In this the year of the 50th anniversary of Jamaica’s Independence, we note two publications which have relevance to the country’s celebrations and which are worthy of readership. They are Garnett Roper’s Jubilee Jubilee: This is the Year of Jubilee (2012) and Evelyn I. Smart’s Jamaican Women on the Road to Parliament from the 19th Century to the Early 21st Century: A Perspective on their Entry, Contribution and Success in Politics (2012).
Together, these books sharply summarise the socio-politics and the economics of Jamaican society in a way which forces reflection on issues of emancipation and restoration, self-liberation and social liberation, repentance from the sin of omission and the resulting joy occasioned by the creation of a society reconstructed on the pillars of social inclusion and just relations.
As such, both texts make for very good reading, laying the basis, as it were, for an alternative consciousness and with that an alternative system of social relations.
For his part, Roper, a well-respected theologian, socio-political analyst and President, Jamaica Theological Seminary, skillfully intertwines biblical doctrine with secular ‘jubilation’ reminding both religious and secular society, political and civil society that the Jubilee is not a concept resulting from idle curiosity, but one which is rooted in biblical teaching and one which highlights the socio-political significance of God’s love for the socially marginalised and the socially disadvantaged: Jamaicans of African origin, women and men who are taken with bleaching their skin, women from all walks of life, low income earners and the poor.
It is one which undermines the polarisation in our society, eroding, at the same time, the injustices which now characterise Caribbean societies. For the Jubilee, as Roper has intimated, is, indeed, a celebration, but not just an empty show of gladness and ‘jump up’ because it is intended to stem unjust ideas and practices, realise the promise of a better quality of life after colonial rule and to reverse trends in polarisation and discrimination and therefore must rest on the pillars of freedom, equality and justice.
Referencing the biblical book of Leviticus (Chapter 25) Roper affirms that the concept of the Jubilee means that every 50 years, all slaves were to be set free, the lands were to lie fallow and were to be returned to their original and rightful owners and all debts were to be forgiven.
In the context of Jamaica, then, Roper is urging both secular and religious society to recognise that the country ‘on a mission’ should put itself in a position to realise those hopes, dreams and aspirations the Jamaican people have been patiently awaiting since slavery. In this case, it is not unreasonable to suggest that the Jamaican people should and can look forward to the 1970s as a first step towards embracing those dreams, hopes and aspiration embodied in values of justice, freedom and Christian morality, defined here as social justice.
At that time, then prime minister, Michael ‘Joshua’ Manley, was leading the Jamaican people to fashion a just society in the context of the narrative of Leviticus’ “love they neighbour as you love yourself’ paradigm, bringing to life, at the same time, St. Luke’s Good Samaritan as a practical expression of that neighbourly love.
Manley’s was to address social exclusion and alter the socio-economic foundations of poverty through radical social change enveloped in a programme of ‘democratic socialism’ which also meant a weakening in the hegemonic control of imperialism over human and material resources in Jamaica.
All this was legitimised in a radicalisation of biblical doctrine which sought to locate the Church and theology in the human reality, specifically within the reality of ‘oppression and liberation’. This radicalisation of biblical doctrine, now contextualised as Caribbean Theology, provided the theological context for social change on the basis that pastoral work and church structures were to be in function of the above mentioned reality.
Essentially, then, in this period of globalisation and postmodernism, Roper, an advocate of a Caribbean theology of justice, provides an analytical framework useful for serious reflection as Jamaica continues on its path of development as a nation, as a Church and as a people.
This is particularly critical since Jamaica seems to be short on a clear ideological path which would facilitate a national vision for the future. For after 50 years, Jamaica is still plagued by the ills of colonialism and is embracing all kinds of fundamentalisms brought on by globalisation in both its historical and contemporary forms.
Roper, therefore, offersa theological framework for the development of a relevant secular agenda towards creating an environment in which people are put first and in which relations of social justice prevail in both national and community life.
At the same time, Smart’s piece both complements and reinforces Roper’s argument on the need for social inclusion. She specifically chronicles the forgotten and socially constructed ‘invisible’ historical and contemporary role women have played in the development of modern Jamaica.
Highlighting women’s contribution to the ‘emancipation’ of Jamaica through social activism and revolutionary action, electoral engagement and Parliamentary representation from the 18th Century (with Nanny’s ‘military leadership’ to unseat the dominative powers of British colonialism) Smart, founding Coordinator, Jamaica Women’s Political Caucus, has truly provided the Jamaican people, particularly women, with a solid record of the need to celebrate women.
The work is well received as it legitimises at one level, women’s lives, their work and their meaningful contribution to social and political life which have been lost in the passage of time. For, it is no secret that women have influenced historical processes which, in turn, have also influenced the lives of women for whom a new history is now being written since most historical records tend to either tack women on to a male-centred history or, simply, delete them from existing history. Smart’s then is an attempt to correct the imbalance in historical discourse and meaning.
Dedicated to “All Jamaican women in representational politics” and to four particular Jamaican women, including now prime minister, Portia Simpson-Miller, “who have contributed to changing the world through their struggles in politics locally and internationally”, Jamaican Women on the Road to Parliament from the 19th Century to the Early 21st Century, draws to one’s attention, not just to the women who have been active in the arena of representational politics, but to the plight of all Jamaican women who are still struggling for social inclusion and personhood as a heterogeneous social group. In this sense, Smart’s socio-historical presentation fits snugly into Roper’s analytical framework.
In this year of Jubilee, this year of restoration, the Church (as an institution) and Jamaicans, as a people, need to heed the advice of Roper and Smart and make a start in moving towards ‘righting the social wrong’ with some kind of repentance for their sins of omission in the spirit of Leviticus’ ‘love thy neighbour’ counsel.
Judith Soares is Senior Lecturer, The University of the West Indies.
About Judith Soares
Judith Soares, PhD, is the head of the University of the West Indies' Women and Development Unit.