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Jamaica 2012

Week 2: Culture

Feb. 2, 2012

RELIGION

The Whytes are part of the Church of the Nazarene, an evangelical Christian denomination. Like I described before, service is full of joyful singing and dancing. I went to a service where people had just been baptized and I observed a wonderful little tradition. Towards the end of the service (hour 3 perhaps?), the baptized are asked to the front, are welcomed personally by the preacher, then the congregation is asked to do the same. Every pew empties as a line forms towards the baptized and everyone starts singing at the top of their lungs, complete with tambourines and drums. Quite an experience!

I’ve also noticed that every person I’ve met that is active in their community is also religious. I haven’t found anyone who is an atheist, and I doubt I’ll find any. It seems that the missionaries from back in the day did a great job. Besides building way too many churches that need maintenance, they successfully created generations of loyal Christians. Young people enjoy Gospel music. Adults regularly go to services. Religion is easily mentioned in conversation without it being awkward or causing tension. It’s quite unusual to me since religion has almost become a four lettered word in our science obsessed culture, which really is a shame. And please note that as an engineer I completely respect the findings of science. I’m in no way a Creationist or anything like that. I just wish our society wasn’t so far removed from the spiritual side of life. We might rediscover our morals if we take the time to become reacquainted with those religious texts.

MUSIC

Jamaica is well known for its reggae beats, especially coming from the likes of Bob Marley. So it comes as no surprise that reggae dominates the airwaves here. However, the American music scene and several international stars are also common. I’ve hear people listening to Katy Pary, Kei$ha, Shania Twain, Shaggy, and Bruno Mars. There was also a three day concert that headlined Celine Dion, Ceelo Green, and another artist I’ve forgotten. Overall, it seems people enjoy R&B and reggae, but they’re also familiar with pop artists as well. In hindsight I shouldn’t have been, but I was shocked when I learned that American culture had reached this island. I was expecting a whole new mixture, completely unique to Jamaica. Regardless of my expectation (which I seem to remember saying I would leave in the states…), the reggae scene is extremely strong and full of diversity in its own right. I’m going to try to coax out a list of favorite artists from my students to bring back with me. Hopefully I can get a playlist together for those of you who are interested.

SLANG

In my first two weeks, I’ve learned about a hand full of slang words, mostly thanks to Asa. First, a janko is a type of motorcycle and is used to replace that word regardless of the motorcycle’s make, similar to how Harley is used. Or maybe I’m the only one who uses Harley to refer to any motorcycle……

Second, you might know this word, but it was new to me. Ganja is the term of choice in these parts for marijuana. FYI its use is illegal here as well. I felt a bit silly asking Mrs. Fenton what it meant, but I’m glad I asked an older person rather than someone my own age. The latter situation would have been quite a bit more embarrassing.

While in Kingston at the nice evening, Asa asked me if I was high because I had a single alcoholic drink. Apparently this word isn’t associated with ganja at all. I wish I remembered the word they use here for getting high, but it escapes me.

Finally, on my walk from the AOC building where I spend most of my time to the HEART building (only a block away), the high school kids who go to classes across the street often yell things like, “Whitey, whitey!”, or “Psssss”. So the first is obviously a reference to my skin tone. The second is what guys say when a nice looking woman walks by. Asa was the one to explain this sound to me, but what’s funny is that he literally creates that white noise for every single woman he passes. ha…men! 😛

NATIONAL SYMBOLS

So I’ve been studying my Jamaican social studies lately, along with everything else. I’ve learned about their national heroes, their colors, Rastafarianism, their national bird, and national fruit. I’ve already discussed the national heroes through my pictures of the park in Kingston, so I’ll skip that now. Their flag is the main image of this blog- yellow, black, and green. Jamaica also has borrowed red from its Rastafarian brothers who similarly borrowed colors from the Ethiopians. You’ll see people proudly wearing these colors—women in dresses, men in their hats. Flags can be found everywhere as well—painted on buildings, on vehicles of every sort, clothing even. Though Rastafarianism has influenced the culture somewhat, its followers are quite rare. Otherwise, the hummingbird called the Doctor Bird can be found on signs all over Kingston leading to what I don’t know. I asked Cadine if she’d ever seen one and she said they like to hide, but you have a better chance seeing them in the country than in the city. The national fruit, on the other hand, is very common. Ackee has a bright red shell that is very beautiful and yellow interior fruit. It is boiled and often mixed with any sort of meat (fish, chicken, etc.) for breakfast. I originally took the meal for eggs and meat, so that gives you an idea of what it looks like. Cadine says I should have a few freeze dried and bring them with me back home. I’m considering it.

PARADOX: NATIONAL PRIDE vs NATIONAL RACISM

I collected some very interesting intelligence today. It didn’t take me long to realize how proud Jamaicans are of their country, their people, and the progress they’ve made as a nation over the last 60 years. Like I mentioned above, they proudly display their colors everywhere. Not only that, but they way they talk about Jamaica and its people displays a strong sense of national pride.

What’s odd is the role race plays in this nation even today. And I’m not talking about how Jamaicans are racists towards white people—they aren’t really at all, not in a negative way. I’m talking about how Jamaicans are racist among themselves. With in many Jamaicans’ life times, it was looked down upon to have dark black skin. Mr. Brown was telling me how such people couldn’t have high positions at banks because the people with money (white folks) were very prejudiced and so racism was built into the policies. Because of this state of affairs, many people would bleach their skin so that they would have lighter skin!! Can you imagine being so ashamed of a property of your body that you purposely harmed yourself to hide this property? Or maybe they were just trying to work the system and be able to get a good job. Regardless, it shocked me that people still bleach their skin, and this sense of the-lighter-you-are-the-better distresses me. Mr. Brown shared a saying with me, “White is right, Brown can stick around, Black stay back.” The idea that such an ideology can still hold on in a society built by a nation of black people is worrisome in the least. To be honest, I don’t understand how it is possible that Jamaicans have such a strong sense of national pride and simultaneously be ashamed of who they are. Seems like a paradox to me.

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