Thu | Dec 13, 2018

Carolyn Cooper | Blue drawers, Tie-Leaf, Dokunu, Kenke

Published:Sunday | October 1, 2017 | 12:00 AM

Heritage Month starts today. Whose heritage will you be celebrating? If you've been conned into thinking that Jamaica is an 'out-of-many-one' society, you'll assume that my question is pointless, at best. Or divisively racist, at worst! Of course, we're celebrating Jamaica's multiracial heritage! But are we?

I recently read an article in Marie Claire, the US fashion magazine, published on June 21, 2017. It was written by Rebekah Kebede, a mixed-race American journalist who used to live in Jamaica. The headline makes a perplexing statement: 'Why black women in a predominantly black culture are still bleaching their skin'.

Outsiders sometimes see us much more clearly (or darkly) than we see ourselves. Jamaica is a "predominantly black culture". It's an alternative fact to claim that we are multiracial. That delusional definition of Jamaican identity makes many black women (and men) bleach their skin. They're trying to look like the 'out-of-many-one' ideal.

Jody, one of the women interviewed by Kebede, made a most disturbing statement: "When you black in Jamaica, nobody see you." It hurt mi to mi heart. Something is fundamentally wrong with a society that makes the majority of its citizens feel invisible. To be seen, you have to erase yourself.

Jody admits that she bleached her skin for nine years. She was very pleased with the results: "It's nice when the guys call after you saying, 'Browning!' and you know you born black." Jody stopped bleaching when she became a born-again Christian. It's a good thing that bleaching is devilish vanity. Stopping will save a lot of people's skin, if not their souls.




How are we going to deal with the heritage of colour prejudice that haunts our society? We have to start with the children. We have to teach them self-love. And we simply must challenge the media about the images that are being marketed to represent Jamaica. And it's not just an issue for the social pages. It's the whole spectrum of media images. We have to question our long-standing assumptions about who should be seen and who is to remain invisible.

One of the events this Heritage Month that will help put us on the right path is a lecture by Dr Julius Garvey, who will speak on the topic, 'Why Introducing Marcus Garvey Into the Educational Curriculum Of Jamaica At All Levels Is Critical for the Nation's Growth and Development'. The lecture will take place at the Undercroft of the Senate Building at The University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, on October 12 at 7 p.m.

Dr Garvey is coming to Jamaica for the launch of the Centre for Reparation Research at The UWI. There will be an all-day symposium on October 11 at the Regional Headquarters on 'Post-Independence Cross Roads: Economic Growth, Sustainable Societies and Reparatory Justice'. The symposium is open to the public and free of charge for local participants.

Then I wonder what Dr Garvey will think about the image of his father that is enshrined in the Faculty of Humanities and Education at The UWI. The new bust of 'Garvey' is not much of an improvement over its mangy predecessor. The image still has a hang-dog look. After the vigorous fight to take the first bust down, we cannot settle for this impotent replacement. It, too, must go.

In my column 'Brand new second-hand Garvey bust', published on September 17, I argued that Raymond Watson's strength is abstract art. Not representational! I suggested that, having failed at his two chances to do a lifelike Garvey bust, he should be asked to do an abstract sculpture representing the audacious spirit of our first national hero - free of charge. And to celebrate its 70th year in 2018, The UWI should erect a truly monumental statue of Marcus Garvey.




The battle against the fake bust was vigorously led by Ka'Bu Ma'at Kheru, resilient director of programmes/administration at IRIE FM and professorial host of the 'Running African' programme. Today, there will be an outside broadcast at the Institute of Jamaica, in downtown Kingston at 12 East Street, in celebration of Heritage Month. And the museums will be open.

At 1 p.m., in the institute's lecture hall, Kheru's book of poetry, Making Kenke From Memory: A Sankofic Journey, will be launched. In the Twi language of Ghana, Sankofa means "go back and get it". The Sankofa heart and bird are potent Akindra symbols. The head of the bird is bent backwards and it carries an egg in its mouth. The heart curls inward and outward. Both symbols represent the past that must be continuously retrieved for posterity.

For Ka'Bu Ma'at Kheru, kenke is a symbol of nurturing African traditions that must be remembered in the diaspora. Blue drawers and tie-leaf are Jamaican words for kenke and dokunu, staple foods in West Africa that made their way across the Middle Passage. Dokunu comes from Twi and kenke from Ga.

In his classic book, Jamaica Talk, Frederic Cassidy notes that, "The dokunu may be made with green banana, sweet potato, yellow yam, coco - but it is always wrapped in plantain or banana leaf." So the name tie-leaf! Blue is the bluish-green colour of the leaf. But drawers? Pure slackness. Stush in the Bush will be serving nibbles on Sunday. I just love their tag - 'where rustic meets gourmet'. Their sankofic menu is always something to remember.

- Carolyn Cooper, PhD, is a specialist on culture and development. Email feedback to and