Journey through Jamaica


As promised, I am going to educate you about Jamaica…To be honest, I find it a little ironic that I’m just going to do this, given the overall name and theme of my blog and the mission for this site.  In any event, it is about time that I showed some of you the aspects of our culture with which I am familiar.  Of course, it you go on this journey through Jamaica with someone else then you may end up quite somewhere else…

Let’s start:

One of my favourite places… Ideally this is where I’d want to book you for your holiday.  The tours are fabulous too… The Black River Safari where you’d feed crocodiles and see the manatee, and a visit to Floyd’s Pelican Bar located in the middle of the sea and accessible only by boat would be memorable.

I live in Kingston and there’s much to see there as well…I’ll tell you about it in a bit…

I went on a tour of St. Elizabeth some years ago and saw Floyd’s and the Black River Safari and more… One place that was both fascinating and disappointing for me on that tour was Accompong… it’s a Maroon Village here.  (Accompong was one of Nanny’s brothers… Nanny was a warrior chieftain and our only National Heroine in Jamaica.) The Maroons, like the Native Americans in the United States, are an independent people living within the nation of Jamaica.  They are the descendants of the run-away slaves from the 16th – 18th centuries.  They have their own laws and governance structure and celebrate their own holidays.  The only area in which they would come under Jamaican jurisdiction would be if there were a murder case among them…and someone reported it…The truth is that they are peaceful people and so are unlikely to have cases like that come up…

The Rastafarians are also largely separate from the wider Jamaican populace, but they do so more by choice than by law.  They live and work among others, but maintain a separate, very distinctive subculture that involves different rituals and foods.  BTW, I have my dreadlocks styled into a French braid now… I’m sure that many a Rasta will be shaking his head in despair when I unveil it tomorrow.

My mother’s family is from St. Elizabeth – her father’s people from Springfield and her mother’s from Littitz even though mummy was born in St. Ann – so I have an affection for the parish.  In any event, my favourite place in St. Elizabeth must be Treasure Beach, a village that hosts an annual literary festival called Calabash at the Jake’s Resort.  I looked into buying beach-front property together in Treasure Beach but it didn’t work out for me.

While on our journey through Jamaica we’d be listening to dancehall and reggae music.  Things like:

Sean Paul: Like Glue; I would recommend that you put on the entire Dutty Rock album; Gimmie Di Light; Ever Blazin’

Brick and Lace: Love is Wicked; Never Never
Tami Chynn: Over and Over

Third World: Try Jah Love; Now That We’ve Found Love; Always Around.

The Appleton Estate is open to the public and I would have to take you to do the Tour and make a wish in their wishing well!

For more music I’d recommend that you listen to Shaggy’s It Wasn’t Me; Oh Carolina and Mr. Boombastic; Apache Indian’s Boom Shack-a-Lack and Shaka Demus and Pliers’ Twist and Shout and Murder She Wrote.

We’re much more than Bob Marley… We’ll get to hardcore reggae on another leg of our journey…

Jamaica is an ASTOUNDINGLY pretty place.  Our problem is poverty and poor governance here.  We have no oil and the price of oil in the 1970s killed our economy.  We’re still trying to recover.  The chances of this declines every day with the WTO on the side of large developed countries.

As you know, I teach Social Policy among other things at the University of the West Indies at the Mona Campus.  It is a regional university.  I have had to show my students what happened to us and why it is that life is so hard here for some of them.  There is a video that I show during one class just to ensure that they see it because I don’t trust them to do so at home: Life and Debt makes me cry whenever I see it.

After class I’ll take you to lunch…

This is the other thing that makes me cry whenever I hear it: Jamaica’s National Anthem.

This was the video that they played at the conference that I attended last Summer: National Anthem.  The thing that the guy is blowing at the start is a Maroon abeng.  It is one of the most haunting sounds ever.  The wider Jamaican populace shows it much respect.  It is played at ceremonial occasions like at our Independence Day celebrations at the National Stadium here.  The maroons use it as a sacred thing, but the rest of us claim it as well.  We respect what they did for themselves, although they became a controversial people since they signed a treaty to return runaway slaves to the British and so were seen to have turned their backs on the wider black society. While Haiti (a few kilometres to the east of Jamaica) is the first black nation to have declared its independence in the world; the Maroons of Jamaica were the first independent black people in the Western Hemisphere.

In the other video you may have noticed the hummingbird with the very long beak – the Doctor Bird is found only in Jamaica and it is our national bird.  It has the fastest wing beat of all birds in the world and it can hover stationary because of this.  In this video there are butterflies that are also found only in Jamaica.  I’ll tell you about our flora and fauna later…

Ethnically we’re mostly African (Ashanti, Youroba, Ga and other Nigerian and Ghanaian tribes), European (English, Irish, Scottish, German, Spanish and Jewish), Indian and Chinese here… My own heritage is Ga, English, Irish, Scottish, (Dutch – Jewish) and Indian.  There are very few remnants of the Taino and Ciboney people (our aboriginees) still here.  Other people have come to join us, but most Jamaicans remain from the root stock of the  people who came here pre-20th century.

More music to keep us company as we journey through Jamaica:

some of my favourite reggae and dancehall music…

Buju Banton: Untold Stories 
Chevelle Franklin : Joy
Third World: Satta Massagana
Third World: Always Around


Not reggae, but a very great favourite…

Jamaican National Anthem with lyrics.

Let me teach you some other things as we continue our Journey through Jamaica… To be a true Jamaican you ought to know our national pledge and our national song (not the anthem)…

Jamaica’s National Pledge

Before God and All mankind.
I pledge the love and loyalty of my heart
The wisdom and courage of my mind,
The strength and vigour of my body
in the service of my fellow citizens.

I promise to stand up for justice,
Brotherhood and Peace, to work diligently and creatively,
To think generously and honestly, so that,
Jamaica may, under God, increase in beauty, fellowship
and prosperity, and play her part in advancing the welfare
of the whole human race.

The National Song – I Pledge My Heart Forever

Words by Victor S. Reid/Music by Gustav Holst

I pledge my heart forever
To serve with humble pride,
This shining homeland ever,
So long as earth abide.

I pledge my heart this island
As God and faith shall live,
My work, my strength, my love
And my loyalty to give.

O green isle of the Indies,
Jamaica strong and free,
Our vows and loyal promises,
O heartland ‘tis to thee.

A little brawta (A little extra)…Of course, they’ve bettered this since then…

We continue to listen to music as we journey through Jamaica and discuss some of the sadder things of life here like Buju Banton.  He’s a brilliant musician.  His issue is that he’s rabidly homophobic and it is widely believed here that he was set up by the Americans because of this.  He’s in prison in the US now on drug-dealing charges.  People (including me) question his guilt seriously here.  You have to decide that for yourself though.

Pull It Up – Buju Banton & Beres Hammond, the blend of the dancehall artist and the singer is very popular:

One classic pairing is Shabba Ranks and Maxi Priest’s House Call.

Interestingly, Shabba Ranks’ career faltered because of his defense of Buju Banton after one particularly controversial song.  He was on tv in the UK and he was asked his opinion about a Buju Banton song that was very popular at the time and he came out saying that he too was against homosexuality and it cost him his record deal with one of the big US companies (can’t remember which one).  Sadly, a lot of Jamaicans are homophobic.  I do not know why this is so.  There is a movement here now to change our laws and to open the society to more progressive thinking about life.  I am part of that movement in that I try to educate my students who are the social workers and human resource development practitioners in the country.  I remember having to abort my lesson plan for a set of Master of Social Work students one evening.  They (all) seemed to equate homosexuality with pedophilia!  I had to spend about two hours talking about that!  I couldn’t leave the topic until they understood that they were speaking about two different things and two different kinds of people.  I explained to them that they were not fit for professional practice if they couldn’t distinguish their clients from each other.

To be honest, this situation of homophobia in Jamaica saddens and embarrasses me.  I am straight myself, but I cannot condone some of the things that other people do and say here in the name of all Jamaicans.  I think that the issues of people fearing what they do not understand signals a failure in our education system.  Children do not have these natural fears and so they must be taught to lose their curiousity about others… I remember travelling in England as a child and being questioned about being black.  I did not suspect any racism, I just answered the questions.  I confess though that I am more afraid to travel now because I am not sure what some people will do to me BECAUSE I’m black.

Beres Hammond and Cutty Ranks: Tempted to Touch (not the one that you probably know from Kevin Lyttle)

Not a dancehall-reggae duo here but I had to introduce you to Wayne Wonder… Wayne Wonder does great duos with Sanchez though… I wanted to introduce you to Jacob “Killer” Miller also.  Jacob Miller died tragically in a car crash…I remember the day very clearly. Another moment etched in my memory is the night when it was announced that there was an explosion at a house in the country and that Garnett Silk and his mother were killed!  It was the gas cylinder that they used to cook that exploded and killed them both!  That was a truly sad event here.

Not Jamaican and not reggae, dancehall, dubstep or ska… but I had to introduce you to the hypnotic Alison Hinds and Square One from Barbados. Faluma is one of my favourites… Quite a workout, don’t you think?

But back to our Journey through Jamaica:

Random highlights

True Jamaican courage.

One of the MOST exciting races ever!

This is the world record race for the 4x100m for men.

I have a dream of us having a film industry here; something to rival Hollywood, Bollywood and Nollywood…Jollywood?  Nah!

In any event, we have many stories to tell and some have already been told:

Please see The Harder they Come if you can and Cool Runnings.  Many others have been told here even though they are not actually Jamaican stories… That’s something for another post though…Please, tell me what you think so far… are you going to journey through Jamaica with me?

About Gabrielle Burns

I am a Jamaican at play here in this vast playground in cyberspace....Yes, at times I do like to live dangerously, but I AM also working hard at becoming more interesting by the day... :)
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