gall and gumption

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Another Planet Heard From

Over the course of the past year or so Jamaica has experienced a series of abductions and murders of children -- horrible, horrible crimes.

I'm sure you are aware that Jamaica is one of the most violent places in the world that isn't actually a war zone. People who live there have had to get used to living with this danger, and, you know, they manage; as life has gotten harder they just adapt as they need to.

So when I consider what Jamaicans have already lived through, I am especially struck by their reactions to these murders of children. Horror and outrage and an almost superstitious fear. The government has responded by hurriedly drafting legislation modeled after the child sexual abuse laws in the United States, and the speed of the response indicates something of the strength of feelings involved, I think.

And of course, at any time of crisis, the Church must weigh in.

Bishop Joseph Ade-Gold and Pastor Oswell Robert Raymond told The Gleaner that many sex crimes were linked to occultism.

Both clerics claim that the practices of cultic worshippers have motivated some Jamaicans to conduct morally reprehensible acts. They also said that the Church should partner with the police in spearheading a united front to offer clear guidance, particularly to impressionable youths.

"The types of crime we are seeing, with the mutilation of bodies, are signs of the cults. We know that this is a country that practises a lot of obeah, and because of that, there is no doubt, in my mind, that this is what causes this kind of behaviour."

Raymond also said cultism was shredding the moral fabric of Jamaican society.

"It is anti-Christianity. It has to do with a lot of things. For instance, that Emancipation Park statue is in no way a legacy for any prime minister or leader to have left behind. It causes all kinds of promiscuity.

"It is pornographic in itself and is raping the minds of young children. All these things are linked."

He dismissed social conditions in Jamaica as a factor fuelling sexual crimes.

Statues? Statues?

So I looked up the statue that has so exercised the mind of Rev. Raymond, and well, to see was to understand. Tell me if you think I'm right (Caution: The Male Figure Has a Rather Large Package).

Evidently, Rev. Raymond sees in this tragedy an opportunity to push a totally irrelevant point that belongs to his own agenda, and he can't pass it up.

It's interesting, though, that he blames obeah. It illustrates a point that I've been writing about elsewhere; that these old beliefs and habits of expectation about how you can know and what you can know, about how the world works, which include but are not confined only to obeah, are still very influential in Caribbean life. I mean, if you need obeah work done you can order it right off the Internet. One reason why these habits, beliefs, and practices endure is because there is a sort of revolving door between the remnants of the old African beliefs and what people at home call "wash-foot" churches. But it's also a revolving door with medicine as well, and with the courts. People will back up their medical treatments with bush doctoring and obeah, and they will go and get obeah work for their court cases. It's all rather pragmatic, cover all your bases and just go with whichever one works. Belief and skepticism are about equally divided among all the options. You can carry the same set of expectations from one to the other.

Obeah and the remnants of the slaves' Shango religion have existed in the English-speaking Caribbean for hundreds of years and have never involved human sacrifice or blood-drinking or Satan-worship or any such nonsense, and everybody knows this. There is no historical evidence, and there is as yet no evidence in any of these terrible crimes.

So why is this man pushing this lie? Might as well ask why the ancient Christians kept calling the old Pagan deities devils.

The Reverend dismisses any other inquiry into causes, but he doesn't have the facts on his side. A quick search in the paper turns up perhaps another line of inquiry. More recently, the same day in fact, that the Reverend made his comments, was this story about two convictions for human trafficking, in Caribbean Net News. Moreover, it appears that the background to this case is that the government has been working on trafficking, which, it is not too hard to see, is driven by the same sorts of problems that contribute to the overall violence. In a culture where so many people do not learn to place a value on the lives of their fellow humans, violence comes easily and, in conditions of extreme economic hardship and lack of opportunity, exploitation too.

Not everything in our historical legacy is lovely to look at, and one of the enduring uglinesses of Caribbean society is the cynically exploitative nature of relations between men and women. It's hardly a secret: calypsonians (male and female) have been singing about it as far back as you care to go, and it is a recurring theme in the region's emerging indigenous theater.

But at least the singing and the plays keep this aspect of life there in the front of people's minds, just as it is impossible not to notice that prostitution is an adjunct of the tourism industry. I was in Antigua several years ago and was accosted by an aspiring professional loverboy who could have been as young as 14, but could not have been more than 16. And then there is a whole layer of salesmen and middlemen who, acting as free agents, connect the customers to the goods. I would not be surprised to learn that the sex industry in Jamaica has expanded hugely over the last 20 years or so.

What is of concern is what is not sung about: the fact that there is a certain "flexibility" in some quarters about what constitutes "legal" age. On one small island I know of, men--grown men, married men--brazenly cruise the gates of the high school at the end of the school day. The rewards for participation, for the girls, were gadgets like cell phones and clothes.

To me it seems simple: by turning a blind eye to exploitation in one area, you encourage it to develop in other areas.

It's possible at this point that one freak or group of freaks are responsible for the killings of children. In the meantime, if the Rev. believes it's some sort of supernatural Satanic evil at work in these crimes, why does he want to get mixed up with the very nonspiritual investigative methods of the police? Doesn't he have faith? Why doesn't he go off somewhere and pray about it?


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