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ON JAMAICANESS

 

By Tracy McFarlane

 

Friday, October 16, 2009.

 

Have you ever been on the receiving end of the pronouncement, “You’re not a real Jamaican!”?

Well, regardless of who is making the statement – a non-Jamaican or a Jamaican – (s)he is making some comment about how you are seen, relative to other Jamaicans.

You either fall short in some way, relative to the group, or you are in some way “better than” the group. They’re making a comment about how Jamaicans are identified and how you measure up to that identity. Depending on how you feel about being Jamaican, you may or may not be pleased with the implication: you’re not like other Jamaicans, but it really doesn’t matter to the observer – it’s how he sees you. If you’re offended, you might find yourself saying, You’re wrong -- I am a real Jamaican!

 

Really? How do you know? And if you’re right, then why does at least one person disagree?

Now, what about when you, a Jamaican, assess some aspect of something that is supposed to be Jamaican – music, food, politics, social practices, etc, -- and it doesn’t measure up? That can’t be a Jamaican; not eating with the knife and fork in a restaurant. Jamaicans don’t join lines. Jamaicans eat rice and peas on Sundays. Jamaicans love reggae.

Really? How do you know? Is there any Jamaican that would disagree with you? How do they know?

Here’s another one that causes much trouble for Jamaicans living overseas who pay a visit to the island, and are surprised to find things have changed. They no longer know exactly how to do things.

Back in their land of exile, they dreamt of the vacation where they would spend a Sunday just as they did when they were growing up: eat a big breakfast, maybe head to church by 11:00am, stop by some relative or friend for home-cooked Sunday dinner (which would be ready at around 2:00pm), watch Sunday matinee . . . If you haven’t caught the joke yet , then you definitely don’t live in Jamaica.

The “big breakfast” is no longer guaranteed; persons who go to church on Sundays can go at 7:00 am (or earlier) for the first of two or three services; stopping by someone’s house without an invitation or prior arrangement is no longer always acceptable; the home-cooked Sunday dinner has been severely compromised, as is evidenced by the long lines at KFC or other fast-food establishments on Sundays; and, as for the Sunday matinee – that doesn’t only indicate you’ve been away from Jamaica but you left a long time ago and probably took your clothes in a “dulcimena”!

Although we would like to think that there is a clear way to identify what being Jamaican is, there really isn’t. Not in an absolute sense.

We have traditions, and things that mean “Jamaican” for many persons. However, this is a subject of many debates because even the longtime ways of doing things are not the same for everyone.

For example, many Jamaicans know of some hard squares made of coconut, sugar and ginger, wrapped in greaseproof paper and sold as “sweeties” or sweets. What do they call them – busta, stagger back, dosie . . . ? If you knew these sweeties by one name or the other, are you more or less Jamaican? And, if your mother never allowed you to eat these, for fear you broke your teeth, is it that you’re not Jamaican? If you never heard of them . . . you get the picture. Or should we just simply say, half yu life gone!

With advances in technology that bring the world to Jamaica in various ways and with unprecedented speeds, many things have changed. In addition, Jamaicans leave home a lot; and just as many people from other countries come to Jamaica, many of whom stay to make Jamaica their home.

This movement of people and ideas across our shores is influencing a cultural hibridity in many aspects of Jamaican lives. To be sure, some things will change, and some things will remain the same. We have some old ideas and practices that are deeply rooted in Jamaican life. We have some new ones that we have developed that suit how we live today, and these are gaining acceptance. And then we are getting some that fall in between – a mix of old and new, that over time, will be just as Jamaican as anything that was here from olden days.

All of this is arguably “good, bad, and indifferent” as the old timers would say.

So, the next time someone declares you like or unlike Jamaicans, you’d better ask – which ones?

Traci McFarlane is a writer. She Blogs at Moving Back to Jamaica.

 

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