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Rastafarian who survived Coral Gardens massacre battles cancer

Published:Thursday | September 6, 2018 | 12:00 AMJanet Silvera/Senior Gleaner Writer
Bongo Isaac stands at the door of his one-bedroom dwelling.
Fitzroy ‘Flako’ Floyd


Fifty-five years after suffering persecution and imprisonment as a victim of the Coral Gardens massacre, Rastafarian elder Isaac 'Bongo Isaac' Wright is facing a new challenge in the form of cancer.

The 84-year-old, who was beaten by the police, and who went without food while incarcerated for nine days, is facing possibly the greatest test of his lifetime as he fights multiple myeloma, a cancer that forms in a type of white blood cell called a plasma cell.

Religiously, he is expected at the Cornwall Regional Hospital every Friday, where he receives chemotherapy, but not before he swallows 10 tablets, at a cost of $1,000 per week - money he doesn't have.




"The Government does not have the tablets at the hospital, so I have to source it at an outside pharmacy," the elderly man, who lives in a one-bedroom unfinished house in Retirement, St James, tells The Gleaner.

His chemotherapy is free, but buying the tablets has seen the elder Rastafarian suffering to make ends meet.




Bongo Isaac is calling on the Government to allocate his benefit from the $102 million promised as part of reparation for those who were persecuted during the massacre. He is the oldest of 21 known survivors of the massacre, says a report that was done by the Office of the Public Defender.

"I could use my money to buy medication, food and tablets to help with my anaemia. If I don't get that kind of help, it would be threatening to my life," he moaned.

A farmer all his life, Bongo Isaac said if the money cannot be allocated immediately, then possibly a pension could be set up for him through the offices of the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport.


'I live by charity' - Bongo Isaac


Isaac 'Bongo Isaac' Wright, a survivor of the 1963 massacre of Rastafarians in Coral Gardens in St James, says he survives through the mercy of his long-standing friend Fitzroy 'Flako' Floyd and Word Sound Power Collective, a 501(c)(3) NGO based in Seattle, Washington.

His cancer is at stage one, which gives Bongo Isaac a glimmer of hope. When The Gleaner visited the elder Rastafarian he was in excruciating pain, which he says is felt in his back, abdomen and sides. He is hardly able to find money to buy painkillers.

The only thing he owns outside of the one-bedroom house that is on government-owed captured land are two goats, which are remnants of the animals he had before. His cows were stolen. "I have nothing. I live by charity", he stated.




He has no electricity, and a water tank on his roof was given to him by Flako.

The man who is helping to care for Bongo Isaac sat next to the Gleaner team during the interview and was quick to point out that the 84-year-old man has been living a rough life.

"He has no kitchen facilities, so he cooks outside in the open with three stones used as his fireplace and wood is his fuel. He has no washstand or washing tub, so he has to sit on his bottom to wash his clothes. He has no closet to hang his clothes, so they are hung on strings in his room," bemoaned Flako.

"He is not able to earn from his goats as the stock is now reduced to almost nothing."

In 1963, when Bongo Isaac was locked away in a cell in Santa Cruz, St Elizabeth, after he was forced to flee his home in Camrose, St James, it was prayer that fed his hunger.

Flako says the elderly Rastafarian is sometimes sad, because only a few Rastafarians visit him with words of upliftment.

"He is not able to provide his three meals per day and fresh fruits and vegetables, due to his cancer, and his mobility is not as vigorous as before, as the sickness slows him down," lamented his trusted friend.

Bongo Isaac's wife died many years, so did his only son. His adopted daughter, Judith, and her children give whatever assistance they can.