Mon | Oct 22, 2018

Full house for Fifth Distinguished Lecture Series

Published:Sunday | September 28, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Olive Senior

Colón Man and the Panama Experience, the National Library of Jamaica's (NLJ) Fifth Distinguished Lecture Series filled the Institute of Jamaica's Lecture Hall on September 21, as guests from all over the island came out in their numbers to hear accomplished author and historian, Olive Senior, give an account of the West Indians' experience during the building of the Panama Canal.

The 2 p.m. Sunday lecture, which also drew students from as far as Hampton High School in St Elizabeth and Oberlin High School in the hills of St Andrew, also gave guests a chance to meet Senior during the book signing that took place after the event.

Senior enlightened those in attendance on the Colón man's emigration from Jamaica to Panama and his experiences while building the Panama Canal. About 150,000 to 200,000 diversely skilled West Indians were believed to have arrived in Colón in the middle of the 19th century.

Colón Man songs

The acclaimed author spoke of the songs she heard in her family about Colón men, which included the popularly known Colón Man a Come. She discussed the archetypical image of the Colón man as someone "draped in gold and in his fancy suit" and was either ridiculed or admired back home. She also went on to explain that the stories of the Colón man created a historical connection between Jamaica and Panama, contributing to our identity.

Women, in the later years, immigrated to Colón to either support those who worked on the canal or to seek employment.

Several of the guests expressed their enjoyment of Senior's lecture on the Colón man. One guest stated that she was happy to have attended because she had family members who once resided in Colón. Another guest stated that the lecture revived fond memories of stories about the Colón man. Students from Hampton School described the event as informative and intriguing.


Greetings were offered by Eric Cajar Grimas, the chargé d'affaires of the Embassy of Panama; Dr Luz Longsworth, the director of the University of the West Indies Western Campus; and Dr Carlton Davis, board chairman of the NLJ. Winsome Hudson, national librarian/CEO of the NLJ, introduced the guest speaker, while Anne Marie Bonner, executive director of the Institute of Jamaica, gave the vote of thanks.

For the past seven years, the NLJ has hosted a number of distinguished lectures to foster awareness of Jamaicans' diverse history and culture. Colón Man and the Panama Experience, fifth in the Distinguished Lecture Series, commemorated the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914.

Olive Senior is an internationally renowned Jamaican author of several poems, fiction and non-fictions books, including Gardening in the Tropics and Summer Lightning. Her latest book, Dying to Better Themselves: West Indies and the Building of the Panama Canal, is now on sale.