How to thwart the Gay agenda

My Gleaner column of February 8, 2017. Reactions to it ranged from amusing to predictable to baffling. 

You are the head of a self-appointed coalition to foster a ‘healthy society’ in Jamaica. You are also a medical doctor. Or you are the head of an assembly of churches, a Reverend. No, not one of those going around molesting young girls. No, no not one of those. You are both dedicated to the policing of gender boundaries in Jamaica. Men are men and women are women and there shall be nothing betwixt or between.

You are duty-bound to police the borders of Jamaica against interlopers and unwanted immigrants. Why, even Donald Trump is taking a leaf out of your book! Those who ignore or show lack of respect for gender boundaries are not welcome in Jamaica. It is your solemn duty to make this clear to every citizen. You have to be particularly vigilant against the Gay Agenda, a global conspiracy involving institutions at the highest levels—the UN, the World Bank, the EU—whose goal is to destroy the world (and inter alia the Jamaican family) by legalizing gay marriage.

If, God forbid, gay marriage is legalized in Jamaica  it will be the beginning of the end. For all and sundry will take up with their own gender, setting up same sex households all over the country, and soon procreation will grind to a halt. There are no examples, as yet, of this happening in countries where gay marriage has been legalized but so what? Reality is not a shackle. Keep stressing the following point. How can we have a healthy society without children?

As for feminists. They too must be kept from invading Jamaica where we like to do things in old, time-honored ways. It is a pity that slavery was officially abolished two centuries ago. What is wrong with slavery? Nothing at all. Slaves are essential to healthy families. Women are meant  to cook, clean, raise children and provide sex for heads of households at no pay. Also the sex part is non-negotiable, women must deliver when the subject is broached. Shop must remain open 24/7. Think Open Access is a new sumpn?

It’s just that slavery must be gender-based. This is why it’s so important to distinguish between the sexes. There can be no ambiguity about this. Men and women who break these rules must be enslaved by our cultural rules. Either they conform to these or they leave. It is for the benefit of the nation. Our good name is at stake.

Also, it is to be noted that rape is a crime that can only be inflicted on women for Jamaican law defines sexual intercourse under the Sexual Offences Act as “penetration of the vagina of one person by the penis of another person”. Rape occurs when there is sexual intercourse without the consent of the woman. That is, for rape to happen, there has to be penetration of a vagina. By a penis.  If a man buggers a boy or man that is not rape; if a man thrusts his penis into your daughter’s mouth without her consent that is not rape either; nor is penetration of one’s orifices, vaginal or not, by the forced intrusion of an object, considered rape.

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This actually means that homosexual men who bugger other men or boys get away with a lesser charge of grievous sexual assault, with much milder punishment compared to rape but so what? “Anal penetration is wrong in 2017 and anal penetration will still be wrong in the year 3000.” We can’t let ourselves be fooled by such tactics.  Sometimes the truth is inconvenient…but let that not stand in your way. Redefinition of rape is a Trojan horse to bring in gay marriage. The Gay Agenda must be stopped at all costs. It’s the Al Quaeda of the god-fearing world, the ISIS of virtuous, law-abiding countries such as Jamaica.

What about all those women who keep turning up murdered, you ask? Like the one in the barrel in St Thomas? Ignore them man. More than likely they were asking for it. Its just the work of feminists. That is why we have to oust them too. There is too much sensationalizing of crimes against women, the media gives them too much space. “Men die everyday . Boys are molested and sexually assaulted in every community. But what? No one cries out, protests, chastises government or prays about it. Male lives matter too.”

Hat tip to the brilliant Nigerian satirist, Elnathan John.

‘Tis the Season to Protest

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Correction: This teach in was on Feb 17 which was last week. No wonder the Gleaner removed the information. Mea culpa…have made the necessary adjustments to tense.

It’s time to resurrect Active Voice. My column in the Gleaner today was pruned of most of the last 2 paragraphs which talk about the planned Teach-in at UWI this Friday concerning the review of the Sexual Offences Act (#SOAReview). Since this is a very important example of the kind of citizen participation I’m talking about, I thought it important to carry the unexpurgated version on my blog.

My first visit to the United States since Donald Trump became president of the country was uneventful. New York City was bustling with activity as usual, as was the conference I attended. The College Arts Association is the largest association of art professionals in the US–including artists, art historians, critics, curators, art writers and publishers. Their annual conference attracts 4000 attendees and each of 5 time slots a day might have up to 18 concurrent panels. The mammoth conference runs for four days.

Landing at John F Kennedy airport in the afternoon there were no lines at immigration. In fact everyone had to scan their passports at kiosks, then photograph and press their fingers on screens themselves before proceeding to an actual agent who engaged minimally to retake fingerprints and photographs. Kiosks are always unnerving, even for someone as technologically literate as I am so i wondered how others with less experience were faring.

Then I was off to my airbnb room in Hell’s Kitchen, Manhattan, by public transport, the air train to–where else–Jamaica, in Queens, and then the E train which took me within a block of my accommodation. Unlike hotels, airbnb accommodation in the city might often be in 3-or 4-storied buildings without elevators so packing lightly is a must. My room turned out to be very comfortable though i never fail to be amazed at how constrained for space many New Yorkers are. I had never seen such a tiny bathroom till then. My hosts were incredibly thoughtful and pleasant which more than made up for the cramped quarters.

On the up side i was in the middle of an avenue of good restaurants, a block away from Broadway with all its glitz and glitter and a healthy walk from the Hilton where the conference was. What are conferences and why do people go to them? Those who pooh pooh them disregard the exchange of knowledge, ideas and concepts that occur at such events. The world is not a mechanical place: beneath the technology, the geopolitics and the surface of the societies we inhabit, lie webs of ideas, theories, and hypotheses.

Knowledge is a communal enterprise, not the product of individuals sitting cocooned in their castles. The cross-fertilization that occurs simply by listening to new points of view on the same subject you might be researching is invaluable. The arc of the scholarly enterprise may be long but it bends towards insight. And insight is essential in these dark times.

An unusual addition to this conference was a wall of protest for people to display posters and slogans on behalf of their cause, whatever that might be. Quite a few of them addressed the Trump presidency. Jostling a sign for the Society of Contemporary Art Historians was one saying, “Trump is the symptom, capitalism is the disease.” “Germans against walls and white nationalism” announced another. “NOT MY PRESIDENT”. “This is not normal”. “Make American kind again.”

One of my favorites just said TRUST WOMEN. On the eve of possibly having a female police commissioner for the first time, and a few weeks before March 11 when the Tambourine Army plans to mobilize women onto Kingston’s streets to protest the unremitting violence they face this is a good slogan for all of us.

The Tambourine Army is asking people to wear purple on March 11 and join the protest. “Bring your friends, your family, your colleagues, your neighbours and let’s march in solidarity as one Jamaica against sexual abuse, against rape, against all forms of sexual violence against our women and girls.”

Also on Friday, February 17, the I’m Glad I’m A Girl Foundation partnered with UN Women and the Tambourine Army to host a full day teach-in on the Sexual Offences Act. A presentation on the Act and related Acts was made by Tracy Robinson (Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, UWI Mona) in the morning, and discussions with advocates about how folks can contribute to the current review of the Act followed in the afternoon.

Citizen participation is the name of the game, WE have to become the change we want to see. Purple is the colour of power, let’s put it on and take to the streets come. To all the men out there come show your support for us, with or without tambourines, on March 11 and we’ll reciprocate by joining the one for violence against men whenever you choose to organize it. Deal?

Fidel forever!

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Fidel Castro with Jamaica’s Michael Manley in the 1970s

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A mountain has died and words are inadequate to describe the loss, the Fidel-shaped hole in the universe we must live with now, but Jamaican songwriter and singer Tanya Stephens has written the most thoughtful, eloquent, hard-hitting tribute you can imagine and it deserves to be read far and wide–

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Contributed In this September 6, 2005 photograph, Cuban President Fidel Castro (right) makes a comment to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez (left), much to the amusement of Jamaican Prime Minister P.J. Patterson. The state heads, two now retired and one deceased, were enjoying a moment in between sessions while at the Second PetroCaribe Summit at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Montego Bay, Jamaica.

I still remember the almighty roar that went up from the crowd outside the Holy Trinity Cathedral on North Street in Kingston when Fidel Castro alighted from his car and made his way into the Cathedral where the funeral service for Michael Manley was being held. It was 1997. I was in the street outside with the hoi polloi but i heard that even inside the Cathedral, full of VIPs, diplomats and other elites the entire congregation arose applauding when he walked in. Fidel was an inspiration as Tanya explains so eloquently…

Tanya Stephens

November 26, 2016

 He was good or bad depending on who you speak to. I fell in love with the romantic portrayal of the Cuban revolution in high school History class. I couldn’t express that at home. I later took more details into consideration and lost some of my love for the man while exercising empathy for the many refugees who fled the country to seek more favorable socioeconomic conditions elsewhere. Then I went to Cuba and my love was renewed. There’s no human on this planet who gets a perfect score from every other human. What I saw was an education system which works. Healthcare which works. National security which works. We stayed in a rooming house in a ‘ghetto’ in Havana although we could have easily afforded a room in the best hotel, but we wanted to be among the people. I went walking in this ‘ghetto’ after midnight, and the only interactions from locals we attracted were offers to (literally) break bread with us and invitations to come into homes and hang out with them. I dream of a Jamaica close to this.

I could also see that it was a synthetic kind of safety born of fear, but I would pick someone being afraid of the repercussions from committing a crime over everyone being afraid of criminals ANY day.

To all the people whose lives he touched negatively, I hope they and their descendants can somehow find the peace he is now incapable of giving them.

To all the people from all over the world who have benefited from the world leading education and health care industries he sculpted, I hope their gratitude will never wane and it will influence somehow their decisions when electing their own officials.

To all the other Caribbean Government heads, please take a page from his book. One of the good pages. Craft our education and health systems like you ACTUALLY have our interest somewhere in your corrupt hearts.

To those in the Jamaica tourist industry, Cuba has comparable and even better beaches, more points of interest, a more romantic tourism product. Get off your butt and start rebuilding your sector. The sky is not falling but your appeal and worth is!

To my 5th form history teacher Miss Blisseth (hope I spelled correctly) I thank you with all my heart for introducing me to the ONLY living Caribbean legend of my childhood. Shaping young minds is a tough job. We didn’t agree on everything, sometimes we even disagreed aggressively, but I’m grateful for every illusion you shattered and every new thought you introduced.

To Fidel, hope you finally find real peace!

Hard Woman fe Dead

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Prince Buster died on September 8 this year, roughly two weeks ago. I remember feeling a deep  sense of loss all day long into the next few days that was exacerbated by the scant attention local media was giving the news. On the day of the latter-day superstar’s death radio and TV newscasts in Jamaica carried it way down in their line-up. None of them even had the sad news as a top three item as far as I recall.

I didn’t know Prince Buster personally. I know that he was a crucial pioneer of the success story that is Jamaican music and I love his music and his swaggering history. When @DahliaHarris said “The way international media is paying tribute to Prince Buster is amazing. We need to teach our youth about our Jamaican legends” I completely agreed. The news of Prince Buster’s death should have led newscasts in Jamaica on that sad day for this was the passing of a legend.

Think about it. Had a paltry politician from the top two rungs of Parliament died it would have led the news here but someone who helped to put Jamaica on the map through its music, someone who inspired so many people worldwide that when you google his death you get a list of tributes published in all the top global media—the New York Times, BBC, The Economist, The UK Guardian, Rolling Stone—no of course not…that’s secondary news in the country of his birth.

The Economist’s tribute described Prince Buster’s life as “a chronicle of the tropical tempest that is modern Jamaica” and ended by invoking his blockbuster Hard Man fe Dead:

“In his 1966 record “Hard Man Fe Dead”, Prince Buster sings the tale of a corpse who steadfastly refuses to die.  It’s an ode to the indomitable spirit of his countrymen—and a fitting tribute to his own legacy:

“Now the procession leads to the cemetery,
The man holler out—don’t you bury me!
You pick him up, you lick him down,
Him bounce right back, what a hard man fe dead.”

It’s at moments like this that you realise there is something seriously askew with the way Jamaican society operates. This lopsidedness also manifests itself in the inability of the country’s bourgeoisie to understand who Portia Simpson Miller is and what she represents to many people in this country. “I’m a hard woman fe dead,” she said when she emerged triumphant from the internal elections of the People’s National Party last weekend, having won 2,471 of 2,669 votes cast by delegates.

This after a mounting campaign in the media to discredit her in the weeks preceding the election, on the grounds that it was time for her to go, particularly as her health seems increasingly to be an issue. The negative campaign only seems to have spurred on the support this grassroots leader enjoys. In 2006 when Portia won the PNP’s leadership election for the first time, with the vast majority of PNP delegates voting for her, it was against the wishes of the majority of the party leadership at Cabinet level, and in Parliament.

Unfortunately for the top leadership they soon realised that none of them could muster similar support from the delegates and thus began a decade of an uneasy coalition between middle class and elite PNP leaders and Portia. Although some of them were involved in the campaign to hasten her departure they have now been told in no uncertain terms by the delegates that she will go, when she, and they, are ready. Without Portia the PNP may never win another election and that is the simple truth of it.

As a wit once observed in response to snarky sniping about Portia Simpson Miller’s lack of higher academic degrees, “Who say Portia don’t have PhD? Portia Have Delegates. seet deh? PhD.” An upper St Andrew friend was bitter about Portia’s re-election as party leader, grumbling that she needs to go as she couldn’t represent the country. Why not, I prodded. “No man, she can’t speak for me,” came back the answer, and implicit in that statement was all the prejudice and disregard too many of us feel towards the grassroots of this country.

The sober truth though, is that neither can Upper St Andrew (and its counterparts) speak for the grassroots any longer. That is why Portia still reigns…and why the passing of Prince Buster should have been front and centre of the news on September 8, 2016. No two ways about that.

(The above is my Gleaner column from September 21, 2016)

Much Law, No Order

We slavishly practice the letter of the law and studiously ignore its spirit, especially if financial blandishments are on offer. As a friend observed on Facebook recently, “I love how TVJ follows an ad for Black Stallion “Bedroom Tonic” with a public service announcement about how the program is rated PG. At 8:50 on a Sunday morning #dobetter”.

At Daggers Drawn: The Broadcasting Commission and Jamaican Popular Culture (updated)

Below is the unedited version of my Gleaner column of Aug. 10, 2016. It seems ever more relevant today now that news has broken that five senior members in Jamaica’s Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) have been fingered in a campaign funds misappropriation scandal. At the same time the police are belatedly continuing an  investigation into the alleged involvement of a senior Jamaican politician from the ruling party in a murder plot years after evidence was provided of wrongdoing.  Meanwhile the Police continues to harrass and arrest citizens for using profane language. The concept of obscenity takes on new meanings in such a context. See my column below:

It’s high time the law against using ‘indecent language’ in public is taken off the books. In a society which acknowledges widespread abuse of power by the Police, the state must remove any unnecessary pretext  lawmen might have for arresting citizens, especially when the so-called crime is absolutely no threat to public order. People should have the right to curse when they are upset, and if Police are breaking the law by cursing at them for no rhyme or reason, yes, citizens should have the right to curse back without being manhandled on the pretext of being arrested.

Had this inane law not been on the books Kay-Ann Lamont and her child would be alive today, the latter all of 4 years old. Her two older children would not have to be passed around from relative to relative like hot potatoes as was reported in the news a few days ago. According to a  newspaper account:

“The summer holiday is a bittersweet period for sisters Gillian Senior, 13, and nine year-old Sabreka Salmon, daughters of Kay-Ann Lamont…For the first time since last Christmas, the sisters played together two Thursdays ago, having become accustomed to a choppy routine after being separated to live with relatives following their mother’s death.”

Lamont’s crime? A policeman overheard her using an expletive after her wallet was stolen on Orange Street where she was shopping for back to school items for her children. In the tussle that followed his decision to arrest her he ended up shooting the 8-months pregnant woman in her head, killing both mother and child instantly. If that isn’t obscene, i’d like to know what is.

Meanwhile criminal charges have been pressed against the Gordon Town woman who greeted profanity from a policeman with profanity but “NO CHARGE FI DI POLICE WHEY DID A BATTA UP DI WOMAN FI NOTHING”. This despite the fact that the policeman involved was caught on video dragging the woman by her hair and generally manhandling her with the kind of gusto and  abandon one has become used to seeing from American police, prompting a #Blacklivesmatter movement in that country.

As an online commenter once said “the culture we have developed seems to be one where there is much law yet no order”. Yet we refuse to reconfigure the legal system inherited from our colonizers, keeping alive archaic laws that have long been consigned to oblivion in the countries where they were first devised. We slavishly practice the letter of the law and studiously ignore its spirit, especially if financial blandishments are on offer. As a friend observed on Facebook recently, “I love how TVJ follows an ad for Black Stallion “Bedroom Tonic” with a public service announcement about how the program is rated PG. At 8:50 on a Sunday morning  #dobetter”.

This is the same spirit in which the government pays lip service to the Paris Agreement it signed some years ago to stick to a Nationally Determined Contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. According to Wikipedia, Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) is a term used under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions that all countries that signed the UNFCCC were asked to publish in the lead up to the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference held in Paris, France in December 2015. Jamaica did so in November 2015.

Along comes an investor with deep pockets, promising thousands of jobs, and the government is willing to abandon the Paris Agreement and sign on to a 1000MW coal-fired plant to be built by a Chinese company, Jiuquan Iron and Steel (JISCO). As Diana McCaulay, head of Jamaica Environment Trust (JET), often a lone voice in the wilderness, points out:

“A modern coal-fired plant emits 762 kilograms of CO2 per megawatt-hour of electricity generated, if there is no CO2 capture. This plant alone would emit roughly 6.7 million tons of CO2 per year, just over half of our 2025 target. Meeting our Intended Nationally Determined Contribution to greenhouse gas emissions under the Paris Agreement would become highly unlikely.”

A multitude of sins creep in under cover of blandishments of ‘development’ and ‘progress’. For the government ‘job creation’ translates to votes which must constantly be mustered no matter the cost. What could be more indecent than that? In an eloquent article published by Commonwealth Writers called ‘Giving up on the earth’ McCaulay details the price we are paying globally for reckless abuse of the environment in the name of progress:

“As I write, the world faces 14 straight months of global record breaking warm temperatures, described on many websites in the dispassionate language of science. Disease vectors like mosquitoes are spreading outside their previous latitudes and so are the diseases they carry. Wildfires rage earlier and longer. Land cracks in droughts and is washed away in floods. The largest living structure in the world, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia had its most serious bleaching event ever – roughly 22% of this wonder of the world is dead. All over the world, the people most vulnerable to extreme climate events are displaced, impoverished and die. You think there is a refugee crisis now? Wait until large areas of the globe are uninhabitable. And yet real reductions in greenhouse gases have not been achieved, despite decades of international meetings, agreements and stated good intentions.”

Its high time we paid attention to the spirit of the law and agreements we sign on to, instead of obeying them in letter only. And take that #$%^@ law against indecent language off the books! There is much to curse about.

 

Every Now Has its Before

In Jamaica it should be #Poorlivesmatter not #blacklivesmatter coz some black lives do matter here and the police doing the killing and maiming are just as black as their victims…

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The column below from a couple of weeks ago about the need for a #poorlivesmatter campaign in Jamaica has been getting some attention. #Blacklivesmatter as a rallying call has little traction in Jamaica where if you’re black but middle class or upper class you’re–for all intents and purposes–an honorary white. Social blackness is reserved for those who are black and poor, not just those who may be dark-skinned, regardless of class.

I thought as much when I saw Fabian Thomas’s ‘Black Bodies’ almost a year ago–a play that aimed to “tell the stories and honour the memories of four Jamaicans (Vanessa Kirkland, Jhaneel Goulbourne, Michael Gayle, and Mario Deane) killed by the police or while in police custody” while attempting to draw a somewhat facile connection with the US’s #blacklivesmatter campaign which was then just beginning to gain momentum.

And in a move to rival the truth in strangeness, a very bougie, uptown Kingston nightclub named Fiction invited patrons to come and show their support for #Blacklivesmatter by partying the night away. Fittingly they aroused the wrath of social media with tweeters like Matthew McNaughton @mamcnaughton saying “Never been more disgusted with Jamaica UPT Culture than when I saw this @FictionJamaica flier.” The flier is at the top of this post, my column is below:

Gleaner, July 13, 2016

The #BlackLivesMatter campaign has rightfully been hogging media attention worldwide with American Police being shown up as less respectful of human rights than you would expect from a nation that regularly monitors and penalizes other countries for their alleged violations of these universally agreed on rights. Superficially there appears to be a resemblance to the way Jamaican police behave except for a crucial difference.

Here it’s the intersection of class with race that arouses the savagery of the Police and seemingly gives them the right to detain, imprison and on far too many occasions murder a ‘suspect’ whereas in the US the detention and deaths in question seem to be largely racially focused. In 2009 for instance the very distinguished Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates was detained and imprisoned by police after forcing open the stuck door to his own house. A neighbour, misconstruing the scene, reported a robbery in progress, the police arrived, and despite the erudite Professor’s explanations he was carted off to jail.

This would never happen In Jamaica. Here you might be black and suspect until you display your rightful ownership of certain markers of privilege—and therefore legitimacy–of which the ability to speak English fluently is one. This is another stark example of how Patwa-speakers are discriminated against in their own country. Many parents tell their sons that when stopped by police they are to speak perfect English, and mention that they ‘come from somewhere’—that is, an uptown community rather than a downtown or inner city one. Almost instantaneously this frees them from suspicion.

There is no direct way to relate the #BlackLivesMatter campaign to police abuse in Jamaica without acknowledging or starting a local “#PoorLivesMatter campaign. Less than two weeks ago policemen shot a schoolgirl in the head when they wantonly fired bullets at a taxi downtown. Do you think this would have happened in Liguanea or Manor Park? And then to add insult to injury the initial response of the Police was that they had no evidence to suggest that the shooters in question were police officers. What could be more alarming than a possible scenario involving five men disguised as policemen firing their weapons at taxis? Well, actually, duh, a scenario involving five POLICEMEN firing at a taxi which is what in the end it turned out to be.

These are the same police the Attorney-General, in the wake of Lotto-scam generated crime ramping up in Montego Bay, wishes to endow with more leeway to abuse citizens by  insisting that “To successfully tackle the murder problem, some of the fundamental rights and freedoms which we have guaranteed to people may have to be abrogated, abridged or infringed.” In fact she forgot to mention that this has been the state of affairs for so-called downtown people forever; the outcry now is because the warning is addressed to English-speaking, uptown-dwelling, middle-class bodies.

I adapted the title of this column from Kei Miller’s novel The Last Warner Woman. “Every now have its before”, she warns, although few heed her. Police Commissioner Williams has rightly said that the problems in Montego Bay are not something harsher policing measures or a state of emergency can solve. They are systemic and need social intervention, for what gone bad a-morning, can’t come good a-evening. Imagine the scene in the United States if President Obama used the current crisis to give American police even more draconian powers than they already enjoy. Wrong move. Racism in the USA has a long and troubled history just as the virulent classism in Jamaica does. There’s no moving forward without addressing either.

We would do well to heed the words of social commentator Nadeen Althia Spence, who invoking the late great Jamaican writer Michelle Cliff, said:

If I could write this with fire I would set ablaze some ideas on this page. I would talk about the black boys in Montego Bay who no longer know the value of life. They don’t know because their black always needed to be qualified for it to become fully ‘smadditized’. It needed land, and money or an accent. When you grow up in communities that are built on captured land, what does it mean for the girls and boys who develop their personhood in a place where land and property and money helps to define your person.

Capture is a legitimate philosophy, because dem nuh own nutten. When Daddy Sharpe led his rebellion, when he set Kensington ablaze the white people in Montego Bay were angry, they punished, maimed and killed, and Daddy Sharpe gave his life in the middle of Sam Sharpe Square Downtown Montego Bay, right across from the Kerr Jarrett’s Town House.

How has Montego Bay changed? Who plans for the children of Sam Sharpe and his soldiers, the Christmas martyrs. Dem used to state of emergency, di blinking city was born in a state of emergency. What they are not used to is justice and equality and rights and development. Give them that Minister, give them justice and mek it stretch back to 1831 and remember Sam Sharpe. Start with the land…mek dem stop capture…because all lotto scam is another capture philosophy…

Rebooting the Past: The Flying Preacherman’s Story

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“Augustown’s elevation from village to inner-city community had to do with urban sprawl. As Jamaica settled itself into the 20th century, Kingston began to spread out from its harbour, rippling out into the dormitory parish of St. Andrew that surrounded it. The ebbless wave of the city frothed its way up towards Half Way Tree, then further up Hope Road towards Liguanea, Mona, Papine and inevitably, Augustown. To its own surprise, the village found that it was no longer five miles away from the city, but on its edge and then comfortably inside it. Kingston flooded in. Houses were connected to the water main of the NWC and to the electric grid of JPS. The residents of Augustown, new urbanites as they were, no longer tolerated the countrified designation of ‘village’. Instead they spoke of themselves as living in a Kingston community. But no sooner had the village graduated itself to ‘community’ than its middle-class neighbours made sure to distinguish themselves with the prefix ‘suburban’ and Augustown with the prefix, ‘inner-city’. Like dark magic, that phrase seemed to draw into Augustown a heaviness and a heat and a rot. Rusting zinc fences now line the streets, and ratchet knives and machine guns have appeared in the hands of young men. A scar is now on the face of the overlooking hillside.”

On the eve of the launch of Kei Miller’s new novel Augustown in the UK where it’s being published it seems appropriate to pause and consider his huge achievement. The sale of the American rights to Augustown in the USA shortly after Marlon James won the Man Booker Prize last year set off a bidding war that earned him a six-figure advance. In the wake of James’s phenomenally successful A Brief History of Seven Killings Jamaican authors are hot properties and Miller was the first beneficiary.

As you can tell from the passage quoted at the top, Miller’s prose is commandingly deft and lyrical, capable of capturing the massive shifts in Kingston’s social and physical topography in a few fluidly rendered sentences. The Augustown he describes is a fictional valley in Jamaica bearing a marked resemblance to August Town, situated just below the University of the West Indies, Mona.

In this novel, that revolves around the figure of Alexander Bedward—the flying Preacherman—Miller performs a gallant act of literary reclamation. Most of us know of Bedward as a figure of ridicule, a ‘lunatic’ who claimed he could fly. When he failed to do so he was carted off to an asylum, discrediting his Church and breaking the hearts of his followers. So we’ve been told and with our pragmatic, rational, utilitarian worldviews we shake our heads and move on.

But as historians such as Kamau Brathwaite, Veront Satchell and others have told us, there is far more to the story of Bedward. In fact his ministry was so successful, his charisma so compelling, that the Jamaica Native Free Baptist Church he founded became a mass movement, a subaltern anti-colonial awakening that demanded the immediate overthrow of the white overlords and the barriers of race, class and religion experienced under colonial rule. So alarmed were colonial governors by the Preacher’s popularity that they embarked on an active campaign to discredit him, one which has proven remarkably successful, judging by the decimation of the Bedwardite movement, Church and all, and the fact that today this extraordinary preacher is viewed as a faintly comic figure.

As anthropologist Gina Athena Ulysse has tried to do with Haiti (Why Haiti Needs New Narratives: A Post-Quake Chronicle), Miller has done with August Town and Bedward, retrieving their story from the dustbin of history and providing them with a new narrative. And the story he has supplied is one that is ingenious, intricately wrought, powerful and moving enough to recuperate Bedward from his ill-deserved ignominy once and for all. In doing so he also illuminates the power of belief, its sanctity, and the ‘autoclaps’ that is bound to follow when you violate and belittle a people’s belief.

With Augustown Miller breaches the gap he himself notes at one point in the novel between “the stories that were written and stories that were spoken—stories that smelt of snow and faraway places, and stories that had the smell of their own breaths.” In his book Silencing the Past acclaimed Haitian historian Michel-Rolph Trouillot discusses in detail how history is produced by the powerful, how certain historical facts are privileged while others are pushed into the shadows.

With this novel Miller has ruptured the silence shrouding a very important history, dragging out of the shadows the refusal of a people to submit quietly to persistent inequality and injustice, people who tried to use their faith and their belief to rise above the abjectness of their lives and fly away home to Zion.

Published in the Gleaner 6/7/17