February 12, 2009

Craven Choke Puppy

Beginning with chapter three, White shifts form the macro-world of history and narrows his pen in on a small one room shack in Nine Miles, a small village in rural Jamaica. (Xaymca, an Arawak Indian word meaning “Land of Springs” after the 134 rivers found on the island.) Where a seventeen-year-old “Ciddy” Marley is about to give birth to Robert “Nesta” Marley. We learn that Ciddy was impregnated by a Norval Marley, a white businessman from Kingston who claimed to love her, but abandon her and their son as soon as Nesta was born.

White paints a fascinating picture of Nesta’s early life as a precocious and mischievous fortuneteller growing up in a tiny pastoral parish. Throughout Nine Miles, Nesta is seen as an intelligent numinous child, sensitive, quiet and brooding. We learn of his early childhood education, listening to stories from the elders. Stories like the one about Prester John and the Cromanty of the Akan tribes, alongside stories of the Bible about, “ Jacob who fell asleep on a rock and dreamt of the dead ascending difficult mountainsides and sheer ladder into Heaven, weighed down by all their worldly possessions and the wages of sin, and how the greediest would lose their footing or tire and swoon because of their onerous burdens, tumbling into the Pit of Fire.”

It is easy to see how this early stage in Nesta’s life fueled much of the themes in his music and helped create the global spokesman for the oppressed.

Nesta and Ciddy live in Nine Mile until he is four years old, at which point Norval asks that Robert be brought to Kingston for a better education. Once there, Nesta is again abandon to the care of a stranger for almost a year. Ciddy has no idea where he is until, by chance a relative spots Nesta in a Trenchtown “yard.”

Reunited with his mother, Ciddy decides to make a change and move both of them to Kingston. It is hard when looking at this picture:

to imagine the scared single mom trying to make it in the rough Trenchtown ghetto, but as I am sure I will see as I continue to read, she does, and from these streets and rural villages, Nesta becomes Bob.

I was especially struck by the use of elegant language and intricate descriptions in these early chapters. This book is a pleasure to read as the prose flows seamlessly. Below you will find a few choice quotes as well as some language discoveries that shed light on song lyrics:

“City folk play rough,” Omeriah (Marley’s grandfather) liked to say “cause dem never learned to play.”

Intermittent gaps in the pandemonium revealed a curb-level landscape of garbage and filth; smashed bottles, flattened tin cans, animal and human waste, yellowed newspapers, fish and fowl bones and oily rags intermingled with all manner of vegetable husks, crushed grocery cartons, shattered household articles and dismembered domestic conveniences, the latter ranging from the scorched spinal column of a dressmaker’s dummy to the shell of a radio set and the rusty rib cage of a tattered bed.

Abandon automobiles, stripped clean of anything remotely desirable, formed a broken line parallel to the bumper-to-bumper rows of whole, humming cars that were attempting in vain to escape this gutted graveyard. There was just no way to proceed, and apparently nowhere in particular to go. Nesta was accustomed to seeing ancient but doggedly maintained structures in the country, but most of these cast-concrete hovels were sinister bunkers into which no light intruded, and the eyes that blinked form the dusky doorways were anything but inviting.
“Nuh eat suh quickish! A nervous Ciddy warned. “Craven (craving, gluttony) a go choke puppy!”
So you want all for yourself alone
And you don't think about the other man
Let me tell you my friend if you gonna live this life
It's not good for you to build strife

Understanding a man’s early life is crucial to completing the puzzle of his destiny. Although dirt-poor, both in rural and urban environments abandon by his father, treated suspiciously by his townsmen for his strange mysticism and bi-culturalism, Marley was deeply loved by his family.

I think back to my own first four years, and while I do not remember much of it, I have been told that I lived my share of turmoil- a nation in revolution, early martial strife, exile and emigration to a new land, and money problems also shaped my life, but like Marley the devotion of a loving mother also made me the man I am today.

My appreciation for Marley's music is rapidly grown more than I thought possible. I can't wait to see where this path will lead.

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