Norman and Busta; Edna and Gladys
Published: Sunday | October 17, 2010 



This is an extract from 'Jamaica Fi Real: Beauty, Vibes and Culture' by Kevin O'Brien Chang. Published by Ian Randle Publishers, available at the end of this month.


Though they had a common grandmother, Alexander Bustamante and Norman Manley were very different. Bustamante was a rough and ready man of the people with little formal education, and made no major mark on the world until he had passed 50. For Manley, achievement of excellence was the norm. He was an outstanding high-school athlete, Rhodes scholar, decorated First World War-military hero, prize man of Gray's Inn, acknowledged as the Caribbean's finest legal mind and the first Jamaican to appear before the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.

The two also had very different personalities. Bustamante was a charming and affable extrovert. The London Times had this to say in the 1950s:

"Mr Bustamante is as remarkable as the circumstances in which he came to prominence. Uneducated in the strict scholastic sense of the word, he makes up for this deficiency with an apparently limitless store of common sense, shrewd intelligence, and an uncanny way of making friends and influencing people ... . He has a sharp wit, an amazing memory, a daring imagination and tremendous physical capacity.To the last British Governor General Sir Kenneth Blackburne, he was 'the most generous and honest of men'.

One observer reported: "Alexander Bustamante had what could be described as an obsessive loyalty to his relatives, particularly to his cousin, Norman Manley, for whom he had a special 'soft spot' and for whom he repeatedly expressed love and admiration.' On one occasion he declared, "I love my cousin. Norman is weak as shredded oats; he may even be a sneak - willing to wound but afraid to strike. But he is so innocent he could be a saint, and if he were to die now he would go straight to heaven". Bustamante was also fond of Michael Manley, reportedly comparing Michael to himself and Michael's brother Douglas to Norman. "Michael takes after me ... Douglas is like Norman."

Manley tended to be reserved and formal, and did not suffer fools gladly. Theodore Sealy described him as 'Gamin and genius, shy yet arrogant, coldly analytical yet given to much emotion'. In his own self-analysis he said "

I suffered from a quick-flaring temper which it took me half a lifetime to control. Indeed, I doubt if I ever learnt. Constant, inhibiting violent efforts at control gradually wore it down till it seemed to disappear, with its place being taken by a sort of arrogant indifference, which was eventually mistaken for the real me."

Early years

He was born to a black father and white mother, and his early years were filled with 'stress and gore'.

"I grew up as a bushman. I earned my pocket money cleaning pastures and chipping logwood. I would go out in the morning ... and get home late at night after 12 to 14 hours on the constant move. The result was that I was tough as hell and developed a stamina I have never seen surpassed ... till I was 70 I did not regard a 15-hour day of concentrated work as excessive. "

He lost his father when very young, his mother in high school, and his brother in the trenches of the First World War, where he, himself, won a Military Medal for bravery. Some claim the colour prejudice Manley encountered in the army made him anti-British, but his unfinished autobiography contradicts this.

He was incomparably the greatest lawyer in Jamaican history. A visiting colonial authority concluded, 'Whenever a man in this country gets into trouble, he first flies to Mr Manley, and if Mr Manley is already retained, he next flies to Cuba'. Hotheads often threatened 'I will kill you and get Missah Manley to get me off!' A great lover of the classics, he was for a time The Gleaner's music critic.

On his death Theodore Sealy wrote:

Norman Manley ... had the mind and measure of the truly great anywhere ... his faults lay mainly in his virtues - his righteous sense of consistency; an almost fanatical loyalty to those who marched the rugged course of life beside him; a commitment to principle even when, in political terms, the practical course was sharply different on the nation's compass.

Busta and Norman both drove recklessly fast. In his wife's words, "Bustamante 'drove like a madman.' " Few of Manley's friends would willingly travel with him at the wheel, for he held nearly all the rumoured 'point to point' records over the early rugged marl roads. He seemed to revel in the narrowness of the margin by which he avoided the other vehicle. He nearly paid for his daring with his life in 1946, when his car catapulted into the valley on the Gordon Town Road.

Both also married remarkable women. Manley and his wife Edna were first cousins, their mothers being sisters. Both were also second cousins with Bustamante. Edna was the country's most important sculptor, and a pioneering leader of Jamaica's indigenous artistic movement. The Manley home, Drumblair, was the hub of the nascent nation's cultural activities, and a gathering point for its leading intellectuals.

Confidante, right hand

Gladys Longbridge was 28 years younger than Bustamante, but she was his confidante, right hand and memory bank. They only married in 1962, because the Catholic Bustamante could not remarry until his previous wife died. He talked over all important matters with her, and readily took on board her advice. In discussions he would turn to her incessantly about particulars, and such was her memory that she would recall instantly what had taken place three or four years previously. She was also from its inception, the treasurer and principal day-to-day caretaker of the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union, then by far the largest single organisation in Jamaica. As she put it:

We women were the mainstay of the union's organisation, though we could hardly have functioned without the brave men who toiled day and night ... . Bustamante was the busiest of us all ... . I was by his side, taking note of important details, seeing to his personal welfare and offering advice based upon my own experience, close contact with the people, and, of course, a woman's intuition.

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