Facing an epidemic of change
THERE IS a wicked crumoochin, bad-mind variety of the flu going around town. It lies in wait until you least expect it and then it strikes... budoof! It goes for the throat, the head, the chest. In my case, it seemed to have come with prior knowledge that my voice is one of the tools of my trade - so it went for that early. After rounds of hacking and coughing, my chief means of communication evolved into a sound like a pot bottom being scraped of bun-bun and an angry crow calling across a gully.
When last have you been challenged by the price of antibiotics, cough medicine and sundry other treatments as prescribed by physicians? No free health care there. Modern pharmaceuticals don't come cheap. So, why not good old home remedies? Whatever happened to chainey root, strong-back, guinea hen weed, jackini-bush, leaf-a-life with salt and various other natural remedies of the ancestors? Notice that I have not included the Weed of Weeds.
If I lived in California, however, I might have popped down to the corner weed café and acquired my share for "medicinal purposes". I've never had the courage to indulge in the promised healing properties of the magic plant, not even when it has been recommended to me as the ultimate elixir to defeat various ailments without requiring a bank loan. But, let the records show that I am a law-abiding citizen, constrained by a mixture of cowardice and claustrophobia. The very thought of incarceration in one of our less-than desirable prison cells would be enough to threaten my existence. I have therefore surrendered my fate to a range of imported, expensive assortment of pills and potions legally prescribed but ... is there a cheaper way? A cup of Weed tea, for instance, but that is another story.
Wasn't it only yesterday that Drug Enforcement Agency personnel and helicopters from Up So engaged in war with us, to banish our Weed from the face of the Earth? Remember the seizure of Air Jamaica planes? Remember the spraying of the dreaded Round-up weed-killer over the best varieties (so I was told) of the collie weed? Remember the verandah talk about the mansions tucked away in the folds of hills in certain rural parishes, where ambitious farmers had taken their specialty agriculture to a new height?
Who would've thought that it wasn't all that long before in the very land of Round-Up, weed shops would be conducting business openly. Today, the legalisation question is being studied across the US of A, including contribution to tax collecting. Meanwhile, back in our parishes, disgruntled farmers are left with a depressed economy and the home-grown proverb: "Jackass say de worl' nuh lebble".
MANY OTHER CHANGES are bombarding us at the moment. Have you noticed how crabby and crotchety we have become about our Jamaica, the same One-love place whose praises we sang as we danced and waved the flag not even a full year ago, showing the world that we are champions? Whatever happened to the Spirit of Half Way Tree from which we wouldn't leave, not even for work, until we had celebrated one Olympic victory after another? All of a sudden we've launched guerrilla warfare against ourselves - spewing out a daily stream of bile, against the economic pressures which are on us again and our failing by repeating the same mistakes over and over again. It's happened before and will continue to happen until we get serious about determining our own future. No one but us can destroy ourselves.
An analysis of the daily offerings on Social Media is a good litmus test of where we are. The daily stream of anonymous messages denigrate our nation, our leaders, our people, for what else can we do? With a shortage of hope for tomorrow, it's back to "mash it down to build it up." On and on it goes, day after day, shielded by the shadows of self-deception and anonymity. We're not the worst in the world and we know it, but to admit that is not the same as getting involved in building which seems not to be as satisfying as mashing up.
Believe it or not, other things are happening besides despair. Not all is destruction. Last Friday (February 15), the Senate passed legislation to abolish from our statute books, laws permitting flogging and whipping as punishment for certain crimes. Many persons confess that they never even knew that we had such laws. It is usually old-timers who complain on talk-shows that today's criminals should be whipped in and out of prison, like in the "good old days". As one gentleman told me, "When we done wid dem yuh see, dem couldn't even walk. Mash up fe life."
That the day would ever come when "beat in and beat out" would no longer be considered as legal, has confirmed to our senior citizen that the country is as good as finished. The tragedy, according to what I've learned, was that the punishment often exceeded the crime and was reserved for the poorest and most vulnerable. In the Senate debate, Government and Opposition put aside the usual kass-kass to vote for change. On the Government's side, the Minister of Justice declared: "The vestigial colonial legislation, dating back to slavery, must now be repealed in order to mark a symbolic break with that ugly and brutal part of our history".
For the Opposition, Senator Alexander Williams, (one of the newer faces) has gone on record that: "Jamaicans should not see the removal of flogging and whipping as a softening of the attitude on crime. Justice must always be tempered. Justice must also have an element of mercy." This is a hard sell in this age when violent crime in particular has hardened so many hearts against the very idea of mercy and justice.
Another old law, the criminalisation of the practice of Obeah and Myal also took the spotlight. Senator Lambert Brown saw the retention of the anti-Obeah Law which has its origins in slavery, as anathema to modern Jamaica. They served only to criminalise people for their religious beliefs and practices. They had to go.
Senator Tom Tavares-Finson argued for the removal of not only Obeah from the law books but also Myal, both of African origin and part of the religious rites of the enslaved ancestors of the majority of Jamaicans. The colonial powers saw only evil in them and set the law to root them out. Both customs survived. In recent times, they have become almost obsolete in the directory of criminal activity.
Mr Tom Tavares-Finson, an erstwhile politician, as well as attorney, has had the experience of campaigning in areas of Kingston where the ancient practices still exist. He argued against criminalising a cultural practice and urged instead for recognition and preservation of their place in the ancestral heritage. Former Prime Minister Edward Seaga, an accepted expert in our cultural history, commenting on the issue also saw no reason for continued criminalisation.
It should be interesting to see, in time, which other ancient laws will come in for scrutiny. The Weed story continues. Much consideration of the pros and cons was done by the Committee, led by the late Professor Barry Chevannes, which travelled the island meeting with members of the public to determine their views. What has been the result of the findings?