August 30, 2006

I Can See Clearly Now

One year after Katrina and while we are going through Ernesto, I look back on this poem that I livicated to Kalamu ya Salaam. I remain optimistic about New Orleans despite the ongoing tragedy. But as the poet Joy Harjo has said, "The sun is a mentor.It has taught me that tomorrow will come, no matter what. No matter failure, no matter clouds, no matter sorrow, no matter slaughter, no matter, or happiness. And each sun is differently received in turn by us, as we carry on our celebrations of living and dying. Yet the sun remains quintessentially the same, a shining star, a dynamic power, ushering our journey from one breath to another, one drama to the next.”

It was this belief that has sustained me through the years--like the turbulent one during which I wrote the collection, hurricane center, which in times like this give me comfort.

Dancing with Katrina
For Kalamu ya Salaam

Paddling through New Orleans,
past a shotgun house up to its threshold
in brine, a dog, paws folded, waits
on the roof of his owner’s drowned
home, and stares across the river
at splintered houses in the shade
of pines, swaying in the wind
that keeled those sailboats
in the bay, leaning on each other
like partygoers after Mardi Gras,
when music filled the streets
like the laughter of those Creole
ladies, bright as Louis Armstrong’s horn
that gave birth to this city,
dredged in the blues,
that hour by hour,
rises from her despair,
and puts on her favorite torn stockings,
so when the waters go, as they will,
she will be ready to work
as she has always worked
with style, she will be ready to live
as she has always lived
with love, so she’ll be ready
to welcome all of God’s wayward
children into her arms again,
and dance with her stilettos in the mud.

September 10, 2005

Livicated to Kalamu ya Salaam, who despite the hurricane and his own losses, continues to inspire and lead.

Geoffrey Philp

"Overcome the devils with a thing called love.” Bob Marley


August 28, 2006

Here We Go Again!

How to get NHC RSS Feed:

Other good links: Storm Information, Hurricane Awareness, Historical Information,Tropical Analysis and Forecasting Branch,

Other Miami Blogs to read until the lights go out:

On the lighter side, we’re stocking up on the gas and hoping the lights don’t go out and all the usual drama surrounding a hurricane. I’ll be getting the usual hurricane supplies: Appleton, water, bully beef, hard dough bread, crackers, candles, and matches. And in that order.

And Now for Something Completely Different

PS. Based on Jason Boog’s Five Easy Questions, beginning this Friday, I’ll be featuring 5 Questions for Caribbean/ South Florida writers.


August 25, 2006

Accepting Submissions: The Caribbean Writer

The Caribbean Writer is currently seeking submissions for its 21st (2007) issue. The 20th Anniversary Volume of the annual anthology, which features the work of writers in the Caribbean and literature with a Caribbean focus, was recently released. Editor and UVI Professor Marvin E. Williams said that the longevity of the anthology speaks to the continued need of an outlet for writers of the region and literature about the Caribbean.

"It is not easy to keep these types of magazines alive, Prof. Williams said. “ It demonstrates that "The Caribbean Writer" is indeed performing its mission."

The international anthology published each summer features the work of writers in the region and abroad, including writers and artists from the Virgin Islands. In its continuing mission to encourage creative writing and criticism in the region, "The Caribbean Writer" publishes book reviews, drama, personal essays, poetry, short fiction, translations, and special sections that celebrate the work of acclaimed writers.

Among the highlights in the Volume 20 anniversary issue are poetry and prose of the renowned Jamaican writer Opal Palmer Adisa. The poetry and fiction components include work by Delores Gauntlett, Berkeley Wendell Semple, Tregenza Roach, Ian McDonald, V. Corso, and Lelawatee Manoo-Rahming. The journal features art from the Virgin Islands – portraying festive dance and musical scenes typical of anniversary celebrations. It also contains book reviews by an international gathering of critics and intellectuals. The cover artwork is by artist Sue Snow. The volume also includes an index of all work published in Volume 16 through Volume 20.

Looking towards the future Prof. Williams, editor for the past four years, plans to build upon the anthology's solid foundation built largely by its founder and first editor Dr. Erika Waters. "We always want to be fresh," he said. As the editor, his goal is to accept writing and discover writers that "break new ground."

Writers are encouraged to submit poems, short stories, personal essays and one-act plays. Only previously unpublished work will be considered. (If self-published, give details.) Include brief biographical information and put name, address, telephone number, email address (if any) and title of manuscript on a separate sheet of paper. Only the title should appear on the manuscript.

All submissions are eligible for the following prizes: The Canute A. Brodhurst Prize for best short story; The Daily News Prize for best poetry; The David Hough Literary Prize to a Caribbean author; The Marguerite Cobb-McKay Prize to a Virgin Island author and The Charlotte and Isidor Paiewonsky Prize for first time publication in The Caribbean Writer.

Mail submissions to The Caribbean Writer, University of the Virgin Islands, RR 1, Box 10,000, Kingshill, USVI 00850-9781 or submit electronically to or The deadline for submissions is November 30, 2006 (postmarked).


August 24, 2006

Happy Birthday, Linton Kwesi Johnson

Linton Kwesi Johnson (aka LKJ) (born 24 August 1952, in Chapelton, Jamaica) is a British-based Dub poet. He became only the second living poet to be published in the Penguin Classics series. His poetry involves the recitation of his own verse in Jamaican Creole over dub-reggae, usually written in collaboration with renowned British reggae producer/artist Dennis Bovell .

Most of Johnson's poetry is political, dealing mainly with the experiences of being an African-Caribbean in Britain. However, he has also shown himself more than capable of writing about other issues, such as British foreign policy or the death of anti-racist marcher Blair Peach. His most celebrated poems were written during the government of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The poems contain graphic accounts of the often racist police brutality occurring at the time.
Johnson's best known albums include his debut Dread Beat An' Blood, Forces of Victory, Bass Culture and Making History. Across these albums are spread classics of the dub poetry school of performance - and, indeed, of reggae itself - such as Dread Beat An' Blood, Sonny's Lettah, Inglan Is A Bitch and Independent Intavenshan.

When written, Johnson's poetry makes clever use of the unstandardised transcription of Jamaican Creole. Of late, Johnson has only performed live on an intermittent basis, perhaps a result of modern reggae's shift towards more spontaneous and rapid-fire performers of raggamuffin or dancehall. Others have speculated that he is aging and cannot keep up with the demands of a world tour.

Recently, a collection of his poems were published as "Mi Revalueshanary Fren" by Penguin Modern Classics. Johnson is one of three poets to be published by Penguin Modern Classics while still alive. Johnson's record label LKJ Records is home to other reggae artists, some of whom made up The Dub Band, with whom Johnson mostly recorded, and other Dub Poets, such as Jean Binta Breeze.

Johnson attended Goldsmiths College in New Cross, London, which currently holds his personal papers in its archives.

From Wikipedia.

August 23, 2006

Happy Birthday, Malachi (Belated)

Perhaps the most consistent, the boldest, the poet who remains true to dub poetry, Malachi is one of the best in his genre. As one promoter said recently, “One has to understand that when others were performing poetry full time, Malachi was a cop working the beat in Kingston.”

It is remarkable that after nearly twenty five years and three albums, various singles and a forthcoming DVD chronicling his life, Malachi remains fresh and as relevant as he was in the eighties when he joined some of the leading dub poets of the era on the landmark album Words, Sound 'ave Power. That groundbreaking album launched many careers and the poem "Victim," brought Malachi to the attention of the world. After many awards and performances later, Malachi is energized and ready to take on the world because his poetry remains raw and true to its roots.

Malachi is not just a voice from Jamaica, but a voice for oppressed people everywhere. From Africa to Central America from Trench Town to Johannesburg, the voice of the son of a preacher man remains strong, steadfast, and defiant.

He was a pioneering dub poet with Oku Onoura, Mikey Smith, Mutabaruka, Linton Kwesi Johnson, "Godfather" Noel Walcott and sister Jean “Binta” Breeze. Malachi was a member of Poets in Unity with Tomlin and other members of this seminal poetry combo. Malachi does not read a poem. He performs it. He has a beat, a rhythm, a certain kind of dance that makes him different. The drama, the anger, the romance. Yes, romance. Malachi can caress a poem ever so delicately.

I shot the first frame of a documentary on his life and work in NYC some time ago. In June 2004, I attended the Dub Poetry Festival in Toronto, Canada where Malachi was one of the headliners. Over the next few months I shot Malachi doing several interviews at his Miami home, and finally made a trip to Jamaica to visit and shoot some of the places that helped in shaping his life.

Initially, I wanted to tell the story of the bastard son of a light-skinned preacher who became a policeman and a poet. But I soon discovered that Malachi's story was the poetic journey of a flat nosed boy, too dark complexioned for the good of his Germanic descendants and too light skinned for his dark pigmented relatives. He was the boy with a deadpan sense of humor who could talk himself out of a good “ass whipping” and onto the pulpit of his grandmother's church in Back Land, Westmoreland.

He was the boy who courted a Justice's daughter. The girl in the shop with the nice smile--the same girl that all of the boys admired, but could not get themselves to ask for a date. He was the friend who got the girl, and two sons later he moved to Miami, Florida. The boy who became a cop--the testing officer knew was too short for the police force, but took him anyway believing that he would eventually grow to the "right height.” He was the boy who passed every JSC subject he ever took, and who romped on the dusty lane in Back Land, where rusted zinc, fenced every single yard. He was the same boy who swam in the canal that the short man we called "Bulldozer" used to clean until he drowned in it.

He was same little boy from Central Village whose grandfather was an overseer on the sugar plantation and who would not give him a job because he did not want the white plantation owners to know that he had a little dark-skinned bastard grandson. This was the same boy whose stepfather loved him very much, but because Malachi threw stones every day and got into so much trouble, he had to be shipped away to his biological father--the same man who had several other children and who lived with his mother who hated the Malachi because he was a "jacket." Malachi was the boy who Auntie Dina flogged because he "played" with the little girl underneath the cellar. He was the boy who would follow the footsteps of his favorite poet, Claude McKay, cop in Jamaica and cop in the USA.

This is a birthday tribute to a dub poet who is a law enforcement officer, humanitarian, a family man and genuine friend.

August 20, 2006

Mikey Jiggs
Owings Mills, Maryland

August 21, 2006

"Coward Men Keep Sound Bones"

Here is my latest short story that has been published in Asili. It may be a bit risqué for children, but in a world of Internet porn, it palls.

Still, I was brought up as a righteous young man and now that I have enough short stories that could be assembled into a collection, I worry about the kids (especially my kids) reading stories like this before they are ready for these kinds of relationships. The kind of concern that I have is similar to Edwidge’s when a youngster told her that she’d read Breath, Eyes, Memory and loved it. She was shocked and this is why she decided to write some books that she thought were more appropriate for adolescents.

So, this is my parental advisory for “Coward Men Keep Sound Bones.”

Tags: Arts & Culture, Authors, Caribbean, Caribbean writers, fiction, Jamaica, jamaican writers, Literature, Miami,

August 18, 2006

Interview with Jamaicansrus

How do you compare the current Caribbean writing to that of previousgenerations?

I love the new expansiveness, especially with writers like Colin Channer who has opened up Caribbean writing and has made us aware of the places that Caribbean writing can go. Colin really reminds me a lot of Bob Marley and the phenomena of reggae. After reggae was introduced, a musician had two choices. She/he could either go back to the past with ska, and mento --no disrespect to either form -- or she/he could go forward with reggae. The choice was clear. With Colin, a similar a choice is clear to writers from the Caribbean. Either you can continue to write books that are in praise of Babylon or you can go forward by writing about your people, your time, and your landscape. Write about us or write about the metropolis. James Baldwin once said, “Black people need witnesses in this world that thinks everything is white.” Caribbean people desperately need witnesses in this world that thinks everything is Babylon. Yes, Babylon is great. But it has fallen!

To read more of this interview, click here:

Other Interviews

Podcast of Parts One & Two Xango Music interview

Remix of Interview with Ariel Gonzalez

Tags: Authors, Bob Marley, books, Caribbean, Caribbean writers, diaspora, fiction, Jamaica, Jamaican writers, Literature, Miami, Podcasts, Poetry, Rastafari, Reggae, Short Stories, South Florida Writers, Writing.

August 17, 2006

Happy Birthday, VS Naipaul

VS Naipaul still remains the best novelist of his generation and this reputation is based firmly on his talent for telling a good story. From his earliest work such as Miguel Street where he examined the stunted lives of his elders; A House for Mr. Biswas with the comic failure of Mohun Biswas whose goal is to own a house, and Mimic Men, Ralph Singh’s tale of disillusionment related during the waning years of his life, Naipaul’s gift has been to reveal the truths about postcolonial life that many are still not willing to face. His ability to understand characters such as Mister Popo, B. Wordsworth, and Harbans demonstrates a quality one hardly associates with Naipaul—empathy. Yet how could he have created such memorable characters such as Leela, Biswas, and Man-Man without this gift?

Naipaul has his detractors and this is due mainly to most of his work since In a Free State which signaled his growing pessimism with countries that were still in the throes of post colonialism. Many of the characters in the absence of indigenous values that were not cultivated nor encouraged under British rule, succumb to cowardice, inconstancy and vice. Indeed, many of Naipaul’s’ comedies of manners and his social criticism may be due to his disappointment with the results of how the struggle for national independence in the Caribbean has turned out. But as Sean Penn’s character in The Interpreter says about disappointment: “That’s a lover’s word.” But I may be wrong.

The one thing that I’m sure of is that even now when I pick up my battered copies of Miguel Street, The Suffrage of Elvira, Mimic Men, Biswas and The Mystic Masseur with Ganesh's improbable ambitions and Leela’s outlandish devotion, I can still laugh because—flawed and outrageous as they are— I can identify these characters. I see them not as deserving of scorn, but as worthy of honor. For despite having nothing or “lowly” ambitions and many times not knowing what they really want, they still struggle, like Biswas, to have a semblance of self-worth.

Give thanks, Sir Vidia.

Happy Birthday, Marcus Garvey

One of the great pleasures I’ve had over the past five years is teaching a course at MDC where I use the book, Awakening the Heroes Within. After teaching the elementary rules of essay writing, my students and I explore the biographies of historical and cultural figures such as Gertrude Stein, Simone de Beauvoir, and Dr. Ben Carson and assess the archetypal significance of their life and work. I usually try to steer my students toward writing papers on Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin, or Marcus Garvey, but invariably, they end up writing about Nelson Mandela, the Warrior or Pablo Picasso, the Creator. I’ve often suspected the reason why they have not written about Hurston, Baldwin, or Garvey, and I finally had a group with enough courage to tell me the truth. They didn’t know enough about Hurston, Baldwin, or Garvey to write a research paper that would be graded. And they need good grades, especially now since the Florida legislature has imposed new academic standards and has threatened to limit the amount of credits for which the state will pay even though approximately 82% of our students enter our college academically under prepared.

Yet as a teacher who encourages intellectual risk, it’s disappointing when my students refuse to confront an academic challenge. It is even more disheartening that despite Oprah’s efforts, Zora Neale Hurston, a Florida native, remains in virtual obscurity. And in these times of increased hurricanes, Hurston’s, Their Eyes Were Watching God, should be a must read, for she was one of the first writers who explored the metaphorical meaning of a hurricane.

James Baldwin, author of Go Tell it on the Mountain, The Fire Next Time and Blues for Mr. Charlie and one of America’s finest writers, has also suffered a similar fate. These are two great African-American writers who have been relegated to the margins of American cultural life.

It is also painful, but not surprising, that none of my students know anything about Marcus Garvey. In fact, I once taught a class in which Garvey’s great, great grand____ put up his hand and said he knew the name Marcus Garvey. My ears perked up. But when I probed further, he said he really didn’t know much about his great relative’s accomplishments—he only knew that he’d done something. For the first time in my teaching career, I assigned a mandatory subject to a student. He passed the class.

As we neared the end of the semester, my students asked me why I was so interested in Marcus Garvey. I explained that my interest in Garvey was not merely because I am a secular Rastafarian, but the type of leadership that Garvey embodied still holds relevance for us today, and his life holds many lessons for us in the twenty-first century. Garvey, despite his flaws, was one of the first Black leaders in the Western Hemisphere to articulate a vision of greatness for people of African descent, and through the power of his words re-imagined the future of Black people. But words were not enough for Garvey. He put his words into action, faced the adversity that came with being a pioneer, and thus modeled the greatness, integrity, and excellence that he desired to see in the world.

A few weeks later, I showed my students the video, Look for me in the Whirlwind. The film traced Garvey’s birth in St Ann’s, Jamaica (1887) to his death in London, England (1940). What emerged from the video was a figure who from his earliest days was fascinated by the power of words: “As a boy, Garvey imagined himself delivering speeches to adoring crowds. He spent hours reading, and even bet his friends they couldn't pick a single word from the dictionary that he didn't know” (Whirlwind). So, by the time he was forced under the colonial system to leave school, he became a printer’s apprentice and “quickly earned the status of master printer. In the print shop, he learned the power of controlling the written word and published his first newspaper, Garvey's Watchman” (Whirlwind).

Then, using the skills he had mastered in his youth, “Garvey started The Negro World newspaper with a cover price of 5 cents. The paper carried essays, poetry, and articles on Black history and world events… By the end of 1919, Garvey claimed over three-quarters of a million followers and The Negro World was the most popular black newspaper in the United States” (Whirlwind).

Ironically Garvey’s quest began in his adolescence when one of his closest friends and white neighbors, Joyce Rerrie, was told never to speak to Garvey again and she was sent away to England because her father said Garvey was a “nigger”: “[It was] the first time that he heard and became aware of this idea of being black and what it meant.” (Whirlwind).

Then in 1914, Garvey after reading Booker T. Washington’s, Up From Slavery, traveled through Central America, and concluded: “the situation facing black people was a global one…. I was determined that the black man would not continue to be kicked about, as I had seen in Central America, and as I read of it in America. Where is the black man's government? Where is his King and his kingdom? Where is his President, his country, his men of big affairs? I could not find them, and then I declared, 'I will help to make them.' My brain was afire” (Whirlwind).

Thus, Garvey commenced on the monumental task of reversing the negative thinking, images, and stereotypes associated with Blacks in the Americas (I mean this in the widest sense). As Charles Mills, explained: “To begin with, Africa was called the "Dark Continent". And the pictures that, we got of Africa in those days were cannibals running around in the jungles, puttin' people in pots. Garvey changed all of that” (Whirlwind). Estelle James addressed the issue more cogently, “You was oppressed and depressed and disgusted that you were born in the wrong race of people because of your color. Whatever was left, that's what you got. Only what was left. And we were at the lowest ebb at that time” (Whirlwind).

Garvey also began honing his oratorical skills, “And all of a sudden this golden voice from the Caribbean came and stood on the corners in Harlem and began to talk about self-esteem, holding up your back bone, you know, no wish bones” (Whirlwind). In 1920, Garvey gave a speech in Madison Square Gardens to twenty-five thousand people where he told Europeans to give Africa a wide berth because “We are coming home” (Whirlwind).

In abandoning the Eurocentric view of race and color, Garvey dismissed the idea that the history of Black Americans began in slavery. Like all great leaders, he located himself and his people within a historical continuum and realized that if Black people were capable of great things in the past, they could do even greater things in the future: “Be as proud of your race today as our fathers were in the days of yore. We have a beautiful history. And we shall create another in the future that will astonish the world. I can advise no better step toward racial salvation than organization among us. We have been harassed, trampled upon, and made little of because of our unfortunate condition of disorganization. Our racial program of today is a united, emancipated, and improved people” (Whirlwind).

Then, to paraphrase one of his spiritual descendants, Garvey "put his vision to reality" (Marley). He empowered people of African descent not only with ideas, but also through the United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), he funded businesses so that Black people could have a stake in their economic future. This led to many other enterprises, including the ill-fated Black Star Line. At the turn of the twentieth century when North America was divided by racial segregation, Garvey was expanding the level of expectancy for people of African descent and moving beyond the negative self-images.

Long before the New Age evangelists with their chorus of self-acceptance as the prerequisite for psychological wholeness, Garvey announced to his followers, “Always think yourself a perfect being…and be satisfied with yourself” (Whirlwind). Sister Samaad reported on change that Garvey’s words had on his audience, “You would almost see them -- metamorph into something else. You would see it. They'd suddenly get very tall because the smallest man in the uniform still looked like a giant. I can tell you that from experience. They were gorgeous. The black men were gorgeous” (Whirlwind).

Garvey early on realized that success had to be taught, and he used the UNIA to do this: “Garvey's idea of the UNIA was that it would teach success. It was going to be a vehicle to communicate and demonstrate that black people could be successful. This idea of success was now translated into a whole series of commercial ventures, laundries, restaurants, newspapers” (Whirlwind). These are timeless values and principles that have to be taught and modeled within a community by the teachers, elders, mothers, and fathers. Otherwise, hopelessness sets in. People within the community may have all the book knowledge and skills in the world, but if they don’t believe that they will be successful when facing adversities that surely will come, they may just conclude, “What’s the point?” and give up. This is one of those timeless lessons that Garvey’s leadership ushered into the Black community. And those who doubt the relevance of Garvey’s message should not be surprised at the length of time that Jamaican economic recovery has taken because of the exodus of the middle class during the seventies. Nor should they be shocked that the current generation of young Black men, who have grown up largely fatherless and listening to the LPs their fathers left behind, have chosen bling-bling over becoming.

Realizing that Black nation could only be healed through the imagination—the same power that held Black people captive would be the same power that liberated them--Garvey never succumbed to the belief (sometimes reflected in American blues) that the troubles of the world can overwhelm an individual. He believed that he was greater than any circumstance and never gave his consent to anything that would lead him to adopt a victim mentality. In the midst of one of the harshest adversities that he faced as prisoner #19359 in the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary, he urged his followers in song to “Keep Cool. Keep Cool”

From this principled stand that was grounded in his historical viewpoint, Garvey had a real sense of his value. He exuded a sense of integrity that was reflected in his dress (sometimes to excess when he appeared in public like a governor-general and called himself the “Provisional President of Africa”), in his speech and actions. Garvey never acted in a manner that would denigrate himself or his people. Rather, he systematically changed how Black people thought about themselves and from that transformed consciousness taught them how to manifest their vision.

This is not to say that Garvey was not a severely flawed man. His excesses, his almost megalomaniacal ambition, and stubbornness were nothing compared to his most serious defect. Garvey trusted no one. In the PBS video, there are some reasons that are given for Garvey’s mistrust of others, but they belong more to pop psychology than to the realm of serious inquiry. There was and is a serious lack of trust in the Black community. It is this lack of trust based on ignorance that continues to tear the Black nation apart. An example of this is found in an exchange between the Jamaican journalist John Maxwell and an African American man over fifty years ago.

Nearly 50 years ago, on my first visit to the United States I was challenged by a black shoemaker in Washington DC, literally within the shadow of the Capitol. He was puzzled by my accent and wanted to know where I came from. When I told him he asked me:

"They got anybody like me where you come from?"
I didn't understand him. Yes, they
had shoemakers in Jamaica, I said.
“No man, they got any niggers there?"

I was totally flabbergasted. He and I could easily have been blood brothers; our hair was the same, our skin colour was the same. If anything he was a shade or two lighter-skinned than I. We even looked a little bit alike, I thought. We settled the historical and ethnic questions over a pitcher of beer in a nearby bar. Why, I asked him, didn't he think I was a nigger?

"Because you don't talk like a nigger, man, and you don't walk like a nigger." (Jamaica Observer)

Being a nigger, clearly, was a social construct so deeply embedded even in blacks that they could not recognise a fellow soldier even when we wore the same uniform. (Jamaica Observer)

Yet, paradoxically, Garvey’s betrayal came from within his circle of confidantes: “Garvey was betrayed by the few people he trusted to get the Black Star Line afloat. The man he asked to inspect the Yarmouth turned out to be an informant for J. Edgar Hoover. And his hand-picked Captain, Joshua Cockburn, convinced Garvey to pay six times what the ship was worth -- and then took a kickback from the purchase price” (Whirlwind).

Then, the FBI under the leadership of J. Edgar Hoover hired some of its first Black field agents who reported all of Garvey’s activities to the Bureau: “Edgar Hoover had long relied on casual informants. But now, in his determination to go after Garvey, Hoover hired the first full-time black agent in the Bureau's history….He was known by a code number. All his reports were signed, ah, "800". That was his code. And his job was to go into Harlem and to infiltrate the Garvey Movement to try and find evidence that could be used to build the legal case for ultimately getting rid of Garvey”(Whirlwind). Hoover was determined to stop this “notorious Negro agitator”. Garvey was trapped by the judicial system on one side and by conspirators on the other: “As things spun out of control, Garvey confided in Herbert Bowlin, the owner of the Berry & Ross Doll Company. To Garvey, Bowlin was one of a few real friends. To J. Edgar Hoover, he was Agent P-138” (Whirlwind).

Garvey was ultimately sacrificed to the American system of jurisprudence and he spent several years in prison before he was sent back to Jamaica where he was hounded again by the justice system and he ended up in England where he died.

Garvey’s message still fuels the hope for personal and political liberation. Sister Samaad stated eloquently, “The organization left a legacy of "I am," simply, "I am", with no apology. “ I am." We had never had that up to that time. We belonged to churches where we sang, but Garvey made you stand tall and quiet, looking into the future. And that's a great legacy” (Whirlwind). This legacy is preserved in many ways. Garvey’s visage is preserved within the Jamaican monetary system, but his message needs to be broadened beyond the scope of Rastafari who regard him as a prophet.

For Garvey was also a model of leadership—its glories and pitfalls He diagnosed a problem (the lack of unity among peoples of African descent), acted upon his beliefs (creating an educational and entrepreneurial system that improved opportunity and choice), and his transformational leadership changed the consciousness of his followers from a victim mentality of learned helplessness to economic and educational empowerment. Garvey by his commitment to his beliefs gave himself totally to a cause greater than himself. According to the definition given by Joseph Campbell in The Power of Myth, Garvey should also be considered a hero (150).

Garvey, Baldwin, and Hurston and all the other Black heroes need to re-introduced into the consciousness of the Black community and American cultural life, so that as we approach another African American History Month, our children will not become caricatures, like those mentioned in the famous Chris Rock skit, who only know the names, Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr. We owe their memories more respect. And besides, we’re bigger than that.

First published in Jamaicansrus, 11/28/05: “Marcus Garvey Words Come to Pass.”


Related post @ Villager: Marcus Garvey

August 16, 2006

Rastafari and Renaming: A Model for Freedom

RastafariSince the inception of nation states in the West Indies, the process of “decolonizing the mind” has been the aim of many nationalist, artistic, and religious movements. As Rex Nettleford in an essay, “Caribbean Perspective: The Creative Potential and the Quality of Life” states, “West Indian society needs to restore the human being to the center of Caribbean life and society. Historically, he never was at the center of Caribbean life. The raison d’ etre of our existence has been commercial profit…The slave was at the center of the system not as human, but as property” (Nettleford, Caribbean Rhythms 314)

In many of the nationalist, artistic, and religious movements, one of the most successful strategies has been the act of renaming, and Rastafari with the concepts of InI and I-man set a pattern in Jamaica that would dramatically re-order the thinking of the post-Independence generation.

The origin of I-man and InI are shrouded in the mystery. Joseph Owens in Dread argues plausibly that the “I” language of Rastafari was as a result of a misreading of the King James Version: “In referring to the King, for instance, the Roman numeral I, is read like the pronoun “I” and thus is best written as Haile Selassie-I” (45). Whatever the origins, Rastafari with the concept of InI revealed a system of thought that would sometimes resemble early Gnostic Christianity or Buddhism: “Traditional Buddhist meditation aims to transcend the subject-object barrier and realize the perfect oneness of the self and external reality” (Hochswender, The Buddha Your Mirror 84). Rastafari also extended the idea of oneness into their speech. So, incense became “I-shence” and creation became “I-ration.”(Owens 66).

 Rastafari also resembles the mystical forms of religious devotion that regard deity not as something to be addressed as “Thou” but as one with the divine. Oneness expressed in the symbolic language of InI represents the seamless integration of the human with the divine where it is hard to discern linguistically and conceptually where humanity begins and divinity ends. As Nettleford points out, “At the heart of his [Rastafari] religious system is the notion of his own divinity and the first person image of self. As if for emphasis the terms “I-n-I” and “I-man” are used as a constant reminder of the transformation of a non-person into a person”* (Nettleford, Dread xiv). Rastafari’s aims were no less than the redemption of Africans in the Americas. Nettleford continues, “God is in the world, not outside it…God is not only Man, he is a Man”(Nettleford, Dread xvi). Rastafari in a bold creative act of renaming themselves changed the story of Black people in Jamaica and in the Americas.

Renaming as a method of cultural liberation is not unique to Rastafari. In the poem, “Names,” by Derek Walcott, the speaker asks, “And when they named these bays/ bays/ was it nostalgia or irony?” (Walcott, Sea Grapes 41). And in Omeros, the meanings of names are echoed throughout the collection with the personae trying to define themselves despite the misspelling of names and things: “When he smiled at Achille’s canoe, In God we Troust, Achille said: “Leave it! Is God’ spelling and mine.” (Walcott, Omeros 8). Similarly, Kamau Braithwaite in responding to the colonialist attitudes in The Tempest bypasses all the “major” characters in the play and focuses on Sycorax, Caliban's mother, and develops his own “Sycorax style” as a methodology of artistic liberation-- a reversal of the initial obscenity of racist colonialism. Indeed, renaming or creatively misreading one’s antedcents has been argued by Harold Bloom as one of the methods that many writers have used to overcome the “anxiety of influence”—a condition that many artists/writers in the Caribbean must confront.

What is interesting about Rastafari, however, is that unlike other cultural movements when confronted with colonialism, Rastafari asserted themselves and refused to become the Other thereby ceding authority to the colonizer (e.g. Achebe’s Things Fall Apart). Rastafari placed themselves at the center of the I-niverse: “A sense of place, a sense of purpose are assumed to him who might otherwise be a captive in Babylon and barely exploited as the exploited of men. The assertive individualism of Rastafarianism is therefore a silent challenge to the propensity of secular political movements to freeze their kind into such categories as “the masses”…For to the Rastafarians each member of the masses or the proletariat has a personality, a divine dimension with direct routing to the Creator, Jah himself” (Nettleford, Dread xv).

“Rasta free the people,” is perhaps one of the truest lyrics that Buju ever sang and it mirrors the sentiments in “Redemption Song” by Bob Marley, “We forward in this generation triumphantly.” By the assertion of InI and I-man Rastafari changed the stories of victimhood punctuated by the trauma of slavery and colonialism into a call for immediate solutions, “So now you see the light, stand up for your rights” (Get up, Stand up). The former Negroes of Plantation America were given a new identity that had existed before time and if only they could recall their true names, they would know and overstand that they were children of the Most High, Haile- I, Selassie-I, Jah Rastafar-I. Even for non-adherents to the faith mired in cynical rationalism, it was a bold creative act and a model for freedom.


*InI is a visual and aural representation of inseparability of man and God.
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

August 14, 2006

Frank and the Internet

More of our continuing saga in 60 words.


“Frank and the Internet”

Noises at 3 am in the computer room. I went downstairs to cuss. Frank had pushed the furniture into the middle of the room and was sitting calmly.

“This sounds like something out of The Matrix, but the Internet is like God--impersonal, always answering requests. But like Google, you gotta be persistent and specific.”

I went back to bed.

August 11, 2006

Happy Birthday, Roger Mais

Roger Mais was perhaps the most important writer to emerge from the nationalist movement which began with the labour rebellion of 1938. His play of that year, George William Gordon, which focused on the Morant Bay Rebellion of 1865, played an important role in the rehabilitation of the eponymous character, who was in conventional colonial history described as a rebel and traitor, and who would be proclaimed, on the centenary of the rebellion, a National Hero.

Mais became a writer for the weekly newspaper, Public Opinion, which was associated with the People's National Party. A column he wrote for the newspaper, entitled "Now We Know", critical of British colonial policy resulted in his imprisonment for sedition. This period of imprisonment was instrumental in the development of his first novel, The Hills Were Joyful Together, a work focused on working-class life in the Kingston of the 1940s. Mais's second novel, Brother Man, was a sympathetic exploration of the emergent Rastafari movement.

While Mais's first two novels had urban settings, his third novel, Black Lightning centered on an artist living in the countryside.

Mais was also known as a poet, and showed a fine command of lyricism, and a short-story writer. His short stories were collected in a volume entitled Listen, The Wind, thirty-two years after his death.

Mais's novels have been republished posthumously several times, an indication of his continuing importance to Caribbean literary history. He also had an influence on younger writers of the pre-independence period, notably John Hearne.

From Wikipedia
Roger Mais’s, Brother Man, opened the door for me to write about Rastafari and reggae. As the protagonist in “I Want to Disturb My Neighbor” says, “We accept the rastaman today. We see him and his fashion victims all around — the colors, the music, the hair, the food. But in those days in Jamaica decent people like my mother thought of them as cells of infection that had to be cut out. Decent girls were being seduced. Decent boys were dreading up their good, good hair and swearing their allegiance to Selassie, taking oaths. The disease was spreading, and music was both sperm and blood. They felt they had to stop the flow at any cost and the state already paid the police.”

I keep coming back to the courage of writers like Mais because despite his work and many others in forging a national identity, there are still people in Jamaica and in the blogosphere who still wish that Jamaica would have remained a colony and blame many of the social ills on Rastafari. In this time, in this year 2006 as Mikey Smith would say, “Mi cyaan believe it!”

Many writers of my generation owe a great debt to Roger Mais. His work made us realize the plight of the idren, of those living in the shanties around Beverly Hills, Jamaica. One of the first “brownings with a conscience” (Annie Paul), he pioneered a whole new way for us to look at ourselves.

Give thanks, Roger Mais!

Tags: Americas, Arts & Culture, Authors, books, Caribbean, Caribbean writers, fiction, Jamaica, Jamaican writers, Literature, Poetry, Rastafari, Writing.

August 9, 2006

Frank's Story

I’d said that I was going to stop with these 60 word short stories, but this is what happens when your crazy brother-in-law moves in with you. I realize now that I won’t get a lot of work that I want to get done, so I might as well just enjoy his company while he’s here.

“Frank’s Story”

When I found Frank, he was wasted.
“How much longer are you going to do this to yourself?”
“The universe,” he slurred, “once you recognize the building blocks is built on a series of yes/no switches. I’m just trying to find the right switch.”
I turned away in disgust, feeling less than pity.



August 7, 2006

Jamaican Independence Day, 2006

Now is not the time to repeat the lies
that once made us happy, to dismiss
the subtle messages of winds that brought
human cargo to our island and exchanged
sweat for the sweetness of sugar cane—
a man’s worth measured in bundles
of rattoons, sprouting in a field of guns
carried by boys barely awakened
to the urgency of their dreams,
but would never see home,
girls who barely understood the demand
of blood, but would never see their daughters
grow old—betrayal of the Lignum Vitae’s
ever widening rings that survived hurricanes
and drought, our birthright bartered
for a few years of peace on a sliver of sand,
our toil put to rest in the pulse of the mangrove.

Here the podcast for the poem: Jamaican Independence Day, 2006


August 5, 2006

Fidel Castro and Hurricane Chris

I couldn't resist this one. Even Hurricane Chris is looking for Fidel.

There should be Technorati Tags like these:

Donde esta Fidel?
Fidel afuera
Buscando Fidel
Para donde va, Fidel?
Ay, Carajo!

But more importantly, the media should answer these questions:

Will Fidel be showing up on milk cartons?
Should we institute a Fidel Alert system for the highways?
Are Fidel, 2Pac, and Elvis planning a comeback tour in Las Vegas?
My trusted media sources, Jim Screechy and Van Doolu, tell me that they will be playing under the name, "The Three Amigos")

August 4, 2006

Reggae, Rastafari and Aesthetics

During the early seventies the music that came out of Jamaica shifted from the mellow, laidback rhythms of rocksteady to the grumbling bass lines of reggae. In many ways, the change reflected the growing anxiety of the post-Independence generation. The influence of reggae on verse (dub poetry) and fiction (reggae novel) has been considerable and the poet/critic Kwame Dawes in Natural Mysticism coined the term reggae aesthetic to describe the salient features which include religious, social, and archetypal models. Dawes also lists several examples of elder writers such as Dennis Scott and Kamau Brathwaite whose work falls into the category of the reggae aesthetic and several younger writers such as Opal Palmer Adisa and Colin Channer whose work reveal a “strong reggae grounding” (242). While it is not a manifesto of a literary style, the reggae aesthetic serves a useful function in describing the influence of reggae on the work of writers whose work is now at forefront of Jamaican literature.

In order to understand the dynamics of reggae, however, a clear understanding of Rastafari must be grasped. Reggae is an auditory representation of the experience of Rastafari which is based on the mystical union of the human and the divine. Rastafari, like many syncretized religions of the African diaspora seeks a unity (inity) of the personal, social, and intrapersonal aspects of being. This inity is expressed in the concept of InI, which depending on the context, could refer to the individual, the community, or divinity located in the personage of His Imperial Majesty, Haile Selassie I, Jah Ras Tafari. Everything begins and ends with InI. As Dawes explains, “Rastafarianism represents a fundamental break with traditional and conventional Judaeo-Christianity. It redefines the meaning of deity and recasts the figure of God in terms that are antithetical to colonial representations of the Christian godhead.

By establishing a god in Haile Selassie, Rastafarianism breaks away from the patterns of conventional Christianity that operate in Jamaica and brings into being a new and very elaborate series of modern myths” (98). Rastafari’s insistence on the validity of individual experience, the indwelling god, “I,” whose union with the ever living God, “I”, provided an intellectual and experiential basis to its claims. There was no difference between “I” and “I”. The Cartesian mind/body split and the “I” and “Thou” of Buber were obliterated. As Dawes further states, “This lends to reggae a defiant but complex mythology and offers the reggae influenced artist an approach to art that allows for a dialogue between the political and the spiritual. Essentially, this quality in reggae defies much of the binarism that characterises much of western discourse” (99).

In other words, the legitimacy of a reggae influenced artist’s work would be based on her depiction of the experiences of the landscape, peoples, religions and cultures of the Caribbean or Plantation America. Some of the earliest expressions of this claim can be seen in Brother Man by Roger Mais, the film, The Harder They Come,” and , the music of Don Drummond in “Addis Ababa.” The choice in the title of Drummond’s song as Dawes explains, “Presents a mythological shift in the Caribbean person’s relationship with Africa… for it redefines the terms in which our history is approached and represents a defiant critique of western historical practice. It does this not simply by attacking it and questioning it, but by replacing it with another mythological framework” (99). This shift would change the consciousness of a generation.

In my case, it was not an easy transition. I would be studying James Joyce in the upper rooms of Scott Hall in Jamaica College, then go home to listen to some reggae coming from my next door neighbor’s house, then play some football under the shadow of Long Mountain with the my friends and Gilly Dread, Garrick, and Seeco, then spend the rest of the night reasoning with the idren until it was time to go home and sleep. This was pretty much the routine except on Sundays when I went to the Kingdom Hall with my mother. And then it would be another Monday morning and back to Joyce.

It was very difficult for me to reconcile Joyce’s explanations of fleeing the “nets” of Ireland with what I was seeing around me. For as eager as he was to escape Ireland, I was just as ready to embrace Jamaica. And reading the work of writers such as Tony McNeill only served to heighten my sense of exhilaration--of being Jamaican: “This morning I chose to stay home, / To watch the cats and think of/ Columbus. And the grass is precious/ merely because it belongs to us” (Reel from ‘The Life-Movie). But Joycean aesthetics, especially as outlined in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, can be very seductive especially because Joyce’s ideas describe the experience of perception of an aesthetic object where “the mind is arrested and raised above desire and loathing” (Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man). It was an immediate problem that had to be solved. For while Joyce was interested in the reader achieving an epiphany or stasis of mind, reggae seemed to ask, what happens after you put down the book? It was almost like the old Zen saying, "Before Enlightenment chop wood, carry water; after Enlightenment, chop wood carry water." The problem was historically, it was InI who “chopped the wood and carried the water,” and I could not ignore the plight of the sufferers for Joycean hermeneutics. Joyce be damned, I would be on the side of the sufferers.

Yet not all of Joyce’s methods could be ignored, especially his use of archetypes from Homer’s Odyssey. For although I would not use western archetypes, the figures from Lukumi, Vodoun, Candomble and Xango proved to be a fertile ground. In Benjamin, My Son, and xango music, I used the figures from the syncretized Yoruba pantheon, Papa Legba, Xango, and Oshun. Papa Legba, the Haitian equivalent of Eleggua or as he is known in Jamaica as Anancy is an important loa in the African diaspora for he represents the ability to survive in a hostile environment by using one’s wits and language to outsmart the oppressor: “In the language of the deejays, toasters, and song writers, language is treated as a weapon of liberation.” (Dawes 98). Anancy far from being an object of pity or a victim is a sufferer who triumphs over the downpressors. Indeed, much of the current debate against the use of Jamaican misses this point: InI was paid for with blood. Anancy stories are the life stories of Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff, Bob Andy and nearly every artist who has come out of Jamaica: the triumph of the sufferers.

It was also Joyce’s transformation of the Odyssey within the Irish landscape with thoroughly Irish characters that intrigued me. Finnegan’s Wake, which collapses all of human history an mythology into a cyclical tale that begins and ends in Ireland, paralleled my understanding of reggae and Rastafari. The circular bass line of Family Man mirrored the movement of the lyrics on songs such as , “Jump Nyabinghi” which saw the events of the Bible and modern events as contemporaneous: “It remind I of the days in Jericho/ When we trodding down Jericho walls/These are the days when we'll trod through Babylon/ Gonna trod until Babylon falls,” and elucidated the methodology of Rastafari reasoning: “The lyrics of many reggae artists explore the relationship between history and the present, an exploration that frequently redefines both past and present in a radical act of reinterpretation” (Dawes 99). The fusion of mythology and social realism which also informed the work of Kamau Brathwaite’s, The Arrivants, and Derek Walcott’s, Omeros, would become the touchstone for many writers who could not seek solace in the classics. Their situation was to James Baldwin’s realization after watching many Westerns: “After a while, you realized that you were the Indians” (James Baldwin: The Price of the Ticket).

For many of the writers who came of age when reggae and Rastafari had moved from the ghettos of Trench Town and into the living rooms of the Jamaican bourgeoisie, this potent mix along with the growing nationalism provided a philosophical, mythological, and aesthetic alternative to the colonial models of history and literature that were best exemplified in The Tempest. Rastafari and reggae stepped right into the middle of the debate by dubbing Prospero as downpressor and Caliban as a baldhead. Truth be told, Rastafari ignored the whole argument and told its own story. For the reggae influenced writer, Rastafari legitimized the experiences of Black people in the Americas and became the means of overstanding power and the privileging of one text or dialect over another. Drawing on these vast resources, s/he could champion the plight of the sufferers and use the archetypes, landscapes, images and characters of Plantation America to be authentic to the experience of the lives of Caribbean peoples.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]