Jamaican music’s planet wide popularity is surely one of the late 20th century’s most intriguing cultural phenomena. For reggae may be the only music not of European or North American origin which can be heard in every country on earth, and is arguably the first example in modern times of a non-western nation exporting its culture around the globe.


What is Jamaica’s national sport? Many would say cricket. Some football. Others dominoes. But none of these are as fascinating to Jamaicans as ‘bunning’. No matter what the time or place, news that a man ‘a get bun’ will immediately render all other topics irrelevant and produce gales of laughter. For nothing is so amusing to Jamaicans as a man being cheated on by his woman - the central plot of virtually every ‘roots’ play.


Carnival means calypso and soca, chipping and wining, costumes and mas. But above all it means women, for revelers are always overwhelmingly female. While Trinidadians place a lot of emphasis on carnival’s cultural aspects, from my untutored Jamaican perspective it seems in essence a celebration of the female body and spirit. And as someone who firmly believes that a beautiful woman is the strongest argument in favour of the existence of God, I am all for it.


How old is the universe? The latest data suggests approximately 15 billion years. Or at least that is the amount of time science says has elapsed since the so called ‘big bang’, when an infinitesimally minute point of singularity exploded into a 10 billion degrees hot fireball and gave birth to the universe. But how did this point of singularity come into being? How long did it exist before it exploded? And what caused it to explode?


“It would be a fine thing indeed if the world was run by those who judge men from books and the world from maps!”. Napoleon’s jibe against ivory tower intellectuals came to mind when I read Marcia Sutherland’s December 5th letter about my article “Thinking in patois”, which accused me of “linguistic bigotry”, advised me to “examine the scientific linguistic evidence”, and chided me for lacking “scholarly expertise”.


The other day an irate customer confronted me about an out of order credit card machine in my store. She said in these unsafe times she didn’t carry much cash. And on three occasions in the past week she had to leave her goods at the cashier because her keycard could not be processed. I apologetically told her that every time we called the bank promised to fix it  ‘tomorrow’. “Mr. Chang” the lady said sternly “how long you living in this country? Don’t you know that to get anything done here you have to go on bad? Get ignorant with the bank and you’ll see how fast they fix it!”


An Australian expatriate recently told me that the biggest problem at his plant was workers “thinking in patois.” In his experience those who could not speak understandable English usually could not think logically. While those who spoke English well were generally efficient employees.


I used to read a lot of novels. But Jamaica has caused me to lose my taste for fiction. Who needs made up stories when everyday life here is so full of passion and drama? Yet whenever I try to make sense of this country Fyodor Dostoevsky’s “Notes From The Underground” comes to mind.


Small it may be. But the English speaking Caribbean has excelled on the world cultural stage of late. Only eight years after St. Lucian Derrick Walcott was given the honour Trinidadian V.S. Naipaul has also been awarded the Nobel literary prize. And last year Jamaican Bob Marley’s Exodus and One Love were chosen as Time magazine’s album of the century and the BBC’s song of the century. Can any other region of only 5 million individuals – and West Indians surely have enough strongly shared sensibilities to qualify as a “people” - boast of such recent cultural success?


Black history month is a natural time to celebrate Jamaica’s national heroes, and to discuss possible additions to the official pantheon. Now there are those who argue that the entire concept of national heroes is unnecessary. But the truth is that every nation needs figures of excellence who their countrymen can look up to and admire, of whom they can say “They are great, but I am like them and they are like me”. In countries with long and rich histories such figures are thrown up naturally and there may be no need for official recognition. The British government for example certainly does not need to tell its youth that Shakespeare, Newton and Churchill are great men. But in small young countries like Jamaica there is certainly a strong case for the official nurturing of heroes. Would those who argue against national heroes be happy if our youngsters had only foreigners to emulate?