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Cultural transmission of our indigenous knowledge

Time:2019-10-12 12:13Shoes websites Click:

Opinion local

The saying is that “lightning never strikes in the same place twice”, even though fact proves this to be untrue. Then there is the story that is often told to schoolchildren about a man who flew a kite into a thunderstorm, with a key attached to the string, to prove the electrical nature of lightning. Versions of this story of Ben Franklin's 18th century experiment still form part and parcel of the intellectual knowledge passed on to our children in a formal educational setting. At least, I hope so.

But, it seems that there is a break in the pipeline of indigenous knowledge that once gushed voluminously from our cultural memory banks. We must not forget the ongoing need to keep transmission points wide open as lightning strikes.

For this month of October, we continue to give numerous thanks for what is turning out to be a major period of sustained rainfall for 2019 in Jamaica. Climate change has significantly impacted on the regular occurrence of the necessary “rainy seasons” in this Land of Wood and Water. Rainy seasons provide water for various activities – filling the catchment facilities, irrigating the soil, providing a growth spurt for trees and plants, and cooling down the intense heat.

We have also seen an increase in thunderstorms and lightning as an accompaniment to these well-needed rainstorms. Again, we must reflect on climate change in the increased incidences of what is proving to be serious cause for concern. Over the last three to four weeks there have been at least two reports of lightning strikes, and two incidents in the Corporate Area that have resulted in harm being done to schoolboy footballers.

Lightning and thunder have long been a part of our climate and weather patterns. Usually, but not always, a flash of lightning and the accompanying thunder signal rainfall. As a culture that is steeped in telling stories, many Jamaicans should at least have an inkling of how you should respond, in the event of the sometimes scary lightning and thunder that come with rainstorms, even if you don't know why.

My students in class last week remembered Ben Franklin, and they sort of recalled being told that they should not stand under a tree during the rain when lightning was flashing and thunder was rolling, as we say in Jamaica. But they could not recall why. They were also unaware of other important details about this intense weather activity. I spent a portion of that tutorial engaging in a discussion on Ben Franklin, electricity, lightning, rainstorms and best practices. We learn for life.

Lightning and electricity are siblings. If you do not understand why there are usually no electrical outlets in bathrooms (especially in older buildings); or why movies show someone plugging in a toaster or small appliance and throwing it into someone's bathtub as a murder weapon, then the flow of indigenous knowledge has failed.

Electrical outlets are never placed over, or contiguous to, the kitchen sink in any household. Water, as in rainwater, or any other kind of water, is a great conductor of electricity. Additionally, organic entities, such as human beings, trees, and metal rods are great conductors of the generated electricity we use in buildings, as well as of the kind that occurs with lightning. Inappropriate exposure to either can prove harmful and fatal, especially when water is added to the equation.

Many Jamaicans over 35 years old have an innate fear of lightning because of the stories they heard, the images they have seen or the experiences they had as children. Some will cower in fear, running for closets, under beds and various safe locations to hide from the lightning. Some of the stories they were told remind(ed) them that lightning needs a conductor to ground. It is always attracted to the highest point on any surface, hence the reminder to avoid sheltering under trees during rainfall with attendant lightning and thunder.

If you are the tallest, organic object on a flat surface, you become the grounding device that will conduct the lightning to what it is attracted to the earth(ing). So you must get flat. During lightning-filled thunderstorms, large grassy areas like football fields, cow pastures, grassy yards, lawns, etc are a no-no. Most people try to take cover. If you can't, stories suggest you must get flat. Yes, lie on the ground to avoid exposure. Most houses and tall buildings are equipped with lightning rods that guide the lightning away from the building into the earth. If your house or building has none, now is a great time to ensure that this is remedied.

In a related vein, there are stories about electricity. As children, we were warned away from the “high tension” wires that criss-crossed many roads and communities. Stories of individuals accidentally getting caught in the grip of an electrical surge from “high tension” wires, for whatever reason, were always followed by the necessary suggestions about how to save their life. You must break the grip of the electrical surge; avoid using green branches and metal rods of any sort to push or hit the person out of contact with the electricity, as these will conduct the “high-volt” to and through you; use a dry branch or something wooden, (perhaps a broomstick?) to hit the person off if possible; always act swiftly as time is of the essence; and wear rubber-soled shoes or sandals to avoid creating a conducting circuit.

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