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Archives for January 2013

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A Visit to the Hanover Museum #Jamaica

Places that hold memories of the past lose some of their emotional sting over time and free us to fill in the spaces with our imagines of how things were.

On a visit to the Hanover Museum in Lucea, Jamaica, I saw for the first time the inside of a colonial jail and I could almost feel the pain that stained the walls.

The Hanover Museum Jamaica is located in what was formerly the Hanover Workhouse, a two-story structure that was built of cut stone, about 12″ thick, that was transported from England as ship’s ballast. It is uncertain when this workhouse was built but there are references to it at the time of the Hanover Conspiracy, an attempted slave uprising in 1776.

The Hanover Workhouse consisted of four rooms, a jailor’s house and, on an upper level, two “apartments” for debtors. It served as a place of incarceration for male and female slaves who were held there for a variety of offences. (According to one of the storyboards, one woman said she was there for having too many children — eight.) Some were also sent to the workhouse to be ‘broken in’ upon arrival in Jamaica.

Prisoner bed at Hanover Museum Jamaica

Hanover Museum Jamaica – concrete bed with ‘pillow’

The tour begins in the main area that is said to have held up to 50 people. Off this area is a cell with a concrete bed that runs the length of the room, almost filling it. About 3 feet off the floor, the bed had a pillow — of concrete — and reportedly slept up to 15 prisoners. Seeing this bed, my mind drifted to the words from Bob Marley. “Cold ground was my bed last night, and rock was my pillow too” from Talking Blues.

Next to the sleeping area, are two smaller cells where prisoners were sent for solitary confinement. There were no beds here and I wondered if they were kept shackled in collars or other contraptions.

There’s another large room but it’s unclear what that was used for. Only the cut stone outer walls of the upper floor remain.

The Hanover Workhouse, as the name suggests, was not a place of relaxation. Prisoners were fed minimal rations and they had to work – breaking stones, clearing brush and fixing roads – and they were chained together to get it done.

There were other methods of punishment: prisoners were put in collars or on a treadmill, a brutal mechanism that resembled a waterwheel above with a horizontal bar which they had to hold, their feet just touching the wheel. They had to keep pedaling the wheel in order to avoid serious injury or a whipping from the overseer who stood nearby.

A Disturbing Artifact

One disturbing artifact that is on view is a metal cage, called a gibbet, in which a prisoner was enclosed from head to toe. I felt a chill down my back as the guide explained that after being secured in the gibbet, it would be hung outside until the slave died.

In 17th century England, judges could impose a sentence of gibbeting for those found guilty of capital crimes like murder, pirating, etc. Thomas Thistlewood, a British plantation overseer, recorded in his journal that gibbeting was used in Westmoreland during the 1760 Tacky rebellion.

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The Best of Travel 2012

I spent most of 2012 traveling around Jamaica and did a two-part review a few weeks ago but it’s great pull out the photos again and reminisce. Thanks to Michael  at Strux Travel, for helping me see my year in a whole new light. Here then is my Best of Travel 2012.

Best Domestic Travel Destination 2012

Blue Mountain travel

Blue Mountain

Hiking isn’t the first activity I’d pick to do on vacation but Jamaica’s Blue Mountains have always fascinated me. Last year, I decided to try to catch the spectacular sunrise I’d seen on a travel show several years ago. My guide and I left at 2:00 a.m. on a freezing cold Friday so that we’d be at the peak by daybreak. Unfortunately, sunrise caught us a few hours from the summit. To say I was disappointed would be an understatement so I’ve made a promise to myself to return.

Best International Destination 2012

Travel to Toronto

Shrimp and vegetable

My best trips are the ones where I connect with friends or family, or make new friends. In 2012, I returned to Toronto for the first time in nearly 5 years. Toronto was a second home for me during my years at university in Ottawa — it was where I’d go when I needed to escape. I still have close friends and family there so when I heard my godson was graduating high school, I knew I had to attend. I also knew I’d see my friends from school and we’d do what we always do when we get together: cook, eat, drink and talk about life at university. One of my friends is an amateur chef who used to cook us these fabulous meals when we were at school. We still depend on him to deliver.

Travel to Toronto

Variety of food, toronto

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Accompong Maroons Celebrate 275 Years of Independence from Britain

Those of you who read my posts last year about Jamaica marking 50 years of independence from Britain might be a little confused by the title of this post.

If Jamaica celebrated only 50 years of independence in 2012, how can the Jamaican Maroons be celebrating 275 years?  And who are these Maroons?

Please read on and I’ll explain.

Accompong Maroon abeng

The Abeng

Who are the Maroons?

The Maroons are Africans who escaped into the interior of the island when the British grabbed Jamaica from the Spanish in 1655. Some found refuge in the Blue and John Crow Mountains in the eastern parishes of Portland, St. Thomas, St. Andrew and St. Mary. They became known as the Windward Maroons. Others took to the Cockpit Country, an area that covers parts of the parishes of St. Elizabeth, Manchester, St. James, Trelawny, St. Ann and St. Mary. They became known as the Leeward Maroons.

Both are difficult and sometimes inhospitable locations which the Maroons used to their advantage when the British, who didn’t take kindly to their slaves escaping plantation life, came hunting them. What the British didn’t count on, however, was the skill and tenacity of these slaves, whose name is derived from the Spanish word for untamed, cimarron, and their unquenchable desire for freedom.

Using the trees and vegetation as camouflage, the Maroons were able to beat back the invading British forces. Unable to defeat them after two Maroon Wars, the British decided to join them and signed treaties with both the Leeward (January 6, 1738), and Windward Maroons (1739).

Under the treaties, the Maroons were given several thousand acres of land and allowed to live in partial autonomy in communities such as Accompong Town, Trelawny Town, Moore Town, Scotts Hall and Nanny Town. In exchange, they had to turn over any new runaway slaves (eventually becoming slave hunters themselves), and fight alongside the British to defend the island from outside attack.

The treaties, which are in force to this day, in effect created autonomous states within the island. The Maroons govern themselves — the Jamaican government can intervene only in cases of capital crime, which is rare among them. All lands belong to the communities – there are no individual owners — and they pay no taxes.

Each year, on January 6th, Accompong Town celebrates the anniversary of the signing of the treaty, and the birthday of their founder, Kojo (and brother of Nanny, founder of the Windward Maroons and National Heroine), with a party that draws hundreds of Jamaicans and visitors to their community in the hills of the St. Elizabeth section of the Cockpit Country.

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Inauguration 2013: Barack Obama and MLK, United Today

Four years ago, I was among nearly 2 million people who traveled to the National Mall in Washington, D.C. to witness the Inauguration of President Barack Obama. Today, I’m 1,500 miles away, watching the ceremony on television. But no matter where on the map you are, geographically or politically, the pomp and the ceremony are no less poignant or humbling.

Of course, there are obvious differences between today and four years ago. For one, the temperature in Washington, DC was colder for the last inauguration than it is today, and there are far less people on the Mall than there were then. Watching the ceremony on my TV, I realize just how much of the proceedings I missed — despite the many jumbotrons that were on the Mall.

For Inauguration 2013, a look back at 2009

The President and First Lady in 2009

Of course, the significance of today, January 21, 2013, isn’t lost on most people. To have the president being inaugurated on the day that’s set aside to celebrate the birthday of civil rights activist and preacher, Martin Luther King, Jr., must be gratifying for those who worked and lobbied for the holiday.

And for the survivors of those who, like King, lost their lives in the struggle, it must have been a proud moment to see Myrlie Evers-Williams, the widow of slain civil rights activist, Medgar Evers, deliver the inaugural invocation.

Today, there’s a sense of having come full circle. MLK’s monument graces the southwest corner of the Mall, his spirit hovered over Inauguration 2013 and his dream of an inclusive America was echoed in Richard Blanco’s poem, “One Today,” and in the president’s inaugural address.

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