Wed | May 22, 2019

Everyone wants to be smaddy

Published:Friday | March 13, 2015 | 12:00 AMBrian-Paul Welsh

Who is a smaddy in Jamaica? Not a somebody, and certainly not a someone, but a smaddy?

Some of us are considered (or perhaps more precisely consider ourselves to be) 'topanaris', while others are considered 'big people', either because of their occupation or some much-lauded accomplishment. Finding someone to elevate on this sometimes-sinking rock often requires us to lower our standards, but, nonetheless, that's how the thing is set.

Being considered a smaddy or any proximate marker of identity is the most basic of prerequisites in order to be accorded any sort of human dignity in this country, and, as such, it is a highly coveted title.

The gentleman crouched in the shade on the cool tiles along the street of kings is clearly not a smaddy, or he wouldn't have had to nurse the horrific gash to his skull that has now healed raw and concave. Now he sits staring out into the abyss of his life, awaiting relief.

A story about his peculiar death is likely to be tossed in some forgotten corner of the newspaper while images of his corpse sitting upright will spread like a virus through social media. Smaddy will say, "Wow! People really live like this in Jamaica in 2015? What a wicked government!" And then continue putting together the picnic basket for the pordy in Portie.

If I were a smaddy, I probably wouldn't have to wait in line at the bank. Some aspiring smaddy would recognise me and instantaneously decide that my business was more important than that of the gang of boisterous labourers noisily collecting their weekly salaries.

I would be hurriedly escorted to the next available teller while the other impatient people remaining in the line, jaws agape, would have to accept that I was 'here before', which really means I have 'arrived' in the figurative sense and am, therefore, of elevated status.

Recently, the security guard in a parking lot mistook me for smaddy because of my flashy SUV, dark shades, cool upper St Andrew lilt, and the (mistakenly identified) spliff he thought I had (allegedly) left exposed in the ashtray, (perhaps) due to absent-mindedness. Only a smaddy could be so bold and openly defiant of the law the day after another young man was shot to death, it is said, after an argument with police over a spliff. Clearly the deceased wasn't smaddy pickney or else it would be 'hell and powder house' as a consequence.

Of course, implicit in the presumption that I am smaddy is my presupposed knowledge that the law is not a shackle, since it doesn't necessarily apply to me, at least to its fullest extent. Every smaddy in Jamaica knows this, of course; it's no secret. Similarly implicit in the presumption that I am smaddy is the idea that my life is, ipso facto, more valuable than others.


great expectations


When someone is presumed to be of the ilk of a smaddy, their life and death are the subject of great expectations. The dignity they have inherited by virtue of their status is expected to carry through until they are laid to rest, and sometimes even posthumously. This is why there is collective shock when we see smaddy suffer the same indignities as 'ordinary' citizens. For these types of persons are not meant to suffer. Privilege provides immunity and impunity for those so endowed.

Rather than decry the humiliation sporadically experienced by those normally insulated from the harshness of life as an ordinary Jamaican citizen, we should do our best to ensure that no Jamaican has to agonise on a hard wooden bench in hospital or languish on a never-ending waiting list hoping they don't die before they receive attention for their easily treated condition.

If indeed we are one people, despite seemingly existing in so many different dimensions, there ought to be even a basic standard of dignity we can all expect to enjoy, irrespective of our caste.

In order for our society to mature into the place of choice for its citizens to grow into the people they truly want to be, we will need to demonstrably value everybody, not just those thought to be smaddy.

- Brian-Paul Welsh is a law student and entrepreneur. Email feedback to and