Once again, people’s interest in things Jamaican is ongoing, and provides us all with teachable moments upon which to expand our knowledge. Just a few days ago (according to my tracker stats), someone in Maryland, USA, found my blog by googling “worldview of Jamaican culture” most likely to learn more about this endlessly fascinating topic.
So, I did what any self-respecting Jamaican would do when presented with such curiosity: I first chuckle at his/her ignorance, and then condescendingly proceed to explain our worldview. I thought a graphical representation would be the most illustrative, and in searching on Google for maps of the world, I came across a quite unique one at
It shows each country’s name written in text at a font size equivalent to that country’s shape and land mass on the planet. However, the creator of this image, quite like our dear Maryland information-seeker, is forgivably unaware of the need for a slight adjustment to his map. Therefore, I’ve made said adjustment and present to you, and the world a “to scale” graphical representation of the Jamaican worldview. This is how Jamaicans see ourselves in relation to the rest of the world. Thank me later.
click to see larger image.
January 9, 2013 No Comments
Well, it’s not really an endorsement in the way a celebrity might endorse a product. It’s more simply a business partnership. A long-time friend in Miami owns a company called Bloodfiyah! Juices. We’ve just recently collaborated to make a special kind of Jamaican health drink available to the wider world.
You see, one of the benefits of being Jamaican is the exposure one gets to natural ways of living and strategies for maintaining health and longevity that many people in westernized cultures simply aren’t privy to. We grow up drinking and using tonics and teas from barks and weeds that have legendary effects on specific ailments, overall health and wellbeing, male virility, and youthful vigor and stamina. Ask a Jamaican about Irish Moss (a seaweed used to make a drink called “Put it Back”), or about Wood Root Tonic and get ready for a lesson in natural health!
Whenever I’m in New York, I always stop into one of my favorite Jamaican stores in Brooklyn, Queens or The Bronx, and pick up some of these juices and herbs. (Wow, that DOES sound like a typical endorsement claim, but it’s actually true!) One of the things I like about these juices is that they are natural and raw. In other words, they are NOT pasteurized. Now, despite what you’ve been led to believe, pasteurization is not “better” for you. Pasteurization is simply boiling. Boiling, as with any type of cooking of a raw food destroys the living, natural enzymes in the food and makes it LESS beneficial to the body. Raw, fermented juices are better.
So, when my friend Heru, who owns Bloodfiyah! Juices approached me with news of his recent collaboration with Atomic Juices, I was willing and eager to lend my internet marketing expertise to their efforts. I have certain criteria for what sorts of products I support, and this was the type of product I could feel comfortable getting behind with my support. So, we launched AtomicRoots.com just a few days ago. And just to show you how popular such drinks are, within 72 hours of launching the site, we received our first sale with absolutely no promotion or publicity! Many people in other parts of the country aren’t as blessed with retail outlets as in New York.
So, if you want to discover one of the secrets that make Jamaicans stand out from the crowd, check out AtomicRoots.com, and order a case of 12 bottles. (Retail outlets can also order by the pallet of 50 cases). There are 4 different flavors: Original, Aloe Vera, Mauby and Ginseng.
As mentioned on the label of the Original flavor of the Atomic Roots drink, “Wood Roots” is a name given to a combination of Jamaican herbs: Chaney Root, Chew Stick, Man Back, Strong Back, All Man Strength and Sarsaperilla just to name a few. It’s reputed to “Strengthen the weak.”
August 29, 2011 3 Comments
URGENT MEMO TO ALL AFFECTED PARTIES:
Somewhere in the western Pacific there exists a little island of 46.5 square miles in total size. A mere thirteen miles long by an average of 5 miles wide, Saipan, CNMI (Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands) is home to an indigenous population of Chamorros and Carolinians, as well as Filipinos, Chinese, Koreans, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, Bangladeshis, Sri Lankans, Australians, Americans, Russians, Canadians, Yapese, Chukese, Palauans, and other Pacific islanders. The total population of Saipan is approximately 40,000–but varies depending on whom you talk with.
8,794.6 miles away in the Caribbean Sea, exists another island of 4,411 square miles. 146 miles long by 51 miles wide, Jamaica is home to an indigenous population of Arawaks, as well as displaced Africans, Maroons, South Asian Indians, Chinese Americans and Brits who all proudly call themselves “Jamaican.” The total population of Jamaica is approximately 2.5 million.
Jamaicans can be found in every corner of the planet. This is by design. It is our job to integrate the global community to make everyone aware of our greatness. In fact, the JPDPD (Jamaican Person Dispersal Prime Directive) requires an even distribution of Jamaicans across all latitudes and longitudes and on all continents. We’ve been given the task of holding key positions in politics (Colin Powell), music (Bob Marley), sports (Patrick Ewing), revolutionary thought (Marcus Garvey), etc., and of occupying the full range of professions and industries. So it should come as no surprise that there is at least one Jamaican on the tiny, remote island of Saipan. The plan demands it.
According to said plan–the details of which remain closely guarded on a “need to know” basis– there should be at least 1 JPPM (Jamaican Person Per Million) people in every population.
However, it appears that somewhere in the Jamaican Person Dispersal Prime Directive Personnel Department [that would be the JPDPDPD], there was a miscommunication, a misdirected memo, or some type of clerical error. For on April 9, 2011, on the tiny, remote island of Saipan, CNMI, with its population of only 40,000 people, there were not the minimum requirement of one, not two, but THREE Jamaicans, all clustered in the same room!!! Furthermore, if that weren’t bad enough, TWO of them held the coveted position of airline pilot! TWO!! (We’re not quite sure about the occupation of the third one, but our investigation is continuing).
This is not an “even distribution,” people!!
Somewhere on the planet, there’s a population missing a Jamaican!! I don’t need to remind you about the ramifications of this! I want a full report on my desk by 5:00pm!
Heads will roll!
Winston Delroy Trevor Courtney Bogle, III
Policy Director, Jamaican Person Dispersal Prime Directive Personnel Department
[That would be the PD of the JPDPDPD]
(click on image to enlarge)
Friends in High Places. Ben, Ron, Walt, Cardiff and Chris. Japanese, Jamaican, Jamaican, Jamaican, Japane–Waitaminit! What the—???? Quick, get me a camera! Better yet, get me the PD of the JPDPDPD! There are more Jamaicans per capita on Saipan than, well, even in Jamaica!!
April 10, 2011 2 Comments
For those who have asked: Jamaica’s language is English. As a former British colony, the Jamaican political and educational system culture, habits, worldview, and social norms are influenced by British culture. (I believe my aunt in Kingston still has her 4pm cup of tea every day)
If you’ve visited Jamaica you might think otherwise, but trust me the local “patois” spoken in Jamaica is English, but it also has elements of European (British, Spanish, Portugese) African (Ghanaian, Ethiopian), and Asian (Chinese, Indian) languages thrown in because of the range of influences–colonial, captive and immigrant–that have passed through Jamaica, its people and history.
Patois is not a full-fledged language, per se, but shares many elements of a distinct language.
In much the same way that two speakers of a shared language can cloak themselves in a bubble of privacy in a foreign land, (while it may be considered a bit impolite to do so), two Jamaicans in the middle of a group of people who also speak English can do the same. If you, as a native English speaker are trying your best to eavesdrop on a conversation in patois, you will have an increasingly difficult time to follow because once the Jamaicans are aware you are listening in, they can dive deeper, speak faster, even use non verbal sounds (Jamaicans: think “kiss teet” ; others: stay tuned for audio and video) and other slang to avoid detection. The speed of delivery of patois, the choice of contractions, as well as the intention behind its use all affect how decipherable it is to non-native patois speakers.
Patois is associated with the average man, the common folk. Therefore, when someone of more elevated status in Jamaican society uses it, he or she is going back to basics, forging a bond with his audience based on the essence of Jamaicanness that unites all Jamaicans regardless of their individual social status.
When a person speaks in patois, she wants to let the listener know that this is something heartfelt. This is something serious stripped of the pretense, pomp and parade (and even duplicity) often associated with the Queen’s English. (mek mi tell yu someting weh come fram mi ‘art)
However, because patois IS essentially English, everyone in Jamaica understands it, and everyone in Jamaica speaks it to varying degrees of convincing authenticity. Jamaicans often joke that the unique thing about being a Jamaican educated in the Queen’s English, but speaking Jamaican patois is that “I can understand the English man, but ‘im cyah unnastan’ me!” (can’t understand me)
Those born and raised in Jamaica–or in Jamaican families abroad–understand both. It wouldn’t be unusual to hear a conversation between a common man and, say, a judge where the common man is speaking in full back-a-bush patois, while the judge is responding in the full parliamentary-style Queen’s English. Each understanding the other perfectly. And while practically everyone in Jamaica can understand and use patois, (although some of higher social circles may deny it and distance themselves from that fact), it isn’t considered “polite, hoity toity” language.
So, when you hear it in settings where the more standard English is called for, there is often an underlying humor associated with the choice to use patois. When I choose to use patois to make what should be a polite, sophisticated acceptance speech, for instance, there is a tongue-in-cheek aspect to it. It is not literally a “translation” into “Jamaican.” The underlying humor comes from the understanding–among Jamaicans–that I am also assuming a persona. And depending on my tone and inflections and choice of phraseology and syntax, I have “become” a common man, a country farmer, a market woman, a ganja herbsman, a Rasta Elder, grandma and grandpa, or the politically-opinionated man on the street who knows everything
there is to know about Jamaican “politricks.”
So, with that said, there are elements of the humor of my acceptance speech which may elude your full grasp if you are not Jamaican. And for that I apologize as this is a blog for everyone. Learn the language, please. Keep up!
This is not a comprehensive treatise on Jamaican Patois. These are just a few thoughts I’ll probably amend at a later date. For more erudite essays on Jamaican culture and language, do a search for the works of Louise Bennet (Miss Lou in Jamaica), and also to hear the combination of Patois and English in recorded works, I’ll refer you to the works of “dub poets” Linton Kwesi Johnson, Mutabaruka and Oku Onuora.
February 4, 2011 No Comments
Subject: Jamaican in China!–Gregory Isaacs, The Cool Ruler, R.I.P.
Date: October 27, 2010 11:46:36 AM GMT+08:00
This is a brief, but important interlude from my adventures here in China, to let fans of Jamaican culture, and Reggae specifically know that noted Reggae singer, Gregory Isaacs, (aka “The Cool Ruler”) passed on Oct 25, 2010.
Gregory Isaacs’ astonishing collection of music (some say he recorded over 500 albums) was a staple of my playlist for the five years I was known as “Sir Walt” the Reggae DJ on New York’s WKC-FM radio station. Every Thursday night, from 11:30pm to 1:00am, I would play the music of an international array of Reggae artists with different styles, particularly Lovers Rock.
In case you’re not aware, within what the outside world simply knows as “Reggae,” there are, in fact, many different “styles” and sub genres.
The fast-tempoed, dance club oriented style popularized by artists such as Sean Paul, Shabba Ranks, et.al, is just one of these. A visit to a well-stocked Reggae shop or private collection, however, might have music arranged in the following categories:
Within Lovers Rock, certain names reign supreme: Dennis Brown, Freddie McGregor, Sugar Minott, John Holt, Beres Hammond, Maxi Priest, June Lodge, Frankie Paul, Winston Reedy, Delroy Wilson, just to name a few, and, of course, Gregory Isaacs, who is credited with originating, popularizing and essentially, being the epitome of the Lovers Rock artist in lyrical content and his signature delivery in which he punctuated key verses of his songs with a seductive moan that only Gregory could pull off!His most popular song was the international hit “Night Nurse.”(Search for it on youtube)
Tell her try her best just to make it quick
Woman tend to the sick
‘Cause there must be something she can do
This heart is broken in two
Tell her it’s a case of emergency
There’s a patient by the name of Gregory
Only you alone can quench this yah thirst
My night nurse, oh gosh
Oh the pain is getting worse!
To add a variation on the theme, he followed it up with “Private Secretary”
She said she wants to be
my personal secretary
She’ll fix my desk, she’ll fix my chair
Yes, she told me she would take good care
You’re a middle-aged business man, (she said)
and I sure want to give a hand
My own top favorite Gregory albums are
- Extra Classic
- Red Rose for Gregory, and
- Out Deh (the cover for which the photo below was taken)
Even though Gregory was most popular as a Lover’s Rock artist, he had many songs which made revealing social commentary, and chronicled his own life’s journey. Out Deh, the title track, which means “Out There” was written by Gregory while he was incarcerated.
I was taken from my people, robbed of my liberty
I was tired of the jail house, but the jail house wasn’t tired of me
Every day you take a stock, [it's] just war along the whole cell block
And all that I can hear the prisoners say, “a strictly out deh!”
A so me hear dem say
A so me hear dem pray. One day.
Photo of Dennis Brown, Freddie McGreggor, and Gregory the don in the white hat! (early 1980s, perhaps; from the Jamaicans.com forum)
FOR MORE PHOTOS, NEWS REPORTS AND A FORUM for FANS WHO ARE SHARING THEIR GREGORY ISAACS MEMORIES, visit the Gregory Isaacs tribute page at
October 27, 2010 No Comments
Subject: Jamaican in China!–The Embassy Girls!
Date: October 7, 2010 9:01:21 AM GMT+08:00
Ok,Ok…Yes, I know these are sophisticated, adult ladies, I know, I know. I just think “The Embassy Girls” has a nice ring to it, like a television series, you know? Like a Jamaican Charlie’s Angels…:-)
Anyway, YES! You guessed it from the subject line, I finally made a visit to the Jamaican Embassy in Beijing, China!
It was an unannounced visit, but Attache and Vice Consul, Christine Barker, was nice enough to meet me at the Jianguomen train station (# 1 and #2 line) and guide me back to the Embassy’s location on the 7th floor of a 17-storey building in the Jianguomenwai Diplomatic Compound! Thanks, Christine!
Welcome to our humble….um, office building
As this was during the Golden Week National Holiday, the Chinese staff at the embassy was out, and so was the Ambassador. So, it was just me and the girls getting acquainted during my short visit.
A long time ad campaign touted Air Jamaica, the national airline, as “the little piece of Jamaica that flies.” Well, the Jamaican Embassy is the little piece of Jamaica that files…Just kidding, ladies!
Minister Counsellor Jacqueline Bell, Attache and Vice Consul, Christine Barker, and Administrative Attache Keera Clarke do much more than filing. They perform a wide range of tasks! There’s processing visas, renewing passports, providing support for Jamaican nationals, promoting a positive image of Jamaica abroad, as well as sensitive communication on behalf of the ambassador, plus a host of other duties I’m sure they DIDN’T reveal to me in the interest of Jamaican national security!
Jacqueline, Keera and Christine. The Embassy Girls (Weeknights at 8! Check your local listings)
Here are a few facts I learned during our chat:
1. About 600+ visas each year are processed for Chinese nationals and residents who wish travel to Jamaica. Too low! We have to do something about that!
2. There are only about 40 Jamaican citizens registered with the Embassy as “Living in China”! So, assuming there could be just as many who HAVEN’T actually registered, that still probably puts the total number of Jamaicans in China at less than 100. No wonder I haven’t seen any Jamaican beef pattie shops in Beijing! We’ll have to do something about that, too. (Of course, give me a few months by myself to um….check out the um….you know, the um lay of the land before you start sending any more Jamaican men. I think I can handle the, um, research on my own…I’ll let you know when I’m finished here.)
3. And finally, I learned that being so far away from home, friends and family back in JA, makes the girls a bit homesick at times. So, if you’re reading this and want to brighten up their day, do me a favour and send an email to a special address I’ve created that will forward your message directly to them! Send well wishes to email@example.com
So, would that make ME “Charlie,” or “Bosley?”
Please note the colours of the Jamaican flag for future reference. I don’t want a repeat of last time. Ok, people?!!
This was definitely a high point of the week! Not just because of the new friends I’ve made, or the things I’ve learnt, but also because of something a bit closer to home that you may have to be Jamaican to really appreciate. I mentioned this in aSaipan Tribune article when I ran into my musician buddy and fellow Jamaican, Wayne Wright, on the island of Saipan, in the middle of the Pacific, 8,000 miles and 19 years away from where we last saw each other.
Every time you meet a fellow Jamaican somewhere overseas, you take a little trip back home before you even utter a word to each other. There is a knowingness, a tacit understanding of a shared culture, a shared experience, and what it feels like to be Jamaican in the wider world of people and places. And then, when we DO speak, to hear that familiar cascading Jamaican lilt and musical intonation,(The Trinis and the Bajans know it, too) and to be able to break into our trademark patois to further forge invisible yet powerful bonds of connection and camaraderie–because the sound and syntax IS a uniquely Jamaican creation–it is familiar and comforting in a way that no song or sonnet can capture.
Of course, I’m sure every citizen of every country can say the same thing, but, of course, we feel our story is just a bit more special, a little different. From the Arawaks to the Maroons, from Bob to the bobsledders, in our story we share a little secret between us that only Jamaicans know. Because of our relatively small size as a nation, as well as our pantheon of personalities and their relatively huge impact on the world, there is a shared pride in our uniqueness and strength! We know what we are capable of. As we say in J.A, “we likkle but we talawah!”
Thanks for the trip home, ladies.
I’ll be back!
And in a public but private “Jamaicans only” response to Jacqueline, who made a comment about my appearance,
‘ow yu mean mi nuh look like a regulah whatsitwhatsit?
Yu did wahn si mi inna sum dutty crep an’ tear-up gyanzie???? eee?
(My apologies to the non-Jamaicans in the audience. You’ll have to sit that one out!)
Trinis = Trinidadians
Bajans = Barbadians
Bob = Bob Marley (Every Jamaican is duty-bound to quote “Bob” at least once in every serious discussion of politics, religion, or life in general)
Arawaks = indigenous (pre-Columbus) inhabitants of Jamaica
Maroons = Escaped slaves who mounted a successful 80-year resistance to British domination; and who granted the British government’s request for a peace treaty which is still in effect today.
Likkle = little
Talawah = Jamaican patois word meaning “brave, strong, fearless”
October 7, 2010 No Comments
Subject: Jamaican in China!–You’re kidding me, right? How could you NOT know????
Date: September 16, 2010 8:45:26 AM GMT+08:00
Something has been brought to my attention that I find extremely difficult to believe. In fact, so much has it shaken the very foundational supports of my earthbound existence, that I feel I must ask YOU, my dear friends and family members, to help me do a reality check.
You see, it all started a few days ago, when a member of my Jamaican in China mailing list wrote me an email and added the following postscript:
p.s. Just love your multi-colored e-mails!
Sensing something telling about her comment, I wrote back:
Just to make sure we’re on the same page, the colors of the Jamaican flag are black green and gold, and, of course, China’s is red. So, there’s a bit of significance to the color scheme!
To which she replied:
I don’t remember your telling your general readership this useful piece of info.
Might I suggest that you do so – so they can better appreciate why you picked those colors?
Or is everyone supposed to be smart enough to figure it out for themselves (as I was not – sigh)?
There, there, “R.” Don’t feel too bad. But don’t feel too good either. Because frankly, I’m shocked and appalled!
Now it’s conceivable, I concede, that a bit of self-important nationalism prevented me from being objective on this topic. Lord knows, it wouldn’t be the first time a Jamaican was accused of such a transgression. However, I WILL argue that there have been numerous clues throughout popular culture as well as recent history such that no one on the planet with a pair of functioning eyes (as well as internet access, high-definition television, a blackberry, and tons of time to kill, of course) should be unaware of the colors of OUR flag!
I mean, come on!! There’ve been so many visible clues!
Remember the Jamaican Bobsled Team???
Didn’t you wonder about the snazzy colors?
As he ran his victory lap, and his huge black green and gold cape fluttered in the tailwind blocking the view of the finish line of the other runners who were just hitting the final stretch of the race…..didn’t you wonder about the snazzy colors?
Okay, you may not be a sports fan, but surely you remember the familiar Jamaican-American lapel pin Colin Powell would wear on his uniform????
Okay, okay. I made that one up. There was no lapel pin.
It was a hat.
Remember? He would wear it on every talk show and at every press conference.
Don’t tell me you didn’t wonder about it?
Besides Colin Powell, whose parents were both Jamaican, there’ve been numerous other Jamaicans and Jamaican-Americans who have influenced US and world history and culture: Marcus Garvey, Bob Marley, Biggie Smalls… Tyson Beckford, Shari Belafonte, Corbin Bleu (I have NO idea who this is, but wikipedia says he/she was in High School Musical, which I know was very popular!), Sheryl Lee Ralph, Louis Farrakhan, as well as other artists, beauty contest winners, business owners, scientists, models, musicians, politicians….I mean the list goes on and on!
Check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Jamaicans for more!
And every one of them, at some time or other, has sported the “black green and gold!”
IF you were paying attention, you couldn’t miss it!
Okay, okay… maybe Minister Farrakhan didn’t wear the standard issue rudeboy wool tam every Jamaican is issued at birth, but you can tell by his rebellious, fierce and independent spirit that he’s got Jamaican blood in him (His father was from Jamaica).
Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised if Barack Obama has some Jamaican in him. But, at present, this is only a theory of mine. I’d need to see a birth certificate.
But even if you didn’t catch the entertainment spots, the sports coverage, or the political punditry, there’s basic, elementary school education for heaven’s sake. I mean, every Jamaican school child learns this little saying:
“Hardships there are, but the land is green and the sun shineth.”
as way to memorize the symbolic meanings of the colors of the Jamaican flag.
0. Yellow – a symbol of sunshine and natural resources
0. Green – the land and hope for the future
0. Black – the burdens borne by the people
What??? You mean they don’t teach that here in YOUR schools? Then of what possible significance or meaningful value has been your so-called education???????!!!!!
(ahem….sorry…got a little carried away there.)
Anyway, I’m done.
You have been forgiven. But, you’re not off the hook.
Don’t let it happen again.
But just to show my tolerance of other people’s failure to use their basic powers of observation, as well as the glaringly obvious deficiencies in the educational systems in other countries, I’ve included the flags of both Jamaica and China in the title section of this and all future mailings, and I’ve added it to the home page of the www.JamaicanInChina.com site as well, so there shall be no doubt in future.
p.s. Glad I could help round out your education, “R!”
You can thank me later!
The flag of Jamaica was adopted on August 6, 1962 which was the original Jamaican Independence Day, the country having gained independence from the British-protected Federation of the West Indies. The flag consists of a gold saltire, which divides the flag into four sections: two of them green (top and bottom) and two black (hoist and fly).
The present design emerged from those sent in by the public in a national competition. It was originally designed with horizontal stripes, but this was considered too similar to the Tanganyikan flag, and so the saltire was substituted. Black, green, and gold are Pan-African colors. An earlier interpretation of the colors was, “hardships there are but the land is green and the sun shineth”: gold recalls the shining sun, black reflects hardships, and green represents the land. However, that was changed to the colour black representing the strength and creativity of the people which has allowed them to overcome the odds, yellow for the golden sunshine and green for the lush vegetation of the island.
This image has no particular relevance to my earlier rant, but I thought
it was pretty cool, so I’ve included it here!
September 16, 2010 No Comments