Saturday, 14 November 2020

Keep Your Personal Copy

(Notes, not an article)

Keep Your Personal Copy

I do believe that humans should have the comfort of shaping their habitations and not be beholden to the objects and styles of humans who came before. It may be beneficial to explore the purpose of what came before for a range of reasons including aesthetics, environmental, livelihoods, and to support faith practices and nationalism. Plenty reasons for old buildings to exist, to rebuild a garden, to preserve a statue.

We are in an era of social reckoning and statues are at the front line. Here in Jamaica, in the past five years, I have seen five new publicly funded statues in Kingston erected: four to Olympic athletes and one to a theatre practitioner. It is quite amazing to me how two Greek cultural practices have came together so naturally here in this island far away from the Aegean Sea, Olympics and theatre.

This note is about how one man's careful, but not very important letter, is speaking up for him 200 years later. The subject of this is a letter written by Irish born, British national hero, Horatio Nelson, to one of the leading influencers in Jamaica at that time, Simon Taylor whose name has been erased from the physical landscape of Jamaica, but make no doubt if his legacy is very strong in our culture; it is. 

I begin the notes:

1784 – 1787 Horatio Nelson was stationed in the Caribbean and was quickly detested by WI planters because, unlike pervious officers to the posting, he enforced the trade blockade with the newly independent USA.

After this commission, for five years, he was out of work on half pay, he thought that this was bad mind as the powerful planters would have complained to politicians about him. 

I have erased a few paragraphs from here as I do not want this to be notes on the man, Nelson, but point now to his letter of June 1805 to Simon Taylor asking him to look out for a good position for a clerical friend who had lost his job. The drop of gold in this letter for enslaver Taylor, is that Nelson spared a sentence to be critical of the character of practicing Christian and leading abolitionist William Wilberforce who had long moved away from the dissolute lifestyle of his early manhood. Nelson, as was his custom, kept a pressed copy (which is like a carbon copy) of this letter in his personal files. Nelson dies during battle in October of that year. 

Jamaica

After Nelson’s death, Taylor sent the letter, or perhaps a copy of the letter, to anti-abolitionists as evidence that their national hero was critical of Wilberforce. In 1807, a forged copy of the letter appeared in a political newspaper playing up Nelson as an anti-abolitionist as a way to rally support for that cause. The forgery was publicised after 213 years, in 2020.

Barbados

As a class, the WI planters did not like Nelson, so I am not sure what political turn of events caused the statue of Nelson to be erected in Bridgetown Barbados in 1815. 

Fast forward to 2020, public awareness of systemic racism arising from the killing of George Floyd in the USA pushed the Barbados government to unearth a 1998 constitutional review commission and act on the recommendation to relocate Nelson’s statue to a less prominent position, as he was a leading agent of colonialism. The reparations movement did not waste the high public energy decrying race relations in the USA go to waste, on November 17, 2020, that statue will be relocated.

My view

For many, these symbols are offensive and influential members of the public will determine the aesthetics of the spaces that they occupy. Tear them down if you feel like it. For those who have the stomach for it, set out as complete and as factual a back story as possible.

Jamaica, as far as I know, has no statues of Nelson but at least two chunks of prime real estate in the capital are named in recognition of his professional exploits. One area is Trafalgar Park and its main road is Lord Nelson way that joins Trafalgar Rd (Nelson died at the Battle of Trafalgar off the coast of Spain); Waterloo Road (named for the Battle of Waterloo in Belgium where Napoleon Buonaparte was defeated by joint European forces under the command of a British officer whose famous name is not necessary for this note). Trafalgar Park of course has Hamilton Drive named in recognition of Nelson's long term mistress. Chancery Hall has Lord Nelson Drive, Horatio Drive and of course Hamilton Drive. There is no road named in honour of Nelson’s long suffering wife, Caribbean born Frances Woolward.

Jamaican culture has a liking for power culture. A lot of our settlements and urban quarters are named in recognition of military leaders or places that have become synonymous with human bloodshed or civil strife.

The point of this is, keep a copy of important correspondence, you never know when it can come to your defence.

Epitath
A fictional account of a real love story that I did about the period when Nelson was stationed in the Caribbean
END

Monday, 9 November 2020

Ti-Jean Who? On watching a performance of Walcott's Ti-Jean and His Brothers


I am cheating here. I watched a performance of this play and did not read it.

This is a celebrated play from the Caribbean and it has all the flourishes of what I think can be called a play done in the classical Western European tradition. There are live musicians, singing and dancing, there are other worldly costumes, there is a Grecian style chorus, humans interact with animal and spiritual elements, there is poetry, there is humour, there are tears and scary bits, the characters speak in a variety of English accents but, there are no males acting as females.

I am spitefully adding that point as the performance that I watched as billed as the production of the Antigua Girls High School Drama Ensemble - Honey Bee Theatre, but the principal male characters are real boys, the girls were not given a chance! Then again, in a calmer moment I reason that it is perhaps it is a drama troupe that is sponsored by the school. Compliments to the performers and direction.

Many other sites will explore the reasons why this play is properly regarded as a literary gem, those were not my thoughts.

As a quick recap, a poor widow fearfully releases her sons, one by one, to the world to seek fortune and take themselves and family out of rural poverty, but first, they have to overcome the white faced devil. The book is layered with the West Indian experience of colonialism as experienced by peoples of African descent. Yes, the Caribbean is peopled with other races, but the spirits employed in the play are from African Caribbean mythology.

The matter that struck me most about this play is that it does not name, does not give show respect - to the spirit of the star character because, as I see it, Ti-Jean is Walcott's Ananse.

Where his stronger and more learned brothers failed, Ti-Jean succeeded because of his intelligence, his smarts, his befriending of woodland creatures and his analysis of the dangers and opportunities around him to survive and thrive. 

In popular modern West Indian culture, Ananse has been relegated, like a once useful floor mop, to the dustbin. He has not come into modern times as a hero in a cape because he cannot. He is the weak, ragged, unremarkable in physique, character, but here, Walcott has elevated him to be the person who found a path out of a deprivation and death. Walcott writes life-giving qualities into the character of the quick witted, tricky, weak bodied character of Ti-Jean who left the web of his home and won where his talented brothers failed. Where the other brothers were boorish or serious and had a sense of self importance, T-Jean has humour and does not take himself seriously, even as he anxiously works through life threatening situations.

I actually think that Walcott had no intention to elevate Ananse, he did not integrate any obvious aspect of this character in his story, but ha! there he is, speaking and acting in the form of the young hero, Ti-Jean. 

This is another Caribbean story of a young person creating new opportunities for himself under great obstacles, never losing a sense of fun, enjoying music and the environment and reverencing his loving mother and his God.

Again, a mother raising boys on her own and the family fails. (This is not me, this is Walcott). I have said it before that the Caribbean, especially Jamaican, novels talk about family life. 

I am exploring a new thought; Caribbean music and poetry describe what is happening in society, Caribbean books are showing us new ways of improving and developing our society.

I have read a fair amount of Walcott and I do not think any of his great poems rise to anything more than an expression of what he has experienced or feels or has felt, his tender memories, his pitying for times gone by, opportunities missed, " with the leisure of a leaf falling in the forest, pale yellow spinning against green". In this play, through Ananse, he shows us opportunity.

This is not a footnote, but a closing. I really enjoyed the Honey Bee Theatre Performance, the young actors delivered in an enchanting way and Ti-Jean gave smiles. Loved the additional use of twinkling lights, it added to the enchantment of the location. The actress who performed Bolom was my favourite. I hope to read play one day.

END


Saturday, 7 November 2020

Calling all Moko Jumbies


 

Nalo Hopkinson wonderfully delivered a dystopian world but left the door to hope open and in plain view of how to get through it.

Almost every Eastern Caribbean moko jumbie and some Haitian deities had a role in this fantasy that was also a family story with tensions between spouses and lovers, offspring and parents and also sits neatly into a Canada that is probably somewhat recognisable, but quite different. That is the job of fantasy, to take us somewhere far but the story still feels familiar.

The book rises to the place of literary fiction for me because of Hopkinson's technique and deftness with use of the language. We discover the motivations and personalities of the characters over the scope of the book not immediately. Her writing adeptly stays with the language of the main characters and it is separate from that of the English speaking storyteller. 

We get a sense of a real community living in a futuristic Toronto, a community standing on its own resources. It has a history and also immanent concerns.

In addition to the role of spirits, which are all frightening in appearance and behaviour, the book meaningfully pulled in Caribbean ring games, folk songs and other cultural aural references.

The family side of the story has made me put this book firmly on the shelf about Jamaican books that address issues around the experiences of mothers and their parental output. Going by what our novel writers are putting out, this is a matter that calls for reckoning.

I would also add that this is a book that features leading female characters, the hero is a young woman and the central characters who support her are older women and then young girls. Even outside of their Canadian Caribbean world, the Canadian leaders are women.

A book for lovers of creepy, fantasy that pushes you to re-read passages so that you can enter and access that world. If you have knowledge of Caribbean culture, you will have a head start.

Which will make me add that the author used the name Ti-Jeanne for the central character, a name that has appeared in the masculine form in at least one other leading Caribbean literary work and also in Haitian Vodou.  

I listened to this as an audio book from audiobooks.com. It was a dramatic reading which was well suited to this work as it contained lyrics from songs and stanzas from poetry. I hope that the author was happy with the work of narrator Peter Jay Fernandez. I thought that he delivered a very wonderful reading. he read the dialect with understanding and adeptly handled the supernatural action in the book. 

https://www.audiobooks.com/audiobook/brown-girl-in-the-ring/270310

Monday, 26 October 2020

Learn to crochet and dance before you learn to code

 Learn to crochet and dance before you learn to code

(Not an absurd argument) 

The world needs more people who can create opportunities and solve problems by writing code that will enable computers to do work. If you can think logically and do a little math, you are well placed to be writing basic code.

Jamaica does not have a culture of science but we have a culture of entertainment, which could be put into the service of mathematics and science. I think two traditional activities could help us in this way, maypole dancing and crotchet.

The point of maypole dancing is to create a weave of coloured ribbons around a post and the process to get there are precise dance steps going clockwise and anti-clockwise around moving dancers, and then to do exactly the reverse to undo the weave.

This dance delivers several valuable teaching lessons, among them are coordinated teamwork, respect for memory and respect for process. If the dance creator wanted to end up with a different pattern, the dancers would have to memorize a new set of steps or know when a particular series of steps changes to a different pattern.

The same would apply for other weaving skills such as basket making, macrame, knitting, crotchet and even marine knots. If you have the experience of making these items or mastering these skills, I submit that you can have an orientation towards doing coding for a computer.

Sound can be expressed in the language of mathematics, especially algebra, and the study of music has helped to reveal some mathematical principles.

Coding is not about repeating patterns like a maypole dance or following a crochet pattern to make a doily centrepiece, it is about following precise instructions to create solutions using a computer. That said, I urge us not to discount these folk skills around children, because they also awake and sustain a creative awareness that can be applied to the job of coding. Imagine if your coder was thinking movement and music and visual beauty while typing away at characters to build a code.

So, this is the time to think about putting maypole dancing in the school curriculum and encourage following handcrafts with patterns or playing a musical instrument. These can be done while being physically distant, which make them also good COVID-19 era activities.

END

Sunday, 25 October 2020

Bye Bye MTC - 43BC


I took a break from the news and listened to an audiobook that was written nearly 200 years ago about a major public figure from 2,000 years ago. It is about a politician who had been openly hostile to Julius Caesar’s imperialist ambitions, but who had to tone down after Caesar took over the country. After Caesar’s assassination, the politician championed, through writings, a return to republican principles and ran a smear campaign against the new top strongman, Mark Anthony. Despite the effort, within three years the republic was finished and in its place was the colonialist, imperialist, Roman Empire.

Cicero by W Lucas Collins.

 

Cicero by W Lucas Collins was a good book to read during this intense lead-up to the 2020 USA Presidential elections. I had already read two books providing insight into the Trump presidency and every now and then catch up on Brexit, the tension between India and China; Taiwan and China, and global responses to the impact of COVID-19. I have also been brought into awareness of the separate interests of persons who affiliate themselves with the ADOS and FBA movements (American Descendants of Slavery and Foundational Black Americans) versus the general POC grouping, Person of Colour, which includes dark skinned people from the Caribbean like myself.

 

The book has helped me to pull away from current affairs for awhile and return with a longer range viewpoint.

 

I have not overlooked that Marcus Tullius Cicero started his professional life as an advocate in about 90BC, and that Collins was an academic and Anglican clergyman who started his professional life in 1840.

 

The appeal of this work is that Cicero’s writing gives us a look into the mind of a leading political actor during a tumultuous time in human history and Collins was able to explain, summarise and put the historical text into context for an era closer to my own. Cicero wrote about 2,310 years ago, and this book was published 180 years ago.

 

Cicero is worthy of reading as not only does he add to earlier ideas of personal duty and role of the state, but he was a wordsmith who excelled in rhetoric. Collins repeats that English translations do not carry the beauty of the poetry and literary prose of the languages Cicero used, which is Greek and Latin; I have to accept, take note and move on.

 

During Cicero's time it was, according to Collins, the culture of Romans that their primary fidelity was to the state, then to their families, friends and other associations. Cicero himself wrote that every stage of life has its duty. Collins quotes from Treatise on Moral Duties, which was written with Cicero’s son in mind, "As justice consists in no abstract theory, but in upholding society among men, --- as "greatness of soul itself, if it be isolated from the duties of social life, is but a kind of uncouth churlishness" --- so it is each citizen's duty to leave his philosophic seclusion of a cloister, and take his place in public life, if the times demand it..."

The book notes that the political culture of Ancient Rome was influenced by an earlier Greek culture, but in significant ways, departed from it. Collins notes of Cicero, “What he loved in the Greeks, then, was rather the grandeur of their literature and the charm of their social qualities… he had no respect whatever for their national character.” Views are that Cicero appropriated statuary as furniture and was not a true lover of art. These glimpses into Cicero’s character is entirely racist and still too common throughout cultures; societies like the music and dance and food of one set of people, but not the company of the people; this bigotry has passed into our own time.    

 

On the matter of democracy and the concept of one citizen, one vote, Cicero lived through dramatic changes. His rural grandfather did not support the view that all citizens should have a ballot for all offices in the annual elections, and denounced it as yet another corrupting Greek idea. Cicero has written that he agrees with the one citizen one vote concept, but not to have the vote cast privately. He says that secrecy, "enables men to open their faces, and to cover up their thoughts; it gives them licence to promise whatever they are asked, and at the same time to do whatever they please." In those times, there seems to have been a system where votes may have been tied to an elite, which to me, has cast a long shadow to the current Electoral College of the USA. I could also add, the political parties that we see today tie our votes to them. A few years after Cicero died, voting for the leader of the state was abolished and the danger that he worked his life to prevent became real, the Roman Republic became the Roman Empire.

My major takeaway from the book is how Collins describes how legacies are judged. More than 800 writings by Cicero himself have come down to the present time. These include publications and speeches and his official and private letters. He presented himself to different people in different ways and his personal thoughts on a range of ideas were freely put to paper to his confidantes.

 

Collins says: "If we know too much of Cicero to judge him merely by his public life, as we are obligated to do with so many heroes of history, we also know far too little of those stormy times in which he lived, to pronounce too strongly upon his behavior in such difficult circumstances....His character was full of conflicting elements, like the times in which he lived, and was necessarily in a great degree moulded by them.

 

   "The egotism which shows itself so plainly alike in his public speeches and in his private writings, more than once made him personals enemies, and brought him into trouble, though it was combined with great kindness of heart and consideration for others."

Then there is this sentence from the mind of Collins that would be condemned today.

"There is one comprehensive quality which may be said to have been wanting in his nature, which clouded his many excellences, led him continually into false positions, and even in his delightful letters excites in the reader, from time to time, an impatient feeling of contempt. He wanted manliness." LoL, I wish Collins were here so that I could ask him what that means, but I believe he means that Cicero could be indecisive where perhaps a clear, firm statement and actions were needed.

 

At age 37, Cicero achieved the top public office as Consul, which was like a shared one-year presidency of the Roman Republic and then he went on to serve in other areas. At age 62 he was called back as a political schemer in the leadership struggle for Rome between Consul Mark Anthony age 39, and the grandnephew and heir of Julius Caesar, Octavius age 19. Cicero denounced the character of Mark Antony across 14 scathing articles now known as The Philippics. The propaganda so enraged Mark Anthony that he ordered Cicero’s death, but the damage had been done, and Mark Anthony lost the support of his generals and sought refuge with his babymother, the Queen Cleopatra who well knew the political value of a Roman General in her bed chamber. For clarity, Cleopatra had been the mistress of Julius Caesar from 46BC and was in Rome when Caesar was killed in 44BC. She and Mark Anthony were a couple from 41BC to 30 BC when they both died as the result of ongoing military belligerency with Octavius. Three years later, he was Emperor.

 

My other interest in this book is that Collins also looked at the thoughts of Cicero and religion and presented his handpicked references of this pre-Christian era to Christian thought. He quotes a Stoic poet who is said to have been quoted by St Paul who was previously Saul of Tarsus, an educated Roman citizen. Collins also spoke about another poet Persius who speaks about self-surrender, fidelity to duty, sacrifice for others, which are hallmarks of the Christian faith and apparently also how Romans felt about their marvellous republic. Collins seems to suggest that Christian salvation, when aligned with Roman state culture of duty, sacrifice, and absorption of other cultures, promoted Christianity into a widely dispersed movement, even though the religion was not legalized in Rome until 313.

 

Cicero was a pagan, but Christianity gives him a pass because his writings show that he was searching for the best way to live a human life, and he died in 43BC before salvation through Jesus was available to all.

 

This is a book for anyone who has a general interest in the archaic and in public affairs.

I was able to appreciate this book thanks to the Gutenberg project.

http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/11448


Monday, 19 October 2020

Young Heroes of the Caribbean - Young parents try to do the best for the son who they love

 Young Heroes of the Caribbean


I am grateful to nation builders who understood that history is an important source of inspiration. My 2014 novel, Young Heroes of the Caribbean, was inspired by the seven National Heroes of Jamaica. I imagined each of the heroes as a child or a youth who had already formed a sense of purpose, and integrity in their characters.


In my book, I amplified the story of each hero alongside that of a contemporary Jamaican family, with young parents trying to do the best for the son who they love.


I am sharing that book as a download here:


https://www.goodreads.com/ebooks/download/22639096-young-heroes-of-the-caribbean




Thursday, 17 September 2020

Intergenerational Strength

Recently, I have been doing research about dog pedigrees and also bloodlines of horses for my general interest, I am not and will not be getting into breeding animals. Being immersed in this has perhaps turned my mind to the current Parliamentarians, so forgive me if this information struck me.

These connections can be lessons in leadership and how to build intergenerational strength. Remember that old time religion told us more than one time that acts of parents can affect up to the fourth generation, both to help and also to hurt. I have no difficulty with the connections set out below, let them be a lesson to all who read them of the impact of habits and associations.

So here are a few of my observations about Parliamentarians in Jamaica sworn in Tuesday, September 15, 2020. I wish them the greatest success in advancing the welfare of Jamaica and the whole human race.

President of the Senate Hon Tom Tavares Finson, nephew of former minister of Housing Hon DC Tavares Jr MP who was on the team that wrote the 1962 constitution of Jamaica. His father, DC Tavares Snr was a real estate businessman who co founded Tavares & Finson.

Senator Senator Sherene Golding Campbell is the granddaughter of former Speaker of the House Tacius Golding MP, and his wife, the founding Principal of Old Harbour High School Mrs Enid Golding nee Bent. Senator Golding Campbell is the daughter of former Prime Minister Bruce Golding and daughter of businesswoman and creator of the ubiquitous Jamaican cheese bread Mrs Lorna Golding nee Charles. Senator Golding Campbell is a niece of former Speaker of the House Pearnel Charles Snr MP and cousin to Dr Michelle Charles MP and the Hon Pearnel Charles Jr MP.

Hon Pearnel Charles MP and Dr Michelle Charles MP are children of the immediate past Speaker of the House Pearnel Charles MP.

Senator Charles Sinclair Jr is a former Mayor of Mo Bay and also son of the fomer Mayor of Mo Bay Charles Sinclair Snr.

Mr Mark Golding MP is the son of lauded medical pioneer Sir John Golding.

Mr Julian Jay Robinson MP, is the son of jurist in the International Court of Justice, Patrick Robinson. He is also the nephew of former Member of Parliament Helen Robinson who famously declared that she was not going be associated with criminals saying, "me nah hug up no gunman".

Min of State in Finance Atty-at-Law Marsha Smith MP, is the daughter of former MP and Atty-at-Law Ernie Smith.

Hon Daryl Vaz MP, son of Mr Douglas Vaz MP and fashion designer Soni Vaz

Mrs Ann-Marie Vaz wife of Daryl Vaz

Dr the Hon Peter Phillips MP, is a son of former Principal of Moneague College Aubrey Phillips CD and author of the book 'Adolescence in Jamaica" nd there is an annual lecture in his name. Dr Phillips is also a nephew of former Chief Justice of Jamaica Sir Rowland Phillips.

Mr Mikael Phillips MP, is a son of Dr Peter Phillips MP and pioneering Rastafarian ital restaurateur Sister Minnie Phillips.

Senator the Hon Kamina Johnson Smith daughter of historian, writer and Ambassador HE Anthony Johnson.

Dr the Hon Nigel Clarke MP, son of the former Supreme Court Justice Neville Clarke and nephew of former Minister of Government and leading cocoa agro-producer Claude Clarke MP. Dr the Hon Nigel Clarke's maternal grandfather Harold Percival Gibson was an executive in the Jamaica Agricultural 
Society and the Citrus Growers Association.

Mr James Roberton, son of esteemed maritime pioneer Mr Ismael Robertson CD.

Most Hon Andrew Holness, protégé of Most Hon Edward Seaga

Mrs Juliet Holness, wife of Andrew Holness

Hon Olivia Grange, protégé of the Most Hon Edward Seaga

Hon Desmond McKenzie, protégé of Most Hon Edward Seaga

Not The End


Success to All