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Born Fi' Dead: A Journey Through The Jamaican Posse Underworld [Paperback]

Laurie Gunst
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 15 1996
Of the ethnic gangs that rule America’s inner cities, none has had the impact of the Jamaican posses. Spawned in the ghettos of Kingston as mercenary street-fighters for the island’s politicians, the posses began migrating to the United States in the early 1980s, just in time to catch and ride the crack wave as it engulfed the country. Feared and honored for being “harder than the rest,” they would lay claim to their new American territory with outlaw bravura, and the raw dancehall music born of their world would define “gangsta” culture for a generation of angry sufferers in Jamaica, American, and England. Laurie Gunst spent a decade moving with the possemen, and Born Fi’ Dead is her unique account of this netherworld, the first to bring to life Jamaica’s international gangs.

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From Publishers Weekly

Nothing encapsulates the sad story of 20th-century Jamaica better than the name the island's poor give themselves?"sufferers." Their suffering is the result of political battles between left and right, the latter supported by the U.S. The posses?street gangs made up of very poor people brought up on American westerns, kung fu and Stallone and Schwarzenegger movies?were converted into political strong-arm groups; the warfare reached its high point in the election of 1980, with about 800 political killings. Many posse members then emigrated to the U.S., where they channeled their violence into the crack trade. Gunst, who taught at the University of the West Indies in Kingston and wrote her doctoral dissertation on Jamaica, explores the line between the underworlds of New York and Kingston and shows just how ill-fated the island has become. The title is island patois for "born but to die."
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

This book's title comes from an anonymous poem and refers to the high odds of violent death among Jamaican gang members. Gunst, an academic who has taught in Jamaica, combines a history of Jamaican gangs with an account of her own personal experience with gang members. Tracing the origins of the gangs from the rivalry between two political parties in Jamaica, she then follows their evolution into drug-dealing on the island and in New York City. Through her narratives of her meetings with gang members, politicians, and other local people, Gunst presents a vivid picture of the unique culture of the gangs?called posses after the movie Westerns that strongly influenced their culture. She allows several members whom she befriended to tell their own stories, often in their own patois. These tales are inevitably tragic, filled with early deaths from drugs or guns, political exploitation, racism, and poverty. The book's structure is somewhat disjointed, following Gunst's peregrinations between the United States and Jamaica. This, along with the sheer number of characters, makes the story difficult to follow. Nevertheless, this remains a moving portrait of wasted lives caught in a culture of violence and self-destruction. Recommended for public and academic collections.?Ben Harrison, East Orange P.L., N.J.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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The five men from the Renkers posse carried baseball bats, flashlights, and a set of chains into the basement of the derelict building on Pacific Street in Brooklyn. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Born fi Dead is by no means the definitive work on the topic of Jamaican criminal gangs, but as it is one of only a published few, one is obliged to read it if at all interested in the subject. The American author, a Harvard graduate and self-styled 'street ethnographer,' carried out 10 years of intensive research for the book- some two years of which she undertook in Jamaica. It charts the rise, rise and fall (more of a stumble) of the notorious Jamaican gangsters - dubbed 'Posses' in the US and 'Yardies' in the UK. Laurie Gunst eloquently illuminates the hostile backdrop that spawns the gunmen, depicting their path from political conception to subsequent redundancy to their flight to America, where crack and easy access to more guns were conveniently waiting in the early eighties. Poverty, high-powered weapons and narcotics are the staple diet of the content of the book. All the major warlords are acknowledged - Claudie Massop, Bucky Marshall, the CIA, the Jim Brown dynasty, "Uzi" Edwards and the like, though some are portrayed with a little too much deference to the cowboy movies we're informed had so much influence on the protagonists. The colonial context and crimson history of the island and it's inhabitants is also covered, though with a hand towel rather than a tarpaulin; more pages are devoted to the surviving and/or imprisoned soldiers of the ghetto ranks, recanting the cinematic scenes from their virulent, violent careers. Ms Gunst, however, doesn't refrain from telling it how she saw it - pulling no punches when disclosing the catalytic role played by the fire-starting local politicians: ".......they got their guns from the JLP (a one-time ruling party. Read more ›
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5.0 out of 5 stars Born fi dead Laurie Gunst July 6 2010
I am trying to get a copy of this book as I have not read it yet but have been recommemded it. As a Jamaican living in Jamaica I am very curious to see WHY this book was banned in Jamaica( i assume why it was banned is that I hear she calls the names of many known people who are in politics that are / were alleged affiliated in some form to these criminals). One needs to ask if this book is just fiction then why would a country ban it or why wouldnt the people mentioned in the book have sued Ms. Gunst for libel??
Given the recent civil unrest that occured in Jamaica in May 2010 when the US was trying for about 10 months to have the Jamaican Govt (JLP) extradite Christopher Dudus Coke. For 10 months they tried every which way to stop, prevent, not sign the extradition request. They finally signed it due to much pressure from the public when it was discovered the govt tried lobbying against the extradition of Coke through the D.C-based law firm of Manatt, Phelps and Phillips
The recent events in Kingston and in particular of the govt have disappointed me to no end and it has been a great and utter embarrasement for Jamaica and Jamaiicans in the eyes of the world. We have harboured a drug lord! My hope is that Dudus will now that he is in custody in the US will finally talk the talk and rat out dirty politicians and maybe this will be a step in the right direction to end of garrison politics.
I havent read the book yet but from what i have heard of it,with all these recent events there should definately be a follow up.
When one lives on such a small island there is a saying when you hear something "if it doesnt go so , then it nearly goes so"
Anyhow, I am hoping Amazon will get copies very soon!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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4.0 out of 5 stars Biased but realistic March 14 2002
I read this book and it opened my eyes to the root of the Jamaican situation. Born in the UK but living in Barbados it was most interesting reading of a political situation that a Bajan would never dream of experiencing...but yet we are all West Indians.
The author is obviously biased and they're two sides to the tale...however the violence we all know existed spoke for itself and having not been in the situation one has to depend on logic not to be mis-led. The main thing that came across was once your party is not in power you starve. Secondly the posse and yardie movements in the US and UK was based on gang turf for drug and other illict trades with political bais brought from Jamaica.
The pain is how many lifes were lost due to the latter. I never knew what "Green Bay" was all about........I always liked Kojak's version....the politicians losing control of the gunmen and trying to turn them against each other..........a setup to get rid of as many of them at one time. My point is let's put the bias aside...it is obviously pro-Manley...........but the book also shows politicains check for and care about themselves only and that is where reality conquers bias in this novel.
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1.0 out of 5 stars Hatchet job Aug. 24 2000
As someone who knows what it is like to live in Jamaica, I found this book to be an excellent hatchet job on those who opposed the government of the 70,s. I think that Laura has been made a bit of a fool by the Anansi types that inhabit our intellectual ghettoes,and also our economic and social ghettoes. She accepts without question the things fed to her by one side of the civil war. In her pseudo-objective (and very superficial),so called academic fashion she comes to conclusions that demonstrate her lack of understanding of the dynamics of the situation that existed then. If it is true that we are now suffering from the monsters that were created then,it might be because we did not do enough, in the 80's, to exorcise the demons that arose during the period of the 70's. Had Miss Guntz the intellectual capacity to adopt a more objective approach in researching and writing this book, she would have done us a favour. As it is, she has only added heat, and not light to, the current situation in Jamaica. Can I give her zero stars?
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A harsh reality
This book displayed a harsh reality of what life was like for many Jamaicans during this period. It clearly showed why so many Jamaicans migrated to get away from the somewhat... Read more
Published on Feb. 24 2004
3.0 out of 5 stars the naked truth
Miss gunst is to be commended. This is a book that no Jamaican had the gutz to write. Mr. Seaga is indeed one of (by no means the only) the worst tragedies in Jamaica's history. Read more
Published on Dec 7 2001 by Mackandal
1.0 out of 5 stars FICTION NOT FACT
Ms Gunst is not bad as a storyteller and this book might have made a good novel. But after talking to some people she 'interviewed' and hearing how she twisted their words, I don't... Read more
Published on Oct. 9 2001 by john smithers
1.0 out of 5 stars hatchet job 2
As somene who actually lived through those times and lived in the Southside ghetto she writes about and knew a lot of the people in this book I must say that the spin on events... Read more
Published on Jan. 4 2001 by Andrew Tai Sue
5.0 out of 5 stars Born Fi Dead-Exposes Jamaica's Gun Obsession
What author Laurie Gunst has written has been well researched and documented. However we will have some Jamaicans up in arms at the hidden truths of our gun crazy society. Read more
Published on Aug. 16 2000
5.0 out of 5 stars Easy Reading
Although there were few things in the book which were new to me, I found it refreshing to read from an objective-thinking author. Read more
Published on July 23 2000 by cherylldawn
5.0 out of 5 stars Exceptional Investigative Study
Riveting and aggressively reported, this is the finest study available on the Jamaican drug posses. It also gives a revealing look at their origins. Read more
Published on May 14 2000
4.0 out of 5 stars A very good book
A must read for anyone interested in the history of Jamaican political gangs. Laurie takes you back to the begining to give to a ful understanding of how these gangs began. Read more
Published on Feb. 12 2000
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