Excerpts from Students' Journals
In January 2007, the Africana Studies Department again offered students a Wintersession in Jamaica. Structured similarly to previous wintersessions, the program included lectures, visits to museums and historical sites, and academic lectures. Below are excerpts from students' journals on various aspects of the wintersession.
- I was amazed to see so many black people at the airport, and they were running the airport too. This was completely different from the airports that I am familiar with … where the majority of the staff behind the counters and all the official personnel are white. The sight of black Jamaican women checking our passports and making decisions of national importance about our admittance into their country made me feel so proud.
- I was fascinated by the depth of knowledge, and the passion that the professors had. I loved their approaches, quite refreshing and different from what I hear in the USA. I learned so much about Jamaica, but also about the world and about myself. I was inspired even more to go home and do something about making a better Africa… I remember Professor Hutton’s words in particular, that most of what he teaches is his own research; that it is not enough to sit and listen but to explore, ask the ‘whys’ and ‘hows’, look beyond what is presented for a perspective that is missing in the academic world. Interacting with them brought a new sense of respect for teaching as a profession. Imparting knowledge to another generation is one of the most effective tools in facilitating change.
- My favorite lecture was by Michael Witter. He made me re-evaluate the way I think and view things. Before this lecture I had not thought about the consequences of tourism. His energy and humor were great. I wish we had economics professors like him at Wellesley. I love my econ professors but very few of them make their students think the way he did. We all benefited from having been taught by him.
- Professor Clinton Hutton lectured us about the Haitian revolution and both the popular and traditional music of Jamaica. On one point he was abundantly clear: the Haitian revolution gave to the world the idea that slavery was wrong and should not be inflicted anyone. He unearthed the racism of the founding fathers of America and the revolutionaries of England and France. I was especially impressed by his charging each of us to become a “sovereign student’ – that ninety percent of our knowledge should be what we acquire ourselves through our own research. I think this is so important, and sincerely hope that I can live my life this way.
- I learned from Professor Hutton that Jamaica has promoted the idea of self-determination but at the same time this notion has been undermined. Jamaica will be fully emancipated when she can choose to follow her own destiny. Jamaica will reach its full emancipation when she is free from imposing demands and pressures to conform to the needs and wants of the international community. Jamaica will reach full independence when she can create economic developments that can serve to meet the needs and wants of her people.
- I was really shocked when Dr. Hutton read Christopher Columbus’ diary entries about the Native Americans in Jamaica when he first arrived there… As a child I grew up learning that Columbus was a significant man that “discovered” the Americas, when in actuality he was the person that started the slave trade. I find it extremely ironic that theses facts were omitted from our American textbooks. Such facts make me wonder what were the reasons and logic for hiding such critical information from the American public.
- Africa (and its descendants) has always been a source of art, creativity and intelligence. However, we learned from Professor Cecil Gutzmore today that world history denied the intellectual heritage of Africa because of the lack of a written history of its achievements. Nonetheless, Africa was the birthplace of human civilization and has several triumphs on which to pride itself.
- Professor Gutzmore’s account of Jamaican history was one I wish African Americans would develop for themselves. I felt that his approach in addressing history would have been considered radical, but I honestly envied what students at UWI are being taught in terms of their history because it seemed truthful and for once in the eyes of Black people instead of White. These types of courses, if made mandatory for students, could better them in terms of their success in life. It gives people in Jamaica a solid understanding of there they come from and … gives them some pride and sense of accomplishment.
- Although psychologically women are socialized to be dependent on a man, women quickly learn to be independent. After listening to Dr. Leith Dunn’s lectures I found it easy to make some similarities to the gender controversies in the United States…where the Blacks also experience the same type of matrifocal structure based on the same reasons – lack of the presence of fathers. Although there are some advantages to having a matrifocal family structure, it would be a lot more helpful if all of the responsibilities were shared with the father.
- The most important thing that I learned on this trip was taught by Dr. Witter and Dr. Dunn on issues revolving around globalization. These professors together taught me that globalization in world history really began in Jamaica. If Christopher Columbus had not come to the Caribbean looking for the West Indies and discovered people that would be used as slaves, world trade and globalization would not have happened. World trade was based on the slave trade in which human beings and raw materials were traded between Africa and the Caribbean, the United States and Europe. Although Jamaica is a small island, its history is very significant to world history.
- It was fascinating to learn about the Jamaican language, patois, from Joan Andrea Hutchinson. The language developed from Twi (an African language), English, and other African and European languages. Patois has all the features of an official language, but people tend not to accept it as such because it is the language of lower class people. In deep rural Jamaica ‘she’ and ‘her’ don’t exist. When speaking about a woman they still use ‘him’, thus the language appears to be male dominated. Professor Hutchinson is involved in the protection and preservation of the language – which is as yet an unwritten language.
- Dr. Imani Tafari-Ama during her lecture explained that lighter skin is associated with social mobility and dates back to slavery. As I observed the Jamaicans in Sovereign I noticed that the lighter skinned women in particular were often with middle class professionals. Also a lot of the wealthy looking people were of a lighter skin tone.
Museums, National Parks, Heroes Park
- The Bob Marley Museum was a treat. I was walking through the halls of his home, seeing his bed, touching his awards. It was all too cool. I loved the colors that were vibrant throughout the museum. It was as if Bob Marley could have greeted us at the front steps and everything would fit into place. I looked at all the photos from then and now, and I saw no change. Everything was frozen in time perfectly, and I loved it.
- Marcus Garvey Museum Tour and Liberty Hall. I was surprised to learn of the pivotal role Marcus Garvey had played in raising the morale of the African Diaspora, as well as his range of influence – he started the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), centers of which were set up all over the world. These centers were known as Liberty Halls, which are supported by the Friends of Liberty Hall. In the United States alone there are 837 Liberty Halls. He is a powerful and inspirational figure to African-Americans – an example of nobility and the greatest they are capable of.
- About Jamaica I have noticed that although they may have been robbed of their history before slavery, they have made significant strides to preserve their history post-slavery. The museum was amazing and one lucky to have such an amazing man come out of their country. Marcus Garvey’s idea, “Up you mighty race, you can accomplish what you will!” is something all Black people need to reconsider… Garvey planted the seeds of a revolution for Black people. It is now our responsibility to make sure those seeds grow into prosperity.
- The pieces at the National Art Gallery really encompassed what it means to be Jamaican: images of a Coca-Cola bottle symbolizing Jamaica’s participation in the global economy, pictures of Rastafarians smoking marijuana embracing the religion of more than of the nation’s population, portraits of women upon whom Jamaica’s matrifocal society is hinged. One of my favorite pieces was one at the entrance showing a naked man and woman deep in conversation. It reminded me of Laura Facey’s piece at Emancipation Park as well as some of the work by one of Zimbabwe’s biggest sculptors. I felt as though the picture captured the essence of how both men and women had survived for centuries by operating as a unit, building and valuing their families and sharing domestic and administrative skills.
- The Recognition of Heroes is seen throughout Jamaica and is something I will take away with me when I leave. The people’s pride in their heroes is admirable. I can only hope that future generations can continue to learn the history of their country and understand the importance of these people.
Natural Beauty & Hikes
- We drove for about two hours to Woodside. I don’t think I’ve ever had such a breathtaking car ride. The view was amazing. Take a moment to imagine Paradise. Beautiful waterfalls, huge green mountains, a wide river cutting through the middle of a wonderfully lush valley, the sun shining though the clouds to cap the highest peaks of these mountains. It was perfect.
- We were in Negril for only one night and a day… That was the Jamaica you see on postcards… The ocean was beautiful…I’ve never seen an ocean like that in the United States, with those deep blues and greens and aquamarines. The horizon never seemed so vast. Looking out on the ocean I thought I could see forever.
- The hike to the waterfalls in Moore Town was probably one of the most spiritual experiences of this trip. There was such a sense of connectedness that I felt with the land, with the tour guides who worked hard to maintain and preserve their Maroon identity and community, as well as the fighting souls that once passed through the same paths centuries ago…. My lasting impression of the Maroons is one of complete awe. I admire their choice to live in the unknown rather than to be enslaved on plantations. They fought for what they believed in and did not compromise their values.
Interactions with Jamaicans
- At Hellshire beach two young men approached [the two of us]. They introduced themselves and their friends who were off to the side. The first two boys told us that their two friends wanted us to go over and talk to them. I was offended, to say the least. The culture shock over the Caribbean machismo frustrated me. Why does the woman go to the man? Is it because he said so? I did not realize until that point, when I experienced it myself, that gender roles and identities in the United States are very different and, in may opinion, have been relatively progressive in terms of gender equality.
- Sex Tourism. Negril may be nicknamed “the capital of casual” but I call it “a small place with big problems.” Never in my life have I encountered a night such as Saturday January 13! After arriving at a hotel and five of us were waiting to get some food, a white couple constantly stared at us and appeared to be eavesdropping. That made me tense. But what made me most uncomfortable was the overt display of Sex Tourism. It was everywhere. I even got aggressively pursued. About six white men walked towards ____ and me, hollered at us like cattle, winked and exaggerated their eyes like we were animals wanting to have sex with them. I was completely offended and disgusted.
- Talking to a herbalist was an amazing experience. He reminded me of my grandmother, whom I had never met but who herself was a herbalist. As he explained how each plant could be used for different illnesses, I could not help but notice the difference between this model and the western model. A few students kept asking questions like “How many times should you take this?”, “How much of it?’ – and I realized how most of us can hardly think beyond the ‘three-times-a-day-for-a-week ‘ kind of medication. Here there was less emphasis on precision but on general well being. You stopped taking the medicine when your pain/rush (or whatever) was gone.
- Saturday morning’s visit to Dr. Erna Brodber was an experience of its own. I think the most inspiring thing I learnt from her is her willingness to come back and live in her community, and help build something for them. I do not know many people who would be willing to leave the city’s comfort for a rural setting, and also be willing to do all that work without any payment. She is a very dedicated woman and an inspiration to us.
- During a conversation with my host family we talked about why Jamaicans are so anxious to leave their country and go to America. They viewed America as a land of opportunity with endless amounts of jobs, a better way of living, and happiness. I was utterly confused, because to me Jamaica is a paradise. Right outside their window they have ample crops and food. They have beaches nearby and a community that cares about them… I tried to convince them that the US would not be much better.
- One guy, a taxi driver at Woodside, would not let me pay for the taxi because he was so fascinated to have met an African. He was ‘blessed’ (in his words) to have an African ride in his taxi. I was flustered and again, I recognized that it is only fate that had led some of us here, and left others to be born in the motherland.
Woodside and Home Stays
- We enjoyed the annual Woodside Day celebration, an invigorating and spiritual hike and herbal tutorial. I am also very appreciative of the family that graciously hosted me. I truly believe that my Woodside experience was the best of the entire trip so far, because it allowed me to be exposed to the African experience in the past and present. The Woodside community has a vibrant cultural heritage. My only regret is that I did not stay longer in Woodside.
- My host family at Woodside was very nice to me. Ms. Patricia and her daughter, Stacy, made sure I had a wonderful time. I must say I was shocked by the standard of living that I saw. Back in my rural home it is hard to imagine most people having TVs, DVD players, etc., but most people at Woodside had them, and a few more luxury items. In a way Woodside was not as rural as I thought it would be. I must admit that my language skills were tested… and I often emerged on the losing side. The accent was quite difficult for me, but it helped sharpen my hearing.
- Being with my host family at Woodside showed me the meaning of true joy and happiness that does not depend on money or material possessions. Rather the meaning and purpose of life can be found in the love that a mother has for her family and the love a people have for their community – a community composed of people with different ideas and talents who are willing to listen to each other in hopes of attaining the same goal. I want to thank Woodside for making me a part of their community because I will never forget it.
- Body poetry. Jamaicans have their own expression form called dub poetry – a fusion of dance, drumming and poetry. It seems that in the entertainment world, aside from musicians, dub poets definitely command a high level of respect in the public arena. A’dzioo Simba’s performance was remarkable, and even more insightful were her carefully picked words. Her slim body gyrated at the sound of the drumbeat; as she made profound though still elegant movements in unison with her verse – a breathtaking form of body-poetry. As she allowed us into her world for an hour it was clear that she represented the fusion of two central issues: the plight of women in Jamaica and the country’s take on international politics. It seemed to me that a recurring motif was a strong anti-American sentiment, backed by widely exercised Afrocentrism.
- The beat of the drums was so rhythmic, it was lively and I could feel the beat pulsating through my body. I really wanted to get up and dance too…The Manchioneal Cultural Group completed the show by performing another ceremony called Kumina that drove the spirits away. The ceremony could last as long as the spirits made it, but this time it lasted only five minutes. I had learned about revivalism and Kumina in class, but witnessing and experiencing the ceremonies allowed me to have greater understanding.
- Another amazing opportunity was being able to attend a reading by Chinua Achebe at UWI. I took a look at the crowd and I was happy to see a wide range of people in attendance. There were blacks, whites, Asians with dreads, Chinese Jamaicans, Indians, mulattoes and anything in between. It was so interesting and heartwarming. I even met a lady who had been a speaker at MIT’s Caribbean conference.
- Visiting the Maroons was eventful. Climbing to Nanny Falls was a workout but really cool. We learned so much from Colonel Wallace Sterling. The community was humble. The Maroons showed us their lifestyle, taught us about their history and shared their culture with us. The amount of creativity and resourcefulness that the Maroons had was beyond comprehension. I felt completely at home!
- We were able to hike through the mountains at Moore Town and experience the living of the Maroons who escaped slavery on the plantations, under the leadership of Ashanti warrior, Nanny. While moving though the thick forest trees, eating coconut and sugarcane straight from the trees and visiting the waterfalls, I felt a sense of freedom, a sense of peace, serenity and happiness. I can only imagine how the enslaved people felt when they escaped the plantations and developed communities among the greatness and fullness of the forests. What amazed me about the Maroons is that they were a resourceful, intelligent and willful people.
Identity, Nationalism, Class Issues
- Cultural and national identity should be embraced, even if it is not perfect, because it was who you are. On the issue of the national anthem being sung in public venues (such as church or a movie theater) I think it is a good way to bring people together and instill a great sense of pride and love for Jamaica, so that the Jamaican people can have more of a reason to be proud of who they are, where they came from and, most importantly, where they are going in the future.
- Apart from shaping the hinge of Jamaican society today in a global sense, the principles and teaching of Marcus Garvey are essentially the foundation upon which Rastafarianism is based. On Rastafarianism and Afrocentrism I have been astounded and somewhat impressed by the extent to which Jamaicans are in touch with their African roots, especially in the way that they identify themselves and the way they dress…The issue of identity is of key concern on a national level and is part of the public sentiment that Jamaican youth need to be educated on their culture and black identity. Perhaps my inability to see the real issue is rooted in the fact that I am a foreigner, and thus only have the opportunity to see things through a slightly biased lens.
- Mark said that in Jamaica there is no true political leadership. The new Prime Minister is good, but enthusiasm and a charismatic personality alone cannot run a country. She needs to learn to make conscious policy decisions and needs more experience. Most Jamaicans are not anti-woman and are patient to see what she can do. It is a class problem that she is encountering, not an issue of ability.
- One thing that surprised me about Jamaica is the overwhelming gap between the rich and the poor. In most other countries I have visited the rich and poor live in their own separate and distinct communities. In Jamaica I saw mansions and elaborate homes right next to and across from desperately poor communities.
- I feel as though learning about the Maroons has brought us around full circle. We’ve been all over Jamaica, and we’ve seen everything a tourist needs to see as well as everything a ‘sovereign learner’ needs to see. I feel like an Honorary Jamaican.
- I think that our psychological development is equally important as our social, political and economic development. I think we need to develop ourselves internally so that we can be comfortable with who we are as people. Marcus Garvey influential because he was able to encourage African Jamaicans to take pride in who they are. I think this is essential to our development.
- Liguanea. I loved our house; it was so great. My roommates and I had a fabulous time. There was never any quarrel, we did almost everything together and enjoyed ourselves so much. The irony of it all is that were the single group that wasn’t really a group to begin with… I think the fact that we didn’t know each other created an openness that enabled us to get to know each other even better and create a nice environment in the house.
- It is easy for a white person in America to be unaware or to choose to ignore the division, but mostly, for me, I was raised completely color-blind. One thing my parents always made very clear to me, even when I was young, that at some points in history people have done horrible things to other because of stupid, insignificant differences like race and color, but that people are all the same. I don’t know how to think about the world in any other way.
- During our orientation Ms. Campbell spoke about how stereotypes and biases affect our objective eye. I expect to engage my senses in my experience of Jamaican culture over the next couple of weeks. The most exciting thing about this journey is that I will probably walk away feeling a stronger sense of pride in who I am, as a Caribbean American and a person of African descent.
- Even on a trip it’s a good feeling to be at home in a place. The people here are warm and friendly, and so many of them want to open their hearts to us. I may be biased, but I don’t see many Americans doing that. We could learn a thing or two from the people here. I’m making sure that I am always in sponge-mode while I’m here, ever absorbing.