I knew a bit about the Olmec heads but I wanted to hear the official story. But since it’s so obviously African, it had to mutate supernaturally into a non-human form.I asked the tour guide how he accounted for the African appearance of the heads. The Mexican fairy tale of origins apparently could not accommodate an African genesis.Pontius Pilate Several years ago, on a visit to the magnificent National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City, I had a little catch-up with our tour guide.We were in the Gulf of Mexico Hall, looking at Olmec artefacts.Ainsley Henriques, honorary secretary of the United Congregation of Israelites in Jamaica, ought to know the African-Jamaican proverb, ‘Cock mouth kill cock’. In his opening sentences, Ainsley launches a childish attack on the messenger, not the message: “Your columnist Professor Carolyn Cooper reminds me of the lines often given to recalcitrant school boys.
The same scholars, I suppose, who all fail to write ‘complete’ histories. I’m quite sure there are Jamaican Jews who are prepared to admit the truth about their history of participation in the slave trade. He sent me looking for Eli Faber’s book Jews, Slaves, and the Slave Trade: Setting the Record Straight which was published in 2000 by the New York University Press. But I’ve seen a most intriguing summary of its thesis posted on Amazon: “Focusing on the British empire, Faber assesses the extent to which Jews participated in the institution of slavery through investment in slave trading companies, ownership of slave ships, commercial activity as merchants who sold slaves upon their arrival from Africa, and direct ownership of slaves.
In any case, there must be a Jewish equivalent of this proverbial warning.
I quote, ‘Persistent perversity provokes patient pedagogue producing particularly painful punishment’”.
In the case of the incomplete history in the Museum of Jamaican Jewish History, it seems as if the truth has been deliberately concealed. Ainsley serves up a big red herring in an attempt to explain why “no mention is made of the role of the Jews in Jamaica in the horror of enslavement”.
And it’s not kosher: “this is because their history with enslavement is much more than just that – too much for a poster board”.
Having been provoked, Ainsley, the ‘patient pedagogue’, threatens to produce ‘particularly painful punishment’. Telling the whole story of Jewish history in Jamaica is a dangerous business. It sometimes imprisons you in other people’s fictions.