How to Trace (Curse) Like a Jamaican


Let’s say you’re a foreigner visiting Jamaica for the first time and you’ve somehow managed to get on the wrong side of a local woman. It doesn’t really matter how or why you’ve upset her - lets say you stepped on her toe, you cut in front of her in the line at the JPS office, or maybe you stole her husband - all that matters is that you’re now being confronted by a belligerent and insulting adversary who wont let the matter go. You, in turn, feel compelled to respond, but you’re not from Jamaica and you don’t know how this whole tracing (“cussing”) thing is done.  What should you do?

For starters you might deliver a quick, short salvo and then walk away. You might say something along the lines of: “Gweh, yuh face bumpy-bumpy like jackfruit!”  or “Gweh, yuh black like tambrin [tamarind] seed!” Your attacker may not have been expecting a foreigner like you to respond with such skill and alacrity and may be stunned into silence long enough for you to make your getaway.

But what happens if that short riposte doesn’t end the argument and your opponent says something so inexcusable that its simply not possible for you to walk away? Like “Yuh mumma!”

Well, at that point you’ll have to go toe-to-toe with your adversary and you had better be properly prepared.  You might start with something like: “Listen you dry-head, picky-picky, jeyes-ears, horse-mouth, buck-teeth, bandy-leg, bat-ears, snaggle-tooth gyal! Don’t draw me out inside here today!”

A response like that will let her know that you’re not joking and that now would be a good time for her to back down. For extra oomph those lines should be delivered at full volume, chest forward, hands akimbo and your face a few inches away from hers.

You should now get ready for the verbal onslaught to come. If you haven’t managed to stun your opponent into silence or intimidate her into walking away she’ll be getting ready to let you have it with both barrels. Prepare for a full-on verbal attack with no holds barred. So, don’t be taken aback if your assailant approaches you menacingly, hands gesticulating wildly, spewing invective along the lines of: “Noooo... Wait deh. Is wah dis bad colour white gyal jus say to me??? Har face wash out like Vybz Kartel!  Yuh mad, or yuh losing yuh mind? Yuh know say mi will do yuh supm?!”

Dont be intimidated. Well, at least try not to be. Your opponent is merely looking for some weakness in your armour. Show fear and you’re dead. Better to respond by saying “Is wapm to dis junjo-teeth, knock-knee, cross-eye gyal? Is who she want style? Har face favour rat-bat an har nose big like sweet pepper! Gyal mi nuh fraid ah yuh!”

I should warn you that by now, given the volume and vigour of your exchange, a curious crowd will have gathered.  Dont let the crowd unsettle you and, above all, do no not run away. Attempting to flee at this point will be an admission of guilt and weakness and, sensing same, the crowd may pursue you and, on catching you, beat you to death. In Jamaica a tracing match is as much theater as it is genuine confrontation. Winning requires that you get the support of the crowd. Lose it, and…

Better to confront your aggressor and deliver a knockout blow. Find something so sensitive and so off limits that if you press that button it will shake her to her very foundation. If you have the gumption to do it you may want to shout something like “Gweh! Old dutty Labourite!”  Please note that this is the nuclear option. Jamaicans are extremely sensitive about their political affiliations. Please also note that this option will only have a sting in its tail if the person to whom it is directed happens to be a labourite. (If she is a supporter of the PNP you will need to call her a “tiefing Socialist”).  In any case, the objective is to stun and intimidate your opponent and win favour with the crowd. You’re not going for wit and subtlety here. You’re trying to create what the US military would call “shock and awe”. Other nuclear options inlcude referring to the person as an informer, homosexual or bleacher (person who lightens their skin complexion with chemicals). However, please bear in mind that there’s always a small (ok, maybe not so small) chance that uttering any of these epithets could get you stabbed.

Hopefully, however, the audacity and pungency of your response will create pandemonium amongst your appreciative audience and will give you an opportnity to escape with your pride intact. Before you can escape, however, your next move will be to look around you wildly with a crazed look in your eyes. Pretend to be searching for something on the ground. You want your adversary to think that you intend to escalate the confrontation and are now are looking for a weapon with which to do them serious harm.  With any luck she’ll see that you are no ordinary white woman but a crazy b#tch who is not to be trifled with.  If that doesn’t work, say something like “Nooo, dis gyal start me up now. She know say [name of a well-known gunman] is mi big bredda?! Yuh know what, mi ah go fi mi big bredda!” Having uttered these words, which hopefully the onlookers and your opponent will accept as true, they’ll be so stunned (and impressed) that they’ll forget that you’re a white girl from Nebraska who couldn’t possibly have a Jamaican gunman as a brother and they’ll allow you to leave unharmed before you return with your “big bredda”.