Showing posts with label ya novel jamaica. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ya novel jamaica. Show all posts

Monday, 31 August 2020

Vibration from Palampalam - A Young Man Makes Life In Jamaica

The beauty of an allegorical story is that it is open to interpretation, you fill in the blanks or undo the mysticism in the search of the underlying point of the story and on the way, make other discoveries.

Vibration from Palampalam A Novel by Dorrell Wilcott published by Arawak publications in 2012, leaves me with the impression that although this book is not an allegory, the author is deliberately misleading the reader by skipping over and around situations that should be important to the story and yet expending description and commentary on seemingly lesser matters. The reader is left wondering about the reason for the deliberate gaps and the mystery behind what was paid careful attention  

The modest 142 pages is an action packed story of the life arc of the protagonist Dalphus Congonza. It starts with his parents' stories and ends with a look at the adult start-up of his progeny.  This completeness of a life story suggests that it is a memoir, but a memoir that does not trust the reader, so while it is not the story of an airbrushed hero, the material feels redacted and so, incomplete.

The foreword by Patrick Bryan is helpful in explaining the protagonist when he says, "First, his ambition is to throw off the scars and the negative features of that childhood, and to succeed in spite of them. Second, and in contraction, some of the values that he disdains and which contributed to the disfunctionality of his family became a part of his own value system."

    "The novel is not preoccupied with race and colour. However, they both have an enormous inflience in shaping the lives of people and contributing to the dysfunction within the Dalphus' family," Bryan says.

Dalphus grew up with minimal education in Palampalam which was supposed to be a frightfully haunted woodland within the rural community of Service. He is the only child in a family where there was no love among its three members. Even though Dalphus caused hurt to his mother early on, it was his childish reaction to her obvious scorn of him. Wilcott says of the mother, "who had seen everything that she disliked about her husband in that little boy." 

The natural environment of rural Jamaica is integrated into the book from beginning to end. Dalphus' father cleared dense woodland and built the family home; as an adult, Dalphus shaped a rocky hilltop overlooking the community of Service, for his own large and splendid house. Woodland was also where his closest friend died. Dalphus made his living from farming the rocky, land, but he did it successfully and managed to pass down the interest in farming to one of his sons.

Relationships between the character and the women in his life are complicated; his mother, lover, wife, mother-in-law, and elder daughter. He knows that he is not excelling in these relationships, but he displays incompetence in how to improve them, and relies on his friend Gus to play the role of conciliator and way-maker.

When he was just about out of his teens, he lived for a few years in Cuba and was able to work hard, take use of opportunities that came his way and save money. He is awkward with women but finds ways to incorporate them in his life. At a bar, Primela admires him and "he declined, almost becoming flustered", then "he looked at her again. The chemistry or whatever they used to call it mixed furiously."  He, quite easily, leaves Primela for Emma, which was a financial arrangement, "Dalphus had hitched a fee simple in Emma's financial empire."

Later back in Service as a married man, his mother-in-law is banned from his home for her destructive slander, and his eldest daughter, the apple of his eye, disappoints when she marries against his wishes.

Dalphus' relationships with men seem steady and true and valuable, aside from Bandy-Leg who tried to take sexual advantage of him as a naive teenager. Gustavius became a lifelong confidante, and wise counsellor for both himself and his wife, the beautiful, educated and unworldly Odagled who defied her family to marry him. 

As a businessman, Dalphus understands and is not held down by society's prejudices that were against him for reasons of his colour and lack of education. He worked around the established religious institution, the police force, financial institutions and even his sometimes coveteous neighbours at Rico's Bar. He rises above those challenging situations and masters them. He also, somehow, becomes reconciled with his father, but did not with this mother. 

Here we arrive at the rock bottom of all of the story of Dalphus: the lack of a loving relationship with his mother, Tantal, which left him stone dead to anticipating and nurturing sensitivity in family and intimate relationships. By the end of the book, however, he is grateful to have actually shared loving moments with his wife and to have experienced love with his children. His children, however, were not a united family, each  one deciding to be set against the ways of the others. Dalphus did nothing to heal the rifts between the siblings, and was a participant by making it obvious that Daphnie was his "chosen one".

Wilcott's choice of what he paid great attention to writing about, was diverse. He set out the matters around the death of Gus in excruciating detail, yet the three marriages in the book were glossed over, or became commentaries on society in general. 

Dalphus witnessed physical violence in his home, as his father beat his mother, and we later learn that his father also regularly beat his longtime lover. These beatings were not described in the book, yet Wilcott did described how his father met retribution, the wounds that he suffered and his long convalescence.   

The writer paid reverence to the very existence of Marcus Garvey who influenced Dalphus' father's philosophy and actions, but he does not go beyond this reverence to actually show the teachings in action, perhaps almost ignoring them. Wilcott also lets us know that Dalphus is distressed that descendants of Africans who were enslaved in the Americas had not built on the successes and sacrifices of the Haitian revolution.

It is a theory of mine that stories of relationships with the protagonist and his or her mother defines many contemporary books by Jamaicans. This book fits into that category. In these stories, the actions of the mother greatly influence the success or failure of the protagonist. Applying this scrutiny to Tantal, the mother of Dalphus, she was ascribed only one action within her true control, her choice of husband Ciezo Congoza. Everything else about Tantal is ascribed to the society in which she lived. Tantal existed as a light-skinned Jamaican who was raised by a snobbish light-skinned Jamaican woman but yet Tantal chose to marry a dark skinned follower of the black liberation teachings of Marcus Garvey. Ciezo Congoza, beat his wife if he felt threatened by her words and also, and separately, neglected her for the more stimulating company of his lover in the town of Service. 

Dalphus was the victim of his mother's frustration about her husband and she transferred her prejudices to him, nurturing attitudes that would influence him to behave that he was better than, and different from the other children in Service. It also gave him resilience when facing prejudices against him and allowed him to simply walk over them towards his personal goals.

Many more ideas are not fully set out in the story leaving them open to interpret the true weight that they have on the protagonist, or not. Given the openness of this, readers will find it interesting to meander with Dalphus through his life in a Jamaica of once upon a time, but perhaps, still here with us.


For more discussion on mothers in books by Jamaicans, visit this link to another page on my blog


Wednesday, 16 January 2019

The Value of Caribbean YA Books in Reducing Bias and Prejudice

Read Jamaican YA Novels) on Biteable.
To reduce destructive transgression in our societies, every individual needs to experience, from birth, the security of being valued the uplifting feeling of respect, and to be raised to consciously perform lifelong socially cohesive behaviours and self care.

Forgiving all the slights that we have received because of some kind of prejudice against or or bias is not easy, especially after a lifetime of being short changed by loss of opportunity or even the passing over of someone's eyes when you believe that you are worth more than a glance.

Self-affirmation is good within your close-knit group, and helps to make you resilient from a wider torrent of humiliation, but if you have to live in a society that continues to demean you, that is really passing a grudge down to another generation.

Each of us is probably guilty of some kind of bias, but when the society, as a whole, has ingrained prejudices against its own membership, that is cannibalism and will hurt the advancement of the society.

It can be possible if more of us, recognise the shortcoming in ourselves and commit to change. This is not going to happen spontaneously, and YA books of the culture that you associate with and have internalised can play a healing role.

A reading of passages from fiction or memoirs can help to open up thoughts of the effect of living as a person both giving and receiving bias. The value that I am pointing out here is more than documenting examples of bias and prejudice in society, but allowing it to liberate us from victimhood and also helping us not to perform as a bigot and a bully which most of us perform, to some degree, throughout our lives.

Our cricketing heroes, do have passages in their books that describe the insults and prejudice that they received while playing overseas. It would be useful to discover what they had in their personal resources to allow them to overcome this. Twinned with their experiences, would of course be, the real life sad decline of sportsmen who broke a society rule and played for money in South Africa during apartheid. Examples of books by these sportsmen are Whispering Death by Michael Holding and Six Machine by Christopher Gayle.

Another moment describing prejudice that converted to triumph is The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands where, at a moment when a racial slur was used in her presence, but at a time she had an upper hand, she performed with outrage to memorable effect.

In "A Way To Escape" by Michelle Thompson, it is the expectation that women will be the hard workers and accepting of the harmful behaviour of their spouses to themselves and their children can be explored and how she got out of it. Dew Angels by Melanie Schwapp also has a mother who does not do well by herself or her children because she is under the control of a domineering husband. In each case, both mothers found a way of redemption.

The favourite bias of authors in the Caribbean is how the skin colour bias expresses itself, and how it is closely linked to the social status bias. This is an important issue that needs to be told and retold with the aim of gradually dismantling it. Books that do not explicitly tell you the skin colour of the characters may also be helpful in this regard. My books Bad Girls In School, Young Heroes of the Caribbean do not describe skin colour of characters.  I have freed the reader to see the actions of the characters without explicitly describing their skins. It allows the reader to add that bit of imagination and it may be interesting to hear what different readers thought and whether that affected their view of the characters or not. I did describe skin colour of characters in my book Something Special.

By their scope, YA books aim to be helpful to the reader in some way. A story may not have a happy ending, but it provides another possibility.

The stories in YA books are a treasure trove of promoting greater justice and harmony in the society if leveraged where it can become available to young minds. Not just in the written form, but also as other media products such as stage plays, radio dramas and films and documentaries.

One can hope that with the foray of the streaming leader Netflix followed by other companies in the USA, Europe and China, that some Jamaican stories can get the financial backing that is needed to bring fresh storytelling to the screen.

Promoting them will hopefully spur even more creations that address the range of social challenges that can be imagined and that we live with.

The organisations in our society that support hegemony or that are the opposite, causing change, are naturally crucial to any influences on bias and prejudice.

Some of these influences will be to urge voluntary behaviour, such  as the Ministry of Health Jamaica Moves lifestyle programme, or non-voluntary such as the justice system.

The actors who will carry out these influences will be teachers, health workers, law enforcement officials, policy writers and persons who create and distribute content that is widely consumed by our societies.

In the UK today, arising out of comply or explain regulations related to reducing bias in companies that are related to race, sex and gender differences, publicly listed companies are expected to put policies in place to reduce behaviours that are unfair to certain segments of the population.

In the USA, it is the radical activists against policies of the government and longstanding abuses by celebrities and a range of powerful figures who have been pushing for social change that will reduce biases.

Moving adults humanely toward change is complex, and one of the outcomes is that persons are at least aware of what their biases are, I can call this having been sensitised to your orientation. We need more of this in order to move the society ahead.

The Jamaican society, being pluralistic in lifestyles and biology and ethnicity, has developed a morass of ways to denigrate and be biased against groups of people. We have an active cultural history of tracing and insulting and a wide range of words and phrases handed down over generations that successfully denigrate people in our minds.

Yet, oh yet, we can assimilate into other societies, keeping our identity without resorting to enclave living. Caribbean people become elected leaders, military leaders and leading citizens in the societies they adopt... or should I say, that adopt them.

At this time, we should be investing in sensitising ourselves to discover and acknowledge our ingrained biases and learn how to disentangle ourselves from them.

I should be trying to realise how I am biased against my students, co-workers, church sisters and brothers, patients, and members of communities that I am supposed to serve. What are the transgressions that I am giving a bly - a pass without sanction?

Wake Rasta and Other Stories and For Nothing At All by Garfield Ellis; and the clutch of books by Colleen Smith Dennis such as Generation Curse and For Her Son propose lifestyles that are not easily embraced, but when we do, we have allowed ourselves to experience the lives of our fellow citizens, more on their own terms than not.

If we are committed to grow as a society, then we will not be afraid to confront our stories when they are told.


A bookshelf with a few Jamaican books suitable for YA audiences

Here is the Implicit Harvard Test

The test says that I am not biased against men or women who are attractive or not....something like that.

I am still searching for a test to confirm my biases.

I acknowledge that I am biased against artistes who sing off key.