Sun | Aug 9, 2020

Daniel Thwaites | Colonialism raising my blood pressure

Published:Sunday | July 12, 2020 | 12:28 AM

Roger Clarke, whose blood pressure I imagine was vertiginous, got himself into hot water some years back for saying Jamaicans need to be eating oxtail, not chicken back. The clear understanding was that (and it’s the truth) oxtail is a luxury item. Why? Because we love and demand it. Back in the day when it was the fifth-quarter of the animal and it’s all we could get, some genius tun-han-mek-fashion and created this deeeeelishus meal.

It’s not porterhouse or filet mignon, but goddammit, it’s special. The Englishman gave the field hands lemons; they made lemonade. And now that we have the choice, not one soul can prevent me from slurping away at the results of the ancestral virtuosity.

Let’s say I’m at a restaurant. Even if I muster up some self-control and forgo the salty and greasy oxtail, I will still ask for the server to “put nuff ah de haxtail gravy pon de rice”. Why is that? Because oxtail and oxtail gravy (especially with the butter beans) is to me, a Jamaican, like hot dogs and hamburgers to an American, spaghetti and meat sauce to an Italian, cocaine to a Colombian, or a bushing contract to a local government councillor. You get the picture. Mi luv it. Mi search fi it. And if you don’t like it that’s because there’s something wrong with you, not with me.

Now I know that it’s better to eat pak choi, steamed callaloo and three carrots, have a fruit for dessert, and then run three miles. But I don’t do it. And that’s because oxtail tastes great, and even better if for dessert you teach J. Wray an’ him nephew a lesson or two in endurance. But here’s the thing: Over the many years of chewing through oxtail bones and rubbing johnnycakes into oxtail gravy, it never once occurred to me that some dead 17th or 18th century Englishman was responsible for my fantastic, salty, greasy, delicious and disastrous food choices.

So you can imagine my surprise when I read the Wednesday Gleaner headline, ‘Sir Hilary: Colonial mess leaves behind a pandemic of diseases’. Excuse me. What??? I put my daily fried chicken lunch one side and scratched my head to read it again. This is going to be interesting. To be fair, I had self-medicated with two hot Guinness for breakfast (to belch off de gas), smoked a few cigarettes in the mid-morning, and hydrated with some sugar-laden sodas, so my pressure was running kinda high. But what is this eminent and highly decorated professor really telling me?

Well here’s the quote:

“More amputations are committed in the Caribbean per capita than any other part of the world, this is because for 300 years, the people of this region were forced to consume a diet based on what they produce, sugar … . We now have this enormous pandemic sweeping through this region. Billions of dollars are spent each year dealing with the consequences and the legacies of an enforced diet of sugar and salt to which the people of the region are now addicted.”

Ahhh … addiction! But it’s not exactly us who the colonialists addicted, so this requires some more explanation. It’s not you. It was your great-great-great-great granny who was force-fed sugar and salt. And that is why you save up your money and run to KFC, beg the waitress to put extra oxtail gravy on your rice, and drink so much rum.


Translated into plain English, Prof is letting you know that it’s an Englishman somewhere, probably sitting lotus-position in your brain, telling you what to eat and drink, how often you’re to eat and drink it, and how much physical activity and exercise you’re to engage in. Man, dem Englishbwoy is very powerful!

The thing is, I looked up the rates of high blood pressure in England and they have a problem there, too.

Around one in three adults in the UK has high blood pressure. Still, the women there seem to be doing somewhat better than Caribbean women. As an aside, my unscientific first guess would be that it’s because many Caribbean men, like my brother Benjamin, prefer more meat on the bone, and women adjust their behaviour accordingly. But that, alas, is speculation, albeit speculation backed up by years of observation, experimentation, and research. But I digress.

They (the Brits) are no slouches in the high blood pressure department, or, to be more precise, they’re almost as determined to be slouches as we are. Hence, if colonialism is the cause, it would appear to have wreaked its damage on the coloniser as much as the colonised. Or if there is an entirely different reason why the UK is afflicted – apart from the patently obvious fact that most people in England and Jamaica alike love salt and sugar and prefer not to exercise – then we’re missing it.

Either way, colonisation is plainly neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for an unacceptably high prevalence of high blood pressure and hypertension, which then begs the question of why Sir Hilary zeroes in on it. Perhaps to the man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail, and to the decolonising experts, every problem is plainly a result of slavery and colonialism.

However, I note that according to some Ghanaian researchers, there it seems that increased wealth was a causative culprit, meaning, no doubt, that with additional resources the people went out and ate more of what they wanted, namely foods high in salt and sugar. “Systolic BP, diastolic BP, and odds of elevated BP increased with increasing wealth status. A linear trend was noted … Odds of elevated BP increased with increasing wealth status, with richest respondents found to have a 151 per cent increased odds of elevated BP.” (A. Kofi Amegah and Simo Nayha, Heliyon, 2018 Jul; 4(7): e00711.)


Straightforwardly, these are diseases aligned with relative wealth, ease of access, successful marketing. What we used to enjoy for Sunday dinner only, we now can have daily. Juicy Beef to de werl!

Anyhow, now to solutions. The knighted Sir Hilary, naturally, proposed reparations from the United Kingdom. In plain language, the dead Englishmen’s descendants need to pay us because we’re eating grease and salt and sugar, drinking rum, and refusing to go on a run three times a week.

Excellent! I like the idea. That’s all I will say about it. Well maybe I will say one more thing: when I get my money I’m going to buy a few buckets of KFC, a case of Appleton Special, and there will not be a single cow in Jamaica with a tail on it, because the bidding war will start and the pound is very strong. After all, the colonialists addicted me, and that’s what addicts do with their money.

To be fair, we shouldn’t leave this topic without noting that Health Minister Tufton has taken a somewhat different approach to this whole issue. Every time you check, Tuffy is out there jogging a 5k, running a 3k, riding a bicycle, or hiking up in the mountains. For real, I expect to see the man hang-gliding off Blue Mountain Peak one morning or swimming the Kingston Harbour to goh eat a fish outa Port Royal.

The clear implication of this ministerial behaviour is that while we’re waiting on the big cheque from England, we can take charge of our own destiny, hold off on the delicious salt and sugar, and do some physical exercise. What a naïve fool! Amazingly, he seems to believe that you needn’t listen to the dead Englishman in your brain telling you to have that extra piece of chicken, drink a litre of soda, and lie around watching television.

- Daniel Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to