Bob Marley’s 69th anniversary

BOB Marley died at the age of 36. I recall seeing him alive at the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, where his sons were altar servers. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church is the closest church, theologically, to the Roman Catholic Church in Jamaica, and there were times, as a young man, when I would pay a visit. I also recall seeing him in his coffin in the National Arena with his guitar in one hand and a Bible in the other.

Bob Marley put reggae and Jamaica on the map through music in the way that Herb McKenley and Arthur Wint had done through athletics. In a real way he helped to sell our sugar, bananas, bauxite, and whatever else because of reggae. I believe that it was because Jamaica became known for reggae that our national football team is called the Reggae Boyz. It helped the tourism product, which is today second only to remittances in bringing in our much-needed foreign exchange.

Bob Marley continued the link with the African motherland that Marcus Garvey had done so much to cultivate. His singing of Garvey’s words “emancipate yourselves from mental slavery” was one thing, but being Rastafarian he emphasised the words of Selassie “until the philosophy that holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited” we will not know peace.

And with his music being played everywhere, an appreciation from the African continent became very strong. But in recent times there has been somewhat of a retrogression in this respect. Indeed, we tend to shy away from the continent of Africa when referring to black history for a number of reasons, chief of which is mental slavery.

But Africa still cherishes the values of the natural differences between men and women, which is considered old-fashioned in the West. In traditional African communities, men are the head of families and are expected to be the breadwinners. The women are expected to take the motherly roles. At the same time, I understand the importance of both men and women having the independence of earning their own money.

I know a story of a Jamaican mother whose son rose to prominence in Jamaica. She was the wife of a policeman in the days when only Englishmen reached the rank of sergeant, and corporals were middle-class Jamaicans. She never went out to wok for a day in her entire life.

This lady’s prominent son died when she was 92. She still lived in eastern Kingston despite the pleas of her other children to live with them in Orange Grove off Long Lane in Constant Spring or abroad in the USA. As she grieved for her son when he died, some of her children suggested that she raise some chickens since she liked animals. Eventually the chickens, as one would expect, laid eggs.

One day someone came to the gate to purchase eggs and she obliged and sold some. Immediately, and in a fit of excitement, this 92-year-old woman shouted to her next-door neighbour: “Ah work mi firs’ money.” The year was 1993.

I did not hear about the incident until eight years later when I was going home from her 100th birthday party at her son’s house in Orange Grove. I admit that it was not until that day, in February 2001, exactly 13 years ago, that I fully appreciated the need for everyone, man or woman, to feel a since of self-worth by earning money on their own. The elderly lady died at the age of 106 in 2007.

But having written all of this a lot still has to be said for the need for men to be breadwinners to free their wives to fulfil their roles as mothers. The truth is that there has been a reversal of roles in the West. For the first black man to become president of the USA, Barrack Obama had to form a coalition with all sorts of groups, including the Women’s Liberation Movement, and Gay Rights Activists, which include lesbians.

This brought not only needed votes but also much-needed campaign funds. This in turn has strengthened the obscuring of the natural differences between men and women and the ‘heat wave’ from that is being felt in Jamaica. So many times even culture is tied into the whole issue of women’s rights.

For example, I support the attempts to put the entire Bible into the Jamaican dialect, as controversial as it might be. As you might know there has been a patois translation of the New Testament that has been available for more than a year now. I went to its official launch and was handed a document that had more about women’s rights in it than about the translation of the Bible into dialect.

It so happens that many, or perhaps most Jamaicans who are at the forefront of the patois translation of the Bible are also women’s’ lib enthusiasts, and whether decidedly or unintentionally combined the two. In my opinion it was entirely out of place and can even turn off support from men who might otherwise support the idea. But, then again, as I write I wonder if that was the idea, to turn off the men so that the organisation can fully become a branch of the women’s lib movement.

But the question remains, what are we going to do to re-‘manify’ our men in Jamaica. To me, we should turn to Africa for help, and with February being Black History Month it is the best time to start. We should look at family life in Africa. While it is true that in traditional African families polygamy is the norm, the fact is that the children are taken care of and they know their fathers. In any case, the men can only marry the amount of wives that they can afford to keep and they all live in one yard.

On Bob Marley day this year, let us resolve to remind our people that families are integral to African culture just as they are to other cultures.

Article by: Michael Burke (

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