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The Voice

The rise of don culture
published: Sunday | July 11, 2004

By Howard Campbell, Gleaner Writer


Owen 'Father Fowl' Clarke. - File

BEFORE SENTENCING reputed leader of the British Link-up Crew, Owen 'Father Fowl' Clarke to 13 years in prison in June, a British judge described him as one of the most dangerous men in England.

Clarke, who was reportedly once a jerk chicken vendor in Kingston, ran a cocaine empire that raked in millions of British pounds which enabled him to live a life of affluence in that country and Jamaica.

The Jamaican don, whose image has evolved over the past 40 years, has certainly come a long way since the 1960s when he was the knife-wielding 'Rude Bwoy' who kept order in Kingston's dancehalls.

'Father Fowl' ran the British Crew just as Vivian Blake ran the Shower Posse in the United States during the 1980s and 1990s. They represent the new breed of Jamaican dons who have a major influence on this country's popular culture. So much so, says Dr. Clinton Hutton, a lecturer in political philosophy at the University of the West Indies (UWI), that many youth in Jamaica emulate them.

"Even in primary schools today you have children fighting for space. They learn from early that once you control space there's the potential to extort or peddle drugs," he said.

Dr. Hutton has worked in outreach programmes in troubled Kingston communities such as Olympic Gardens and Greenwich Farm. He traces the influence of the don to the 1950s when there was mass migration from rural parishes to some of Kingston's most hardened areas.

"These communities were re-peopled, meaning one political tribe in one area. It was the beginning of what (UWI professor) Carl Stone called garrison communities," Dr. Hutton explained. "A lot of this took place in the 1960s in West Kingston (when the Jamaica Labour Party formed the Government) but when the PNP (People's National Party) came to power (in 1972) they reinforced it by building their own garrisons."

EARLY DON'S GAME

The early don's game was largely community-based. He peddled small quantities of ganja and his weapon of choice was usually the ratchet knife; some had guns. They were the heavies Alton Ellis sang about in Dancecrasher and the community enforcers Desmond Dekker appealed to in 007 (Shantytown).

In the 1970s, as political tribalism grew, so did the role of the area leader. Men like Claudius 'Claudie' Massop (JLP) and Aston 'Bucky' Marshall (PNP) came to national prominence and played a major part in peace initiatives such as the One Love Peace Concert in April 1978. It was during this period of national unrest, says Dr. Hutton, that the modern don began taking shape.

"They were still under the patronage of the politicians, but they began to travel more to the United States and started to access their own source of arms," said Dr. Hutton. "The drug trade started to open up and some of these guys became extremely wealthy and independent of the parties."

GOVERNMENT TIES

By the 1980s and 1990s, the don's network transcended drugs. Many got involved in the music business as producers or show promoters; others got security and construction contracts, allegedly through Government ties. They also benefit from the extortion racket, raking in millions of dollars for the 'protection' of businessmen in some of Jamaica's thriving commercial districts.

"It's no longer urban, it's in St. James, Spanish Town, Clarendon and Westmoreland...they operate off the same ethos in Kingston and it's usually linked to drugs," said Dr. Hutton.

Over the years, many dons including Massop and Marshall, have met violent deaths or like Clarke and Blake were given lengthy prison sentences. Dr. Hutton says neither has impacted on the spread of their influence among mainly ghetto youth.
He thinks the solution for countering the don's profile is through education.

"We need more youth programmes across Jamaica... how we socialise our young people speaks to how they grow up," he said. "Today, our children are not trained to learn that education is liberating. A boy who takes up a book is dismissed as a gal pickney; we have to examine especially how we nurture our boys," Dr. Hutton added.

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