SISTER MINION CISLYN PHILLIPS 'Sister Minnie' — earned her 'right to return' by steadfast dedication to her cause

Life Tributes

Observer staff reporter

Sunday, October 21, 2018

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Leader of the Opposition People's National Party, Dr Peter Phillips says his life was never the same after he met “Sister Minnie” in the 1960s. Minion Cislyn Phillips, the mother of his children and lifelong friend, passed away on September 17, 2018. Both were 18 years old when they first met at The University of the West Indies, Mona.

Dr Phillips told members of the Rastafarian community, family members, Government officials, and well-wishers who gathered inside the University Chapel, University of the West Indies, Mona Campus recently to celebrate the life of his first wife, that their lives were intertwined.

“There were ups and downs, challenges and struggles, victories and setbacks, yet throughout it all we were to sustain a friendship and a family based on mutual respect and love that not even her passing will erase,” Dr Phillips told the gathering.

Dr Phillips and Minie, as she was affectionally known to many, were a part of the generation of the 1960s that was steadfast on “Mashing down Babylon”.

During the 1960s there were a number of uprising to include bulldozing of shacks in the West Kingston community known then as “Back O Wall” — a year after Jamaica gained independence, the anti-Chinese riot in 1965, the bulldozing of shacks at Foreshore Road (now Marcus Garvey Drive) in 1966, among which other issues led to the state of emergency in October 1966.

Sis Minnie, who was well aware of the suffering experienced by the over 4,000 squatters living in Back O Wall now Tivoli Gardens, fighting the colonial order, was influenced by a generation that was not pleased with what was happening in independent Jamaica.

She became a part of a movement to include UWI lecturer Walter Rodney, the latter becoming a part of off-campus discussion on African liberation and the relevance of black power to the Jamaican situation, although Sis Minnie was not formally a student at the institution.

Inevitably, she became a part of the Mona Campus-based Black Power Movement that emerged out of Rodney's teachings.

The presence of Sis Minnie, who was also known as (Wolete Tsion - translated as Daughter of Zion) did not go unnoticed, and her courage and determination in any confrontation linked her and Dr Phillips to a number of movements including the Progressive Force Islandwide.

When the Government banned Rodney from re-entering the island in October 1968, UWI students marched on the streets of Kingston protesting the ban.

According to Dr Phillips, Sis Minnie took her place in the front line. “She absorbed the tear gas and she fought,” he said.

Admitting that she was a leading agent of change, Dr Phillips, who himself was a part of the Black Power Movement and 12 Tribes of Israel, said she brought passion, activism and a determination to succeed that could not be reversed.

“She was an unquenchable life force that just would not be stopped. From this vantage point 50 years after, it is clear that perhaps the most striking feature of her personality was her refusal to accept the limitations on her vision or the confinement of her ambitions that the Jamaican society of the 1960s would have wanted to place on a young girl from Standpipe Lane.

“She was determined to be all that. She wanted to be not what society had decided that she should be and she was big and broad in her ambitions. She was wife, mother, Rasta- woman, Pan Africanist, master chef, restaurateur, jewellery, dance promoter, stage show promoter, archaeologist, naturalist, daughter, sister, athlete, and much else besides…society could not confine her. Truth is, Minnie could not and cannot be categorised. She was a one of a kind sort of person. She was an island girl thoroughly Jamaican who was in love with all things Jamaican, and one who would explore Jamaica from Reach Falls in Portland to Negril beach in Westmoreland. She loved the people, the food of the country, the rivers and the force of love in the hearts and souls of the Jamaican people,” Phillips emphatically stated.

But her passion did not stop there, according to the Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport Olivia “Babsy” Grange.

Minister Grange, while noting that Sister Minnie's work must be highlighted, described her as a cultural pioneer.

In the 1970s and 1980s when the Rastafarian culture started to be accepted due to the international growth of reggae music, Minnie's Ethiopian Herbal Food Restaurant was the first 'ital' restaurant in the country.

By this time Minnie's restuarant was a popular establishment for vegetarians, musicians, and visitors seeking a unique, Jamaican gastronomic experience.

Grange told the congregation that as an entrepreneur Sister Minnie had a focus on the links between Jamaica and Africa, especially Ghana, from where many Africans came to Jamaica as slaves.

“When the Jamaica National Heritage Trust's excavation was done at New Seville Great House, they unearthed the remains of some of these enslaved Africans. Sister Minnie insisted that some, if not all of the remains, should be returned for burial in Africa,” Grange informed.

The minister further explained that in 1998, as a member of the Seville African Ancestors Committee, Sis Minnie worked with the Government to organise and accompany to Ghana the remains of an enslaved African, Lady Crystal, who had been brought to Jamaica more than 360 years ago. In addition to that, the remains of Samuel Carson, which were discovered by a group in New York, were also repatriated.

The remains were handed over to the Ghanaian Government and buried during the country's first Emancipation Day celebration in July 1998 by Chief Nkyi, signifying the 'Great Homecoming' of all Africans in the Diaspora, including the Caribbean, the Americas, and beyond.

The minister stated that her prophetic efforts paved the way for Africans in the Diaspora to claim the “Right to return” allows Caribbean descendants of slavery to enter Ghana without a visa. As a result of ill-health, Sister Minnie was unable to attend Ghana's Emancipation Day celebration in July.

Manchester Member North Western of Parliament, Mikael Phillips, while reminiscing on some of the adventures he shared with his mother, said he met Michael Manley through her, and not his father.

“We lived a life that many dreamt of. We were able to experience things that others would not have experienced. Even in my daily routine as a Member of Parliament … persons wouldn't understand our background and the foundation that was laid by both my mother and my father,” he said, adding that there were days when his mother would take them to Nyahbinghi in Bull Bay, St Andrew, where they were allowed to express themselves whichever way they wanted to.

“She never once told us that we had to follow her footsteps.”

She was also remembered by her sons Robert Chin, David Phillips, and her granddaughter Destiny.

Sis Minnie, the fourth of five children, was born on October 10, 1949 to policeman Stanford Smith and Rita Samson.

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