Fri | Nov 26, 2021

Orville Taylor | Madras Cloth

Published:Friday | July 28, 2017 | 12:00 AM
Miss Lou
Students perform at the Alpha Infant School Bandana Day, back in 2013.

This is the last Sunday before Emancipendence, and I feel like I should tell some people about their Madras cloth, and that goes for the big cats, the little Kitty and a slightly talent-free entertainer who seeks equal rights. Alternatively, I perhaps should tell the minister of national security, Bobby Montague, to hold on a little longer on the conjugal-visits-to-prisoners' decision and keep it in hand until a more opportune time. Indeed, many of those who are incarcerated were licking their lips for a change of diet from jerk pork and chicken to steam fish.

However, only the second syllable in Emancipation will come their way now, but thankfully their independence is for some still at hand.

First of all, I have to speak, and not tongue in cheek, regarding the Ishawna controversy in her referring to Jamaican icon Miss Lou's outfit as being akin to tablecloth. Let's be factual. I have seen many restaurants and displays at agricultural fairs such as Denbigh, where scores of tables and other pieces of furniture were bedecked in the same styled fabric which Dr the Honourable Louise Bennett-Coverly has made famous. Oftentimes, the curry goat, stew peas and the innards and giblets which only black people seem to eat, will spill and leave lasting stains on the...yes...tablecloth, to which no one gave any second thought about it being desecrated.


The national symbols


If the fabric and design were so sacred and sacrosanct, why have we not made it clear that this style of material should have a protocol attached to it just like the Jamaican flag and other official symbols? Jamaica has six national symbols and they are listed on the Jamaica Information Service (JIS) official government website. Our national flower is actually a tree, the lignum vitae, the toughest wood in the world, and for some strange reason, I associate the hardwood with mahoe, the blue, despite the lumber not being truly azure. Adorned with our crocodile, the coat of arms has a Taino couple flanking a cross of pineapples. The indigenous streamer-tailed hummingbird, also known as the doctor bird, is the national avian, and to complete the list, we have the ackee and the flag.

Ignorance abounds more than talent among our entertainers, and much of it is the fault of the policymakers as well as the very same people who criticise the youngsters when they flaunt their lack of knowledge as if it were a national insignia. For me, inasmuch as I understand that all the symbols are significant, not all of them carry the same weight. I like the fact that we put the crocodile above the Royal Helmet of the British Monarchy, but am upset that we still erroneously call it the 'halligetta', and some have developed the Asian taste for consuming this protected reptile. Tall and mysterious, the national flower, which grows to a height of more than 70 metres, is elusive to most. However, the lignum vitae is often bastardised in making trinkets such as mortars, pestles and cutting board. Its unique feature is that this hardwood is so solid that it will sink deep into water. However, if it remains in the wetness too long, it can rot. My favourite symbol and dish is the ackee, whose Freudian imagery would please the embattled entertainer. In the national dish, which comprises the fruit, a native of West Africa like 90 per cent of our population, native spices and herbs and of course, the pungent saltfish with its irresistible odour is the North Atlantic legacy. If you asked me, I would add the goat as the national animal, and include the breadfruit as well. I plead the fifth on the jackfruit, because like the saltfish, if not declared to your spouse before eating it on the street, one can test positive for a banned substance.


Heavy sanctions


Back to the symbols; only authorised agents of the Government have the right to use the coat of arms on their clothing or business paraphernalia. Similarly, the flag must not be draped over vehicles except under specified circumstances and must never be made to touch the ground. This is the only cloth which has such heavy normative sanctions. The prohibitions regarding the use of the Madras cloth are folkways; not mores. A bandana is a neckerchief and not a description of any particular type of cloth. It is a piece of fabric, usually triangular, but sometimes square, and generally brightly coloured. Perhaps because the English word comes from the Hindi, 'bandhana' which means 'to tie' and that the cloth came from Chennai (previously called Madras) in India, the name has stuck like the curry stain from that same country. However, it is a plaid and is not unique to Jamaica. It is one of various types and styles of plaid used by creole-speaking people across the Caribbean. If you travel between Martinique and Dominica, especially during 'Jounen Kweyol' (Creole day/week) celebrations, you will find a wide variety of the fabric, including the large yardage which made Miss Lou's dresses.

Of course, I accept that we have taken on and given it a special place in our cultural imagery, but I must admit that on Jamaica days, I do not wear it. In fact, there are many plaid shirts which look very similar in pattern, in which I would not be caught dead. However, 'a dem a wear.' I must confess that I myself have referred to those shirts as tablecloths. Nevertheless, I would never dare to denigrate the legacy of Miss Lou with such an analogy. Still, I could not help but be reminded of her as another figure in entertainment came to her defence, although in slightly less material than a few years ago.

In the final analysis, Ishawna is our daughter, and we haven't taught her well. Let's hope next time she sees a Shanty Rastaman with his turban from the same fabric, and soiled by sweat and dirt, she holds her Cola-soaked tongue and not demean his Royal though dirty, Bobo Ras Madras Cloth.