Tue | Jan 26, 2021

We can learn about ourselves from Jamaican proverbs

Published:Saturday | November 28, 2020 | 12:09 AM


Please permit me to comment on two issues raised in letters to your paper on Wednesday, November 25, 2020.

The first is Dr Richard Kitson-Walters’ proposal that the country’s tertiary institutions should be combined into a University of Jamaica. Older readers may remember that in the 1980s the government of the time proposed the establishment of a College of Jamaica, based on a similar model. A detailed proposal of how it would function was distributed and discussed. I recall attending several meetings that were called to examine it. The proposal failed when one of the colleges opted for its own individuality, and refused to be part of it. The same attitude that motivated Jamaica’s withdrawal from the West Indies Federation also derailed this concept. I would like to encourage Dr Kitson-Walters, and all those who support such a proposal, to carefully examine all the arguments that were advanced for and against this college. They could learn much by studying the history of this idea.

The second is Winnie Anderson-Brown’s view that Jamaica’s folk beliefs, such as its proverbs, undergird much of the crime in Jamaica. I share this belief. Philosophical beliefs, including moral beliefs, do influence conduct. Not enough attention has been paid to the impact that Jamaica’s brutal and cruel history had on the distortions of people’s moral beliefs. Very often, in order to survive, it was thought prudent to abandon moral idealism and twist ethics to serve self-interest, sometimes in very extreme ways. Most proverbs are conclusions drawn at the end of a true story or a pattern of such stories. They become bits of folk wisdom that serve as guides to life. I think the two proverbs mentioned by Ms Anderson Brown are excellent examples of this.

A number of persons interested in Jamaican proverbs have responded to my own study of them titled ‘Philosophy in Jamaican Proverbs’, which was published in Jamaica Journal Vol 29 Nos. 1-2, June-October 2005. I would like to encourage students and scholars to take these proverbs seriously. We can learn much about ourselves from them.