Monday, February 28, 2011

Did Buju Banton not know that loose lips sink ships?

Did Buju not know that loose lips sink ships?

Written among other things that "he that keepeth his mouth keepeth his life, but he that openeth wide his lips shall have destruction". Furthermore, "A nuh everything good fi eat, good fi talk". Even so, the verdict that was handed down by a federal jury in Florida last Tuesday, which found Mark "Buju Banton" Myrie guilty of three of four charges, elicited anguish and scepticism among his supporters across the world. Many were expecting a vastly different outcome. But alas, Buju was found guilty of conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute cocaine, possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offence and using the wires to facilitate drug trafficking.

In reacting to the verdict, one of his fans quipped, "Yuh nuh si seh a pure Babylon tings a gwaan, my yute. Buju nuh deserve none o' dis yah wickedness. De man dem frame 'im, but Babylon kingdom is bound to fall." In his mind, Buju is a victim of an oppressive American justice system. But as alluring as his passionate outbursts were and as defiant as his gesticulative behaviour appeared, I did not join him in apportioning blame to any specific group for Buju's woes. And I am not about to hop on to the caravan of conspiracy theorists, whose purpose, it seems, is to downplay the merits of accepting personal responsibility and applying logics and common sense to our thoughts and actions.

None of this is to suggest that Buju's Boom-bye-bye utterances, or his staunch intolerance of homosexuals, did not bring greater scrutiny towards him, because we know that not all human actions are motivated by purist intentions and are above reproach. That notwithstanding, we should look at this case in view of the evidence presented, but also with full awareness of the doctrine of "opportunity and inclination" and the role this may have played in the minds of the jurors as they deliberated on the circumstances that caused Buju to "taste" that stuff in the warehouse. There is no need for malevolence from anyone. Like most of his fans, I would have preferred a different outcome. My heart and prayers go out to his parents, who must have been disheartened by this verdict.

These serious charges could cause Buju to spend a minimum of 15 years behind bars. Sentencing is yet to be handed down, so before we throw up our hands in complete despair, or fix our eyes on the southern stars of condemnation, we should be mindful of the fact that he has the right and the option to appeal this conviction. Furthermore, the sentencing judge may exercise some discretion when handing down his ruling. Perhaps Buju was being prescient about his own future when he said, it is Not an Easy Road, but let us hope that he doesn't face an extensive incarceration, should his appeal fall through. Let us look ahead to the promises of tomorrow, and because life's destiny is never clear-cut to anyone, one can only hope that hidden treasures will emerge from this ordeal.

At 37 years old, Buju is still relatively young, and despite this setback he can go on to lead a remarkable and transformational life, during and post-prison. He can continue to pen positive lyrics and use his voice to bring positive changes to millions around the world. Consequently, my consolation to Buju is deeply rooted in an idiom my late grandmother often shared with us. It is very much about loss and life, as it is about defeat and triumph. She reminded us constantly that, "Wha nuh cost life, nuh cost nutten". Implicit in this is a certain consciousness that the gift of life is supreme. For although one may lose everything, the fact that one can still breathe, see, hear, think, feel, create, touch and enjoy the splendours of God's creation should be enough to impel one to learn from the tragedies, mistakes and setbacks in one's life and make amends.

Therefore, the unfortunate circumstances of life ought not to become permanent walls of inaction and resignation. Once we become conscious of the character and flavour of our mistakes, accept responsibility and submit to atonement, we should then embark on a journey to fulsome redemption and reformation. In coming to grips with the misfortunes of life, we should also compel ourselves to evaluate the opportunity costs associated with the things we lose, the freedoms we abrogate - wittingly or unwittingly - and the pain we endure by not having them. But we should only do so with the view to motivate ourselves into taking full advantage of the new opportunities for positive change that lie within our grasp.

Truth is that none of us can claim perfection. Errors will be made, some more dastardly than others, yet we cannot play victim or dwell in the emptiness of self-pity or blame everybody else but ourselves for our failings. If there are lessons to be learnt from Buju's predicament, they should be how we control our tongues. Yes, we must place bridles on our tongues sometimes and become cognisant of the effect of unguarded talk, as it could come back to bite us in the softest places of the anatomy. Buju admitted this much during his testimony. He said, "I knew it (drug deal) was all talk for me because when I left Johnson's company, I say to myself 'idiot', I am not a drug dealer. I talk the talk, but I did not walk the walk..." Was it a good strategy to use "idle talk" as one of the bases for his defence?

I often wonder why almost all Jamaican jokes in circulation, particularly those on the internet, end with the Jamaican saying something downright stupid to expose one's own prior actions, often without solicitation. And although these jokes are meant to titillate, they reveal a serious reality about our loose lips. Could it be that we are so inherently honest or helplessly transparent, that we cannot keep a lid on our own tongues? We have a habit to "gwow" a lot without regard for socio-cultural repercussion, but as the frog says, "What is joke to you is death to me." Then, there is no stopping us, especially when we feel we have an opportunity to compete or impress - boy, we go to town without being mindful that "loose lips sink ships".

February 28, 2011