By Peter Espeut
Jamaica is a community of people that, thankfully, has not yet lost its soul. But clearly, we are still searching for it.
Why has there been public outrage at the sexual conduct of high-school students at the Half-Way Tree Transport Centre, and at an after-school party of Maggotty High students in St Elizabeth? Has this not been the norm for some time in dancehall and at carnival? And even on political platforms? Is it that it is OK for adults, but not for teenagers?
It may be called 'daggering' today or 'wining', but it was called 'rubbing' or 'dubbing' and 'sawdering' in my youth, and 'rent-a-tile'.
Have you ever been to a quadrille dance? I don't mean at Festival time, watching it on a stage; I mean in a mud-floor hut on a deep rural hillside under a tilly lamp. Those bumping and grinding adults make today's kids look awkward. And a lot more happens beyond the shadow cast by the lamp.
The first time I danced Kumina in the hills of St Thomas (doing research, of course - participant observation), I almost disappeared within the secure embrace of an abundantly buxom damsel. It may be a religious ritual, but Kumina is profoundly sexual. Not all the religions practised in Jamaica ban sexual relations outside of marriage, and the young learn a lot by watching adults.
Jamaica has been a highly sexualised society, high and low, for hundreds of years. That 80 per cent of births in Jamaica take place outside marriage is a long-established pattern. The exploitation of black women by white men is part of our history, as is the seduction of white men by black women. The large number of 'brown people' in Jamaica is testimony to this fact.
But yet we are outraged at the sexual conduct of students at the transport centre, and Maggotty students in St Elizabeth.
Before public displays of sexual behaviour became commonplace, the incidence of teenage pregnancy in Jamaica has been extraordinarily high. Children are genitally active in first form and second form, and even primary school. Is this a problem? Why have an age of consent? Why not encourage safe sex for all by providing appropriate information, distributing condoms and other contraceptives to the young, and abortion on demand when all else has failed?
Why not encourage sex for all by ensuring that our popular music carries that message, by making videos of people having sexual intercourse easily available on the Internet, and providing occasions where young people can get together and have sex? Why not develop a value system to underpin the definition of 'a real man' as someone who 'has nuff gyal' and knows how to 'work it', and 'a real woman' as someone who knows how 'to wine up herself' and 'satisfy a man'?
Why the outrage?
But wait! Maybe this is what we have done. And continue to do. Why then are we outraged at the sexual conduct of students at the transport centre, and by Maggotty students in St Elizabeth? Is this some streak of prudishness coming to the fore? Or is it that some higher law - written on our hearts - is nagging at our souls?
One could approach this problem from the angle of Christian ethics, but one could come to the same conclusion on strict sociological principles. Social order requires disciplined members, and disciplined persons know how to control themselves (i.e., control their tempers and their urges, including their sexual urges).
Undisciplined persons lose control easily, and settle disputes by resorting to violence. Undisciplined persons are unable to make themselves skilled enough to be high earners, and often resort to taking from others what they feel they need.
Schools are places where young people - still unformed and immature - are taught discipline and how to become mature. The conduct of the students at the Half-Way-Tree Transport Centre, and at an after-school party in Maggotty, St Elizabeth, was undisciplined and unrestrained and immature, and suggests that our socialisation of our young people is failing.
As a post-slavery, post-colonial society, we have not sought to re-engineer ourselves, but have simply carried on with the foibles of the past. We have no stated policy for strengthening the family, or policy for channelling sexual relations towards strengthening our society.
Do we want to continue in our current direction? How does a society which values freedom change its trajectory? Will we - as a society - find our soul? Or will we remain preoccupied with our bodies?
Peter Espeut is a sociologist and Roman Catholic deacon. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.