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Oral History Interview - Brenton Wallace


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Audio recording of an oral history interview with Brenton Wallace, who was born in Jamaica and moved to Britain in 1978. He has worked as a bus driver.

He discusses his Caribbean background and Rastafarianism beliefs.


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Brenton Wallace (BW). My name is Brenton Wallace, and I'm 45, I was born in Jamaica and came to this country in 1978. I've worked in several areas of public service.

Q. Life in the West Indies?

BW. My father in the early days worked in the Bauxite Company in Jamaica as a representative of the Bustamante Trade Union. My mother was a housewife. My grandfather came to England in 1935 I think, and he fought in the last War in the British Army . I myself, at 18, was in the cadets in Jamaica, and went straight into the army.

Q. Proverbs?

BW. No. I was always a logical and factual person. The revolution that we faced in Jamaica between 1971 and 1980, when we lost over 8.000 people. It was a totally different vibration. One didn't have a lot of time for all that kind of thing. Everything was factual and geared towards surviving. I'd need to have more time to get on to that sort of level.

Q. Prompt for leaving Jamaica?

BW. It happened very suddenly. Six months before I came here, I thought that there was nothing that would get me out of the island, regardless of the revolution that was taking place, and the CIA's involvement in the country, I still wasn't prepared to leave. There was an incident where I was shot at close range with my mother witnessing it. She ended up in hospital with a nervous breakdown. They shot me so bad, that I realised that I would have to do something, because my wife was pregnant with my son, and the whole situation with the call of my family became greater than service I felt I had to respond to the call of my family and so within six months I was here in England.

Q.. Mother country?

BW. No. I don't see England as a 'Mother Country'. I was always well aware and have always accepted Africa as the mother country. Coming here, the decision was made solely on the basis of security in the island's revolutionary scheme at the time. Economically… [inaudible]
I didn't find it difficult because within the space of a week I was out there looking for work. My first job was at the hospital for sick children in Great Ormond Street, where I worked on the surgical department... It wasn't very good wage, so I left and went on London Transport, and I developed mechanical engineering skills during that time, and that was my area of work to maintain myself and my family until 1995.

As, I said transport was the longest job I stayed in, and I had no real difficulties. I started out as a conductor, and straight away I applied to be a driver, because I was a driver in Jamaica, and I had a driving licence from Jamaica. I was informed that I wasn't in the country long enough to drive and the advised me to try to get to know the country a bit. Within another six months I got a British driving licence. I took that into the garage manager and said well, I would like to apply to drive buses now, and I was sent straight away. There was great disruption inside of the garage, because the union decided that there were a number of other people on the list before me, and that they should go first. I was sent anyway, and passed it brought a bit of calm, because I passed the test when I came back. The three people who had gotten the chance and gone before me had failed.

Q. [inaudible]

BW. I was aware of that before hand, because even on the boat, because I came up to England on a boat. Most people travel by air class. On the boat the ship there were only white staff, and I saw the prejudices and the attitude towards my family and me. I exercise the concept that it doesn't matter what people say to you, it is how you take it. If that was how they wanted to be, then let them be that way. I can't be bothered to go down that road with them.


BW. Yes, I know that there are great divisions among the white tribes here, even though from a distance they may seem united. What I really saw, was that it was an economy that kept them together, it was nothing to do with love form the heart, it was only money.


BW. Well in Jamaica, you have the jokes about the Rastaman and the policeman. The Rastaman would have serious jokes about the policeman, and the policeman would have serious jokes about the Rastaman. They put a joke on their realities. I see a similar thing her, with the Irish jokes and the British force being in Ireland. You see and know exactly what is happening.


BW. Hackney is where I stayed when I first arrived, because my Auntie, who left Jamaica the year I was born and came here live in Dalston to this day. That is where my family stayed when I came from Jamaica. That is how I got to know the area and the people.


BW. I have no problem with people from other islands. As a matter of fact there are times when I find it easier to get on with people from other islands than Jamaicans are. There is less peculiarity in them. With Jamaicans there are so man peculiarities that has to have an understanding and a tolerance to deal with the different levels of the peculiarities among us. A lot of the other islanders are the stages of development as Jamaica was or used to be in the 1960's or even 50's. I find a more quieter, more gentle and calmer type of personality and attitude.


BW. It is very important. As a Rastafarian I see Jamaica as the rebirth place of the returned Christ, his Imperial Majesty. We see this in the music, we as a small island have managed to produce more hits than three continents combined together. So, I find it a coincidence that that place should be called Jamaica, the birthplace of JAH, Rastafari. It is like a beacon in the Western hemisphere that whatever is… [inaudible].


BW. It is not. It is the birthplace of the new concept of Rastafari. It serves me as my culture, my whole being, my soul, my whole creation. As a new place for the new creation, which we take to the rest of the world.


BW. This is one of the reasons that I'm always involved with the [inaudible] organisation. Because, I find that there is too much disunity in the family, there are not enough opportunities, children are not taught to accept opportunity to carry out responsibilities, and generally we do not accept the responsibilities that we should in all areas of life. In Jamaica, you would find a 10 - 12 year old boy or girl capable of so many things. A girl of that age in Jamaica can’t take care of a family of 5 - 6, do all the washing all the cooking and plan everything, while here in England a 12 year old behaves like a 4 - 5 year old on the island. This is very distressing to me, because it takes away our values, our capabilities. It makes us like child minded people, because some of us get to be adults and continue to have a very child minded attitude towards our responsibilities.


BW. Here, children mature a lot later. I find the other problem which is a major problem which you find not only here in Jamaica but [inaudible] which is an internationally one, and that is the fathering of our children. We see here in England when our parents came here, that in the early days they had very good standards and attitudes. The children that are born here, it is disgusting to see the way that they carry on. It is very embarrassing. I think often that is because the fathers are very often absent from their responsibilities. The fathers need to take the responsibility of the children. I think that even when there is a separation, the father should still make the effort, because it is a very important and vital role, because from my own experience of raising a young family. I watch my sons, akimboing on the mother and back-talking sometimes, when they think I'm not around. So, I think that is an area which needs to be addressed.


BW. Well it hasn't happened in Jamaica, because of the fact that there is more togetherness in the family. There is no Council there to house the daughter as soon as she gets pregnant and split the family up. Even if the father is not there, there are the Auntie, the older brothers and so on around to keep the younger ones in control.

I have seen changes taking over the years since I've been here. It is becoming more accepted and it also more economically viable for them to introduce a multicultural society and make it work. From my point of view it will work for a time, but I do know for how long. These kinds of things don't work for a long time. You see, I always think of things as spiritual concepts and not as purely physical and materialist concepts. History has shown us before, even back to the first city of Babylon which was constructed by the descendants of Noah. It was seen as one of the first wonders of the world. They were warned that when you trade with foreigners from outside, you should keep them outside. You should do your trading on the borderline and each person go back to their own country. Otherwise they will bring their culture and their religion into your country and will create friction, because your people will start to adopt their cultures and religions after a time and friction will develop. And so said, so done. It has happened to a number of countries as history has shown. America is an example of that failing.


BW. Not only from my own concept, but from the teachings from his Imperial Majesty, Jah Rastafari. He gave us a constitution of how to organise ourselves, to centralize ourselves and harmonize ourselves and how to leave hurts and the hurts of our children. You see if England had followed our example when the Romans enslaved them and took thousands of English people to Rome and enslaved them, when they got freedom if they had remained in Rome and become second class citizens, then there would be not be an England and an Empire that we could come to. So we need to understand this and to know that we are free people, and know that we can get out of but and go and construct our own countries. That situation that took place with us, will never happen again. All Africans to Africa is what I believe in.


BW. Because I wasn't born here and only came here in the late 70's. I've seen a lot of taking place. Because I'd only just come out of a revolution in Jamaica, my argument was similar to [inaudible]. Now, I'm seeing it on the lips of everyone. Even the women too. So at least we have started some constructive reasoning, and a lot of organising is taking place. For example, it was His Majesty's birthday last month. The first Nyiabingi of its kind to be organised in England. Such an organised Nyiabingi had never taken place in England before We has three other Nyiabinkis from Birmingham. Two of them were organised by women. They were attended by brother and sisters from through England. I am confident that the organizing is taking place and it is just a question of centralizing it all.