Thursday, January 29, 2009

Who is Jack Mandora?

Jack Mandora me no choose none. If you have ever heard an Anancy story, as many Jamaican children have had for so many years, this is the statement made to signal the end of the story. But who is Jack Mandora and why is it necessary to constantly inform him of choices in such simple things as a story? So much of who we are collectively as a people tends to be ignored because it is already so ubiquitous in our psyche. It is easy for us to forget when we live in an age of instant gratification and microwave knowledge, that stories were never just stories. Forgive me for I have strayed a little but I promise you I will deal with that topic in another piece.

There are many tales as to who this Jack Mandora is. In many African tribes, stories were told and to a great extent still are told as an object. Words do not escape the lips for the mere enjoyment of the sound of one’s voice. Instead they acted as parables that manifested in a cunningly constructed story directed at an individual that needed to learn something or be warned, et cetera. For the village the innuendo would be exceedingly hard to miss. Jack Mandora in this case could be interpreted as the individual and his/her combolo (friends). Now in the event, a story was told for the fun of it, as a mere diversion of thought, it was thought only good manners to say “This story is not aimed at you or anyone else, nor am I wishing the same fate on you.” Hence Jack Mandora me no choose none.
In many West African tribes Anancy was more than just a lazy ginnal (trickster) with a funny sounding lisp. In fact among such tribes as the Ashanti, the Akan and other persons who spoke the Twi language, Anancy was the god of knowledge, and for some tribes Jack Mandora the keeper of heaven’s gate. In essence, the early Samuel L. Jackson version of St. Peter. Part of the process of gaining entrance to a pleasant hereafter was to tell an Anancy story to prove that one had a wise existence in the time spent on earth. Souls who could not would be turned away and forced to watch reality T.V. for eternity.

Now Anancy has been cunning long before Nicolò Machiavelli ever thought of writing the Prince. Sometimes in Anancy stories he would do very ‘Wicked things’ the statement then acted as a disclaimer of sorts. It did two things:
  1. It absconded the storyteller from any blame, that is any trick performed by the cunning spider which was immoral this made it clear it was not the same position of the storyteller.
  2. Should parts of the story be exaggerated then the storyteller could never be viewed as a liar so when his day came to stand before Jack Mandora, such stories told would not be part of the judgement.
An alternate position on this issue is provided by linguist Frederic G. Cassidy who believes the story of Jack Mandora is nothing as exotic as an African Gilly Priest, "The Original Gateman" (gatekeeper). In fact he believed it to be nothing more than a bastardized English Nursery rhyme which went something like this:
I’ll tell you a story
And this is how it’s began
I’ll tell you another
Of Jack and his brother and now my story’s done.’
Personally I prefer the idea of the gatekeeper. And while the version put forward by Mr. Cassidy seem plausible in my mind its just doesn’t add up to what we know from those of us who actually paid attention in West African History classes. To me Cassidy’s version feels much like clinging to colonialism and the idea that nothing of value could come about without the direct or indirect influence of Colonial masters. Anancy acted as a symbol of hope for oppressed people that the small and crafty could out manoeuvre the great and powerful. Why then would they knowingly associate in the end to those who were the oppressors? To me that just don’t add up, but so mi get it, so mi sell it, mi nuh add nor subtract it.

For more info check these out;
Jamaica Journal Vol. 16. No 2 May 1983
Jamaican Folk Tales and Oral Histories by Laura Tanna
And if your just a lazy bastard .. have at it;

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