Emancipation shemancipation, independence shmindependence.

Jamaica was discovered by Cris Colombo in 1494, after which the Spanish held the island for some 150 years up until, in 1655, the British decided they could make better use of it. Time proved the British right, and whereas the Spanish were unable to meaningfully make use of the third largest Caribbean island,i the British saw a greater opportunity and were cunning enough to form a trading triangle between a) England, b) Jamaica, and c) Africa, with manufactured goods moving from a –> c, agricultural goods moving from b –> a, and labour servicesii moving from c –> b.

The result, after almost two centuries, was this :

falmouth jamaica 1827

via http://www.cruiselawnews.com/uploads/image/falmouth1827.gif

Success ! And more success ! And more and more, largely built on the foundation of sugar plantations, to the point where the growing towns not only become prosperous, but also cultured, as manifest by the thriving Jewish community,iii the only extant remnant of which is the Shaare Shalom Synagogue, also known as the United Congregation of Israelites, seen here :

Kingston synagogue, exteriorThe interior of which has a sand floor, indicating Sephardim heritage.iv

Kingston synagogue interiorThen in 1834 came emancipation. The Crown paid plantation owners £20-a-headv and the blacks were set loose. Soon, the sugar industry died, mainly because it required both organisation and significant industrial processing, only to be replaced by coffee beans and bananas, neither of which required as much, well, skill and labour.

Between then and 1962, when Jamaica gained independence from Great Britain, the African descendents of the island gained an increasing number of political positions, replacing the former aristocracy with “fairer” representation, and the people with civilised heritage and experience slowly moved away, leaving behind the bones but not the flesh.

Today, Jamaica answers the age-old questionvi : “What would Africa look like if we gave it a whack-load of European infrastructure and walked away.”

The answer looks like Kingston, the capital city of 1 mn residents. Where once neo-classical monuments stood prominently, now barbed wire fences protect the few occupied buildings (mostly churches) while most everything else from the country’s glory days lie in wasteful disuse, if it lies at all :

Kingston old harbour

Note the two young men making bed frames in the back alley, a sight that I don’t recall seeing anywhere else in the world but wasn’t the least bit uncommon here.

Kingston street marketNote the garishly coloured walkways and street-side vendors, none of whom are paying rent as they hawk everything from fresh vegetables to bubblegum to baby turtles.

Old bank building, Kingston JamaicaThis is one of the cleanest streets around, most are thrashed with trash, but the 1911 bank building is still completely abandoned.

Kingston trains

The nation’s once-great rail system hasn’t fared much better. The trains, once the blood running through the country’s economic veins, are now inoperational and rusted over.

Of course, the West and the East haven’t walked away from this profitable little island entirely : there are Chinese grocery stores, American burger chains, and East Indian luxury retail centres, all of which not only undermine local entrepreneurs but, unlike the colonial system, in no way teach the locals to develop the skills of civilisation,vii namely refinement and organisation. As a result, the locals one finds on the street, having never been shown a better way by a patient teacher, having been used and abused by their own kind,viii and resentful as all hell about it, take on an air of superiority with would-be patrons and scrap with each other like middle school children.

It’s all really very tragic.

___ ___ ___

  1. At least for the Spanish Monarchy’s original intention of gold and silver mining. So they used Jamaica as a port of call from which they relieved the Americas of all that cumbersome gold keeping them down. Y’know, like FDR.
  2. Read: slaves.
  3. This is a neat little trick that Alberta hasn’t quite figured out. The province has prosperity, even if oil prices are in a temporary lull, but culture still struggles for every little inch. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Edmonton and Calgary have hardly any jooz.
  4. That which is practised by the pro-polygamist Jews of the Mediterranean countries (Portugal, Spain, North Africa, Middle East, etc.), as opposed to the Ashkenazi style practised by descendents of Eastern and Northern Europe.

    It’s worthwhile to note, as Pesach (aka Passover) is fast approaching, that one of the practical differences between the two is that Sephardic Jews eat corn, rice, and beans during Pesach and Ashkanazi Jews don’t.

  5. This works out, based on average wages at the time, to about $20,000-a-head. Probably not that far off a bitcent in 50 years, y’know.
  6. This’d be one that Jeffrey Sachs has spent his life trying to answer while at the same time ignoring the dead obvious examples right in front of his face. Because progress, because reasons, because that’s different or things are different or because I want to matter over here and it’s easier if I pretend like that thing over there isn’t actually relevant. Le derp.
  7. Jamaica once boasted some 10,000 gens de couleur libres, or free people of colour, that is, men and women who were quick and diligent studies in the ways of advanced society.
  8. You should see how many anti-corruption billboards there are on the highways. You know it’s a problem when…

9 thoughts on “Emancipation shemancipation, independence shmindependence.

  1. […] sewage and water treatment is what separates Jamaica, a British colony for a couple centuries, from Costa Rica, a former Spanish colony. Isn’t it funny how much one ruler can suck and another […]

  2. […] “bad guys” who’d kidnapped annoyingly “woman in tech-ish” and “emancipated” hacker Ramsey, played by Nathalie Emmanuel, whom you might recognise as Missandei from Game […]

  3. […] thus they lived in “bantustans,” and the name stuck even after the areas gained their shmindependence in the 1970’s. The bantustans were very much in the same vein as Canadian native reserves, […]

  4. […] A-C is that Italy is well on its way to answering the corollary of the question answered by Jamaica, namely “What would Africa look like if we gave it a whack-load of European infrastructure […]

  5. funkenstein says:

    In to recommend the movie “Life and Debt”, a documentary on the Jamaican Dairy industry meeting the IMF, for a view of one piece of the whack-load of European infrastructure in Jamaica that has continued to be promoted.

    • Pete D. says:

      I dug up a couple quotes, the first ostensibly from the movie itself :

      Jamaica was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1493. Not too long after, it was settled by human rubbish from Europe, who used enslaved but noble and exalted human beings from Africa to satisfy their desire for wealth and power. Eventually the masters left, in a kind of way; eventually the salves were freed, in a kind of way. Of course, the whole thing is, once you cease to be master you’re no longer human rubbish, you’re just a human being and all the things that adds up to; so too with the slaves, once they are no longer slaves, once they’re free they are no longer noble and exalted, they are just human beings.

      The second from Roger Ebert’s review :

      even the one remaining market for Jamaican bananas–England–is threatened by the Chiquita-Dole-Del Monte forces, who think one Jamaican banana not sold by them is too many. Latin American banana workers earn $1 a day; Jamaicans can’t live on that.

      This is some braindamage right here. The people who taught Jamaicans advanced agricultural techniques are ‘rubbish’ and the former slave colony ‘can’t live’ on $1/day. Mkay then.

  6. […] smarter too than the Jamaicans, who’ve left their colonial infrastructure to rot and rust in the sun. […]

  7. […] ask politely for vacations on several months of notice.” This is not freedom, it’s not independence, and it sure as hell isn’t anything resembling sovereignty. I don’t doubt that the EU […]

  8. […] why do we keep telling the Passover story every year, complete with bloody birth canal metaphors, as if we were trying to relive […]

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