Imani Tafari-Ama | Detangling our skewed colonial legacy
On the death of the Queen of England, my family recalled with some irony the jingle we learned when we were children:
CALL: When the queen died?
RESPONSE: She died last night!
CALL: She leave any money?
RESPONSE: She leave 10 pounds.
CALL: Mary and Martha
RESPONSE: Dressed in black.
CALL: Silk and satin
RESPONSE: Behind their backs.
CALL: I love coffee
RESPONSE: And I love tea.
CALL: I love the girl
RESPONSE: And the girl loves me!
CALL: Ripe banana
RESPONSE: On the table.
CALL: Good for baby
RESPONSE: What kind of baby?
RESPONSE: Cuban baby.
CALL: Miss Calendar!
RESPONSE: Jump through the window
CALL: Broke her little finger
RESPONSE: For one dry ginger.
CALL: Bapsie Kaysie!
RESPONSE: Go up in the sky!
CALL: Bapsie Kaysie!
RESPONSE: Go up in the sky!
RESPONSE: Kimbo! Side-o!
CALL: A Baggazie, A Baggazie
RESPONSE: Come shake it out.
Students of history, sociology, literatures in English, among others, could have a field day interpreting the meanings hidden in this ditty. Suffice it to say that the Queen and the Empire she embodied, were the beneficiaries of enormous wealth from colonial extractivism. The silks and satins allude to materials looted from India and China. The coffee and tea were products reaped from multiple countries that Britain colonised. By the way, did you see the Indian comedian on social media who attributed the contents of the colon to the character of colon-isers? An Englishman, the butt of the humour, was unable to take the joke. But I digress.
This past week, I felt as if I were getting whiplash from all the things that are going glaringly wrong all around in Jamaica, land we love. Against the disturbing backdrop of the relentless crime rate, I followed in some consternation the reactions to the governor general (GG) and the prime minister (PM) being designated to attend the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II and the extraordinary declaration of 12 days of mourning for said monarch. I had to add my two cents to the discussion fray. I am reeling from the apparent lack of political consciousness and conscience that is unresponsive to the side of history that we should be standing on in all of this. African freedom fighters who emancipated Jamaica from the colonising British would, surely, have been horrified if they could have imagined that prominent leaders and their empathisers would be displaying the kind of psychosis that keeps them tied to the same monarchy that symbolises maafa, the holocaust of enslavement.
If ever there were a country that could be called the proverbial ostrich with its head buried firmly in the sand, Jamaica would be a strong contender. We have an ex-prime minister, still proudly wearing the legal mantle of QC (Queen’s Counsel), who bemoans the fact that he did not consider leading Jamaica into republic status (although he had ample opportunity to do so). Yet, as a late non-starter on the Emancipation front, PM Patterson is allowed to plead political platitudes of remorse and regret for not exercising the will to relinquish the benefits that successive heads of government who have bowed to the British throne seem to enjoy with impunity.
Our present leaders have learned to perform in a tradition of political timidity vis-à-vis the colonial vanguard. The current PM and GG are, therefore, experts at basking in the questionable glory of the collective crying over the spilt milk of the British queen and her successors. This seminal period between said queen and designated successor is our golden opportunity to grab the republican trophy and declare that enough is enough. You must give the Opposition Leader Mark Golding and his colleague Fitz Jackson some props for verbally defying the misplaced loyalty to the Crown. Their suggestion that, before Jamaica jumps out of the frying pan of being headed by the Queen into the fire of being ruled by her King-designated son, the long outstanding reform of the Constitution – in favour of self-rule – should be leveraged. Because, if we ever place the incoming King on top of things, we will lose the golden opportunity of standing on independent feet rather than genuflecting in genuine error of bowing to a sovereign that is the symbol of our national self-hate. The PM and the GG have long laboured under the illusion that the Queen of England is the head of state of Jamaica and that the GG, her representative, has legitimacy to sit in King’s House. That delusional architecture of politics was what galvanised Peter Tosh to sing in sacramental outrage to his empathisers, “light you spliff, light you chalice! We a go bun it inna Buckingham Palace!” This rhetoric from the revolutionary reggae maestro was, surely, prophetic of the more radical stance being expressed in the post-Queen era by those for whom the fawning on the British royals really rankles.
An audio recording, which features a very passionate-sounding woman, is also making the social-media rounds. The protagonist is castigating PM Andrew Holness, for whom she evidently voted, for not appropriately acknowledging the multiple victims of violence in Jamaica. She mentions that the mother and four children who were brutally murdered by Rushane Barnett are more deserving of a declaration of mourning than is the foreign queen. She was chagrined that the children who recently perished in a fire were not singled out for pedestalisation in the way that Queen Elizabeth is being memorialised. She laid out a litany of speculations that called into question the national period of grief for a colonising queen whose embassy would be unmoved by many Jamaicans’ visa applications.
I recently attended a decolonising festival at the Deutsches Technikmuseum in Berlin. In contrast to the norm of internalised colonialism that is reproduced ad nauseum in the metropole and post-colonial countries alike, it was heartening to see that at least one institution has taken the forward step of acknowledging the colonising crimes against humanity committed by Germany under the Brandenburg-Prussia colonial flag. This museum is a leading maritime institution and is taking their own country to task for the unfinished business of European colonialism. Philip Kojo Metz, an outspoken curator who collaborates with the museum, designed a declaration that says, “Sorry for nothing!” This declaration berates Europe for failing to address outstanding transitional justice obligations.
On the other side of the Atlantic, though, here we are as a so-called independent state ignoring the significance of what 60 years of independence should look like. Who will pay for the trips that the PM and GG have taken to bow and scrape to the colonisers? I propose that, when the PM and the GG return, in homage to Marcus Garvey and Robert Nesta Marley, we should occupy Parliament for a people’s workshop titled ‘Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery: None but ourselves can free our minds!’
It is high time to shed the trappings of wanna-be British-dumb!
Dr Imani Tafari-Ama is a research fellow at The Institute for Gender and Development Studies, Regional Coordinating Office (IGDS-RCO), at The University of the West Indies. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.