The Black Caribbeans of the Harlem Renaissance

claude mckay

As the son of a Black Jamaican woman and Black Bajan man and an admirer of the Harlem Renaissance, I was intrigued by this JSTOR article by Matthew Wills.

Black Caribbeans in the Harlem Renaissance examined some of the Black Caribbeans that had an influence on the 1920s movement including:

  • Claude McKay (Jamaica)
  • Eric Waldron (British Guiana; raised in Barbados)
  • Arturo Schomburg (Puerto Rico)
  • Wilfred A. Domingo (Jamaica)
  • Marcus Garvey (Jamaica)

Domingo himself argued, “West Indians were better prepared to challenge racial barriers in the United States” because they came from countries in which “Blacks had experienced no legalized segregation and limitations upon opportunity.” The brutality of American racism, so very different from that of imperial Britain and France, shocked them into action. In the 1920s, of course, “the great colonial empires were alive and well, but the intellectual seeds were already being sown for their eventual dismantling.”

Almost a quarter of Harlem’s Black population was foreign-born in the 1920s. They included, most famously, Marcus and Amy Jacques Garvey. Garveyism, with its “ideological mixture of Black pride, diaspora consciousness, and defiance of white racism” was foundational to the growth of Black nationalism in the United States, the Caribbean, and the world.

Of course, this only covers the Black Caribbean men. There were plenty of influential Black Caribbean women in the Harlem Renaissance such as:

  • Hermina Huiswoud (Guyana)
  • Amy Jacques Garvey (Jamaica)
  • Maymie de Mena (Martinican and French Guianan grandparents)

“This freedom from spiritual inertia characterizes the women no less than the men, for it is largely through them that the occupational field has been broadened for colored women in New York. By their determination, sometimes reinforced by a dexterous use of their hatpins, these women have made it possible for members of their race to enter the needle trades freely.”

Wilfred A. Domingo, Gift of the Black Tropics

Recommended reading

Kehinde Wiley – The World Stage: Jamaica

Photos of Kehinde Wiley's The World Stage: Jamaica exhibition

Back in 2013, African American artist Kehinde Wiley presented his first ever UK solo exhibition, entitled “The World Stage: Jamaica”. Stephen Friedman Gallery hosted the exhibition with Frieze London and it featured Jamaican men and women emulating poses from 17th and 18th Century British portraits. The concept demonstrated the relationship between Jamaica’s citizens and the island’s former colonialists with Wiley’s trademark “naturalistic” style.

Wiley embellishes his paintings with intricate, ornate backgrounds that contradict the sombre posturing of the subjects and allude to the bold styles of urban fashion. Pieces of these symbolic patterns overlay and entwine the figure, both harmoniously fusing and creating opposition between the two contrasting elements that form the work. In previous series, this decoration has been inspired by a fusion of period styles, ranging from Islamic architecture to Dutch wax printed textile and French Rococo design. In this new body of work, lavish patterning informed by the British textile designer William Morris surrounds the figures.

via Kehinde Wiley’s press release for the exhibition

About Kehinde Wiley

Kehinde Wiley was born in 1977 in Los Angeles to a Nigerian father and an African American mother. His mother supported his art and, after enrolling in after-school art classes, he went to art school in Saint Petersburg, Russia, at the age of 12.

After spending time with his father in Nigeria, he returned to the US and earned his BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute and his MFA from Yale University, School of Art. He has since presented 13 solo exhibitions, won countless awards, and worked with the likes of Puma and Givenchy.

In an accompanying video, Wiley discusses his initial artistic inspirations and how traveling around the world opened his outlook. For the Jamaica exhibition, he explored British art museums for inspiration and commented on portraiture in British colonial history:

“[…] in particular, I saw the works that had a direct relationship to the Caribbean. I love the history of art, I love looking at the beautiful images but I also recognise that there is something quite sinister about their past. High portrait making points back to the history of art and in that history, art has always been in a cosy relationship with the state and with the church.”

Kehinde Wiley

Stream the 7-minute video below. And Happy Independence Day, Jamaica!

Check out some of the exhibition below and head to the official Stephen Friedman Gallery page for the rest.

A very brief history of Jamaican rum

Wray & Nephew's, one of the most famous Jamaican rum brands on the planet

Of all the things my mum asked me to buy from the West Indian shop down the road when I was a kid, Jamaican rum wasn’t one of them (for multiple reasons – age being the main one). And while my parents never drank it, my mum still used it in fruit cakes (if you know, you know). Rum is a significant part of Jamaican culture and in this article, I’ll give a very brief history of the alcoholic beverage.

What is rum?

Let’s get this one out of the way. Rum is a liquor made from fermented molasses or sugarcane juice which is then distilled. You either get a clear liquid, where the rum is filtered and bottled straight away, or a dark liquid which is aged in charred oak or wooden casks (known as puncheons) before filtering and bottling.

Jamaican rum’s history is enslaved peoples’ history

Rum was introduced to Jamaica in 1494 by Christopher Columbus (but rum’s history goes even further back, to the 7th century India). By 1655, when Jamaica was under British rule, the colonialists brought the concept of rum-making and distilling over from another of their colonies, Barbados. Enslaved people were forced to work on plantations and their labour made rum become an even more popular drink.

Rum then became a strong form of currency, used in triangle trades with enslaved people. But when slavery was abolished in the 1800s, the rum industry suffered as enslaved people’s labour ran its production. In 1893, there were about 148 rum distilleries in Jamaica. Now, only 6 remain (the last three with an asterisk operate under National Rums of Jamaica):

  • Hampden Estate
  • Appleton Estate
  • Worthy Park Estate
  • Long Pond Distillery*
  • Clarendon Distillery*
  • Innswood Distillers Limited*

But the quantity and quality of rum are improved and without the enslaved people. Jamaican rum is sold in over 70 countries around the world.

Hampden Estate Rum

Hampden Estate Rum makes pure single rums, using wild fermentation and no added sugar. Its history goes back to 1753 when it operated as a sugar plantation under the ownership of Mr. Archibald Stirling. The estate changed hands in 1827 and during World War I, Hampden built the Hampden Wharf in Falmouth for rum and sugar shipments. Today, the wharf is a tourist destination and an entry port for some of the largest cruise ships in the world.

Appleton Estate

Appleton began rum production 4 years earlier than Hampton. Nowadays, Appleton makes its world famous Appleton Rum and New Yarmouth Estate thanks to the incredible work of master blender Joy Spence, who became the first female spirits master blender ever in 1997. In 1978, she graduated from Loughborough University with a Masters’ degree in Analytical Chemistry.

Worthy Park Estate

The estate was established in 1670 and its started making rum in 1741, 7 years before Appleton (who claim to have the oldest rum in Jamaica). Today, Worthy Park mixes the classic with the modern, having built a cutting edge distillery in 2005, but still opting to distill its rums in a traditional Jamaican Pot for a “heavy bodied rum full of esters and congeners”.

National Rums of Jamaica

National Rums of Jamaica owns three distilleries:

  • Long Pond Distillery
  • Clarendon Distillery
  • Innswood Distillers Limited

The limited company is a joint partnership between the Jamaican government, Demerara Distillers Limited from Guyana and Maison Ferrand, based in France. Between the three distilleries, National Rums of Jamaica processes over 13 million litres of rum a year, enough to fill 5 Olympic-sized swimming pool and have enough left over for a really good party.

List of Jamaican rum brands

In short, there are a lot and I’ll undoubtedly miss some (in which case let me know) and some of them are made at the same distilleries or not made in Jamaica but are classed as Jamaican rums (eg. Captain Morgan). Here are some of the most well known:

  • Wray & Nephew
  • Appleton Estate
  • Worthy Park
  • Hampden Estate
  • Captain Morgan
  • Koko Kanu
  • Lambs
  • Appleton
  • Cut
  • Myers
  • Blackwell
  • Jah45
  • Coruba
  • Monymusk

Jamaican rum cocktails

Don’t let anyone tell you Jamaican rum punch is the only cocktail you can make out of the island drink. There’s a history to consider so here are a few along with their stories.

Grog

The British Navy swapped brandy for Jamaican rum during the Anglo-Spanish War as their drink ration of choice. But it caused sailors to be even more despicable than they already were (they were from the British Navy after all). So in 1740, Vice Admiral Edward “Old Grog” Vernon issued a Captain’s Order that stated that all rum provisions had to be mixed with water, although the addition of “sugar and limes” was allowed. The new drink was known as Grog in his honour.

Nowadays, grog cocktails are still popular amongst seaborne types but also a mainstay at tiki bars.

Mai Tai

There’s a dispute over who invented this Polynesian-themed cocktail.

Victor J. Bergeron claimed it as his own in 1944 in Oakland, California. But Donn Beach said it was based on his Q.B. Cooler cocktail created 11 years earlier. The tastes are different but regardless, why is a drink, allegedly named after the Tahitian word for “good” or “excellence” (maita’i), made with Jamaican rum? Well, that’s what Victor Bergeron used in his recipes and subsequent recipes were modelled on his concoction (along with Martinique rum).

The official International Bartenders Association (IBA) specified ingredients for a mai tai are:

  • 3 cl amber Jamaican rum
  • 3 cl Martinique molasses rum
  • 1.5 cl orange curaçao
  • 1.5 cl orgeat syrup
  • 3 cl fresh lime juice
  • .75 cl simple syrup

Other rum cocktails include:

  • Blow My Skull Off
  • Fogg Cutter (not to be confused with the Fog Cutter which it is based on)
  • Hangman’s Blood (I assume this contains Jamaican rum as it comes from a book called A High Wind in Jamaica)
  • Zombie
  • Anything made with Tia Maria like Espresso Martini, Skinny Tia White Russian, and Orgasm
  • Doctor
  • Modernista
  • Mr. Bali Hai
  • Ancient Mariner

Conclusion

Phew, that’s a lot of alcohol. Jamaican rum’s colonial past mustn’t be overlooked. Enslaved people made the drink what it was for centuries before it was reclaimed by free Jamaican men and women. That’s not to say Jamaican rum has stayed within the island as the vast number of cocktails created by American Tiki bartenders and newer brands by European alcohol distillers can show. But you can’t beat the originals.

And, as always, drink responsibly.

"Jamaican English is unique", says UWI Mona study

Black Jamaican Man

A study conducted by The University of the West Indies, Mona campus in Jamaica, found that Jamaican Standard English was unique enough to be classed as a “distinct variation” of the English language.

Rather than looking at accent and lexicon, the study analysed the acoustic properties of Jamaican English. The work came as part of a Department of Physics literacy project for tutoring Jamaican children and used speech models from 360 students in 12 schools.

Comparisons were made between American and British Standard English looking for differences in phonetic qualities and acoustics. Dr Andre Coy, senior physics lecturer in The Faculty of Science and Technology, told the Jamaica Observer explained that the purpose of the study was to aid Jamaica’s education system:

“The broader context is that we want to be able to use speech and language technologies, such as speech recognition or speech synthesis, in the assistance with education in Jamaica. We have the capacity at The UWI, Mona to use and develop speech recognition and synthesis technologies. Why not employ them to assist with vulnerable groups, such as children who are struggling to read or with the disabled, to develop assistant technologies for them?”

While this isn’t the same as acknowledging Jamaican patois as a language separate from English (which is something that has been discussed by UWI), it’s a step in the right direction and its use in boosting the education system is the ultimate goal and a positive one at that.

Further reading

28 facts about Jamaican culture

For a tiny island in the Caribbean Sea, Jamaica has had a massive impact on the world in a number of ways. But there’s much more to Jamaica than Bob Marley and Cool Runnings and that doesn’t always get represented. That’s why I’ll be giving you 28 facts about Jamaican culture to broaden your scope and show you just how influential the nation has been.

The history of Jamaica

  1. The name ‘Jamaica’ comes from the Arawakan ‘Xaymaca’ meaning ‘Land of Wood and Water’.
  2. Before the island was colonised, a group known as the “Redware people” arrived in Jamaica in 600 AD and then the Arawak–Taíno around 200 years later. Known as Yamaye, some of the natives still remain on the island.
  3. Jamaica gained independence from the British on 6th August 1962 and was the first English-speaking Caribbean island to do so.
  4. Jamaica’s motto is ‘Out of Many, One People’.
  5. Jamaica is a member of CARICOM, the Commonwealth, IMF (International Monetary Fund), the UN, UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), and WHO (World Health Organization).
  6. Kingston is capital of Jamaica but it’s in the smallest parish on the island by area (25km²).
  7. The yellow (or gold), black and green of the Jamaican flag represent the shining sun, the strength and creativity of the people, and the land.

Language

  1. While the official language of Jamaica is ‘Jamaican Standard English’, Jamaican patois is widely used and arguably the most well-known language spoken on the island. There have been many calls for it be classed as an official language.
  2. Jamaica is the third-most populous English-speaking country in the Americas, after the United States and Canada.

Religion

  1. Christianity is the largest religion on the island and has played a major role in Jamaican culture, as with many Black communities from the diaspora.
  2. The most notable derivative of that is the Rastafari movement, with its strong connections to Africa. Originating in the 1930s, Rastafarians follow teachings from the Old and New Testament but the movement is distinct in its belief that Ethiopia’s former Emperor, Haile Selassie, was the human embodiment of God.
  3. Besides Islam, Hinduism, and Judaism, Jamaica also has a congregation of Baha’i followers. In 2003, the then-Governor General of Jamaica, Sir Howard Cooke, made the 25th July ‘National Bahá’í Day’.
Jamaican man

Humanities

  1. Tony-Award-winning choreographer Garth Fagan was born in Kingston, Jamaica.
  2. A dance known as Bruckins is performed during Emancipation Day.
  3. Nobel prize laureate Derek Walcott, attended college in Jamaica.
  4. James Bond writer Ian Fleming wrote his Bond novels while living in Jamaica.
  5. 2015 Man Booker Prize winner Marlon James was born in Kingston.

Society

  1. Nine-Nights is a funeral tradition practised in Caribbean nations including Jamaica where people take part in an extended wake that lasts for several days. In that time, friends and family share anecdotes, eat food and sing hymns together.
  2. Some Jamaican believe burying the umbilical cord of a newborn under a tree is said to give the child a permanent connection to the island.
  3. In 2019, Jamaica reported its lowest unemployment rate in 50 years.

Sport

  1. Every August, the Pushcart derby takes place, involving races between push carts, similar to American soap box races. The finals take place in the parish of St Elizabeth.
  2. Jamaican has won 78 medals at the Olympics, including 1 bronze medal in the men’s cycling 1 km time trial at Moscow 1980.

Fashion

  1. The Kariba suit is a two-piece suit for men, popularised by former Prime Minister, Michael Manley. Designed in Jamaica in the early 1970s, the suit was made as a form of businesswear to replace standard European suits. When Manley and the People’s National Party came to power in 1972, Parliament passed a law making the Kariba suit the official outfit for formal government functions.
  2. The Quadrille dress is worn in Jamaica and other Caribbean countries but the quadrille dance, for which it is worn, is only danced in Jamaica and Trinidad today.

Nature

  1. Jamaica’s national flower is the lignum vitae while the national bird is the red-billed streamertail or ‘doctor bird‘.
  2. The Jamaican boa is the largest snake on the island but none of the eight species of snakes on the island are venomous.
  3. Jamaica’s exports include sugar, bananas, cocoa, coconut, grapefruit, rum, yams, and Blue Mountain Coffee.
  4. The Jamaican slider is a species of turtle that’s only found in Jamaica and on a few islands in the Bahamas.

8 Things My Mum Made Me Buy From West Indian Shops

Picture taken in a West Indian shop, from Riaz Phillips' Belly Full series

I love my West Indian heritage. Whenever I can, I claim it above being British as I feel more at home amongst family and my kinfolk. A part of that comes from the Jamaican cuisine and having to buy ingredients for certain dishes.

As a teenager, I’d have to go out to various ethnic shops (often South Asian-owned) but I also went to West Indian shops that stocked all the things my mum needed. I didn’t always enjoy doing it (who wants to run errands while you’re in the middle of playing video games?). But as I got older, it was nice to go for a walk and immerse myself in the culture.

So, here are 5 things my mum made me buy from West Indian shops.

Jamaican bread (or hard dough bread to everyone outside my family)

Jamaican bread (or hard dough bread to everyone outside my family)

I didn’t know it was generally known as hard dough bread until my late teens. I always knew it as Jamaican bread and that’s what I call it to this day. It’s the best bread on the planet as far as I’m concerned. It’s thick, sweet, and demands a slab of butter on it by default.

In terms of size and shape, I started out buying the square-shaped loaves but as time passed, we moved onto the rounder loaves. It was a better choice. You got more bread for your money that way. Who cares if it’s misshapen? This ain’t Bake Off.

Bun (spiced bun)

Bun (spiced bun)
A smaller version

There is no better bun out there. The Jamaican spiced bun is often eaten during Easter and that’s when I usually got it but the tradition extended to Christmas because why not?!

For anyone who hasn’t experienced this Jamaican delicacy, the bun is often round and dark brown, filled with currants or raisins and goes hand in hand with cheese (although I eat it with butter mostly). And a glass of milk to wash it all down. I’m sure the vegan alternatives would go superbly with it as well.

Coconut cream

Coconut cream

This often shocks people but I don’t like coconut. The taste makes me wretch, particularly if it’s desiccated coconut. Not a fan of the water. But the cream and the milk is fine in food… if the flavour isn’t prominent.

That’s how I managed to eat rice and peas with coconut cream in it for so many years. It was a Sunday staple and I’d regularly buy the boxed form from KTC.

Encona Hot Pepper Sauce

Encona Hot Pepper Sauce

It’s strange that I can’t handle spicy food and yet I’ve written about ghost peppers and hot gummy bears. I live for the intrigue I guess.

My mum couldn’t eat her food without Encona. Had to be that brand. Recently, she’d been “slumming it” with Tabasco as they didn’t sell Encona where she lived. When I visited earlier this month, I brought two bottles of Encona for her. She was happy.

The pepper used in the sauce is the Scotch bonnet, which is more than 10x hotter than the hottest jalapeño. It’s no ghost pepper but it’s fire for anyone who can’t handle heat like me. You’ll definitely need another glass of milk for this one.

Green bananas

Green bananas

This wasn’t a regular purchase but still one I made. Some may know them as guineos in Latin America, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic and they’re basically unripened bananas. My mum would boil them and we’d eat them with dumplings (often boiled too but occasionally fried) and yam (we’ll get to that one later).

Not my favourite savoury food as it didn’t taste of anything so that’s when the gravy came in, to add some flavour.

Honourary mentions

Some of these weren’t exclusively purchased at West Indian shops but they were things I bought on my travels and remind me of my black heritage.

Yam

There was an art to buying the right yam. My mum did it most of the time but on the occasions I did, the pieces had to be clean-ish, big-ish, and cheap-ish.

Much like green bananas, I wasn’t a fan (in fact, I hated them as a kid). But my tastes matured and a bit of gravy went a long way.

KA drinks – Karibbean Kola or Black Grape

The Caribbean amber nectar. I know people love Supermalt but Karibbean Kola and Black Grape were my drinks. Sweet beyond words but the flavour! They were exquisite.

West Indian shops often have fridge shelves filled with them. That’s when you know you’re in the right place.

Nurishment

Speaking of delightfully sweet drinks contributing to diabetes in black people, it’s Nurishment! Besides the sugar, the cans have all the vitamins you need for the day and it comes in an assortment of flavours – my favourite is strawberry.

I still buy them every now and again but I always check the price. If they’re on offer, they’re about £1 otherwise I don’t pay any more than £1.40, which is the RRP. I don’t usually buy them in West Indian shops either.

(main image source: Evening Standard)

Making Peace in Jamaica with former gang members

Making Peace documentary

One of my favourite Jamaican proverbs is “if you cannot hear, you must feel” and that’s something many Jamaican live by. Making Peace is a documentary about former gang members who probably followed that unwritten law in their former lives.

They now work as part of Jamaica’s Peace Management Initiative, a UNICEF-support non-profit aiming to end gang violence in the country. The “Violence Interrupters” as they’re known, work in some of the most dangerous neighbourhoods in Jamaica and have their own stories to tell.

Many of them started out in child gangs and spent varying time in prison and saw friends and family die. Dave Sewell is a PMI Liaison officer and got involved in crime at 17. He went onto spend 20 years in prison with 9 of them on death row. He now says he’d “rather die than go back to prison”.

The film was shot on location in Montego Bay, which may surprise those who think the area is a paradise for white tourists looking to “escape” their lives elsewhere. Jamaica has one of the highest murder rates in the world, with Montego Bay and Kingston amongst the worst areas on the island.

Making Peace is the briefest glimpse into the lives of those involved in crime in Jamaica. The perpetrators were given a second chance but their victims and many more aren’t so lucky.

Credits

  • Director: Matthew K. Firpo
  • Executive Producer: Maximilian Guen
  • Cinematographer: Stuart Winecoff
  • Editor: Stephen Michael Simon
  • Original Score: Gavin Brivik
  • Colorist: Carlos Flores
  • Co-Producer: Rosanna Bach
  • Sound Design & Mix: Sean Higgins
  • 1st Assistant Camera: Gary Bardizbanian
  • Location Sound: Saeed Thomas
  • Associate Producers: Donia Quan & Casey Rotter

Khalik Allah's "Black Mother" is a spiritual trip through Jamaica

Theatrical poster for Khalik Allah's Black Mother. Designed by Midnight Marauder

I love my Jamaican heritage and love any from of art that exhibits its richness. Black Mother does exactly that. The film, directed by Khalik Allah, takes you on a journey through the Caribbean island but not the kind you’d find on a Sandals commercial. Black Mother shows the true Jamaica with all its highs and lows, beauty, scars, and all. Critics have called it “thrilling and hallucinatory”, “spiritual and philosophical” and “dazzling cinematic poetry”.

Thoroughly immersed between the sacred and profane, Black Mother channels rebellion and reverence into a deeply personal ode informed by Jamaica’s turbulent history but existing in the urgent present.

via Grasshopper Film

Black Mother features sex workers, Rastafarians, and Revivalists who weave their life experiences into the greater Jamaican tapestry. This is a must watch.

Stream the trailer below and purchase the movie poster on the Grasshopper Film website. If you happen to be in or around Beverly Hills on 10th May, screening will take place at the Laemmle Music Hall.

What's The "Jamaica Coalition"?

Jamaica and Germany flag pins

Until recently, the biggest link between Jamaica and Germany was tennis player Dustin Brown but now there’s a new connection. But it has nothing to do with the Jamaican people.

What is the Jamaica coalition?

German Chancellor Angela Merkel opened talks on Friday to form a coalition with the other two political parties. This coalition would comprise of Merkel’s CDU (Christian Democratic Union of Germany), the FDP (Free Democrats Party), and the Green Party. Each party’s colours are black (CDU), yellow (FDP), and green (Green Party): the colours of the Jamaican flag. The coalition was first mentioned back in 2005. The FDP decided opposition was a preferred option after the elections that year. While Merkel talks it out, a Jamaica coalition is already underway in the state of Schleswig-Holstein. CDU leader Daniel Günther became Minister President alongside Free Democrats’ Wolfgang Kubicki and the Greens’ Monika Heinold.

What does this all mean for the future of Germany?

Merkel has voiced her optimism but “less fiscal room than expected” will be a stumbling block. Each party will want as much money as possible for their own policies, much like the nonsense between the Conservatives and the DUP in the UK. If a three-way coalition doesn’t work out, Merkel could negotiate a minority government or call another election. Either option could lose her credibility or perceived power and the former comes with a caveat. The SDP (Social Democrats) said they would reject the proposal but would reconsider if Merkel stepped down.

There’s a hint of irony in the Jamaican phrase “no problem” with difficult talks ahead for the future of Germany.

17 Proverbs and Phrases from Jamaican Culture

Jamaican man

Coming from Jamaican heritage, I have been exposed to a plethora of proverbs and phrases from my mother.

And while they may seem like broken English to many outside the Caribbean sphere, they have resonated with me since childhood. Perhaps the most striking characteristic of Jamaican people isn’t the “cool” stereotype the West love to perpetuate but their no-nonsense approach to life lessons. This should come as no surprise given the nation’s slave history and the horrific ordeals suffered by not only the original natives but its “newer” generation from Western Africa.

Below are seventeen proverbs and phrases from Jamaican culture, some of which I live by and have heard in my household from the moment I was lucid enough to understand.

If yu cyaan ‘ear, yu mus’ feel

(If you cannot hear, you must feel)

Put simply, if you don’t heed the warnings of others, you must deal with the consequences. These can be emotional or sometimes physical so be careful!

Let fart be free wherever you be, ‘cos that was the death of poor Mary Lee

This is a silly rhyme my mother often said to me whenever someone broke wind. On a deeper level, it could be interpreted as not holding onto worries or fears or it will cause you harm.

What is joke to yu is deat’ to I!

(What is a joke to you, is death to me!)

Be mindful of who you play jokes on as the recipient could misinterpret your jovial intentions.

Finger never seh “look ‘ere,” ‘im seh “look yonder.”

(The finger never says “look here”, it says “look yonder”)

We never like taking the blame for things or acknowledging we’ve done wrong, but it’s important to do so otherwise we’ll continue to make the same mistakes and never grow.

Peacock hide ‘im foot wen ‘im ‘ear ’bout ‘im tail.

(A peacock hides his feet when he hears about his tail)

Much like above, if our weaknesses are exposed, we look to hide them and feign an aura of strength. It’s okay to be vulnerable at times; it shows you’re human.

Nuh wait till drum beat before yu grine yu axe

(Don’t wait for the drum to beat before you grind your axe)

Always be prepared. Not as punchy as the Scouts’ motto but a useful proverb nonetheless.

Dawg nuh hol ef im ha bone

(The dog does not howl if he has a bone)

You might think bad times in life are more prominent around you when you seek help but the truth is people who are happy and content rarely exclaim their joy. As a society, we moan and complain a lot and make our voices heard rather than being grateful for what we have and saying as such.

Yu cyaan siddung pon cow back n cuss cow ‘kin

(You can’t sit on a cow and insult it’s skin)

Following on from the last proverb, don’t take help from someone and insult them. You’ll soon find people help you less if you’re ungrateful afterwards.

Me come yahd fi drink milk, mi nuh come yahd fi count cow

(I came to drink milk, not count cows)

Similar in ways to “curiosity killed the cat”, don’t worry about details which do not concern you.

Chubble deh a bush, Anancy cyah l’kum a yaad

(There is trouble in the business, and Anancy takes it home.)

Anansi is a spider from West African folk legend and features heavily in Jamaican culture. He is never satisfied with leaving things in their proper place and much the displeasure of his family, he often likes to pillage the places he explores. The moral to learn here is to not concern yourself with things you should leave alone.

Wanti wanti cyaan getti, an’ getti getti noh wanti

(Those who want it can’t get it and those who get it don’t want it)

You tend to find people who want things so desperately can’t get them (at least immediately) and those who get it all the time don’t fully appreciate it when they have it. Two lessons to learn here. Nothing comes before its time and appreciate what you have when you have it.

Poun’ ah fret cyaan pay ownse ah dett

(A pound of fretting can’t pay an ounce of debt)

Worrying will only make your troubles worse and won’t solve anything. Use this time to find a solution. In the words of Bobby McFerrin, “don’t worry, be happy”.

Yuh spread yuh bed haad, yu haffi liddung pan it haad

(If you spread your bed hard, you half to lay down on it hard)

A variation of “you’ve made your bed, now lie in it”. Be accountable for your actions.

Ev’ry dawg hav’ ‘im day, n ev’ry puss ‘im 4 o’clock

(Every dog has his day and every cat his 4 o’clock)

Things might be riding high now, but they won’t always last so don’t laud it over people as the roles could soon be reversed.

Tek whey yuh get tell yu get whey yu want

(Take what you get until you get what you want)

When I was unemployed, this was a regular phrases uttered by my mother and it’ll always ring true. An ideal situation may come to you but not immediately (unless you’re lucky). In the meantime, take another opportunity until that perfect job or situation comes about.

If yu cyaan get turkey, yu haffi satisfy wid Jancro

(If you can’t get turkey, you have to be satisfied with John Crow)

There will be times when you can’t have what you want and you have to settle for what you’re given. More often than not, these times come when you least expect them so, again, be grateful and appreciate what you have while it’s here.

Good frien’ betta dan pocket money

(A good friend is better than money)

Money is a tool, not a saviour. People can provide better assistance than financial aids so if you have the choice of both, consider your options carefully.