It is a basic criticism, though not of Hearne, that over one-third of this book deals with the past, and that there is no chapter specifically analysing the current social and economic position. There is admittedly a section on Political developments, but Frank Hill is extremely disappointing. It is difficult to recognise in the author of this chapter the same radio personality who has played an important part in our union and political life over the last quarter century. The final section of his chapter is virtual tabulation, contains nothing of his cogent analytic powers. He is admirably anonymous on his own fuss with the P.N.P. but his chapter says nothing either of J. A. G. Smith, Marcus Garvey or Millard Johnson – and our white visitors will certainly feel the shadow of the last two. Incidentally, this chapter takes up less space than those on Cooking, Birds, Natural History, Great Houses and Archives!
Jacobs on Dialect, Magic and Religion covers some of the ground that Hill by-passes. But though the chapter is as sound and scholarly as usual, several of his assessments are questionable. He treats the Rasta movement primarily as a cult, but avoids enquiry into the possibly deep-rooted feelings of social and economic alienation that are certainly part of their background. His comments on the distraction of the Trade Union movement are certainly valid, but, surprisingly, he misses the possible cultural implications of “coolie” and “Chinaman” jokes, and – not so surprisingly this time – misses the effects of Rastafarianism and Religion on the “ska” (“Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses”, “Wings of a Dove”, “King Samuel”) and the interesting conclusions that might have followed in view of his theory about the effects of folk-art on cultism. (And the Dance Theatre Company’s efforts at formalism are certainly also relevant).
The discussion of our “real” literature and art follows naturally from the above with C. G. O. King evincing a primarily “social” point of view on the former, and being very perceptive, particularly about John Hearne. Yet he says nothing about the influence of exile – surely a major factor in all West Indian literature, falls into error about Tom Redcam’s politics, and while naming Patterson’s “Children of Sisyphus” an artistic success, which to a great extent it is, says its philosophy is one of negative urgency! Norman Rae on art seems much better – and gets down to meanings and purposes in a manner and style that he very rarely gives us in the “Gleaner”, though his chapter is merely a general introduction. The book is worth reading (if not buying) if only for the contributions made by himself and Hearne.
Cynthia Wilmot soon reminds us, however, of its real purposes and leads us to remember her recent fracas with Vere Johns – in a fashion that must sadden any former readers of her regular column in the now defunct “Jamaica Times”. Her piece is written in a tone of inverted patronage, which can only be unintentional, in view of the clear private and public evidence of her commitment, and contributions, to Jamaica. Unfortunately, the picture she paints is of the charmingly inefficient Jamaicans, an “aren’t-the-natives-quaint” variety of comment, accompanied by exotic· descriptions of “lithe sloe-eyed temptresses”, and phrases with unfortunate connotations like her self-description as “an old Jamaica hand”. Hers is the last “important” chapter, being followed by the one on Skin Diving, which could well have been replaced by a general one on Sport, covering past achievement on the surface on the island and elsewhere. (The absence of such a chapter is not surprising, however, since a study of the general structure of the book reveals that ‘only half of the contributors are “natives” – though there are four long-residents as well).
The appendices and bibliography seal the matter – or lack of it. Appendix 1 for example is 22 pages long, – with only the last three pages devoted to Trade Unions and Labour Laws, and there is nothing – not even a last-minute addendum, about the Work Permits which now affect our prospective investors. The Bibliography is six pages long, catholic in nature. Yet in twelve sections, over 100 items, there is no mention of the classic and still relevant “Warning From The West Indies” of 1936, or of the Garvey biography “Black Moses” or, perhaps most important of all, Norris’ “Jamaica, Search for an Identity”, the most vital recent critical work on the island. Yet they are all books certain to be on the reading list of any intelligent prospective “settler”. One can only conclude that even if there is an excuse for gloss, many visitors, once they have stayed for more than a very short time, will feel “conned” by this introduction even if they do not become intimately acquainted with some of our harsh social and economic realities. As for this particular native, he can only continue to wonder, whether our upper and middle class obsession about pleasing outsiders before ourselves, will ever disappear.