Pope encourages use of #AVaccineforthePoor
May 19, 2021
Season of Creation Challenge 2021
May 19, 2021

‘Brown-skin girl…’

By Fr Martin Sirju

“… stay home and mind baby. Brown skin girl, stay home and mind baby. I going away, on a sailing boat, and if I don’t come back, stay home and mind baby” … not “throw way de damn baby”, which is a masculine corruption of the original.

Mary was closer to a “brown-skin girl” than to the Marys we see in our churches, chapels, and grottos.

According to Professor Joan Taylor of King’s College, London, Palestinian people of that time were essentially olive-skinned. Most persons I have encountered, including the well-educated, when they invite you to see a “beautiful” picture or statue of Mary, show you one that is always white. I would hope that the Black Lives Matter current across the world encourages us to diversify not only the colour but the facial features of Marian statues.

More than that is needed. For instance, our Marian statues must convey a certain contemporaneousness. How do Marian statues speak to our Caribbean history, which in the majority is the history of black peoples? What do our Marian statues say of our experience in the Indian, African, Arab, Chinese, and European etc diasporas?

Ironically, the group closest to the ethnicity of Jesus here – the Arab community—has added precious little  in this regard. They have the same Euro-styled statues in their homes while being passionate devotees of Mary.

Unlike what we were taught, Christianity did not spread first west towards Rome but rather East, Syria being one of the oldest countries of the Christian diaspora. The Syriac language is closest to the language of Jesus, Aramaic, and the ancient town of Edessa, formerly of Syria but now in Turkey, was one of the earliest and greatest centres of Christian learning.

But back to us here. How do Caribbean Marian figures (women) compare with the Galilean Mary? The above song testifies to a Caribbean reality, one that still persists where the woman is often left alone, employed, or unemployed, to ‘mind baby’.

If she is underaged, unemployed and unemployable, she has to “stay home and mind baby”. Often the father is under-schooled, a drop-out and Catholic. He, too, is unemployed.

It is no longer a case of “going away, on a sailing boat” to explore opportunities abroad. With borders locked tight because of the COVID-19 pandemic, daddy is still at home. And today, it is more the mothers who are going away so the grandmummies are the ones left to “stay home and mind baby”.

Mary of Nazareth most likely had to “stay home and mind baby”. She could help teach Jesus to read since is it is quite likely she could read based on her utterances in the Magnificat.

She probably knew these things by reading (it could just as well have been oral tradition) and because as eminent Bible scholar NT Wright pointed out: the Jews placed great importance on reading Torah. Literacy was at the centre of the Jewish household.

Even if she could not read, she would join the ranks of Caribbean mothers of little literacy—my mother being one of them—who ensured that their children were literate.

She also had the advantage of not just “ah friend” in a visiting relationship or a concubine but a husband. He most likely was educated, especially because of his gender, and had a trade. He was a carpenter or stone mason who most likely found work at the nearby construction site of Sepphoris. He was husband, father, provider, and protector.

The late cultural anthropologist Marion O’Callaghan pointed out regarding Caribbean cultural patterns of concubinage that couples got married when they became economically stabler. Here Catholic education can play a decisive role. Pope Francis says to the young in Christus Vivit: “I ask you instead to be revolutionaries, I ask you to swim against the tide … I have great confidence in you, and for this very reason, I urge you to opt for marriage” (264).

Catholic education can help these young men become rebels and revolutionaries. If the Archbishops’ (Harris and Gordon) dreams for East Port of Spain were to come true, these places will be centres of learning, academic and tech-voc. With education comes employment, then stabler relationships and hopefully at some point, marriage.

There is also a small current of reverse feminism taking place. In Mulieris Dignitatem, Pope John Paul II raised both the question of working women and the domestic role of mothering.

Some women at the time poured scorn on the idea of educated women giving up work to look after family. I know, however, of quite a few instances of women delaying the world of work to look after their young children.

I have a friend, a devout Catholic, with a First Class Honours in Mathematics and Computer Science who has decided to stay at home and look after her four daughters and plans to consider work later on, when the girls get older, if at all feasible. Her husband is an engineer.

She has probably never heard of Mulieris Dignitatem but there she is choosing to “stay home and mind baby.” That, too, is Catholic.