Wed | Apr 1, 2020

Carolyn Cooper | Swearing by Edna Manley, for real!

Published:Sunday | December 1, 2019 | 6:55 AM

On a flight from Jamaica to Turks and Caicos last Monday, I got into idle conversation with a mischievous man who asked if I’d heard that Edna Manley’s name is now a new ‘bad’ word. It’s being used as a sanitised supplement for the protective cloth and other outlawed swear words that refer to menstruation and female body parts.

How could poor Edna Manley, the nice and decent ‘mother of Jamaican art’, get mixed up in this kind of slackness?

It’s not exactly Waldane Walker’s fault. He did wave a bloody flag to end his speech as valedictorian at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts. But the clever association of the name ‘Edna Manley’ with transgression is typical of the inventive way in which Jamaicans use language.

A few years ago, I heard a vendor at Hellshire Beach calling out, “Buy yu kern”! He was selling light bulbs. The name of Kern Spencer, the PNP politician charged with fraud in the Cuban light bulb scandal, had become a generic word for the energy-saving bulb.

Then Andrew Holness seems to be slipping and sliding down a very long learning curve of corruption. In his speech at the JLP conference last Sunday, he declared, “What is important is that the Government supports the development of institutions so that it can accelerate on that learning curve and provide resources so that they can move very quickly up that learning curve and that the Government does not intervene and interfere.” That’s a rather slick sentence.

If the PM and his associates don’t move very fast up the curve away from corruption, he/they are all going to give their names new meaning as very bad words: Weh di ‘Andrew Holness’ yu seh? Di ‘Ruel Reid’ politician dem no know seh dem no fi tief govament money? A weh di ‘Kim Brown-Lawrence’ dem a defend? Dem tek man fi ‘Fitz Pinnock’ eedyat? A how dem dunce so! Dem better go back a ‘Sharen Reid’ basic school!

In October, I visited Turks and Caicos for the first time. I’d been invited to speak for National Heritage Month on cultural diversity as a conduit for national development. I asked if I could add ‘regional’ to broaden the perspective.

A highlight of that cultural exchange was eating at Miss Peaches restaurant. Excellent Jamaican food in foreign! On Monday, I was in transit to Santo Domingo. This wasn’t my final destination. I was going to Guadeloupe for a symposium on ‘The body of woman – the body of memory’.


The long and tiring route was Turks and Caicos, Santo Domingo, St Maarten and, finally, Guadeloupe. It took 12 hours, door to door! I could have gone to Europe and nearly halfway back. And almost to Africa! Unfortunately, there are no straight flights from the Caribbean to Africa. The governments of Ghana and Guyana signed an agreement last year to facilitate direct travel. That would be such a relief. We wouldn’t be forced to go roundabout through Europe or North America to get to Africa.

The legacy of colonialism makes it so difficult to travel across the Caribbean. Divide and rule is still the order of the day.

A few years ago, I tried to fly from Barbados to Aruba. The route proposed by American Airlines was via Miami. Clearly, that airline isn’t designed for travel within the Caribbean. I decided to forget about the crazy detour.

Caribbean Airlines is now offering direct service from Kingston to Havana. The last time I went, I had to overnight in Cayman. The other options were to go northeast to Turks and Caicos and west to Cuba; or west to Panama and east to Cuba. Absolute lunacy! We will never be able to achieve regional integration if we can’t manage to make travel within the Caribbean less stressful and more affordable.


All the same, the benefit of island-hopping was hearing so many languages. InterCaribbean Airways serves water branded in several languages of the region. It was so refreshing: agua, awa, eau, dlo, wata, water. Of course, fi wi waata no di deh. If we don’t take our language seriously, why should other people? ‘Dlo’ is Haitian Creole. That’s the only Caribbean language in Google Translate. Big up Haiti!

My talk in Guadeloupe was on Maroon Nanny who was born in Ghana in the 1680s. The English word, ‘Nanny’, does not accurately reflect the Ghanaian origins of this warrior. She should be Nana. In Twi, the language of the Akan people of Ghana and Ivory Coast, Nana is a gender-neutral title denoting the highest position of authority in society. It is used for grandparents, male and female elders and venerated ancestors.

‘Nanny’ suggests domesticity, particularly the care of children. This is certainly an important role for both women and men. But assigning the name ’Nanny’ to Nana of the Maroons diminishes her military genius and her vital role in the public sphere. It’s time to give back Nana her true-true title. And that’s definitely not an ‘Edna Manley’ bad word.

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