Mon | Sep 23, 2019

Amina Blackwood Meeks | Tarzan still a wear?

Published:Sunday | August 25, 2019 | 12:16 AM

If it is true that whatever children love will live forever, the default setting needs readjusting. The celebrations of Emancipation and Independence provide good opportunities for so doing. Moreover, there is a need to learn to discuss and celebrate these milestones not simply as indicators of an ability to overcome hardships, but as indices of our propensity for achieving excellence in all areas of endeavour.

One possible starting point appears to be what we teach ourselves to believe about ourselves. It should be a fairly easy task given that we have some of the best, and, perhaps, most envied cultural resources in the region. The Institute of Jamaica (IOJ), established 140 years ago, is one such.

I was engaged in a storytelling session at a recent observation of World Museums Day organised by the institute. During the story, I invited the audience to name the king of the jungle. The grown-ups, who thought it was a trick question, eyed me with suspicion and snickered, awaiting the answer. One child having no such fear, and, indeed, confident in the answer, interrupted the misgiving with one word, “Tarzan!” The irony of this, at the IOJ, was palpable. The adults burst into laughter. It required a tremendous effort to continue the story with the help of KinTeet, who so ably covered HeartBun.

Some adult members of the audience shared their memory of Tarzan as a fake brand name for shoes that were not quite up to par before the advent of the current really expensive brands that also became a marker of a kind of status measured in dollars, minus the sense required to outlast any status based solely on mathematical computations.

I later discovered that the brave child was eight years old.

KinTeet was not aware that Tarzan was still alive. Or that girls read Tarzan comics. Pardon that gender-inappropriate comment. The crux of it is, why did the adults laugh? I did not have a chance to investigate whether this was to cover some cultural discomfort or whether they found the exchange really funny.

Of this much HeartBun was sure, that innocent child was introduced to Tarzan and his dominion over the jungles of Africa by one of them. She, like many children in her age group, continues to be raised on the understanding that sovereignty over her resources is the exclusive purview of people who do not look, speak, or live like her. In fact, they also learn that the closest they could ever come to these masters of the universe is the glimpse afforded them in comics.

The real HeartBun here is how we are taught to laugh at our own condemnation, at once accepting as truth something presented as passing entertainment in a format we are conditioned not to take seriously. That manifestation of psychic disarray is a matter we shall have to fix or encounter time and again. Sometimes we acknowledge that awareness when we declare, “A nuh ebrey kinteet a laugh.”

Maybe when he sang “Children, get your culture,” Bob Marley never realised that they might have turned by default to the wrong source. He was, however, unequivocal about the importance of cultural confidence and cultural resilience: “The battle will be hotter and you won’t get no supper.”

TAKE CARE OF HERITAGE

Our Emancipation and Independence celebrations become, for many, the infrequent, though highly anticipated, gatherings for such spiritual feasting. Great care must be taken with that which is served.

The Children’s Village at Independence celebrations should not be dominated with rides and bounceabouts. There is a message in that version of Independence: that it’s time for a little fun, hardly different to that in which they are indulged. According to KinTeet, it becomes a real joke ting when some of those bounceabouts carry the Disneyland branding. Then it is possible to get insight into what some Jamaicans might mean when they say “Jamaica nuh real.”

Not so long ago, I enquired about a Disneyland-branded ride at HeritageFest during Heritage Week. I advanced the argument that it would have cost far less to have some storytelling for the children. That argument did not get very far. I was told that it was ‘donated’, ‘sponsored’. And there is the rub. Unavailability of funds or failure to adequately finance appropriate cultural content is an ever-present obstacle which, it seems, only Tarzan can scale with ease.

We must begin to fulfil our vast potential for emancipating our minds from mental slavery. We must encourage our children, by example, to explore what lies within the seven divisions of the Institute of Jamaica and not just sit in the courtyard for special occasions. We must have the courage to say to sponsors, “Thanks, but no thanks,” and engage them in discussions about the ways in which some of their well-intentioned gifts undermine our collective ability to fulfil the goal of Vision 2030 to an authentic and transformative culture.

In this way, we also teach ourselves that these national milestones are not only about specific dates in our history, but are transition points in an ever-evolving national project that contributes to the unique ways in which we make our mark on the world and exercise sovereignty over our own jungles.

- Amina Blackwood Meeks, PhD, is a storyteller and specialist in cultural studies. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and jamaicantukuma@gmail.com.