By Bumpy Walker
“Madiba” Mandela was not named Nelson by his family, they called him Rolihlahla. He was named Nelson on his first day of school by a teacher at a Methodist Missionary school. This is testament to the synergy of the colonial settler state with Christian cults that has dominated the African Atlantic space for the past half millennium. It does reinforce the idea of tyranny of teachers, as young “Madiba” was corporally corrected by the same teacher, given his original name means “Trouble Maker”. No doubt the ten leaders of the formal apartheid period which spanned a considerable proportion of his life would concur he was aptly named! It is not too far fetched to suppose that this renaming was a deliberate policy by the South African government. The Canadians had the identical policy in their residential schools, where they too tried to demonise indigenous culture.
This act of cultural genocide is as historically cruel as the physical enforcement of the renaming process so many of our ancestors underwent. Such an incident was detailed in Alex Haley’s book “Roots”. In episode 3 of the 2017 filmed serialisation of this book, it is nigh impossible to watch Tony Curran who portrayed the enslaver- Connolly, whipping Malachi Kirby (Kunta Kinte) into submission to accept the name Tobe without flinching. I shed tears!
Colonisers had a habit of declaring a location Terra Nullius, ignoring the inhabitants then renaming it. Like Mandela, Jamaica shared such a fate. Columbus, after his accidental encounter, did rename the place Santiago, after a city in Spain named in honour of its patron saint. Fortunately, the tides of history swept away this arrogant act of cultural violence. Glorious Jamaica, a name derived from the original Taino Xaymcaya or Ciboney Yamaye, is a far better choice than Columbus’s imposed name. In Spain, Santiago (St Thomas) is known by the title “Matamoros”, the African killer.
Part of the decolonisation process is to revaluate and possibly change imposed cultural mores. There is a need to evolve what is culturally acceptable such as styles of clothing, hair, language religion and identity. It is impossible to reset to a year zero, as has been proven by the experience of Cambodia. There has to be a level of self-redefining, striking out some of cultural impositions, to affirm a unique national identity. The evolution of Rhodesia into Zimbabwe as well it’s the capital Salisbury into Harare is a case in point.
Locally, schools, streets, cities, regions that are named to honour enslavers or their enablers need to be re-evaluated. These were imposed without thought or recognition of the culture of the original inhabitants or the sensitivity to the majority of forced immigrant ancestors. This wasn’t just done in the distant past. Take Treasure Beach, the second best little community in Jamaica. Back four generation it was known as “Pedro, named in honour of a French Pirate. An incomer from Canada built a hotel and successfully petitioned the governor who visited, to rename the area Treasure Beach. In my youth, many an Elizabethan elder refused to use this term.
Teach, Professor Verene Shepard
Little thought is given to the name of the capital, Kingston. Thanks to the effervescent enthusiastic Professor Verene Shepard of “Talking History”, I learnt the British had named it Beeston, prior to morphing it into Kingston. No doubt the intention was to gain political favour with the English Monarch, James VI. So Jamaica’s capital is named to honour a person who invested in the Royal African Company as a founding member. He then granted the company a personal endorsement in a royal seal of approval for the kidnapping of our ancestors.
Politicians seem to be politicians so their names can be pinned to some monument or road while still alive. This is especially true if they have been in the cabinet. It is only a matter of time before “Anju” and “P- TA” will have a school or road named in their honour.
One law that the Castro government had put in place, was that no public building should be named after a living political figure. For the Jamaican context ideally, nothing should be named after a cabinet member till 75 years after their death. After all there is a proposal to extend the time you are prevented access to the deliberations of the Cabinet to seventy five years! So please change the name of the North South High way from Seaga to the Marlene Ottey Highway and Portia Simpson Miller Square to the Pocket Rocket Place!
The catalyst for my outrage, and yes I feel outrage, was when, on a whim I googled Vernamham field. To my chagrin I discovered this United Stated built airfield was named in honour of one of their otherwise forgotten military aviators from the first world war who died in action. Why isn’t it renamed after an early Jamaican aviator? For instance Flight Sargent William Clarke, who did survive and lived an exemplary life. Let’s be clear, hell would freeze over before the yanks name an airfield for a Jamaican!
There is some balance in the naming of the local international airports. Two of them are named after idealistic politicians from opposing political parties, both now long dead. This re naming was done rather quickly after their death. The third international airport is more problematic. Its name was changed from the deliciously sounding Boscobel Airport to the Ian Fleming International airport! What is the issue given Ian Fleming “bigged up” Jamaica by creating the fictional character James Bond while claiming the local fauna inspired his writing? . To understand, actually read the Bond books. They are filled with recurring themes of racial superiority, imperialism, sexism, support for colonialism and downright condescension to non-Europeans. Additionally Bond’s opinion on the editorial policy of the Gleaner was downright insulting! I confess I read many a James Bond books in my youth. In my defence I read them for the sex not the politics.
To honour the past, to claim the future, the ancestors need to be appreciated and respected. Naming monuments and places seems an ideal way of doing that. This renaming has to be carefully calibrated. An example of this can be found in Morris Cargill’s “Jamaica Farewell”. In it he describes his former Headmaster “Wagger” Harrison as a sadistically cruel, a morally corrupt individual. Harrison is now honoured by having one of the internal school houses named in his honour.
Back to Taino
Often ignored is the Taino genetics flowing through a good number of Jamaicans. It seems only fair that to honour the legacy of these near forgotten people they should be remembered in the administrative divisions of the island. Each parish should be renamed with a locally relevant Taino name. For instance St Andrew should be Coyoba, which was the name of the great Peter Abrahams’ home. Kingston could become the musical Liguanea, and St Elizabeth could morph into Lacovia. Offending school names should be renamed, but not after dead politicians. This will be met with resistance from a significant number of educators who fear Bantu knots and view any change as a threat to their tyranny.
Change Ian Fleming International airport to honour our greatest but nearly forgotten artist, “Kapo” Reynolds. Then reform the constitution so that the title of Governor General becomes Cacique!