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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.

Continue reading “A Visit to the Hanover Museum #Jamaica”

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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The Jamaica Visitors Rarely See, II

I love road trips and in December, I took a few which brought me into the interior of Jamaica. Here are a few photos of what I saw.

We left early on the morning of the first trip. The air was fresh and cool and as the sun grew higher above the St. Elizabeth hills, it began to burn off the mist that had covered the mountain.

Morning near Spur Tree
Morning near Spur Tree

Rising more than 2,000 feet up the Don Figueroa Mountains in Manchester, Spur Tree Hill offers breathtaking views of the lowlands of St. Elizabeth and Manchester. Spur Tree got its name from the ‘spurs’ that were thrown out by the giant cotton trees that used to grow in the area. The undulating terrain in the middle marks the distinctive Cockpit Country.

View from Spur Tree Hill
View from Spur Tree Hill

Alumina has been mined in St. Elizabeth since 1953. This factory at Nain processes 2 million tonnes of alumina each year.

View from Spur Tree HIll
View from Spur Tree HIll

Continue reading “The Jamaica Visitors Rarely See, II”

Is Jamaica a Safe Place to Visit?

Is Jamaica a safe place to visit? It’s the question I’m asked over and over. Sometimes, I reply flippantly that it’s probably safer for visitors than for residents. It’s true.

To protect the lucrative tourist market, the Jamaican government relies on the Tourism Courtesy Corps, uniformed guards, that is deployed in major tourist areas. These guards are like insulation: their presence tells locals to keep away and the visitor, that someone’s watching over them.

All-inclusive hotels provide their own layer of protection. Upon arrival, guests are bused directly to the hotels. Once on property, every conceivable amenity and experience you could desire is on offer. They’ll even bring in craft vendors (for a fee) on special days, and have “Jamaican Nights,” where traditional food and entertainment are provided. So unless you really want to,  you don’t have to leave their premises.

The entrance to most hotels are manned by guards. As a resident, I can’t just casually turn up at one of these hotels, especially those in popular tourist towns like Montego Bay and Ocho Rios, for dinner or drinks. In fact, I was turned back twice from Secrets Montego Bay when I tried to visit friends who were guests there. And when I attended a wedding at the Riu Hotel recently, I had to purchase a US$75 day pass just to be on the property.

Tourism Courtesy Officers in Falmouth Jamaica
Female Tourism Courtesy Officers

It’s not just hotels that put a cordon around their visitors. Some cruise lines have shopping areas adjacent to port so if their passengers don’t want to, they don’t have to venture beyond the security gates.

They have reason to be cautious. Over the years, visitors have been targets of robberies, some have been killed. And lately, with the economy teetering, begging has become more than an aggravation.

But it’s the stranglehold of violent crime, one that successive governments seem powerless to break, that has prompted several countries to issue travel advisories cautioning their citizens to be on the alert in Jamaica. It’s also what worries Jamaicans at home and abroad.

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New York’s Fashion Walk of Fame

′Think New York and you’ll think either theater, fashion or finance.  Theater has Broadway, finance has Wall Street with its iconic bull, and fashion has Seventh or Fashion Avenue.

Did you know that Fashion Avenue has a Fashion Walk of Fame?

Established in 1999 by the Fashion Center Business Improvement District (BID), the Fashion Walk of Fame celebrates American designers who have influenced fashion worldwide. Twenty-eight designers have been inducted into the Walk of Fame to date. Each has a bronze plaque that is engraved with a description of the designer’s contribution, and an original sketch. Each bears the designer’s signature. The plaques are embedded in the sidewalk on Fashion Avenue from 35th to 41st Street.

Plaques commemorating designers on Fashion Walk of Fame
Fashion Walk of Fame

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Looking Back at the 2009 Inauguration

The re-election of President Barack Obama for a second term has me thinking back to his first inauguration in 2009. What an amazing experience that was.

I wasn’t interested in attending the inauguration. During the years that I’d lived in Washington, D.C., both Presidents Reagan and Clinton were inaugurated twice but I never felt compelled to take the 15-minute metro ride to the Mall to attend any of them.

Blame the cold. No matter how mild the winter, come inauguration weekend, the temperature would drop so low that it was always an easier decision to stay home and watch the event on television than be outside in the bone-chilling cold.

Blame disinterest. As a recent immigrant,  American politics didn’t capture my interest. I didn’t know the players, and even though only a few blocks separated us, the person holding the most important job in the most important country in the world, didn’t make a direct difference in my world.

President Obama’s inauguration made me feel differently. As a black person, I felt an obligation to witness history. So I bought thermals, and fleece socks, packed my sweats, hand warmers, gloves and scarves, and boarded Amtrak (I had moved to New York City by then) a few days before the inaugural weekend.

The cold Washington air crackled with energy and excitement. A sea of people bustled through Union Station, their voices echoing off the ceiling, creating a buzz of its own. I’ve always found Washington to be a friendly place, but that weekend, everyone seemed friendlier, some downright giddy. As my cousin and I walked around the city, strangers greeted each other and conversations started as if people were picking up the threads they had dropped some time before.

The 2009 inauguration set a record. It was one of the largest gatherings in Washington, DC. It was also one of the coldest January weekends I’ve ever experienced in the Nation’s Capital. Continue reading “Looking Back at the 2009 Inauguration”

My Year of Travelling in Jamaica & Elsewhere, Pt II

As 2012 drew to a close, I was plagued by the notion that I didn’t do enough travelling. It was making me feel a bit regretful so I started making a list — I love lists! Sure enough, I realized I had done a lot of travelling in Jamaica and that made me smile. I had even managed to slip in a few trips to New York and Toronto.

My photos helped to bring back memories of each place I’d visited, the people I’d met and the experiences I’d had. In the end, I realized that it wasn’t a bad year of travel after all.

Appleton Rum Tour
Appleton Rum Tour

Rum has become my drink of choice and in 2012, I was fortunate to visit Appleton Estate, the undisputed home of rum, twice. While the first visit was an amazing experience (we were offered rum punch and 13 rums to sample!), on the second visit, I joined the Jamaica Rum Society on a deluxe tour that came complete with a complimentary bus, tour guide, and bartender who served us sandwiches and as much Appleton Estate Extra and the Master Blender as we could handle.

On arrival at Appleton, we were welcomed with complimentary breakfast. We did the usual tour but at the end, we had a private tasting with four premium Appleton rums. Afterwards, we were certified as Appleton rum ambassadors.

The Colors of Independence
The Colors of Independence

In 2012, Jamaica hosted a year-long celebration of her 50th anniversary of independence from Britain. In August, I took these photos at the Independence Village that was set up at the National Stadium in Kingston.

The Colors of Independence
The Colors of Independence

In St. Ann, my cousin pointed out this statue of Christopher Columbus, near Seville – the place where he landed when he arrived in Jamaica in 1494.

La Santa Maria, Christopher Columbus Statue, Jamaica
La Santa Maria, Christopher Columbus Statue, Jamaica

Continue reading “My Year of Travelling in Jamaica & Elsewhere, Pt II”