What is Jamaica’s national sport?
Many would say cricket. Some football. Others dominoes. But none of these are as fascinating to Jamaicans as ‘bunning’. No matter what the time or place, news that a man ‘a get bun’ will immediately render all other topics irrelevant and produce gales of laughter. For nothing is so amusing to Jamaicans as a man being cheated on by his woman – the central plot of virtually every ‘roots’ play.
Now many people here regard male fidelity as some sort of unnatural aberration, with both sexes seeming to believe that “having only one woman makes a man lose his desire” and “if a man only have one woman something wrong with him”. Infidelity even appears to make men more attractive to a lot of women – “nobody wants a man that no other girl wants” a young lady recently assured me. No wonder our most popular Prime Minister was a celebrated philanderer. As a friend jokes, Jamaica is a nine commandment country, since no one pays attention to “Thou shalt not commit adultery”.
However all Jamaicans apparently agree that “girls you can’t do what the guys do and still be a lady”. But unless he is a ‘chi chi’, a man can only ‘bun’ with someone else’s woman. So basic mathematics says male and female ‘bunners’ and ‘bunnees’ must be equal in numbers, and for every ‘ol dawg’ there must be a ‘young puss’. Yet female bunning does seem more prevalent among young girls, as middle aged women generally find it disgusting, or so they say.
Egoistic males like to boast of ‘conquests’. But it is women who ‘give a piece’ and men who ‘get’, and females can only be seduced if they put themselves in a situation where they can be. A woman who allows herself to get drunk with a man has already decided she is willing to sleep with him, or so female friends tell me.
And naturally only women can participate in that lethal offshoot of ‘bunning’ called ‘jacketing’, which might be defined as “letting a man believe he is the biological father of a child when you know he is not”. Several years ago about 40% of University Hospital DNA tests showed that the biological father was not the official one. Officials pointed out however that only doubtful cases were referred to them, and the overall rate was probably much lower. Some bitter males mutter that these results are for the offspring of men who can afford paternity tests – and are brave enough to face a negative possibility – and the national rate is probably much higher.
But while the real figures are unknown, Jamaican females at least seem to think the ‘jacket’ rate here is maybe the highest in the world. I remember telling a group of Jamaican women about British statistics showing that probably 10% of UK children are not the offspring of their official fathers. What was the rate in Jamaica, I wondered? “At least 50%” one of them blurted out as they all doubled over in laughter.
“We run tings” Jamaican men like to boast. But as women here laughingly say, “We know! Oonoo can only hope!”. Because it’s mama’s baby, papa’s maybe. And most of those lonely men in bars staring into rum glasses are probably gloomily wondering if the children they are working so hard to support are really theirs or Joe Grind’s.
Ultra macho Jamaican men rarely talk about such fears while sober. But the book “Bob Marley : An intimate portrait by his mother”, by Cedella Booker with Anthony Winkler, gives an amazingly frank account of Bob’s anguish over the possibility that one of his children might not be his. Ironically Bob Marley was a famed womanizer who reportedly had 9 children with 7 women. Yet the thought that he might have been paid back in his own coin is related on pages 124-126 as being almost unbearable to the great man, haunting him even on his deathbed. Whether all this is true only the authors can say. But it is at the very least a most convincing portrayal of what must be a common mindset in Jamaica.
Now gender relationships in Jamaica are if not unique then certainly very unusual from a global perspective. There can be few if any other nations in which over 85% of children are born out of wedlock and over 50% have no registered father. And where else are terms of sexual infidelity – like “bun”, “jacket”, Joe Grind”, “matey”, and “boops” – such a natural part of everyday conversation?
Certainly there can’t be many places where men commonly wait till they see if a baby looks like them before deciding whether to “own” it or not. And they often have very good reasons to be so wary. I remember hearing female friends discuss a pregnant acquaintance who wasn’t sure which of six possible candidates was the real father. (Please don’t shoot the messenger folks, I’m only repeating what I’ve heard.)
Now you hear a lot of condescending tut tutting on upper St. Andrew verandah’s about “those people not knowing any better”. But ‘bun and jacket’ is hardly confined to any particular class. In fact most of the ‘big men’ in Jamaica probably have ‘outside’ babies and it’s a fair bet that an overwhelming majority of our male parliamentarians have a child out of wedlock. Indeed it used to be, and still may be, a popular campaign strategy to have a baby in every district whose relatives are then sure to vote for you.
Now in official and academic circles these ‘problems’ are generally attributed to the legacy of plantation slavery and the usual prescribed cure is ‘more education’. But this rather ignores the fact that while Jamaica’s illiteracy rate has gone down since 1950, our out of wedlock birthrate has gone up. And while Jamaica’s mating arrangements might be ‘dysfunctional’ from western or Asian perspectives, the fact is they are mostly a product of free choices made by consenting adults.
Yes our societal choices may have many negative consequences, a young male penchant to violence being almost certainly one of them. But unless most Jamaicans are morons incapable of correctly judging their best long term self-interest, there must be positive ones as well. One of them perhaps is an arguably unparalleled sense of emotional freedom.
Now this island enjoys a high healthy life expectancy. The ultimate test of a society’s choices is surely how happy and healthy it is. So the big question for those who think Jamaica is in need of fundamental transformation is this – why should people who are basically content change their lifestyle?
Written by Kevin O’Brien Chang
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