, so tracing my heritage is not as easy as I would like but it does not stop me from wondering who my ancestors were, what were they like, what did they do? Are there people in other countries who are related to me, separated only by which ship went left or right, do they look like me, it boggles the mind. I remember going to England for a little family reunion and was shocked to see people who look like me, my father, my sisters and my grandmother so just imagine how many extended family I may have in others countries.

I remember the exact day and time when I read the following text, I will never forget it, certain things can mark you for life and this is one of them, not out of anger but shock and disappointment with humanity, it is my firm belief that no one should get angry over history, upset yes, disappointed why not but anger no. History represents how we use to be, not who we are today, not where we are going, we must use it to shape our future.. 

Cecil Rhodes embarked on war with Lobengula in Matebele, his troops used a new "secret weapon:" the Maxim which could fire 500 rounds a minute. In 1893, in the battle of Shangani River, 1,500 Matebele warriors were killed while only four British died. The English Liberals penned a bitter satire on the victory, which Rhodes' men --- the Chartered Company Volunteers --- then cynically adopted as their anthem (below):

The Rise and Demise of The British World Order and The Lessons for Global Power
Niall Ferguson

Onward Chartered Soldiers, on to heathen lands,
Prayer books in your pockets, rifles in your hands.
Take the florious tidings where trade can be done,
Spread the peaceful gospel --- with a Maxim gun.

Tell the wretched natives, sinful are their hearts,
Turn their heathen temples into spirit marts.
And if to your teaching they will not succumb,
Give them another sermon with the Maxim gun...

When the Ten Commandments they quite understand,
You their Chief must hocus, and annex their land;
And if they misguided call you to account,
Give them another sermon --- with a Maxim from the Mount.

I remember when my Primary school teacher had us repeat the following over and over until we got it right. The words did something to me that day, I began to question myself, who am I and where am I going, and how I am going to get there.. It was then that I realized that my principles and my word is all I really have to go by, it is what defines me as a person, I will not turn my back on my principles and my word is my bond.

If We Must Die :
Claude McKay (1890–1948)

IF we must die—let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursed lot.

If we must die—oh, let us nobly die,
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain; then even the monsters we defy
Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!

Oh, Kinsmen! We must meet the common foe;
Though far outnumbered, let us still be brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one death-blow!
What though before us lies the open grave?
Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but—fighting back!

The following week she had us do the same thing to Mango Time...
Mi Gone!