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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Don't Bring Your Ideas Here

One of the most basic human emotions is fear. It is a survival instinct we are endowed with through evolution as a means to respond to dangerous circumstances. Thus, there is no denying that fear is a helpful emotion. With that said, however, the opposite is also true. Fear can also be dangerous. This danger, many believe, comes when the emotion of fear is not controlled. “As a universal human experience, anxiety [fear] is described as an apprehensive uneasiness of mind, or even dread, over an anticipated but unidentified or uncertain danger.” (Schumaker, 1992). Fear is manifested at all levels of human society and in the lives of individuals. It is especially visible, for example, when someone is confronted with new ideas and information that does not conforms with his or her accepted worldview.

The fear of information that challenges one's worldview is pretty high among us, Grenadians. Well, at least, among the Grenadians I have come into contact with. I am not directing this charge towards all Grenadians. Most certainly not. I have not spoken to all Grenadians. But, in a general sense, if we are truthful, one cannot dismiss the legitimacy of this assertion. Thus, I maintain it to be true; not only of Grenadians on the island, but of many of us living abroad. 

As an atheist, I am constantly confronted with this fear whenever I speak to friends and family. Ironically, these are individuals who, for example, despite being very openly vocal about their faith, will fume with anger when their worldview is being challenged. However, maybe it is just my perception. Again, maybe I am wrong in my assertion. But, in the many discussions I've held with Grenadians from diverse backgrounds, I have found my perception to be on solid ground. I discovered that Grenadians back home, for instance, are especially very hostile to the suggesting of new ideas, be they political or social, especially if these ideas and information are presented by Grenadians living abroad. “Don't come here with your ideas, you guys get from overseas,” I often hear, whenever I visit. They will make comments like, “We, Grenadians home, know what is best for us.” Of course, despite their position, Grenadians abroad want what is best for Grenada too. It is our country, regardless of where we live. Whatever affects the country, affects all of us, and since political and cultural change are a constant phenomena that happens both locally and internationally, the country needs a constant flow of new ways of thinking to effectively address these changes. Sadly, however, this basic truth is lost on many of us because of this fear. 

That's What the Bible Say
What is it with us that renders new ideas and information a threat? This is not an easy question to answer. It is complex. I believe, however, that there are clear periods of our history that speaks to why such fear exist. On an individual level, many Grenadians I come into contact with, push back on new ideas or information because it conflicts with the ideas and information they already cherish. The fear builds because the person does not want to learn that he or she may be wrong, and thus, may have to change his or her mind as a result. Of course, apart from being afraid to change one's mind, the cherished knowledge is usually so ingrained within the individual psyche that it becomes inseparable from the individual's identity. Thus, questioning the validity of the individual's worldview is to question the person's identity itself. To the individual, it is an attack on his or her person. Although not unique to the religious, this behavior is especially prevalent within the religious world. Religious people most often associate their dogma with their identity and, as a result, are most often close-minded and bias. 

Grenada is a young country, with a young education system. And after 40-years of independence, it continues to struggle to prepare Grenadians to deal with the inflow of new ideas and information. What do I mean by this? Grenada's educational system, has been slow in equipping Grenadians with the cognitive tools, such as critical thinking, for instance, needed to be able to make sense of these new ideas and information. Instead, however, the controllers have always sought to reinforce the religious (Christianity) foundation upon which our educational system has been founded. This is especially true after religion in education was interrupted during the revolutionary regime reign (1979 – 1983). According to the World Data on Education. 6th 2006/07, on Grenada, one of the objective of our education system is to give student "the ability to apply principles of sound spiritual health." What does this objective mean is vague and undefined. However, the document shows that half-hour per day is designated to religious education from grade one to grade six, at the primary education level. This is indeed keeping in line with the foundation of the system itself, which was mandated, from its inception by England, to impart religious instructions to students in both the primary and the secondary level of education. 

The fear of new information, although not exclusively, happens when dogma is allowed to control the workings of the mind. And religious dogma is of no exception. Religion always seeks to guard itself from scrutiny. Thus, through Grenada's education system, because of its strong urge to impart religious (Christianity) instructions on its pupils, coupled with the legion of priests and preachers we listen to every weekend, many of us, consciously or unconsciously, tend to guard our education from scrutiny. In other words, we develop an uneasiness, a fear and become anxious whenever confronted with new ideas and information that challenge us to think differently. 

Government as a Reason
The education system itself suffered severe setbacks throughout the country's history. The most notable time of such educational setbacks happened during the time of the Eric Matthew Gairy's regime [a topic discussed in my forthcoming coming book, Apostate! No More Bazodee: A Grenadian's Quest to Think Outside the Box]. Gairy, Grenada's first prime minister, in his preoccupation with unilateral control over the country, neglected the education system to ruin. The revolution period, under the leadership of Maurice Bishop, is another period that contributed to stocking this fear and uneasiness to new ideas and information. The regime vouching to eliminate illiteracy, which was about 40 – 50 percent as Bishop assumed control of the country, did not accomplish this goal. The regime fell apart within four years. 

The revolutionary period is significant in creating a “new sense” of fear and uneasiness of new ideas and information. I use the phrase “new sense” because the revolution was based on Grenadians accepting new ideas, and in large numbers, we certainly did. During the revolution there was a positive and well needed movement towards educational growth, and thus, a somewhat health openness towards new ideas and information. 

If this was the case, what happened that reversed this forward movement? The answer is in the failure of the revolution, but more so in the unnecessary taking of innocent lives during this period. This sad chapter, where innocent civilians, including school children, were gun down along with Prime Minister Maurice Bishop and others, I believe, can be attributed to why many Grenadians today eschew new ideas and information. 

The influx of new ideas itself have been charged as the reason why the revolution happened and thus, was accused of being responsible for why lives were lost. The people were mortified after the incident, and the counter-revolutionaries used this very public sentiment to create even more counter-revolutionary fervor among the population. The revolution, they assured the grief-stricken population, was informed by ideas foreign to the Grenadian people. Ideas influenced by the ideologies of the Black Power movement, socialism and communism, which was indeed true. Yet, there are many more nuances as to why the revolution failed, than just the regime's ideologies. 

Even more, after the fall of the revolution regime, the counter-revolutionaries sought, with the help of the United States, to reverse and rid the country of any knowledge connected to the revolution. As I argue in my forthcoming book, Apostate! No More Bazodee: A Grenadian's Quest to Think Outside the Box, the new regime has sought to return to the old guard. They created institutions like the New Life Organization (NEWLO) to “rehabilitate” young people educated by the revolutionary regime. They also turned to banning books from coming into the country, which, according to the new regime, taught “foreign” ideas. Yet, these banned books were and still are being used in the University of the West Indies. Regular Grenadians were being barred, once again, from accruing knowledge and new ideas. We were expected once again to guard ourselves from new ideas and information. Sadly, thirty years after the revolutionary regime and the United States invasion of the country, we continue to be afraid of new ideas and information. 

Overcoming the Fear
Here is the question: do we need to overcome this fear? The answer to this question is obvious. Yes, we do! The world, due to ongoing technological development, is a much smaller place than it once was. Because of social media like Facebook and Twitter, we are now crossing paths with people and culture that once had been hidden in hard to reach enclaves. In the economic sphere, Grenadians are now having to compete with people in the region and around the world. All of these truths require us to be open to new ideas and information. God certainly cannot help us. We cannot pray our way to prosperity. We have to be open to new ideas and information, both as individuals and as a country, if we want to keep up with a growing and changing world. Education is the virtue not blind faith! 

We should note that new ideas and information were intrinsic to influencing the thinking of two great Grenadians: William Galwey Donavon, the Grandfather of West Indian Federation, and Theophilus Albert Marryshow (1887 – 1958), the Father of West Indian Federation, and apprentice to Donavon. These two individuals  not only lay the foundation for the West Indian Federation, but were the ones who paved the way for Grenada's independence and the independence of other countries in the region. 

How then can we overcome this fear? The truth is that it will be a hard road ahead, but it is an essential and worthy goal. Of course, the first place one is most likely to look for fostering this change is to the educational system, and we should. We should hold our law makers responsible and demand that they adopt and implement the best new ideas to improve our educational system. We should ensure that there is a separation of church and state, and that our educational system focus on granting our children an education that promotes critical thinking and not focuses on religious instruction. 

Moreover, even if we cannot be totally free of bias and preconceptions, as individuals, we must be open to new ideas and information. As we develop sports clubs, we should also create organisations that focuses on educational development and promote debates and discussions of new ideas among our youths. Important also to achieving this goal, in the light of the outrage over the proposed Electronic Crime Bill, through which dissenters charged the government of trying to marginalized voices opposed to the regime, we should be vigilant citizens in ensuring that our constitutional and human rights of freedom of expression is protected. The free flow of new ideas and information is essential to the educational growth of both the individual and the country. Thus, we must bring our ideas here.       

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Jab Jab: The True Essence

Grenada Jab Jab
Okay, I know. Carnival is still months away. Despite this truth, however, the carnival celebration context is not the only context in which the Jab Jab masquerade can be talked about. Jab Jab is much more than just masqueraders gyrating through streets during carnival celebrations. 

So, in what context am I speaking of Jab Jab? I am speaking of Jab Jab as consciousness in action. As an awareness, fueled by a passion, that can and should be channeled, not only as masqueraders on the streets of Brooklyn during Labour Day, or during the Trinidad and Grenada carnival celebration, but to inform us in the fight for positive world change. Think about it! Thinking of Jab Jab in this context, however, requires us to, not only rethink our modern view of the Jab Jab masquerade, it requires us to remind ourselves of the true historical reality of the Jab Jab.

What is the historical reality of the Jab Jab? The word Jab, in English, simple means to strike with quick short blows. This is indeed an aspect of the Jab Jab masquerader. Armed with ropes and chains, [and snakes today, to frighten spectators] one has to pay compensation to the Jab Jab or else be jabbed with ropes and chains. Of course, this jabbing is a pretentious action, but it has a significant historical connection to the story of black human beings and their person-hood and humanity.

As a word connected to the carnival celebration, the word jab has its roots in the French word “Diable,” meaning “devil.” Thus, in the Grenadian context, Jab Jab, as it is used, means “devil, devil” or “double-devil.” Certainly, the masqueraders are not the devils themselves. They are instead acting out the actions done by a people they believe to be devils. In this context, the Jab Jab masquerade can be interpret as one group of people abusing another and forcing them into providing or performing some type of act [giving money to the Jab Jab in the carnival celebration context] against their will.

The question then is this: Who is the devil or devils, as demonstrated by the Jab Jab masqueraders? The answer can be found in the Jab Jab historical connection to the fight against slavery and the freedom that follows. There are different stories of how the Jab Jab masquerade in carnival came about. First, however, we have to remember that before the emancipation of slavery, the slaves were not allowed to partake in carnival celebration. After emancipation, however, the formally enslaved Africans were able to take part in the masquerade and began using, what is called, Cannes Brulees or “burnt cane” to paint themselves black and greasy as a commemoration of their freedom.

L.M Fraser, in History of Carnival, gives this story as the origin of Jab Jab. Fraser writes that:

“In the days of slavery whenever fire broke out upon an Estate, the slaves on the surrounding properties were immediately mustered and marched to the spot, horns and shells were blown to collect them and the gangs were followed by the drivers cracking their whips and curging with cires and blows to their work. After emancipation, the negroes began to represent this scene as a kind of commemoration of the change in their condition, and the procession of the “cannes brulees” used to take place on the night of the 1st of August , the date of their emancipation… After a time the day was changed and for many years past the Carnival days have been inagurated by the “Cannes Brulees”. [Traditional Mass Archive]

In Haiti there is the Lanse Kod, who are masquerading people that paint themselves as black and greasy as possible, to resemble the African slaves, and carries ropes and chain, as a representation of the brutality of slavery and the Haitian freedom in 1804. This very context is the essence of the Trinidadian Jab Molassie, [Molassie come from the French patois Mélasse, meaning Molasses] and the Grenadian Jab Jab.

Haiti Lanse Kod
Trinidad Jab Molassie

Yes, indeed. Jab Jab is an artistic metaphoric expression of freedom. That is the Jab Jab essence. Thus, as we celebrate the 20th celebration the Rwandan genocide, in the light of the Jewish Holocaust, the Albanian genocide, the ongoing actions of Muslim killing Christians and Christians killing Muslims, and other grave harms that we human beings have brought and continuing to bring upon each other, we must think of the Jab Jab in the context of a consciousness in action. In the context of an awareness that is informing our action towards promoting world peace, freedom and human rights for all. That is true Jab Jab.

Sure the Jab Jab dramatization is the mockery of the evils visited upon our black Africans ancestors by the white colonialists. Thus, these colonialists were the devils. However, we cannot let the Jab Jab spirit begins and end there. There are many evils in today’s world and their perpetrators transcend “race” and color. Therefore, as a people who are the Jab Jab essence; a people who embrace the consciousness of the Jab Jab, we should not let that awareness remain in the historical past. Let it be active. Use it and promote it as the awareness in the continuing fight for freedom and human rights for the many, many people around the world.

The high intense energy that the Jab Jab family demonstrates during the carnival seasons should also be channeled into fighting against those who act on the urge to demonize and marginalized minorities at home and abroad. The Jab Jab awareness should not be limited to just a celebration. It should be a consciousness that is used to foster the rights for freedom of speech, self-expression, and others' human rights. It should be used as an awareness to promote and protect gay rights, lesbian rights, nonbelievers rights, believers rights, women rights, etc. Our Jab Jab calypso and soca songs should echo a call for those rights to be upheld and protected. To me, this is the true expression of the Jab Jab essence.

So my Grenadian people, my Caribbean people, next carnival, as we blacken our skin and conjure up the African awareness of the Jab Jab, remember its true representation, and let us together, in the words of Jab Jab singer Tallpree, “play a wicked Jab” for the protection and promotion of human rights for all human beings, rights for animals, and for all of nature.

Jab Jab!


Here is a Jab Jab song. Enjoy!