Where there’s lots of Cheese
The destination was Time and Patience in St Catherine, to talk about Independence and Emancipation.
But, at Time and Patience, it seemed as if everybody was busy. We saw nothing to sink our journalistic teeth into. There was absolutely nothing to pique our interest.
When we reached a point where the road is rough, I became concerned. The vibe was low, no one to beckon to, no elderly folk on their veranda, no young people walking the road, no quaint-looking buildings.
Then I realised we were out of Time and Patience. A church sign alerted me. We were in Cheesefield, it seemed, a community hitherto unknown to us, as the map shows that there is no other community beyond Time and Patience.
We found the name Cheesefield to be quite interesting. And where was the field of cheese? We really wanted to bite into something.
Near to the end of Cheesefield, we came upon a Rastaman, who turned out to be Mark 'Meally' Hutchinson. He had a coal pot and was getting ready to roast two breadfruits; not exactly what we wanted to savour.
Hutchinson promised to take us to an elderly man to talk about Emancipation and Independence. On the way, we saw some youths at a church gate. I struck up a conversation in which one of them introduced himself as Tevin Cheese of Cheesefield.
In my amazement, I asked if the community was named after his relatives. He said he had no idea. Then Hutchinson said there are many Cheeses in Cheesefield. There it was. We finally found something to chew on. Cheese!
Later on, in the afternoon, Hutchinson took us to see some of the Cheeses. We met the matriarch, Miriam Cheese, called Mama, and a daughter, first. Mama is black-skinned with white hair. She called out for her husband, Mitford, who was somewhere on the property.
After we met other Cheeses, Father Cheese turned up. He is light-brown and diminutive, also with white hair. I smiled and said, "You look like cheese," joking about his glowing skin tone. He understood my attempt at humour and smiled as he responded, "Because I am a Cheese."
While chatting with him, other Cheeses appeared. Eighteen of them live on the premises. They are of a variety of shades. It was such a beautiful sight, but I was also very interested in how the community came to be called Cheesefield.
Mitford said he heard that it was a Scotsman with the name who first came. He had a son whom he left in Jamaica. That son produced 12 male Cheeses. The huge acres of the land the Cheeses owned eventually came to be called Cheesefield.
Mitford, now 84, said his grandfather was James, while his father was William, who married Sarah Williams. They were both fair-skinned people. The Adventist churchman himself has sired 10 Cheeses.
The historian in me jumped with glee as Mitford tried to congeal the history of the Cheeses, but it was too sketchy. Upon my return to the office, I was bursting with excitement. I was eager to do the research. It was painstaking, but I eventually found bits and pieces of information from the Jamaica Almanacs.
The original Cheeses in Jamaica were plantation owners, as suspected, who were located mainly in St Thomas in the Vale, which is now part of St Catherine. Edward Cheese had 30 enslaved Africans in 1816. The number grew to 40 the following year. Amelia Cheese had 31 in 1831, while Emily Cheese owned four in 1817, and Sarah Cheese possessed 31 in 1816, and four the following year.
Eventually, the Cheeses interbred with black-skinned people, thus the different types of Cheese colours. And the interesting thing about the story is that it is not very common to go to a place and find descendants of the family after whom the place was name. Moreover, it is said that all the Cheeses at Cheesefield are directly related to one another.
"Well, it's really important to me because it's really history for me, really. You don't go about finding people with one name, and everybody is related. Brown, and another Brown, but they are not related. The Cheese is just one family," Althea Cheese explained.
With such an interesting surname, you can imagine there are going to be puns, fun, and perhaps ridicule, especially if you are a Cheese living in Cheesefield.
"It's not ridicule, enuh," Althea said. "It's more like a surprise."
Her sister, Mavhrine, told the anecdote of being in Kingston earlier in the day, where a man thought Cheese was her alias. When she showed the man her ID and he saw that she is a Cheese from Cheesefield, he started to call people's attention to her.
Mrs Cheese, whose maiden name is Williams, just like her husband's mother's, said she found the name funny at first, but eventually got used to being Mrs Cheese. I myself couldn't resist the fun. When they were ready for the family picture, I said, "Say cheese." And the beautiful, smiling Cheeses said, "CHEESEEEE!"