Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Duppy Lizard

None of us are quite sure where it originated, this nationwide fear of the Croaking Lizard, what is it that causes us to flee the room at the sight of one? And why, for heaven's sake does my dog throw a fit at the sound of its croak?
As a 'country-girl' I was ever so often privy to various stories of the "Duppy Lizard"; It is an indigenous belief that has been passed on from generation to generation, and when I eventually left the ‘country’ I found that said belief was not restricted to that area...

The "Duppy" is a popular character within the realm of Jamaican fantasy (though many claim to have actually seen one), it is just like the "ghost" of any other culture. But in the mystic realm of the spirits the "duppy" is the least threatening to the Jamaican who knows his(/her) spirits. Accompanying the "duppy" are, among others:
The "Rolling Calf", "River Mumma", "Blackheart Man", "Jumbie Bird" (Owl) and the most vile of all..."Ol' Higue"/ "Old Suck".

Now, "Ol' Higue" also exists within the Folklore of other Caribbean Islands; it is believed that this spirit takes the form of an old woman during the day, but during the night she sheds her skin and hangs it on the branch of a cotton tree (cotton trees are revered in Jamaican culture)and then assumes one of a number of forms; ranging from an owl to a lizard, to a ball of fire, to suck the blood of her prey (she is rumored to prey particularly on infants). To defeat "Ol' Higue" one must, before sunrise, find her hanging skin and sprinkle salt all over it, so that it will burn her when she tries to put it back on, she dies if she cannot replace her skin by sunrise.

Similar to this legend, there is the belief that if a croaking lizard is left in a room alone with an infant it will travel up its nose and stop its breathing, this and its amazing ability to attach itself to ones skin draws a connection between "Old Suck" and the croaking lizard, one which in my opinion somewhat explains the birth of this phenomenal fear of the reptile.

Also, the lizard's physical appearance does not aid its popularity, its ghostly white exterior could also have influenced the myth. Not to mention its 'brazenness', despite ones attempts to get it off the wall (shoes, broomstick, bugspray, hot water etc.), it does not move, but looks you straight in the eye and dares you to come closer. One other thing, even after successfully getting it off the wall, the biggest challenge is to actually KILL the thing (I swear i've had many croakers return from the dead for revenge), the most assuring end is to cut it up into pieces, burn it, or MUST be a duppy

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Killing Ingredients: Investigating the ‘Willie Lynch Syndrome’ in Jamaica.

One questions the humanity of the individual whose first thought upon arrival to this island was of how easy it would be to enslave the natives and steal their gold, one questions his subsequent praise as our “discoverer”. One questions our inability to deconstruct myths of superiority and inferiority and establish a common ground upon which we can build a society true to the claims of 1962. One questions, but one has an explanation for it all; how one seed planted can have effects that ripple for centuries, one seed and a whole lot of water.

Others question the authenticity of what is known as “The Willie Lynch Letter”, a letter, apparently written in the 18th Century by a white planter by the name of Willie Lynch claiming to know the secret to mentally enslaving the African, for “at least 3 centuries”. Almost three centuries later, his words reign true. After first experimenting on his plantation in the West Indies, he came up with a simple formula; ‘divide and rule’:

These methods have worked on my modest plantation in the West Indies and it will work throughout the South. Take this simple little list of differences and think about them. On top of my list is "age" but it's there only because it starts with an "A." The second is "COLOR" or shade, there is intelligence, size, sex, size of plantations and status on plantations, attitude of owners, whether the slaves live in the valley, on a hill, East, West, North, South, have fine hair, course hair, or is tall or short. Now that you have a list of differences, I shall give you an outline of action, but before that, I shall assure you that distrust is stronger than trust and envy stronger than adulation, respect or admiration. The Black slaves after receiving this indoctrination shall carry on and will become self refueling and self generating for hundreds of years, maybe thousands. Don't forget you must pitch the old black Male vs. the young black Male, and the young black Male against the old black male. You must use the dark skin slaves vs. the light skin slaves, and the light skin slaves vs. the dark skin slaves. You must use the female vs. the male. And the male vs. the female. You must also have you white servants and overseers distrust all Blacks. It is necessary that your slaves trust and depend on us. They must love, respect and trust only us. Gentlemen, these kits are your keys to control. Use them. Have your wives and children use them, never miss an opportunity. If used intensely for one year, the slaves themselves will remain perpetually distrustful of each other.

Indeed, we remain, perpetually distrustful, envious and malicious towards each other. We each want the other’s clothes, his car, his hair, his food, his house, his money, and his complexion, and we will destroy even ourselves to get it. Ever notice, a great majority of these ‘badmen’ have bleached faces? In concordance with the fact that a lot of them come from the inner city areas of the nation, there is a complex riding on us all, affecting us all negatively. It is worse however for those who feel it necessary to strip one or more layers of their skin in the quest to become lighter, and thus, ‘beautiful’. Ironically, it is also possible, though it is a somewhat rare occurrence, to find the ‘brownin’ with the desire to be darker if only to be accepted and treated as equal by those within her society who tend to (depending on where you go) isolate, or near worship her because she has a little less pigments than the others.

One of the major causes of crime is poverty, but the term I find is relative. There is in the ‘ghetto’, in areas such as my beloved haven Tivoli Gardens in West Kingston, “the mother of all garrisons”, a certain richness of culture and community I find lacking the segregated hills of Upper St. Andrew, where I wave at, but barely speak to my neighbours. In Tivoli, though there are no BMWs in anybody’s driveway, there is across from a cluster of zinc shacks a cluster of shops. Where one can find a video game arcade, outside of which a domino table where the men drink and play, this next to a restaurant, next to a barbershop. When you live in Stony Hill, if you’ve already started the journey uphill before remembering to buy a loaf of bread, odds are that loaf of bread shall remain in the supermarket until tomorrow…I want what they have!

On a serious note though, the poverty problem I believe can be easily solved by doing what Castro (Fidel) did in the 70’s and forcing those capitalist-minded property owners to give up a portion of their vast lands to those in better need of it. I correct myself, this cannot be done easily no one is willing to give up their hard-earned (or easily inherited) property for the betterment of anyone. It is understandable, yes where one has in fact spent the majority of his life single-handedly building his empire that it would be difficult to see it go. However, I am led to believe, due to my own close observations of the type of people of which I speak that there are some who only wish to remain in positions of ‘superiority’, an ideal apparently bought with money, an ideal which many will kill to attain, thus we come to the killing ingredients.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Tourism Rant

In my discussion on the dreaded dependency of Jamaicans on their government and other "good Samaritans" to provide for them how could I have possibly forgotten the most disgraceful evidence of large-scale/nationwide dependence....the tower of Tourism.
I refer to it as a tower, because of it's looming presence and control over an economy and thus an entire nation of people.
"Over the last six years many of Spain's largest hotel operators have established hotels on Jamaica's north coast, thus establishing the country as one of the Caribbeans leading tourism destinations" (Jamaica Observer Friday, April 18, 2008).
Yipeee! this is supposed to be a good thing? Many of you will jump down my throat and try to convince me that it is, "we're sacrificing ownership for employment", someone once said. I implore you to look at the bigger picture...
We talk of dependence and what exactly we can do to change this, we laugh when Agriculture Minister Christopher Tufton asks us to plant Cassava and tells us it is the way forward. I would like to alter his statement a bit, I say, dig up all of the hotels AND THEN, plant Cassava (or any other crop that could provide self-sustenance for a nation and reduce it's reliance on the import of foods for survival).
This is no joke, not only are these "profitable" hotels sitting on fertile soil (with a new one popping-up each day), but on the inside of these institutions it's a modern-day slave plantation. This comes from my own experience as a front desk clerk in a Hotel, and being asked to "fetch" rednecks water, being called "Sheila" when my ridiculous name tag clearly states JARMILA, and being the subject of a particularly hurtful and eye-opening letter of complaint (written by a tourist) stating how lucky Jamaicans are that we are being supported by their money, and how much we need to better show our appreciation.
Do not mistake this for pride, we ARE heavily reliant on the tourism industry to provide employment as well as foreign exchange, and it is especially the first of these which bothers me most. We import everything from pills to bananas (though we grow so much of our own), we sell everything, from our culture to now our Sugar Estates (are we gonna have to buy sugar from ourselves now). Pills, yes, pills are made from plants, consider the unsuspecting white periwinkle (pictured above); Research into the plant was prompted by the plant's traditional medicinal role and resulted in the discovery of a large number of biologically active chemicals, including vincristine, a lucrative agent useful during leukemia chemotherapy.
"Periwinkle alkaloids have been used in the treatment of leukemia, Hodgkin disease, malignant lymphomas, neuroblastoma, Wilms tumor, Kaposi sarcoma, mycosis fungoides, to improve cerebral blood flow, and treat high blood pressure.
The most well known of the “vinca” alkaloids derived from C. roseus are vinblastine (vincaleukoblastine, Velban) and vincristine (leurocristine, Oncovin), which are now widely used pharmaceutical anticancer agents. An extensive body of literature exists on the clinical uses of the various purified alkaloids of Catharanthus." (
Ofcourse there is processing involved to extract specific chemicals from the plant, but it is only one of the many plants growing wild on this Island which can be used, in it's natural or processed form for medicinal benefit.

The Carambola (star fruit), for example is good for the treatment of nausea and pain. More focus on Agriculture could secure employment for farmers, provide self-sustenance in terms of food, and even medicine. Decreasing drastically our dependence on outside sources. Our only real need is knowledge of the value of our land.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Jamaicans and The Dreaded Dependency Syndrome

In the wake of the recent protests in support of the latest high profile criminal Carlos Hill, I am forced to ask the question "what the fuck is going on here?".
For those who are unfamiliar, let me just run quickly through the context of the scenario. About 5 years ago, a man named Carlos Hill founded an investment company by the name of Cash Plus Limited, with the platform that it was here to save the poor from their states of deprivation and strife. The company offered investors a profit of 10 per cent per month on deposits, accepting 'deposits' from a minimum of $100,000.
Unbeknown to the investors, Mr. Hill had previously served 10years in prison for fraud and was about to face these charges again.
Cut to April 17, 2008, Carlos Hill, his brother Bertram and company executive Peter Wilson are at their bail hearing at the Halfway Tree RM Court (Criminal Division).
After a train of fleeting cases to do with "exposing goods for sale", the usual "copyright infringement","ganja possession", and your everyday machete-chopping incident, the court is ready to hear the days (and maybe month's), biggest case.
It is estimated, by the Police (who have yet to confirm), that an amount of over 8 million dollars in sums have been defrauded under the name of the company (Cash Plus Limited). They are also yet to confirm whether or not the string of offshore accounts in the name of Mr. Hill (accounts in Countries ranging from Switzerland, to Turks and Caicos, to China)hold enough money to repay his debt to society.
As a result of this incomplete investigation, both Hills are denied bail for at least another month, while Wilson is offered bail posted at 5 million...
The issue however in my book, is not that this man defrauded thousands of people, but that these people allowed him to defraud them, which brings me to the discussion of the dependency syndrome, that which as Michael Manley proposes in his book "The Politics of Change", as our major barrier to achieving a productive, unified, self-reliant Nation.
"We want Justice", as simple and logical as it sounds, this, the most commonly written demonstration placard is clue to the issue of which I speak. Allow me to clarify, I am not saying that if a child is murdered by the police in a community then "justice" should not be sought. I am speaking of an entirely different issue, people are always blaming the government for their problems, when that government is elected BY the people. While the government does possess the means and authority to oppress it's people, the people themselves are completely oblivious to their own power.
At election time we all jump on the political bandwagons, wearing our respective green and orange in support of a party, without paying attention to that party's candidates, because maybe our grandparents voted for that party. You think I would ever vote for a party comprising mainly of Upper St. Andrew businessmen? Of course not, that just looks to me like a Capitalist Empire waiting to happen. So here we are, less than a year later, with drastic tax hikes and reduction in the University's subsidy (so that now, inevitably the caste system will expand even further). "Reciprocate and pay your taxes", Audley Shaw laughs as he makes this announcement in is Budget presentation sometime last weeks, as if we are all in this together.
What's the reason, you ask, whether or not they'll tell for this drastic hike? "Free Education" and "Free Health Care", the promises made in the election campaign must be, free, free, Jamaican's are suckers for anything "free".
Last year I worked for a phone company which had duped most of it's clients by printing in bold "Free Unlimited talk-time to the U.s, Canada and the U.K", and in fine print "Minutes capped at 1000, $5 per min after". We are always warned to read the fine print but we never do.
So, on the day Carlos Hill hears he will have to watch his ass in jail for at least another month I am utterly shocked to find outside a small band of placard-holding Carlos Hill supporters. In the courtroom, the defense had referred to the man on numerous occasions as the "saviour" of the poor, to this there were snickers of amusement, but lo and behold, outside reads a sign; "Free Carlos Hill, he send our children to school, he shelter and feed the poor".
He appears to be their "saviour" indeed. Though I have never really had to wonder where my next meal is coming from, and while I am grateful for that privilege, I must ask, does one really need a saviour? Where one is mentally ill, physically disabled or otherwise incapable, I might agree to the necessity of such a person. It is hard, however to show sympathy to one who buys a new set of clothes (and hair weave) for every session, while leaving her children neglected and hungry. The children of course, did not choose their situation, and it is they for who my heart weeps.
There is a man in Falmouth who sells bags made out of matchsticks, an Old woman in St. Catherine who sells Calaloo seeds for a living, and in her backyard plants and nurtures just about any seed which may yield produce that can be sold to assist in the payment of the light and water. For them I have the greatest of respect, because they have made the most of their situation, in the face of immeasurable odds.
While to a large extent the government must be blamed for it's refusal to take as a priority the possibility of self-reliance through renewable resources like Agriculture. I have little sympathy for those who do nothing else...