Copv\ lghl reserved and reproduction without permission strictly forbidden.
1 The Rise of Matriarchy in the Caribbean
22 Una Marson: Black Nationalist and Feminist Writer
38 Colonial Policy Towards Women after the 1938 Uprising: The Case of Jamaica
62 Women and Social Values in the Plays of Trevor Rhone
77 Woman at Home and Abroad
It Is Not Good Enough
Sheroes and Heroes
87 BOOK REVIEWS
106 Notes on Contributors
107 Instructions to Authors
Front cover. Three Sisters (1975) by Seya Parboosingh. Reproduced by kind permission of Tony Hart.
VOL. 34, Nos. 3 &
UNIVERSITY OF THE WEST INDIES
The Hon. R. M. Nettleford, O.M., Professor of Extra-Mural Studies (Editor)
G. M. Richards, Pro Vice-Chancellor, St. Augustine, Trinidad
Roy Augier, Pro Vice-Chancellor, Mona, Jamaica
Keith Hunte, Pro Vice-Chancellor, Cave Hill, Barbados
Lloyd Coke, Department of Botany, Mona
Neville McMorris, Department of Physics, Mona
Janet Liu Terry, Associate Editor
All correspondence and contributions should be addressed to:
Department of Extra-Mural Studies,
University of the West Indies.
Mona. Kingston 7, Jamaica.
We invite readers to submit manuscripts or recommend subjects which they would
like to see discussed in Caribbean Quarterly. Articles and book reviews of relevance to the
Caribbean will be gratefully received. Authors should refer to the guidelines at the end of
this issue. Articles submitted are not returned. Contributors are asked not to send inter-
national postal coupons for this purpose.
Eastern Caribbean JS90.00
United Kingdom UKE9.00
U.S.A., Canada and other countries US$22.00
Exchanges are conducted by the Gifts and Exchanges Section, Library, University
of the West Indies, Mona, Kingston 7, Jamaica.
Back Issues & Microfilm
Information for back volumes supplied on request. Caribbean Quarterly is available
in microfilm from Xerox University Microfilms and in book form from Kraus-Thomson
This journal is abstracted by AES and indexed in HAPI.
Subscription orders may be forwarded to the Editor or the Resident Tutor at the
University Centre in any West Indian Territory served by this University.
This double issue continues with the theme of Women in West Indian Literature which is
underpinned by a socio-educational article by Errol Miller who has been doing research
into a perceived phenomenon, as he sees it, "The Rise of the Matriarchy in the Caribbean".
He claims that "The matrifocal family and kinship institutions characteristic of lower
strata groups in Caribbean society are neither African survivals nor merely the legacy of
new world slavery. These matrifocal forms are the product of domination/subordination
as it has been contested by men in Caribbean society and the liberation of Caribbean
women is an unintended consequence of this contest between men" (my emphases).
To support his thesis, he presents evidence of the shift from male teachers in primary
schools and male trainees in teachers' colleges to women in both. The larger numbers of
girls in high schools and in the University of the West Indies point to the inexorable
rise of the matriarchy in the Caribbean.
In "Una Marson: Black Nationalist and Feminist Writer" Honor Ford-Smith, against
the background of modern-day feminism, examines the life and times of Una Marson
through her writing and her artistic and aesthetic expressions. She of course is a product
of a prestigious high school but she did not become a teacher, instead she became a
writer at a newspaper, Jamaica's well-known daily, the Gleaner. A woman warrior of no
mean stature, she had to fight on all fronts: race, class and gender.
The uprising which shook the foundations of Jamaican society also affected women
as there was a specific "Colonial Policy towards Women after the 1938 Uprising: The
Case of Jamaica". This policy, according to Joan French, "operated to blunt the militancy
of women whose highly visible and militant participation in all aspects of the uprising. .."
This "policy" was articulated through the Moyne Commission which, in effect, promoted
"the ideology of the dependent housewife, male breadwinner, and, as a means to this
end, the promotion of 'stable monogamy', preferably marriage; the promotion of volun-
tary social work as the most laudable and prestigious occupation for middle strata women".
All these resulted in the marginalization of women from the work force and from the
power wielding positions which men occupied.
Grace Owen in her piece "Women and Social Values in the Plays of Trevor Rhone"
looks at how women are perceived and portrayed by one of the foremost dramatists in
the Caribbean. Her examination of his texts reveals that Rhone "offers an intertwining
of the two approaches rather than a straightforward development of the more progressive
depiction of the woman's life". Owen looks at woman in Smile Orange, Schools Out,
Sleeper, and Old Story Time.
Woman does not escape the attention of that very sensitive writer Claude McKay
and Jean Lowrie-Chin looks at "Woman at Home and Abroad" in Gingertown. The
central anxiety of the Caribbean, race, plays a large part in these short stories and the
virtues of whites, near whites, browns and blacks are delineated with a paining honesty
which is at once recognisable and familiar. Jean Lowrie-Chin's article brings home the
fact that women cannot escape from male perceptions of them and cannot avoid being
categorized by their perceptions and being moulded by them will-nilly.
Two poems by Elean Thomas and seven book reviews complete the issue.
THE RISE OF MATRIARCHY IN THE CARIBBEAN
The matrifocal family and kinship institutions characteristic of lower strata groups in
Caribbean society are neither African survivals nor merely the legacy of new world
slavery. These matrifocal forms are the product of domination/subordination as it has
been contested by men in Caribbean society and the liberation of Caribbean women is an
unintended consequence of this contest between men.
There is evidence to show that all the avenues of upward social mobility available
through education open to the subordinate groups over the last 100 years have been
shifted in favour of the females of the subordination groups, and that these educational
advantages have been converted by women to occupational and income advantages.
Smith (1965), in describing the Jamaican society of 1960, stated that the small,
dominant section of the society was bilateral in the authority structure of the family,
and that the middle classes were patriarchal in their family and kinship institutions while
the large lower strata were modally matriarchal. Smith's description of Jamaican society
has been the standard description for creole society in the Caribbean.
What are the origins of these varying forms of kinship and family institutions in
the Caribbean? The general opinions have been that bilateral and patriarchal forms of
the upper and middle strata have their origins in European forms adopted by these
strata, while the matriarchal forms of the lower strata are either survivals of West African
forms or the legacy of plantation slavery.
Herskovitz's (1941) position that the matriarchal forms of the lower strata are the
results of African survivals in the Caribbean is open to serious questioning. All the
African tribes that were brought to the Caribbean were patriarchal in tradition, even
if some tribes were matri-lineal, and others patri-lineal. The main difference between
matri-lineal and patri-lineal kinship institutions was whether the man exercised patriarchal
authority in his capacity as father or maternal uncle; that is, patriarchal authority over
his children or his sister's children.
Fraser's (1939) position that the matriarchal forms owe their origin to slavery
seems more credible, precisely because it identifies the Caribbean experience as causal.
But slavery in itself is not an explanation, unless the exact processes involved are identi-
fied. Fraser's explanation, therefore, falls short in accounting for the continuation of
these forms 150 years after the end of slavery.
Roberts and Sinclair (1978) observed that family forms have not undergone any
material change since Emancipation, unlike many other aspects of the Jamaican society.
A number of questions arise from these conclusions of sociologists and anthro-
pologists studying the Caribbean. Are family forms unchanging and isolated features of
Caribbean society? Are family and kinship institutions of the various strata mere survivals
from the European and African roots of Caribbean creole culture or from slavery; or
are they dynamically interrelated? If they are dynamically inter-related, what are the
structures and processes which govern their inter-relatedness, and what are their ante-
This article examines these issues and takes the position that family forms are
not unchanging or isolated aspects of Caribbean society; and they are neither mere
survivals of European or African forms. Rather, these family forms are manifestations
of dynamic processes operative historically and currently in Caribbean society. Com-
parisons are made between blacks in Jamaica and Indians in Trinidad to show that the
matrifocal forms are themselves an effect of educational, employment and income
biases and not their cause.
A scenario is put forward for the rise of matriarchy in the Caribbean.
Definition of Patriarchy and Matriarchy
Patriarchy and matriarchy are not principally about family and kinship institutions,
but rather have their social meaning principally in the bases on which society is organized.
Patriarchy is the term conveniently used to describe society organized on the basis of
kinship, gender and age. The patriarchal society is one in which the basic unit of society
is the kin group -the collective of blood-bonded individuals. This kin group can vary
considerably in size and structure from the nuclear family, to the extended family, the
clan, the tribe, the caste, or the race. Within the collective of blood-bonded individuals,
final authority is vested in the elder males fathers. The elder males in whom final
authority is vested are not only related by blood to all members of the kin group, but
are bonded to them by a system of reciprocal rights, duties and obligations.
In a sense, the kin-collective is a microcosm of the society as a whole. Elder males
exercise authority over younger males and women whom they are required to provide
for and protect. They exercise power in the kin group and the society, control and
determine the mode of the means of production, enjoy high status, and honour, are
legitimate and justified by the belief-system, and have their authority and position
perpetuated by the culture.
While there may be some argument about the universality of patriarchy since anti-
quity, there is no question that all peoples coining to the Caribbean after the fifteenth
century, and the aborginal population, had developed strong patriarchal traditions by
that time. While the exact brand of patriarchy may have varied from group to group,
all were patriarchal.
The question that must be investigated and answered, given this definition and
history of patriarchy, is what in Caribbean society has undermined patriarchy in the
subordinate strata and preserved it in the dominant strata. A further question that must
be asked is whether matrifocal patterns emerging in the subordinate strata constitute
matriarchy. If patriarchy is defined as elder males exercising power and control over
younger males and women either in the kin-collective or wider society, then matriarchy,
if it is to mean the same thing, must mean elder women exercising power and control
over younger women and men both in the kin-collective and wider society.
Given these definitions of patriarchy and matriarchy, the existing matrifocal
forms in the lower strata could not be said to constitute matriarchy. But the question
is, will it lead to matriarchy? Are the current matrifocal forms but the embryo of a
future matriarchal adult? Is future matriarchy arising in the context of traditional patri-
Understanding the process producing matrifocal forms in the lower strata of Carib-
bean society becomes the key to assessing their immediate and long-term implications
vis-a-vis the rise of matriarchy.
The Underlying Process of Matrifocal Forms
The approach that will be adopted here is that of stating the process in the form of
a hypothesis and then producing empirical evidence supportive of the hypothesis. Before
introducing the hypothesis, however, it is necessary to employ a simple conceptual tool
by making a distinction between patriarchal societies operating in modal consensus, and
patriarchal societies operating in modal conflict.
By modal consensus or modal conflict, one means the main tendencies which
prevailed over any given period of time in a society. In a period of modal conflict, the
dominant group is challenged or seeks to keep the subordinate collectives in their tradi-
tional places. In a period of modal consensus, both dominant and subordinate collectives
seek to preserve some accommodation which leaves the status quo unchanged.
My hypothesis is that where a patriarchal society experiences modal consensus
over a particular period, patriarchy is preserved in all segments of the society dominant,
intermediate and subordinate. The elder males of all strata and kin collectives continue
to exercise power, control and influence over younger males and women; they continue
to enjoy high status and honour, and to have their position legitimized and justified by
the beliefs perpetuated by ancestral succession.
Modal conflict over prolonged periods in a patriachal society produces changes in
patriarchy itself. In this instance, the hegemony of the male-dominant ruling collectives
is challenged by the male-dominant subordinate collectives. Conflict in a patriarchal
society is expressed principally as confrontation, contest and competition between men.
If the conflict is of such that the dominant group has to make concessions to the sub-
ordinate groups who are not able to totally overthrow the former, then the dominant
group employs strategy of co-optation which involves the
(a) co-optation of a small number of males within the subordinate group by pro-
viding opportunities for upward mobility;
(b) sponsorship of subordinate females in taking up most of the available oppor-
(c) sponsorship of their own females in exploiting opportunities for mobility.
One of the social outcomes of this strategy is to produce increasingly bilateral forms
in the family and kinship institutions of the dominant group and increasingly matri-
focal forms in the subordinate groups. But the real significance of the strategy of co-opta-
tion lies in accomplishing the following:
1. Keeping the majority of the males in the subordinate group in their traditional places
in society. In any patriarchal society subordinate males are the main source of threat
to the power structure, as well as the main source of economic exploitation. To per-
mit major changes in the traditional place of subordinate males is to change the sta-
tus quo fundamentally.
2. Weakening the subordinate group so that the challenge to the dominant group is
not sustained. In a patriarchal society, maleness is strength and femaleness weak-
ness. Female-headed families, for example, represent a weak family structure com-
pared to male-headed families. Given the biases of patriarchy, female providers
should not be the equal of male providers. By promoting subordinate females at
the expense of their males, the dominant group is castrating the subordinate group,
i.e., allowing the group to survive but be unable to continue to reproduce the chal-
lenge to the dominant group.
Evidence in Support of the Hypothesis
To test the validity of the above hypothesis, it is necessary to identify a Caribbean
society that operated in modal conflict since Emancipation, and secondly to analyse the
gender structure in the major channels of upward mobility open to the lower strata over
this period. Jamaica fits the criterion of modal conflict; and education, particularly
teacher education, high schooling and university education, have been the major avenues
of mobility that have at sometime been open to the lower strata. Accordingly, an analy-
sis will be made of the gender composition of these educational institutions in Jamaica
which should provide some evidence related to the hypothesis.
The hypothesis is supported if it can be shown that educational institutions had
predominantly males enrolled, but that in circumstances of challenges and conflict involv-
ing the dominant and subordinate groups, gender shifts took place which favoured access
of females especially of the subordinate group.
1. Elementary School Teaching and Teachers' Colleges:
Tables 1 and 2 show the gender composition of elementary school teachers and
teachers' college students over the period 1872 to 1985.
Elementary school teaching, within a decade of Emancipation, became a predomi-
nantly black occupation in Jamaica. It was the first "white collar" job that was open to
blacks in the Jamaican society. Teachers' colleges preparing elementary school teachers
became a predominantly black institution and an important channel of upward social
mobility for blacks.
Gender of Elementary School Teachers: 1872 to 1985
Male Female Total
Year N % N % N %
1872 460 90.6 48 9.4 508 100.0
1899 815 78.4 225 21.6 1,040 100.0
1951 881 20.9 3,341 79.1 4,222 100.0
1975 1,558 15.1 8,732 84.9 10,090 100.0
1985 1,280 12.4 9,040 87.6 10,320 100.0
Source: Compiled from the Annual Reports of the Dept. and Ministry of
Education and special reports of the Director of Education in 1872/1899.
Gender of Teachers' College Students: 1872 to 1985
Male Female Total
Year N % N % N %
1872 98 92.5 8 7.5 106 100.0
1882 86 91.5 8 8.5 94 100.0
1899 104 65.4 55 34.6 159 100.0
1908 68 47.6 75 52.4 133 100.0
1931 59 36.0 105 64.0 164 100.0
1951 94 32.0 200 68.0 294 100.0
1963 244 25.1 729 74.9 973 100.0
1985 596 17.7 2,771 82.3 3,367 100.0
Source: As in Table 1.
Tables 1 and 2.show that in the nineteenth century both elementary school teach-
ing and teachers' colleges were predominantly male. This changed, however, in the early
decades of the twentieth century. Both elementary school teaching and teachers' colleges
have become in the twentieth century as decisively female as they were decisively male
in the nineteenth century.
Up to 1892 elementary schools and teachers' colleges were under the control of
denominations who owned and managed the school system with some subsidy from the
state. Elementary schools were fee-paying institutions. The year 1892 saw the state
assuming control for the elementary school system with the introduction of free elemen-
tary education. By 1899, during a period of economic crisis, the state had restructured
elementary education and teachers' colleges. This restructuring included the shifting of
the gender preference from male to female teachers.
Miller (1986) discussed fully a number of social, economic and polio :al factors
which were associated with the policy of the state to employ and train more black
females than black males as teachers. In addition to those factors, it would appear that
the state was employing and training female teachers as one way of breaking the hold of
the church on the school system run by the state. Ministers of religion were still managers
of the schools. The male head teachers were mostly catechists and lay-preachers of various
denominations. The minister-manager and teacher-catechist inter-relation was seen as
a stumbling block to state control. Women teachers were considered more independent
of the church and could not be used as catechists and lay-preachers.
The point to note is that at the turn of the century conflict situations, including
black men using elementary school teaching and teachers' colleges as stepping stones
to other occupations which had been the preserves of whites and browns; planters
perceiving their supply of labour being threatened by peasant farming and migration to
Central America; colonial officials perceiving the formation of the first union in Jamaica
(Jamaica Union of Teachers) as potentially threatening; and colonial officials wishing to
seize effective control of the newly acquired elementary school system from the churches,
all contributed to the shift in the gender composition of both elementary school teaching
and teachers' colleges in the first two decades of the twentieth century.
Hence, elementary school teaching which was the major means of upward social
mobility for the subordinate black segment, and which in the period of church control
had offered those opportunities mainly to males, upon the change to state control of the
school system now offered these same opportunities to women. This pattern not only
continued in the colonial period in which white males were the dominant group, but
also after the 1960s when browns, Jews, Chinese and other minority males replaced the
British as the dominant group.
2. High Schooling:
Gender of High School Students: 1879 to 1985
Male Female Total
Year N % N % N %
1879 549 58.5 389 41.5 938 100.0
1889 465 58.0 337 42.0 802 100.0
1899 369 72.9 140 27.1 509 100.0
1909 330 70.1 141 29.9 471 100.0
1919 490 51.9 455 48.1 945 100.0
1929 889 54.2 750 45.8 1,639 100.0
1938 1,227 47.9 1,335 52.1 2,562 100.0
1948 2,252 47.6 2,503 52.4 4,755 100.0
1958 5,541 43.2 7,283 56.8 12,824 100.0
1968 9,630 44.1 12,189 55.9 21,819 100.0
1978 15,960 41.9 22,101 58.1 38,061 100.0
1985 22,875 41.2 32,681 58.8 55,536 100.0
Source: Compiled from the Annual Reports of the Jamaica Schools Commis-
sion and the Ministry of Education.
Table 3 shows the gender composition of high school students over the century
of existence of the public high school system in Jamaica.
The Table shows that as in elementary school teaching and teachers' colleges in
the nineteenth century, public high schools offered opportunities mainly to males. This
bias remained until nearly the end of the 1930s when it began to change. From 1879
until the 1950s high schools catered mainly to the dominant and intermediate segments
of the Jamaican society. Since 1958 high schooling has been democratized to include all
segments of society. This is consistent with the democratization of political power in
1944 with the introduction of Adult Suffrage and responsible government. In this latter
period, high school entry has become decisively female, while the male bias of the nine-
teenth century and early twentieth century has been completely reversed.
Before examining the social background of students of both genders entering high
schools in the post-World War II period, two observations are important and necessary.
First, public high schooling in Jamaica in the nineteenth century was not only established
to serve the dominant white segment but also the intermediate brown and Jewish seg-
ments. Their inclusion in the high school system was part of the means of ameliorating
their discontent. The scope and magnitude of brown and Jewish challenge to white rule
in Jamaica was greater than in any other Caribbean colony.'
Second, from the beginning of public high schooling in Jamaica there was a high
proportion of girls enrolled. This is unlike Trinidad and Barbados which established
similar systems. Further, equal opportunity for girls became a public issue in Jamaica
long before it did in the other Caribbean countries. By 1911 it was one of the Recom-
mendations of Piggott that was immediately acted upon.2 In 1920, church-schools,
which catered predominantly to girls, were incorporated into the public high school
system as part of the means of correcting the male bias. By 1938 girls had begun to
achieve some parity in public high school enrolment. Similar changes did not occur in
Trinidad and Barbados until the 1960s and 1970s respectively.
The indications are clear that conflict between the brown and Jewish segments
on the one hand, and the white segment on the other, had resulted in some shift to
provide opportunities to the females of those groups. When the black segment was
incorporated the female bias became decisive.
Table 4 shows the socio-economic backgrounds of boys and girls entering the
26 Jamaican high schools that existed prior to 1940. The data show the socio-economic
backgrounds of students entering in 1952, 1962, 1972 and 1982.
Table 4 shows that the proportion of boys and girls entering public high schools in
the period 1952 to 1982 is not evenly distributed across the socio-economic categories.
Among the lower socio-economic categories there is a clear bias in favour of girls. Among
the highest socio-economic category there is either a male bias or parity between the
sexes. As one moves from the lowest to the highest socio-economic categories the bias
in favour of females declines or is reversed.3
Socio-economic Backgrounds of Boys and Girls
entering High Schools in
Un- Semi- Highly Lower Higher
Skilled Skilled Skilled Skilled Prof. Prof.
Gender N % N % N % N % N % N %
Male 2 14.3 93 38.4 153 40.4 52 37.1 25 54.3
Female 2 100.0 12 85.7 143 61.6 226 59.6 88 62.9 21 45.7
Total 2 100.0 14 100.0 236 100.0 379 100.0 140 100.0 46 100.0
Un- Semi- 1962 Highly Lower Higher
Skilled Skilled Skilled Skilled Prof. Prof.
Gender N % N % N % N % N % N %
Male 14 29.8 30 35.7 192 37.2 252 45.5 89 55.6 26 57.8
Female 33 70.2 54 64.3 324 62.8 302 54.5 71 44.4 19 42.2
TOTAL 47 100.0 84 100.0 516 100.0 554 100.0 160 100.0 45 100.0
Un- Semi- 1972 Highly Lower Higher
Skilled Skilled Skilled Skilled Prof. Prof.
Gender N % N % N % N % N % N %
Male 36 48.0 93 42.8 381 40.3 424 42.5 158 39.6 26 32.1
Female 39 52.0 127 57.2 565 59.7 573 57.5 241 60.4 55 67.9
TOTAL 75 100.0 220 100.0 946 100.0 997 100.0 399 100.0 81 100:0
Un- Semi- Highly Lower Higher
Skilled Skilled Skilled Skilled Prof. Prof.
Gender N % N % N % N % N % N %
Male 72 43.8 199 39.8 719 40.5 645 45.3 123 37.8 27 50.0
Female 94 56.6 301 60.2 1,057 59.5 777 54.7 202 62.2 27 50.0
TOTAL 166 100.0 500 100.0 1,776 100.0 1,424 100.0 325 100.0 54 100.0
When the data in Tables 3 and 4 are taken together, they show that although public
high schooling in Jamaica was established with a male bias, that bias since 1938 has been
reversed in favour of the female. This bias is mostly in favour of girls from the lower
socio-economic categories. In other words, in the post-World War II period public high
schooling has offered much more upward mobility opportunities to girls than boys
from the lower strata. In the same way that elementary school teaching and teachers'
colleges did, high schools now offer more social mobility opportunities to girls than boys.
Both mobility channels, further more, are similarly biased in favour of lower strata females,
and discriminate against lower strata males who are kept marginalized.
3. Jamaicans at U. W.I.
Table 5 shows Jamaicans enrolled in degree courses at U.W.I. over the period
1960 to 1987.
Jamaican Students at U.W.I.: 1960 to 1987
Male Female Total
Year N % N % N
1960/61 231 54.2 195 45.8 426 100.0
1965/66 429 53.0 380 47.0 809 100.0
1969/70 703 51.9 651 48.1 1,354 100.0
1974/75 1,150 51.0 1,103 49.0 2.253 100.0
1975/76 1.173 50.5 1.152 49.5 2.325 100.0
1976/77 1,169 48.0 1.266 52.0 2.435 100.0
1980/81 1,245 47.7 1.364 52.3 2.609 100.0
1984/85 1,477 46.1 1.729 53.9 3.206 100.0
1985/86 1,374 46.4 1.585 53.6 2.959 100.0
1986/87 1,261 44.7 1.559 55.3 2.820 100.0
Source: Annual Statistics of the Planning Unit of the UWI.
Up to the end of the 1960s there was a male bias among Jamaican students admit-
ted to U.W.I. in degree courses. By 1976 this bias had been 'eliminated', and by 1980
a clear bias in favour of the female had emerged.
Table 6 shows Jamaican students enrolled at U.W.I. by Faculty in 1962-63 and
This Table shows that not only was there a higher proportion of Jamaican men
enrolled at UWI in 1962-63 but that apart from Arts and Education, there were more
men enrolled in all the faculties. By 1986-87 substantial changes had occurred. There
were more Jamaican women than men enrolled in the Faculties of Arts, Education,
Social Sciences, Law and Nursing Education. Jamaican men continued, however, to
maintain an advantage in the science-based faculties, viz. Natural Sciences, Agriculture,
Medicine and Engineering: but even here, their proportion was significantly reduced from
the position in 1962.
Jamaican Students at U.W.I. by Faculty: 1963 to 1987
N % N %
143 70.1 204 100.0
32 38.1 52 61.9
10 12.4 81 100.0
66 48.2 137 100.0
40 35.1 114 100.0
311 48.5 641 100.0
76.0 603 100.0
67.2 125 100.0
Source: Annual Statistics of the Planning Unit of the UWI.
The 1986-87 admissions to UWI in the science-based faculties showed an equal
number of Jamaican men and women entering Natural Sciences and Agriculture, more
women than men admitted to Medicine but more men than women admitted to Engineer-
ing. These data would seem to provide evidence of the gradual movement of the overall
female bias to include the science-based faculties as well.
Leo-Rhynie (1987) reported that since the mid-1980s girls have begun to out-
perform boys at 'A' levels in all the sciences and in mathematics. Since 'A' level passes
are the major qualifications used for admitting students to UWI, it is only a matter of
time before all science-based faculties will manifest a female-enrolment bias. In this
regard, Engineering will probably continue to reflect the male-bias for the longest time.
UWI was established in 1948 and, up to the early 1960s, catered to a relatively
small elite drawn mainly from the higher strata of Caribbean societies. Moves to expand
UWI enrollment and broaden its social base started in the 1960s. When the data in Tables
5 and 6 are taken in their totality the pattern that emerges is almost identical to that
previously described for teachers' colleges, elementary school teaching and high schools.
When the UWI served the elite of Jamaican society mainly males were enrolled; but
since its expansion and democratization, a definite female bias has emerged.
The examination of the gender-composition of the major educational channels of
upward social mobility in Jamaica has revealed a common pattern. Initially all these
channels of mobility were male-biased. Over time, all have become female-biased. The
major differences between them are the times at which these shifts have occurred. Teachers'
colleges and elementary school teaching developed this shift after changes in government
policies in 1899. High schools achieved gender parity by the late 1930s and early 1940s,
but have manifested a clear female-bias since the 1950s. The UWI developed its female-bias
by the mid-1970s following the expansion and democratization decisions of the 1960s
consequent upon political independence.
It should be noted that while the female-bias of all three levels of the educational
system becomes mutually reinforcing, this is not the cause of the bias in the first place.
This reinforcing factor is a secondary effect. The causal factors lay elsewhere.
Similarity of Patterns among Indians in Trinidad
The gender patterns in the education system described for Jamaica are not peculiar
but are in fact common to the English-speaking Caribbean. Because the black family in
the Caribbean has been characterized as being matrifocal it is often cited as the explana-
tion for the patterns observed in Jamaica. To demonstrate however, that the matrifocal
patterns are an effect and not a cause, it is instructive to look at educational oppor-
tunities as they relate to Indians in Trinidad.
In the latter half of the nineteenth century, Indians replaced blacks as the major
source of labour on the sugar estates in Trinidad. This was facilitated through the system
of indentured labour that lasted until 1921. Elementary school teaching then became one
of the first "white collar" occupations that was open to Indians largely through schools
that catered almost exclusively to Indian children.
In 1891, 86.2 per cent of the 104 Indian teachers employed in public elementary
schools in Trinidad were male, while in 1931 the figure was 83.6 per cent. Not only
were most of the Indian teachers a male but so also were most of the students enrolled
in elementary schools.4
By the 1950s some change had occurred in the gender composition of Indian teachers.
In 1954, 69.4 per cent of the teachers in Caribbean Mission schools, which catered also
exclusively to Indians, were male. In the Hindu and Moslem elementary schools, 76.4
per cent and 75.0 per cent of the teachers were male. The increasing proportion of
female Indian teachers continued between the 1950s to the 1970s. By 1970 the pro-
portion of male Indian teachers had declined to 52.9 per cent in the Canadian Mission
schools and 60 per cent in the Hindu and Moslem schools. By the 1980s female Indian
teachers were in the majority, Moslem and Hindu schools included.5
The same pattern repeats itself with respect to public high school education of
Indians in Trinidad. Naparima College, a boys' school run by the Canadian Mission,
which catered almost exclusively to Indians was added to the public school system in
1900. In 1925 the Naparima High school for girls was added to the public system. By
1938 the girls' school had surpassed the boys' school in enrollment.
Cross and Schwartzbaum (1969) studying social mobility and secondary school
selection in Trinidad, found that in the 1960s Indian girls were slightly over-represented
in the secondary school system while Indian boys were grossly under-represented. Of
the 320 Indian students who had obtained free places to public high schools, 64.7 per
cent were female and 35.3 per cent were male. The pattern described by Cross and
Schwartzbaum for Indian high school students has remained basically unchanged.
The educational advancement of Indian women as elementary school teachers and
Indian girls in public high schools, and the corresponding decline of Indian men and
boys cannot be accounted for by any reference to the traditional Indian family which is
distinctly patriarchal. As Mohammed (1987) has pointed out, in traditional Indian
families in Trinidad the girl is socialized to obey and take care of her father first and then
her husband. The causal factors which have offered greater upward social mobility to
Indian girls than boys then, have not arisen from within the Indian patriarchal family.
The existence of the same upward social mobility patterns among black and lower
strata males and females in Jamaica and East Indians in Trinidad completely discredits
explanations which cite New World black matrifocal family patterns as the cause. How-
ever, it gives strong support to the hypothesis that where any subordinate group in a
patriarchal society contests its position with the dominant group, then the patriarchy of
that subordinate group is undermined through the changing of mobility channels open
to that group in favour of its females.
Gender and Employment
There are those who would argue that female-bias in the educational channels
offering upward social mobility does not by itself mean greater upward mobility for
lower strata women,given the traditional definition of women's role as wives and mothers.
Better educated girls, so goest the argument, could simply mean better educated wives and
mothers. To prove greater upward mobility of lower strata females, then, it is necessary
to show that educational advancement is translated into employment and income ad-
vantages. To counteract this argument, a brief review will therefore be made of studies
which have clearly established the connection between education, employment and
Miller (forthcoming, 1990) showed that up to 1940 colour was an explicitly im-
portant criterion in obtaining "middle class' jobs in Jamaica. Employers advertising for
applicants for variousjobs stated colour preference; likewise, persons seeking jobs advertised
their colour. Since the democratization of political power with the establishment of
adult suffrage and responsible government in 1944, colour has ceased to be an explicit
criterion. In job advertisements colour has been replaced by educational credentials.
The preferred credentials have been those of the high school and university. The female-
bias in high school and university enrolment has coincided with the period in which
credentials offered by those educational institutions have become the principal criterion
Analysis of the educational levels of men and women in the Jamaican labour force
between 1944 and 1985 showed that in 1944 men and women were roughly equal in
their levels of education, although men had a clear advantage at the degree level. By 1985
women in the Jamaican labour force were decidedly better educated at all levels, ex-
cept at the level of university degrees.
In addition, since 1944 women's participation in the labour force has outstripped
population growth. In 1943 women comprised 36.3 per cent of the total labour force,
but by 1985 their number had jumped to 46.3 per cent. Over the same period, the
labour force had expanded from 505,089 persons to 1,049,800 persons with the number
of women in the labour force increasing from 183,455 to 485,700.
From these statistics it can be seen that in the post-World War II period women
in Jamaica armed with better levels of education and higher credentials, on average,
have been entering the labour force in increasing numbers. While women with better
levels of education have entered the labour force however, they have not had great
success in competing with men for jobs. Male unemployment in Jamaica in October
1985 was 16.1 per cent compared to 36.6 per cent among women.
However, Miller (forthcoming, 1989) showed that when the unemployment rate
is examined against levels of education an interesting pattern emerges. The male-bias
in employment is clearly marked among persons with low or no education credentials.
In other words, women with low levels of educational credentials are at a disadvantage
compared to men of the same level of education. However, among persons with more
than four 'O' levels there appear to be a slight bias in favour of females or at least parity
in employment opportunities. The conclusion can be drawn, therefore, that a slightly
higher proportion of males with better qualifications than four 'O' levels were unemployed
than females. Women with high educational credentials may have a slight employment
advantage over men.
Another interesting feature of the Jamaican labour force highlighted by Miller
(forthcoming) was the gender composition of occupations since 1943. In that year,
men outnumbered women in all occupational areas except trades personal services, teach-
ing and nursing. Men also outnumbered women in the civil service and in the clerical
occupations. By 1985, however, women outnumbered men in the clerical and sales oc-
cupations, in the technical, executive and managerial areas, in addition to the areas in
which they had traditional numerical supremacy.
These data would suggest a curvilinear relationship in gender-bias in the Jamaican
labour force. A male-bias appears to exist at the lowest and highest levels of the labour
force, with a female-bias in the middle levels. In these middle-levels occupations, the
female-bias is predicated on the basis of the educational credentials required for the
Riak (1983) surveyed a national sample of companies employing over 100 persons
in Jamaica. She investigated the levels of education and first income of men and women
employed in these companies. Her sample consisted of 1,154 respondents of whom 829
were men and 325 were women. The author found that respondents of both genders
and all ages had more schooling than their parents. Women had higher average years of
schooling than men in the sample, and this was the reverse of their parents.
Riak compared the monthly Real First Incomes of men and women of all age
categories in her sample of respondents who had entered the labour force between
1928 and 1981. Her findings are shown in Table 7. Riak found out from her sample how
much each respondent earned when they were first employed. She then converted their
earnings to constant dollars.
Comparison of Monthly Real First Income for Men
Period of Age in Male N Female N
Entry Years Income Income
I. 1979-81 17- 20 108.69 10 155.25 11
2. 1973-78 21-25 312.27 63 397.14 44
3. 1967-72 26 30 946.36 84 1,004.25 34
4. 1956-66 31-40 611.80 126 338.82 45
5. 1928-55 41 73 597.24 88 308.88 23
Source: Riak (1983)
The Table shows that up to 1966 men on average earned more than women in
the first jobs in which they were employed. After 1967 women on average began to earn
higher first real incomes than men.
Riak concluded that school credentials have been devalued as employers increasingly
demanded more and more credentials for jobs that used to require less or no credentials
two or three decades ago. She also observed that when women came to earn higher
first income, those incomes were lower than they had been in the past. The point missed
by Riak, however, is that all income in Jamaica, not just first incomes, had declined
consequent upon successive devaluations of the Jamaican currency since 1968.
Riak's findings corroborate the observation that in the post-World War II period
women in the labour force in Jamaica have become better qualified than men, and that
this education advantage has begun to be converted into an income advantage as well.
Gordon (1987) carried out a study of intergenerational social mobility among
males and females in the Jamaican labour force. A number of findings from that study
need to be noted here. These are:
1. Men were much more likely to inherit their parents' occupational status than
women. In other words, women in Gordon's sample had enjoyed higher rates of
upward social mobility than men.
2. Just under 12 per cent of the male labour force were in the middle strata of society
compared to 27 per cent of the female labour force.
3. Men were more likely to be found in the highest social stratum. In addition, males
in this stratum had very high chances of retaining their social classification.
Gordon (1989) examined colour and race in relationship to upward social mobi-
lity in his sample. He found that in 1942 only 3 per cent of black and 4 per cent of
Indian wage earners were middle class compared to 21 per cent of the coloured and 65
per cent of the Chinese, Syrian and Lebanese. By 1984, 47 per cent of the Indians, 40
per cent of the coloureds and 25 per cent of the blacks were middle class.
Gordon (forthcoming) showed that men on average continue to earn higher in-
come than women. What is interesting about Gordon's findings on the differentials
between male and female income in Jamaica is that they are of the order of 10 to 15
per cent. Similar income differentials between white men and women in the U.S. is of
the order of 30 to 35 per cent. Among blacks in the U.S. where women have been closing
the income gap with black men, the current differential in income is of the order of
10 to 15 per cent. The income differential in Jamaica would suggest that, like black
women in America, Jamaican women have been closing the income gap with Jamaican
Migration, internal or external, has always been an important avenue of social
mobility in the Caribbean. Movement from rural community to urban centre, or outer-
island to capital, or island to metropole, has traditionally been male-biased.
Emigration to Central Ameirca in the nineteenth century and to the U.S. and
Cuba in the twentieth century was mainly of men. Since the 1960s emigration has become
female-biased. The same has happened to internal migration from rural to urban areas.
It is the men who are remaining in their traditional locations and occupations and the
women who have been changing theirs. This is but another manifestation of the shift-
ing of mobility channels in favour of females.
Roberts (1989) traced the patterns of internal migration in Jamaica, concentrating
on the period 1943 to 1982. Two of Roberts' findings are particularly relevant to the
argument being advanced here. First, he showed that between 1970 and 1982 there
was net movement out of 11 parishes and net movement into 3 parishes. In 10 of the
11 parishes of out-migration, more women migrated than men. The single exception
was Kingston, the only one of the 11 parishes that was a large urban centre. The other
10 were predominantly rural parishes. The three parishes of in-migration had more
women moving in than men. These movements described by Roberts were principally
movement from rural to urban centres. More women were engaged in such movement
Roberts also found that education was a powerful factor in internal migration.
The. highest rates of internal migration were found among persons with university educa-
tion followed by those with secondary education.
Roberts' findings on internal migration are totally consistent with comparable
findings related to education, the labour force, employment and income. In the post-
World War II period, secondary and university education have become biased in favour
of women at the same time that the credentials making success at these educational
levels have become the major criterion for obtaining jobs in the middle and higher levels
of the labour force. Much of these increased mobility opportunities have gone to women
of the lower social strata, including women from rural areas.
The education and employment biases so created are also reflected in the internal
migration trends. Rural men are more likely to remain in their traditional location than
rural women. The educational, employment, and migration patterns are shaped by the
same political, economic, social and cultural factors.
Women away from their Traditional Sphere
The evidence presented so far has shown that where conflict and contest between
the dominant and subordinate groups in the Caribbean result in concessions of upward
social mobility to the subordinate group, most of those opportunities have gone to the
females of the subordinate group. Given this, the question then becomes whether such
female-biased mobility has resulted in women's movement away from patriarchy's tradi-
tional definition of women's sphere and into non-traditional forms.
While a full treatment of this question is outside the scope of this article, the
following trends in the post-World War II period can be noted.
1. Many women have delayed child bearing in order to fully exploit the educational
and employment opportunities that have been opened to them. On average, Jamaican
women are starting to have children at an older age than their mothers did.
2. Also related to the utilization of the mobility opportunities is the reduction in
the number of children born. Family size in Jamaica has declined appreciably.
3. As a consequence of the above, the birth rate has been declining.
4. Increasing numbers of women have been combining full-time careers with their
traditional roles as wives and mothers.
5. Increasing numbers of middle-strata women have been remaining unmarried even
when they have children.
6. More women have been owning property, including their own homes.
7. More women have become heads of families even where the male is present. Female
headship of the family is related to home ownership, higher income and greater
social status, including better education.
8. Increasing numbers of girls and women have been entering and performing well in
science and mathematics subjects in schools and in science-based occupations in the
These several trends can be collapsed into two basic tendencies:
(a) The progressive liberation of Caribbean women from traditional patriarchal
definition of women's roles, women's work and women's sphere.
(b) The increasing marginalization of the males of the subordinate group, not
only within the macro-relationships between the dominant and subordinate
groups, but also with the micro-relationships within the subordinate groups
The post-war period has been marked by two matching social developments,
namely, a quickening of women's movement away from traditional patriarchal patterns
and expectations, and an acceleration of male deviance. The areas of male deviance can be
classified into two separate and distinct categories.
(a) The Growth of Rasta Dread Culture:
The Rastafarian dread culture is not only a withdrawal from, but a protest against,
mainstream society. Its membership is black men who are reacting against and protesting
marginalization. Its inspiration is religious, its structures patriarchal and male chauvinist,
and its rhetoric centred on the concept of captivity. The spread of rastafarianism (and
its rebel music) throughout the Caribbean is testimony of the regional nature of the
conditions it protests.
(b) Increasing Male Violence:
Male violence in Jamaica has manifested itself in three main areas: gang violence
as youths in ghettoes contest and maintain territorial rights; political violence as margi-
nalized youths join with political aspirants in the contest for political power; and family
violence as men seek to exercise authority through brute force. Related to all of these
is increased crimes against women in the form of rape and assault.
Male deviance has to be understood in terms of the under-representation of sub-
ordinate males in the upward mobility channels. Male stagnation or minimal mobility
movements occur in the context of substantial female mobility movements. Denied
movement through legitimate channels, many subordinate males have turned to channels
deemed illegal and illegitimate. In addition some crimes and violence are committed out
of frustration with, or revenge against, a system perceived as being biased against them.
Seizure of Power by Women
One can expect a feminist backlash to this information since its basic conclusion
is that women's liberation to date in the Caribbean has not been the direct outcome of
women's assertive actions, but more the unintentional and indirect result of male con-
flict. But support for this conclusion is to be found in the observation that the Caribbean
region presents the interesting paradox of the coexistence of the greatest degreeof women's
liberation anywhere in t' : world -- including North America and Europe with the ab-
sence of any organized militant feminist movement championing the cause of women. In
other words, the areas of the world in which the cause of women has been championed
most are not the areas in which the feminist women have moved away most from tradi-
tional patriarchal forms. Hence, there must be some process producing the liberation
of women in the Caribbean other than their own militant action.
The position taken here is that while male conflict has produced women's libera-
tion and matrifocal forms in the subordinate groups of Caribbean society, the rise of
matriarchy in the Caribbean will result from the deliberate and intentional actions of
women. Matriarchy will not arise by male default. Neither will it be a gender event -
women fighting against men for gender equality. Rather, matriarchy in the Caribbean
will arise as women take up a leadership role in processes of major social transformation
in Caribbean society.
The major social transfonnation referred to is that of the marginal majority groups
in Caribbean society seizing power from the dominant minority groups which currently
constitute the ruling elites. These ruling elites are visible minority groups. They do not
benefit from being nested within the majority groups of Caribbean society. As such they
are exceedingly vulnerable. These groups have held their positions largely on ascriptive
characteristics backed by coercion. In free societies in which the state is predicated on
the basis of individual achievement unrelated to the ascriptions of race, gender, age, etc.,
it is unlikely that these minority groups can retain their dominant position permanently.
Whenever the majority groups assume dominance, it is their women that will be most
favourably placed to ascend to leadership, given their superior education, experience
and expertise acquired by minority group sponsorship.
The scenario for the rise of matriarchy in the Caribbean using Jamaica as example
is set out as follows:
1. Minority males Brown, Chinese, Jewish and Lebanese who had previously
been sponsored into the intermediate strata of Jamaican society joined in coalitions
with black males and successfully seized power from the British. These minority
males, by virtue of their superior education, experience and expertise gained
through British tutelage and sponsorship, assumed the dominant positions in
post-World War II Jamaican society on considerations of pragmatism and merit.
2. Minority males, having become the dominant group in Jamaican society, continued
the strategy previously employed by the British of sponsoring females of the
subordinate group to take up most of the mobility opportunity available. In fact,
the new dominant group expanded the scope and scale of the strategy, given its
former alliance with the marginal majority groups and the common commitment to
equality of opportunity. Also, females of the dominant group itself have been
incorporated by the strategy. Consequently, as the dominant group has tried to
undermine patriarchy in the subordinate group, it has also undermined patriarchy
in its own group.
3. While the society continues to persevere with the ideology of patriarchy, the
nation-state created has been predicated on the basis of rights of persons, irrespective
of ascriptions of colour or gender, and on individual achievement. As such, the
basis of the state and the imperatives of patriarchal society are in fundamental
4. Given the superior education of women, their progress in the labour force, and
their critical role in nation building in the new state, minority males of the domi-
nant group will have to increasingly discriminate against women in order to keep
them from rising to top positions in the society. The ascriptions of colour and
gender are still operative in the dominant group and are in fundamental conflict
with the tenets of the rights of persons and individual achievement on which the
Jamaican state is based. This fundamental conflict will be played out principally
by the minority males of the dominant group and the females they have sponsored
in the intermediate strata, as those females begin to contest top positions.
5. Increasing discrimination against women by the dominant group will radicalize
women. Consequently, charismatic leadership will arise from among women seeking
to challenge the hegemony of the minority dominant group.
6. Radicalized women will forge an alliance between women per se and marginalized
males of the subordinate group to displace the dominant group principally by the
use of the machinery of the state. The visibility of the dominant group, being of
different colour/racial background from the majority, will make the group parti-
cularly vulnerable to challenges by women and marginalized males.
7. The overthrow of the minority dominant group will not only occur by virtue of
internal conflict with women and marginalized males, but also as a result of ex-
ternal factors. The United States, which is both the world and hemispheric power
within whose sphere of influence Jamaica and the Caribbean fall, will have a critical
part to play. Faced with women challenging for power in America, the male-domi-
nant group will accept the overthrow of a male dominant group led by women in
the Caribbean, principally because it will demonstrate internally their absence of
sexist prejudice and their support of popular movements and for women.
8. The coalition of marginalized males and women per se will successfully displace
the current ruling minority dominant group. Having done so. women will assume
the top positions based on their superior education, managerial experience and
expertise. Having gained power in coalition with marginalized men, women will
consolidate their position in society.
9. The greatest threat to the sequence outlined is minority males holding their position
by virtue of a coup d'etat with aid from some majority males employed as mercen-
aries. While this military option could delay the rise of matriarchy, it will not
prevent it. The coup d'etat, however, raises the prospect of civil war.
This article has produced evidence and argument to show that the description
of Jamaican society as being composed of bilateral upper strata, patriarchal middle strata,
and matriarchal lower strata is by no means static. It has argued that initially all strata of
Jamaican society were patriarchal. Changes to bilateral and matrifocal formations have
been the by-product of male conflict as power and position have been contested in the
The hypothesis postulated, together with evidence presented, asserts that conflicts
between males of the different segments of Caribbean society has produced the matri-
focal forms observed and the liberation of Caribbean women as an unintended conse-
quence. The intention of the dominant group is to keep the male of the subordinate
group marginal, and hence most of the opportunities of upward mobility made available
to the subordinate group are biased in favour of females.
The argument, however, is that power is never gained without demand and struggle.
Hence matriarchy will not arise as an indirect result or by male default. Matriarchy will
not evolve from the matrifocal forms. Matriarchy will arise in the Caribbean as women,
so far sponsored by the dominant group, turn against their sponsors and exploit the
prevailing social circumstances to their advantage.
These developments in the Caribbean have to be understood in their global and
historical contexts. Patriarchy had its beginning at the dawn of human antiquity as
ancient men and women battled for survival. Patriarchy was established as kin-collectives
became the basic unit of society. Patriarchy had a historical beginning and it will have
a historical end. The end of patriarchy has already begun in the Caribbean. Matriarchy,
patriarchy's antithesis, is a stage in the end of patriarchy. Women's power in society will
replace men's power in society before gender, as a fundamental principle on which
society is organized, is abolished. This is as it should be since equality is best appreciated
and understood when both sides experience the full range of the experience of inequality.
1. See Heuman (1981) and Miller (forthcoming, 1989).
2. See Piggott (1911).
3. The only exception to this pattern is 1972. Between 1963 and 1972 high school selection was
based on the 70:30 policy. 70 per cent of the students were selected from primary schools
and 30 per cent from preparatory schools. This policy seemed to have reversed the gender
bias in favour of lower strata males and discriminated against upper strata males. After much
public controversy and protest this policy was abolished in 1973.
4. See Census data for 1891 and 1931 for Trinidad and Tobago.
5. See Annual Educational Statistics of Trinidad and Tobago put out annually by the Central
1. Malcolm Cross and Allan M. Schwartzbaum "Social Mobility and Secondary School Selection
in Trinidad and Tobago", in Social and Economic Studies, Vol. 18, No. 2, pp. 189-207, 1969.
2. Franklin Frazer, The Negro Family in the United States, University of Chicago Press: Chicago,
3. Derel Gordon, Class, Status and Mobility in Jamaica, Kingston: Institute of Social and Economic
4. Derek Gordon, 'Class, Race and Mobility in Jamaica', in Garvey: His work and Impact, Eds.
Rupert Lewis and Patrick Bryan, Kingston: Institute of Social and Economic Research and
Department of Extra-Mural Studies, UWI, Mona, 1989.
5. Derek Gordon, Women, Work and Mobility, (forthcoming).
6. M.J. Herskovits, The Myth of the Negro Past, Harpers: New York, 1941, and Melville and
Frances Herskovits, Trinidad Village, New York: Knopf, 1947.
7. Gad J. Heuman, Between Black and White, Connecticut, Greenwood Press, 1981.
8. Elsa Leo-Rhynie, 'Academic Performance of Boys and Girls', Paper presented at First Inter-
disciplinary Seminar sponsored by the Women and Development Project, U.W.I., June 1987.
9. Errol Miller, Marginalization of the Black Male, Kingston: Institute of Social and Economic
10. Errol Miller, Jamaica Society and High Schooling, Kingston: Institute of Social and Economic
Research, (forthcoming, 1989).
11. Patricia Mohammed, 'Women and Education in Trinidad and Tobago: 1838-1980'. Unpublished
M.Sc. Dissertation, University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, 1987.
12. H.H. Piggott, Report on Secondary Education in Jamaica, 1911.
13. Pauline Riak, 'Social Consequences of Educational Expansion without Structural Change: The
Case of Dependent Capitalist Jamaica', Unpublished Ph.D. Thesis, Standford University, Cali-
14. George Roberts, 'Aspects of Internal Migration Affecting Jamaica', Staff Seminar, Sociology
Department, U.W.I., Mona, March 2, 1989.
15. George Roberts and Sonja A. Sinclair, Women in Jamaica, New York: KTO Press, 1978.
16. M.G. Smith, The Plural Society in the West Indies, Berkeley: University of California Press,
UNA MARSON: BLACK NATIONALIST AND FEMINIST WRITER
It is still often argued that feminism is a white middle-class import, introduced into the
Caribbean in the nineteen sixties and seventies; that to Caribbean women it is irrelevant
and to Caribbean society divisive. It is ironic that this myth has seemed to gain greatest
acceptance and to be particularly loudly propagated by black nationalist men ironic
because Caribbean feminism had its birth in the Black Nationalist organizations formed
at the end of the nineteenth and the start of the twentieth centuries. It was in the struggle
to find the link between black consciousness and woman's liberation that some of the
most significant contributions of Caribbean women to Caribbean culture and feminist
practice have emerged.
This may be so because both of these disciplines point to a new understanding of
cultural expression as an integrating factor in society rather than as a series of actions or
products cordoned off from social and political processes. This vision of culture accepts
the ability of cultural products to bring to the surface new issues which are not yet part
of a recognized discourse on power and, in so doing, to urge a redefinition of the para-
meters of political process and political action. It also insists that aesthetic and pleasur-
able processes of communication between people can very often reveal the possibility
of new relationships between them an aim which is, after all, the principal aim of
revolutionary social change.
Una Marson, the little recognized Jamaican Black Nationalist and feminist writer,
demonstrated in her life and work the earliest stirring of this approach in the twentieth
century. Her life and work began to articulate, through the specific exploration of the
experience of black women, the complexity of the relationship in daily life of race, class
and sex in Caribbean society. Her work confronted the society with a method of under-
standing these relationships based on questioning old wornout forms of communication.
Many of the elements first articulated in her work have today been taken up and further
developed by women's organizations in their search for solutions. In a sense she pioneered
an approach that has become central to the organizational practice of many women's
groups in the Caribbean an approach which expresses and articulates women's issues
through aesthetic forms and which uses the processes associated with producing these
forms to mobilise and organize women, and to analyse their reality. In spite of the
persistence of the approach pioneered in her work, many of the concerns she raised have
hardly been addressed or even explored by any broad political grouping in Jamaica. They
have certainly not been resolved.
Introduction: Culture, Black Nationalism and Feminism.
The word 'feminism' has many strands of meaning and the feminist movement has
many different groups within it ranging from liberal to marxist feminist. It is not my
purpose to discuss the theoretical intricacies of the so-far defined schools of feminist
thought. Rather for the purposes of this discussion I should like to adopt a very simple
definition of feminism. Rhoda Reddock has defined feminism as "the awareness by
women of their oppression as a sex and their conscious action to change this situation"
(Reddock, 1984, p. 3). This definition allows a flexibility with regard to the ideological
and theoretical origins of feminism and its cultural context. It also allows for a flexibility
in the applicability of the term to individuals and organizations which is important,
since most of those who recognize that women are oppressed do not belong to formal
organizations. Feminism has been a consciousness of an unjust situation submerged in
the household on the part of a girl child or mother as often as it has been an organized
movement for the liberation of women.
Black Nationalism is equally varied in its meanings and implications. Most broadly,
it has been the awareness by black people of the fact that they are oppressed as a race
and their conscious action to change their situation. It has often insisted that black
people and in particular people of African origin need to build an independent power base
from which processes which entrench the power of Europeans and the de-humanization
of black people can be challenged.
Both feminism and Black Nationalism for different reasons share a concern with
culture both in the anthropological sense of the word, that is, as a way of life, as well
as in its narrower sense, that is, as products and performances normally associated with
aesthetic principles and the creative imagination, i.e., the arts. Black nationalists are
especially concerned with it because of the close link between aesthetic expression and
the social and political framework in traditional African societies and the subsequent
systematic attempt at the separation of aesthetic forms from social and political processes
and the eradication of African cultural products by European colonizers in furthering
the spread of European capitalism.
Feminism is concerned with it because the area of life which women have been
defined into is the private, hidden area which used only to be talked about under the
heading of culture. Women have been defined as culture bearers, passing on in child
rearing practices the basic assumptions of race and the society about its way of life.
Nineteenth century European Victorian ideology which was forced on non-Europeans
all over the world through colonialism mandated women with the practice of some
aesthetic activity. This was to help create in the home a peaceful and serene refuge from
the crude vicissitudes of the marketplace of capitalism. This resulted in the female
imagination expressing itself through food, clothes, the organization of space and craft.
Craft objects were not considered worthy of the title "fine art" because they were often
utilitarian, and produced within the domestic realm outside the world of production for
In capitalism bona fide cultural products have often been projected as outside the
soical and political processes which give rise to them. The relationship between the two is
mystified and so the fact that market forces affect the kind of art that is produced is
often overlooked. One consequence of this is summed up as follows:
"An emphasis on the objects of culture diminished the real value of its human
subjects and the emphasis on the individual artist all but denies the collective dimension
of cultural production" (Kahn and Neumeir, 1985, p. 9).
Another result is that the whole area of experience not of concern to those who
control the market tends to disappear from cultural expression in the market and go
Within Black Nationalism and feminism, then, for different and sometimes even
conflicting reasons, discourse and action in the area of culture have a central primacy.
Both have been involved in attempts at making visible those experiences which have gone
underground, so to speak, and both have been involved in attempts at reunifying cultural
objects with their human subjects and at giving a new value to the place of aesthetics in
human communication and social change. Recently the awareness of the importance of
this search has deepened in response to the growth of new technology. Suddenly it is
clearer than ever before that the media have a potential for control of the human race
greater than any previous agency. This has signalled the new value of the communication
process in the world as an area of struggle.
Let us now turn to look specifically at the life and work of Marson and the context
out of which it grew to see how a woman grappling with attempts to integrate feminism
and black nationalism in a colonial society came to terms with this problem.
Early Black Nationalism and Feminism in Jamaica
Marson would have been influenced by ideas about women's liberation as they
were expressed by the Pan Africanist Movement and in the Universal Negro Improvement
Association (U.N.I.A.). Both these organizations stressed the importance of black women
taking up leadership positions in organizations aiming at social change and struggled for
the right to education for women. In Jamaica the earliest spokeswoman for women's
rights, that we have been able to find, was Mrs. James McKenzie, a Pan-Africanist and a
member of Robert Love's People's Convention. In general, the Pan Africanist movement
emphasized the importance of involving women in the association and supported the
struggles of women for the franchise and for education (Reddock, 1984, p. 342). It had
branches throughout the Caribbean set up by H. Sylvester Williams, who toured the
region in 1901.
That same year Mrs. McKenzie spoke on the subject of women's rights at the People's
Conventions Congress (French and Ford-Smith, 1986, p. 305). She argued for equal
rights for women, for women's access to education and to the professions. .She attacked
laws which discriminated against women and urged them to join the fight to change them.
". .. the rights accorded to women have left much to be desired. Just why woman
has been denied all the rights which are accorded to man is one of the unexplained
relations of life except that it is man alone who has made laws denying her such rights"
(Advocate, 10 August, 1901).
Love himself was an advocate of women's rights. He agitated for education especially
for black women, condemned sexual harassment of working-class women and supported
universal adult suffrage. After Emancipation it appears that women controlled less land
than before. Robert Love was one of the few who campaigned for the right of poor
women to land. In his newspaper the Advocate, he publicly supported Elsa Hugh's
claim to land on which she had squatted for twenty years (Advocate, 11 July & 10
Within the U.N.I.A., too, there was a feminist tradition. This organization, one of
the most significant black nationalist organizations of the period in the Caribbean, was
founded by Marcus Mosiah Garvey and Amy Ashwood in 1914 in Kingston. Throughout
her life Ashwood, who later became Garvey's first wife, was to remain both an avid
Pan-Africanist and an active feminist. In the early days of the U.N.I.A., special attention
was paid to the issue of women's equality. In 1914, for example, the organization de-
bated such topics as "Is the intellect of women as highly developed as that of a man?"
(Daily Chronicle, 4 December, 1914). Ashwood organized a ladies' division (not auxiliary)
which formed part of the U.N.I.A. from its inception. It is probably due to her influence
and later that of Amy Jacques Garvey (Garvey's second wife), that the U.N.I.A. always
had a lady Vice-President. It was one of few organizations which consistently had women
in its leadership. Much later, after her separation from Garvey, Amy Ashwood became an
associate of Sylvia Pankhurst, the British socialist feminist. Pankhurst wrote the intro-
duction to Ashwood's pamphlet of Liberia. Ashwood often combined her interest in
women with artistic activities. As late as the 1950s she made a tour of the Caribbean in
order to try to organize women. Many women who went on to become leaders in women's
organizations came from the U.N.I.A. women like Satira Earle, Amy Bailey and Adina
Spencer who became leaders of women's action in the protest and organization prior to
and following the 1938 uprising.
It is within the context of the work of these women and their organizations that
Una Marson came to the fore as a feminist and Black Nationalist artist.
"Little Brown Girl ...
what are you seeking
To discover in this dismal City of ours?
From the look in your eyes,
Little brown eyes
I know it is something
That does not exist."
(The Moth and the Stars, 1938)
This excerpt from one of her poems sums up both the frustration and pain Marson often
experienced and her quest to bring into being something new, which could not be
Marson was born the daughter of a black Baptist minister in 1905 in Santa Cruz,
St. Elizabeth. She was educated at Hampton School for girls a secondary school
built along the lines of English public schools. She was unquestionably one of the few
black pupils in a school which was acknowledged to have discriminated against black
girls by contemporaries. It was administered by English school mistresses teaching English
Literature, English History and Geography as well as Latin and Mathematics. There
would not have been much science in the curriculum. While she was at school her parents
died and she was unable to continue. As a young woman, she came to Kingston to work
at the Gleaner in the 1920s. Her own cultural awakening probably took place at this
time as Garvey's activity at Edelweiss Park was at its height and she participated in poetry
presentations there (Smilowitz, 1983. p. 63).
Her recognition of the need for the importance of cultural organization as a political
forum among women first expressed itself in 1929 when she began to edit the first
women's publication in Jamaica. The Cosmopolitan. This was the official organ of the
Jamaica Stenographers' Association. Within it she wanted "to develop the literary talent
of women in particular and youth in general".
In the words of Archie Lindo. her fellow writer and friend,
"She was a great fighter of causes
She was very black conscious
and she was a stenographer
so she fought their cause"
(Lindo, Interview, May, 1986)
Black stenographers were beginning to organize themselves and to win the right to
work in the civil service and business establishments of the time. Later on in the 1930s
through the efforts of the Jamaica United Clerks' Association and black feminists like
Amy Bailey, institutional racism at the work-places of the middle strata began to crumble.
But Marson's efforts pre-dated the overtly political struggle and doubtless contributed
to the organization of black stenographers, their consciousness and the recognition of
issues their fight addressed.
The stress that she placed on cultural organization was deepened by the political
work that she did as a member of the League of Coloured People in Britain. Here again
her artistic work existed as part and parcel of the political objectives to which she was
committed. Between 1932 and 1935 she worked as secretary to the League of Coloured
People an organization of middle-class Caribbean people in England which aimed to
fight racism in England and support the black struggles around the world. For the League,
she co-edited The Keys, their literary publication. Through her experiences in media work
and her work with the League. she became the secretary to Haile Selassie when he went
to the League of Nations to plead the cause of Ethiopia in 1935.
In 1936 she returned to Jamaica and resumed her work as a journalist. She re-
mained committed to making visible concerns affecting women in her journalism,and to
her awareness of the importance of an organization of artists/writers. This would support
the growing expression of cultural nationalism through the arts. Such an organisation
would provide both exposure for young artists and the necessary supportive criticism to
develop an artistic tradition which would grow from one generation to the next. In 1937,
she founded the Readers and Writers Club and the Kingston Dramatic Club in an effort
to mobilise young black artists and writers. That same year she published The Moth and
the Stars, probably her best collection of poems. The following year, the year of the
uprising, came the significant and pioneering Pocomania, her most important work. It
was well received. In 1938, she returned to England along with Amy Bailey to raise money
for the Save The Children Fund which she had helped found. It is significant that her
social welfare work centred on children rather than on domesticating schemes for
working-class women. In England. she testified before the West India Royal Commission.
Here, she articulated the way she saw the solution to the "family problem" in the Carib-
bean. In my view, it is a far more farsighted solution than the more popular enforced
marriage. She suggested that a tax be levied on bachelors in order to provide money for
the care of children neglected by their fathers. Implicit in this notion is the idea that the
children are the responsibility of the entire society. Her proposal does not enforce the
nuclear family as the ideal, though it allows for those who prefer marriage and want to
be married to do so. It allowed for a mediating role to be played by the state in cases
where couples did not want to deal with each other. It was never seriously considered.
In 1938 she also shook off her sense of hopelessness about the condition of women
which she displays in the 1937 poems and became active in the international feminist
movement. She belonged to two feminist organizations the Women's International
League for Peace and Freedom and the International Alliance of Women. Both of these
groups had been supporters of the activities of the League of Coloured People. In 1938
at age 30+ she was the only black woman to go to Turkey to attend a conference on
East/West co-operation sponsored by the International Alliance of Women (Smilowitz,
1938, p. 62). The Manchester Guardian reports that there she spoke on the conditions of
black women in England and the racism they experienced in relation to housing.
On that occasion she wrote a sonnet to the IAWSEC about international feminism.
Women of England who in freedom's name
Work with courageous women of all lands
For women's rights, yet not for women's fame
I greet you and to you stretch friendly hands
In your inspiring work I had my part
For you were more than passing kind to me
In Istanbul they took me to their heart
Where women of far lands meet glad and free
what courage have England's women shown
In public life and in the quiet home
What bitter struggles have their spirits known
So that just rights to womanhood should come
For lands can only reach the greater good
When noble thoughts inspire sweet womanhood
(The Moth and the Stars, 1938, p. 80)
In England she concentrated on building up the BBC radio programme "Calling the
West Indies". The programme built links between black people scattered over Europe
during the war years and between black people in Britain and the Caribbean. It offered
one of the few chances to develop a supportive and critical atmosphere within which Carib-
bean cultural expression could grow. Writers around the Caribbean submitted unpublish-
ed work to representatives on each island. Over 200 authors first gained exposure through
"Caribbean Voices", the literary segment of "Calling the West Indies".
However, in 1945, she suffered a serious breakdown and had to return home. She
had always experienced depressions, but it seems she never recovered fully from the
depression of that post-war period. There were long periods of silence in her writing and
she never recaptured the daring vigour of the early days. She was, however, able to be-
come, along with nationalists W Adolphe Roberts and Louise Bennett, an editor of the
In 1965, Marson died in St. Joseph's Hospital at the age of 60. It is said she had
heart failure but the details are mysterious. Some suspect suicide as a result of the repeat-
ed depression but there is no evidence. What is clear is that she felt tremendous frustra-
tion in spite of what she had been able to achieve and in spite of the fact that months
before she had been awarded a British Council Grant to assist her in research into Social
Development in Jamaica since 1915. But Jamaican society had paid scant attention to
her. Up to now, her contribution as an artist and feminist is little known.
Out of her life then emerges a picture of a woman who in the context of the 1930s
pioneered the organization of cultural workers in the country and who consciously saw
this as part of her political commitment. Second, she pioneered the organization of
women through the use of cultural form seeing this as most important to the success
of work with women. It was as if the political edge of her awareness of her double exploi-
tation as a black woman could only find full expression here, the depth of her "burden",
as she refers to it in one of her poems, not being adequately explored in any existing
organization or movement.
What emerges from the best of Marson's creative work is that she attempted to
voice the contradictions which she experienced in her own life. Most importantly, she
used her personal experience as the raw material for her work. This is important because
at the time, so often, any examination by women of their own exploitation was con-
demned as selfish or vain. This was what was responsible in part for the concentration of
many of the earliest black feminists on charity work. Marson, however, began in her crea-
tive work to question the bourgeois ideal of womanhood which she was being asked to
imitate. In this sense, as an artist, she moved beyond the creole ideal of artistic standards
which imitated European forms then becoming fashionable among middle-class male
artist, and beyond the concentration on social work defended by feminists like Mary
Morris-Knibb, the first female Member of Parliament, who founded the housecraft train-
ing centre to train young women as domestics. Marson was at times critical of the exten-
sion of the housewife model into the lives of women and she never preached its principles
herself. For most of her life she was a single woman and she wrote about the conflicts she
experienced in relation to that.
One of her clearest examinations of the problem of an alternative identity for
women takes place in Pocomania (1938), her most successful play which was recognized
as a breakthrough at the time. Obviously somewhat autobiographical, the play looks ats
the struggle of a black middle-class woman to reclaim her African heritage and free herself
from the repressiveness of colonial society. The play enacts the impact of this struggle on
her psyche. It was a breakthrough not merely because it was one of the first plays to pre-
sent creole speech on stage but because of its attitude to its subject matter which is dis-
tinctly sympathetic to the cultural rebellion of the heroine. This is what makes the play
different from the work of H G DeLisser which had been dramatized earlier.
It is significant that Marson chooses the conflict between the Baptist religion and
Pocomania, the Afro-Christian religion, to embody the conflict between Europe and
Africa, between male and female. Her choice of this conflict again brings into focus the
important and contradictory relationship between black Caribbean women and religion.
It was on the front of religion that the battle for control of women was often most in-
tense. The nineteenth century Christian Church was the social institution which adminis-
tered the affairs of private life, sexuality, reproduction and the domestic organization
among its congregation. These areas were defined by the nineteenth century church as
the truest, most unchanging, natural areas of humanity's experience. They were also the
areas of life for which women were given primary responsibility. Thrusting into the private
lives of slave women just before emancipation and into the social organization of free
people just after, the Christian missionaries insisted on the ideal of the father-headed
household and on marriage vows cementing monogamy, and on chastity.
Their position with regard to these and many other things interfered with and con-
tradicted both the cultural expression of African peoples and their organization of sex-
uality, reproduction and the position of women. Female warrior leaders such as Nanny,
for example, had based their legitimacy on their powers as priestesses. Their femaleness
- in particular, their sexuality and their religious power were important parts of their tac-
tics against the British. Witness, for example, the famous legend of Nanny bouncing the
bullets off her bottom, her ability to make the pumpkin vine grow miraculously to save
her people from defeat and starvation and her powers as a healer. In the Caribbean con-
text, the African religious practice seemed not to have laid down rigid codes for the con-
duct of male/female relations in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The arrival of
the missionaries challenged both female autonomy and its religious/aesthetic base. It
accelerated the process of conversion of the image of woman as warrior/priestess as epito-
mised by Nanny to the domesticated Nanny, black Mammy of the Great House by insist-
ing on an end to "concubinage" and by insisting on virginity and marriage. In addition,
Euro-Christianity upheld both a male diety as the centrepiece of human affairs and the
male as the centrepiece of Church hierarchy.
By dramatizing the conflict between black women and the Euro-Christian Church
- long before much historical study of the period had taken place Marson brought out
of unconscious silence a crucial element in the maintenance of the exploitation ofwomen.
In so doing. Marson strikes at the heart of the contradiction facing middle-class black
women the desire on the one hand to identify with African culture and the need on
the other hand to conform to the reality of European middle-class social organization.
In doing so she was using the raw material of her own life to get at the social bases of
neurosis affecting the black middle-class woman. She was saying that the cultural prob-
lems of our society can create emotional collapse and madness.
In the play, drums awaken Stella, the 8-year-old daughter of the Baptist deacon.
Stella's mother is dead. So are the parents of the two boys staying at the house. Roused
by the drums' call, Stella brings all the children together to listen to their rhythm in
opposition to her father's parental and religious authority. Stella, however, is unable to
follow through on what she starts. She collapses when she tries to give in to the rhythm
and dance to the poco drums.
By the end of the second scene the conflict is clearly laid out. There, Deacon Man-
ners, the symbolically named father of Stella, and his colleague the Baptist parson lead
an attack on the leader of the Pocomania band Sister Kate, the Mother Woman. They
order her to purify her church of devil worship and forbid her to combine her pagan rites
with membership in the Baptist church. When they ex-communicate her, she retaliates by
leading her congregation in a particularly rousing session of spiritual song and dance.
Grown up, Stella is ill at ease and dissatisfied with the society. She describes herself
as "bored to tears" (Marson, 1938, p. I1), and fed up with social work, considered a fit-
ting occupation for women of her "station". Her quiet industrious sister describes her as
"fast". David, the young doctor who falls in love with her, describes her as looking for
excitement. The death of her mother is perhaps symbolic of the absence of ancestral
connection. The death of her lover in England. later, may symbolize the intrusion of
colonialism into all personal affairs of the colonized as well as the removal of possible
emotional and sexual fulfilment. This is the force which drives Stella to seek fulfilment in
Pocomania, leaving behind conventionally acceptable notions of female middle-class
behaviour the middle-class black woman unable to find nurturance in her cultural
milieu, orphaned and alone turns to the African ritual and the Motherwoman at its centre.
Sister Kate, in a sense, becomes the symbolic mother of the motherless Stella.
Marson presents Kate without any of the humour typically associated with the patroni-
sing presentation of working-class characters at the time. Kate does not believe in mar-
riage. She dominates the men of her own class criticizing them openly for their depen-
dency on women. She relies on the assistance of a woman, Sister Mary, for support in her
duties. Later on, Marson introduces Sister Miriam, another revival leader, thus clearly
indicating that the concept of female leadership and female support was intended. There
is an alliance between Stella and Sister Kate. Stella agrees to defend revival to the church
Sister Kate: If you say a word fi dem, say it to Parson for I fraid him and yuh puppa
gwine sen dem (de flock) away.
Stella: Alright, 1 promise.
(Marson, 1938, p. 16)
Sister Kate puts Stella in touch with the African past. She explains that the drummer has
learned to beat the drums from his father and his grandfather who came to the Caribbean
on a slave ship from Africa. She tells Stella:-
"troo de drum de spirit speak de Lawd himself
speak to de soul of him people"
(Marson, 1938, p. 16)
When Stella asks whether it is the drums that make people roll on the ground unconscious,
Sister Kate explains that "it is de debils in dem mek all dat noise and de debil tear dem
and trow dem on de groun before dem come out of dem".
Sister Kate, however, does not believe that the middle-class should be involved in
her church. The middle-class is barred from the ritual.
Sister Kate: I don't keep wid respectable ladies like she fi come to de meeting. Dem cyaan
understand it. It not possible to be respectable and common at the same
Sister Mary: But we is not common. We is destant.
Kendal: We is quite destant.
Sister Kate: Yes destant in de eyes of deLord, but not in de eyes of de world. I don't
care what de people wid learning say, dere will always be de common people
and de better class people. I know I like to stay in the common set, for den
I can'spress meself widouten noting happen. (my emphasis)
(Marson, 1938, p. 18)
Because Stella is "respectable in the eyes of the world" and cannot "express herself'
without collapsing it is not possible for her to be fully involved in their ritual. Her deep
need to express the unexpressed is what causes her to collapse. Marson states thus that
the inability of the black middle-class woman then to express her cultural and sexual self
results in self-destruction. In any event, during the course of the play, Sister Kate's
health deteriorates. The Baptist church regains its ascendancy over the area. The tradi-
tion of female leadership crumbles. Unemployment takes its toll on the resistance of the
people. When Sister Kate dies, leadership falls to Brother Kendall, hypocritically given to
drinking while ordering others not to. This hypocrisy is what causes a brawl to break out
at the Nine Night for Mother Kate. This experience finally disillusions Stella from her
romantic vision of Pocomania.
In the end Stella does not find what she was looking for. That is, she does not find
literal integration into the ritual itself. The audience is left with a proposal made by the
hero of the play, David, an enlightened black professional, who has a "scientific" approach
to the problem of identity. He poses the issue of the importance of cultural form in this
David: You have got to remember that our people are full of emotion, vitality,
rhythm. That's why Pocomania appeals to them. It supplies their need for
social institutions that glorify the ego. Besides, there's thousands and thou-
sands who live in concubinage. They are outside the church.
"Social institutions which glorify the ego" then, are, proposed as a solution to
Stella's problem, original social institutions, perhaps, like the new kind of dramatic form
pre-figured by Marson, when she put the play itself on stage. The play itself functioned as
such an institution. It began a trend toward ritual drama in Caribbean theatre and is one
of the earliest examples of the ritual/drama form. Since then the form she proposed has
evolved through the work of Dennis Scott, Rawle Gibbon and the Sistren Collective.
In Pocomania, a possible solution to the problem is put into the mouth of David,
the hero who romantically rescues Stella from the brawl at the end of the service. He him-
self has not experienced the conflict. He has merely observed it. It is Stella who expe-
riences all, propelled in her desire to break away from the rigidity of social convention.
It is she, who, because she is a woman cut off from her mother's tradition and her sexuali-
ty, makes the step to break the barrier between the classes and to redress the cultural
legacy of colonialism. Ironically, it is David the doctor who replaces Sister Kate as the
healing power at the end of the play. Through his love, it is implied, Stella will find salva-
This cliched vision of David, the handsome hero, is not something we readily be-
lieve. The romantic presentation of David is not something which was borne out by
Marson's experience either. In the rest of her work relations with men are seen as a con-
tradictory force in her life and she is critical of romantic solutions. The ideal of an inti-
mate sexual relationship was something she always wanted. Much of her work is love
poems. But she worried about its importance:
"If you can love and not make love your master
If you can serve yet do not be his slave ..."
(quoted in Cobham, 1981, p. 24).
In her first book of poems, Tropical Reveries, she expressed her questions about the ideal
of romantic marriage and her own unease with the role forced on women of her class:
"To wed or not to wed: that is the question
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The fret and loneliness of spinsterhood
Or to take arms against the single state
And by marrying end it? To wed, to match
No more; yet this match to say we end
The heartache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to: 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish'd. To wed, to match
To match, perchance mismatch: aye there's the rub"
(quoted in Cobham, 1981, p. 24)
In reality, there was much difficulty to be faced in the relationship between a woman like
Marson and a middle-class man. As Cobham has pointed out, middle-class professional
men with nationalistic sentiments were often to characterise women like Una Marson as
a problem. She points out that in much of the poetry of the time:
". .. the lower class woman has become a depersona-
lised symbol evoked to express the West Indian male's
sense of social justice or a romantic notion of the
dignity of labour At the same time the middle class
woman is presented as typically materialistic and cul-
turally sterile in her withdrawal from the childbearing
process and her inability to think or contribute mean-
ingfully to the process of social reformation. These
two views of the Jamaican women imply that middle-
class Jamaican men no longer saw women as contribu-
tion either physically or intellectually to the process
of resistance to colonialism or social injustice. Indeed,
the typical middle class woman is now presented as
a thorn in the flesh of the committed middle class
male who wishes to protect the "helpless" women
of the working classes and to assert his own ego
against the emascualting strategies of the dominant
(Cobham, 1981, p. 45).
Cobham further points out that, in the poetry of the time, not a single male puts forward
a positive image of a woman of his own social status. Writers like Vic Reid. George Camp-
bell and leading artists among the cultural nationalists of the day typically display this
The Davids then of Marson's Pocomania were rare if they existed at all. Nor were
the problems of women like Marson taken seriously among organizations of middle-class
men like the Jamaica Progressive League. the National Reform Association and later
the People's National Party. They rarely included women in their leadership. They did
not find it necessary to pay specific attention to the question of how the reforms they
envisioned would affect women. They subscribed to the view that women were equal -
having got the vote but different. This difference meant that women were best suited
to deal with questions of social work and social nurturing "apolitical, social concerns".
As far as cultural identity went, the nationalist reformists conceived it firmly in
terms of creole (i.e. mulatto) images. For the majority of black people this was not a solu-
tion. Far from confronting racist visions of black people as sub-human, it humanisedd"
them by diluting" their blackness.
The kinds of relationships of everyday life and relationships to the environment
which should be aspired to these should firmly follow the pattern of European institu-
tions. The lessons to be learned from the specific situation of exploitation in the Carib.
bean were ignored. As Brathwaite points out. George Campbell. a poet becoming con-
scious of his nationality, moved by and involved in the events of Jamaican independence
and wanting to write something "noble", chose to write a Miltonic ode when writing On
the Night, a poem about Jamaican independence considered to be one of his best (Brath-
waite, 1984, p. 3). The consciousness then of cultural form among middle class intellec-
tuals was a consciousness which sacrificed specificity to universality universality being
synonymous with what had been universally imposed by the British elite. The result was
that the chosen form tended to alter the content.
It is the sense of being uncomfortable with this middle-class cultural universality
and with the role defined by men for women like her which characterises Marson's work.
This may account for her isolation within and withdrawal from Jamaica and Jamaican
politics. She never transcends the contradiction expressed in Pocomania. but in giving
such close attention to her own experience, in organizing around it, she goes coutageous
ly beyond the creole artistic stereotype of the period revealing new themes, suggesting new
forms in the best of her work.
In Kinky Haired Blues, she rejects dominant definitions on black women's sexuality
and echoes Amy Bailey's criticism of black men's attachment to light-skinned women.
She tries in the poem to use the blues as the basic metric form linking the experienceof
the black Caribbean with the experience of black American women and leaving behind
the iambic pentameter of European verse.
Gwine find a beauty shop
Cause I ain't a belle
The boys pass me by
They say I's not so swell
See oder young gals
So slick and smart
See those oder young gals
So slick and smart
I jes' gwine die on de shelf
If I don't mek a start
I hate dat ironed hair
And dat bleaching skin
Hate dat ironed hair
And dat bleaching skin
But I'll be all alone
If I don't fall in.
(quoted in Cobham, 1981, p. 27)
In some of her poems, for example, in Black Burden the exhaustion created by the
double jeopardy (double oppression) faced by black women as women and as black
people is expressed.
"I am black
And so I must be
More clever than white folk
More wise than white folk
More discreet than white folk
More courageous than white folk
"I am black
And I have got to travel
Even farther than white folk
For time moves on -
I must not laugh too much
They say black folk laugh always
I must not weep too much
They say black folk weep always
I must not pray too much
They say black folk can only pray
I am black,
What a burden lies
Upon my heart
For I would see
All my race
In the world's circle
Black girl what a burden -
But your shoulders are broad
Black girl what a burden
But your courage is strong
Black girl your burden
Will fall from your shoulders
For there is love
In your soul
And a song
In your heart
(Moth and the Stars, 1938, p. 93)
In other work, she examines the lives of working-class women. She maintains a
close identification at times with her working-class subject attempting to represent
experience in creole poetry. In this she was the forerunner of poets like Louise Bennett,
who thereby risked not being taken seriously as artists. Bennett, for example, who has
continued to develop the form into the present, as late as 1968 wrote:
"I have been set apart by other creative writers a long
time ago because of the language I speak and work in
.. From the beginning nobody recognized me as a
(Bennett quoted in Brathwaite, 1984, p. 19)
Stonebreakers (below), one of Marson's creole poems and one of the first in the
Jamaican tradition, is one of her early creole dialogue poems and like Kinky Hair Blues
it also rejects the iambic pentameter characteristic of English verse. The poem also cap-
tures the resignation of the exhausted women:
"Liza me chile, I's really tired
Fe broke dem stone
Me han' hat me
Me back hat me
Me foot hat me
An' Lard de sun a blin' me.
No so, Cousin Mary, an' den
De big Backra car dem
A lik up de dus' in a we face
Me Massa Jesus knows it
I' weary of dis wol' -
But whey fe do, Cousin Mary
Me haf fe buy frack fe de pickney dem
Ebry day dem hab fe feed
Dem wutless pupa tan roun' de bar
A trow dice all de day
De groun' is dat dry
Not a ting will grow -
Massy Lard, dis life is hard
Am' so dough de work is hard
I will has to work fe pittance
Till de good Lard call me.
Liza chile, I's really tired
But wha fe do we mus' brok de stone
Dough me han' dem hat me
Me back it hat me
An' de sun it blin' me -
Well de good Lard knows
All about we sorrows".
(Marson quoted in Cobham, 1981, p. 39)
Marson's work was not always successful, but it was the first of its kind. It empha-
sized at all levels, whether in the context or form of her work as a journalist and artist,
the relationship between her artistic work and the kind of society she wanted to live in.
The work she produced was almost always connected to the organizational activities she
was involved in. Her aim, to create a social context which would act on and be acted on
by her work, is one of her most important legacies. In this sense her work suggests a new
relationship between artist and society, writer and subject.
Marson's work began a tradition which has been carried forward since in the work
of Louise Bennett, the Sistren Collective and others. Her work suggested that women
consider the small specific "private" problems as a starting point for their struggles, that
they express these culturally and from this position weave their concerns into political
artifacts often expressing a perception of experiences which have not yet been expressed
as "legitimate" areas of political concern. For this kind of work to bear fruit, it must be
accompanied by the mobilization of cultural artists and women requiring a new relation-
ship of artists to the process of artistic products. This would give the work both context,
a basis on which to progress and a new definition of the importance of aesthetics in creat-
ing new social relationships. The arts, if linked in with daily life,might create social insti-
tutions which stood for creative alternatives to centuries of societies organized for domi-
nance and exploitation. They might give a sense of what is being struggled for. Finally,
they might suggest a more whole and complete Caribbean society which integrates the
rational and the unconscious, and looks forward to liberation of men and women equally.
COLONIAL POLICY TOWARDS WOMEN
AFTER THE 1938 UPRISING:
THE CASE OF JAMAICA*
The labour disturbances in the British West Indies in the 1930s are generally regarded as
marking a turning-point in the relationship between the Imperial Government and the
island colonies. In Jamaica the uprising of 1938 shook the foundations of the colonial
economy, forcing a number of important reforms. The period from 1938 to 1944 was
therefore one of major changes. Were men and women affected differently by these
changes? In what ways? Was there a policy directed specifically at women during the
period? If so, how did it relate to the major economic issues in Jamaican society at the
The fact is that there was a policy, and that this policy in general operated to blunt
the militancy of women whose highly visible and militant participation in all aspects of
the uprising has been documented (Reddock, 1984: French & Ford-Smith, 1986). It
also operated to make women second-hand beneficiaries of the reforms implemented
after '38. In the formation of local political parties, the increased trade union activity
which followed on the expansion of the rights of workers to organise, and the Universal
Adult Suffrage granted by the new Constitution of 1944 women's exercise of their full
rights as citizens was limited by a policy which was not explicit in any of the Trade Union
Laws, the rules of political parties or the Constitution.
Was it that women were not supporting the changes? Was it that they were passive?
Not at all.
The women of the middle strata supported the movement for self-government, and
struggled to get women elected to political office. They struggled for an increased pre-
sence in the local civil service against the prejudice of both the British colonial administra-
tion and their own men. At the same time they opposed giving the vote to the "illiterate
masses" and were not supporters of Universal Adult Suffrage. In spite of this, a signifi-
cant number of them "assisted the working class" by working as organizers, secretaries
and clerks for the new trade unions, paying particular attention to the mobilisation of
women, defending, as they put it, "the interests of their sexes".
*Presented to the Conference of the Caribbean Studies Association, Caracas, Venezuela, May 28-31,
The women of the working poor participated in unions at factory and field level,
some becoming shop stewards. None became top level leaders.
In the activity of the political parties women were very active at the base as mem-
bers or doing the leg-work of organising. Working-class women became militant defenders
of the right of all citizens to the vote.
All of this activity, however, has to be evaluated against one over-riding factor: the
dramatic decline in the participation of women in the labour force. According to the
1943 census, between 1921 and 1943 the entire female labour force declined from
219,000 to 163,000. The percentage decline between 1911 and 1943 is from 59.6% to
34%. In agriculture, the main area of female employment at the time of Emancipation,
the female labour force declined from 125,000 in 1921 to 45,600 in 1943. Women were
becoming more active, but objectively their economic situation was becoming not better,
but worse. In the same period male employment in agriculture was rising numerically
and proportionately, in spite of an overall decrease in the numbers engaged in agriculture.
What is the relationship between this fundamental contradiction and the policies of the
period towards women?
The Moyne Commission Report: Women as the Key
The contours of this policy are clearly defined in the report and recommendations
of the West India Royal Commission chaired by Lord Moyne (referred to hereafter as the
Moyne Commission), appointed after the Jamaican uprising of 1938, the worst of the
'disturbances' in the British West Indies in the 1930s, to investigate social and economic
conditions in the British West Indies and to make recommendations. The main vehicle
for the implementation of these recommendations as they related to women was the
Colonial Development and Welfare Office, which as part of its programme helped to pro-
mote and create an organisation of women, the Jamaica Federation of Women, through
which the ideology on the role of women would continue to be propagated after self-
government. The practical effects of the policy towards women and the ideology which
supported it can be gleaned from an examination of the 1943 census.
The recommendations of the Moyne Commission rested on 3 main pillars Social
Welfare, a policy for the creation of 'responsible' Trade Unions and Land Settlement. To
ensure the success of all three, the most important element was a conscious policy to-
The centrality of the focus on women is apparent when we examine the three
things which the Moyne Commission saw as basic to a solution of the social problems in
Jamaica in the period after 1938 and the implications for women. They were:
1. The status accorded to women;
2. The lack of family life;
3. The absence of a well-defined programme of social welfare.
The main pillars of the policy were
the promotion of the ideology of the dependent housewife, male breadwinner,
and, as a means to this end, the promotion of 'stable monogamy', preferably
the promotion of the idea of voluntary social work as the most laudable and
prestigious occupation for middle-strata women.
Middle-strata women were to become social workers. They in turn would train poor
women to accept 'proper families'. These 'proper families' were to be definitely nuclear -
male breadwinner, non-earning housewife and dependents. This non-earning housewife
would not only be responsible for the reproduction of the men's labour power but for
that of the whole society. "The family" was to be the answer to the unemployment, the
lack of wage work and the land hunger of the masses which the Moyne Commission iden-
tified as the main socio-economic problems facing the island. Through the family the scar-
city of jobs would be eased by withdrawing women from the paid labour force, by con-
vincing both men and women that wages were a man's prerogative, and that a 'proper'
family meant one in which a woman was dependent on a man for all her financial needs
as well as the needs of all those left in her care. In this dependent and wageless situation,
women would nonetheless provide slave labour for the state in the provision of social
services to the population placed in destitution by their economic policies. Women were
to be wholly responsible for the caring of the old and sick. as well as the servicing of men
and the rearing of children.
"The misery and ill health of old people [cannot] be
substantially alleviated until a feeling of family res-
ponsibility has been more securely established"
(MCR, p. 220).
If women were poor and families destitute, it was argued, it was because they did not
have families with a man at the centre. Women would be better off depending on a man,
because, even if the man was unemployed, the family would have more money than if the
man alone worked, since men were paid more than women. Where there was no 'father',
"the whole (financial) responsibility falls on the
mother . In such circumstances cases of extreme
poverty are inevitable, for the standard of living
must be lower than it would be in a family group
where, even if both parents were not employed, more
money would be available, since the wages of men are
normally higher than those given to women" (MCR,
The solution to female poverty, then, was not to pay women 'proper' wages for the work
they did, but to deprive them of what little wages they had through the establishment of
'proper' families, in which men were seen as the providers, and therefore as having the pri-
mary right to a wage.
The lack of this 'proper' family was blamed for the entire suffering of the masses -
for poverty, for infant mortality, for venereal disease, and for 'the lot of their unfor-
tunate children' (MCR, p. 227), and by women of the middle-classes for over-population.
Thus was the lot of the poor blamed on the poor rather than on an exploitative and un-
just system. In actual fact, the rate of infant mortality differed little whether the parents
were married or unmarried, and the birthrate among married couples was actually higher
than that among single or common-law mothers (Census of Jamaica, 1943, p. XLVI).
As part of the promotion of the ideology of the male breadwinner (the counterpart
of the non-earning housewife) the Moyne Commission recommended a campaign against
fathers who did not pay child maintenance, on pain of imprisonment with labour. Even
the Moyne Commission was forced to admit, even if only obliquely, that some men in the
society were also in a desperate situation. The Commission noted that some way had to
be found to make imprisonment unattractive for men who failed to pay maintenance
"Men who have been sentenced to imprisonment for
failure to comply with maintenance orders are not
normally required to work in prison. Imprisonment
without the necessity of working has, however, little
deterrent effect in the West Indies" (MCR, p. 222).
The reason can be surmised from the fact that, even today, in the West Indies some of
our men are in such a desperate situation that they regard prison as an opportunity to
get guaranteed board and lodging.
As a corollary to the establishment of the male-headed household, the Moyne Com-
mission proposed a campaign against "the social, moral and economic evils of promis-
cuity". Promiscuity was defined as all those forms of relations between the sexes and con-
cepts of family which were non-marital or non-monogamous. Female-headed households
and multiple consecutive unions, the most current forms among the masses, were thus
condemned. Faithful concubinage was tolerated because of its monogamous and 'stable'
nature, which was seen as resembling monogamous marriage in all but its legal form. The
children of those unions were, however, like the children of 'promiscuous' unions, con-
demned for their 'illegitimacy'.
That there was some struggle around the imposition of this family model at the
time of the Moyne Commission is evident from the following comment in the Report:
"Some witnesses averred that the West Indian prefers
cohabitation without marriage, but no convincing
evidence on this point was put before us. Other wit-
nesses alleged that the failure of West Indians to
marry is a legacy from the time when the institution
of wedlock was discouraged among the slaves" (MCR,
A glimpse of why the Moyne Commission could not be convinced of the prefer-
ence of so many West Indians for cohabitation without marriage is contained in the
next sentence, which alleges that, being primitive, they were incapable of consciously
deciding for themselves what they wanted.
"This historical basis was often quoted to us, but
there are many other factors, first among which
should perhaps be placed the absence of a strong
opposing public opinion among a people whose im-
mature minds too often are ruled by their adult
bodies" (MCR, p. 221).
From the time of slavery black Jamaican women had made their opposition to mar-
riage quite clear, rejecting it as 'too much work" and putting them too much under the
control of man. This absence of a 'strong opposing public opinion' was still creating pro-
blems at the time of the Commission's "Statement of Actions taken on the Recommenda-
A predilection for the bourgeois family was to be inculcated in the masses of
women through the social work which was to be done by the middle-strata women. In
exchange for their acceptance of their role in the domestication of the masses of women,
they were to be given access to certain professional, managerial and political areas from
which they had previously been excluded. However, this access was to be to 'suitable'
tasks in these areas, that is, tasks related to the definition of women as housewives/nur-
As far as access to the political machinery was concerned, the MCR had noted:
"Women can take but little part in the administra-
tion of West Indian Colonies. When they are eligible
to exercise the vote on equal terms with men or to
stand with them for election to representative institu-
tions, the prescribed qualifications are usually such
that few women possess the property or income to
satisfy them . In Jamaica . women are eligible
for election or nomination to the Legislative Council
[but] none has yet sat in that body." (MCR, p. 217)
The MCR therefore recommended:
"That women be put on equal footing with men in
these matters" (MCR, p. 227).
In detail, the Commission's recommendations were that:
(i) Women should be eligible for appointment to all
Boards and Local Authorities;
(ii) Where nominations may be made to those bodies and
representation of the interests of women had not
been secured through elections, the desirability of
nominating a woman or women for membership, if
well qualified persons can be found, should be borne
carefully in mind; (emphasis added)
(iii) Women should be equally eligible with men for
appointment as magistrates and service as jurors;
(iv) The same procedure should be adopted in selecting
both male and female candidates for appointment to
the Civil Service (MCR, p. 230).
The first practical consequence of these recommendations was when Mrs Mary
Morris-Knibb won a seat on the Kingston and St Andrew Corporation (KSAC) in 1939.
This only came about as a result of tremendous struggle by women like Amy Bailey and
the other women connected with the Women's Liberal Club. Even so, the election was
only to a parish body. While it paved the way for the entry of women to the Legislative
Council later on (which was not possible until the new Constitution of 1944), as late as
1983 a female Councillor for the parish of Clarendon complained that she was never
allotted funds for local development except for social and cultural activities, and the
Council refused to entrust her with arrangements for the repair of the local water pump
on the basis that such a responsibility was only appropriate for a male (Sistren: 1983).
While on the surface male/female 'equality' in employment in the administrative
service was being proposed, in practice it was limited to those areas in which they could
serve the socialisation process for the creation and enforcement of 'proper' families. Just
as the family was structured into the backlands of the economic structure, so in their role
as 'family enforcers' they were paid little or nothing and so were structured into the
'lower echelons' of the Civil Service and professions. After all, working, for them, was
just the 'use of leisure'. Men provided their material support, so what did they need
money for? Work in the Civil Service was just an extension of social work which in its
turn was an extension of unpaid work in the home, and work in the home was by defini-
tion not work. Within the professions the roles recommended for women were as follows:
As magistrates: to deal with young offenders, maintenance and other areas of 'fami-
As nurses: to deal with venereal disease, maternity and child care, and general
sanitation and hygiene (public health);
As teachers: to promote domestic science and social welfare;
As social workers: to work at the 'local' levels on committees which were largely un-
paid while men controlled the higher echelons of administration.
Even in relation to social work, women were structured into the role of 'handmaidens' of
men. Again, on the surface, the Moyne Commission's recommendations seemed quite
free of sex bias:
(i) An organised campaign should be undertaken against
the social, moral and economical evils of promiscuity;
(ii) An organisation should be created and staff should be
appointed through the agency of which a well-defined
social welfare programme can be planned and execu-
(iii) Social welfare workers must be trained for service in
the West Indian Colonies;
(iv) Public funds should be used to supplement the volun-
tary subscriptions on which the creation of such agen-
cies would depend; (emphasis added)
(v) The work of existing voluntary organizations should
be continued and extended by encouraging "still
more interest in that work from people of leisure who
are in a position to help both financially by subscrib-
ing to the cost of these activities and by personal ser-
vice". (emphasis added) (MCR, pp. 231-2)
Men were not considered to be 'people of leisure' so that, when the Council of
Social Service was later proposed by T S Simey, for the concrete realisation of the recom-
mendations of the Moyne Commission, men were proposed as the main paid officers,
while women were proposed as 'assistants'. The Council was to be staffed by Officers
(male) who would work with the 'assistance' of three trained women social workers
(Simey, 1941, 1, p. 2). These would be supported by a host of voluntary workers, name-
The Moyne Commission also failed to challenge the expulsion of married women
from the Civil and Teaching Services, and women had to resign from their jobs in these
areas on marriage. This strengthened the notion of marriage as an 'alternative career' pre-
dicated on the assumption of male support and female dependency. It operated against
the establishment of economic independence by these women within marriage, and
forced women to choose between sexuality and/or motherhood and economic indepen-
dence and/or the fulfilment of a career. For this reason many women of the middle-strata
in this period chose to remain single the Bailey sisters, Edith Clarke, Una Mason among
others apparently refusing to trade financial independence for the satisfaction of home
and family. These women gained a great deal of prestige through their work, and often
became the envy of men, but they paid a heavy price.
Regarding the recommendations of the Moyne Commission concerning the education
of girls the main aim of all female education was seen as marriage. The first paragraph of
this section states:
"If there are to be happy marriages, girls must be able
to be companions for their husbands and therefore
need as wide a cultural education as possible" (MCR,
The basic ingredient of this 'cultural education' was to be domestic science.
"Domestic science should of course form a part of
curriculum of all girls' schools .. ." (MCR. p. 131).
Vocational education for girls was to consist of housecraft training, as was already being
done in Guiana through the Carnegie Trade School for girls.
For the better-off classes whose girls already had access to a secondary education,
subjects previously reserved for boys mathematics, Latin, physics and chemistry -
were to be extended to girls. This would allow girls access, for the first time, to the few
Island Scholarships available. This was, however, to be without prejudice to their train-
ing in domestic science and housecraft, and the recommendations did not envisage
women breaking out of the housework professions such as nursing and teaching.
"It is essential that girls anxious to enter the profes-
sion and capable of doing so should not be denied the
necessary preliminary education. Complaints were
made to us in evidence of the difficulty of obtaining
girls with the education necessary to enable them to
enter the nursing profession. Further many girls find
it very difficult to obtain the teaching in subjects
such as mathematics, Latin, physics and chemistry
demanded by the scholarship regulations: in justice,
either the regulations should be so modified as not to
discriminate against girls, or the appropriate teaching
should be made readily available to them as to boys".
(Emphasis added) (MCR,p. 131).
The girls of the lower classes would be trained in housecraft in the elementary
schools beyond which few could advance. This would fit them for employment as assis-
tants in the infant play-centres which the Commission recommended be attached to
schools. For this they 'might receive a small fee'. On this, the Commission 'offered no
comment' but felt that this "would have to be decided in the light of local circumstan-
ces". The bulk of these girls would, as we have seen in the statistics for the period, end up
as domestics. In Jamaica, Amy Bailey's Housecraft Training Centre attempted to offer
these women more 'professional' status as domestics. For the women of the lower middle
classes, initially all-male centres such as Dinthill and Holmwood were eventually diversi-
fied to include domestic science for girls.
The male-breadwinner ideology and its material effects are illustrated by the fact
that Dinthill and Holmwood trained boys who "were already working on their own or
their father's land". The possibility that their mothers might have owned land was not
envisaged, neither was the possibility that women might have access to agricultural educa-
The ruling classes were well aware the the 'non-working' housewife ideology could,
in practice, only have limited application among the labouring classes. The dire poverty
in which they were kept by the control of the capitalist class over material resources
would continually press them into service in those areas where their employment served
the needs of the ruling classes. There would always be a good supply of women to work
as agricultural field labour and domestics, servicing the public and 'private' areas of ruling
class life. Moreover, by application of the 'male-breadwinner' iedology (never operative
in practice for these classes) women could be paid little or no wages in exchange for their
work. This creation of a second level workforce available at lower wages than those nor-
mally payable to males could be manipulated by capital to the advantage of the class as
economic conditions demanded.
In recognition of this cheap labour force, the MCR recommended as its only
measure in favour of 'working women' the establishment of hostels in town for domestic
workers and shop assistants. In practice, not one such hostel was ever established out of
public funds, and these recommendations did not form part of the proposals of T S
Simey or of the programme of 'development and welfare' agreed on later by the British
The women in industry came in for no special recommendations. According to the
Report, their main problem was safety regulations and legislation re protection from in-
jury, and in these areas they were already on an 'equal' footing with men. Although the
Report, notes the miserably low wages paid to women in the West Indies. and the im-
practicability of this in a situation where many women were heads of households, not one
of the detailed recommendations which follow relates to wages and conditions.
"Generally throughout the West Indies, although the
level of pay For men is low. an even lower standard is
adopted for women, who often receive less than a
living wage. The argument that man is the head of
the household and is responsible for the financial up-
keep of the family has less force in the West Indies,
where promiscuity and illegitimacy are so prevalent,
and the woman so often is the supporter of the home"
(MCR, p. 220).
In June 1945 a "Statement of Actions taken on the Recommendations of the
Moyne Commission (to be referred to henceforth as MCR-SA) was published. The actions
taken up to that date related to the three pillars of colonial policy in the period social
welfare, trade unionism and land settlement but the principal and most extensive ac-
tions had been taken in relation to social welfare.
The British government had lost no time in 'accepting forthwith' the Moyne Com-
mission recommendation that they provide an annual sum for "social welfare and deve-
lopment and the establishment of a special organisation, independent of the West Indian
Colonial Governments, to administer these funds" (MCR-SA,p. 3). Since then, the State-
ment reported, many measures had been taken despite problems of war expenditure. By
contrast we are told later that "owing to war expenditure no action has been taken on the
recommendation that more hostels should be provided for women workers" (MCR-SA, p.
59). The same excuse is given for the failure to address the problems of nutrition (MCR-
SA, p. 22).
The actions in relation to social welfare included the appointment of a Secretary
for Social Welfare Services to "co-ordinate", since care was to be taken "to support and
not replace the valuable work now being done by voluntary organizations" (MCR-SA,
p. 57). 'Considerable assistance' had by then been given to Jamaica Welfare Limited, in
the form of a grant under the Colonial Development and Welfare Act. As early as 1939 a
completely revised curriculum had been provided for primary schools, to include instruc-
tion in hygiene and domestic science (for girls) and manual and agricultural training (for
boys). While the play centres attached to schools had not yet become a reality, plans were
afoot to establish them and use them for 'instruction in child welfare'. On the question of
'equal' secondary education, applicable to middle-strata women and 'equal terms' in the
Island Scholarships, the Statement reported that in relation to Jamaica this was "general-
ly already true or receiving consideration" (MCR-SA, p. 22). The Sex Disqualification
(Removal) Law of 1944 had been passed, allowing the entry of middle-strata women to
areas of public life from which they were previously excluded. It provided for the appoint-
ment of women as magistrates and their appointment as jurors, their entry to the Civil
Service and the expansion of their role in education and the social services. Under the
Constitution of 1944 women were now eligible for election to the Legislature, in exten-
sion of the right of appointment to Boards aAd Local Authorities which they had pre-
viously won in the wake of 1938. Whatever little help was extended to the masses was
carried out largely through the voluntary labour of these women, and the semi-slave
labour of the women of the labouring classes; as in the case of the two (2) central Kit-
chens and seventy (70) school canteens established by 1945. Some clothing donated from
the US was re-made by girls in schools under the supervision of female teachers and given
to needy children. These are the only practical measures for the benefit of the poor which
are made explicit in the statement of Action.
The most important thrust in the actions taken on the recommendations was the
establishment, through the social work network created, of the male-headed family, to-
wards which there was by this time 'a strong tendency'. In this the Church played a lead-
ing role and "the government assists in all practical ways through its social welfare services"
(MCR-SA, p. 60). While the going was rough ("Progress is difficult to obtain" MCR-SA,
p. 60), hope was placed in the long-term effects of the 'home life'-centred social welfare
activities and education. "Education, better housing and emphasis by social welfare
workers on the value of home life will have their effects in time .. ." (MCR-SA, p. 60).
The key role of the Church in this thrust is reflected in the Chairmanship by the
Lord Bishop of a Committee on Concubinage and Illegitimacy established in 1941. This
Committee had made certain recommendations, but it was providing difficult to frame
enforceable legislation. A standing Committee was therefore established, again under the
Chairmanship of the Lord Bishop, "to further investigate the whole problem and consider
the legislation necessary to give effect to the recommendations of the 1941 Committee".
The Moyne Commission Recommendations and the actions which followed there-
fore marked an advance in the struggle of middle- and upper-class women for greater
economic independence, a say in politics and more opportunities to get out of the home.
New employment opportunities were created for the women of these classes, while their
non-wage work was extended outside the home and given 'status'. At the same time the
recommendations enshrined among the middle strata the European bourgeois sexual divi-
sion of labour. They did little, however, to advance the wage rights of working class
women. Rather, they gave official sanction to the imprisonment of the women of the
labouring classes in the home their own, and those of the upper and middle classes
whose interests the Recommendations served.
Social Welfare as British Colonial Policy
The first Colonial Development and Welfare Act was promulgated in 1929. This
Act was, however, concerned primarily with investment in agriculture and industry in the
colonies. It made no mention of social welfare. The preamble to the Act describes it as:
"An Act to authorise the making of advance for aid-
ing and developing agriculture and industry in certain
colonies, to provide for the extension of the Colonial
Stock Acts. 1877- 1900, to stock farming part of the
public debt of certain protected and mandated terri-
In 1944, however, a new Act repealing the old one and concerned primarily with
Social Welfare replaced the earlier Act and, together with other Acts passed between
1945 and 1959. became known collectively as the Colonial Development and Welfare
Acts. The Acts of 1945-1959 essentially revised the amounts allotted to social welfare
in the 1940 Act, setting new time periods for expenditure, and allotting portions of
n-oney specifically to 'research and enquiry'.
After the riots of the late 1930s throughout the English-speaking Caribbean, the
most intense of which were the riots in Jamaica in 1938, the British State focused its
attention on the Caribbean, so that while the Acts apply generally to the colonies, they
were in fact triggered primarily by the events in the Caribbean, and came in handy in
the colonies as a a whole because of the growing tide of colonial unrest.
While the Act of 1940 claims to provide for both 'development of the resources' of
the colonies and the 'welfare' of the colonial peoples, in actual practice in the Jamaican
case projects under the Act were concerned almost exclusively with welfare, and 'develop-
ment of resources' according to the investment model of the 1929 Act was replaced
by an interpretation which saw development and welfare as almost one and the same.
An important component of the 1940 Act is that the thrust toward welfare goes
hand in hand with a thrust toward the promotion of trade unions. The main conditions
of grants under the Act were the establishment of trade union laws, the facilitation of
trade union activity and the recognition of trade union 'contracts and an end to child
labour. The Act states that, before supporting any programme under the Act,the Secretary
of State should satisfy himself:
(a) That the law of the colony provides reasonable facilities for the establishment
and activities of trade unions, and ... in particular:
(i) that wages paid will be at not less than the rates recognized by employers
and trade unions . or, if there are no rates so recognized, at rates
approved by the person for the time being administering the govern-
ment of the colony, and,
(ii) that no children under such age as may be appropriate in the circum-
stances, but not in any case being less than fourteen years, will be
Simultaneously, however, women's right to employment is challenged, men are
given first choice in available wage work, while women are ejected from key areas of the
economy and relegated to unwaged or low-paid domestic labour, or to exploitation as a
super-cheap labour force to serve the expansion of the small manufacturing industry.
The result is that the unions become primarily male preserves. Children who had used
their labour to help their mothers face the problems of survival were now prohibited
from working, without any measures being implemented to address the problem of their
day-to-day survival. This became an additional problem for the mothers, already pres-
sured by wagelessness and low-paid work.
In accordance with the new model of 'development and welfare', a Secretary for
Social Welfare Services was appointed to Jamaica soon after the conclusion of the West
India Royal Commission of Enquiry. This Secretary reported to F. A. Stockdale, Comp-
troller for Development and Welfare in Great Britain. In 'indicating' to Governor Sir
Arthur Richards in 1941 "the directions in which the financial assistance under the
Colonial Development and Welfare Act would be supported" (Gt. Britain, Comptroller
for Development and Welfare, "Jamaica" Government Printer pamphlet 1941),
Stockdale outlined a programme based on Land Settlement and supporting services
(Health, Housing Education) and Social Welfare.
The document contains explicit acceptance of the proposals of T S Simey concern-
ing social welfare. Simey had recommended an extensive all-island social welfare network
based on "Village Community Associations". To create these associations, there was to
be a Jamaica Council of Social Services, co-ordinating existing voluntary social work
schemes, principal among them Jamaica Welfare (but also the YWCA and the Church),
and to create others based also on voluntary effort. To quote Simey:
"Both men and women officers would find their
practical functions best summed up in the phrase
"home-making", interpreted in the most liberal
way possible . The women should be competent
housekeepers (emphasis added) and be able to give
instructions in the arts of child management" (Simey,
1941, 1, p.2).
The curriculum proposed was craftwork, homecraft and physical training with two
(2) training officers assigned to housecraft and one each to the other areas. As Simey's
entire plan was based on the voluntary labour, primarily of women, he is able to comment:
"It must not be thought, however, that this scheme
would involve a revolutionary change in the organi-
sation of the public social services" (Simey, 1984,
In other words, additional public expenditure would not be necessary.
Someone, somewhere, seems to have been worried about the clamouring of women
like Amy Bailey who were demanding not just to be allowed to do social work, but to
be properly paid for it. The Education Advisor (S A Hammond), making comments on
the recommendations, was more explicit. The Village Associations
"could also discharge some functions which are
commonly in Jamaica thought to be functions of
government" (Simey, 1941, 1, p. 2).
He lists pre-school education and play centres as examples. Areas normally ac-
cepted to be the responsibility of government were to be passed on to the shoulders of
women where it would not be necessary to pay for them. Simey's recommendations
give an interesting view of the conditions under which middle-strata women were ac-
cepted into the social services. In the proposed Council.of Social Service, men were
going to be the main, paid, officers. Women could 'assist'. The kind of work they would
be expected to do as professionals is illustrated by the outline of the functions of the
Medical Social Worker:-
(i) almoner to the hospital and poor house,
(ii) organiser of general social service in the district,
(iii) promoter of further voluntary work as the need arises.
Jamaica Welfare was considered to be already operating along these lines, and the task
ahead was to extend this work.
As far as Land Settlement was concerned, Simey's proposals for Village Com-
munity Associations presumed a rural focus in line with the Land Settlement programme
which Stockdale identified as the pivot of the British colonial land policy. The Land
Settlement programme presumed a nuclear family unit with a male head-of-household
to whom the land was leased or sold. Preference was given to these 'proper families'
and a female head of household stood little chance of getting her own land, far less a
Women Organised for Housewifisation: The Jamaica Federation of Women
The definitive form in which women were organised for the promotion of these
policies towards women was the Jamaica Federation of Women, founded in 1944 by
Lady Molly Huggins, wife of the Colonial Governor, who had arrived in Jamaica in
1943. Modelled on the Women's Institute of Great Britain, the motto of the Federation
was "For Our Homes and Our Country" essentially the same as that of the Institute
Women's Institutes had emerged first in Canada, and had been introduced into
Great Britain in 1915 during the First World War (1914-1918). The Institutes were rural
institutions organising farmers' wives and daughters to support the British war effort
by growing and preserving food when supplies from overseas were curtailed by war
conditions. The vegetables, small livestock, eggs, etc., produced by the women many
of whom were managing their holdings on their own since their men had been called up
for war service were sold in village stalls to each other 'since the greengrocer or shop-
keeper can't be bothered with these small amounts' a sort of subsistence agriculture
which kept the country alive during the war effort. Many of these women were tackling
for the first time 'jobs that their husbands used to do', and doing their housework as well.
Their willingness to take on this double burden was seen as an admirable demonstration
of their patriotism.
Institute meetings took place on a village basis and satisfied the need of these women
for socialising and discussing common problems. There were talks on health, child care,
sessions on cooking, how to make preserves, sewing, knitting and the making of Xmas
presents for soldiers at war. The meetings also provided an opportunity to get out of the
house, which was acceptable to men.
There were no subscriptions and no collections were allowed at Institute meetings
for any cause.
The Institutes defined themselves as non-political and drew members from all
parties. They were not allowed to favour any political party. Nevertheless, they promoted
civic education, and made representations to District and County Councils representing
the rural housewife's point of view. This they did not see as political: "District and
County Councils don't make laws, they only administer them, so they are not political,
and we can safely take part in local government without infringing our party political
rule, or in any way favouring one party above the other". It was not considered political
either to give reports on different matters to Parliament or to "collect facts and suggest
policy which has not yet been adopted by any one of the parties" (Lady Albemarle,
interview with Una Marson, BBC, May 1943).
In all these respects its focus on rural housewives and 'kitchen gardens', the
social form and content of meetings and the non-political' claim of the organisation -
the Jamaica Federation of Women (JFW) imitated the Women's Institutes.
In May and June of 1943 Una Marson, the Jamaican feminist and black
nationalist, interviewed representatives of the Women's Institutes in a series of broad-
casts from the BBC specifically for transmission to the West Indies. Those broadcasts
were published in written form in 1944, by the office of the Comptroller for Develop-
ment and Welfare in the West Indies, and the introduction was written by the Comp-
troller, F A Stockdale. One of the representatives in the course of being interviewed
remarked that "it seems only fitting that an organisation of this nature, which was
introduced into the Mother Country during the last Great War, should spread to the
West Indies during the present great struggle". The formation of the JFW. then, had the
official support of the British government, and seems to have been the result of an official
initiative from the office of the Comptroller for Development and Welfare.
In patterning itself on the Women's Institutes, the JFW was establishing a link
with the most conservative branch of British feminism at the time. After World War
I feminism in Britain had polarised into conservative and liberal factions. The liberal
faction campaigned for reforms, welfare and equal pay. and this is the faction with which
Sylvia Pankhurst was associated. On the conservative side. Emeline and Christabel Pank-
hurst and their followers supported the war effort, and came to emphasise the importance
of women's support for the preservation of the existing system. This branch of feminists
was admitted eventually to the Parliament they had previously opposed. This is the
branch of feminism to which Molly Huggins belonged.
Among these feminists the image of women as housewife was strengthened, and the
spinster was seen as leading an unhealthy existence, though it was accepted that spinsters
could re-channel the sex instinct into creative vocations.
The organisation consciously sought to bring together the leadership of all the
existing women's groups Community leaders, teachers, nurses, postmistresses, parsons'
wives, women of 'all classes' under one umbrella organisation, part of a concerted
effort made by Lady Huggins to draw in the black and brown middle-class who were
invited to be members of the Executive Committee of 20. The Liberal Club disbanded,
and its members became members of the Executive Committee.
By co-opting women like Amy Bailey and Mary Morris-Knibb to their 'non-political'
organisation, the JFW blunted the thrust towards the political advancement of middle-
strata women which had been present in the Women's Liberal Club and the efforts of
women associated with it. The aims of the JFW were in perfect tune with the policy
towards women as embodied in the Moyne Commission recommendations and the
Development and Welfare programmes. They were:
[To foster] educational, civic and cultural development throughout the
island for the service of the community;
[To improve] economic conditions of women, particularly in rural areas by
encouragement of cottage industry and craft;
To stress the value of family life and to raise the standards of home-making;
To encourage voluntary social services.
The image of womanhood projected by the JFW was that of the housewife primarily
committed to the welfare of her family, to the institution of marriage, and to doing
voluntary work. The JFW was not concerned with the issue of wage work or the union-
isation of women. Its main focus was the women of the rural and small peasantry.
The Civics Committee is defined as the organ of the Federation which campaigns
for better family living, encouragement of marriage and 'parental responsibility', for
training in mother craft (child care), basic schools and the promotion of voluntary
effort, and as the place where issues of concern to women should be debated. By 1948
the Federation had the sizeable membership of 30,000 and about 400 projects.
The homemaking focus of the JFW and its promotion of the nuclear family was
reflected in all its programmes. The organisation had an annual Homemaker's Day, there
was a kitchen-garden competition with first and second prizes of a silver cup donated by
the Hon. Mrs Cazalet-Kerr and a Wedgewood bowl donated by the owner of Wedgewood.
There was a Better Home campaign promoting the idea that it was an asset to have parents
who were married, and it was within the context of this that Mass Weddings were pro-
moted by the JFW, at the instance of Mary Morris-Knibb. Through the Mass Marriage
campaign wedding rings were sold for 10/-. A total of 150 mass marriages were organised
and this succeeded in raising very slightly the percentage of the total population who
married. This was in spite of a massive public campaign in which Lady Huggins marshalled
the churches, schools, press, radio, welfare agencies, and 'national' associations behind
the idea and the 'ample' funds expended (M. G. Smith in Clarke, 1957, pp. v., xxxv).
In the campaign for the registration of fathers begun in 1945 there was no sug-
gestion that fatherhood involved anything but financial support a subtle assumption
of the male breadwinner/dependent housewife ideology. Married men, on the other hand,
by definition could not be sued for child support as long as they remained in the nuclear
home even if they were bringing in nothing and were being supported by their wives.
This was to prove the most broadly supported campaign of the organisation because
it gave the masses of women a chance to get some money in exchange for their reproduct-
ive labour from irresponsible men who gave them children and then left them to mind
them on their own. For this they did not have to trade their sexual or economic autonomy -
limited as it was or submit themselves to the tyranny of the male-headed household
of the European nuclear family. However, the minimal amounts prescribed by Law for
child support, the onus placed on women to find their "baby fathers" in order to get the
child support and, most importantly, the failure to institute a public programme for child
support through organised public contribution (as was done in the seventies for housing,
for example, through the establishment of the National Housing Trust) betray a certain
hypocrisy in the child support lobby as it has existed up to the present.
In the 1970s during the period of democratic socialism and the advance of socialist
ideas in the society, the JFW declined in membership. From 30,000 in members in 1948
the Federation moved to a membership of only 8,000 in 1984.
The 1943 Census: The Statistical Ejection of Women from The Labour Force
According to the 1943 census, between 1921 and 1943 the entire female labour
force declined from 219,000 to 163,900, while the percentage decline between 1911
and 1943 is from 59.6% to 34%. In agriculture, the main area of female employment
at the time of Emancipation, the female labour force declined from 125,400 in 1921
to 45,600 in 1943. In the same period male employment in agriculture was rising numeri-
cally and proportionately, in spite of an overall decrease in numbers for agricultural
According to the census figures, while in 1921 71% of the total labour force worked
in agriculture, by 1943 this had declined to 57%.
The low figures recorded for female participation in agricultural labour in 1943
are explained by the redefinition of women labourers into homemakers and domestics.
As the introduction to the 1953 census states (Section 16. p. 64):
"In 1943 . women and children were thrown out
of the labour force by the manner in which the de-
finition of 'gainful occupation' was applied. The
1943 'gainfully occupied' concept was not closely
comparable to the "productive population" of
The process was recognized in the Labour Department Report of 1944:
"The Census taken on the 4th January 1943 dis-
closed that there are some 264,000 wage earners
in the country. These are distinct from persons who
are employers of labour, and others who are gainfully
employed on their own account, in their own homes
or on the farms of the head of the family without
pay" (emphasis added).
(Labour Department Report, Jamaica, 1944)
This re-definition of women workers was a result of the rigid application of the
'male bread-winner' ideology and the rigid application of the separation between the
'public' ('productive', male, cash-crop, capitalist-oriented) sphere of production, and the
'private' ('non-productive', female, family, subsistence-oriented) sphere:
"For census purposes, a gainful occupation is one
by which the person who pursues it earns money,
performs a service or assists with the production of
goods. Children working at home or general house-
hold duties or chores or at odd times at other work
(emphasis added) are not considered as being gain-
fully occupied. SIMILARLY WOMEN DOING
HOUSEWORK IN THEIR OWN HOMES WITHOUT
SALARY OR WAGES WERE RETURNED AS
HOMEMAKERS AND NOT CONSIDERED AS
BEING AMONG THE GAINFULLY OCCUPIED
(emphasis added). (Census of Jamaica, 1943)
The "drastic decline" in the agricultural labour force. (noted by Roberts and Carnegie)
primarily because of the "disappearance" of women is not in keeping with trends in the
earlier period (See Table overleaf).
While the category 'unpaid farm workers' had declined in 1921 to 27,965 women
as against 31,962 in 1911, the decline from 27, 965 in 1921 to 4,539 in 1943 is too
drastic to regard it as a mere continuation of a previous trend. The same is true for
banana labourers 10,812 women in 1911 to 9,053 in 1925 to the drastically reduced
figure of 5,233 in 1943. Sugar is similarly affected.
From 1911 to 1921 more females than males were employed in agricultural work
(agricultural labourers). During the period women maintained their proportion of agri-
cultural labour at 55%. This was a consequence of the emigration of males from the
rural area, primarily to farm work schemes on sugar and banana estates in Cuba and
Central America, an emigration which was most marked between 1911 and 1921, aggra-
vated as it was by the exodus of men to join the British Armed Forces during the First
Between 1880 and 1920 an estimated 146,000 persons, almost exclusively male,
migrated from a population of 580,000 858,100 (Post 1978, p. 44). The involvement
of males in agricultural wage labour declined slightly from 63,843 in 1911 to 63,745
in 1921. The irony is that when the migrants were repatriated in their thousands in the
1920s and 30s women's role in agriculture was redefined to discount women's labour
and reserve wages for diales.
In agriculture in Jamaica, the majority of women agricultural labourers had come
to be occupied as unpaid family workers or as paid workers on small mixed farms (pro-
vision farming) producing primarily for local consumption. In addition, 'homemakers'
in Jamaica have traditionally combined their homemaking with field work, oriented
particularly towards subsistence production and the local market and the rearing of
Women (and children) also assisted in cultivation on these as well as cash crop
plots as 'unpaid family workers'. Even when they worked on the estates they often did
work, sub-contracted to them by men, or worked for the men without a wage as 'family'
(interviews, Frome, 1985). The 1943 census practically eliminated the female labour of
these categories. In the first place, women as unpaid family workers are redefined as
homemakers and so disappear from the labour force altogether. The 1943 census, unlike
those of 1911 and 1921, does not contain the category "Unpaid Family Workers" at all.
Instead, there is a category 'assisting in cultivation' with 16.391 males and only 4,539
females assisting in cultivation, compared with 27,965 women defined as 'unpaid family
workers' in the previous census of 1921. There has therefore been a major redefinition of
'homemakers' out of agricultural labour. Presumably, the category 'assisting in cultivation'
refers to non-family women working for men on land used for export oriented crops.
Those female members of the household who could not be defined as homemakers
(presumably be,: use they were not wives or concubines) were defined as being active
in 'personal service', as domestics, maids (whether formally or as relatives living in the
household) presumably for males who were now considered the breadwinners. As males
were not 'homemakers' they continued to be defined as workers. Their numbers in the
category "assisting in cultivation" (unpaid) rose above the numbers categorised as un-
paid family workers in 1921 by the inclusion, perhaps of other forms of male unpaid
labour used on the farms, perhaps by a greater definition of male children as workers.
These figures given for female agricultural labourers must therefore relate only to non-
family labour engaged on cash-crop farms for a wage.
This relegation of the labour of women to invisibility and wagelessness by the
definition of their labour as a natural extension of the housewife/domestic role extended
even to women's activities as farmers. Their subsistence farming (so defined despite the
fact that many women sold the produce and made a living from the proceeds because
such farming is still primarily associated with the maintenance of labour power rather
than with the accumulation of profit in developed capitalist style) was viewed as non-
productive in relation to the cash-crop economy of ascending agrarian capitalism.
In the 1943 census there was a redefinition of farms. Generally speaking, farms
were redefined according to their integration into the export (cash) crop economy. Mixed
farms were now defined as farms on which two cash crops together provided 50% of the
production value. Previously, 'mixed' farms were those growing primarily food provisions
for the local market as well as some cash crop. The existence of this type of farming inte-
grated with any other was the primary basis for redefining a farm as 'mixed'. Production
for the local market was nowhere near as lucrative as production for export. The redefini-
tion of farms according to earnings from cash crops therefore effectively removed provi-
sion farming the main focus of female agricultural labour from the census figures, so
that in the 1943 census this category does not appear at all. Even though the acreage or
numbers involved in labour or provision grounds may have exceeded the labour and
acreage in cash crops, the fact that the cash crop earned more led to the farm being cate-
gorized according to that cash crop.
With the redefinition of female family labour into 'homemakers', therefore, not
only were women statistically removed from official figures but their main farming base
- land used for subsistence and local food production also disappeared. The low figures
recorded for women engaged in 'own-account' occupation, including farming in the 1943
census, reflect the fact that women who worked on small plots or provision grounds were
now, wherever possible, defined as 'home-makers' and domestics rather than as farmers.
Females in Own-Account Occupations: 1911-43
(Source: Census of Jamaica, 1953)
The census, in noting the sharp decline in women's labour force participation be-
tween 1921 and 1943, remarks also on its association with a "declining female participa-
tion in own-account farming" (Census of Jamaica, 1953, p. 64).
It is important to note that the redefinition of farms in the 1943 census according
to export earnings (cash crops) is a direct application of the male breadwinner concept.
Export agriculture was traditionally controlled primarily by the big capitalist farmers and
and within the ex-slave economy primarily and almost exclusively by men. According to
the 1943 census, only those areas where men were earning money were important.
Women were defined as 'homemakers' and in a few cases as dependents 'assisting in culti-
vation'. All men, however, since they were by definition not homemakers, were defined
as agricultural labourers and producers as long as they did any kind of agricultural work
The institutionalisation of the male breadwinner/female homemaker concept in the
official records of the country was taken even further in the census of 1946. As the 1953
census states; "The 1946 Census treatment tended to relegate farmers' wives and daugh-
ters to the economically inactive class even more completely than did the Jamaica census
of 1943" (Census of Jamaica, 1953, p. 65).
The policies enshrined in the Moyne Commission Report, the projects of Colonial
Development and Welfare, the census of 1943 and the programme of the Jamaica Federa-
tion of Women, represented the intensification of the ideology of the male breadwinner/
dependent housewife which had begun to be promoted among the slaves towards the end
of slavery. The progress of the ideology through the Emancipation period remains to be
traced. What is certain is that by 1937 female employment was seen as a threat to male
employment and that, in defence of their own right to wages, men were accepting the idea
that women had less right to wages than men. There was also an oblique recognition of
the fact that women's low pay was linked to their housewife role.
"No man wants to employ us when he can employ
a woman . [A man] has no double role to play,
and might refuse 10/- a week." Plain Talk: 20th
An example of the concrete effects can be glimpsed from a brief examination of what was
happening in relation to relief work. After 1938 the expenditure on relief projects was
increased in response to the riots and the demand for work which had been brought home
with force by the employed in the many marches which they staged during and after the
riots. Concurrently, relief work came to be regarded as primarily a man's right. The origin
of this policy is betrayed by the fact that, in the Orde-Browne Report of 1938, the relief
rates recommended had contemplated a wage based on the minimum needs of a single
man without dependents. Women were not considered, as their employment on such
schemes was not contemplated or else did not seem to merit deliberation over a wage.
As Post comments, "the good major thus consigned women and children to oblivion"
(Post, 1978: p. 421).
The Moyne Comission Report relied heavily on the Orde-Browne report. In the
promotion of the male breadwinner concept, both were representing British colonial
policy. Even Lord Olivier, visiting the island in February of 1939, reports the critical
unemployment situation in terms of the number of men seeking work, without any refe-
rence to women (Post, 1978: p. 398). In fact, as early as 1935-6, the report of an Unem-
ployment Commission estimated the 'genuinely unemployment' as men only (Post, 1978;
By 1944 women were struggling desperately to retain their jobs on relief projects.
In March 1944 women workers at the Irwin Land Settlemnt in St. James went on strike
against a 'restructuring' programme which was being used as a cover for laying off women
labourers (Post, 1981: p, 407. In 1939 only 20% of relief workers were women, in spite
of the critical need of women for wages (Labour Department Report, Jamaica, 1939).
Otherwise progressive union leaders like Alfred Mendes, editor of Plain Talk, unwil-
lingly accepted the concept of the delicate dependent female. In 1936 Mendes called for
an end to stonebreaking by women labourers in public gangs. He did not say or suggest
what alternative these women might have for earning a wage. Objectively the call sought
to deprive women without assets or jobs of the only available wage.
This ejection of women from relief work was taking place at the same time as ex-
penditure on relief projects was on the increase and the government was claiming thereby
to be increasing employment.
Employment & Expenditure on Relief Schemes: 1939 1948
Year Numbers Expenditure
1939* 15,496 163,330
1943 11,330 170,000
1947 43,100 309,834
1948 54,014 650,377
(Source: Labour Department Reports, Jamaica).
*1939 is the only year for which a male-female breakdown is given, and only for the
Corporate Area (Kingston & St. Andrew): 2,500 people were employed in the Corporate
Area 2,280 men and 220 women. The expenditure was 54,457.
By 1944 the differential in male and female wages on relief schemes was 2 to 1,with
men earning 13/4d per week and women 6/8d. The 2 to 1 differential was not unusual -
it had obtained since the early post-Emancipation period. The increasing preference for
male employment in manual labour, however, was a far cry from the realities of the last
days of slavery. The change in policy was as a result of the differing needs of the exploi-
ters under slavery as compared with the wage labour system. The revolutionary potential
of unemployment in a context of under-developed capitalism made it expedient to
promote an ideology which would justify the ejection of women the majority among
the unemployed from the wage market, and thereby 'ease unemployment'.
The writing of Caribbean history to date has failed to analyse the specific integra-
tion of women into the socio-economic fabric or the effect of historical processes on
women as a specific group. Such an analysis forces a re-evaluation of these processes and
can, as in the present case, brings into question certain assumptions about historical 'pro-
gress'. The implications are important not only for women, since ultimately these policies
are not designed to control and manipulate women only, but for the oppressed and exploit-
ed population as a whole. Women's history is therefore not a matter for women only. It is
critical to the understanding of all historians, men and women, of historical processes in
their fullness. It is even more critical for activitists and those involved in determining
directions for change and charting appropriate strategies.
MCR Moyne Commission Report (Report of the West India Royal commission n appointed 5th
MCR. SA -Moyne Commission Report: Statement of Action on the Recommendations, 1940 made
SDL Sexual Division of Labour
Books, Theses and Pamphlets
Beckford, George and Witter, Michael -Small Garden, Bitter Weed: the Political Economy of Struggle
and Change in Jamaica Maroon Publishing House, Morant Bay, Jamaica, 1980.
Bennet, Louise Jamaica Labrish: Jamaica dialect poems Sangester's Book Stores, Jamaica 1966.
Brathwaite, Edward Kamau The Development of Creole Society in Jamaica 1770-1820 Claren-
don Press, Oxford 1978 (1st edition 1971).
Carmichael, A. Mrs Domestic Manners and Social Condition of the White. Coloured and Negro
Population of the West Indies Negro Universities Press, New York, 1961 (1st edition 1833).
Carnegie, James Some Aspects of Jamaica's Politics 1918-1938 Institute of Jamaica, 1973.
Clarke. Edith -My Mother Who Fathered Me Allen & Unwin 1966 (1st edition 1957).
Craton, Michael A Jamaican Plantation: The History of Worthy Park (1760-1970) W.H. Allen,
Craton, Michael, Searching for the Invisible Man: Slaves and Plantation Life in Jamaica, Harvard Uni-
versity Press, 1978.
Curtin, Philip D. -- Two Jamaicas Atheneum, New York, 1955.
Eaton, George Alexander Bustamante and Modern Jamaica Kingston Publishers Ltd, 1975.
Eaton, George (1) The Development of Trade Unionism in Jamaica, Unpublished Ph.D. Thesis,
McGill University (Microfilm Institute of Jamaica).
Eisner, Gisela -Jamaica 1830-1939: A Study in Economic Growth 1974 (1st edition 1961).
French, J and Ford-Smith, H. Women and Organisation in Jamaica 1900-1944 Unpublished re-
search Women and Development Studies, Institute of Social and Economic Research, The
Gordon, Shirley A Century of West Indian Education Longmans, London. 1963.
Hall, Douglas Free Jamaica 1939-1865: An Economic History Caribbean Universities' Press,
1969 (1st edition, Yale University Press. 1959).
Harrod, Jeffrey -- Trade Union Foreign Policy: A Study of British and American Trade Union Activi-
ties in Jamaica McMillan. London. 1972.
Higman, B.W. -Domestic Service in Jamaica. England and the United States 1770-1970, University
of the West Indies. Mona, 1978 (Pamphlet).
Higman. B.W. Slave Population and Economy in Jamaica 1807-1834 Cambridge University Press,
Marier. Roger Social Welfare Work in Jamaica, UNESCO monographs on Fundamental Education,
Marson, Una The Women's Institute Movement in Great Britain A series of broadcasts prepared for
the BBC in 1943. Published in Barbados by the Great Britain Comptroller for Development and
Mathurin, Lucille A Historical Study of Women in Jamaica from 1655 to 1844 unpublished Ph.D.
Thesis, University of the West Indies, Mona, 1974.
Mathurin, Lucille -The Rebel Woman in the British West Indies during Slavery Institute of Jamaica
for Afro-Caribbean Institute of Jamaica, 1975.
Mies, Maria The Social Origins of the Sexual Division of Labour Institute of Social Studies, the
Mies, Maria -Towards a Methodology of Women's Studies the Institute of Social Studies. The
Munroe, Trevor and Robotham, Don The struggles of the Jamaica People Popular Education
Series, No. 1 Workers' Liberation League. 1977.
Morcno Fraginals, Manuel- The Sugar Mill.
Nettleford, Rex (Editor) Manley and The New Jamaica Selected Speeches and Writings 1938-
1968 Longman Caribbean 1971.
Nugent. Maria (Lady) Lady Nugent's Journal Institute of Jamaica. 1966.
Patterson. Orlando The Sociology of Slavery Sangster's Book Stores Ltd. 1973 (1st edition, 1967).
Post, Ken Arise Ye Slarvlings -Martinus Nijhoff, hlie Hague, 1978.
Post, Ken Strike the Iron, Vols I and II, New Jersey, Humanities Press/Institute of Social Studies,
The Hague, 1981.
Reddock, Rhoda Industrialisation and the Rise of the Petty Bourgeoisie in Trinidad and Tobago -
Institute of Social Studies, The Hague, 1980.
Reddock, Rhoda Women, Labour and Struggle in Twentieth Century Trinidad and Tobago, 1898 -
1960 unpublished Ph.D. Thesis, University of Amsterdam, 1984.
Roberts, George The
Roberts, George The Population of Jamaica, Cambridge University Press, 1957.
Simey, T S -Proposals for Extending Social Welfare Work in Jamaica Government Printer, 1941
Simey, T S Proposals for Extending Social Welfare Work in Jamaica 2 Kingston Scheme Govern-
ment Printer, 1941.
Standing, Guy, Unemployment and Female Labour -Macmillan Press, 1981.
Turner, Mary Slaves and Missionaries: The Disintegration of Jamaican Slave Society 1787-1834
University of Illinois Press, Urbana, Chicago, London, 1982.
Aidoo, Agnes Akosua Asante Queen Mothers in Government and Politics in the Nineteenth Century
in the Black Woman Cross-culturally, ed. Filomena Chioma Steady, 1981.
Eaton, George (2) Trade Union Development in Jamaica Introduction. Unpublished and undated
paper, Trade Union Education Institute, Universityofthe West Indies, Mona.
Eaton, George (3) The Trade Union Law 1919 unpublished ind undated paper, Trade Union
Education Institute, University of the West Indies, Mona.
Higman, Barry The Slave Family and Household in the British West Indies 1800-1834 in Journal
of Interdisciplinary History, Vol 6 No 2, Autumn 1975.
Higman, Barry Domestic Service in Jamaica since 1750 in Trade, Government and Society, 1983
Higman, Barry Household Structure and Fertility in Jamaican Slave Plantations: A Nineteenth Cen-
tury Example in Population Studies, Vol 3, 1973.
Reports, Government and Institutional Documents and Publications
Brief History of the International Trade Union Movement International Confederation of Free
Trade Unions, 1973 (First Printine Feb 1960).
British Broadcasting Corporation The Women's Institute Movement in Great Britain See MARSON,
Censuses of Jamaica: 1844, 1861, 1971, 1891, 1911, 1921, 1943.
Directory of Voluntary Social Welfare Organisations in the West Indies, Ministry of Labour and Social
Affairs, The West Indies, Federal House, Trinidad and Tobago, 1960.
Focus on Women Guides for Unions #4, Jamaica Trade Union Research Development Centre, 1983.
Great Britain Comptroller for Development and Welfare in the West Indies, Jamaica, Government
Jamaica Memorandum on Colonial Development and Welfare Schemes, Kingston, Government
Orde-Browne, Major Granville St J Labour Conditions in the West Indies Report presented by the
Secretary of State for the Colonies to Parliament, July 1937.
Social Welfare Training Course (Fifty), Mona, Jamaica, 1947. Report by the Dean, Miss D. Ibberson,
Social Welfare Advisor to the Comptroller for Development and Welfare in the West Indies.
West India Royal Commission Report, London, 1945.
West India Royal Commission Report: Statement of Action Taken on the Recommendations, 1938-
39 London 1945.
World Federation of Trade Unions 1945-1985 Prace Publishers, Prague, Czechoslovakia, 1985.
The Jamaica Federation of Women papers and boxes in the Institute of Jamaica.
The Daily Chronicle: 1914
The Daily Gleaner: 1918, 1919, 1938, 1939
The Jamaica Advocate: 1898-1901
Plain Talk: 1935
Public Opinion: 1937-1944
WOMEN AND SOCIAL VALUES IN THE PLAYS OF TREVOR RHONE
The portrayal of women in literature without due acknowledgement of the reality of
their experience may degenerate into falsehood, a mere repetition and enforcement of
traditional stereotypes. The literature of the Caribbean has not always avoided this
However, there has been an increasing tendency for playwrights, in particular, to
approach the treatment of women with verisimilitude. Two kinds of women have emerged.
On the one hand there is the woman who is the embodiment of the stereotypes and the
predictable things that are supposed to make up the West Indian woman and, on the other,
the woman who is a challenge to the sexual stereotyping. Trevor Rhone's portrayal
offers an intertwining of the two approaches rather than a straightforward development
of the more progressive depiction of the woman's life. However, the dominant aspect is
the woman's shattering of the myths and stereotypes and their perceived roles.
In some respects, Rhone's works are "revolutionary" in their portrayal. He has
shown how woman's self-image has been influenced by considerations of class, colour,
race and sexual stereotyping and yet how women have stepped outside these boundaries
to present themselves as independent, thinking beings, themselves shaping other lives
instead of having theirs dominantly shaped by outside influences. The inner strength of
the female emerges.
Rhone's treatment must be seen within the context of the images through which
black women are portrayed. His women are predominantly women of colour. He was
writing for his society; documenting the life of the black people and those perceived
images was deemed a part of the reality of the black woman. By extension, therefore,
the Jamaican woman was engulfed in these roles.
The perceptions, whether by the men or by the women themselves, are usually
shaped by social conditioning, and the ways in which the two groups have been con-
ditioned in matters of race, colour, class, sexual stereotyping are often incompatible with
the reality of self-discovery.
In general, though there has been the tendency to utilise derogatory/negative images,
there have been instances of the portrayal of the counterpart, generally positive side.
Ernest Gaines' Jane Pittman is a powerful and enriching portrait of the positive aspects
of the black woman's life. She is seen as mother, plantation worker, wife, leader, a woman
using her initiative to affect the situation of her race. In this, Gaines has captured the
complexity behind the personality of Jane, who moves from partial acceptance of the
stereotypes to rejection. The portrayal shows one artist's ability to deal with the many-
sidedness of the black female experience. Jane has shown that for every derogatory
image there is the counterpart of the positive side.
The reality of the black woman is held in the space between these opposing images.
The culture within which the woman lives has insisted on simplifying her natural com-
plexity. But her complexity has compelled an ambivalence of response seen in the exam-
ination of images through which she has been portrayed.
Women have traditionally been depicted as stereotypes in the form of the following
opposing images: breeder/wet nurse; concubine/mule; houseslave/home-maker; prosti-
tute/church-sister; high yaller/tragic mulatto; mammy/matriarch; foxy mama/sister;
mute/storyteller. Some of these are images endemic to the Jamaican society and they
are influenced by considerations of class, colour, race.
The negative and false depictions of the black woman must be carefully scrutinised.
The cliched images are sexist and racist and hinge for the most part on others' perception
of the woman's sexuality and strength.
For the purposes of this article, the dominant stereotypes to be examined are
the breeder, the matriarch, home-maker. One other is that of the woman who aligns
herself with the white male in order to achieve her salvation-migration and superiority
The black woman was patently capable of being a child-bearer (breeder) within
the confines of a family situation but this capacity was invalidated by her use as a provider
of children destined to become a part of the plantation stock. This tradition led to the
perception of the black woman that continued after slavery perpetual pregnancy as-
sociated with constant misery. The black woman as mother was devalued into the black
woman as breeder.
The black woman was the model of long-suffering passivity, an image which con-
tinued through to the formulation of the mammy figure. This was the woman who
resigned herself to male violence; and who accepted her inability to change the shape of
her world. The legendary and romanticised image of the matriarch is the positive side of
the old stereotype of the superwoman. The matriarch, though a woman of strength, was
not a superwoman of fantastic power as was commonly perceived. She is strong enough,
cunning and determined to sustain her family and herself through hard conditions. She
is a woman of courage, but of human dimension.
The home-maker (caring for the family) is the more positive side of the opposing
image of the house-slave. She is in the role of the little woman behind her man, devoted
mother and submissive housewife.
The professional woman and those aspiring to be so counter the stereotypes. The
emergence of women as professionals outside the home represents the public outcropping
of one reality (as against stereotype) that has underlain the black female response.
The manysidedness of the female experience exposes the falsity of their portrayal
as the passive, submissive character, the superwoman or as the modern feminist.
The women presented in the plays under examination offer a blend of images which
epitomise the female response and their survival. From their portrayal we see the re-
velation of the woman as leader, creator, using her initiative to affect the situation of
The women's acts of survival are a statement of affirmation of her strength, not
the fantastic superwoman depicted in fiction. The Portraits of Miss Aggy and Lois ("Old
Story Time") and Gloria ("Two Can Play") are so powerful and realistic that they can
combat some of the stereotypes which were later challenged by black female writers. In
this regard, Rhone has shown how his female characters have conformed to but at the
same time rejected the stereotypes and at least in one instance accomplished the in-
tegration of the two worlds (personal satisfaction and family concerns). Rhone gives an
enriching portrayal of Gloria, one of fullness and authority.
Trevor Rhone, to some extent at least, unfolds a part of the mystery of the real
black woman. His female characters are individuals profound, tragic, mysterious,
strong in many ways but not all. Underneath the tough exterior they too experience
misgivings. They are aware of their own hidden feelings of inferiority, and the images
of themselves that have been lurking underneath the surface.
However, Rhone in the earlier works ("School's Out" and "Smile Orange") gave
the impression of having to choose between the female characters whose function is to be
part of a polemical purpose and those who are rich and complex and impossible to
categorize easily. In his latter works, predominantly in the character of Gloria, he has
moved away from this either/or formulation and has brought the alternatives together.
West Indian writers have generally not demonstrated particular skill at creating
female characters or at capturing the complexity of a mature heterosexual relationship.
Although Rhone's portrayal has not shown a straightforward development, he at least
has tried to come to terms with the manysidedness of the black woman's capacity for
integrating her private, domestic concerns with the public world of family. It is through
artists like Rhone that the experience of the Caribbean woman, more particularly the
Jamaican woman, has the chance of being evoked with fullness and authority.
Rhone has made visible the Jamaican black woman's impulse towards indepen-
dence and creativity, a creativity that is intimately bound up with her understanding of
the need to make the very act of survival a statement of affirmation. He shows that the
Jamaican woman is not just a being condemned to the perceived traditional roles. Rhone
counteracts these perceptions with the familiarity of Gloria and Carol who are representa-
tive of portraits of black women of independence, changed attitude. It is the unfolding
of a complicated heritage that is black experience.
The Unprogressive Woman "Smile Orange" and "School's Out"
The depiction of the woman's life in the two plays reinforces traditional stereo-
types. The main one utilised is that of the black woman who aligns herself with the
white male in order to achieve her salvation-migration and superiority over others.
Miss Brandon ("Smile Orange") and Mica ("School's Out") validate this stereo-
type. Their experience, relationships with the white male have been simplified into
predictable patterns as part of the playwright's polemical purpose.
The polemical purpose is the commentary on the roles adopted by the people
in their bid to survive and as part of their social status. The alignment with the white
male means on the one hand financial security and migration; and on the other, mobility
into higher social class.
This incisive social commentary on the tourist trade takes up behind the facade
and glamour of the image of Jamaica presented to the visitor. In a cinematic approach,
Rhone tells the story from the angle of the hotel staff, focusing on the endemic racial
problems among blacks themselves in the Jamaican society.
In this scenario Rhone presents the stereotypical ambitious woman who sees her
"progress" through the white, particularly the white male. Miss Brandon, the telephone
operator, has her sights set on the United States. She sees migration as her salvation but
while she seeks a solution to her problem there is that underlying need for her to find
herself and be at ease with it. Cohabitation with the white male is the final resolution for
her; a resolution common to many of her class aspiring to join the band of middle-class
women whose desire is for material prosperity.
Migration is not the answer for her and Rhone presents it as a means of escape.
The ending unpretentiously celebrates what Rhone sees as the better choice remain-
ing in Jamaica and grappling with the problems within the context of the island's culture
This choice is made more explicit in "Two Can Play" as the couple, Gloria and Jim,
decide to make Jamaica a place for their survival.
Miss Brandon is the picture of the unprogressive woman accepting the traditional
ways out. In her portrayal Rhone conforms to the tradition of West Indian writers the
one-dimensional portrayal of the woman, where she uses mercenary means in her bid to
survive and face the reality of her condition.
It is the unimaginative, pigeon-holed portrayal of the myopic woman. The por-
trayal itself is myopic in that Miss Brandon is not shown relating to others in her home
environment, with friends. Work and her relationship with the white male are the only
facets Rhone chooses to highlight.
Miss Brandon claims superiority over others, is pretentious and, in her telephone
conversation with Ringo in the opening scene of the play, this comes to the fore. The
manner in which she answers Ringo seems to suggest that she is cognisant of who he is
and is only playing a game. One determinant in conveying the signals about class and role-
playing is Miss Brandon's almost automatic switch between her on-duty manner and the
regular relaxation of the gossip sessions with her friend, Maisie. Through such mannerisms
she claims to elevate herself "a cut above" her co-workers. On her scale of values, colour
and race are as critical as the money which she uses to determine her white lover's class.
Woman have traditionally been viewed as "gossip-mongers" and Rhone utilises
this stereotype effectively in his characterisation of Miss Brandon. Gossip is a negative
association for the woman but it is here used as the main barometer for measuring Miss
Brandon's character; indicating her values and lifestyle.
It is used by Rhone as a three-fold strategy in exploring his theme. He uses it as a
medium for suggesting that there is more to Miss Brandon than wanting to exploit white
men. It is through her gossip that we see her as a woman in friendship, relating to Maisie
as part of her life. In this regard it is used as a counterpoint in that it offers a slightly
more human side of Miss Brandon than her work face.
She is shallow, the epitome of inefficiency, and in this regard her portrayal is
negative. It does not totally represent the reality of the black female's experience as there
is no corresponding positive side. She is the epitome of villainy in her scheming to capture
the heart and money of her prospective lover. She discards her previous boyfriend Jimmy
as he had little to offer. Miss Brandon does not mind prostituting/sacrificing her body to
achieve her goals as she tells Maisie:
Yes . one foot man better than no man. I want
to go to America and it don't matter. (Hiss) Di
bed business? If push come to shove, me jus' shut mi
eye and do it.'
This portrayal of the black woman, though accurate in some respects,is still divorced
from the basic reality of the female experience. What is presented is a negative, one-
dimensional portrayal of the woman in her work environment, using the seeming op-
portunity available to her (meeting guests) to further her aspiration to move from the
working class to the middle class, sacrificing principle and selfhood to attain that dream.
The dream is one based on materialism which associates success/good with wealth.
The traditional association of sex and money is exposed by Rhone through Miss
Brandon. The woman is used as the major focus for exploring the sensational link between
the two properties. In this light, then, the women have to be one-dimensional.
As an entertainer, Rhone is appealing to our love of sensationalism; appealing to
our tendency to listen to gossip. Underlying the sensationalism of the events and cir-
cumstances described is the serious commentary on people's attitudes as they are in-
fluenced by considerations of race, class and colour.
Miss Brandon behaves in a manner which brings to the fore some of the factors of
class, race, colour endemic in the society and which influence the woman's self-image.
Money, associated with class, race, colour, is an all-important factor in choosing a partner
for personal/intimate relationships.
Rhone has put his fingers on the pulse of some of the behaviour patterns character-
istic of the society. Miss Brandon's behaviour can be analysed in respect of some of the
ideas on black female/white male relationships discussed by Frantz Fanon in Black
Skin, White Masks.
Fanon discusses the black woman's relationship with the white male in terms of her
need for recognition. Miss Brandon's need for recognition is based on financial prosperity.
The association of financial prosperity with being white is a critical recognition in Fanon's
.One is white as one is rich. as one is beautiful.
as one is intelligent. It is because the negress feels
inferior that she aspires to win admittance into
the white world."2
The non-resolution of Miss Brandon's aspiration is a rejection of her code of ethics.
At the end she is forced to reflect upon her method of achieving her goals. She becomes
a victim of her own attempts to exploit someone else to attain her goals. She is betrayed
and exploited in the very areas where she sought to exploit. Imbedded in her is the
stereotype of the not-too-bright woman who can never match the male in intelligence.
It is as if Rhone is saying that had Miss Brandon been a more intelligent person she might
Rhone. in creating Mica McAdam, has injected a familiar quality into the soul of
his character. Mica, though a stereotype, exhibits behaviour patterns that are recognisable,
even endemic in the society. These have to do with the values of the middle-class woman
who, though crossing the educational barrier, is yet to surmount class-colour considera-
tions and be positive and comfortable with her identity. Rhone, through his portrayal
of Mica, reflects the life and dilemmas of the middle class, especially the problems of
identity and of male/female relationships.
Mica dramatises the effect of the socio-historical experiences which have shaped us a
people. The influence of class, mannerisms, colour considerations and race on Mica's
lifestyle is stark and resonant.
Her behaviour is compatible with the common perceptions of her time, where an
educated woman of colour would try to align herself with someone of a lighter hue,
and of similar educational qualifications for purposes of advancement and social status.
Like Miss Brandon's, Mica's behaviour must be seen within the context of societal be-
haviour, black identity and black/white relations. Rhone's portrayal entails a recognition
of social and economic realities which contribute to the internalisation of assumptions
about inferiority and superiority. Mica's attitude to colour, class and superiority is
inseparable from her perception of herself as the privileged, educated black woman.
Education was seen as the means for liberation of the person of colour from some
of the societal barriers placed on him. However, for some, like Mica, it was a means of
proving to the white man, at all costs, the richness of their thought, the equal value of
their intellect. In Mica's case she passes over the educated group of her own colour and
class to indicate intellectual equality with the white personality.
Mica is involved in a desperate struggle to discover the meaning of her own identity.
In her attitude, she projects the image of the educated negro, who feels at a given stage
that his race no longer understands him, thus enlarging the incomprehension and dis-
harmony he already perceives to be present. Mica's behaviour suggests her belief that
she is in communion with Pat Campbell. She expresses similar indignation at the insani-
tary conditions of the school and its operations, thinking that this is a common base
for the relationship with Pat. But she later has to face the reality that this commonality
of purpose in respect of school matters does not extend to the personal relationship
with Pat. When confronted with apparent infidelity she is forced to realise the need to
evaluate her relationships and examine the issue of identity.
In articulating her concern about the educational system, she might be seen as the
character closest to a sense of the ideal in education. Rhone refutes this, validating his
view by emphasising Mica's insecure nature and her problems of self-discovery. He em-
phasises the need to distinguish between her action and her words in an analysis of her
"She has no commitment to the education system.
What she says and what she means are completely
different things. She is a rather trite woman."3
Rhone's comments on the attitudes and behaviour of middle-class women encom-
pass Mica and imply a criticism of a situation which needs to be resolved. He observes
that the middle-class woman has been moving away from herself. With specific reference
to the women in the two plays, Rhone points to the women's obsession with finding
solutions through white males. He posits the view that this could be due to harsh economic
times or dissatisfaction with black males.
Mica is caught between two poles, switching her allegiance from Pat to Russ, with
whom she later establishes a relationship. She is uncertain of her own identity, wavers
between acceptance of her blackness and assimilation of white attitudes. Her vision
is clouded and she is not sure of the personal attributes she desires in her friends. Her
criterion is colour. She moves between two men of different personalities, unable to
make up her mind, associating with each when it is expedient to do so. Her insecurity
in accepting herself leads to the living between two worlds.
In her quest to fulfil her dream of salvation through the white male, Mica adopts
certain kinds of behaviour, sayings, petty rules of conduct that govern the selection of a
colour. Having been told life was difficult for a woman of colour, it was essential for her
to avoid falling into the pit of niggerhood. Instead of recognizing her blackness, she
proceeds to turn it into an accident. To overcome this accident, it means acquisition
of white approval. Whether in casual flirtation or serious affairs, the Micas in the Jamaican
society are determined to select the least black of the men.
There is a constant preoccupation with attracting the attention of the white man
and, even with this singleminded purpose, the educated woman of colour engages in
doubly equivocal behaviour.
Recognition and adoption of white patterns of behaviour are the high points of
Mica's behaviour, but this results in humiliation and in the disappointment of her most
"legitimate" ambitions. Fanon's analysis of the relationship between the woman of
colour and the white man aptly summarises Mica's dilemma and, by extension, of many
of her class:
"It is because the negress feels inferior that she aspires
to win admittance into the white world. . There is
a constant effort to run away from (her) own in-
Mica moves away from the stereotype because of her loss of identity. Knowledge
and awareness in her case has led to greater anguish.
Rhone, however, leaves little room for the creation of a sensitive, aware woman
free of the stereotyped assumptions that surround West Indian women. It is as if Rhone
believes that an aware woman is, by definition, a woman dissatisfied with her colour,
class and status.
Redefinition of Self "Sleeper"
Rhone begins to bring a different perspective to the portrayal of the female in
"Sleeper". He is openly exploratory about how women need to redefine themselves.
The modern feminist emerges from this exploration.
There are three distinct types of women and they represent some of the differing
ways in which the female experience has been represented. There is the traditional
housewife figure, the woman who is not fulfilled in her marriage yet is unable to shake
the status quo. She becomes a figure of pity, wallowing in her hypochondria. There is
also the younger version of this unfulfilled wife who has to juggle child-rearing, a career
and family matters in an effort to achieve a harmonious whole. At the end of the spectrum
is the independent, very urban career woman who better understands herself and her
goals. Although this latter figure is often seen as the ideal, the portrayal by Rhone is
still negative. All three women become victims of their choices in life.
It is through the latter figure that Rhone has made visible the black woman's im-
pulse towards independence, creativity, a creativity that is intimately bound up with
her understanding of the need to make the very act of survival a statement of affirmation.
This kind of woman is at the heart of the culture of the society. In the society there is
implicit recognition of this figure, indeed sometimes explicit, but often the latter is
tinged with contempt.
The women's experiences have been simplified and it speaks of the black male's
inability to deal with the manysidedness of the black female experience. This very im-
balance in the portrayal makes more urgent the need for women to be alert to the ever-
present danger of allowing the males to create their images for them.
Interestingly, Rhone juxtaposes the three types, presenting the final one as a
challenge to the old confining images. In Carol, Rhone gives us a look at the real woman
behind the particular stereotype. She is just as vulnerable as her counterparts and is in
need of the love and understanding they crave from their partners. At the end we see
her as she sees herself the career woman who is only part fulfilled. In some respects,
Carol's attitude to Arthur can be seen as her need to create a mechanism that allows
her to deal with the reality of the hurt feelings of a broken relationship/deception. She
is a woman trapped in a situation where she is sxploited and humiliated. Though truly
aware of her own powerlessness, she is cunning and determined enough to find a way
to show her man that she is as smart as he is.
Rhone attempts to capture the manysidedness of the female, utilising the feminist
formula. However, this portrayal is not presented as a positive alternative. It is as negative
as that of the figures of the more traditional women, Martha and Althea.
The black woman's impulse towards creativity is made visible in Carol. Her creati-
vity, which is intimately bound up with her lifestyle, is part of the representation of the
black woman as the archetypal artist. As an interior decorator, she is a creator, a weaver
of intricate designs. It is a reflection of the woman's attempt to express her own reality
and to do what she feels like doing. She is not imprisoned by the societal assumptions
about a productive style of life.
A new reality of woman is being explored. The woman is releasing her creati-
vity, becoming aware of her choices and taking responsibility for those made as she
transcends the female traditions. Rhone is giving evidence that the woman is a real
person, capable of play, ingenuity, of change, growth. Carol's character is an inter-
play between modern feminism and traditional womanhood. Her craving for personal
development is not thwarted by the various confinements which society places on the
woman's potential. The independence of mind and courage to chart the course of her
own development show a maturing process.
The sex and love life of the black woman have seldom been shown with any depth
and these aspects of the woman's life have often depicted the woman as the person in
difficulty. The figure of Martha is evidence of this one-dimensional portrayal of the
black woman. Her characterisation follows the all-pervasive myth that finding a man and
marriage are the keys to feminine happiness. Black women have often watched their
dreams narrow down to a few bitter choices. For some marriage becomes empty and
yet for others it may come to mean an obstacle to their sense of personal liberation.
For Martha, her marriage has become empty; in fact it is at that point where she
has no grasp of the mechanisms of the relationship, and she becomes the "dodder-
ing" middle-aged woman who craves sympathy and understanding through her hypo-
chondria. She is pressured in the role of the little woman behind her man, devoted
mother and submissive housewife. Martha's relationship is the epitome of the promise
and disappointment of romantic love.
Her situation is pitiful. She is unable to deal with the marital problems, the aging
process and her own identity as an individual. She lives for others; concerned always
about their condition. In the protracted absence of her husband, she seeks refuge in the
sympathetic arms of her daughter, Althea.
Rhone concedes that though the insecurity and hypochondria are negative, they
are very real. Martha to her detriment has followed the myth that finding a man is the
key to feminine happiness. In her case, happiness is lacking but it offers a semblance of
The implication of this negative portrayal by Rhone points to the alternative of the
woman living a more fulfilled life with a spirit of independence where she begins to
plan a life for herself.
Althea is a miniature of Martha. She has had her dream narrow down to a bitter
choice of living within the shell of a marriage or choosing personal liberation.
Rhone's characterisation of Althea shows the potential of the development of a
full treatment of the female but it too descends into the stereotypical portrayal of the
anxious, "nagging wife".
She is presented as the nagging wife, preoccupied with the need to acquire material
things as well as to receive the love and consideration of her partner. She craves the under-
standing of an insensitive, chauvinist husband, who belittles her requests and need for
personal development and attributes them to the erratic conduct of the female the
perceived notion of the fickle nature of the woman.
Marriage for her has become utilitarian, a dream shattered. She is engulfed by bitter-
ness and in that state articulates the meaning of the institution to her:
After all I didn't really expect any better... What
have I been hanging around for. . I've got what I
wanted to get from the blasted man.5
Martha and Althea are influenced by social considerations. They accept their
marriages based on an attitude that marriage relieves the fear of being alone for women.
In effect, then, their behaviour may be interpreted as a feminine" response to life -
a timidity which holds them back from full development.
The interjection of the two melodies at the end makes the situation a poignant one
and implies the need for all the women to assess their positions as they strive for personal
development and fulfilment. The women are not totally reconciled to their lifestyles
and their move towards self-definition.
Rhone's attitude to his women characters here is not clear and is marked by ambi-
valence. On the one hand, it seems as if he is merely perpetuating stereotypes in portray-
ing women like Martha and Althea and, on the other, he appears to be merely an objective
reporter. Though there are signs that Carol embodies qualities that he appears to approve
of, the distinction is still cloudy.
Strong Women The Evocation of the Female Experience
"Old Story Time" and "Two Can Play"
Here Rhone presents woman both as the catalyst of change and the maintenance of
the old order/stereotypes.
Rhone's portrayal here has tended to become richer. He shows strong women who
have finally made the jump in moving away from the restrictions of the old stereotypes
to redefining themselves and their roles. There is a juxtaposition of the modern generation
women intent on breaking the mould and those women who are sustainers of tradition.
He has attempted to capture, and successfully so, the reality and complexity of
the woman in the figures of Lois ("Old Story Time") and Gloria ("Two Can Play").
Both women have shown the capacity to move beyond the stereotyped images to present
themselves as females with the ability to change the shape of their lives and to integrate
private convictions and fulfilment with wider family concerns.
Old Story Time
The influence of class, colour and race on the woman's image, and her reaction to
others, are more pronounced. Within the exploration of woman's behaviour in the society,
Rhone presents a moral and deeply religious work which brings added meaning to the
female experience. The capacity of the woman to change her attitudes in respect of how
she sees others is celebrated in the moving ritual of love at the end of the work. The
climactic scene of repentance, forgiveness and love shows Miss Aggy as a woman liberated
from the consequences of her own hatred.
Rhone confronts the social reality of Jamaica and, indeed, the Caribbean. We are
made aware of the past and its meaning the past meant caste and colour discrimination,
humiliations based on race and class. We are made to recognize how contemporary life
is affected by the still pervasive negrophobia.
The play is set at a time when colour was critical to one's scale of values; when
colour discrimination was the norm and was accepted. Miss Aggy's conviction is that
"anything black nuh good" and is intense in the harsh code of ethics she fashions for her
son Len's advancement.
Her image of herself is rooted in ignorance and considerations of class, colour,
race. Because of her beliefs and prejudices she rejects the trappings of comfort offered
her by Len and holds firm to old customs and beliefs.
Miss Aggy is the embodiment of the stereotyped matriarch, the woman who is
strong enough and determined to sustain her family and herself through hard conditions.
She is a woman of courage, relentless in her efforts to assist the next generation, her son,
to rise above poverty through education.
She is associated with an earth figure, of dominant influence in the household.
The dominance of females in the household speaks to the absence of the father figure.
This absence says more about the strength of the woman. Some of that strength comes
from her religious beliefs.
Miss Aggy is a very religious folk woman. She is very christian but it is a strange
thing where it is a combination of beliefs. It is a dual belief in christianity and obeah.
However, the dominant characteristic of Miss Aggy is that of the maintenance of
the old order, shaped by her influences of prejudice of race, colour, class. Although one
of the strong personalities in the work, her sense of self is warped. She acquiesces to that
identity given by her colonial forbears black, uneducated, gullible woman instead of
finding it in relation to her race. colour.
Rhone's analysis of the destructive nature of the Jamaican class system, with its
connections to race, self-image and self-concept is revealed mainly through Miss Aggy's
character. He utilises the portrayal of women to articulate his indignation about a con-
dition that permeates the society. The tensions of the play come from her interaction
with the other characters. This portrayal is a permanent record of one aspect of the
struggle of the Jamaican woman.
Pearl is the embodiment of the woman as victim, the stereotype of the breeder.
Pearl, through the cycle of pregnancies, acquiesces to the maintenance of the old order
- the symbol of woman in her "role" as bearing children. She is the picture of misery,
the exploited woman, who does not have any sense of self.
The young girl, full of life and potential, becomes a victim who is condemned by fate
to remaining in the village. She enjoys a friendship with Len which is marred by Miss
Aggy's prejudice but also by her own inferiority complex. She is influenced by societal
attitudes with regards to how she sees Len, the young scholarship boy being able to
pursue higher education. She becomes a figure of pathos, a victim of societal pressures.
Pearl has to battle with poverty and cope with children on her own, a position
very recognisable in Jamaica. She is a person capable of play, growth but is burdened
by the exploitation of her sexuality. The abandonment of her life to premature respon-
sibility truncates growth. Her pregnancies confine her and represent so little of the full
humanity of her personality and identity. Pregnancy is negatively portrayed as a trap
for the young girl. She is representative of the portrait of the Caribbean woman, who,
steeped in poverty and affected by other social pressures, has her education interrupted
by pregnancy. It becomes a vicious cycle in which her preoccupation is survival through
association with male partners. This is myopic as the association only leads to other
pregnancies which still hamper growth. In this way she is denied the possibilities for
Lois' portrayal is a mixture of the stereotype of the black girl who is able to cross
the colour-barrier and gain employment in an exclusive institution and that of the modern
woman intent on breaking the traditional mould in which she has been placed. She is
strong, progressive and a much more aware woman. As a breaker of the mould, Lois is
not accepting the place given her by society. She is a catalyst for change and one in whom
psychological strength resides.
She is not inhibited by society's attitudes to male/female relationships in that she
made sacrifices and worked to assist her partner through school. Such an occurrence is
unfavourably associated with regards to the woman's role in a relationship. Importantly,
it is she who helps to give Len a sense of himself; he becomes more sure of himself, his
roots, as a result of his association with her.
Lois could be considered as Rhone's portrayal of the black Jamaican woman as
a positive icon one who is capable of giving even in a situation where she knows there
may be nothing but hate returned. She comes under the threat of obeah, risking danger
to her person, but she challenges this with the greater power of prayer. Her outstretched
hand is the redemptive climax of the play and possibly is a key to Rhone's insight into
the tensions and ironies of the Jamaican society.
She is not obsessed with finding solutions through the white male. Lois finds
solutions for herself and her husband through sacrificing at a different level. In an un-
shamed way, she confronts herself, her past and present in terms of finding direction for
It is to Rhone's credit that he portrays different facets of the woman's life. We get
a glimpse of Lois the supporter, the worker, the wife and the source of forgiveness and
love. However, this is combined with a negative aspect of her character the irritating
lady of leisure who craves her husband's attention.
Rhone's treatment of the three women, who range from those who are upholders
of tradition to the one who transcends the female traditions, is one of sensitivity. It
gives evidence of a playwright's capability to reveal the reality of the woman's experience.
Indeed, it shows, by a new kind of voice that the portrayal of the manysidedness of the
female is not inaccessible to men.
Two Can Play
A new reality of woman is being explored. Gloria is a woman to whom the build-
ing of self-confidence and the process of self-discovery are important. She moves from
the portrayal of the house-slave the submissive wife to a woman who is aware of self,
of the importance of self-realisation. Gloria is representative of the black woman who
combines family concerns with personal fulfilment and development. She too is in the
role of the nurturer, giving, sacrificing.
Rhone shows himself as a keen observer of pivotal issues of the society. The social
dynamics of a changing society are transmitted into Gloria's world and the redefinitions
taking place in the society are also found in those of the roles of men and women.
Women have found in the midst of the upheavals a new interpretation of their position
revealed in Gloria's character. Gloria's redefinition of her role in her marriage speaks of
her shattering of the stereotype to become a woman who is unequivocal in her new
She too sees migration as a partial salvation to the dilemmas of survival in her
country, but comes to realise that she first has to deal with self. Self-discovery and
realisation were of critical importance in the salvaging of her marriage. It is a liberating
process where she not only caters to Jim's needs but also begins to think of herself and
her desires. The outcome is a better understanding between the couple where sharing
Ironically, she is in the role of the protector, the person of courage. Rhone presents
this as courage born of a religious belief. Though she is strongly religious, it is not an
overt thing which prevails in religious garments, but she does believe ultimately in God.
In this guise she projects herself as a brave woman. Gloria's bravery in the face of violent
upheavals around her could be interpreted as part of the redefinition of her role. Bravery
was traditionally the province of men, but Jim fails to live up to it in the face of violence.
Rhone shows how the tensions around the couple, created by violence, bind them
together as they seek comfort from each other. Violence therefore is the catalyst for this
positive portrait of the Jamaican woman.
Migration becomes a catalyst for Gloria in that she realises that a woman can
receive respect from a man rather than be sexually exploited. She gains this recognition
from the Afro-American who refuses to sexually exploit her obvious vulnerability.
Gloria becomes more articulate about her sexual desires and need for fulfilment through
the process of self-discovery. She no longer accepts the position where there is no reci-
procal satisfaction in the sexual relationship of the marriage.
Rhone approaches the issues in marital relationship with sensitivity. Communica-
tion is pivotal to the changes that occur in the relationship and even as Gloria, with new
confidence, shares her concerns with Jim, the bond of love becomes visible.
Gloria then emerges as a strong, determined woman aware of her own potential
for independence economic independence through education. It is the evocation of
the female experience with fullness and authority.
Rhone injects familiar images into the character, whereby the story of love,estrange-
ment, domination and liberation shares a commonality among the Jamaican females.
The strains arising from a husband's self-absorbed incomprehension of a wife's discovery
of self-confidence are recognisable. The journey of self-discovery, building of a firm
image, precipitates a marital crisis which Rhone resolves with a celebration of the virtues
of shared love, understanding and communication. Rhone's recognition of the validity
of self-liberation by the woman as pivotal for facilitating growth in the marital relation-
ship is a refreshingly sensitive approach to the depiction of the female's experience,
particularly her love and sex life.
The plastic images of womanhood based on sexual and racial prejudices are laid
bare but are complemented by positive portraits of women whose experiences reveal
their complexity and the reality of their lives. A new voice emerges, shattering the stereo-
types and old confining images. The frankness with which Rhone presents the major
definitive aspects of women's lives infuses the dramatic works with an integrity of ex-
perience which is close to real human living. The honesty about the woman's vulner-
ability cuts across class stratifications.
Despite the recognition of a development in Rhone's treatment of women, the
portrayal continues to suggest that the relationship with a man is the most satisfying
realm within which the woman can exist. However, even in that exploration he is able
to clearly transmit the nuances of a woman's life image of sell, the mind versus a body
conflict as one gropes for youth, communication, sexuality. It is this that has enabled his
portrayals to become fuller.
Rhone's attitude towards the situation in which he places women is not clear.
He presents them as being submissive and grasping, and, even when he portrays women
of independence, in the end they continue to be dependent on men.
However, he has been able to utilise this medium of art to present aspects of the
reality of the female experience apparently hitherto inaccessible to men.
1. Rhone, Trevor, "Smile Orange" in Old Story Time and Other Plays (Harlow, Essex; Longman,
1981). Page 182.
2. Fanon, Frantz, Black Skin, White Masks (St. Albans, Herts; Granada Publishing Limited, 1970).
3. Owen, Grace, Interview with Trevor Rhone, September 3, 1985.
4. Fanon, Frantz, Black Skin, White Masks, Page 44.
5. Rhone, Trevor, Sleeper (Unpublished Manuscript).
WOMAN AT HOME AND ABROAD
Gingertown, a collection of McKay's short stories gives a wide angle focus of the Black
woman in Jamaica and America.' The maturing McKay has now abandoned his "polaris-
ed pair of heroes" in his earlier novel, Banjo, and replaced them with female protagonists
whose vividness and strength place their men on the periphery.
In "Brownskin Blues". McKay explores the agony of the beautiful Black cabaret
performer Bess who carries the "Cross of colour". (p. 30)2 McKay's celebrated poem
"The Harlem Dancer" introduces the story; the displaced "self" of the Dancer is recover-
ed by Bess, but only after degradation and suffering. Bess is attractive, vital and talented,
and the cabaret crowd adores her: "She had a deep contralto voice just right for easy-
singing cabaret tunes. [Bess] performed the 'Wicked Wiggle' . .A howl of applause
broke loose and coins were spun onto the paraquet round her feet." (pp. 4--5).
In spite of this popularity, the unattractive unpleasant Rascoe ditches her for a
"light-yellow" woman. Bess is immobilised by Rascoe's appearance at the cabaret with
the woman and she loses her job. She is unmoved by the dependable light-skinned Jack
Newell because she had been hurt by the "handsome yaller" she married when she was
fifteen: "For three years we was real happy together, when a high-yaller queen joined the
company . she couldn't sing or act . .just used to dress up ... he runned off with her
and left me flat" (Gingertown p. 11).
The experience has soured Bess for light-skinned men and had she chosen Rascoe
in the belief that "as he was Black and ugly the women would leave him 'lone and I
would have him by mahself." (p. 13) She confesses clearly that she hates her dark brown
skin. She hates her colour because she regards it as an obstacle to happiness. She refuses
to love Jack because she does not feel that he would forsake light-skinned women for her.
"All Black men's got yaller fever," (p. 12) declares Bess and she elaborates: "They have
yaller girls bleaching up and putting black gloves on to play the part of Black gals ... We
always got to make room for the yaller dolls. (Gingertown pp. 12-13).
Bess's complex enslaves her to the slothful Rascoe who has never worked. She
degrades herself by begging Rascoe to take her back. as she weeps and pleads he insults
her for her blackness: she is a "black hussy" and a "Dam' black sow" (pp. 16-17).
Rascoe's contempt drives her to facial disfigurement as she tries to lighten her skin with a
dangerous mixture of bleaching creams. She is indeed an emotional cripple: even after she
has ruined her career beacuse of Rascoe she is still hopeful that he will have a change of
Ironically, another black woman, Clara Washburn is capitalising on this desire to
look white. Her specialty is hair-straightening but although she sells bleaching creams, she
does not use them or recommend them to Bess. She tells Bess that her skin is "fine like
polished mahog'ny" and that she's "the handsomest chocolate in Harlem" (p. 21). She is
a sensible woman who advises Bess to forget "that good-for-nothing frog-faced nigger."
When Bess insists that she is deeply hurt about being called "a black sow" Clara says
practically: "clubs and stones them breaks our bones, but words will bear fohgettin' "
(p. 21). She has big plans for her future she has the formula for a special hair straight-
ener which she will patent to protect herself. When Bess asks her about skin bleaching she
is emphatic about not trying it. She is happy with herself and her plans which she her
plans which she herself will carry out her future is not dependent on any man.
The story has a happy ending Jack Newell finds the downtrodden Bess and asks
her to marry him. "You was bohn to be a housekeeping, home-loving gal," he tells Bess
(p. 30). Bess gets her man who will guide her back to self assurance. It is an unsatisfactory
ending not only because as James R. Giles writes, it is "trite and sentimental" but because
Bess still has not found her own way to self realization.3 Clara Washburn is ahead in her
self-assurance and self-reliance and McKay projects her as a strong and credible character.
However, McKay's ambivalence is clearly seen when he approvingly awards the conven-
tional Bess with her man.
In "Mattie and her Sweetman", Mattie, like Clara Washburn, must go it alone when
she decides that she will no longer compromise herself. In describing this "one strange
person" in the high-living group at Rosie's flat, McKay remarks "a quiet, dark determina-
tion" in her face (p. 56). Her "sweetman" is a "codfish-complesion strutter" Jay whose
mouth "wore a perpetual sneer" (p. 56). He treats Mattie with disdain although when she
has taken him in, he had been wearing rags. He remains with her only for what he can get
out of her but we feel little pity for Mattie because she is fully aware of the type of
character she has chosen.
McKay informs us, however, that "as docile as she seemed, she was well worn in
experience and carried a smoldering fire in her ugly mulatto child at birth "being one
Black woman who did not feel proud having a yellow picknaninny at any price" (p. 60)
and started a new life alone in the north. When Jay insults her by calling her "Black
woman", the entire froup is shocked. McKay explains that "there is no greater insult
among Aframericans than calling a Black person Black" (p. 63). Incredibly, Mattie swal-
lows her pride and asks Jay to accompany her home. In his drunkenness he dismisses her,
calling her a "no-' count black bitch" (p. 66).
Mattie is resolved to take no more her putting on the overcoat she had bought
for Jake is symbolic of her determination to protect herself without the presence of a
man. When Jake arrives "home" thinking "I'll have to warm up the ole black hen tonight"
he has a surprise in store. Mattie almost knocks him over with the bundle of rags he had
come to her wearing and shuts him out in the cold (p. 71). Although she has none of
Bess' beauty, she will not degrade herself as Bess did with Rascoe. Marita and Rosie
demonstrate feminine solidarity with Mattie. "resented with feminine feeling Jay's nas-
tiness to the older woman" (p. 61) and Rosie grins maliciously when Jay discovers that
Mattie has reclaimed the overcoat.
Mattie's decisive action is a triumph for the black woman. It is a triumph made even
more significant because Mattie is physically unattractive and unloved. Nevertheless there
is beauty in Mattie's labour: she works hard and well "and her patrons recommended her
to the friends" (p. 64). It is through her work that she gains independence and through
her experiences that she gains the resolve to remain independent.
It is clear that Mattie faces a lonely life, however, and here McKay again reveals his
ambivalence towards the independent black woman. Mattie's physical unattractiveness is
made so extreme in the passage where she throws out Jay that she seems more of a carica-
ture than a person: "Mattie raked up a window and craned out her giraffe neck. She had
on a white nighcap and looked like a scarifying ghost" (Gingertown p. 70). There seems
to be an unconscious parodying of the independent black woman as there was in his
depiction of the missionary Sister Geter in Banjo.
In "Truant", McKay examines the dilemma of the young black intellectual who,
try as he may, can barely make it with his family in the white world of America and is
filled with wanderlust. Barclay Oram meets the enchanting Rhoda at a college party. He
is attracted by her mouth: "Her mouth. It made me marry her. Her skin was brown and
beautiful. Like cat's fur soft to the fingers" (Gingertown p. 151).
A former teacher, Rhoda is an intelligent, fun-loving girl. She playfully calls Barclay
a "Bad boy" when he is suspended from work but becomes serious when she realises the
suspension is for ten days: "How could you, when there's Betsy and me to think of and
our social position?" (p. 150). Barclay is bitter about her preoccupation with "social
position." He fells trapped and Rhoda becomes "only another impasse into which he had
drifted" (p. 160). Barclay's fixation on her mouth plays up Rhoda's role as a predator
which has sucked him in: "The full form of it, its strength and beauty, its almost unbear-
able sweetness, magnetic drawing, sensuous, exquisite, a dark pagan piece of pleasure ...
How fascinated and enslaved he had been to what was now stale with chewing gum and
banal remarks on "social position" (p. 158).
McKay presents a strong case for Barclay's desertion but his action nevertheless
remains unjestified. Rhoda is described not only as a beautiful woman but a capable one
"who had been earning her own living as a teacher" (p. 165). Rhoda supports Barclay
during his college days "and the problem of money was lifted from his mind. Oh, he was
very happy then! Books and parties and Rhoda . ." (p. 156). It is when the shoe is on
the other that Barclay becomes bitter, far more bitter than Rhoda who takes in a boarder
to help pay the rent and does not over-react to his irresponsibility. When Barclay defaults,
it is Rhoda who, like millions of black women throughout the ages, is left literally holding
the baby, Barclay acknowledges his own irresponsibility and can only look forward to an
undetermined destination and a life of "eternal inquietude."
Unlike Rhoda, Tillie Worms in the "Prince of Porto Rico" is a frothy character. She
is "a pretty child, squat, plump, with the sweetest and softest maroon complexion" (p.
34). She does not work and her "short stout, thick and ebony" husband caters to her
every whim by working nights in a hotel. She has an affair with Hank but quickly trans-
fers her affection to the dashing "Prince": "The moment Tillie set her eyes on his locks,
curled and glossed, his almond complexion and large black eyes, she began dreaming of a
change" (p. 36).
Hank becomes "merely a repulsive black beast" for the frivolous Tillie. She, like
Bella, cannot resist the light-skinned man and his smooth Latin charm. When Hank tries
to win her back Tillie shuns him "as she would a great big black and slimmy snake (p.
40). The blase "Prince" is puzzled at Hank's jealousy and amused by Tillie's unfaithful-
ness to her own kind: "Oh, you don't know these heah common nigger men from the
South, ried Tillie energetically. They ain't proud and proper like you Cubans. They're just
ornery niggers our mens. Like rats in a canebrake" (pp. 41-42).
It is obvious that her husband Uriah is merely a convenience she offers the Prince
his expensive liquor and his pyjamas. At the ned of the story silly Tillie loses it all -
Uriah shoots the Prince and disappears into the night. However, McKay plays the role of
commentator rather than moralist in the telling of this tory and there is little doubt that
Tallie will find a dependable shoulder to cry on at Bella's flat. McKay presents Tillie as a
product of her place and time when shade consciousness gave privilege to the light-
coloured and made dark-skinned men spurn steady Black women in favour of frothy girls
In "Near-White", young Angie Dove "passes for white" and is deeply disappointed
when her white lover, unaware that she is black, informs her that he would "sooner love
a toad" (p. 102) than an octoroon. McKay encourages little sympathy for this character
who like the contemporary "Butterfly" dance craze, is "banal to the point of senseless-
ness (p. 72). Angie's mother is the character in whom McKay invests the greatest strength
and credibility. "What's the use of selling your birth-mark for a mess of pottage that
might turn bitter-gall in your month afterwards?" she demands of Angie (p. 94). She
point out that the light-coloured blacks suffer from a special type of prejudice because
the whites feel uncomfortable around them, not knowing how to place them. "We belong
to the coloured race." she asserts, ". . we will find more contentment being ourselves
than in trying to climb in among the lilly-whites who've done us all sorts of dirt" (p. 96).
Angie's dancing reflects the pulse of Africa; her persistent denial of her race affects her
movement which becomes "halting, wilting" (p. 100). Having learned the hard lesson of
prejudice she returns home, broken but hopefully more receptive to her mother's message.
Nation Roe in 'Highball" is typical of the successful black man who marries an in-
ferior white woman. He deserts his quiet, charming black wife for coarse low-living Myra.
McKay's description of the "coarse-fleshed woman" with "lumpy hair" contrasts her with
the Nation's black maid who is "young, soft-skinned and chestnut complexion (p. 103).
Rather than having the doors of the white world opened to him, Nation finds that Myra is
excluded from invitations unlike the first Mrs. Nation. In retrospect, Nation remembers
his timid, smiling wife, Ethel, who has given special treatment by his friends. When he
discovers that Myra mocks at his colour behind his black he thinks of Ethel and weeps
(p. 138). Myra and her friend, Dinah, are heavy drinkers, loud, common and cold:- they
are the reverse of McKay's warm, gracious ideal of the black woman. In creating hard
portraits of these two white women. McKay emphasises the blindness of the successful
black man of his time who could appreciate his own.
White women are the central characters in the two final short stories in Gingertown.
Both women are nameless and both are enchanted by a non-white male figure. "Nigger
Lover" is the story of a French prostitute who goes with black men only because she
cherishes the memory of the single man who has ever showed her kindness. He is a black
man who does not have the heart to wake her after she falls asleep, too exhausted to
make love. The idel white girl in "Little Sheik" is transported by the sights and sounds of
Morocco. She is too weak to cope with the adventure which she herself initiates and is
"happy to hear her mother tongue" (p. 272) when she flees to advances of a native stu-
dent. She had not taken the trouble to learn the rules of the country but can easily
"[jump] into her little coupe and quit that charming town" (p. 273). Her free, easy,
wealthy life is the direct opposite of the black woman's who must face her problems
squarely and eke out a living from meagre resources.
In the 'Agricultural Show," McKay's description of the preparations for the big
event in a Jamaican village reveals the class and shade consciousness which existed at the
turn of the century. Angelina Dove could have aspired to the top of the social ladder, had
she been in Jamaica and the coloured American wife of the Afro-Methodist Minister can
confidently take a seat on the platform with the governor without being rudely banned.
The "red-brown" Andry daughters resent the fact that their father, a "yellow native" of
property refuses to abandon the Negro dialect, thus frustrating their "social hankerings."
The Glengley girls are not excluded from the highest ranks because of race, but because
they were born out of wedlock. The "convenient" death of their mother gives them the
opportunity to pass their father off as a "widower" and "they hoped yet to conquer all."
Madam Daniel, the minister's wife, "was a hearty, beaming woman" who felt that
women should be on the committee which organised the agricultural show. Not being
included, she resolves to make the women's work outstanding in the show. Her energetic
involvement results in her having "if not the name. as she had wished, double the work of
a committee man" (p. 170). She fosters a sisterhood among the women, going out to her
way to visit the humblest homes. Madam Daniel creates a stir when she mounts the plat-
form and "was the only woman up there among the honoured men" (p. 187). The Misses
Glengley and Andry are surprised and envious that Madam Daniel is accorded this kind of
respect. Madam Daniel is a powerful example of the black woman who promotes the
"warm group feeling" which Ray talks about in Banjo. It is through her work that she
makes her importance felt and the place on the platform is justifiably hers.
Bennie's mother represents a quieter type of black woman who is nonetheless
strong and wise. When the boy reminds her of her meeting the governor she says calmly
"Yes, sonny, but it is nothing to lose your head about ... The Bible said, 'Ethiopia shall
stretch forth her hand to God' (p. 191). Mervyn Morris, in his Introduction to My
Green Hills of Jamaica comments that this statement gives equal comments that this
statement gives equal status to God and the Governor.4 This is not necessarily so -
perhaps another interpretation could be that the mother considers meeting the governor
unimportant compared with the prophesy that her race will have a direct link to God.
"Crazy Mary" is the story of a young Jamaican woman who works her way up from
the peasantry to become a sewing mistress and tragically goes mad when she loses her
opportunity to marry the school master. She leaves her village "in short frocks, with her
hair down" and returns from sewing school three years later "in long skirts, with her hair
up" (p. 192). Her ascendancy in society is expertly traced by McKay. First, her father
buys her a sophisticated sewing machine, then she opens her own little sewing school. She
is respected by the villagers: "Her girls called her Miss Mary, and a few superior folk ...
called her Miss Dean" (p. 193). She becomes the sewing mistress at the village school and
soon she is taking tea with the bachelor schoolmaster at the parsonage. It is a given that
the two will marry until the schoolmaster becomes entangled in an ugly scandal with a
When the schoolmaster hurriedly leaves the village, Mary has a nervous breakdown
and eventually goes mad. She falls off the social ladder and "went about with her hair
down like a girl" (p. 199) coming full circle to her pre-sewing school days. She is believed
to be a virgin and her frustrated sexuality and yearning for motherhood manifest them-
selves in the bouquets which she gathers daily: "there was always plenty of red-hibiscus,
poinsettias, dragon's-blood. And she had a strange way of holding the bouquet in her
arms as if she were nursing it" (p. 200). She begins to expose herself and answers anyone
who tries to address her "with a cracked little laugh." When the former school master
returns with his Panamian wife, Mary throws a bouquet at him and with a horrible laugh,
jumps to her death over a waterfall.
As McKay charts "the strange life" (p. 192) of Mary Dean he shows a deep under-
standing of the tenuous social mores which the aspiring young, black woman in turn-of-
the-century Jamaica, had to live by. Mary treads the tightrope, preserving her virginity,
going through every motion of respectability. When it snaps, so does her mind, the pres-
sure having been too great. The fate of the schoolmaster is a stark contrast: he shakes off
the disgrace, remarries and when he returns is "surrounded by an admiring group of old
friends and young admirers" (p. 201). McKay's sensitivity to the suffering of black
Jamaicans, even those who have achieved some status, is demonstrated in "When I Pound-
ed The Pavement." As a young constable, he is sympathetic to the black candidate for
the Legislative Chamber whom he must arrest for sleeping with the helper at her white
employer's house. He does not portray the girl as a loose woman, rather: "The girl saw
her employers . and with a frightened little cry she turned over on her belly, drew the
sheet over her, and covered herself entirely (p. 219). "She was a pretty honey-brown
country girl" recalls McKay who is so revolted by the case that "before I could make
another I managed to obtain my discharge" (p. 220).
The good-heartedness of the black woman triumphs over the narrow confines of
society and religion in "The Strange Burial of Sue." "Everybody in the village knew that
Sue was freeloving, "writes McKay ". . she was remarkably friendly with all the con-
firmed concubines and the few married women, and she was a picturesque church mem-
ber" (pp. 221-2). The peasant-folk equate kindness with goodness and Sue is therefore
regarded as a good woman. She is everyone's favourite nurse, boundless in energy and
generosity. When Sue marries the wealthy quadroon, Nat Turner, "her good-heartedness
was now strengthened by material power" (p. 226). There are echoes of McKay's mother's
kindness to the village girls who have babies out of wedlock: "many the poor village girls
who got from her the rags to wrap their little bastards in."
Sue's lovemaking is energising. The young Burskin "worked with a new zest" after
their encounter: there was "a different sounding to his walk ... [a] changed expression
of his features" (p. 231-2). Despite her affair with Burskin, she is able to inspire the total
fidelity of Nat Turner who welcomes Burskin like a brother into his house and indeed,
any other friend of Sue. Sue's vitality is graphycally presented in McKay's description of
her dancing: "She was a strong wild dancer, and she flashes some bold movements as they
jig-a-jigged around the stout bamboo pole in the centre of the barbeque" (p. 234).
The one person who disapproves of Sue is the parson who is an unscrupulous man
with a complex about his own illegitimate birth. He expells Sue from the church and the
faithful Nat Turner goes with her.
Sue's strength is shown in her resolve to rid herself of Burskin's unborn child: "She
rode the vicious kicking mule until he sweated white . she worked ... as never before
... As if she wanted to burn up all her splendid strength (p. 240).
She finally works herself to death, embracing her husband in her last moments
and dying with "a wry grin" (p. 242). Her death gives the villagers "the opportunity for a
great tribute to her popularity" (p. 242). She is a unifying force even in death. "The
crowd was so huge it would have overflowed the church and made a splendid parade"
(p. 243). When Nat Turner drives the offensive parson from his wife's graveside, members
of the community give testimony of Sue's goodness: "Mother Buckram stood forth to tell
. how Sue had nursed her ... Stinky-Sweety ... had a crying fit telling that it was Sue
who had regularly been helping . and now all the women, weeping and wailing, wanted
to pay tribute . ." (p. 245).
Sue's healing power permeates the crowd which had been frightened by the minis-
ter's condemnation: "the hell-fire panic loosed its grip on the crowd. And there was sing-
ing of soothing hymns, hopeful hymns, and mingling of farewell tears (Gingertown p. 246).
Even Burskin, the indirect cause of Sue's death receives Turner's compassion. The
"two flaming dragon-bloods" (p. 246) planted at the two ends of Sue's grave symbolise
her energetic, passionate life and enduring spirit.
McKay portrays in this short story the whole-hearted living of a black woman who
will not be confined by the narrow tents of religion and society which broke the fragile
Mary Dean. The virtues of kindness and goodness supersede all others and are the source
of the strength and dynamism of Sue Turner.
In Gingertown, McKay exposes the wide spectrum of the black woman's expe-
riences, emphasising her beauty, strength and influence and arousing the reader's empathy
for her struggle. The vividness and energy of Sue, Bess, Mattie and Madam Daniel totally
eclipse the coarse Myra, the "near-white" Angelina, the shadowy Glengleys and Andrys
and frivolous white "Miss".
1. Kenneth Ramchand, The West Indian Novel and its Background (London, 1970); p. 258.
2. Gingertown (New York, 1932); p. 30.
3. James R. Giles, Claude McKay (Boston 1976); p. 112.
4. Mcrvyn Morris, Introduction to My Green Hills of Jamaica (Kingston, Jamaica, 1979); p. xi.
Sheroes And Heroes
(Tribute To Winnie Mandela)
Every now and again
in the march of humankind
come some humanpersons
who cannot be confined
within physical bounds
whose internal power
defies the walls
of so-called normal
whose social consciousness
of social being
outside of material restrictions
outside of their own very bodies
outside of the accepted of their age
way outside of the ordinary
And rockets them
It is Not Good Enough
It is not good enough
about workers rights
freedom for South Africans
land for America's Indians
and then make
have to pull from you
as in the extraction
of a tooth
little bits and pieces
of the right
to step fully
into the long march
to liberation of people
It is not good enough
from the main question
when the sisters ask
what about us?
It is not good enough
yet more explanations
as to why the sisters
should be equal
It is not good enough
for the sisters
to have to prove
their 10-times more
10-times more committed
10-times more self-sacrificing
10-times more stronger
10-times more perfect
before they can earn
It is not good enough
to nag at some sisters
Are you a revolutionary
Are you a revolutionary
Are you a revolutionary
It is not good enough
when she answers
It is not good enough
when you think
your half can be healthy
when the other half
If you don't strain
the other half
to open the door
it pushes against
The Ones who keep the door
against both halves?
It is not good enough
when you don't know
where you stand.
Note: First published in a new volume, Before They Can Speak of Flowers,
(Karia Press, 1988).
Goodison, Lorna. I am Becoming my Mother, London: New Beacon. 1986.
In an interview reported in the Sunday Gleaner (Sept. 7, 1986), Lorna Goodison com-
ments that Creator is an appropriate name for God, and that ". . all of us who create
just get a little day's work with him. .". Goodison's "little day's work", like the widow's
oil or the loaves and fishes, yields a plentiful harvest. We give thanks.
The collection I Am Becoming My Mother, published by New Beacon (1986),
focuses on the Mother in the title the female element, so to speak. The collection is
dedicated to her son, Miles, but also
to the Big Women of Harvey River
Dorice, Ann, Rose, Barbara, Betty,
Joan and Anya and in memory of
Jo, Nanie and Joyce Bending.
Of the thirty poems in the collection, sixteen are concerned with women and women's
matters. Yet one would hardly classify the poems put together here as outbursts of a
woman's libber or feminist, certainly not in the sense in which these terms have come to
be used. There is no strident voice here shouting for women's rights. Goodison preaches/
teaches by example. She selects her subjects carefully and illuminates what others might
well pass over, of heroic behaviour by ordinary women, particularly black women. The
focus is on what women have done and not on what they have been prevented from
The selection begins with "My last poem" which may or may not be truly last
and so the poet wants to reserve the word "love" from it for use in her next poem in
these are false signals I'm receiving
and not a real unqualified ending ...
In placing "My last poem" first, however, the poet suggests that the order of appearance
in this volume is not important and so gives us licence to arrange the poems as we wish.
I am therefore free to begin this discussion at the end, with "Letters to the Egyptian",
a poem which is a kind of introit for six poems about heroic women.
On the surface "Letter to the Egyptian" might seem to be a private poem about
one woman's experience. It is about a journey taken in love, with hope. Eventually it is
the story of a journey by all women to all their men. It is a monologue spoken by a
woman journeying to a man and a relationship, and takes account of all the nervousness
and apprehension typical of such a trip. The lady takes appropriate steps to assure fair
weather and a fine landing. There are gifts for the beloved including "salve for easing
knots/in shoulders" (p. 50), "search-mi-heart leaves" with woman's tongue seeds sewn on
their underside (because the man once said he loved her chatter), and a special gift for
.. a brass horse
one hand high
you can ride across a table's distance...
The poem begins with a description of the woman's physical appearance so that
the man will recognize her at Alexandria the port of debarcation, despite any changes
time and the journey may have wrought upon her, and ends on a fine note of hope
". .. calm will be our mooring". If there is a pun on "Moor", this is the only indication
we are given of what the man looks like, though the selection of Alexandria as the end of
the journey already suggests Africa, North Africa.
The first of the six poems following "Letter to the Egyptian". to which I referred
earlier, is an old favourite, repeated from the earlier collection (Tamarind Season 1980),
and well-known and loved by Goodison audiences everywhere, "For my mother (may I
inherit half her strength)". There is no need to comment on that poem here. Mordecai
appreciates it exhaustively elsewhere (Jamaica Journal 45), concluding that it is an
"archetypal account of the married love of generations of West Indian women of the
'middle classes' (p. 36). The last is the title poem "I am becoming my mother". In this
poem there is a list of all the ways in which the younger woman is becoming the older
woman industrious, resourceful, and "yellow/brown". Significantly, the self-denial,
the love for, and commitment to, a not always deserving husband, which characterizes
the older woman's life, is missing, as if the post wants to suggest a kind of progress the
modern woman has made, allowing her to select, for inheriting, the worthwhile, and to
reject the less worthwhile, of her mother's strengths.
The four poems in between are about black women whose heroic acts have in one
way or another contributed to what may be regarded as the power of the black race in
places where that power has had to stand up against the pervasive power of whiteness.
All these women have become famous beyond the borders of their homelands.
"Nanny", the only female national hero of Jamaica, is shown (contrary to
what history might think) to have been chosen and sent to the Caribbean to be a leader
and to have been trained for the part. The creative artist is always allowed to tell more
than history can, because history is bound by such restrictions as the burden of proof.
In this poem the details of Nanny's training are given, and no one can question it.
"Bedspread", the next poem, is about the hand-woven coverlet Winnie Mandela
lies on in the afternoon and imagines that her husband may rest there with her. It is
taken in a police raid and Winnie comments:
They arrested the bedspread
They and their friends are working
to arrest the dreams in our heads. . (p. 43)
But this is not the final word. Like the poem before it, "Bedspread" ends on a note of
hope mocking the police action just as Nanny mocked her fate. Nanny's parting words
When your sorrow obscures the skies
other women like me will rise. (p. 45)
... and the women, accustomed to closing
the eyes of the dead
are weaving clothes still brighter
to drape us in glory in a Free
Azania. (p. 43)
"For Rosa Parks" celebrates the quiet resistance of the black American woman
who refused to obey "the command to rise" from a seat reserved for whites on a bus
in the southern USA. This, says Goodison, maiks the beginning of the "time of the
walking", the marching that was to characterize the struggle of black people in America
in the sixties against racial oppression in its many forms. In the poem these marches
become one with other well-known journeys: to the slave ships in Africa, in the cane-
fields of the New World, and somehow by a sleight of word, into Jerusalem, where the
person taking the journey is Jesus. There is the kind of linking here reminiscent of the
Journeys pulled together in Brathwaite's Trilogy.
"Guinea Woman", which is next, celebrates the physical beauty and poise of the
Guinea woman who was great grandmother, mother of the first mulatta in the family,
to be raised in "Bakra's household/and covered with his name". It comments on the
denial of her existence in the intimate motions of the life in a bakra household. The
Guinea woman's triumph lies in the fact that each succeeding generation is darker in
.. the high yellow brown
is darkening down.
it's great grandmother's turn. (p. 40)
The sentiment expressed here is echoed in another poem early in the book, "Mulatta
Song", in which Mulatta is informed that her day is done, that the music with which she
identified (presumably Bakra's music) is now obsolete:
Very well Mulatta,
This dance must end...
This session must done
Mulatta, mulatta, that's the
dance of the dead'. (p. 9)
The last line of the song, presumably of the archetypal mulatto woman, is another way
of articulating the last line of "Guinea Woman". Compare the two statements: "It's
great grandmother's turn" and "Now Mulatta it's time to leave".
The next concentration of poems is a series of short poems about plants personified
to women: "Shame Mi Lady" (which is the Mimosa Pudica so common on the Caribbean
terrain), "Broom Weed" "Pouis", and "Sunflower Possessed", presented under the
general title "Garden of Women Once Fallen". The plants become puppets with specific
female behaviours. The Shame-mi-lady
S.. folds her arms across her chest
. droops her head between her breasts. (p. 14)
The Broom Weed is exhausted, powerless to change its ". . life devoted to sweeping. .."
The Pouis is a tragic lady whose blooming is put on for the lover she meets in such an
intense connection that
for weeks her rose-gold dress
lies tangled round her feet ... (p. 15)
And the Sunflower boasts to her colleagues:
". . In my first bloom I was
the tender honey-skinned Mamma
of that golden one on high". . (p. 15)
These are ingenious bits of personification. It is the language used in some of these
short poems, however, that brings me to an aspect of Goodison's writing which is as signi-
ficant as her choice and treatment of subject.
Earlier critics have already commented on Goodison's exciting use of the two codes
in use in Jamaica, the Jamaican Creole and the Standard Jamaican English. Mordecai,
writing on the work of this poet (Jamaica Journal 45), does not resist the temptation
she identifies, to "dwell on considerations of language use" in Goodison's poetry and
comments at length on the effective use of "code sliding" and its significance as a part of
the "mix-up" that is the Jamaican culture. And Edward Baugh (JWIL Vol. 1) comments
on Goodison's skill of "sliding seamlessly between English and Creole, at interweaving
erudite literary allusion with the earthiness of traditional speech. .. "(1986:21). Baugh
illustrates this feat with the poem "Pouis" in which the first and last lines are Creole,
indicated by the use of a single item "don't" while the lines in between include colloquial
English and very formal Standard English.
What I find most exciting, however, in this use of language is illustrated best in the
first of these plant poems. It is what I call, for want of a better term, a "syntactic pun"
in which the Creole and English are not merely side by side but sit one on the other so
that the reader is allowed to use either code in the reading of the line. The key here is
intonation. Read the lines:
. if I can find favour (me with my bold face)
you bashful you shy you innocent lady
must/bound/to find absolution/grace (p. 14)
If the "you" in the second line is pronounced with a short "u" then the words following
it become verbal adjectives and the line contains three sentences describing the lady.
If it is pronounced with a long "u" then Standard English prevails, the words become
adjectives and the sense must wait on the next line. That next line admits both languages
giving the reader the choice between the Creole "must (and) bound" of emphatic obli-
gation and the English "must". Of course there are other more obvious puns in these
lines, lexical sleights of word where "bold face" for example can be one (Creole) term
or two (English) words, the one qualifying the other. There is also the pun on "favour"
as it relates to "face" in Creole and quite differently in English. Further examples of this
intense punning are found in "My Will" (p. 19) and in "Bend-Down Plaza" where the
working is especially fine.
Language use in the poetry of Lorna Goodison is the subject of another whole
paper. It is enough to say here that those features of language, already commented on
in the poems that were published in earlier collections, have been refined and extended
in this collection.
I Am Becoming My Mother illustrates the truth of Edward Baugh's statement that
Goodison is developing as a poet and is "widening and subtilising (of) her resources of
form and expression" as her voice becomes increasingly "the voice ofa people"(1986:21).
We give thanks and look forward to the next collection.
Faculty of Education
Graham, Dann, The Barbadian Male: Sexual Attitudes and Practice. Macmillan Caribbean,
Research on fertility generally has up to now focused on women. Some would say that
this is natural, because it is the female of the species that carries and gives birth to the
child. They would thus argue that encouraging, even forcing, women to limit their number
of pregnancies is the surest way of controlling population growth. Increasingly, however,
this approach is being perceived as one-sided, to say the least, or even as yet another
example of the kind of male chauvinism which identifies women as the main source of
man's problems. Not only does it take the joint endeavour of male and female to pro-
create, but, as population control studies have found in male-dominant cultures, women
are influenced by their men in determining whether or not to use contraceptives, whether
or not to have more children, regardless of the health risks, and whether or not to use this
or that contraceptive. Consequently, recent research has begun to turn more systemati-
cally to studying male attitudes towards sex and contraceptives.
The study by Graham Dann represents a welcome addition to an incipient body of
literature on male sexuality and fertility pattern in the Caribbean. Commissioned by
the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) and funded by the United States
Agency for International Development (USAID), Dr Dann's study comprised a national
random sample of 185 Barbadian males between 18 and 40 years old. To each of these
an extensive questionnaire was administered, covering details about their family back-
ground, history of fertility, marital relationships and paternity, not to mention their
knowledge of and attitude towards family planning.
As many of the questions asked were open-ended, the respondents were able to
give very expansive answers, which were tape-recorded. The study is therefore rich in the
actual words and language of the Barbadian men a richness that, at times, approaches
The main strength of The Barbadian Male lies in its discussion of the socialisation
process. The author tries to reconstruct all the main socialising factors responsible for
shaping the attitudes of the Barbadian male. These include the marital and household
status of parents, father's drinking habits, religion, education, the peer group.
Dr Dann presents a wealth of statistics that strengthen already existing sociological
knowledge as well as add to it. It may not be surprising to find that "friends, peers
and partners" together represent the single most important source of sexual knowledge
and knowledge of family planning, or that men found nothing morally wrong with pre-
marital sex, or that household division of labour according to Barbadian men places
women inside the house and men outside. However, it will come as a surprise to many
that 116 of the respondents currently had only one relationship, and only 18 had more
than one, a fact which, comments the author,"portrays a far different picture from the
stereotype of 'wandering stud'. Another surprise is that the majority of Barbadian males
had their first sexual experience as late as between 15 and 17 years old. As a matter of
fact, 23.3% postponed this activity until they were between 18 and 25 years old. Only
26.4% had their first sexual intercourse by age 14.
Perhaps the most thought-provoking aspect of The Barbadian Male is the author's
correlation of variables. According to Dr Dann, respondents whose fathers had outside
relationships were more likely to follow this pattern than those with single-partner
fathers (p. 18). Those with a drinking habit saw nothing wrong with premarital sex an
association, says the author, which "establishes premarital sex within the macho attitu-
dinal parameter of drinking behaviour". Those with liberal views on abortion also had
liberal views on homosexuality, premarital and extramarital sex, sterilisation and sexual
licence for females.
Turning to knowledge and use of contraceptives, the author found that while 95%
of his sample knew of the condom, only 56% ever used it. He found great opposition to
it, based on a range of excuses which included unreliability, unnaturalness and inappro-
priateness. Surprisingly, there were many myths about family planning and sexual be-
haviour, such as the belief that sexual activity and conception is a chance matter like
Russian roulette, or that birth control is a danger to health, or that self-control is
Perhaps because the study is intended to guide family planning policy in Barbados,
the author frequently intrudes with a strong moralism which may alienate some readers.
Many may want to challenge value-judgments such as:
"We have noted the inadequacy of the home, church and school, as agents of
socialisation" (p. 30);
"The rack railway . of the half-educated being unable to socialise their off-
spring ... (p. 30);
"For ultimately it is the inadequately socialised Barbadian male, raised without
the benefit of a father figure ... (p. 171).
Social science may not be value-free, nor may the social scientist; but underlying
and clain of inadequacy is an assumption of what is adequate. And that is where some
readers may well face a stumbling block.
This weakness, however, is of minor significance, compared to the valuable con-
tribution which Dr Graham Dann has made. The book will be of use not only to policy-
makers in the area of population control, but also to Women's Studies.
Kenneth J. Grieb (ed.) Research guide to Central America and the Caribbean. The Univer-
sity of Wisconsin Press, 1985, p. xv, 431.
Many works with 'Caribbean' in the title and even some with 'Latin America and the
Caribbean' contain relatively little information on countries of the English-speaking
Caribbean. This guide does not make that mistake. The distinction between the 'Carib-
bean', the 'English-speaking Caribbean' and 'Central America' is clear. This is a plus at a
time when regionalism is high on the political agenda and linkages between countries of
the Archipelago are in place.
The preface tells us that the volume is a collaborative effort by scholars from the
United States, Central America, the Caribbean, Canada and Europe. They not only iden-
tify resources but indicate future directions for research.
Most of the authors are historians but representatives of other disciplines in the
social sciences and humanities including archivists and librarians are involved. In addition,
each contributor has personal experience in the archives he is describing, as well as fami-
liarity with existing scholarship concerning the region.
Entries are arranged under the three regions earlier identified and further sub-divi-
ded with each under Topical essays and Descriptions of Archives and Resources Depo-
sitories. The essays are either heavily footnoted or have readings/bibliographies appended.
Topics, such as, The Emancipation Era 1820--1870; The West Indies Federation; Class,
race and religion in Caribbean Research; Rural land use in the Caribbean; Haitian revolu-
tion; Migrant groups in the Caribbean, show the authors' knowledge of the issues which
constitute the socio-economic fabric of the region and so support their credibility.
Inclusion of regional collections in national and other important libraries such as
The Library of Congress, The Latin American Library of Tulane University, Yale Univer-
sity libraries and The University of Florida libraries, indicate the deep and continuing
interest in the region by researchers the world over; while descriptions of Archives in indi-
vidual Caribbean countries, Martinique and Guadeloupe, the Dominican Republic, Den-
mark and Sweden, Maritime Provinces of Canada and Great Britain recognize the histori-
cal evolution of the countries of the region and the colonial status to which they were
initially subject. Also included in most archive descriptions are location of the archives
and hours of opening. This information is helpful to visiting researchers in planning their
The volume is very readable, and attractively produced. Concluding appendices
give names and addressed of contributors for further reference and there is a comprehen-
Institute of Social and
Derek Bishton, Black Heart Man: A Journey into Rasta Chatto and Windus Limited,
There is, now, a substantial amount of literature available on Rastafari and the list of
those who seek to extend current perceptions of us is, thankfully, growing. Derek Bish-
ton's Black Heart Man is to be added to that list. The work is appropriately subtitled
"A Journey into Rasta', for it is as much a record of a physical journey to seek out and
come to an understanding of Rastafari as it is a record of Bishton's journey into himself.
This approach gains some significance when it is understood that Rastafari accept and
teach that it is only possible to know Rastafari by journeying into the self. The author
uses this approach to produce a book which is of Rastafari in its execution, perspective
Brishton is brought to his journey by a growing awareness of his own paradoxical
view of Rastafari; "How could I . acknowledge the greatness of a singer like Bob
Marley . and then dismiss as absurd the very beliefs which had nurtured that greatness?
(p. 5). He sets out to find for himself, not so much answers, but "a new set of questions".
His journey takes him to Ethiopia and to Shashamene, the land gifted to western blacks
by His Imperial Majesty, Haile Selassie I. What he finds is a hard and difficult life: lack
of amenities, in-fighting and the loss of a significant portion of the land to the Revolu-
tionary Government. Bishton takes us through it all only to conclude that Shashamene,
despite all its difficulties, represents a form of freedom, which to fully understand, neces-
sitated a visit to Jamaica.
Bishton approaches Jamaica through her history. He reviews the period of slavery
trying to assimilate what it must have meant for Africans: an old woman's stare and her
labelling of him as "Backra Man" opens the door for him to understand what slavery
must have meant for the perpetrators. This is a startling revelation. For, at this point,
Bishton has done his research and is possesed of an understanding of slavery (intellec-
tually, of course, for that is the European way) and its implications for the several nations
that are concerned. The realization that he himself is connected to slavery by history, an-
cestry and the memories of the descendants of slaves takes him (and the reader) through
to another level of understanding: that the term "Backra Man" expresses "not simply
power . [but] the pornography of power". The concept is an important one and easily
encapsulates the several manifestations of slavery and its historical off-shoots in Jamaica
today: the Backra Man has evolved into the "Big Man", the slave drivers of yesteryear are
the political mercenaries and the runaways, insurrectionists and Maroons are the rebels
such as Rastafari.
The book is interesting because Bishton reinterprets history for himself and his
readers as he journeys. He covers aspects of Ethiopia's history, religion and cultural
practices, slavery, emancipation. He also covers the creation of Sierra Leone and Liberia,
the evolution of African nationalist thought and the development of the Back-to-Africa
sentiment. In truth, neither the facts nor the interpretations are new, black scholars have
been exposing our black tracks through white history with increasing frequency since the
upsurge of black consciousness in the 1960s. What is new is that they are here presented
to cohere with the history of Rastafari.
Bishton argues that the struggle for freedom in Jamaica led ultimately to Rastafari
by way of the Maroons, Tacky, Sam Sharpe, Paul Bogle, Bedward and Marcus Garvey.
His position is that there is a definite continuity in the various attempts of Africans to
write their own histories in Jamaica and Rastafari is only an outgrowth of the process.
Few have understood this about the movement. Because Rastafari places its emphasis on
Marcus Garvey and Haile Selassie I both of whom, it is said, denied any connections to
the movement the prevailing assumptions concerning us have been that Rastafari is
the growth of the perversions of Garvey's teaching and a misinterpretation of the Bible -
hence the perception of Rastafari as an illogical, escapist movement without any root in
this, our surrogate motherland.
While Bishton does not at any point itemize or analyse Rastafari beliefs per se,
there are still points that Rastafari may take issue with. The term 'Rasta' is used through-
out the work. 'Rasta', an informal shortening of Rastafari is not acceptable to all Rasta-
farians, it has a somewhat pejorative nuance. Within the movement, individuals will
accept a shortening of the term used in reference to an individual or the movement itself,
but when used by outsiders the term is always suspect. Additionally, Bishton does not
'ovar' His Imperial Majesty, and to his credit, he does not try. He makes presentations of
his research in an honest manner, perhaps he overstates the Jewish perspective of Ethiopia
and the Kebra Nagast. No matter since the divinity of His Imperial Majesty has always
been the line of demarcation between one who is only sympathetic to Rastafari and one
who is Rastafari. Bishton is not able to deal with the issue and even less willing to expose
himself here, so he contents himself with summarizing his various readings. An interesting
approach, but one that keeps him in the category of seeker when examined by Rastafari.
Black Heart Man is primed for success. Mention (with the appropriate homage) is
made of all the 'right' persons Rex Nettleford, Mikey Smith, Mutabaruka and Jah
Bones. However, respect is due, as they say. Overall, the work is a useful one, for Bishton
has placed together in one book all the historical elements that have contributed to the
evolution of the Rastafari movement. From the seekers there have always been a request
for a book that could at least serve as a starting place. For these and for the merely
curious, Black Heart Man is as good a place as any. Beautifully illustrated with black and
white photographs, drawings and reproductions of the various maps and pamphlets, the
book could well become an introductory text in a properly designed African world
studies programme with Rastafari holding its rightful place. Would that that could be.