Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs

Sunday, May 23, 2010

For Zayda: Truth over Force

Force against force equals more force. (Ghana)

Symbol of Maat, Egyptian goddess of Truth, Balance, Order

Dear Zayda,

The police and the people of Tivoli Gardens seem to be getting ready for war. But force against force, as the proverb says, just ends up as more force.

In Jamaica, some parents still use force to make children obey, just as some teachers still use force to make children learn. But mostly what children learn is that if people are old enough, big enough, powerful enough, they can use force and get away with it. I talked to a young man recently, and he told me he believed in force because force had made him obey his parents and listen to his teachers when he was a child. He is grown now and he is a teacher who can now apply force to his students. Perhaps Jamaica has not left slavery that far behind.

During slavery, backra (the white plantation owner) could use as much force as he wanted against slaves who could not speak for themselves or protect themselves. But no one is ever really helpless, not even a baby. If babies choose, they can use their force to keep their parents sake all night; they can prevent their parents from going out when and where they want to go. Indeed, many babies act like tyrants even when they seem able to do nothing but eat and sleep.

Slaves also had their own force to respond to backra’s force. They slowed up the work in the cane fields, set fire to the cane fields, and were smart enough to act stupid enough to destroy machines and crops.

Many took back their freedom by running away to the hills where they set up communities to protect themselves. They organized themselves and armed themselves, and ruled themselves with their own laws. Now, from their Maroon towns, these ex-slaves could use force to drive back British soldiers sent to recapture them.

Force led to more force till the British gave in. Even with better arms and greater numbers, the British were forced to accept the right of the Maroons to be independent and free. Even today, the Maroons have their own government. They do not have to answer to the rest of Jamaica.

When all of Jamaica became free of British rule, the new Jamaican leaders still seemed to believe that force alone would solve problems. The police had the job of using force to control people who were poor, uneducated, and unemployed. Even today, poor people can be locked up for using certain words, smoking weed, or even for standing on the street in their neighborhoods. Worse still, they are often locked up for nothing at all. Some even spend years in prison when they committed no crime. Nothing much seemed changed from the time white backra was in charge.

Some therefore decided to seek the freedom they were still not enjoying under Jamaican leaders. This time, they set up their communities on the plains, with their own leaders, their own rules, and their own weapons. The new Jamaican backra (sometimes black but mostly brown) used force and more force. The new communities, now called garrisons, became more and more separate from the rest of Jamaica. They also became more heavily armed to keep their freedom and protect themselves against outsiders. Followers trusted their garrison leaders to look after them, even if sometimes these leaders acted like backra of the cane field – the punishment for disobeying a garrison leader could be injury or even death.

Today, Tivoli Gardens, the oldest of these garrison communities, has blocked itself off from the rest of Jamaica. The police have a warrant for the garrison leader’s arrest, and his followers seem ready to put down their lives rather than give him up to the police.

Force against force, over decades, has led to greater force. The black/brown backra government has not learned from the experience of the white backra government and the Maroons.

At this time, the rest of us look on. Some think was is bound to take place, especially if the government decides to use even more force than it has done in the past. Others hope that wiser heads will find a way to end the war without firing a shot or risking a life.

My hope is that all of us in Jamaica will choose being free and independent to using more and more force to maintain backra status.


Your shangazi

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