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Did you know “Maas Ran” was a Garveyite?

Randolph “Maas Ran” Williams (October 26, 1912 – August 11, 1980) was one of Jamaica’s most prominent and talented performing artistes. Born in Panama, he later relocated to Jamaica with his mother. He was said to have always had a passion for acting and so he began doing so at a very early age. In the early days, he used to recite poetry at church, Lodge Halls and school. However, he did not attain professional status until 1930, when he was around 18 years old. His break came when he was invited by Marcus Garvey to become a member of the vaudeville group at Edelweiss Park that he achieved professional status. Vaudeville refers to stage entertainment consisting of various acts such as performing animals, comedians, or singers.

Through the Universal Negro Improvement Association – African Communities League (UNIA-ACL) Garvey encouraged black people to express themselves through the Arts. This was at a time when the Arts was “dominated by expatriates”, according to Prof. Rupert Lewis in his book, Marcus Garvey, Anti-Colonial Champion. Garvey even went further by providing the space for this expression through the establishment of Edelweiss Park in 1927 which operated as a political and cultural centre for black Jamaicans. It was the site for musical  and sporting programmes, concerts, lectures, recitations, elocution and drama contests, and historical pageants.

Ranny Williams was responsible for organizing entertainment for the thousands of people who attended meetings at Edelweiss Park. In fact, several productions at the Park have been listed as having been originated by Ranny Williams, including musical comedies such as “Blacks Gone Wild” and “She’s a Sheba“. He is also credited for a number of the farces and monologues he performed. Maas Ran also composed and sang several songs including one entitled, “The Dog-flea Song”. He was also a dancer, in fact, that is how he started out at Edelweiss Park, as a back line dancer. He explained his reason for transitioning from dancing to acting as follows:

I was first a hoofer [back line dancer]. Soon I was a frontliner and then                    a feature dancer with partners in front of the frontline. A large UNIA                          conference was being held and Mr. Garvey gave me permission to sit in on                  sessions. My observations later formed the basis of successful monologues                  I performed imitating some of the more eccentric and popular delegates”.

Ranny Williams is easily the most popular and outstanding figure the the history of Jamaican theatre scene to have come out of the Garvey movement.

Cut eye and Kiss teet: Jamaican Expressions and their African Connection

The Jamaican culture is characterized by influences from the various ethnic groups that settled on the island. However, the African retentions seem to be most common, we presume because of the large number of enslaved Africans that were brought to Jamaica during the time of slavery and afterwards. As a result, numerous researches have been done on African retentions in the Jamaican culture, including language, food, music and dance. There are, however, other aspects of the culture that need to be explored more deeply. One such area is the non-verbal communication system.

The non-verbal communication system in Jamaica has proven to be a very important part of the country’s language structure. This system is made up of mainly gestures, posture and body movements; expressions through which Jamaicans sometime prefer to express themselves. This is probably owing to the fact that non-verbal communication seems to convey the intended message more effectively than verbal communication.

Now, let us focus on the practices of “cut (y)eye” and “kiss teet”. They are two of the most common non-verbal expressions in Jamaica, and are used generally to convey feelings of displeasure or annoyance. The online West Indian Words Dictionary defines “cut-(y)eye” as an insulting gesture where one person catches the eyes or gaze of another then turns their eyes or gaze away in an exaggerated motion. “Kiss-teet” refers to a sucking noise made with the tongue pressed against the teeth. These gestures are not exclusive to Jamaica, as they are observed in several other Caribbean territories such as Belize, Bahamas, Grenada, Guyana, Dominica, where it is called steups, and Trinidad, where it is called cheups. It is this commonality in the practice of these gestures amongst the various territories in the region that has generated an interest in their origins by the writer.

Researchers have found that the practices of “cut-(y)eye” and “kiss-teet” are mainly, if not only, evident among persons of African descent, not only in the Caribbean but also in North America. This led researchers to believe that these gestures were derived from Africa. So, studies were conducted on various African peoples in their native environments. The findings revealed that “cut-(y)eye” and “kiss-teet” are examples of facial gesture Africanisms. Similar gestures were found in several areas of West and East Africa, and similar terms found in the languages of these areas, such as Swahili, Yoruba, Igbo, Mende and Luo. Therefore, researchers deduced that the practice of “cut-(y)eye” and “kiss-teet” in Jamaica are African survivals.

Here again is another link to our African heritage, found in something we normally wouldnot have given much thought to. This provides further evidence of the significance of the impact of the African legacy on Jamaican culture.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Glance at Twelve Years A Slave

Many of you may have watched the movie which was released in 2013, after all, it was a huge box office success. It won three Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actress for Lupita Nyong’o, among other awards.

Twelve Years a Slave, the movie, is an adaptation of the 1853 slave narrative memoir of Solomon Northup. Northup was a free black man having been born to an emancipated slave. However, his life changed dramatically when he was conned, kidnapped and sold into slavery. He was uprooted from New York and taken all the way to Louisiana where he spent 12 years as a slave to various owners. It was when his friends from the north learnt of his location that they were able to secure his freedom.

Though for many, the movie is a very good portrayal of the book, the latter is, by far, much more intriguing than the movie as it gives a deeper insight into the disreputable institution of slavery during the 19th century.  Whilst the producers attempted to give an accurate portrayal of the book, many facts were omitted or distorted as is customary when a film is adapted from a book. For example,  much of  Northup’s inner dialogue was left out of the movie, therefore the actor was limited in ways to manifest his emotions. In addition, the reader gets a better understanding of Northup’s plight through his inner thoughts. This makes the book much more dramatic and captivating than the movie. One glaring omission in the movie is Henry B. Northup’s involvement in Solomon’s return to freedom. Henry Northup was informed by Samuel Bass, a Canadian abolitionist working on the same plantation as Solomon, about the latter’s situation. Subsequent to this, Henry Northup, along with a few of Solomon’s friends, worked tirelessly over several months to have Solomon freed. Omissions of this kind render the film fragmentary.

The significance of this book is that the reader gets a true picture of the “Old South” and there continued enslavement of Black people long after slavery was abolished. You also get a “close-up” of the brutality of slavery, all from the perspective of the enslaved.

In order to get a complete picture of what Solomon Northup experienced in Louisiana, then read the book, Twelve Years a Slave: Narrative of Solomon Northup, A Citizen of New-York, Kidnapped in Washington City in 1841 and Rescued in 1853, From a Cotton Plantation Near The Red River in Louisiana. Several other narratives have been written by former slaves, however, this one is arguably the most riveting of them all. A first edition copy is housed in the Garvey Research/Reference Library as part of our extensive Slavery collection. A similar book of interest in the collection is, The Autobiography of a Runaway Slave by Esteban Montejo. This book gives a vivid account of Montejo’s life on the sugar plantations of Cuba as an outdoor slave and his subsequent escape.       

 

 

From the Library

Did you know that the earliest recorded library in the world was the Royal Library of Alexandria which was built in approximately 300 BC in Alexandria, Egypt. However, it was reportedly destroyed by fire accidentally by Julius Caesar during the Alexandrian War. Nevertheless, the practice of organizing written knowledge and keeping them as  private collections in physical spaces was predominant among West Africans. Later, when the Moors captured some southern European territories, such as Italy, many libraries were established  by the wealthy. During the reign of Al-Hakam II from 961 AD, much emphasis was placed on books because the ruler was passionate about them. According to Robin Walker, in his book, When We Ruled: The Ancient and Medieval History of Black Civilisations,  the Crown Prince invested a lot in books and often sent agents across the Islamic world to procure books. In addition, thousands of books were being produced in the territory each year. Private collections had holdings of between 10,000 to 50,000 books.

The poorer Africans, despite many of them not being able to have a private library, also had a love of books. Consequently, some learned to read would usually read from their masters’ collection. Walker states that “servants or ladies of the harem were of a higher price if they were well-read.” Therefore, it can be seen from those early days that value was placed on being literate/educated.

Marcus Garvey often encouraged persons to read and educate themselves as he recognized from early, the value of education. He believed that it was principally through education that the Black race could be self-reliant and achieve prosperity. So, in keeping with Garvey’s philosophy, the Garvey Research/Reference Library, located at Liberty Hall houses books that will empower persons of African descent and motivate them to create social and economic wealth. The Library’s collection is not limited to material on Marcus Garvey. It also includes scholarly works on Pan-Africanism/ Pan-Africanists, Slavery and Caribbean related topics such as Rastafari.

The book mentioned in this blog is available at the Garvey Research/Reference Library among many others that will demystify many of the myths and notions perpetuated by persons not in the know.

In the featured image is Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation and Chairman of the Pan-Afrikan Centre  of Namibia (PACON), Ms. Maureen Hinda and a member of her entourage perusing the Garvey Research/Reference Library Collection during their visit to Liberty Hall on July 29, 2015.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Liberty Hall: Staying relevant.

In our efforts to remain relevant and to expand our reach, Liberty Hall has joined the masses and created this blog as an additional medium through which we can enlighten the public about Garvey, his life, his work and his impact. This, our latest social media venture, joins our Twitter, Facebook and Instagram pages as our links to those who cannot always find the time to come to Liberty Hall.

We hope to engage you in stimulating discussion about issues that affect Black people. We also intend to highlight positive things done by Black people so as to awaken and rekindle racial pride among ourselves. So, look out for our postings and follow us on our other social media platforms.