10 Life Lessons From Shakespeare … In Jamaican Patois

Imagine what would happen if William Shakespeare decided to visit modern-day Jamaica. Can you visualise his utter discombabulation as he tried to figure out what these people were trying to say? Can you see how Jamaicans would ‘eem’ and ‘ahm’ as they tried to translate his Olde English speech? The thought alone is probably humour enough. But why stop there? Let’s explore what would happen if the world’s most beloved Bard decided to venture into 21st-century Jamaica and impart his wisdom in patois. Here we have some examples of the messages that he might share, and their patois equivalent.

1. Be yourself

Shakespeare: “To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.”
Jamaican: Nuh care how hog try fi hide under sheep wool, him grunt always betray him.
Translation: No matter how a pig tries to disguise himself under sheep wool, his grunt will always give him away.
Meaning: Do not pretend. Be true to who you are, because your real self will always come out eventually. Just be yourself from the get-go. Or else, like the pig pretending to be a sheep, your grunt will give you away. The bard might not be too pleased with the less-than-poetic delivery.

2. Thinking makes it so

Shakespeare: “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
Jamaican: Belief kill and belief cure.
Translation: Belief kills and belief cures.
Meaning: What you believe creates your reality. How you perceive your world is dependent on how you think.

3. You don’t know what the future holds

Shakespeare: “We know what we are, but not what we may be.”
Jamaican: Pig ask him modda why him snout so long, shi seh when yuh grow, yuh wi know.
Translation: The pig asked his mother why his snout was so long and she said when he grows up, he will realise why.
Meaning: Even if we understand what we are today, we cannot predict what will happen in the future. Things that seem one way now may take on new significance in the future.

4. Treat all people with respect

Shakespeare: “Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.”
Jamaican: Nuh ramp wid mawga cow, a coulda bull mumma.
Translation: Do not mess with a skinny cow, it could be a bull’s mother.
Meaning: The bottomline is to treat all people with respect – regardless of how worthy or unworthy they may seem. That’s why Shakespeare said “love all” and “do wrong to none”. The Jamaican is a bit more explicit: be careful how you treat people, because the ones who look like they can be victimised may very well be connected to much more powerful people.

5. Anything can happen to anyone

Shakespeare: “Some rise by sin, and some by virtue fall.”
Jamaican: Donkey seh worl nuh level.
Translation: Donkey says the world is not level (balanced).
Meaning: Shakespeare is noting that some people achieve success through devious, less-than-honourable means (“rise by sin”), while those who practise integrity can still end up unsuccessful. The Jamaican equivalent notes that donkey (a voice of wisdom) says the world is not level. It is possible for you to do everything right and still end up failing. It is possible for those who cheat and practise corruption to be successful. It’s just the way the world is – even if we feel like this is unfair.

6. Love is strange – and strong

Shakespeare: “I do love nothing in the world so well as you: is not that strange?”
Jamaican: Mi love yuh more than cook food …
Translation: I love you more than cooked food.
Meaning: Both sayings are expressing an incomparable depth and breadth of love. For the Jamaican saying, the implication is that cooked food is so well-loved, it is a great honour for someone to love you more than it! Like Shakespeare, we could ask, “Is that not strange?”

7. Time and chance happen to everyone

Shakespeare: “Come what come may, time and the hour runs through the roughest day.”
Jamaican: Time and chance, time and chance.
Meaning: What Shakespeare calls “time and the hour” is the equivalent of a line many Jamaican grandparents picked up from the bible: “time and chance” happens to every man. So anything can happen to anyone, and this is a good thing to remember in our best and worst moments.

8. Live with integrity to avoid disgrace

Shakespeare: “Time shall unfold what plighted cunning hides:
Who cover faults, at last shame them derides.”
Jamaican: Wha inna darkness muss come a light.
Translation: What is in the darkness must come to light.
Meaning: This means the things that we try to hide will ultimately be revealed. The unspoken admonition is to live a life worthy of close scrutiny, so that you will never need to be ashamed of any part of it.

9. Listen more than you speak

Shakespeare: “Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice.”
Jamaican: God gi yuh two ears and one mouth fi a reason.
Translation: God gave you two ears and one mouth for a reason.
Meaning: In essence, both quotes adjure you to listen more than you speak. In addition, Shakespeare’s quote suggests that you should carefully select the people you choose to speak with.

10. Accept things for what they are

Shakespeare: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would
smell as sweet.”
Jamaican: Nuh expect nutting from a pig but a grunt.
Translation: Expect nothing from a pig but a grunt.
Meaning: Similar to how the rose can only ever be a rose, despite what you call it, the pig will only ever be a pig – and you shouldn’t expect anything more than a pig’s typical response – a grunt – from it.
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