Jamaica and Newfoundland: Colonies of Unrequited Dreams

Newfoundland and Jamaica have a lot in common. Aside from being small islands with big personalities, both have struggled to find their place in the emerging world market and both have great potential to thrive in the years to come.

Before God and all mankind, I pledge the love and loyalty of my heart, the wisdom and courage of my mind, the strength and vigour of my body in the service of my fellow citizens; I promise to stand up for Justice, Brotherhood and Peace, to work diligently and creatively, to think generously and honestly, so that Jamaica may, under God, increase in beauty, fellowship and prosperity, and play her part in advancing the welfare of the whole human race.  – Jamaica’s National Pledge.


Having recently read Wayne Johnston’s The Colony of Unrequited Dreams, I can honestly say I love the book. What stood out for me the most was the topic of Newfoundland’s economic ruins. As a Jamaican I was struck by one similarity—which could be seen as a fundamental similarity among most, if not all, colonies—between the histories of Newfoundland and Jamaica: the struggle it was, and still is, to become a full-fledged, independent and functioning country.

If I skip forward in history, it seems obvious, though many will probably disagree with me, who fared for the better.

A roadside vendor outside Kingston, Jamaice. Photo by Niquae McIntosh.
A roadside vendor outside Kingston, Jamaica. Photo by Niquae McIntosh.

Around page 338/339, as Johnston’s Newfoundland struggles to retain its independence and feels the defeat of not being able to “cut it”, so to speak, when they were subsequently “saved” by Canada, I think of Jamaica and wonder, if Newfoundland had regained its independent domain and had not been swallowed up by Confederation, would it have suffered the same fate as so many “freed” colonies, such as Jamaica? More importantly, is Newfoundland better off being a part of Canada than it would be today if it had gone on its own?

As hard as it is for me to say, as no person should own another nor should any country hold court over another, I do think of what could have been and how differently Jamaica could have turned out had they not taken their independence. None of this diminishes how proud I am to call myself Jamaican or how proud I am of my country’s feats. However, these are questions I ponder constantly as I watch my homeland and former “colony” struggle, even to this day, to right itself upon the deep sea. In my naivetée, I sometimes cannot help but wonder and even wish that Jamaica had remained under the doleful watchful eye of Britain and had not forfeited any rights it had to England. Maybe this is defeatist thinking. Maybe I am looking for an easy way out for my country, independent since 1962, and still struggling to find peace and solidarity, sustainable riches and truly sustainable independence. Not because I don’t believe in Jamaica, nor because I don’t want to see it succeed, independently of other nations. I just cannot help thinking, although Jamaicans might begrudge the English for ‘keeping’ them, as some Newfoundlanders have Canada; it may have served us better in the long run.

When it comes to Newfoundland, having lived there and proud of it, I am always impressed by the perseverance of its people. I’ve observed in interactions with people from other provinces, how they easily label Newfoundlanders as simple people with nothing to offer. In my experience, some have even gone so far as to call Newfoundlanders self-entitled—I would have to say people like that are the self-entitled ones, ignorant in their continued disregard for all that Newfoundland and Labrador and its people have to offer. It seems many fellow Canadians are unable to see how much the youngest province has brought and continues to bring to the rest of Canada. Perhaps this comment will cause many eyes to roll. What does a Jamaican know about the history of this country? I can honestly say: a lot and nothing at the same time!

I know what I know

I do know that many other provinces have relied heavily on the natural resources of Newfoundland and Labrador, such as the Wabush and Voisey Bay mines, both owned by companies located in other provinces. And I do know that Newfoundland possesses rich and abundant natural reserves—which luckily have gotten well-deserved protection through the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

Island Life, Fogo Island
Island life on Fogo. Photo by Paddy Barry.

I know that Newfoundland had to fight to regain control of its hydro from Quebec (control of which was unduly sold to them at an atrocious price, with no fair benefit for Newfoundland and Labrador). I do know that due to the economic boom from the newly minted offshore oil reserves, as well as many local companies, many of the lucrative deals have benefited outside interests and companies who have quickly grabbed the opportunity to fuel their endless desire for, in my opinion, one of mankind’s most mistaken ventures.

There are a lot of Newfoundlanders who would say the province has benefited from the current oil boom with a boost to their economy, but let’s not forget about the impact this has had on Alberta. To any rational person, either looking from the outside in or standing on the inside, Newfoundland and Labrador is coveted for what it has to offer. But how are those profiting from this ensuring the province’s economic, social, and environmental sustainability? What are they putting back into Newfoundland and Labrador’s economies that will provide longterm, stable growth? After all, booms tend to go bust.

What I don’t know is why Newfoundland and Labrador is still considered by so many as a place where no one in their right mind would want to be. That might sound harsh to the beautiful people of Newfoundland. But, I cannot tell you how many times I have said to people that I am living in Newfoundland only to have them ask two pointed questions: “Why?” and “What can you do up there?” – to which I reply, somewhat offended – because this province has stolen my heart – “Whaddya mean by that?!

The grass is always greener…

Even a few Newfoundlanders I’ve encountered have asked the same thing: “What on earth would you want to come up here for?” But when they ask, I believe it comes from their taking on the outsiders’ views: those who have not spent any real time in the province getting to know the people. And for the Labradoreans and Newfoundlanders who, over generations, have been confronted with these outsider views, one of two things can happen. They can either become fiercely protective as a result, or overwhelmed—feeling trapped by the very thing that makes them who they are.

In independent Jamaica, it was and still is common to see people leave for what they believe is a better life elsewhere, just as many people in Newfoundland, whether reluctantly or otherwise, have left the province to pursue “better” opportunities as a result of economic instability. But not all people have the means to do so (a common situation in post-colonial and colonial countries). One thing is certain, whether former or current colonies, it has been instilled in us over generations to fully embrace the mantra: the grass is greener on the other side.

Students stand alongside the road outside Kingston, Jamaica. Photo by Niquae MacIntosh.
Students stand alongside the road outside Kingston, Jamaica. Photo by Niquae MacIntosh.

We are taught to want not just better for ourselves, but better based on a standard that, most times, has absolutely no bearing on our culture or place or belief-system as a people—we ought to follow those who seem to have it all, when the truth could very well be, even with the little that we might have, most times it’s better at home.

I think a lot of Newfoundlanders are discovering this now. For Jamaica, it may be ultimately harder to realise. Jamaicans who leave generally don’t get to go back. They are convinced from experience of the continued economic failings of Jamaica that their dreams of prosperity cannot come to fruition if they stay, much less if they return.

Jamaica, unlike Newfoundland, which has Canada’s general support system to fall back on, chose the proud but lonely road of independence—a beautiful thing if successful. In fact, after being coddled and repressed for many years under British rule and then suddenly faced opposition from the U.S., whose interference in Jamaican politics arose from its stance on socialism, its relationship—like so many other Caribbean countries—with Cuba, the unsuccessful coup of Prime Minister Michael Manley by the CIA, and the adoption of unfair and economically damaging policies that benefited the US neo-liberal agenda has only served to stifle Jamaican growth and economic stability.

I suppose Newfoundland’s first premier, Joey Smallwood, and Norman Manley—whether or not he would have been successful before U.S. interference — believed what they were doing was for the benefit and success of the people of their respective colonies. Unfortunately, in 1976, when Prime Minister Michael Manley tried to guide Jamaica to a thriving economic society like Smallwood was attempting to do with Newfoundland, his policies were overrun by U.S. imperialism.

Once a colony…

Think of a colony as a child who spent most of its formative life, when it should have been learning how to think independently and self-sufficiently, completely relying on its parents — in the case of Newfoundland and Jamaica it started with Britain — for emotional, mental and physical support. This colony, when it comes time to face the world on its own, fails to establish itself, as it never learnt how to be autonomous during the most critical years of its development. And even when it strives for this goal, it is brought down by outside influences — in the case of Jamaica — more concerned with the impact a small, blossoming, pro-socialist country could have, not even on their economy, but on the power and hold they have over others in the world. This is Jamaica. And this could have been Newfoundland.

Photo by Paddy Barry.
Photo by Paddy Barry.

In 2013, with the developing hydro project in Muskrat Falls ultimately benefiting Nova Scotia by way of Newfoundland and Labrador, the long-suffering wind energy industry (a hotly debated topic possibly because it’s not a ‘quick fix’ energy source and hasn’t much benefit currently for other provinces) still to gain support and momentum, and in Jamaica, the unrelenting gang violence, the proposed IMF 750 million (US) four-year funding program in limbo, and its continued economic demise due in part to an unsustainable debt burden paired with high interest rates, we have to wonder what the future holds for these two distinct islands that had similar paths, similar ideals of freedom, respect and perseverance and, still to this day, share the desire to fight for recognition and respect in an economically driven world where big fish eats little fish.

Newfoundland, after years as a country under British rule to its new found position as a Canadian province, will strive for a self-sustaining resilience, and Jamaica, in order to succeed as a post-colonial country, will have to learn not to depend on others for support, cultivating its own, true independence. Not every ‘rescue boat’ that comes along is really throwing out a life raft.

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