One of my delights so far in Jamaica is the patwa (yes, that is how it’s spelled here). I can’t actually understand people when they speak it yet, but I’ve been enjoying some of its extensive encyclopedia of proverbs. Proverbs, many coming from the rural and agricultural areas of Jamaica, tell me a lot more about the country than I can learn, say, reading the 2030 National Development Goals. In fact, it was in reading the development goals that I first encountered the saying ‘we likkle but we tallawah’ – we’re small, but we’re mighty!
Depending who you ask, ‘tallawah’ means mighty, talented, determined, big hearted. In it’s extreme it might mean the kind of exceptionalism that allows people (and countries) to think the rules might not apply to them, but what I’ve noticed is that Jamaicans are, in general, very proud of the accomplishments of their small but mighty country and it’s many exceptional heroes. Achievement is proudly lauded here – the Jamaicans we all know (Bob Marley, Usain Bolt, Marcus Garvey, Tessanne Chin), are celebrated. But there is also a strong home pride – pride in the Jamaicans that have made and continue to make this small island mighty.
I have the sense that any Jamaican school child could name the Twelve National Heroes and tell me at least some of their stories. And I was amazed to read some of the times Jamaica has stood strong on the international stage. It particularly thrills me that Jamaica – while not yet a fully independent country – was the first nation to place a trade embargo on South Africa during apartheid.
Jamaica is a proud, though troubled, country. Most of my conversations with local Jamaicans so far have been with cab drivers (it’s hard to make myself take the bus for an hour when a cab only costs $5), and they are always happy to share their thoughts about the politics, the education system, what’s wrong and right with the country they clearly love. Jamaica is a small nation – with an area of just 4, 320 square miles (Vancouver Island is 12,079 sq. mi) and a home population of 2.7 million (there are as many diaspora Jamaicans as the population of the island), and it seems to me to have every right to claim to be ‘likkle but tallawah.’ I hope they find a way to put that tallawah nature to good use.
NB Oct. 3/14: I learned this morning that the Jamaican national cricket team is the ‘Tallawahs.” I guess I’m not the only one taken with the concept.