Mental Slavery, Batman and Season Rice at the Eve of Independence

“In my view language was the most important vehicle through which that power fascinated and held the soul prisoner. The bullet was the means of the physical subjugation. Language was the means of spiritual subjugation” Ngugi wa Thiong’o

It is the eve of Independence … the 46th for this country, Jamaica – Land we should love and I cannot help but reflect on an article I read in the Jamaica Observer last week. It was, without a doubt the greatest piece of rubbish I had read in the newspapers in a long time – though in fairness to the writer (whose name I’m glad to have forgotten) I haven’t read the newspapers in a long time with the exception of getting my Calvin and Hobbes fix.

So, this gentleman, armed with a thick hide of ignorance proceeds to lambast all those who would propose to teach patois, or Jamaican Creole in schools. The writing is indeed awesome, as piling such nonsense atop other nonsense must be an enviable skill and cannot come accidentally. Clearly having misread V.S Naipaul (who at least backs his venom with sterling literary skill) he remarks that patois was not built upon ancient architecture but was instead crafted by people who were not able to benefit from instruction in their native language nor in the tongue of their masters. It seems then, that all other languages must have fallen from the sky in a manna-esque fashion. This cannot be an argument made in defense of English – a language that has borrowed so heavily it confuses it self!

Furthermore, this writer clearly has no grasp of the full impact of language and the value of beginning linguistic instruction in the mother tongue which provides a good base upon which other languages can be built. Let’s face it, Jamaica needs to be multilingual. English alone cannot be our salvation, and fully allowing our children to understand English begins by valuing their first language.

The article was probably inspired by the announcement that the Bible Association of Jamaica intends to translate The Good Book into patois. I say, kudos to them. Those who object to the Bible being translated into patois are probably still under the illusion that Jesus and Shakespeare spoke the same language. Though it might irk some people, it must be realized the “Verily, Verily I say unto thee…” is indeed a translation. The article further highlights the brilliance of British colonization, that 46 years after Independence we still suffer from such feelings of inferiority, such a mis/understanding of ourselves and the contributions that this country has made to the world.

I caught the revue Season Rice (written by Amba Chevannes and Karl Williams and directed by Michael Daley) recently. Season Rice featured sketches with two of our national heroes – Paul Bogle and Nanny of the Maroons. These sketches, hilarious pieces which lampoon modern Jamaica while attempting to contrast it with the modern situation, come to mind now. In the piece with Paul Bogle (played by Rodney Campbell) the statue attempts to correct the ills of the contemporary Jamaica – offering a swift kick in the butt where necessary only to be shunted off to storage. I had a few problems with the piece on Nanny, as the sketch spoofed her as well, and I thought that the hilarity of a roadside hairdresser attempting to bleach out Nanny’s dark complexion (cause “maroon naaw wear again) would be even more hilarious if Nanny was played stronger and straight.

Nonetheless, the sketches highlight how irrelevant our heroes and their sacrifices have become to contemporary Jamaicans as we attempt to chase the not too mighty (Jamaican at least) dollar and shove it down the constantly hungry throats of the SUVs clogging the streets. Maybe, these heroes can no longer help us. We give token credence and memory to Sam, Norman, Paul, Nanny, Marcus, George, and Alexander, but we pay them no real heed. We cannot seem to see what their sacrifice and work has to do with us.

Maybe then we should look to Batman. The Dark Knight has done so much for Gotham, including sacrificing his own status as hero. And clearly, Jamaica is filled with too many jokers, even more menacing than Heath Ledger’s performance. More than any other superhero, it is Batman whom we may need. Yet, Natalie Barnes was certainly on to something with her Justice League painting which portrayed popular figures in Jamaica as varying Super Friends. Of course, if she is, not even Batman may be able to help us.

Alas, as Jamaica prepares o celebrate its 46th year of Independence with the return of the street parade and grand gala, we might consider that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, one that will not blind us, but will instead give clarity. Maybe, the ignorance spewed forth in the article mentioned above is in the minority. Maybe, the strong sense of self witnessed in our culture is not an illusion or veneer. Maybe, the violence ripping our country apart has nothing to do with self-hate, or poverty, or hopelessness. But then again, I still believe in Sam, Paul, Nanny, George, Alexander, Marcus, Norman and Batman.

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8 thoughts on “Mental Slavery, Batman and Season Rice at the Eve of Independence

  1. hey welcome to Blogland Tanya Bat, this IS the way to go. by the way is it the Bat in your name that makes you so partial to Batman? i was just listening to a critique on CNN no less that argues that Last Knight is a thinly disguised justification for Bush’s ‘war on terror’…haven’t seen it myself yet but–

    completely agree with you on the patois issue, the arguments raging against it are so revealing, the colonial mentality is alive and well in Jamdown!

    anyway, hope you’ve seen my blog–http://anniepaulactivevoice.blogspot.com/

    and good luck with yours!

  2. Nice idea to do a blog, Tanya. Congrats. The language issue is a thorny one. I think we tend to leave out of our discussions the essentially subversive nature of Jamaican patois. One of the things that people are seriously afraid of in relation to the Bible translation is that it will subvert the Holy Book’s authority!! You illustrate the problem nicely with reference to the ‘Heroes’ skits in ‘Season Rice’. The Bible translated into patois will no doubt provide much hilarity in church…with ‘Wither thou goest, I will follow thee’ becoming ‘Gwan, me deh back a yuh.’ Entertaining certainly but the real problem of getting people generally to engage in serious, focussed debate about important issues (moral, ethical, aesthetic etc.) will remain unaddressed.

  3. “patois has was not built upon ancient architecture but was instead crafted by people who were not able to benefit from instruction in their native language nor in the tongue of their masters”

    seriously??? he really believes this???

    it really irks me when people with no genuine linguistic knowledge make sweeping statements about language and its development…

    having said that, i had an interesting conversation with a 5 year old, bi-lingual turkish kid the other day… it went something like this:

    william: so, what’s your favourite subject in school?

    cem: i like dancing… and i like english… i won one prize in it…

    william: wow… well done… do you like turkish?

    cem: what?

    william: turkish… do you like your turkish lessons?

    cem: i don’t need turkish lessons… i already know how to speak turkish… [scornful facial expression]…

    so there we are… according to my little friend, there’s no need to study your first language when you grow up speaking it… interesting… and i think that’s why the english “problem” is so huge – we’re not teaching it like what it is – a SECOND language… we keep trying to force grammatical rules down children’s throats that are in no way natural to them… ah well… i been fighting that battle since i started teaching… it’s only with the advent of CAPE communication studies that kids in st. vincent even began thinking about the status of creole…

    i can’t wait to see batman… living in a small island we don;t really get the movies here till they’re out on dvd… dammit…

    blogging is a great idea tanya… i’m a big fan…

  4. Folk heroes actually used to represent something to Caribbean people. With the neo-colonisation of our region by American television I think we have lost much of what was ours.

    In relation to the translation of the Bible, well, there’s really no one more opposed to change and evolution than a fundamentalist Christian – especially when it comes to change or the evolution of people’s experience of God. I don’t know the writer you’re speaking about, but he sounds like he simply does not want to “dumb” the Bible down. And, of course, anything less than King James’ version is tainted.

  5. I am glad Tanti did not read the Observer’s article. Could the writer have been naw he meant it all. he believes it. I for one will be getting a copy of the good book in creole. it’s about time. And I suspect God would be quite pleased to see his word in creole; after all it is in every other language. look forward to enjoying more of your thoughtful and well written postings. grace & peace. keep on savaging the folly.

  6. Hey Bean

    I liked the article. Don’t tek offence, I hardly ever use the word “love”. I think it should be utilized for stuff that are more important to me.

    I am still laughing about the comment about the bible.
    ‘Gwan, me deh back a yuh.’ 🙂

    I am not sure were where I stand on the Patois Bible. While I have no objection to it, with every translation the meaning of a text change and more importantly….I personally could see myself laughing my head off.

    Some people just have no class.

  7. Reblogged this on The bitter bean's Weblog and commented:

    I came across a snowball of a discussion, thanks to a Facebook Post, on he issue of teaching Jamaican Creole (patois) in schools. It made me think of writing about the article, then I realized that I already had in 2008. I therefore thought since my opinions hadn’t changed, I’d simply re-post the original. Language I think remains one of the critical issues we must grapple with as we re/consider we commemorate Jamaica50

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