Morant Bay, Lyssons, Bowden, Old Pera and Buckra Massa
To gather information and pictures for a project on St Thomas I journeyed, once again, to Jamaica's most easterly parish, on Thursday, April 2. It was a tour I looked forward to, because some of the places on the itinerary I have never been to. What was I to discover?
The first thing worthy of contemplation along the way was Roselle Falls, or the lack thereof. There was only a little bit of water trickling from the rock. This was in stark contrast to the tons of water that it used to gush, even on to the main road. And the little springs near it seemed to have vanished. Is it dying or going through drought? I heard it has been like that for a while.
Talking about death and drought, Morant Bay, the parish capital, which has been going through water shortage itself, is also moribund. It, too, is also like that for quite a while. What a place boring! Yes, Morant Bay. But based on what I know, plans are in place to enliven it. I am waiting with bated breath.
Right outside of Morant Bay is Lyssons, a former sugar plantation. Much of the former estate lands are occupied by the descendants of those who had toiled and died on it. Also occupying a little piece of Lyssons are remains of Simon Taylor and his brother, John. That spot was my second stop. I wanted some pictures of the headstone of Simon, who once owned more than 2,000 of my ancestors.
While Simon's headstone is still in one piece, John's is broken into about four, and were scattered. Billington Napier, a resident, and who claimed to have worked with the Jamaica National Heritage Trust in his youth, offered to put the huge pieces back together. He lifted the first piece, only to expose a young toad with a very rough back.
"That's John Taylor," I uttered jokingly, and 'John' responded by releasing about a tablespoon of liquid excrement. I 'back, back', lest any of that stuff made contact with me. But Napier was not fazed. He continued to rearrange the broken pieces. After that, he took me to an old house on a hill overlooking the sea. It seems to be a part of the original estate.
From Lyssons, we travelled to Bowden, on the eastern edge of Port Morant. It was the most disappointing leg of the tour. I had never been there, but I knew it to be one of the busiest wharves on the island when sugar and banana were king. It was full of social life and commerce, a place where people from all over eastern Jamaica would converge for various purposes, and for many reasons, all the social and commercial activities at Bowden ceased.
I was expecting to find a quaint seaside village with elders who have anecdotes of Bowden heyday, but that was not to be. I didn't see any village or remnants of one. The first sign of anything going on was a compound of blue and white buildings. I heard it's an oyster farm owned by the government. Near the building rising from the sea are remnants of vertical wood columns that once supported platforms.
After that we came to chain-link fences with a wide open gate. When we entered the place, I was surprised to find myself on Jamaica Coastguard property. There was a lone coastguard sitting under a tree in his new digital print uniform. His name is Sterling, and he was very courteous and helpful.
Sterling tried to get permission for me to take pictures of the remnants of the wharf buildings, including the shell of a huge warehouse. He made some calls, but unfortunately, the last person I spoke with said I would have to get permission from JDF headquarters.
Old Pera was next on the list, and when it was mentioned, Sterling said incidentally, the groundsman for the property, called Mickey, was from Old Pera. He was not at work because of a recent injury. Contact was made with him, and we made off hoping that Old Pera had much more to offer.
It wasn't hard to find Mickey, for Old Pera, a traditional Kumina district is a close-knit, hilltop community. When he heard Hospitality Jamaica was at his gate, he came hopping, assisted by a piece of stick. I delved into aspects of his life story and his recollection of when Bowden was busy as a bee. He's very knowledgeable, and offered to show us around the community despite his injury.
The community consists of
Bowden Hill where Mickey lives, acres of cane fields, said to be owned by a very popular politician. The major sources of income are fishing, farming, and a little gambling. It's a laidback life that the people lead.
At the scenic coast, I was delighted to see a little cay that the residents call Treasure Island. It can be accessed by walking across the sea. I recalled crossing the sea from Folly to Monkey Island in Portland, last year, on foot. It was a nerve-wracking experience, so this time around, I was not going to be Moses.
To show how easy and shallow it was, a young woman named Kemisha Ellis walked across. I told her I would go across some other time, and I will. Can't wait. But I hope I don't spend the entire morning over there upon my return and catch only one fish. That's what happened to a slender woman called Marjorie.
As Hospitality Jamaica was leaving the spot, her two slender dogs swam across. She followed with her knapsack and machete. She waved to me. I told her she was on camera. She smiled. A conversation ensued. When she took out the one little fish she caught, we laughed. That was going to be dinner. Only the bones the dogs would get.
I heard Marjorie could sing, so I begged for a tune. She acquiesced by breaking out into I'm Lonely, I'm Miss Lonely. I enjoyed it and thanked her for the opportunity, and the laugh. But her hunt wasn't over. As the dogs waited for her, she walked on jagged rocks way into the sea. One little fish was not enough, the looks on the dogs' faces might have told her.
The moments with Marjorie were the happiest on the tour, but those spent with Agatha 'Mum' Peyton were the most poignant. At 104, Mum has a razor-sharp memory, and she, too, can recall the glory days at the wharf at Bowden. The sad and unhappy moments in her life are also deeply etched in her mind, and as she spoke about the deaths of her four boy children when they were mere babies, tears welled up in her eyes.
Yet, the surprise of the day, my discovery when I found myself on the sugar cane property of the well-known politician. He is actually a black 'bakra massa', owning acres and acres of sugar cane.