What It Means To Be Jamaican

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I have much more free time these next few weeks so my blog neglect will subside, at least until January 2018. I chose my clerkships well even if I was entirely burnt out last stretch. Watching the sun set over the ocean yesterday and some healing solitude has got me reflecting. Part of that reflection entails what it means to be Jamaican since it’s Heroes’ Weekend after all so if not patriotism, at least staycations are in full swing.  I’m sort of doing both. Anyway, here’s my take for today: what being Jamaican means to me and why I’ll likely live here my whole life no matter how far and wide I eventually travel… despite all the flaws, injustices and a -4.5 migrant(s)/1,000 population migration rate.

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Cloud-covered slopes in the Blue Mountains

1. Our omnipresent mountains. From the north, south, east or west coast, our rugged misty blue giants are always in sight. You can’t ever escape the mountains in Jamaica even if you choose not to visit them often or at all.

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UWI Lyssons Beach in Saint Thomas

2. Our beaches are divine. Something about powdery soft smooth sand, waves varying from aquamarine to turquoise to deep dark navy blue and warm welcoming sunshine. Sometimes Mother Nature goes haywire and turns up the sun too high but when she gets it just right, sand doesn’t stick in weird places and the saline doesn’t burn, our beaches are rather nice.

3. The pulsating beat of our music. I find most current dancehall lyrics to be immensely distasteful, misogynistic or downright lewd. I remember having a heated discussion with a taximan this year when the content of his music seriously tipped me over. It’s one of those songs instructing women on the position in which they need to contort themselves to sexually gratify males as well as measuring our self-worth on the basis of being able to contort to his standards. (I honestly couldn’t tell you which song or artiste it is, they all sound the same). His argument was that sex is what brought us into the world and so I shouldn’t be ashamed of it, and boy, did I set him straight. The issue is never the fact that sex is sung about because it’s as normal an act as eating or passing stool but regardless of the lyrics attached, the beat of our music is hypnotizing. Every now and again there’s a dancehall song which passes my standards plus if you dislike crime, misogyny and stupidity, there’s always REGGAE music.

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The Wag Water River which flows through the Castleton Botanical Gardens

4. Our rivers. I’m lost for words at the beauty of our rivers and the waterfalls which cascade from some of them. And to think that quite a few are still off-the-beaten-path and free?! 🤗

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Some trees at the Castleton Botanical Gardens

5. You don’t have to wander far to find trees, not even in the capital city of Kingston. I shared a very calming albeit thought-provoking video from Healing Forest in May on my blog’s Facebook page which has lingered on my mind since. They managed to beautifully capture why feeling at peace in nature is innate and that in order to feel peace in our daily lives, we have to learn to carry a bit of the forest inside us as opposed to the traffic, noise and confusion from our daily hectic city lives. I feel the way in which our people incorporate flowers, trees and hedges into our homes and work spaces makes it easy to carry a bit of that forest within me. You won’t really find Jamaica’s urban children wondering from where did the fruit or vegetable they’re eating come. They can point out the tree from which their mango fell, show you the Jamaican national flower and certainly can point out when an ackee fruit is safe to pick (it’s not that poisonous a fruit honestly! 😅).

6. Our dance moves and their names. Really, anything can become a catchy dance move in Jamaica. Cowfoot, breadfruit, Tom Cruise, jog, need I say more? The bouts of accompanying laughter when you hear what’s the latest one or see someone trying who doesn’t get it right adds to the fun.

7. Our interesting street dances. Really, anywhere can become an impromptu party venue once there’s a boombox.

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A styrofoam box lunch with jerk chicken and “food”

8. Jerk. It doesn’t matter to what the tantalizing blend is applied. Chicken, pork, fish, mutton etc. You know it will be spicy & delicious.

9. Our food. If a Jamaican asks you whether or not your cooked lunch comes with food, they’re really talking about if you serve ground provisions. Why eat bleached rice, flour and pasta every day when you have easy access to yams, potatoes, sweet potatoes, dasheens, cocos, green bananas and plantains?

10. No really, our food this time. Slavery might have been abolished since 1834 but our dishes still ring of the past when only subsistence crops, dried cured meats and odd bits of the animal thrown away in other cultures entered the local family pot. Seriously, just listen to these names. Tripe and beans, brown stew cowfoot, chicken foot soup, stew peas with pig tail, salt mackerel run-down and of course our national dish ackee and saltfish (i.e. dried cured cod-fish which likely has no nutrients left, besides protein). They aren’t always the healthiest meals but my gosh, they are so dang delicious!!!

11. Our Scotch Bonnet pepper. I wish I could boast that Jamaica has the world’s hottest pepper but my Trinidadian friends would quickly set me straight. They have the Scorpion Butch-T pepper, once ranked the world’s hottest, but no other pepper NONE will ever compare to my love for scotch pepper.

12. Our desserts. Almost all feature coconut or ginger so if you dislike these spices then you won’t understand the point of this one. I also sympathize with you.

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Another view of Reggae Falls, St. Thomas

13. Our resourcefulness. Waste not, want not is our informal motto. We know how to turn wi hand make fashion and it shows in our food, musical instruments, houses and even the ways in which we have fun. Take for instance rafting, meant originally as a transportation means to carry bananas from deep inland Portland to the coast for export and now it’s a luxurious tranquil mode of travel for vacationers on the island’s largest rivers. Not convinced? Well, look at this abandoned hydroelectric plant pictured above. It’s now Saint Thomas’ grandest attraction.

14. Our PATOIS. Like most Jamaicans, I’ve had a bittersweet relationship with this beautiful language. The upper classes in Jamaica tend to look down on our local creole, a blend of English and West African languages, saying it’s bad language and frowning upon those who use it. It’s only spoken locally so of course I believe each and every one of us must also learn and speak fluent English for communication elsewhere. However, we need not be so hard on ourselves. We must respect this oral language for what it means in our history. I now feel at ease code switching between English and patois and will happily school anyone who looks down on the language of my people as being inferior. Furthermore, there are some things you really can’t express in English without losing its meaning. “Mi seh di likkle gyal outaada an’ bright yuh see?” She’s a facetious child you see but Jamaicans, won’t you agree it’s not the same?

I could say a lot more but let’s end it here at:

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Samuel ‘Daddy‘ Sharpe

15. Our heroes. They are the leaders who fought long and hard for the freedom I enjoy today and fought to allow me to lounge in bed lazily on a Sunday afternoon at 1pm typing this article. I hope they’re proud of where we have taken their vision for this island. We have failed in quite a few areas but we do what we can in this third-world land and as tiny a dot as we are on the map, our voices are LOUD. Continue to swell my heart with pride even if it weeps for you sometimes, Jamaica. I salute all the heroes but special big ups to Daddy Sharpe. You are the straw which broke the plantation system’s back in 1831/32! #KnowYourHistory #NeverForget. This is all which came to mind during the writing of this blog post but if you’re Jamaican or have visited and can think of more things to add, kindly drop a comment below.

HAPPY HEROES’ DAY WHEN IT COMES, JAMAICA!!! (16.10.17. The date changes annually as it is celebrated on every third Monday of October).

‘Til next time ✌

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9 comments on “What It Means To Be Jamaican”

  1. I d’like to write a post about Jamaican mentality. I noticed, every “firstcomer” tourist loves the chilled Jamaican mood and is shocked about that huge poverty. But if they have to wait in a restaurant is “soon come” becoming a problem. And they felt bothered from vendors, who try to feed their families. I hope to create more understanding, more respect, more l.o.v.e. Our world needs it so much.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That would be a great topic to write about. That’s the thing about Jamaica. It’s a land of such striking contrasts and paradoxes. On one end there’s immense opulence but you don’t have to go too far from the upscale communities or resorts to see dire poverty. Our culture is laidback yet that same attitude creates inefficiency. Our culture can be rambunctious and vibrant yet that same fire creates our crime problem, further compounded by the poverty. There’s beauty here and alot of ugliness, but in order to truly love, understand and appreciate our country and its people, you have to put yourself in their shoes. I love when visitors recognize this so that would be an interesting post to read. “No problem man” creates a lot of problems.

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    1. “And there are many” is so right. I don’t blame anyone who migrates. We all have our breaking point as well as hopes and dreams to achieve which are beyond the scope of this island sometimes. But I entirely understand your nostalgia. 🙂 Eating a patty is certainly something which deserves to be on my list. Do you know that the cheapest patties right now are from Juici at $140?! A Tastee’s chicken patty is $170. Anyway, I do hope u get to visit someday soon and thanks for reading and commenting 💕

      Liked by 1 person

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