From the BlogSubscribe Now

Last updated by at .

The Rhumba Box

While waiting in the immigration line at the Donald Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay a few years ago, I heard the unmistakable sound of a mento band. They were playing a familiar tune, Take Her to Jamaica, and as I waited, I tapped my feet lightly and hummed along.

The singing got louder as I exited immigration on my way to pick up my luggage from the carousel. By now, I could see the musicians – three or four of them. One was playing a rhumba box, a percussion instrument that I hadn’t seen in years.

Rhumba box, Jamaica

Rhumba box

The rhumba box is a two foot square wooden box. It has a hole in the center to which is attached five metal strips that are tuned to different pitches. At that size, it’s also a seat for the musician and allows him to reach the metal keys.

The rhumba box originated from the African mbira, or thumb piano. It made its way to Cuba, where it’s called the marímbola, then to other countries. In Jamaica, it’s synonymous with mento, the folk music that is a precursor to ska and reggae.

Sitting on the rhumba box, he strummed the metal strips to hold the rhythm for the guitar and the maracas players as they belted out the words to another song, This Long Time Gal.

I watched many stoic faces relax and smile as they heard the music. I was still humming to myself as I walked out of the airport.

Click here to listen to the sound of the rhumba box and here to hear a mento version of Amy Winehouse’s Rehab by the Jolly Boys.

 

I’m linking this post to the weekly photo linkup, Travel Photo Thursday, at Budget Travelers Sandbox. Be sure to head over and check out other photos from locations around the world. Enjoy!

 

5 Reasons to Visit St. Thomas, Jamaica

I never made it to St. Thomas, located on Jamaica’s southeastern coast, until I was in high school. As part of our graduation celebration, our teacher organized a day trip around the island that brought us not to Morant Bay, its historic capital, but to Prospect Pen to view the Jamintel Earth Station* that had opened some years earlier. I still have the grainy photo of us posing primly in our navy school uniforms with part of the satellite station in the background.

St. Thomas, the 9th largest parish on the island, is bordered on its northern end by the Blue Mountains. Its diverse landscape includes mountains and wetland areas. The island’s only east-west river, the Plantation Garden, is located in the parish.

Bath Fountain plaque, St. Thomas Jamaica

Plaque at Bath Fountain

St. Thomas was established in 1662 and named for Thomas, Lord Windsor, who was governor of Jamaica at that time. It was known then as St. Thomas in the East. The name it was shortened to St. Thomas around 1866 when the number of parishes was reduced from 22 to 14.

St. Thomas has been home to the indigenous Taino Indians, Spanish, British and Maroon communities. Archeologists have found remnants of Taino settlements, dating to 650AD, in several locations in the parish.

[Read more…]

Jamaica @51: Rice and Peas or the Jamaican Coat of Arms

Welcome to another #FoodieTuesday!

You can join the #FoodieTuesday linkup by –

  • Adding the link to your foodie post in the link tool at the bottom of this post
  • Leaving a comment.
  • As a courtesy, please include a link back to this post.
  • Tweeting, G-plusing, Facebooking using the hashtag #FoodieTuesday

 

Today, Jamaica celebrates her 51st year of Independence. There have been many changes in the country since 1962, notably in the way we eat.

Take rice and peas, for example. (Rice and peas is affectionately referred to as the Jamaica Coat of Arms, though I haven’t been able to find out why.) When I was growing up in rural Jamaica, we had rice and peas only on Sundays and on special occasions, like Christmas or Easter. Now, there’s rice and peas on almost every restaurant menu every day of the week.

The Easter bun and cheese that we had only at Easter is just as commonplace.

Rice and Peas with vegetables

Sunday meal – rice and peas with vegetables and meat

Back then the patty, a meat-filled turnover, was our main fast food and a popular lunch item for school children. With international chains like KFC, Burger King and Domino’s, along with the homegrown chains, Island Grill, Tastee, and Juici Patties in almost all fourteen parishes, we have a variety of fast food restaurants to choose from now.

Sundays still are special. For most of us, it’s the day we pause, bring family around the dining table to share the meal.

But it’s not always rice and peas. I’m no longer wedded to the Jamaican Coat of Arms on Sundays because I don’t want to spend a lot of time in the kitchen. But I wouldn’t plan a Christmas or Easter dinner without it on the menu.

 

How has your eating habits changed in the last twenty years?

 

How to Make Rice and Peas

Ingredients

3 cups of rice
2 cups of fresh red kidney beans (or Pigeon peas or a can of kidney beans)
5 cloves of garlic
1 can of coconut milk
1 whole Scotch bonnet pepper
3 scallion (spring onions)
3 sprigs of fresh (or 2 teaspoons of dried) thyme
1 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of black pepper

 

Preparation

Wash and soak peas overnight or put to boil in a medium saucepan with enough cold water to cover. Add garlic and a little salt to taste.
When peas are soft, add coconut milk and seasonings – thyme, Scotch bonnet, 2 sprigs of scallions, black pepper, and remaining salt, if needed.
Let cook for a few minutes then add the rice.
Cover and cook until the rice is tender and there’s no more liquid.
Plate and garnish with remaining scallion. Serve with your choice of meat or alone.

Everald Brown Dove Harp – Jamaica

It wasn’t hard to miss this colorful object, called a dove harp, that was part of an exhibition on view at the National Museum of Jamaica (formerly the Institute of Jamaica). I thought I recognized the work as belonging to one of our local artists but I wasn’t sure.

A quick look at the caption confirmed that the object was the creation of intuitive artist, Everald Brown, popularly called “Brother Brown.”

Everald or Brother Brown's Dove Harp

Dove Harp

Continuing, the caption noted that Brown’s “art and spirituality are bound together and are distinctly indicated through his work. His art work is the visual representation of a generously all-inclusive world view, in which just about everything is regarded as being spiritually meaningful. Brother Brown’s musical instruments bring together sound and vision, the two most important components of his mystical experiences. Their shapes and decorations are laden with intricate symbolism and were originally meant for collective ritual use by his church band.”

Everald Brown, a self-taught artist, was born in Clarendon, Jamaica in 1917. He embraced Rastafarianism and Revivalism and founded the Assembly of the Living, a mission of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, in Kingston.

In 1973, Brown moved his family from Kingston to a community in rural St. Ann where they lived off the land. There, his art and spirituality flourished and he painted and carved his dreams and visions of the world around him. He also created handmade musical instruments, like the dove harp, and star banjos.

Following his death in 2002, the National Gallery of Jamaica mounted a retrospective of his work in 2004. It featured more than 100 paintings, carvings and musical instruments.

 

This week, I’m linking up with Travel Photo Thursday, which Nancie at Budget Travelers Sandbox organizes. Be sure to head over and check out other photos from locations around the world. Enjoy!