The Jamaica that I grew up in was one of brotherly love, care for each others welfare, where in the face of disaster, sickness, death, hunger, achievements and success people banded together.
Everyone came to help in times if illness, if the sick was hospitalized people visited; those who could not go to visit made their contribution by giving support. The support came in diverse ways, washing clothes, cleaning floors, sweeping the yard, cooking a meal or helping out monetarily. Helping without expecting any form of reward was quite commonplace.
Death was everyone’s sorrow, worse if the person was young or died without any lingering illness. With no morgues, government or private, and no ice in country areas, funerals were held within a 24-hour period. Men came to prepare the final resting place. That night people would come and sing religious hymns all night. In my area it was called ‘set up’ – of course the reasoning behind this event was that the immediate family should not be left alone with the dead. It was considered too painful.
In my village it had nothing to do with spirits or duppy running. Set up was to give the family comfort. Coffee, white rum, bread and buns would be served throughout the night. The singing kept everyone awake. One person would have the song book called the Sankey, named for the writer, Ira D. Sankey, and he would read a verse and then the singers would sing. This was called ‘tracking’. The songs were half-sung, half-wailed to convey the sorrow.
Families who were better off would share what they had with those who had less, especially when it concerned food and clothes. These “better off” families would make sure that more than enough would be cooked. The rationale for this was that all visitors should be offered food, whether they came at meal time or afterwards.
Achievements were everyone’s joy; passing of national exams would bring celebrations and good wishes to the person and families. Concerts were held as ‘send off’ if anyone was leaving for overseas to make life better. In times of disaster the strongest houses became shelters for neighbors. Government did not regulate every area of life, the citizens would develop their own norms, their values and attitudes. Norms, attitudes and values were inculcated in the home.
Concerning my own family setting and our neighbors around, our attitudes and values came from the examples of the adults, telling stories of the past, reading stories, Aesop’s Fables, Uncle Arthur’s Bedtime Stories and the Bible. Anancy stories were used to teach that you should not live by your wits. Children were not allowed in adult discussions.
When radio came to Jamaica the stations were very selective in the type of music broadcast over the airwaves. On Sundays there were religious services from five to nine am on RJR, our favorite radio station. The rest of the day it was classical music until after worship time.
Comparing then with the present – if you are sick you now have to pay someone to care for you. Only immediate family members will visit you in hospital. The ‘setup’ nowadays is commercialized; you either pay a band to perform or hire a “boombox” which plays the latest popular music. People come for the enjoyment and of course those who “have two shilling” will even kill a cow, goat, or chicken. There is lots of jerk pork to go round, and a variety of drinks to choose from, the more the merrier.
Funeral attendance now depends on who the person is, how the person has died – not about showing love, sympathy and care. Decorum and dress are unbelievable. People rarely cook extra for the visitor now. And as for your achievements you have to be so careful in sharing this; the put down, negative body language and malicious slander that can be directed the achiever’s way can be deadly. We have lost the sense of collaboration, community and camaraderie.
The workplace has become a battle ground, and instead of admiration for hard work, innovation and diligence to the task at hand, the worker who displays these attributes is looked upon as a show off, belittled and made an outcast. Jamaica has lost it, somewhere along the road to independence, and spiraling down hill since then.
I remember the night when it struck me that we as a nation, were on the downward spiral. A man in Central Village, St Catherine, committed suicide by hanging and the T.V. camera crews rushed to the scene. As the camera zoomed in on the gruesome spectacle a man shouted to the victim, “Smile fi di camera!” People milled around and two ice-cream sellers were busy doing a brisk business selling ice-cream from their ice-cream boxes on motor bikes. It became a carnival. I felt heartbroken. This was not my Jamaica.