Jamaica Readies Port Royal for UNESCO World Heritage Status

Earlier this year, the Jamaica National Heritage Trust (JNHT) announced that it was submitting Port Royal, a historic port, for inclusion on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites. Port Royal has been on the World Heritage Site’s tentative list since 2009.

Located on a spit of land just beyond the Norman Manley International Airport near Kingston, Port Royal was settled originally by the Tainos, Jamaica’s original inhabitants, who used it as a fishing village.

By 1518, Port Royal was a Spanish settlement, then it was taken over by the British when they captured the island in 1655. Jamaica, a British colony, was surrounded by Spanish settlements in Cuba, Hispaniola, Mexico, Panama.

In order to protect its colony, the governor of Jamaica invited privateers to the island. They were given Letters of Marque by the governor, essentially license to attack and capture any vessel or settlement belonging to Spain — and split the plunder with the Crown.

Because of its location and the size of its harbor, Port Royal was an ideal spot from which the privateers could operate. Soon, it was overrun by about 1,500 privateers. There were men like Henry Morgan and Blackbeard, who were well known, and those who had come to the island to make their fortune – Jamaica was the place to be for those who wanted to get rich.

There were probably as many prostitutes as privateers to greet the men when they returned home to port, and, in time, Port Royal gained the reputation as being the “richest and wickedest city on Earth.”

It was from Port Royal that Morgan launched some of his most daring raids, including Cuba and Panama. Later, he received knighthood and became a lieutenant governor of Jamaica.

On June 7, 1692, an earthquake and tsunami destroyed Port Royal, causing part of the city to sink beneath the sea, taking treasures — much of it is still buried in the sand — and about 2,000 lives. Some believed that the city was being punished for its evil ways.

When privateering was outlawed, it became the place where those who were caught, like Calico Jack Rackman, were hanged. Eventually, the colony found another way to make money – sugar. Port Royal suffered more setbacks, including fires, hurricane, and another earthquake in 1907. It never recovered its former glory.

National Geographic has created a documentary on Port Royal, Wicked Pirate City. You can see it here.

So what exactly is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and how does a place get this designation?

According to UNESCO’s website, to be named a World Heritage Site, a location, whether it’s “a forest, mountain, lake, desert, monument, building, complex or city” must be recognized by them to be “of special cultural or physical significance.”

Before a site can be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it must first be proposed to the World Heritage Committee by the member country or state in which it is located. If it is determined that the property nominated meets at least one of the necessary requirements, it is inscribed on the World Heritage List.

There are now 936 sites located in 150 countries, with 25-30 added annually.

UNESCO Heritage Sites in the Caribbean


  • Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison


  • Historic Town of St George and Related Fortifications


  • Old Havana and its Fortifications
  • Trinidad and the Valley de los Ingenios
  • San Pedro de la Roca Castle, Santiago de Cuba
  • Viñales Valley
  • Archaeological Landscape of the First Coffee Plantations in the South-East of Cuba
  • Urban Historic Centre of Cienfuegos
  • Historic Centre of Camagüey


  • Historic Area of Willemstad, Inner City and Harbour

Dominican Republic

  • Colonial City of Santo Domingo


  • National History Park – Citadel, Sans Souci, Ramiers

Puerto Rico

  • La Fortaleza and San Juan National Historic Site

Saint Kitts and Nevis

  • Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park

There is no doubt that Port Royal is of historical significance — it created wealth for many, including the Crown. If accepted, it will be Jamaica’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site. The plan is to revive the old city and make it a tourist attraction.

Olympics: Never Mind the Jeux Sans Frontières, It’s All about the Money, Stupid

If you can’t beat ‘em, confound them! That seemed to be Danny Boyle’s mantra as he unleashed his fantastically whimsical, crazy-mad, nostalgic bells-and-whistles-of-a-British-history-lesson to an astonished world at the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics in London.

Remember Beijing? So pristine, dignified, awesome and, well, staid? There was no way that ‘Great’ Britain could even come close to matching the jaw-dropping spectacle, precision, and spending power of the Chinese, so why even try?

That seemed to be Boyle’s attitude as he elected to celebrate Britain in its glorious idiosyncratic miscellany. Hence, the spectacle of a ‘parachuting’ reigning monarch, appearances by real, fictional and hackneyed ‘celebs’, a hodgepodge of musical genres and the biggest faux self-mocking cum self-aggrandising, barnstorming circus in town.

Continue reading “Olympics: Never Mind the Jeux Sans Frontières, It’s All about the Money, Stupid”

Ernesto Threatens Jamaica50 Celebrations

Ernesto, the latest storm to form in the Atlantic, is reportedly heading towards Jamaica. It could hit between Sunday and Monday.

Since news about Ernesto surfaced, we’ve had our eyes on the Olympics, Jamaica50 Independence celebrations, which kicked off at Jubilee Village on August 1, and weather reports on Ernesto.

If it hits, as predicted, and no one can predict with certainty the path of any storm, it could make for one memorable 50th anniversary celebration. Not only are we planning a grand party on August 6th, it will be another big day for the Jamaican Track & Field team at the Olympics in London.

No, as much as we would love the rain, we’ve already had several torrential showers this week, Ernesto is not welcomed at this party.

We’ve been lucky though. Several storms have had their eyes trained on Jamaica only to turn at the last minute. Their names no longer matter.

We’ve also been unlucky. Jamaicans of a certain age still talk about the hurricane (Charlie) of ’51 that claimed over 150 lives. And in 1988, Gilbert took direct aim at the island, leaving millions of dollars worth of damage to agriculture and infrastructure. It was so devastating, a song, Wild Gilbert, which put to music what happened ironically became one of the most popular songs of ’88. I can still hear my niece, who was about 4 at the time, singing Wild, Wild, Gilbert, the chorus. There have been several others, though not as damaging but just as frightening.

Ernesto has already stopped cricket in Barbados and Jamaican fishermen have been put on alert. Although winds have decreased, the storm could still pick up strength, turn into a hurricane and head straight for us.

No, Ernesto must turn back, stall over water, or better still, dissipate.

We can only keep our fingers crossed. Reports this morning are that Ernesto will arrive here on Sunday afternoon. So we’re making sure there’s water in the house. No need to buy any thing that needs refrigeration in case the power goes out.

We’ll sit tight and watch – the Olympics, the Jamaica50 Independence Jubilee, and the weather reports, most likely in that order. We’ll also be praying that the rains and winds don’t do too much damage.

Unfortunately, we’re in the hurricane season so storms can come up at any time. In fact, Florence, the next one is churning around somewhere out there. We’re not paying attention to her just yet.





Akwantu: the Journey, a New Film about the Maroons

Akwantu: the Journey, a new documentary film by writer/director, Roy T. Anderson, a Maroon, answers the question, Who were the Maroons?

Akwantu: the Journey

Akwantu: the Journey documents the struggle for freedom of the Maroons of Jamaica who were able to flee the plantations and slave ships to form communities in some of the most inhospitable regions of the island. Poorly armed and outgunned, the Maroons faced down the mighty British Empire led by such brave warriors as Cudjoe and Nanny. Cudjoe who has historically been described as a “short almost dwarf-like man” fought for years to maintain his people’s independence and freedom. However, Cudjoe also held the belief that the only way to secure a stable future for his people would be to negotiate a long-term peace with the British. This way of thinking, some would say eventually lead to the signing of a peace treaty with the British in 1739. Nanny, a spiritual leader skilled in the use of herbs not only managed to keep her people healthy, but safe as well by utilizing effective “guerilla warfare” tactics to defend against the vaunted British firepower. More about the Maroons.

Watch a preview here.


Jamaica Revises Proposed Tax on Tourism Sector

Following the recently concluded Caribbean Tourism Summit in Montego Bay, the Jamaican government announced that it had revised its proposed tax on the tourism sector.

Under the tax plan announced on May 24th by Finance Minister, Dr. Peter Phillips, hotels would be charged an accommodation tax from US$2 to US$12, depending on the number of rooms they had, while starting August 1, arriving passengers would be charged US$20.

The proposed tax would bring in J$6 billion from the tourism sector to help close the J$19 billion shortfall in the 2012/13 budget.

Tourism stakeholders were outraged over the announcement.

Former tourism minister, now opposition spokesman on tourism, Ed Bartlett, called the move “ill-advised and punitive” and cautioned that it would “damage the only sector in Jamaica that has shown consistent growth over the last five years.”

The Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA) also expressed its disappointment at the government’s decision and through a technical working group, put forward alternatives, including an environmental tax on cruise ship passengers.

The revised tax was reduced to US1, for accommodations with less than 51 rooms; US$2 for 51-200 rooms and US$4 for those with 101 rooms or more. Accommodations with more than 200 rooms saw the biggest cut from US$12.

Other Tourism Tax Woes

Under the recently passed Airport Administration Charge Act 2012, passengers traveling to the Caribbean island of Antigua will see an additional US93.75 (up from US$63.75) added to their airfare.

Another issue discussed at the CTO Summit was the Air Passenger Duty (APD), a tax assessed by the British government on travelers to the region. The APD, which has been in place since 1994, taxes countries in groups based on the distance of their capital cities from London. The tax for travelers to the Caribbean rose last November from £50 (US$78.54) to £75 (US$117.92), and again in April to £81 or US$127.20.

Caribbean tourism officials argue that the increase puts the region at a competitive disadvantage. Their arguments, however, have not found traction with the British government.

Calabash International Literary Festival Returns this Weekend

This weekend, an estimated 5,000 lovers of literature and poetry will descend on the community of Treasure Beach on Jamaica’s south coast to listen to 30 authors read from their works at the Calabash International Literary Festival. The theme of this year’s festival, which starts this Friday, May 25th and ends on Sunday, is Jubilation! 50.

Started 11 years ago, Calabash was shelved last year because of lack of funding. At the time of the announcement, the organizers, poet Kwame Dawes and novelist Colin Channer, and hotelier Justine Henzell, promised that the festival would be back this year for Jamaica’s 50th anniversary celebration of its independence from Britain.

With a lineup of international and local authors, poets and musicians, from Nigeria, South Africa, Ethiopia, the U.S. and the U.K., this year’s Calabash International Literary Festival resumes its proven format. Gathered under a huge tent that is pitched just steps from the Caribbean Sea, attendees will hear the sound of waves crashing (or rolling) to the shore as they listen to readings interspersed with interviews and open mic performances. Each day’s session ends with music.

The following authors will be heard at the Calabash International Literature Festival this weekend:

Chimamanda Adichie        The Admiral                   Wayne Armond     Jacqueline Bishop    Loretta Collins
Carolyn Cooper                   Michael “Ibo” Cooper   Christine Craig     Fred D’Aguilar           Marcia Douglas
Garfield Ellis                       Carolyn Forche               Steve Golding       Vivien Goldman        Colin Grant
Laura Henzell                     Paul Holdengraber        Melissa Jones        Sadie Jones                Ronnie Kasrils
Victor Lavalle                     Shara McCallum             Alecia McKenzie    Maaza Mengiste        Anis Moigani
Orlando Patterson            Patricia Powell                Claudia Rankine     Olive Senior               Seretse Small
Sonjah Stanley Niaah      Ian Thomson                   Kerry Young             Kevin Young

Despite its funding problems, the Calabash International Literary Festival remains free and open to the public. Donations are welcomed and can be made at their website.

Other literature festivals that take place in the Caribbean:

* Anguilla Literary Festival, May
* BIM Literary Festival & Bookfair (Barbados), May
* Bocas Literary Festival (Trinidad & Tobago), April
* Havana International Book Fair, February
* Nature Island Literary Festival (Dominica), August
* St. Martin Bookfair, May


She Would’ve Loved London – Remembering Mama

Happy Mother’s Day!


This week, Catherine Sweeney, my blog friend, asked a few of us to write a travel tribute to our mothers.

Mama, 1950s
Mama, 1950s

Since then, I’ve been thinking not only of the trips my mother and I took but of the places I’ve been that she would have enjoyed.

Walt Disney World: Well, I didn’t really go on vacation to Disney. I was there to participate in the Walt Disney World Marathon on behalf of the American Stroke Association. However, I did get a taste of what Disney offers the child in all of us and I know my mom would have lapped it all up. I can see her eyes now twinkling like a school girl’s.

London: When Prince Charles married Lady Diana in 1981, Mama was up at 4:00 a.m. to watch the wedding on television. She would have been tickled to see Buckingham Palace, even if only from the street, and would have loved to see a changing of the guard.

We were so different, Mama and I. Once, when we were visiting family in Boston, someone mentioned a sale at Filene’s Basement and asked if we wanted to go. Thinking I was speaking for us, I said no, only to find out that she wanted to go. She returned with several shopping bags full and her face flush with excitement. I discovered that day that my normally calm and quite proper mother had been energized by the frenzy of finding what she wanted before someone else did. Just hearing about it made me feel exhausted.

Looking back to the day I lost her, I so happy now that remembering her brings smiles rather than tears. And as The Intruders sang, I’ll Always Love My Mama.

I’ll always love my mama

She’s my favourite girl

I’ll always love my mama

She brought me in this world


Hmm, A mother’s love’s so special

It’s something that you can’t describe

It’s the kind of love that stays with you

Until the day you die

(Lyrics by Kenneth Gamble / Leon Huff / Gene McFadden / John Whitehead / Victor Carstarphen)

Bacchanal 2012 – Jamaica Carnival

Approximately 30 minutes before Bacchanal 2012, Jamaica’s Carnival, which had as its theme, Future Shock, made its way to where I was standing near Devon House, the skies opened up. Despite the fact that it had looked ominous all morning, I had left without an umbrella or rain slick.

At first, I tried to stare it back  — how could there be rain on carnival day? But as the drops got fatter and began pelting my head and shoulders, with some insistence, I reluctantly admitted defeat — my willpower was no match for a tropical shower — and shamefacedly begged a woman nearby, who had found some thick cardboard, for a piece to cover my head. Then I waited. I didn’t know how long the rain would last, or how soon the parade would appear, but I’d been standing too long to give up and go home. Sometimes, I surprise myself at how pig headed I can be!

Unlike many other Caribbean islands, Jamaica does not have a carnival tradition. However, students from islands where carnival is an annual event who attend the local campus of the University of the West Indies, began staging their own version of carnival long before Byron Lee started it in the island. That carnival, I’m told was bigger and even made it beyond Kingston to Montego Bay. Unfortunately, the music and the revelry stopped after Lee passed away. The current event has been around for 24 years and is now the only vehicle for anyone who wants to jump carnival in Jamaica.

Bacchanal 2012, Jamaica Carnival
Bacchanal 2012, Jamaica Carnival - Putting up the barricades on Old Hope Road

After maybe 15 long minutes, the rain let up. A truck appeared and men began unloading barricades. (Roads are blocked long enough to let the parade through.) I was relieved. The party, though wet, wet, wet (instead of hot, hot, hot) was still on.

Bacchanal 2012, Jamaica Carnival
Bacchanal 2012, Jamaica Carnival - Getting ready, Old Hope Road

Then this SUV arrived and the driver, who was wearing a T-shirt that read ‘Field Crew,’ got out very official-like. He walked to the rear of the vehicle, looked at something, walked back to the front, got into the driver’s seat and drove off.

Bacchanal 2012, Jamaica Carnival
Bacchanal 2012, Jamaica Carnival

Another long 15 or so minutes passed before we heard music in the distance. Then I saw the crowd.

Maybe because of the rain, things had become a free for all. Folks in costume who were playing mass, as well as members of the public, a few people on bicycle, and street vendors, some with push carts, were all now part of the road march.

Bacchanal 2012, Jamaica Carnival
Bacchanal 2012, Jamaica Carnival

Isn’t he just so regal?

When the last float inched past me I checked my watch. Less than 30 minutes had passed. I was surprised. Surely, this couldn’t be the end? Maybe the rain sent some people home.

I felt cheated. I discarded my makeshift rain hat and decided to follow. I walked for about 10-15 minutes when I felt raindrops again. This time, I had nothing to protect me. I dropped my camera in my bag and headed towards Devon House.

I was soaked by the time I got there. More than getting wet, I was disappointed with Bacchanal 2012. It was smaller that I anticipated and looked disorganized. In fairness, that could have been because of the rain. So next year, I’ll go early and I’ll go to mass camp.

Bacchanal, Jamaica’s carnival parade, takes place the weekend following Easter.

At the Premiere of the Marley Documentary

I like happy coincidences. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I had no plans to visit the Bob Marley Museum in Kingston but then there I was. So last Thursday evening when the new Marley documentary  premiered at Emancipation Park, I knew I had to be there.

As I walked to the park at around 6 pm, I could hear Bob’s music, specifically the song I had heard at his Museum a few days before, the one I wish now I had asked about. Scores of people had already gathered, some were sitting on the grass, others were milling around. Kids were playing happily. I wondered how many of them really knew why their parents had brought them to the park.

The main stage was draped with the red, green and gold of the Rasta flag and several screens had been placed around the park so that viewers could sit where ever they wished to watch the documentary. The mood was festive.

At the Premiere of Marley, the Documentary
At the Premiere of the Marley Documentary

Wandering around, I bumped into a human chain formed by several young men and women who were wearing Marley T-shirts. They made up part of the VIP entrance. Standing behind the human barrier for a few minutes — they wouldn’t let me cross — I caught the arrival of the Marley girls, a former government minister and a group of people I didn’t recognize. They were ushered into an official area in front of the stage. Later, I would learn that in that group was none other than Kevin Macdonald, the film’s Academy Award-winning director.

Marley premiere, Emancipation Park
Marley documentary premiere, Emancipation Park, Kingston

But too many people were gathered at the VIP entrance and I couldn’t get clear shots of anything or anyone so I wandered towards the main gate where the officials would arrive.

Continue reading “At the Premiere of the Marley Documentary”

Haile Selassie, Rastafari & Jamaica

Today marks the 46th anniversary of the visit of Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia to Jamaica. Selassie was emperor of Ethiopia for 44 years. He was also his country’s regent from 1916 – 1930, the year he was crowned emperor.

Haile Selassie I, former emperor of Ethiopia
HIM, Haile Selassie I, Mural at Bob Marley Museum

Selassie, who could trace his line back to King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, was born Lij Tafari Makonnen (Lij means child in Amharic) and became Ras Tafari Makonnen. He took the name Haile Selassie following his crowning. Officially, his title was His Imperial Magesty Haile Selassie I, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, King of Kings of Ethiopia, Elect of God.

During the 1920s, black activist, Marcus Garvey frequently exhorted his followers, who were mostly poor

HIM Haile Selassie I, former emperor of Ethiopia
Painting of HIM, Haile Selassie I, on the base of Bob Marley’s statue

and downtrodden, to look to Africa for the crowning of a black king who would deliver them out of poverty. Many in Jamaica interpreted Selassie’s crowning as the fulfillment of Garvey’s prediction.

One group, the Rastafaris, from Ras Tafari, emerged during the 1930s and embraced Selassie as the

incarnation of God or Jah. Selassie met with representatives of the Rastas and in 1948, donated 500 acres of his private lands to allow Rastafari Brethren and Ethiopian World Federation members to settle in Ethiopia in an area known as Shashamane.

When His Imperial Majesty arrived in Kingston on April 21, 1966, he was caught off guard by the masses of Rastas, about 100,000, who had gathered to greet him, their Jah. It was reported that Selassie was reluctant to exit the plane until he received assurances that it was safe for him to do so.

The visit came at a critical time for the Rastas who were routinely harassed by police and shunned by the majority of the larger Jamaican society. Selassie’s historic visit gave them legitimacy and since then they celebrate His Imperial Majesty with drumming and chanting on Groundation Day, April 21st.