Our Past Presented

Jamaican culture has gone through a lot of changes many of which seem to be unknown to her people. One of the forgotten pieces of history is dance and its musical forms. Many fail to recognize the “African-ness” found in our movements. Even if it is acknowledged it is not fully appreciated. Dance forms like Jonkunnu (John Canoe), Kumina, Dinki Mini and Revival have played their parts in the caressing of Jamaican dance culture.

Never forget, with dance there must be music and, in many of these dance forms, music is the main character of any story being told. A most popular form is Dinki Mini; filled with sharp pelvic movements, dips, spinning and call and response. Unlike many of the similar set-ups, Dinki Mini celebrates life rather than mourning death.

This form is used to invariably cheer those in grieving. The dance begins with the leader and dancers (alternating sexes) in a straight line walking until they meet in a circle. Stooping, the group pats the ground in order to ‘get the attention of the group of dancers and for them to make contact with the earth’ (Mr Doyle-1982). Now in the middle, the leader dances solo, one leg placed before and behind the other being held stationary. This is done without moving from the middle. Then he [the leader] moves to a woman, dancing in front of her to bring her in the circle. This goes on with each dancer moving to the opposite sex. This movement is then used to create the rest of the dance in couplets. But, from the one simple movement described, there is many a dance move that have been used in this age.

For example, the foot movement can be seen in a recent dance called “Rum Ram”, by the Jamaican artist, QQ. The hip movement, pelvic action and sharpness of the movements are reminiscent of or “whining” today; even more so the “daggering” phenomenon.

But other than its movement and music, it had its religious value. This form helped to instil the cultural commodity of ‘Nine Night’. This has made deaths a lot easier for a lot of persons, especially since the event brings people together to remember the life of the deceased.

So, what does that have to do with today’s Jamaica?

One can go as far as to say that Dinki Mini is need in today’s society. It can provide entertainment, like all other things, but also ‘western-Africans’ can learn about themselves and customs. This dance form could even keep us westerns in some sort of spiritual connection with our ancestors.

But does Jamaica see the value in its ancestors’ retained culture?

Integrity is a Business

This is not another assignment, nothing fancy, just the truth: It pains me to those older than me, those I should look up to – no matter the age difference – act like such childish criminals. If the decorum in the lecture (terrible and highly disruptive) wasn’t bad enough, stealing had to cap it all off.
But when you know who did the crime, it amounts to nothing if they don’t confess. Its not murder or rape or fraud; it’s a simple paper that doesn’t belong to you! And now the reputation of the WHOLE class is at risk because of two (maybe three or four) delinquents that either don’t want to confess or don’t want to seem like an ‘infama’ (informer). I didn’t care! I was the informer and I ratted the culprit out. But what about our lecturer and the guest that was brought in to speak? How do they now look at us as students, as people, as managers? Do they even see us as managers anymore?
This is the kind of thing that spills into your career. No matter how good you are at what you do, there will always be someone that will remember this and warn against you. For this simple little piece of paper you could be black listed. This is on your back for a long time and just like a lecturer and their student, trust will die.
As a matter of fact, who steals a personalized object!? It is too much like the previous owner and there is almost no way to get rid of all the personalized data present. Most of all, you won’t need what they have!
Patients has worn thin with these persons and they have now lost the trust of their colleagues as well. Personally, they are dead. They have no place my life until and unless a lecturer gives same….

Jamaica Retained

“Up, up. You mighty race”

Said by Marcus Garvey, this quote has been used and used time and again urging people of African heritage to stand up for their race. Yet, everywhere you turn you can see how Jamaicans are drowning in the ill teachings of our European masters so long ago. From bleaching and speech to the mere straightening of hair and even as drastic as surgery; black people seem to be more and more driven to the ‘white side of life’. Also from our music and dance to our religious and family life; we are being dictated to about what is accepted.

Looking back we can clearly see the levels of dehumanization the Africans had to go through to become slaves. We were seasoned – tortured until we believed in the ways of the European. Stripped of our thoughts, culture, rituals and language we were forced to create new ways of retaining ourselves. But these things could not be passed on to the generations ahead since the masters separated us as if we were animals to be sold. Actually, that was how we were treated. Fathers being taken from their children and wives to ‘breed’ the women of another plantation became the norm it seems. That must be the only explanation for the fact that men’s accomplishments are having many women and children all about the place. So too, the mothers encouraging the same behaviour of their boys; insisting they have many girls, yet deny the ownership of the child. “Nuff Gyal” by Beenie Man emulates this very situation. Women are seen as trophies and accumulating many – big bootied, large breasted, brown skinned white-woman-gorgeous – trophies was a good thing.

In the same vein, this seasoning taught that colour gave power. Whites were superior and blacks inferior and there was no in between. Until there was an in between. Slave masters – and some of their wives – engaged in the pleasures of intercourse with slaves. Of those who were brave enough to keep the fruits of their conquest, made them house slaves; giving them preference over the darker of the slaves. So now, there is a natural, instilled fear of those with a lighter complexion. They are seen as the richer of the land and the more intelligent. But even when that isn’t the case, those of a lighter race are seen as beautiful. This cases the phenomenon now known as bleaching; the stripping of the skin’s colour to become of a lighter complexion, even when told about the side effects. The darker of our artistes (most of them) speak of poverty, violent crime and the loads of women they have/the kind of sex they want. The lighter of them mostly speak of love and change (even if they mention poverty). No matter how American some these artistes may sound, if your complexion doesn’t fit the lyrics, you find your career may be short.

The most despicable of all the artistes Jamaica has produced has to be that of Vybz Kartel. With all the talk of black being beautiful going around, one would think this public figure would encourage acceptance and love of one’s complexion. But instead, he goes and changes his entire body’s colour for reasons still unknown. Such a huge influence on the country and he then goes as far as doing a sing insisting that his skin is pretty:

Garvey himself would remove his eyes to stop the sight of this destruction. Though many rather not admit it; we are a backwards country. It proves to be a good and bad thing, with its bad being that our country is still enslaved.

“Emancipate yourself from Mental Slavery.” 

Action Expressed Through Art

Who would think that art – yes art – could affect out national identity? Think about it. Really. If art reflects what’s happening in society, how does society respond? We can either be positive or negative about it. But that depends on how we see ourselves prior to experiencing a piece of art. That brings me to a formula from the most notable Rex Nettleford; where he says that external conception with internal perception equates to identity.

 

And now…I’ve lost you. All that means is that what society sees you as and how you see yourself is developed into who you are individually.

Still lost? How about this: on the topic of race; if a black man sees himself as a hooligan that is uneducated and is always getting in trouble he will then look at himself, his terrible grades and feel as if he is the statistic from which he can never escape. But there are many black people in Jamaica so we will use instead an inner-city youth. He is poor and can’t afford school and is seen as someone that will amount to nothing. He then sees a play or independent film about an inner-city youth, much like himself, who manages to make it through the system and becomes a role model for those in his community. His perceptions about his race changes and so too will his impact on society’s view of him.

 

In the same way art can be positive, it can be negative and it can be a direct reflection of what is in society. The violent crime in Jamaica is one concern that many have. Those in the music industry either use their music to reach out and give hope; or use it to become the voice of the people. Those ‘voices’, instead of speaking on the behalf of their target audience, mimic the thoughts of the murderers and other criminals. Now this can become society’s wake-up call or a youth’s call to crime. He sees himself as a hopeless

youth with no other alternative but crime and society sees him as a statistic.

But in the art world, change is always sought. The depictions of death and destruction by the hand of a criminal are but a few ways an artist gets his perception out there. There is too, the reasoning behind the act; forcing people to think about how they treat each person they meet from a bad background. Yet the corporate world refuses to hire someone from a poorer lifestyle.

It’s starting to feel like an essay, isn’t it? Ok, let’s talk about culture, dance and how they relate to our national identity.

Now, anyone knowing about the slave trade knows that Jamaica is one of the many countries with an abundance of African settlers. In fact, it may be the most African-dominated islands in the Caribbean. All this means is that there is a rich African-ness among the people. Our natural instinct in dancing is to be close to our dance partner and engage in a grinding motion of some sort. It looks sexual, yes, but one must understand that dancing in Africa is more of a seduction ritual than mere entertainment. Still, it is our first instinctive gesture. Many learned persons, with high income and influential positions, argue that the dances done are vulgar and infect the mind with sexual thoughts. Now we could touch on the religious aspect of this disagreement, but that would be taking it too far. Still Jamaica is a Christian-dominated country and the people always aspire to be God-like. So the views will not be far off. Because we have been forced to believe a slower, more distant way of dancing is acceptable, we have become unconscious of the rhythms living in our hearts.

 

 

 

 

Art speaks to society. There is no person in the world that does not appreciate any form of art and every form of art is beautiful to someone. So how, then, does society speak to art?

Through Action!