A side of misunderstanding? Remembering one aspect of the Coral Gardens IncidentSunday, April 11, 2021
Dudley C McLean II
It is amazing how human conflicts can originate over silly incidents. The British love for pork has been a cause for at least two known wars.
In 1859, on San Juan Islands, located between the mainland United States and Vancouver Island, and home to American settlers and British employees of the Hudson's Bay Company, the first and only shots of what became known as the Pig War came on June 15, 1859, when an American farmer named Lyman Cutlar gunned down a British-owned black boar after he discovered the animal rooting through his potato patch. The ensuing argument over the dead hog increased tensions between the two groups of settlers, and Cutlar was eventually threatened with arrest.
After the Americans reported the incident to the military, the US Army dispatched Captain George Pickett — later a Confederate general during the Civil War — with a small complement of troops. Pickett upped the ante by declaring the whole island US property, and the British responded by sending a fleet of heavily armed naval vessels to the coastline. An absurd stand-off ensued, and the situation remained on a knife-edge for several agonising weeks. The two nations would finally negotiate a deal allowing for joint military occupation of San Juan Islands in October 1859, ending the Pig War as a bloodless stalemate — save for one unfortunate dead hog.
Sixty-four years earlier, in 1795, another conflict, known as The Second Maroon War, started in July of that year among the Trelawny Town Maroons and the English settlers in St James. The primary cause of the trouble was said to be the flogging of two Trelawny Town Maroons for stealing pigs. The Maroon leadership did not object to the flogging itself, but the fact that it was administered by a Negro workhouse driver in the presence of many of the other runaway slaves who had been caught by the Maroons and handed over to the authorities for a fee and punishment.
The conflict escalated because the newly arrived Governor Balcarres believed in strong measures, and also because of fears that French agents were involved from nearby St Domingue, which was to result in the creation of the Republic of Haiti. The Maroons escalated the war by raiding outlying plantations, killing the planters and their families, and releasing the slaves. Eventually the English gained control and the captured Maroons were shipped to the cold of Nova Scotia. They did not do well there and, in 1800, were transported to Sierra Leone.
April 11-13, 2021 is the 58th anniversary of the Coral Gardens Incident. A 2015 report by the public defender describes it as “bombshell”, as it unmasked the prejudices of fellow black Jamaicans towards one another, and especially towards Rastafarians. It should be noted that we have perpetuated these attitudes in varied institutions — church, school and the workplace — by giving precedence to European standards for deportment and negation for anything Afrocentric.
As we acknowledged our faults, and continue working in dismantling the mental slavery of Eurocentric identity, we need to guard against creating conflicts due to rumours or misleading information that lacked scientific evidence.
I found the following from the 2015 public defenders' report on the 1963 Coral Gardens Incident instructive:
“Many months ago, Rudolph Franklin, one of the three Rastafarian brethren who was shot dead on Thursday, April 11, occupied a plot of land on the Rose Hall Estate. The headman of the property, Edward Fowler, who also died on April 11, brought a policeman to evict the brother off the land. The unarmed brother was shot six times by the police and believed to be dead and was not taken to hospital until hours after. The brother recovered after months of medical treatment, although he was told by the doctor that he would live for only a short period. He was immediately sentenced to six months imprisonment on a charge of having ganja.
“It is said that, upon his release from prison, Rudolph vowed revenge. He had had plastic surgery done to his stomach and reportedly had been told by the doctor that anytime the plastic rotted, he would die. This account was related several times and also by 76-year-old Isaac Wright, 'Bongo Isaac'.” ( Jamaica Observer, 'Rastas beaten, forcibly trimmed of their locks after Coral Gardens', December 16, 2015)
In case you missed it, the Coral Gardens Incident happened because “Rudolph vowed revenge.”
Ras Franklin's anger was reportedly fuelled by misunderstanding of what “plastic surgery” meant.
According to the American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery, “Plastic surgery is defined as a surgical specialty dedicated to reconstruction of facial and body defects due to birth disorders, trauma, burns, and disease. Plastic surgery is intended to correct dysfunctional areas of the body and is reconstructive in nature.”
The question that needs answering is whether the “plastic will rot after surgery”, as claimed by Rudolph?
The word plastic in plastic surgery means 'reshaping' and comes from the Greek plastike (tekhne), “the art of modelling” of malleable flesh. This meaning in English is seen as early as 1598. Therefore, when we speak about plastic surgery, it references “moulding of the flesh”, and not the use of plastic as a wide range of synthetic or semi-synthetic materials that use polymers as a main ingredient.
Head of Jamaica's plastic surgeon association, Dr D L Guyan Arscott, with some 37 years of experience, weighed in on the question. He believes that the Coral Gardens Incident highlights one of the dangers of poor communication that is a major problem for health care delivery in Jamaica.
“If the proper communication is executed disaster can be prevented,” he said.
Can the “plastic surgery” done to the “stomach” rot? It was the medical view of Dr Arscott that Ras Franklin clearly misunderstood the role and functions of a general surgeon and that of a plastic surgeon, and what constitutes the stomach. Generally, we tend to confuse the body parts, as the stomach refers to the inner muscular, J-shaped organ in the upper part of the abdomen. It is part of the digestive system, which extends from the mouth to the anus. No plastic surgery is performed on such areas. Plastic surgeons would have operated on the outer abdominal (belly) wounds. Secondly, the operation really involves the “moulding of tissues” called plastike (Greek).
As an oral-based society, Jamaicans tend to be descriptive in their use of language. This can contribute to many misconceptions, if taken out of context. As such, many of us have an oversimplified idea about plastic surgery, associating it with the use of synthetic or semi-synthetic materials, rather than “modelling” of malleable flesh.
The Coral Gardens Incident was a most unfortunate one that reveals the high-handedness and oppressive actions of agents of the State that mirrors our own behavioural attitudes towards each other.
In 1963 the Government of Jamaica signalled its attitude of indifference with the marginalisation of the human rights of its citizens with the events of the Coral Gardens riots. During the 60s, the two main political parties also created communities of dehumanisation (garrisons), where the community leaders or “dons” exercise their own jungle justice within the State of Jamaica, along with enforced delivery of votes with illegal guns.
Having bred this new form of dehumanised beings over the past 50-odd years, both political parties — Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and People's National Party (PNP) — when in Government, have consistently instituted draconian means, where necessary, among them the Suppression of Crime Act, states of public emergency, Green Bay Massacre, the 2010 security forces operation into Tivoli Gardens, and even legislative changes aimed at infringing and abrogating the guaranteed rights enshrined in our constitution in order to contain a political garrisonisation experiment that went wrong, and one in which the political will to dismantle their creation is weaned.
We need to challenge the constitutionality of the garrison phenomenon in the Constitutional Court to set our people free.
As we journey into a post-COVID-19 era, let it become the age of “justice, brotherhood and peace” empowered by the knowledge of the constitution and our rights and freedoms as citizens to think critically and not create mayhem by the use of unconventional myths and rumours.
Dudley Chinweuba McLean II hails from Mandeville, Manchester, and is executive director of the Associación de Debate Bilingüe Xaymaca (Adebatex), promoting debating in Spanish in high schools. He is also a graduate of Codrington College, The University of the West Indies, Cave Hill. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or email@example.com.
Now you can read the Jamaica Observer ePaper anytime, anywhere. The Jamaica Observer ePaper is available to you at home or at work, and is the same edition as the printed copy available at https://bit.ly/epaper-login