Moving Back to Jamaica

A blog about my Move Back to Jamaica after 20+ years of living in the US. Most of the articles focus on the period from 2005-2009 when the transition was new, and at it's most challenging.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Dutty Whine and Extremes

Moving Back to Jamaica means coming to terms with so much that is utterly contradictory in Jamaican life.

Take the most recent dance craze, which by virtue of the fact that this blogger knows a little about it, means that it is already over.

The Dutty Whine was invented in Jamaica, which is still the focal point for an inspiring number of dances, beats, rhythms and slang that end up running t’tings in the pop music world.

The dance involves throwing the head around in circles from the neck up, in an eye-catching yet dangerous manner that is just amazing to watch. The hands are placed on the knees, and the bottom is also thrown around to the beat … this takes no ordinary gymnastics for the skillful woman, for the dance is meant for women only, as everyone knows (or should know.) It is not a dance that everyone does at a club, or that couples engage in – it is for the handful of women who can do it, and want to be the center of attention while doing it.

It is provocative, teasing and sexually graphic. In other words, a lot of fun.

It is a dance that is full of the raw power of Jamaican women, as the dancer takes centre stage in concert, club or dancehall while everyone else stops to watch what looks like a graphically simulated sexual act – the wildest doggy style that you can imagine, more or less.

This is a phenomenon that could only be born in Jamaica.

Why so?

While we often throw around statistics like our world-leading number of churches per square mile, that is not a day to day concern. Instead, my wife and I talk more about the church across the way from us that regularly flaunts the noise abatement act. From approximately 400 yards away, we are force-fed a regular diet of Sunday morning sermonizing at fever pitch, starting at 7:30am on the dot, and ending around 2:30 pm on good days.

On busy weeks the irregular Sunday night service, Wed night bible study is also added in to the mix, as is the occasional 7 night a week crusade and 12hr+ all-night hour service (no kidding.) And this is no quiet church. Shouts, screams and moans are only exceeded by long and loud utterances in some strange tongues.

The local story is that the pastor, when asked by neighbours to turn the volume down, replied with a quip: “If they can have their carnival, then I can have my church.”

What does this have to do with the Dutty whine?

Well, nothing really… except that in this land of opposites, extreme sexuality lives in happy coexistence with extreme religious expression. The one constant is the extreme nature of the expressions.

A visitor to a different country, such as Barbados here in the Caribbean, or Toronto, or Munich, might be struck by how sedate and calm daily life seems to be.

Daily Jamaican life is a study in extremes, and anyone moving home must prepare themselves to deal with outrageous events on a daily basis, allowing them to move in and out of one’s attention without investing them with too much personal energy. To do so would be to court disaster, or madness, or destruction.

I remember one morning run in which my wife observed a thief being beaten by security guards, and also a mad man walking around the street wearing only a shirt. And this was before 7am.

After our compound was broken into last year by nothing short of some spider-man, we sat down and came up with a “security plan,” which basically consisted of different tactics to take if:
 attacked while running
 hijacked in the car
 thieves broke into the house
 stuck up while entering or exiting the premises
For each eventuality, we came up with a set of tactics to use, and also equipment to employ (including a secret way to ring the door-bell, a heavy black police flashlight, mace and pre-programmed numbers in our cell-phones to the security company)

It didn’t feel the least bit strange to be making these kinds of plans, and taking preventive measures, and my advice to someone moving back home is that it is important to accept Jamaican living for what it is – an urban version of the X-Games.

After all, you if you were interested in entering the X-Games you would practice and prepare yourself extensively. Living in Jamaica is no different.

Extreme sexuality. Extreme religion. Extreme crime. Extreme risks.

Extreme beauty. Extreme communities. Extreme democratic politics. Extreme wealth. Extreme poverty. Extreme ugliness.

Extreme politeness. Extreme rudeness. Extreme courage. Extreme fear.

Moving Back to Jamaica – an extreme undertaking.


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