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close this book Daughters of Sysiphus
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View the document Annex I - Glossary of terms
View the document Annex II - Overview of the women who served as case studies
View the document Annex III - Lena

Annex I - Glossary of terms

All-age school

An all-age school takes children from the age of 6 to 15. These schools are gradually being replaced by primary and secondary schools but the majority of children still attend them.


An apartment generally refers to a single room rather than to a "flat or "apartment" in the British or American use of the term. Often a oneroom apartment provides accommodation for an entire household.


A specially constructed market for dry-goods higglers now known as informal commercial importers.


Relatives abroad often send dry goods to the island in large cardboard barrels.

Birth paper

Birth certificate.

Block and steel

This is the most favoured form of construction in Jamaica and consists of concrete blocks reinforced with steel. It is a particularly suitable building method for the area because of the region's vulnerability to earthquakes and hurricanes.


A single light.


A term synonymous with squatting.


A chamber pot used as a child's toilet.

Comprehensive upgrading area

Relatively large areas that are designated upgrading areas and that normally fall under the auspices of the Ministry of Housing or the Urban Development Corporation.


A popular furniture store that sells mass-produced furniture on hire purchase.

Crash programme

A subsidized employment programme run by the Government led by the People's National Party during the 1970s. The majority of crash workers were employed as street cleaners.

Day's work

Temporary domestic work paid at a daily rate and with no security or benefits.

Dead letter

The term dead letter refers to a last will and testament.

Does not own us

This term refers to a lack of acknowledgment of legitimate familial relationship.


See Partner.


Refers to locked hair like that worn by the Masai warriors of Kenya. Many Rastafarians wear dreadlocks and are commonly referred to as Dreads.

Drum latrine

The cheapest and most basic form of pit latrine is made by digging a pit about six-feet deep and placing two empty oil drums in it. Holes are bored in the sides of the drums which help to shore up the side of the pit whilst allowing for gradual filtration into the surrounding soil.

807 factories

The garment factories where clothing is assembled from pre-cut fabric brought in from the United States. The finished goods are exported to the United States under a concessional trade agreement.

Family Land

Family land is a form of land ownership that is based in traditional or customary law which has its origins in traditional West African practices rather than the European system of titling which was formally introduced into the Jamaican legal system with the Registration of Titles Law of 1888. To this day a large proportion of the Jamaican public remain unaware of the rules of the formal tenure system and effectively continue to rely on the older traditional system. This is particularly true in the rural areas but also apparent in the older areas of Kingston. The crucial difference between family land and individually-owned land is that family land cannot be sold to the benefit of an individual member of the family as all family members have right of access to build and reside. Besson (1987) has convincingly demonstrated that family land was created by Creole society as a response to the constraints of agrarian relations and legal codes developed by the white plantocracy. With the advent of the formal system of tenure all sorts of contradictions were introduced including the difficult problem of legitimacy in the case of families which traditionally placed little importance on the coincidence of conjugal relationships and marriage.

Farm work

Many male farm labourers travel to the United States and Canada each year to work on farms as pickers and cutters. This farm work is organized under large-scale contract agreements made at the national level and is one of the most effective ways in which low-income families can earn and save the money necessary to invest in a home in Jamaica.

Food stamps

These are stamps issued by Government to low-income families. They can be exchanged for milk powder, rice and corn meal in local supermarkets. Their value amounts to $20 per household per month. When Hurricane Gilbert hit the island in September 1988, emergency food stamps were issued to households with a value of $40 a month. Up to five individuals from a single household were eligible to claim stamps. Stamps were also issued for building materials and agricultural supplies.




The freezone is an area where goods exported duty free are assembled and manufactured. The Freezone in Kingston is a major employer of female labour and many of the 807 factories are located there.


The areas within the inner city that are closely associated with factional politics and that are allied to one or other of the two main parties.


Hurricane Gilbert, the strongest hurricane to have been recorded in the area this century, hit Jamaica directly on 12 September 1988. Also known by some as Killbert.

Ground rent

See Spot rent.


See Partner.


The Human Employment and Resource Training Trust. This is the country's most prominent vocational training system which is based on a series of residential training centres that take in school leavers for skill training.

Helper/office helper

A helper is a domestic worker.


A vendor of small produce or goods. There are increasingly large numbers of higglers who bring in goods from overseas to sell in "Bend Down Plaza" (on the pavement). Many of these higglers have been incorporated into the formal tax structure of the country. They are known as informal commercial importers within the government system.

High school

Jamaican children sit a selection test at age 1 1 known as the Common Entrance. The minority who pass are allocated places at the prestigious high schools which are based on the old British grammar school model. The vast majority who do not pass either go to all age schools or to secondary schools.

House paper

House paper refers to a receipt for the purchase of the house. Such a receipt constitutes proof of ownership.


Reference is made in the introduction of this study to the racial and cultural diversity of Jamaicans. Many Indians came to Jamaica in the mid nineteenth century as indentured labourers. They were employed on the sugar estates after emancipation of the African slaves led to the mass withdrawal of labour from the plantations.

It come from far generations

Land was captured by ex-slaves following emancipation and developed in small-scale agriculture. Land settled in this way has been passed down from one generation to the next over time and is considered to be "owned" by the family even when no formal land-titling process has taken place.

Justice of the Peace

A local dignitary who performs a number of legal functions.

Lease land

Leasing is a form of long-term tenancy that is more prevalent with respect to land than it is to dwellings. It is a particularly common feature of agricultural land and is rather more common in the rural than urban areas. Typical leasing arrangements run between 5 and 30 years. Lease payments are usually made on a quarterly or annual rather than monthly basis.


Light is a term used synonymously with electricity.


Incrementally. Bit by bit, over time. The manner in which most informally constructed shelter is built.

Live free

This refers to a tenure relationship in which the property is not owned by the occupier, nor rented, nor leased, and which has not been captured nor squatted. The classic example of living free is the inner-city occupant of a tenement yard who initially may have paid rent but who ceased to do so when the landlord effectively abandoned the property in response to inner-city violence and political turbulence. Another example is a tenant of government- owned property who benefits from the traditional blind eye of Jamaica's long-standing political patronage system.


This term does not necessarily entail legal marriage. Women refer to their baby's father's mother as their mother-in-law for example.

National Housing Trust

Compulsory deductions are made from all formal wage and salary earners and lodged with the National Housing Trust which is supposed to extend low-interest mortgage financing to low-income households for purchase. improvement and extension of housing. Unfortunately few low-income households in the KMA seem to benefit. Of 677 household heads interviewed only I had ever received assistance from the Trust.


The term nog refers to concrete nog walls. These are built by erecting a wooden frame, placing the columns three to four feet apart. Wide boards are attached to each side of the columns and concrete (often mixed with marl) is poured between the boards. As soon as the concrete is set. the boards are moved to another part of the frame and the process is repeated until the entire wall is completed. The concrete panel is reinforced and held in place by stapling barbed wire between the columns or by using reinforcing rods.

Outside child

A child parented by a person other than one's present partner.


Refers to legal ownership of the land and/or dwelling, and to customary ownership which may be lacking in legal documentation. According to Edith Clarke (1954) there are three documents which are commonly believed to give proof of land-ownership under customary as opposed to formal law. These are:

(a) A receipt from a vendor;

(b) A tax receipt for the land;

(c) A will bequeathing the land.

In this study if respondents said that they owned the dwelling and / or the land it was recorded as such with no formal documentary proof being requested.

Partner; Hand, Draw; Banker

The Partner is a saving system which is described more fully in the section on savings and loans. Within this system a throw is the regular amount paid into the saving scheme and the draw is the amount that is finally withdrawn. The draw is made up of the hand which is the sum of everybody's throws. The banker is the person who runs the Partner.


The upper ranks of the unofficial political leadership in a ghetto area. Often considered to be responsible for protection and security in the area.


A member of a religious group which regards Ras Tafari, Haile Selassie, the former Emperor of Ethiopia, as a deity. The group developed in the 1930s, inspired by Selassie's struggle against the Italians for control of Ethiopia. Rastas or Dreads, as they are also called, avow a desire to return to Africa, physically or spiritually by establishing an African society where they live. This includes a rejection of the European cultural values that are associated with colonialism. There is a wide range of thought among Rastafarians. Some place great emphasis on the tradition. For others the cultural and political aspects of the African outlook are more important. The culture has influenced many who are not believers in Selassie to adopt elements of the Rasta way of life such as vegetarianism, locked hair (as is worn by the Masai warriors of Kenya), and the use of words developed within the group, e.g., irie - all right. Marijauna smoking is treated as a religious right among many Rastafarians.


Renting is a short-term tenancy arrangement with rent normally being paid on a monthly basis. Rental agreements are more common to dwellings than they are to land alone.


Cockroach. These are a well-known hazard of pit latrines. Experienced users usually place a piece of newspaper under the seat so that roaches don't scratch their buttocks.

Round pole

Supports made from cut trees rather than processed lumber.

Secondary school

Secondary schools take in students from age 1 1 or 12 to age 18 who do not pass the common entrance examination.

Settlement upgrading

Sqatter upgrading, normally involving the regularization of land tenure, the granting of title, and upgrading of basic services such as water and sewage.

Share a pot

Eat a common meal. Often people put on a pot to recompense people for the labour contributed during the building of a house.


Wooden shingles were a popular form of roofing prior to the introduction of corrugated steel sheeting. Indeed shingles were considered the up-market roofing material with thatch being used by the poor. Serious fires in Kingston also had an effect on the pace with which shingle roofing has become replaced over the years by other forms of roofing material.


Slab is the first layer of wood cut from a tree in the lumber yard. The next layer is known as skim. After that come the layers that are sold as first class lumber.

Sou sou


Spot rent

(Also known as ground rent.) Many poor people in Jamaica own their own wooden housing unit. However they often do not own a piece of land on which to put it. Landlords therefore charge a ground or spot rent for the land on which the house rests. This rent may take the form of a monthly rental payment or a quarterly or annual lease payment. Landlords offering a ground spot often stipulate that no permanent structure (i.e., composed of concrete or block and steel) may be erected.


Squatting refers to the illegal occupation of land or dwelling. In Jamaica it nearly always refers to land occupation, and squatting of housing is rare. It has strong historical antecedents in Jamaica as it was the main form of land occupation used by the newly-freed slaves following emancipation and was also practiced by their ax-masters who tended to squat on the best land available in the plains. Squatting is recognized within the formal legal system and squatters have rights of undisputed possession after a period of 12 years in the case of private land and 50 years in the case of Crown land.


An examination subject. Most of these are overseas examinations and the fees that have to be paid to take them are expensive. Many poor families have a hard time finding the money to cover this educational expense.




A tatoo is a shack or temporary structure of the kind erected by many squatters when they first capture a piece of land. Tatoos are made of anything from cardboard and zinc to recycled board.


Town is synonymous with Kingston.

Upstairs house

An upstairs house is a house with more than one storey.

Wattle and daub

Wattle and daub is one of the earliest forms of building and dates back to the earliest Jamaican settlements. The method is reminiscent of both African and European techniques and was usually, in its earliest form, combined with thatch roofing. Nowadays it is normally combined with a zinc roof. A wooden frame is erected and bamboo, sticks or cane are woven between the vertical columns, then covered with mud to form the wall. Usually a plaster is then applied to both sides of the walls. The plaster is a mix of mud and lime with an application of a cement-sand mix or lime wash on the outside.


A piece of furniture that is composed of shelving and is often used as a room divider. Ornaments are usually arranged on it.


Yard is a very complex concept within the Jamaican context. The term is used regularly in a number of different ways:

- The space surrounding a building and enclosed within an outer boundary, usually a fence of zinc or board, but sometimes a wall;

- One's home:

- As In tenement yard or Government yard. A set configuration in which buildings are generally rented out on a one room per household basis to tenants. The traditional yards developed on the basis of a pattern established in the grass yards during slavery times. There is usually one larger main or "front" unit that is occupied by the landlord. The Government yards which were constructed during the late 1940s are a more formalized barrack style reproduction of the basic model. Brodber ( 1975) has documented the yards of Kingston in considerable detail. One of the main features of these yards is the sharing of common infrastructure such as standpipe water supply and latrines. Yards are often important for women because they provide a relatively protected common area for child care thus "freeing-up" women who have to go out to earn an income.


Zinc refers to corrugated iron sheeting which is the most common roofing material used by poor people in Jamaica.