By Sylvanus Thompson
As Jamaica celebrated the 56th anniversary of its independence on Monday, many Jamaicans in Canada have been reflecting on developments in the land of their birth and their own personal developments. In this article, Sylvanus Thompson writes about growing up on The Rock, as he affectionately calls Jamaica:
Even though I now live in Canada, I was Made in Jamaica and although I migrated, for what we consider greener pastures, The Rock has never left my heart. In fact, it is in being away that I’ve grown to truly appreciate, understand and love Sweet Jamaica – The Land of my Birth.
My memories of growing up in Jamaica are numerous, mostly sweet, yet some bitter. I am grateful for the values that growing up there have instilled in me, including discipline, integrity, loyalty and responsibility. I grew up in rural Jamaica, not only with my parents but also my grandparents. That in itself was a challenge, while being a blessing, as growing up with so many parents wasn’t easy as Jamaican parents have some very unique child rearing methods that have mysteriously managed to shape many generations. Moreover, in a small rural community any adult has a right to scold you and you dare not let your parents know about it, or else!
Early childhood education is a key instrument in a child’s life and I have fond memories of my “infant school” days. Like many similar institutions, particularly in rural areas, registration in these schools required a weekly fee that is paid directly to the teacher. This was definitely a sacrifice for my parents but a worthy one that laid the foundation for what I am today, even if we were just learning about Nola, Baby Bob, and Anansi. That experience helped me in making the decision to sponsor a basic school in Jamaica through PACE (Canada) to make it easier for needy kids to attend school. My primary school, affectionately called big school, was just as neglected as it relates to infrastructure and supplies. However, that did not prevent a number of us from passing the common entrance exam and going on to secondary schools. Extracurricular activities was limited to marbles, gigs, kite, swing and cricket using mainly our home-made bat and balls. The annual Denbigh Agricultural Show, and occasional school outings to places such as Port Royal or Gun Boat Beach were gems. At the end of the first semester, most schools across the island host Christmas class parties as a way to close the semester. Children got a chance to dress up, exchange gifts, and enjoy music and food with their classmates and teachers.
Aside from a brief stint of pre-trained teaching, after graduating from high school, all my professional career was in the public health field at various levels. Throughout that period I was heavily involved in voluntary activities with my professional association and within the broader community. This really laid the foundation for my continued involvement with community organizations such as the Jamaican Canadian Association, the Jamaica Diaspora Canada Foundation and currently as a Jamaica Diaspora Advisory Board Member.
I can recall running on Jamaican time and that was cool with everyone else as there was that belief that Jamaica runs on its own time and you can never truly be late. “Soon come” doesn’t necessarily mean that you will be there anytime soon and it’s No Problem as you are on Jamaican Time.
One of the many Jamaican culinary traditions is the Sunday dinner. The meal of rice and peas, meat or chicken, and vegetables is the classic Jamaican dinner that you will often find being served on Sundays. On the other hand Saturday is the regular soup day. Jamaicans also believe that everyone, children especially, should have some form of tea in the mornings. I can also recall running a boat with friends in someone’s backyard or any available spot. These boats often include curried goat, dumpling, roast yam, roast breadfruit or at times just bully beef and white rice. The usual very competitive domino games and loud music are a must for these events, especially when Desnoes and Geddes as well as J Wray and his Nephew are present. The game of domino is one of the most popular past-times in Jamaica and like almost every other Jamaican, I was the best domino player and it was always my partner’s fault when I got an occasional Six Love.
The Grand Gala is an annual Independence Day celebration that commemorates the day Jamaica became an independent state from Britain – August 6, 1962. The celebration includes agricultural exhibitions and street parades, and the main Grand Gala event at the National Stadium in Kingston. I can recall the very first Independence celebration in 1962 as my bother received a number of gifts as it was his birthday.
Telling of Duppy and Anansi stories is a Jamaican favourite tradition, mainly at nights. Anansi is a mischievous, fictional spider that has become a popular folkloric character in Jamaican culture. I can recall that no childhood in Jamaica is complete without participating in ring games. “Dandy Shandy,” “Brown Girl in the Ring,” and “Bull Inna Pen” are some of the most popular ring games that have been passed down from generation to generation.
The island-wide Grand Market Christmas eve shopping experience in Jamaica is another cherished memory. Children look forward to going out with their parents on Christmas Eve in hopes of finding their favorite toys. During the Christmas celebration those who are lucky might get a visit from Santa while others simply made their own toys. Other Christmas-related activities included white washing of stones in the front of the home.
There are a number of Jamaican Easter practices, some of which are religious while others are not and in true Jamaican fashion, specific foods are a part of the festivities. Bun and cheese are eaten together as well as fish and bammy during this period. The tradition of “egg setting” is also an interesting Easter custom whereby an egg white is dropped into a glass of water before morning on Good Friday. As the sun rises, the pattern or shape that the egg white creates in the water is considered to be a prediction of the future for the person who set the egg.
I am proud to be the product of a small yet very huge independent nation, with such a global impact. In spite of its challenges in a world that is in turmoil economically, politically, socially and spiritually, Jamaica has held its ground. The country, like many other developing ones, is not immune to such global impacts but at 56 it is still a young nation with tremendous room for growth and development. Every Jamaican in the diaspora need to pause for a moment and reflect on how being a Jamaican helped to shape their life and how they can be a part of its continued growth and development. As a people and a nation, we are strong, we are smart, we are courageous, we are bold and we are beautiful. Out of Many, we are One People and at 56 we are still showing One Love as One Family remembering that nuh weh nuh better than yaad. Nuff Respect!
(Dr. Sylvanus Thompson is an Associate Director of Toronto Public Health and one of the two Jamaica Diaspora Advisory Board Members for Canada.)