It Was The Year Of Portia.The year began with Portia Simpson who was, historically, mentored by the great and charismatic leader Michael Manley. She started out in February as the first female Prime Minister designate of the island state of Jamaica, assumed duties in July as the only female leader in CARICOM on external matters. This move likely deflated the exuberance of the die-hard members of both parties. These political party ‘aficionados’ would have liked to deck their platforms in boughs of green and orange-red, while sending thumbs-down negative signals.
Who is this woman?
Portia Lucretia is known in Jamaica as a down-to-earth, popular person, who perhaps in terms of fate and fortune was named after female history makers of another time, another place –Portia, a key player in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice had to pit her wits against men of cunning in a time when women were not seen as contenders (certainly not serious) in affairs that demanded momentous legal and social decisions. Lucrezia Borgia (at least unlike the protagonist in the play, she had a surname) was a key player in the milieu which flourished during the reign of her powerfully evil father (an Italian pope) and brother Cesare.
Portia Simpson Miller’s early threat of snap elections diminished with the passing months, particularly with Cricket Lovely Cricket ’07 beckoning as a major decision-shaper on the up-ended agendas of West Indian sports and tourism. Meanwhile, the little orange men are unwilling to admit to their contribution to the’ ballooning’ trade deficit of US$ 2.6 million, and the little green elves are not giving any suggestions how to get the battered piece of rock out of the rut. The balloons are lined up, hamstrung even, on one side of the house, Santa’s crew are on the other side, but the whole concept of ‘helpers’ is lost somewhere in the middle.
During the heat (political and otherwise) of summer, a one-time Minister of Government felt constrained to write in a leading local paper that the Opposition members and their erstwhile leader, which had been deceased and merely awaiting the “pronouncement of the last rites”(“Watch and Pray”, The Daily Gleaner, August 13, 2006), were now miraculously resurrected and energised by Portia’s party. Although he applied the symbolism of the dead with scholarly aptness, he was gracious enough to posit a middle-of-the-road conclusion that both parties had elevated Campaign over State of Economy and Country’s Future (writer’s emphasis). Jamaica, he reminded the forgetful populace, had moved from being one of the most prestigious and fast growing economies before Independence, to being the third lowest in both per capita income and literacy among CARICOM countries. To say that this unfortunate situation had to be inherited by
Portia, who was still to come up with a vision and a programme for development, was a lending of latitude. Some might concur that on both counts, if the columnist had never before gone up in the estimation of the man in the street when he was active in politics, he did then, and by people who ‘they’ claim are not reading!
Finally, the two parties ended the year with gatherings dubbed ‘The Mother of All’ in terms of numbers of participants bussed in, all of whom seemed blissfully unaware of drowning themselves in a sea of colours. One party took over the National Sports arena. The office of the island’s only swimming association was vandalized over night, leaving it bereft of hard earned equipment such as computers. That party announced that while it would pay for one computer, it did not accept responsibility. The other party took over the Conference Centre downtown, appropriately located on the seashore.
The beleagured Police Force ended the year by acquiring needed equipment to assist in the fight against crime.. 20 rural Improved intelligence and increased police presence in so-called ‘hot spots’ are believed to be the reasons for a 30 per cent reduction in homicide in urban areas and a 20 per cent fall in rural areas.
The latest political scandal had the comical effect of transposing itself into the format of popular song Oh Carolina! and breaching international boundaries. The old tune, if not the words, tie in very well with the theme of skanking. Come to think of it, there are not many words to either of them. A new line was added to the song by the Press: “heads will roll”. What has become evident to the public is that when the old cantankerous guard leaves the ‘hollow’ halls of The House on Duke Street, the younger generation of males who should succeed them, will not survive the discriminating scrutiny of the Jamaican voter. Campbell and Paulwell have exceeded their quota of mistakes, Holness at least had the grace to offer an apology, and Tufton and Roberts will have to convince the voter that they are not about to squander their intelligence and the little experience they have already picked up on the hustings. It’s only that they themselves seem to think otherwise. The beleaguered public would not have minded a little beauty among the brains either, but attractive and savvy young women like Morrison and Webber have already closed their laptops and cleared their desks without a word to their hopeful dependents.
2006 was also a year when there was the greatest ever focus on Women.
The spotlight was turned fully on the rights of women, supported as usual by the United Nations; there was wider focus on the abuse of women and girls, notably in situations of domestic violence; there were efforts by the Women’s Bureau (an innovative landmark organisation which other countries large and small have found worthy of emulation), backed up no-nonsense groups like Jamaicans for Justice, International Proxy Parents (promoted by wives of diplomats to the island), Powerful Women performing for charity and staging protest marches and seminars planned by culturally-rooted artistes like Cherry Natural. Women supported the HIV outreach by relevant organisations and by the Church. The Jamaican Woman has long ceased to lead from behind. It was the year when Jamaicans returned to their childhood to sing the hymn All Things Bright and Beautiful
for bright and beautiful Sara Lawrence, who for the first time since Lisa Hanna, brought
back the title of Queen of the Caribbean from far-off Beijing, by placing sixth in the
world. One could venture to say it was a shot in the arm for Jamaica, except that that is a phrase best left out of the island’s vocabulary for the rest of this century!
It was the Year of Miss Lou
The venerable Coke Methodist Church downtown Kingston was rightly selected as the venue at which to pay last respects and perform last rites at the passing of a great woman, Louise Bennett, who spent most of her productive years in and around the incomparable Ward Theatre. It can truly be said that all journalists, noted speakers, essayists, proponents of the arts and exponents of culture well nigh exhausted their vocabulary to come up with words suitable enough to describe her and pinpoint her unselfish and sustained efforts. Perhaps it was Ian Boyne, journalist, scholar and researcher par excellence who managed to come nearest to her essence (though others expressed similar sentiments) by labelling her an Agent of Unity for Jamaica. It is fitting that we glance once more at some of the epithets chosen by street people and officials, the simple and great, the educated and barely literate – to vainly try to capture that essence, that free spirit, that wide-as-the-ocean love…Mother of the Nation, cultural icon, innovative writer, comedienne with infectious charm, quintessential folklorist, poet, dramatist, charismatic leader of the arts, traveller and adventurer. Suffice it to say that it is hard to find the right words to describe her and her achievements.
Jamaica sometimes has a way of just barely making it through the gate before it closes. The island barely did for The Ottey, near the ending of 2005, what they should have done long before. Under P.J.’s watch, Louise Bennett Coverley was also bestowed National Honours a mere three years ago and after her husband Eric pre-deceased her. Since her passing, the greatest tribute to her is the suggestion that she would be accepted by the people as one of our National Heroes, a suggestion which for now has to be left to Uncle Time. (As was titled one of the best-known poems by the late Denis Scott). Your humble servant in attempting to put this article together, ventures to say Miss Lou was both a certifier and distributor of the Jamaican linguistic dialect. As a youngster arriving from Trelawny in the mid fifties, I was one of those privileged to attend Excelsior High School on Mountain View Avenue after Louise Bennett, already helping to popularise the school, had done duty as a Speech and Elocution teacher. My early efforts at emulating her were, surprisingly, honoured by Principal Wesley Powell who published some of my dialect verse in The Daily Gleaner, ostensibly to advertise the annual school fair but really to motivate and build student confidence. After all that time, I seem to have come full circle (even if neither the full nine yards nor the full hundred), by penning a tribute to the Honourable Miss Lou. It appeared, as here reproduced, in The Daily Gleaner on August 26, under the caption: When Miss Lou.
When Miss Lou tep up eena jumaican bus
She si market ooman ‘pread dem apron
Ova dem bankra full a bickle
An da dress dung demself pon de seat
Fa de one Miss Braggadaps was a-come, inna heat
Fi show-off, pap style, an meck som fuss.
When Miss Lou tep crass de street
Shi si mawga dawg fava real-real dog
Tief walks een an gawn wid two poun’ ten
Plastic cigarette case, cyar licen’ an fountin pen
Corpie run im dung me chile
So im flee a country go pap style
Call im fada ‘poo’,
bad wud fi troo!
When Miss Lou tep up pon Ward Theatre stage
It no matta yu position or age
Howdy an tenky bruk no square
Even peel neck jancro hab no fear
What a rig-mi-jig an palampam
When Miss Mout-a-Massy an Maas Ran
Join har in dem stripe an plad
So dat yu no stress an sad
Dem buss yu glad bag!
So when Miss Lou reach pon Worl’ Stage
Wi lickle islan come of age
Graduate from tie-tongue an stamma
Lick dem wid de patwa hamma
Wid sunshine smile an islan breez
She reverse de colonisation freez
Shi free up wi langwidge nice an sweet
(Aldo’ a no really she-one dweet
‘Memba Claude McKay!)
Now Miss Lou gone teck recline
Under coconat tree inna evening time
Har work is ova but it jus begin
Saint Peter ready wid bans a chalk, up dere
Him know shi gwine go walk an talk, bidout fear
So im lef de gate opin (undastood?), so we all cyan tell har WALK GOOD!
The year 2006 might not have been the Year of Sports as generally wished for, what with the shenanigans of West Indian cricketers, not having effectively levelled playing fields nor secured ashes in urns. They did however manage to put a lien on the ICC Trophy second to Australia, just before the final bell tolled the knell of their parting day. The ‘Miracle Man’ on the other hand stamped himself as the greatest native-bred horse in the history of local racing when he romped the US$ 100,000 Confraternity Classic over nine furlongs at the El Comandante racetrack in Puerto Rico.
Then there were the controversial and somewhat futile attempts to re-energise the Reggae train which was to convey the Reggae Boyz to world cup status. The new coach Bora, who is reputed to have coached five teams for world cup, was shown arriving from Europe at Norman Manley airport. It is widely supposed that he has fostered an air of expectancy. The Reggae Girls and the Sunshine Girls also did not shine as brightly abroad as they did ‘ah yard’ in football and netball, the former capitulating to the culturally inspired Mexicans. All efforts at winning, despite well intentioned culturally breezy nomenclature, seemed to have been sporadic, ill-timed and tinged with faulty motivational parameters, except for track and field which saw Sherone Simpson distinguishing herself in Athens and swimming, which was saved by the Atkinson Belles.
Sherone Simpson and Asafa Powell were honoured by Jamaica as male and female athletes of the year. But it was the year of ASAFA. It is usual to come upon unusual names but it is certainly unusual to gain the number one spot then equal the world record of 9.77 seconds twice. Asafa Powell achieved this in the IAAF-ranked 100 metres, and was the only Jamaican to run sub-10 and sub-20 seconds in both the 100 and 200 metres, ending a six-meet series unbeaten. Although Powell single-handedly could not pull St. Catherine, out of the muck of crime in which it has buried itself, he put a positive spin on the parish of his birth. Asafa caused the island’s undisputed reputation for excellence in aports to be once again hoisted aloft in black, green and gold. Jamaica’s penchant for the dramatic (and probably to distract him from noticing he was under-remunerated) placed his picture billboard style, on the lawns of Jamaica House for several weeks (at least they remembered to let it face traffic).
Asafa Powell also gave a well needed boost to his renowned University after other promising young athletes had apparently lost steam. On the grounds of the University of Technology (nicknamed UTECH) sits a Mercedes under one of the many ficus trees generously scattered around the campus, not too far from an inspiring Cultural Park of which not many institutions can boast. The licence plate reads 9.77 WR, a little heady, yes, but still undisputed, and still not having commanded the recognition and positive spin-offs it should have, on the world scene (read American scene). Meanwhile the 24 year old has his sights on the 200 metres for 2007. What happened to Gatlin could not have come at a worst time in sports history in light of international efforts to save young world athletes from the scourge of drugs, their minders and themselves. That downside detracted largely from the stride which could have been maintained by young Powell, strides that also put Gatlin in reverse mode.
The Sporting Arena, boxing to be precise, this year received the daunting news of Trevor Berbick’s final bout. This was unfortunately played outside the professional ring, ironically in his hometown and allegedly at the hand of members of his own immediate family. His death attracted the regret of sporting entities and interest groups around the world, who used the international press to voice their heartfelt sentiments about a life cut off in its prime. It was felt that his career was not entirely over. On the local scene it devastated the peaceful, sleepy little village of Norwich in close proximity to the very progressive Passley Gardens educational complex.
Deportees are not the only devastating returnees. Malaria re-entered our health arena, to the detriment of all the gains achieved, after a good span of fifty years. The tubercular virus, smallpox, polio and others had been eradicated under the standards set by WHO. The female anophele mosquito once again flourishes in clear pools of settled water with a dollop of green vegetation. In the space of three weeks, five cases grew to an alarming fifty in Kingston, St.Andrew and St. Catherine, and despite efforts by the health authorities, there are no diminishing returns so far.
The Arts flourished in all genres, with the final three exhibitions of the year taking place at the upbeat 128 Galleries, Old Hope Road – eleven female artists including those residing abroad, the biennial of the National Gallery, the Jewish Heritage show resulted in 178 works by 96 exhibitors. It seemed to have been the kind of experience dubbed Mother of Shows.
Jamaica lost one of its talented sons and the Visual and Performing Arts lost one of it greatest champions, namely Perry Henzell of the 1972 Harder They Come fame. He died on November 30 at age 70, after losing his battle with cancer.
The worlds of entertainment and entrepreneurship lost one of its brightest stars in Christine Hewitt. She entertained controversial views on social, religious and political issues such as orthodox religions, child abuse to which she claimed to have fallen victim, domestic violence against women and the music industry. It was a shocking loss. The circumstances of her death were shrouded in mystery, while her interment was staged by family members with a retaliatory style and panache reflecting her flamboyant lifestyle and ethnic dress style.
The Tourist Industry lost John Pringle in mid-December. Long will he be remembered for his contribution to the establishment and growth of the Hospitality Industry.
The Sunday Observer tags it Jamaica’s Entertainment Constellation (October 8). It is the Rising Stars competition which has, in its second year, firmly established itself as an electrifying stage adventure. Hosted by the lovely and talented Denise Hunt, patterned off American Idol, sponsored locally by Digital Cellular (Digicel), it seems to be here to stay. Last year’s winner schoolboy Chris Martin set the pace for this year’s do with first group winner called One Third taking a million in cash, a recording contract and other prizes. The show has electrified the cell phone-toting call-in voters into a frenzied fan club which has grown tremendously since the 2003 promo CD was made by the phone company in question. The performances are so far marked by tantalizing outfits and wide repertoires.
The Education Sector (everything continues to fall into sectors nowadays) continues its uphill climb despite loud complaints and denouncements by detractors. The venerable Mico attracted the status of a University College; a pair of new independent universities completed their establishment exercises; the Northern Caribbean (formerly West Indies College in Mandeville) not only firmed up its operations but established a branch in Kingston; Shortwood offers a degree in Early Childhood education, and the list goes on. As of May 2007 all operators of early childhood institutions will be required to register with the Early Childhood Commission (ECC) as stipulated by a 2005 Act. In addition, a whole plethora of foreign educational institutions, made their presence felt this year more than ever in their efforts to recruit prospective students. This is undoubtedly due to the sustained high achievement levels maintained overseas by students from Jamaica and the wider Caribbean over the years. Meanwhile educators are pushing for more competency-based education and training to be incorporated into workforce preparation activities, taking into account the concerns of employers.
In August the relevant Ministry began an Education Transformation Project aimed at constructing and upgrading a number of schools in phases to eliminate costly travel, provide more adequate space, furniture and materials for learning. It will target St. Catherine and Clarendon before extending to other parishes. Schools include St. Jago, Jose Marti High which is slated to add a Technical and an Administrative wing, Tredegar Park Primary and Junior High. Rosemount Primary and Junior High as well as Carron Hall High will fall into the second phase along with Braeton, Green Park, Beulah All-Age and Denbigh Comprehensive.
The powerful Jamaica Teachers’ Association however voiced its displeasure over the use of J$ 3.5 million culled from the respected National Housing Trust and its concern over where the funds will be sourced to continue over the long term. It was also revealed in the press that the Textbook programme might be curtailed.
The Prime Minister ended the year on a dramatic note with the unprecedented postponement of elections (parish council and otherwise) for another whole calendar year; they will take place on December 31, 2007.