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

Listed author(s):
  • Whitehead, Tony L.
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    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.

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    Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Social Science & Medicine.

    Volume (Year): 19 (1984)
    Issue (Month): 5 (January)
    Pages: 561-572

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    Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:19:y:1984:i:5:p:561-572
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