Nursery rhymes are memorable to young children. The lyrics of Jack and Jill or London Bridge are so embedded in the minds of countless children that no matter how old they become, they would be able to recite these rhymes, line for line. But how much do children, or their parents for that matter, know about these age-old rhymes?
After his five-year-old son received a book of nursery rhymes for a gift, that question plagued Steven Golding, enough for him to begin looking into the origins of some of the most popular nursery rhymes. What he found out led him to rewrite some of these rhymes, heralding the beginning of a series of reworked lyrics titled The Garvey Nursery Rhymes.
While conducting his research, Golding, the president of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), famously established by Garvey, found out that a number of these nursery rhymes were based on historic events influenced by the British culture in the 17th and 18th century. He believes that as a country, with its own rich historic legacy, Jamaicans should be using rhymes to teach the nation’s children about their own roots rather than continuing to establish that of slave masters.
“London Bridge (is falling down) was actually written when they were building London Bridge; Mary Mary Quite Contrary was about Queen Mary, who, her sister, Queen Elizabeth I, usurped. Silver bells and cockle shells were instruments of torture,” he explained. “When I began to understand the history of some of these nursery rhymes, I began saying to myself, ‘Why is it that we, a country formerly enslaved by the British, a country that has such a reputation for culture in the global market right now, how is it that we are propagating nursery rhymes to our children that have nothing to do with our own cultural history as Jamaicans’.”
In an effort to challenge the ideologies being transferred to the nation’s most impressionable minds through nursery rhymes, the straight-talking son of former Prime Minister Bruce Golding told The Sunday Gleaner that he decided to fashion these age-old nursery rhymes in a way that would teach children from an early age to embrace their African roots and learn about their own culture and historic beginnings.
“I saw it as one of the last vestiges of colonialism, which is so sown into our curriculum that I think we fail to recognise it. A lot of our teachers may not even know the history of these nursery rhymes,” he said. “We’ve done Mary Mary Quite Contrary, which is now Nanny Nanny Quite Uncanny. Now, they will speak to our story. Ours says: “Nanny Nanny quite Uncanny, where did the Redcoats go. On bended knees as if to ease, she popped them all in a row. It speaks to the Maroon war against the Redcoats who eventually had to sign a treaty with them.”
“We have others like ‘I had a little nut tree, nothing would it bear, but a silver apple and a golden pear … the King of Spain’s daughter came to visit me and all for the sake of my little nut tree‘. We have refitted that to say, ‘I had a little herb tree, nothing would it grow, but a silver Moringa and a golden ‘Tinkin toe. The king of Ethiopia came to visit me and all for the sake of my little herb tree.’ That actually speaks to the 1966 visit of Haile Selassie, who came to Jamaica five years to the date after meeting Rastafarians in Ethiopia. He came to meet these people, and there is no greater symbol for the Rastaman right now than the herb.”
IMPORTANCE OF HERITAGE
Golding urged the country’s educators to think outside of the box as it relates to the lessons being taught in schools as he says that the curriculum passed down by the slave masters should not take precedence over the stories of our own people.
“Stop regurgitating a 300/400-year-old story that doesn’t have anything to do with the achievements of your own people and your nation. We’re not obligated to or bound by the curriculum that was given to us by the people who formerly oppressed or ancestors and enslaved them,” he said. “We’re entitled to our own opinions. We must inspire a literature and promulgate a doctrine of our own without any apologies to the powers that be. The right is ours. I’m quoting Marcus Garvey word for word.”
Golding is hoping to have the Garvey Nursery Rhymes published by the end of the year.
“I would really love to have them out for September, but you know funding is always an issue. We’ve put in a couple applications for assistance here and there, but regardless, we practise self-reliance, so we will publish even if we have to self-publish,” he said, explaining that the nursery rhymes are something he believes will revolutionise the way children embrace their African heritage.
“People never forget these nursery rhymes from dem likkle bit till dem dead, so we are hoping to achieve the same thing.”
Published at Sun, 19 Mar 2017 05:00:00 +0000