I was maybe 7 or 8 years old when three classmates and I were invited to perform folk dances for a dinner at King’s House. This was the late 70s when Sir Florizel was Governor-General (GG).
Ask any Jamaican over 40 about Sir Florizel Glasspole and they’ll likely share fond memories of the man with the distinct voice.
Sir Florizel was perhaps one of Jamaica’s most respected statesmen and our longest serving GG. He was also a regular invitee to many a beauty contest on the island. Miss Jamaica World, Miss Jamaica Universe, you name it, GG did dedeh, up front.
Whenever these contests were televised, we’d hear him declaring how much he “loved the beautiful ladies”. As children, this amused us. Maybe it made him more relatable.
Before the evening of the performance, word came that the GG was unable to attend.
Our music teacher, Mrs. Iris Whittaker, who I considered a piano-playing genius, scooted us over to King’s House in her car that morning and introduced us to the man we’d seen only on TV up until then. I remember looking up at this smiling giant in a dark suit and him bending down to kiss each “beautiful lady” on the cheek.
For the dinner, Mrs. Whittaker was stunning in a floor-length dashiki. Our quartet wore black leotards, bandana skirts, bandana scarves secured to our heads with hairpins, plus lipstick and rouge. The dances were done well, and afterwards, we concerned ourselves with minding our table manners and holding our drinking glasses just right for picture-taking courtesy of the Jamaica Tourist Board.
Throughout my life, I’ve run into, worked with or sighted many of Jamaica’s celebrated personalities. The last run-in was in Ochi during a last-minute search for anti-virus software. I do this annually: wait for my one-year subscription to teeter on the brink of expiration then coax myself into forking out way too many Nannies to renew this so-called necessary piece of luxury. As I reached for the door to the office-stationery store, out came Ernie Ranglin.
Now, people, in my eyes, Ernest Ranglin is Jamaica’s best acoustic guitarist, hands down, no argument. Sure, he has been involved in other aspects of Jamaica’s music, but for me, he’s the boss-man when it comes to plucking those strings. I greeted him, gladly shared that I’d seen him in concert and told him I was impressed by his skills. He thanked me shyly.
Weeks prior, I spotted radical dub poet, social commentator and radio personality, Mutabaruka marching up the supermarket aisle in my direction. People, mi nah lie, mi did frighten. He is one strapping presence–robe, turban, bare feet and all! But he’s a man I’ve long admired for speaking his mind on any issue and educating us simultaneously. Since I felt too intimidated to interrupt his stride, I stepped out of the way and tried not to stare. Because to stare would be uncouth.
One of the things I notice about Jamaicans is how generally civilized we are with our stars. Star sightings get our blood pumping, but we tend to remain relatively level-headed, restraining the urge to scream out until we buss tru di front door at home to relate our tale of great fortune.
We don’t faint whey pon di ground, throw undies at them or offer to have their babies. We may greet them like we know them from school days, ask them a burning question, engage in courteous chit chat or beg a picture as proof to friends, family and well-wishers of the chance meeting. But then, we move on, tails wagging, proud a wi-self for being so brave and well-behaved. Yes, wi parents teach us manners, and we are capable of displaying them at the most appropriate times.
In Jamaica, our actors, musicians, athletes, radio and television personalities don’t usually travel with an entourage or in a motorcade (unless dem really hype or name politician or head of state), and we don’t have paparazzi, at least none that I’ve noticed. Our celebs are generally free to mingle with the masses, go to the market, barber, wherever, without reservation.
If you’re a celeb who is thinking of visiting Jamaica, don’t fret yourself. We may squeal and ask for a photo, but you should be okay.
Let me add though that I cannot guarantee a subdued level of zeal to your particular arrival, especially if you’re really updeh-updeh in status and Jamaicans can’t hold back admiration for your achievements. Past reactions to people like Haile Selassie, Nelson Mandela, our Olympic teams and Barrack Obama may be indicative of future behaviour. High-achievers such as these have traditionally caused our people’s glad-bags to buss.
By the way, you’ll know if you’re updeh-updeh in status if your arrival and departure at the airport are televised on both CVM and TVJ and Fae Ellington is called on to commentate.
Another thing I notice about some Jamaicans–not all–is our ability to cuss yuh an’ love yuh same time. I’m guessing that this behaviour is reserved for those who are generally respected, but don’t always ‘do right’ by the people. You know, like the West Indies cricket team.
We’ll criticize certain public figures from mawning til evelin, but from we meet you in person, sour feelings are known to do a miraculous one-eighty and our best behaviour is on show–braps. It’s kind of like selectors who play bare slackness whole night then close the same dance with gospel tunes and plenty hallelujahs. When it’s time to pay respect, they pay respect (don’t think about this analogy too hard, it might confuse you).
Another major sighting occurred while my brother and I were vacationing at a large hotel on this side of the island. One afternoon, we noticed a flurry of activity in the lobby. Yeh-yeh, wi did notice one load a police in front of di hotel and inside di building, upstairs and downstairs, a walk up an’ down, but we neva pay them no mind. The police did jus’ dedeh. Not a problem.
Anyway, my brother was en route to the gym. I was en route to checking an old schoolmate off the property. But all this breed a noise an’ excitement in the lobby compelled us to stop and investigate.
Well, in the midst of a throng, babies and small children were being thrust into the arms of Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller. Cell phones and cameras were working overtime as she kin teet’, pose, hug up hug up and chups up chups up di people dem.
The limping economy, holey-holey roads, crime-and-violence problem and everything frustrating to wi livity took a temporary back seat as a surprise opportunity to brush shoulders with Jamaica’s first female Prime Minister was met with open arms and warm smiles.
Catch yuh next time
Peace and love,
1. Dedeh – there
2. Updeh – up there
3. Braps – suddenly
4. Kin teet’ – smile broadly
5. Chups – kiss on the cheek
6. Livity – way of life
Interesting notes for you:
1. Nannies refer to Jamaica’s 500-dollar notes because a depiction of our lone national heroine, Nanny, appears on it.
2. Fae Ellington is a beloved Jamaican broadcaster, lecturer and actress.
Image of Studio Light Meter is courtesy of Graeme Weatherston at FreeDigitalPhotos.Net
Image of Acoustic Guitar is courtesy of Theeradech Sanin at FreeDigitalPhotos.Net
Image of Microphone is courtesy of sippakorn at FreeDigitalPhotos.Net