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Jamaica Patois Wisdom - Character

by Jefferson David Tant

The Jamaican Patois dialect is colorful, unique and humorous. It is my desire to share some of the philosophy shown in this mix of colorful phrases that are witty as well as thought-provoking. I hope the readers both profit and enjoy. In my quarter-century plus of teaching there, I have come to appreciate some things about their culture.

Patois: When puss gone, rat tek charge

English: When the pussy-cat is away, the rat takes charge

Meaning: People will disobey the rules when they think no one is watching

The real test of character is when a person does the right thing when no one is watching. I have read stories of people who found large sums of money lying on the sidewalk or street. There was no one around to observe their actions, so they could have taken the money and enriched themselves. But they did the honorable thing by doing what they could to find the owner.

But many people have a different nature. While they may put on a good face, their actions in secret or when away from authority reveal their true character. We have all probably been guilty along this line at some time in our lives. I deal with hundreds of young people during the school year, and from time to time will hear one using foul language. On occasion I will stop the young person and ask, “Does your mother know you talk that way?” Maybe she does, but many of these young people act embarrassed when I call them out.

As Christians, we are “to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:15). Sermon on the Mount has similar words: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lamp-stand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).

Our character is not revealed when we are with fellow Christians as much as it is when we are out in the world—in school, at work, out shopping, or wherever. Our behavior in the world should never be such that one would be surprised to learn that we profess to be a Christian. Job 24:15 describes one wanting to keep his behavior a secret: “The eye of the adulterer waits for the twilight, Saying, 'No eye will see me.' And he disguises his face.

Remember that God sees when we think no one is watching. Moses said: “You have placed our iniquities before You, Our secret sins in the light of Your presence” (Psalms 90:8). Solomon’s search for life’s meaning brought this conclusion: “The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14).

An old gospel song reminds us that “There’s an all-seeing eye watching you.” God even hears our words. “But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment” (Matthew 12:36). Do not think that God doesn’t notice all that we say or do. The wicked “says to himself, ‘God has forgotten; He has hidden His face; He will never see it’” (Psalms 10:11). The kitty-cat may be away, but God is always there.

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ …" (II Corinthians 5:10).