That Watt Town Revival pilgrimage
On the top of a huge rocky hillock in Watt Town, St Ann, perched the Zion Headquarters and Jerusalem Schoolroom, where people go to learn about Revivalism and to heal themselves.
Regularly, revivalists from all over the island set off for Watt Town on a pilgrimage of sorts, especially when there are quarterly conferences. I attended one of the conferences a few years ago, and came away with mixed emotions for whatever reasons. I didn't know whether I wanted to return or not.
Yet, on impulse, earlier this month, I decided to travel with a Revivalist associate of mine to this year's first quarterly conference. Two cars, each holding at least eight people, left Kingston at about 7 a.m.
Soon, there was prayer and singing, which I didn't join. I chose to listen and learn, though I was reminded of my youthful days when I used to visit the Hill Sixty AME Zion Church in St James.
Everything was going well until we reached midway along the Treadways to Moneague leg of the North Coast Highway. One of the cars started to have challenges, and the steeper the climb got, the more severe the challenges got. Eventually, the vehicles changed drivers, and things improved.
Yet, the problem vehicle was still under pressure. The concern was that it would break down in the middle of nowhere. However, it chugged along and overcame the steepest point. After we left that tolled segment of the highway, the problem vehicle stopped. The one I was travelling in stopped too.
We waited to see what was going to happen, and out came some of the passengers in their blue and white tunic and turbans. One woman led the charge as they sang
and circled the car. Zion was under assault and the spiritual defence was now in full force. Around and around they go, touching the car as they sang and danced. When they were satisfied, it was back inside, and the journey continued.
I fell asleep along the way, and it must have been a deep slumber. Places I was expecting to see were long passed when I woke up. Even busy Browns Town I missed. Soon after my own revival, the singing started again. Songs I haven't heard in decades were now igniting my memory cells.
The arrival in Watt Town was without fanfare, but many vehicles were parked, some had just arrived. Finding suitable parking near the headquarters was itself a challenge. Yet, I was more interested in the stuff that people had for sale at the foot of the hillock. It was like a little market day.
There was singing atop the hill, and people in colourful uniforms were queued up waiting to be formally received. Each church group is called a bans, and is identified by the uniform its members wear. Before each bans member enters the church they have to go through a certain ritual. Should they arrive while the ritual for another group is going on they had to wait.
I didn't wait for the group I journeyed with. Too much was going on atop the hill, so I bypassed the group, walked on jagged stones, bended under branches until I found myself in a revival festival, with many more groups yet to join the festivities.
Inside the church was packed; preaching, singing, dancing and trumping were going on, and so it would be for the rest of the day. Newly arrived groups were on the 'seal' (consecration ground) making their presence felt in their own way. The sun was high in the sky, and colourful flags fluttered in the breeze. In the kitchen food was being cooked. At the back of the church, different bans were scattered doing their own thing.
Young and aged revivalists, and in-betweens, were in their element while others walked around nonchalantly, perhaps not understanding the significance of the day. For some, it was about the food they brought. Mouth-watering food was also the order of the day. It was a picnic in the heart of Zion.
And there I was enjoying the feast of singing, dancing and trumping, as I clicked away on my little Canon camera. Then, I saw a little boy looking up at me. He was alone. Turned out he had travelled from St James, my home parish, with his grandfather and another relative, he said. We were friends now.
While I was taking pictures of come colourful turbans, I saw a woman staring at me. She seemed familiar. So I stared back. She beckoned to me. I went over. As I neared her she asked, "Paul?" I responded "Ann?" She said yes. And we just hugged each other for minutes.
She was someone from my past. We were kids brought up in the same community, and she was at Watt Town with the Hill Sixty AME Zion Church I visited regularly in the past. Then she went on to announce to the members. Some recognised me some, didn't. Their members must have changed a thousand times since I last visited decades ago.
Then one of them, who used to be a friend of my mother, was only interested in whether I was married or not. Many responses came to mind, but I calmly asked, "Is that the most important thing in the world?" With that I bored through the throng.
It was shopping time, and I had to find a way from the hill. The prices for the food for sale were great, but I refused to buy coco for $80 a pound. Not in a rural context. While I was milling around, my new friend, I didn't realised, was right behind me. He wanted something cool.
Back on the hill he just wouldn't go away, he was interested in my camera and camcorder. So, I showed him what to do with the camcorder; shot sizes, angles, how to zoom in and out, how to pan, to tilt, etc. With that I loan him the camcorder, and let him loose. The place was really a photographer's dream, even the little chap could see, despite the religious significance.
I came upon him taking pictures like crazy, instead of videotaping. I smiled to myself and let him be. Until, I was ready to leave. I couldn't find him. I got a little flustered. A young man told where to find him. And there he was, still taking pictures. I met his grandfather, told them I was leaving, said goodbye, and headed down the hill.
But when I was about to go into the vehicle, I felt a tug on my shirt. I turned around, and it was my new friend. With an incredulous look on his face, he asked, "So you were just going to leave me like that?" I quickly wrote my number on a piece of paper, told him to give it to his grandfather." He took it, smiled, and ran off.
They haven't called me yet, but one day they will, and I will show him the pictures he took, even his own selfie, and mine giving the thumps up, perhaps to a rather interesting day at Watt Town Zion Headquarters.