Paul Bogle – From Stony Gut to Contested Identity

Paul Bogle

The copy taken from a tin type is the officially accepted image of National Hero Paul Bogle. In V.S Reid's Sixty Five it is captioned as such: "The above photograph of a tintype which, though not absolutely authenticated, appears to the Jamaica Historical Society to be a genuine portrait".

Paul Bogle, 148 years after his death, is still embroiled in a struggle. Bogle is one of our original rebels and a defining character in who we are as Jamaicans. His historic march from Stony Gut, St. Thomas to Spanish Town (and back) and the resulting 1865 revolt was repaid in kind by the then colonial government with his being hanged. It seemed that his being raised to the status of national hero when Jamaica gained independence should have been a salve on the wound. Yet now we add insult to that old injury by being unable decide who he is, or at least what he looked like. In this the year of Jamaica marks its 50th year of independence, this is a woeful state.

The issue came to my attention through FaceBook (as do most things these days – unless I noticed it on Twitter). I came across three postings which noted that Jamaica’s officially accepted image of national hero Paul Bogle is also the being used as the image of American inventor Thomas Jennings.

For ease of reference, the image in question is the one which had been used on the $2 note and which now graces the 10cent coin (for those of you born after 1990 yes there used to be a $2 note – see Damian Marley’s ‘Welcome to Jamrock” as reference “…before Bogle start dance and deh pon paper money”. The note was discontinued circa 1989.) The issue of Bogle’s monetary demotion (which incidentally also resulted in the removal of that awesome question that accompanied the flipping of a coin – “ackee or toto?” – now we like everyone else have to ask “head or tail”. Of course we could also say Bogle or Toto,) is a matter that deserves its own post. Suffice it to say, with the current state of the Jamaican dollar, the 10 cent coin is largely ignored, which means that Bogle is becoming a figure less and less remembered. (And yes, I realize that Garvey shares an equally ignominious monetary fate.)

Jamaican Two Dollar Note

The Two Dollar note which once held the image of Paul Bogle was taken out of circulation circa 1989

Based on the comments posted on the FB threads, many immediately assumed that the Jamaican researchers must have got it wrong. I find that, in and of itself, disturbing. Why did so many people assume that the assertion that the image is that of Thomas Jennings must be the right one, and we had all fallen for a big lie? Interestingly, the National Library of Jamaica and the National Gallery of Jamaica argue that as Jennings had died before the tintype technology was invented, it is easy to prove that Jennings cannot be the man in the image. David Boxer of the NGJ highlights that it is not merely a similarity of images as it appears the the image being used for Bogle and for Jennings is from the same source.

The question of whether Bogle is the man in the picture, is a different kettle of chicken.  Boxer says that the original tintype photo (now lost) allegedly came to the Institute of Jamaica through a researcher from the Jamaica Historical Society who went to Stony Gut seeking an image of Bogle. However, the image has never been fully authenticated, and has in the past been captioned as such. Boxer believes that there is a good chance that the image is not that of Paul Bogle, but may well be an image of his son or another relative. He notes that the picture would have had to be taken in 1864-65 when Bogle was in his 40s, but the man in the image appears to be younger. Of course, maybe Bogle just aged really well. Edna Manley is among those who rejected the image, instead choosing to base her 1965 Paul Bogle monument on her gardener. Manley’s decision has resulted in its own furor among the people of St. Thomas, including some of Bogle’s relatives, who see Manley’s action as a blatant insult and insist that the monument is not representative and cannot be returned to its former place before the Morant Bay Court House.

But whether or not the tintype Bogle is the real image is now in the main moot. The world accepts artistic impressions all the time. Let’s face it, given the location of Jerusalem, the chance that Jesus was a skinny white man is pretty slim. But for many years it is the only image that many of us knew, and for many of us it remains enough. In the case of our heroes, we have only artistic interpretations of Nanny and Sam Sharpe to rely on. So whether we believe like Boxer that the Bogle picture is a “justified concoction in the national interest” or that the picture is that of our National Hero, our nation has the duty to protect that image.

The issue with the Bogle image therefore questions whether we are doing enough as a country to protect the legacy, contributions, image (real or imagined) of our heroes. How can we simply allow others to appropriate an image we have accepted as that of our national hero without even a whimper?

Officialdom generally honours our heroes on their birthday and on Heroes Day. By honour I mean we lay a wreath and have a one hour function (usually at heroes park). As the birthdays of Nanny, Sam Sharpe, Bogle and George William Gordon are unknown they are only honoured in the general ceremony on Heroes Day (which is also celebrated as Nanny Day by the Maroons).

Bogle’s plight I believe (and I await correction from either the Jamaica National Heritage Trust or the NLJ and will update the post should it arrive) seems special. At least with George William Gordon, we may have sold off Mutual Life but the Cherry Gardens Great House (and numerous images) remain. In the case of Sam Sharpe the Burchell Baptist church where he once preached was rebuilt by the JNHT. There remain remnants of Nanny Town and in Moore Town there is Bump Grave. Bogle’s church, home and much of the village he once lived in were razed in retribution for the revolt. Even the original road leading to Stony Gut no longer exists, and the Morant Bay Court House was (not so recently) lost to fire and with the country’s continued economic woes, who knows if or when it will be rebuilt. Indeed, if we take the roads leading from St. Thomas as any indication, it appears we have given up on that parish. So Bogle is left with a contested monument and a plaque at the place that used to be Stony Gut.

This means that should we lose custody of this photo, Bogle’s legacy will be plunged into even further depths of abstraction. The value of the internet as the route to knowledge (if you do not know it, Google it) means that Jamaica must officially counter the use of this image to represent Jennings and ensure that it is stopped.

There has been much talk about the return of Civics to the school curriculum, which some argue will create greater patriotism. In my view, the return of Civics will simply give children one more class to be bored to death in. What is of greater urgency is fixing the ways we remember our heroes, removing ignorance where possible and allowing them to become a part of popular culture. We cannot ignore the contribution that Reggae has played in keeping Marcus Garvey relevant even in the face of the Ministry of Education’s woeful behaviour. Indeed, Bogle’s appearance in literary fiction is one of his greatest saviours. His exploits were captured in Alma Norma’s poem ‘Ballad of Sixty Five’ and (to some degree in V.S. Reid’s Sixty Five (which is on my to-read list). Both of these however are no longer widely used in schools. Norman Manley and Alexander Bustamante have the two political parties to protect their legacies. However, it appears that our other heroes may well be at risk of becoming endangered memories, and it seems that Bogle is highest on the list.


Damian Marley Speaks

Damian 'Jr. Gong' Marley

Damian 'Jr. Gong' Marley takes to the stage at UWI

A flurry of tweets and Facebook posts advising that Damian ‘Jr. Gong’ Marley would be speaking on his career at the UWI Mona on Friday, February 10, brought a decent turn out to the Assembly Hall, despite the short notice. The session was staged by the Dept. of Literatures in English, and their poster boasting images of Shakespeare, Bob Marley, Derek Walcott, V.S. Naipaul, Jean Ryhs, T.S. Elliott and Jimmy Cliff suggests that the department embraces different kinds of texts.

Indeed, the talk was staged to complement the Reggae Poetry course taught by main organizer, Prof. Carolyn Cooper. The talk is also well timed as February is Reggae Month. Cooper explained that she had asked Damian to give the talk at last week’s Trench Town Rock concert and it had only been confirmed on Thursday night hence the limited advertising. Another member of the Department, Tanya Shirley, was the evening’s opening act, and she delivered a few of the pieces of her “dancehall” poetry a jaw dropping orgy of sensuality and spirituality.

The cavernous room that is the Assembly Hall isn’t the best place to have a talk, the sound is horrendous. Yet it was a good session where Damian fielded numerous questions giving his views on talent, spirituality, music and his mother. Several of the questions seemed to have expected that he would be critical of those who espouse different views. He is asked what he thinks of Vybz Kartel, and expresses admiration for Kartel’s talent even though he does not agree with all his life choices. When asked if he thinks his music was impacted by the fact that he had it all, Damian rebuts that people don’t merely listen to him because he’s Bob Marley’s son. He cites Michael Gladwell and argues that people need to realize that success takes more than talent, it takes hard work. When asked about working with his brothers he points out that music is just one of the things that they do together and he refers to Stephen’s influence as that of producer and big brother. The dynamic between the two is always intriguing to watch on stage.

Damian admits to having come to music when as a very young child he pretended to be his legendary father. Now, several albums into his own career, and no longer having to declare “a me name Jr. Gong”, he has been able to embrace his father’s magnetic shadow without being swallowed by it. His rise even received its own pop culture reference in the post apocalyptic film “I am Legend”, when a reference to Bob is mistaken for a reference to him. Though of all of Marley’s sons Damian is not the most physically similar, something about his relaxed yet confident stance on the stage echoes Bob Marley, and certainly his music bears Marley’s rebel/rude bwoi spirit transmitted through a dancehall aesthetic.

The talk reveals a man, clearly still on a journey who appears to be willing to accept several viewpoints. He is able to speak of his achievements without showing hubris, and at the end of the night, he said more than a few things that were worth remembering:

“It’s not about being a Marley, it’s about being a human being.”

“It’s a privilege to be remembered, I can’t tell people how to remember me”

“I think religion is a guiding tool to spirituality.”

“Follow your passions responsibly.”

Jamaica Land We Love

As Jamaica celebrates its fiftieth year of independence, I want to write a series of blogs that express my love, hopes, frustrations, and dreams for Jamaica land of beauty, land of plenty, land of struggle, land of triumph, land of tribulation; this country that even at the moments when the love for it just a bubble up inna mi heart, I cannot forget its ability to be a “bruk spirit kiss mi ass place”.
And sometimes, what you have to say has already been well said. So I will start this series with a piece by the poet (at least when the words hold him down and he’s not taken over by his oh so many other talents) Dingo.
View from Salt Hill in the Blue Mountains
I woulda cuss some claat if it coulda draw attention to Jamaica land we love
An if dem neva start charge artiste fe it….
I woulda cuss some claat if it coulda draw attention to Jamaica land we love.
Jamaica land we love hobbling along on three flats and de-spair
this gearbox stuck in reverse is so….. “anti-forward”.
So I’m in this bourgeois café, listening to her bourgeois bullshit
An she goin on an on about her last trip to Europe an I’m perplexed
because she keep referring to us as “dem” , keep referring to us as “dem”
an mi confused cause I not sure who she calling “these people”.
An I figure she mean the ones catapulted from oppressed wombs to suck struggle at the nipple,
who with little conviction hold lengthy debates with their stomachs about the ills of overeating,
who no hear say slavery done so nuff a dem still a work fi nuttin,
who’ve been given bran new highways, so now di homeless can live in style,
In Jamaica land we love.
Where the middle class who have hit the oil slick on the mobility pole
Would start another demonstration if they hadn’t so effectively removed their feet.
Right now dem couldn’t galvanize……
Zinc fences used to mek me nervous one o’clock ina di morning,
this bwoy from country a blaze the streets of  Kingston
 from Bay Farm to Vineyard Town to Arnette
where roadblocks to prevent drivebys would meet wid di zinc fences to discuss  mi fate,
towering over me like coliseum walls, but with less romance to it.
Concealing, conniving, threatening, an sometimes if you search hard enough inside helplessness
 You find calm, even content if you realize the ghetto is not a physical place
an if it is, it probably start uptown
 where some big pickney take time a crayon di whole flag black.
And we suffer these leaders and dance wildly to the beat of their inconsistent snares,
upright treacherous vipers with forked tongues
 which facilitate the use of both sides of the mouth,
sponsoring the tools of tribalism as they posture and piss on tyres.
Shattered ambitions conspiring with hardened backs
and servile minds to start personal revolutions
and  a fist still a raise an a bell still a ring an a tune still a sing
say common people like you an me will be builders for eternity,
an me nah feel da vibe deh y’nuh rasta.
And commissions of enquiry are needed to find the burial spots of,
 former commissions of enquiry
Because we understand dat di bigger heads is loyal to them friends.
 But is Jamaica , and justice is limber
and truth is just an empty word written in blood on the still trembling walls of a Portmore dwelling,
and our heaviest burden is still our legacy of silent acceptance, in Jamaica land we love.
Home of the church,
 where one can easily be ambushed by a “Praying Mantis” decked in a Joseph like coat
but with trick pockets,
concealing the tools of the trade: confusion, grand wizardry and placebo effects.
Dark solicitous eyes weighing truths with immigration intensity
 in vicarious contempt, like jealous jeanies.
Can’t save those in the hospitals but at night become tent healers
 cockroach feelers sensing naivety of prey
an salvation did always make good company for despair, here, in Jamaica land we love.
A defiant air still seeps from cockpit hills, caressing the knees of maypole dancers
and bounces colorful expression off the tongues of ample bosomed coronation vendors
firing and glazing the vision of Garvey into a collective spirit, and lord, we got to keep on moving.
And somewhere along that thick line between information technology
and the coconut brush is where you will find me
romancing her majesty to lamplight, an celebrating the freedom of weed expressionism,
in Jamaica land we love
Still an enchanting isle, whose seemingly tethered sun still sets on breathtakingly beautiful beaches,
though survival can be a cataract.
in Jamaica land we love.