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Carlyle McKetty

By Carlyle McKetty

The conviction of Vybz Kartel has sparked a great deal of conversation not only about music but also about other aspects of life in Jamaica. In one such conversation, concern about the connection between crime and the nature of cultural expression was expressed alongside bewilderment regarding to the success of this “lumpen” culture in capturing the imagination of youth of all classes. Note was also made of the rewards received by the purveyors of this entertainment, pointing to the millionaires gansta rap is producing in the U.S.

A close look at Jamaica’s history and indeed that of the United States, will reveal that this is not a new phenomenon but indeed an element of the cornerstone on which each of these nations and the culture of each is built. With regards to Jamaica, the story of Henry Morgan offers a prime example that has many parallels with contemporary life in Jamaica and the expressions of the entertainers are not necessarily artistic but in many instances crude reflections of this reality.


The birth of the nation and its personality must be traced all the back to 1655, when a failed attempt by the British to capture Cuba from Spanish occupation led to the capture of Jamaica instead, as a face saving consolation prize. Henry Morgan participated in that capture and subsequently used Jamaica as the launching pad for his successful career as a buccaneer, making Port Royal the first garrison community in Jamaica and the base for the development and expansion of Jamaica’s first government sanctioned criminal enterprise.

From his base in Port Royal, Henry Morgan continued to plunder Spanish territories throughout the Caribbean rising to the rank of vice admiral in 1668, and making his most enterprising escapade in 1670 just before Britain’s war with Spain ended. With the end of the war, Henry Morgan was brought up on charges and returned to England for trial, along with Governor Modyford, the governor who had sponsored and shepherded his career. However, after a few years in the dungeons, Morgan was instead rewarded with a knighthood, becoming Sir Henry, and returning to Jamaica to become Lieutenant Governor and continue his ruthlessness, ordering planters who rejected piracy to be hanged.

On his death in 1688, Sir Henry Morgan was given a hero’s burial, gun salutes and all and laid to rest in an area that was swallowed up by an earthquake four years later. However, the tombstone of Modyford reads “The Soule and Life of all Jamaica who first made it what it now is,” and one can only wonder how the life of Christopher “Dudus” Coke might have turned out, were it not for the intervention of an externality, the United States of America.

Christopher "Dudus" Coke

Christopher “Dudus” Coke

The sad fact is that what we are experiencing today is the legacy of the colonial past and until there is a reconciling of the truth, Jamaica is destined to continue down the path laid by Sir Thomas Modyford and his henchman Sir Henry Morgan.
Carlyle McKetty is co-founder and president of the Coalition to Preserve Reggae Music (CPR) and host of the popular talk program Real Talk on CPRLive.

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