IS the Jamaican culture being fully utilised by the tourism industry? Is our culture in sync with the tourism product? Have our cultural practices been bastardised to accommodate foreign tastes? There has been glib talk about introducing and developing cultural tourism, but has enough been done to make this a profitable reality?
When I was growing up in Montego Bay, Jamaican black natives were not allowed to enter hotels unless they worked there; and a special back-door entrance was usually created for them. Indeed, there was a hotel that allegedly had a black gate and a white gate! The world-famous Doctor's Cave Beach was off limits to most locals, and resort properties operated in splendid isolation. Thank God, much of this has changed although there are still remnants of ostracism and double standards meted out to blacks. Just last weekend, as I was entering a well-known establishment in Negril, a black woman walked by me in a huff, declaring that she would never go back to that place because she had been treated in a discourteous manner. "Why dem treat us so, hmm? It's because we are black," she shouted as she and her party departed the premises in high dudgeon.
Ironically, still intrinsic in our culture is the perception that "anything black nuh good". So our own black brothers and sisters treat us as second-class citizens when we become "tourists". Take it from me, if you want to be treated royally, "twang" your way through while on property. Once you use an American accent, you will be assured five-star treatment. "Yeah mon!" Jamaica, no problem. I recall once on St James's Street in the second city, a young Jamaican man escorting a group of tourists across the road, stopping traffic in the process. Shortly after, an elderly woman was attempting to cross that same busy thoroughfare, so I shouted to him, "Help the old lady, nuh man!" He just hissed his teeth and raced after the tourists.
Interestingly, in most instances when tourists are asked why they like coming back to Jamaica, the most popular reply is the Jamaican people. They are friendly, warm, hospitable, charming, humorous. Yet in dealing with one another, Jamaicans resort to the "screw face" mentality. Check our roads and observe how our motorists behave. Indeed, there are many visitors who have vowed that they would never come back to Jamaica because of the craziness that goes on our roads. I have been told of a tourist who after having rented a motor vehicle returned with it before the time was up, looking every inch a nervous wreck. And innocent visitors have lost their lives, victims of careless, reckless driving. So much for our "kulcha"!
In the meantime, we are yet to come to terms with the use of ganja (grass, marijuana, weed, sensimilia, etc). It is no secret that many tourists come to Jamaica for the good stuff. This reminds me of a joke about an unsuspecting American tourist who, having just landed at the Sangster International Airport, asked a taxi driver, "Hey mon, where can I get some good grass?" The wily driver told him to wait and came back with a sealed bag which he sold to him for a tidy sum. When the American went to his hotel room to enjoy "the good stuff", to his amazement it was real Jamaican grass (the kind that cows and goats relish).
Seriously, though, when are we going to come to terms with the fact the smoking of ganja is a national pastime and is therefore part and parcel of our culture? How can we be using one of our greatest cultural icons, Bob Marley, as a symbol of who we are as a people, a man who was known to "smoke herb and lick the chalice" without any apology? What hypocrisy!
What do we really mean when we say to the tourist, "Come to Jamaica and feel all right"? I strongly believe that the personal use of ganja, whether as a sacrament or pleasure by adults in a private setting should be legalised. In Rotterdam, Holland, for example, there are ganja cafés where tourists can go and smoke their weed without threat of going to jail. On every hotel property ganja is sold to tourists by staff members, some of whom make a fortune out of this practice. At every major entertainment event, not to mention political rallies, the peddling and smoking of ganja is par for the course and the police often turn a blind eye. Frankly, we need to wake up and smell the weed!
In this same vein, this writer contends that the arresting, fining and confining of Jamaicans for smoking a spliff should be eliminated. I have known of too many individuals who have been "criminalised" when caught with a few ounces of the banned substance. Counselling, drug rehabilitation or doing compulsory community service would be more appropriate rather than putting a 17-year-old in prison among seasoned criminals for having been caught with a spliff! I put it to you that if the police were to go all-out numerous tourists would be in serious trouble. As Bob Marley sang, Excuse me while I light my spliff. Not to mention the late Peter Tosh who was recently awarded the Order of Merit who sang vociferously, Legalise It, or who expressed the wish to smoke it "inna Buckingham Palace".
As for reggae music, how much of this genre of live music is played in our hotels and is put in a pride of place? Vestiges of Yellow Bird and The Big Bamboo resound with fading relevance while fire-eaters and limbo dancers hold sway in an almost decadent setting. It has been said that a country that does not come to terms with its culture will never be economically prosperous. Need I say more?
Lloyd B Smith is a member of parliament and deputy speaker of the House of Representatives. The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the People's National Party.