IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this article

The buccra-massa and the little man's broker in a Jamaican sugartown: Implications for community health education


  • Whitehead, Tony L.


In societies that have been historically stratified by class, interclass communication is frequently hampered by behaviors of higher status people that lower status people interpret as denigrating. To escape what they perceive as denigration, lower status people may attempt to avoid interclass interaction, and, when it is unavoidable, adopt such strategies as not making direct eye contact, saying very little except what they think the higher status people want to hear (including flattery), and using a lower status peer as an intermediary. Such behavioral patterns have important implications for the design of health services programs. This paper presents a case study of such interaction difficulties observed during 13 months of anthropological research in a Jamaican town. The lower status people in the town of Haversham (a pseudonym) refer to this avoidance behavior as the 'buccra-massa'. The antonym of buccra-massa is 'buck-the-massa'. 'Buck-the-massa' is characterized by being able to look higher status people in the eye and boldly engage them in conversation. Lower status persons who are known for bucking the massa are frequently used as intermediaries in cross-class interactions. Because Havershamians refer to higher status men as 'big men' and to lower status men as 'little men', the author calls the intermediaries used by lower status people in Haversham, 'little man's brokers'. The author argues that the buccra-massa and buck-the-massa behavioral traditions had their roots in the complex and extreme social inequalities of the slavery period in Jamaica. It is further argued that economic difficulties in Jamaica since the slavery period have contributed to the persistence of these behavioral dynamics to the present day. The buccra-massa/buck-the-massa behavioral complex is often manifested in health care settings in Jamaica. Thus, the author suggests that the little man's broker can be very useful in promoting less threatening, and therefore more effective, interactions between the clients and the staff of health and other human service programs. He notes that while staffmembers often view brokering behavior as trouble making, many of the clients they wish to serve view this same behavior as bucking-the-massa. It is a mistake, according to this analysis, to ignore the little man's broker. As this case study of Jamaica shows, accomplished brokers can choose to exert their extensive influence against utilization of services offered by specific programs. Finally, the author points to some cross-cultural implications of the buccra-massa/ buck-the-massa behavioral complex; it should be particularly looked for in societies which have long histories of slavery and/or colonial rule.

Suggested Citation

  • Whitehead, Tony L., 1984. "The buccra-massa and the little man's broker in a Jamaican sugartown: Implications for community health education," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 19(5), pages 561-572, January.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:19:y:1984:i:5:p:561-572

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: Full text for ScienceDirect subscribers only

    As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to search for a different version of it.

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Temin, Peter, 1983. "Costs and benefits in switching drugs from Rx to OTC," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 2(3), pages 187-205, December.
    2. Foster, S. D., 1990. "Improving the supply and use of essential drugs in sub-Saharan Africa," Policy Research Working Paper Series 456, The World Bank.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    More about this item


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:19:y:1984:i:5:p:561-572. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Dana Niculescu). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    We have no references for this item. You can help adding them by using this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.