STORY OF THE SONG:Tosh tackles nursery rhymes, great men

Published: Sunday | October 14, 2012 Comments 0

Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer

While Peter Tosh normally gets extra attention around his birthday (October 19) and the day he was murdered (September 11), this year the flurry of activity for the singer will be more than usual. This is due largely to the posthumous Order of Merit with which Tosh will be bestowed tomorrow. However, this is also the 25th anniversary of his death, which is itself a landmark. Hence the annual Peter Tosh symposium, to be held at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, on Friday takes on added significance. Plus, in this notable Tosh year, the concert at Studio 38, New Kingston, on Thursday night makes for a musical celebration of his life. Today, we look at the lyrics of one of Tosh's songs, Can't Blame the Youth, and the names he mentions. Next week, it is No Nuclear War.

In Can't Blame the Youth, Peter Tosh takes a critical look at what passes for the education system. At last year's Peter Tosh symposium, Dr Clinton Hutton (who is also one of the presenters this coming Friday) spoke about the song, saying "the critique of the education system is very serious".

And it is. After the chorus 'you can't blame the youths/you can't fool the youths', Tosh starts his onslaught on traditional schooling with the nursery rhyme (poet Mutabaruka also snaps at the child-oriented rhymes in Nursery Rhyme Lament). So Tosh sings 'you teaching youths to learn in school/that cow jump over moon/you teaching youths to learn in school/that dish run away with the spoon'.

But while that distracts the youth from reality and self-knowledge (when he sings the chorus again Tosh adds 'when they don't learn'), the rhymes do not seem as dangerous to the perception of what is right and what is wrong as the deliberate misrepresentation of colonial champions as heroes. Tosh sings:

You teach the youth about Christopher Columbus

And you said he was a very great man

You teach the youth about Marco Polo

And you said he was a very great man

You teach the youth about the pirate Hawkins

And you said he was a very great man

You teach the youth about the pirate Morgan

And you said he was a very great man

After he sings the chorus again, Tosh serves up an indictment on the quartet:

All these great men were doing

Robbing, raping, kidnapping and killing

So-called great men were doing

Robbing, raping, kidnapping

And he is right. Of the four, Columbus and Morgan are the best-known to Jamaicans, the former the European who was lost and stumbled on an inhabited region which he promptly claimed as his discovery in the name of Spain, and the latter a notorious criminal who became Jamaica's first governor.

Columbus' intentions were very clear from he landed in what he called San Salvador, now part of The Bahamas. He wrote that the people he encountered had very little with which to defend themselves and that with just 50 men he could conquer and rule them as he wished.

Henry Morgan had a swashbuckling term, a buccaneer, to his name - not regular Royal Navy but certainly loyal to England in his pillaging and looting. Morgan counted raids on the Spanish settlements of Port Bello and Cartagena among the feathers in his pirate's cap, but his sacking of Panama (and his men torturing residents for information about loot) caused a tiff with England, as it violated a treaty.

But Morgan was not punished. He was knighted and returned to Jamaica in 1675 as lieutenant governor. In Jamaica, he developed a reputation for outlandish drunkenness, with the attendant misbehaviour.

Hawkins may not have been the first person to take Africans as slaves to the Caribbean, but it was he who organised it on a wide scale to create the Triangular Trade, Africa to the Caribbean to England. Marco Polo is best known for his travels to the Far East.




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