Dat Bumpy Head Gal, OD

Order of Distinction for Joan Andrea Hutchinson

BY Richard Johnson
Observer senior reporter

Sunday, August 19, 2018

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For poet, actress, broadcaster Joan Andrea Hutchinson, making it to this year's list of Jamaicans set to receive national awards is bittersweet. Known widely as “dat bumpy head gyal”, Hutchinson will receive the Order of Distinction in the Rank of Officer (OD), come National Heroes' Day, for her contribution to the cultural arts-particularly the spoken word.

While she is clearly overjoyed by the gesture, it comes tinged with sadness as in June of this year her father Gladstone died and 12 days later, her younger sister Camille also died.

“I am very highly appreciative of the recognition for the time and effort that I have invested to document Jamaican culture. I am so grateful. I just wish Daddy was here...he would have been so proud. But I know they are here in spirit. Their passing has just brought me into contact with my own mortality and an understanding of what old people mean when dem say yuh mus just live good. I continue to live my life in a spirit of gratitude,” she told the Jamaica Observer.

For Hutchinson the lack of appreciation of the Jamaican culture is a classic case of a prophet having no honour in his own land. She points to the large numbers of academics and other professionals who come to Jamaica to study, and the brilliant work being done at the Institute of Caribbean Studies at Mona campus of The University of the West Indies to safeguard, document and preserve our traditions and way of life.

“Culture must not just be seen as performance and display. It is critical that we understand its role in economic and social transformation. How do we support our cultural industries so they become creative industries, thereby financially empowering the stakeholders, moving them away from the situation of 'man just a eat a food'? We have to move the culture to the level when we can monetise as opposed to 'do a thing'. So many persons are hosting an event and they will pay for décor, lighting and other trappings and they just want entertainers to do a thing... we have long passed that stage,” said Hutchinson.

This love for the arts and culture was engrained in a young Joan Andrea Hutchinson. She credits her mother for introducing her to the beauty of Jamaica's spoken language.

“I have an amazing mother... Miss Emma. She used proverbs to discipline us. She would say things like: 'Showman seh who stay further see better'. I didn't get the meaning then, but I knew it was a warning. Later I got it.... I was too close to a bad situation to see the danger, but from a distance she could see it. “

The writing came a little later. She remembered writing her first piece while still in primary school — New Providence Primary — where she created a standard English piece about former Prime Minister Sir Alexander Bustamante. At nine years old she was also introduced to the world of noted Jamaican folklorist, Louise Bennett Coverley — Miss Lou.

“I was just so fascinated by the colour of the language. The first piece I ever did was Sarah's Choice. By the time I got to high school I had a teacher Paulette Seaton who, to her credit, encouraged us to write. It was my mother who introduced to plays and the pantomime and so it all came together.”

These days Hutchinson sees her work as capturing a moment in time for posterity, documenting society for itself. So whether it is a piece on the Reggae Boys, which she wrote when they went to the World Cup in 1998; Usain Bolt and Merlene Ottey wining medals on the track; her own bumpy head episode when she drew the ire of some Jamaicans for hosting a TV show wearing 'chiney bumps' she continues to use humour and wit to tell stories and capture a moment in time.

“I embrace all sides of this culture. It is dynamic and at some point there will be no truly pure culture. The watering down is part of the process, so use technology to preserve and showcase what we have. Be open to the the ideas of the young and package it in a way that they will appreciate in the future,” Hutchinson advised.

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