LAST Wednesday, I was in conversation with a few of my acquaintances who were in the process of 'running a boat', that is, pooling funds for the purpose of preparing a cooked meal for themselves.
Most of the men were poorly educated but street-sharp in many matters. They were mostly uncertified construction workers who took jobs when they were available at rates as low as $1,200 per day. They were basically good people trying to do the best with what life afforded them.
I cannot recall by what route the topic arose, but one man, probably in his late 30s, mentioned food, women and menstruation, in that exact order, and said that he would not eat cooked food from a woman who was having her monthly period.
For a while I was hard-pressed to accept the fact that I was in the 21st century. When three other men agreed with him I couldn't help but intrude somewhat stridently in the conversation. "Gentlemen," I said, "do you really mean what you are saying and if so, why?"
The argument was, the woman was "unclean". I nearly blew a gasket. I removed the gloves.
"Do any of you even know what brings about menstruation?" I asked. There were blank looks all around as I did what I hated to do -- make it appear that I am 'talking down' to street-level folk. As I completed the explanation, even if any of them was newly informed of the process, from the release of a woman's egg, to the walls of the uterus becoming rich with blood in preparation for a potential fertilised egg/foetus, none showed it.
The oldest one, a man wearing dreadlocks, simply laughed and said, "Is four to one gainst you, Missa Mark. Yu can't win!"
Unfortunately, ignorance has its greatest strength in the staggering numbers of people on this planet who have accepted and adopted unquestioned traditions and old wives' tales as a way of life. Many of them have robotically bought into a lifetime's brainwashing by religious texts imposed on them by their parents, schools and community teachings.
The biblical texts probably began to be written about 3,500 years ago to about the latter part of the first century. It predates all modern science, and even where second and third-century scholars write about biblical names, the first assumption was to believe that the persons actually existed. And even if they wished to go beyond that, the facility for research was woefully non-existent.
Where scientific research does not exist, ignorance reigns. And science based more on philosophical groundings -- as much of the medical science of the 1920s and 1930s was -- is quackery. Science must constantly question itself in furtherance of its march to progress and new knowledge.
Here is what the Bible says about menstruation, and more importantly, woman.
English Standard Version (ESV)
19 "When a woman has a discharge, and the discharge in her body is blood, she shall be in her menstrual impurity for seven days, and whoever touches her shall be unclean until the evening. 20 And everything on which she lies during her menstrual impurity shall be unclean. Everything also on which she sits shall be unclean. 21 And whoever touches her bed shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water and be unclean until the evening. 22 And whoever touches anything on which she sits shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water and be unclean until the evening. 23 Whether it is the bed or anything on which she sits, when he touches it he shall be unclean until the evening. 24 And if any man lies with her and her menstrual impurity comes upon him, he shall be unclean seven days, and every bed on which he lies shall be unclean.
25 "If a woman has a discharge of blood for many days, not at the time of her menstrual impurity, or if she has a discharge beyond the time of her impurity, all the days of the discharge she shall continue in uncleanness. As in the days of her impurity, she shall be unclean. 26 Every bed on which she lies, all the days of her discharge, shall be to her as the bed of her impurity. And everything on which she sits shall be unclean, as in the uncleanness of her menstrual impurity. 27 And whoever touches these things shall be unclean, and shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water and be unclean until the evening. 28 But if she is cleansed of her discharge, she shall count for herself seven days, and after that she shall be clean. 29 And on the eighth day she shall take two turtledoves or two pigeons and bring them to the priest, to the entrance of the tent of meeting. 30 And the priest shall use one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering. And the priest shall make atonement for her before the Lord for her unclean discharge."
The idea of a woman being 'unclean' and 'impure' during her menstrual flow was the generally accepted position in those ancient and brutish pre-science days, probably 1,500 years before the Common Era. Now that intelligent people know that the process leading up a woman's monthly period is a part of the physiological wonder of the woman's body, is it not pertinent to question the church and ask why did the God of the Bible, who in all matters is said to be all-knowing, not guide the hands of these supposedly inspired men into an acceptance of the beauty, the power and the wonders of the female body?
If 'the word of God' was supposed to be a lesson for all the ages, why is it seemingly so stuck in an age of utter ignorance?
A young woman nearby, who was obviously affronted by the arrogance and ignorance of the men, asked, "So all a onnu go to restaurant an' buy food from time to time. How onnu know if the woman serving having fi har period?"
One hissed his teeth, but it was obvious that they could not defend their inconsistency. I decided to enter the conversation again, but with quite embarrassing questions to drive home the point.
"Let us assume one particular situation. The woman washes her hands. Let us assume that she also defecates, like all healthy humans do, about once per day. According to you all, she is unclean during her monthly period. Why is she not also unclean each time that she has to go to the toilet?"
"But she wash her hand," suggested one.
"Listen, a woman is much cleaner than any of you here," I told them. "Plus, menstrual blood is no less clean than any other blood. Women wash their hands more than men, period or no period. Gentlemen, this is the modern age and it sounds as if you guys really have a low regard for the women who have produced your children."
"Yu can sey anything you want to sey," answered one. "Mi nah eat from dem!"
Low respect for women very troubling
A few days before, a stunningly attractive young lady dressed in a pretty blouse and extremely tight jeans shorts walked by.
I recognised her face but couldn't quite remember where I first saw her. I greeted her and as she walked off I asked a man, one of those who would have the 'woman unclean' discussion with me days later, if she was an area girl.
"Yu nuh remember her?" he said. "A she some boy did draw dung pon an put h... pon. And di police did come deal wid dem case."
What troubled me when he mentioned that she had been gang-raped were: one, the grin on his face, and two, the fact that I had seen it so many times in the Jamaican male population at a certain level -- that general air of gleeful indifference towards rape and the veiled inference that maybe, just maybe, 'she had brought it on herself'.
Any approach to developing this country by radically shifting its economic trajectory from remaining in the doldrums to soaring to new heights must deal with the transformation of the people, not just in their economic fortunes, but in their attitudes towards each other. Indeed, it is quite likely that attitudinal shift may be the needed foundation to attaining the economic objectives.
Many of the worst aspects of religious teachings are wedded to a rigid and destructive culture, simply because nothing shapes our cultural traditions as completely as religion. It is my belief that an open attack on religion is not the practical way to achieving this attitudinal shift. To me, the more the person is exposed to a sound education and knowledge derived from it, the more likely he is to spurn these destructive traditions.
If you, the reader, believe that I am campaigning on an atheist platform, it is useful to remind you what the Bible says now about those not subscribing to their belief while accepting that secularists, agnostics and atheists are not in this modern age calling for the death of any believer.
"If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which is as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which thou hast not known, thou, nor thy fathers; Namely, of the gods of the people which are round about you, nigh unto thee, or far off from thee, from the one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth; Thou shalt not consent unto him, nor hearken unto him; neither shall thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him: But thou shalt surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people. And thou shalt stone him with stones, that he die."
Paul Buchanan has much to say
Weeks ago, I wrote a column titled 'Mr Paul Buchanan, where is the water' in relation to the complaints made to me by many residents in sections of his huge west rural St Andrew constituency.
Although I had tried to contact him by phone for many months without success, the very day after the column was published he made contact with me. "Mark, you will have to write a retraction," he said.
What resulted was an invitation by Buchanan for me to spend a day touring his constituency.
I did so, but in the process the MP made available to me the manuscript of a book he had just completed and which was on the way to the publishers. To say that I was impressed with what will be a book about the Jones Town/Trench Town Journey, A story of Greatness, Degradation and Redemption is a gross understatement.
He is expecting me to write a column on the tour through his constituency, but at this time I wish to comment on what I believe will be a magnum opus, written with imagery as rich as the constant cast of professionals, academics, sportsmen, musicians, cultural specialists and other colourful personalities who grew out of those few square miles of poverty, hope, humanity and redemption.
Bob Marley was really a psychic, says Buchanan
In a recent lecture given by Allan 'Skill' Cole, best friend of the late musical icon Bob Marley, Cole made mention of Marley being a palm reader as a youngster.
Paul Buchanan confirms this in his manuscript written months before. "It is known to only a few that in his childhood years, Bob Marley, the grandson of a Maroon myalman or spiritual healer, practised the reading of palms, using his middle name Nesta, which his mother, Cedella, assures us meant "messenger". It was the local district constable of Rhoden Hall, St Ann, who confirmed the unusual pastime of the four-year-old Bob Marley, carried out in the bushes of his rural village of Nine Miles in the parish.
"Whether this 'psychic gift', with which he was born, contributed to his deep understanding of life and its mysteries, of current happenings and things to come, we cannot be sure. What we do know is that the songs he wrote and sang betray the thoughts of a visionary, a man ahead of his time."
I am personally not a believer in 'visionaries' in the sense that some people have a figurative crystal ball through which they can see future events. Great thinkers simply draw a graph in their heads based on present trends and the likely juxtaposition of multiple happenings to bring about one big game-changing happening. But sometimes, there are things which defy explanation.
Buchanan continues, "In his signal exhortation, Redemption Song, he asked the question: 'How long shall they kill our prophets while we stand aside and look?' A few weeks after, the brilliant historian and Black Power revolutionary, Dr Walter Rodney, was assassinated by an agent of the "system" in Guyana. From early, Bob accurately predicted his own mortality: "Me gwine die at 36, jus like Jesus Christ." Although Jesus actually died at 33, Bob's ability to see beyond the present was almost unerringly manifested by his death on Monday, May 11, 1981 at the age of 37."
Buchanan on fake Rastas and dreads
In Chapter 19 of his manuscript, he writes, "Another source of degradation came with the explosion in the numbers of 'false Rastas' in the sixties. There were the genuine 'brethren' who practised the teachings of Rastafari and held fast to the doctrine of repatriation. Some of them who exemplified that tendency were: 'Count Mug', leader of a commune, alongside the gully, west of All Saints School; 'God Bynoe', who ran a Coptic or temple at Woodrow and Byrnes streets; and Mortimer Planno, grassroots philosopher, cultural icon and teacher of the faith. But there were others who feigned belief in Rastafari. These were 'False Rastas'.
"...Many became major activists and enforcers for the political parties and swore life-long allegiance to particular politicians. Like their present-day counterparts, they paraded a decadent lifestyle beyond the "fruits of their labour", abusing and beating the many women they had and wore fancy foreign clothes, embellished with big gold chains, rings and bracelets, instead of the frugal attire of Rastafari."
Reminds me of the Vatican vis-a-vis the supposed teachings and lifestyle of Jesus Christ.
Buchanan as the fascinatingly readable sociologist zooms in to a truism which is certain to irk many.
"Other 'false dreads' also obtained funding from political contracts, robberies and various 'underworld' deals. Inevitably, the new generation of young people became fully exposed and adopted this counter-culture which not only extolled incontinence but more detrimentally, promoted resistance to all forms of authority: parents, teachers, church leaders, the police and the laws of the land. Ultimately, with teenage sons replacing fathers as breadwinners, the family unit was irreparably shattered."
What makes Paul Buchanan's thesis so potent is not just the possibility that others in the society, especially those who parade their blackness on their chests, will conveniently miss the point just to score a point on behalf of their pre-judgments and against his thesis, but they will have no other explanation.
With the bursting upon the scene of the vibrancy of Rastafari in the 1950s and the lack of education fuelling the 'false dreads' of the 1960s, it is the effect that this cultural explosion had on our poorly educated youngsters that assisted in placing us where we are.
It is not Rastafari which brought about the counter-culture where, to be good, civil and law-abiding had no utility value to youngsters, but the very bastardisation of that tsunami-like, cultural Rasta wave. It is perfectly captured and reasoned out for all in Buchanan's book.
I will write about the constituency tour later, but must warn the MP that a retraction is not on the agenda.