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Heroic treks - Long walks made for Tacky, National Heroes

Published:Sunday | June 5, 2011 | 12:00 AM
Derrick 'Black X' Robinson walked barefooted from Port Maria to Jamaica House in Kingston to deliver a petition for Tacky to be made a national hero. - Photo by Mel Cooke

Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer

Derrick 'Black X' Robinson tells The Sunday Gleaner that when he relocated to St Mary from Kingston in 2005, "I wanted to retrace my steps". Ironically, in his effort to contribute to the parish he lived in from four to 14 years old, Robinson ended up making many steps to, from and through St Mary on several very long walks.

He started, barefooted and alone, with a practice walk of 33 kilo-metres along the north coast from Ocho Rios to Port Maria. Then there were journeys from Port Maria to Kingston, again bare-footed and alone at first, and then comfortably shod and accompanied by Tashana Earle.

Added to these were journeys from St Ann's Bay to Kingston and around the island, Earle, Dwight Henry, Leonardo Smith, Ad-Ziko Simba and Norman Robinson also walking at various stages.

Robinson does not put the journeys in a heroic context but they were in the cause of heroes, first as part of an effort to get Tacky designated a national hero, then in honour of Marcus Garvey and, finally, to literally link Paul Bogle with Nanny and other national heroes in a counterclockwise trek from St Thomas.

Researching Tacky

"I am from St Mary and I must contribute," Robinson said. When he returned to the parish to live, "I had my two long hands and my mind." When he canvassed residents informally, they had two main wishes - to see Tacky made a national hero and for St Mary to be more developed.

"I began to research what Tacky is about," Robinson said. He was impressed not just by the 1760 rebellion, which started on Easter Monday, but the planning which went into it and the vision Tacky had for the country after the success he planned for.

The Tacky Heritage Group was formed in November 2005 and, coming up to the 2007 general election, they planned to pay tribute to Marcus Garvey. "The police had banned all public gatherings. We had a meeting and one of the members said we can walk," Robinson said. Then it was suggested that he walk on behalf of the group.

He did, starting at the clock in Ocho Rios, St Ann, at 4 a.m. and ending at the Tacky Monument at the St Mary Parish Library in St Mary seven and a half hours later. Robinson noted that at the time there was construction work on the Northern Coastal Highway and taxi drivers were covering their faces to keep from inhaling dust. He wore a calabash hat for protec-tion from the sun, but was barefooted.

While the walk did not generate much publicity, Robinson said, "It was okay. It was for honour."

But walking for Tacky was another matter. "We wondered what we could do to promote Tacky being made a national hero. We said we would write letters to the relevant authorities," he said.

But they realised that they could write letters for many years and not get a response. "We thought what could we do to get the nation on our side. It is a national thing." A member of the Tacky Heritage Group suggested that if Robinson hand-delivered a petition letter to Jamaica House, it would reach more quickly and be more effective - and walking would get the required national attention.

And, as it was after the 2007 general election, "it is a new government and a fresh start, so from day one Tacky must be on the agenda."

But although it was proposed that Robinson walk from Port Maria to Kingston and he had already done the Ocho Rios-to-Port Maria trek, he said, "I was not sure I could do it, even though I walk regularly. I am a health enthusiast."

So in November 2007, the group decided he would do a test walk 'under the radar', without publicity. "I told only the pastors' fraternal," Robinson said.

He set out to walk the 72 kilometres, including up the famed Junction Road, at 7:30 p.m. He carried a little bag with water, mixed drinks, glucose and oats. Robinson also had a radio with a flashlight and, of course, his cellphone.

That time was chosen because, he said, you don't want to start and people discourage you. The trucks were travelling between Portland and St Mary, so "I had company up to Agualta Vale".

He got to Jamaica House at 1:30 p.m. "I quietly used the entrance off the road where Devon House is and delivered the letter. I quietly said, 'a letter for the prime minister' and the police officer took it," Robinson said.

In Kingston, he took off the vest with reflector strips he had worn throughout the night and "tried to look as normal as I could with the hot road blistering my bare feet". And after the walk, he relaxed a bit at Devon House and then took a taxi from Half-Way Tree back to St Mary.

By January 2008, there had been no response to the letter and, coming up to Black History Month, the group decided once again to focus on Tacky through Robinson doing the walk again in Easter 2008, around the rebellion's anniversary. This time, though, there was a plan to get the media involved. "I knew my stamina, I knew the route," Robinson said.

So he walked again, but this time he was not alone, as Tashana Earle also made the trek, Cornwall's Auto providing sponsorship support.

More walks

There were two more walks, for which Robinson wore shoes. The first was for Marcus Garvey in 2009, by Robinson, Earle, Dwight Henry and Leonardo Smith. There was sponsorship for this trek from the Shell gas station in Oracabessa, St Mary, and the group wore marked T-shirts and transportation was provided to carry them back to St Mary from Kingston, where they delivered a letter to the governor general.

They walked from the Garvey monument in front of the St Ann Parish Library in St Ann's Bay, but did not go through Junction and Stony Hill. Instead, they walked through Highgate and across the hills down to the Linstead bypass and the start of the Bog Walk gorge, going up the hill to Sligoville and into Kingston through Red Hills.

The intention was to finish at Garvey's birthday celebrations at National Heroes Park, walking for four days and resting each night at a different place. Instead, they made it to Spanish Town in two days.

Last year, the walking project was an all-island trek, with the theme 'Jamaica, a Beautiful Place to Walk'. The walkers went at it relay style, starting at Paul Bogle's statue in Morant Bay square, with one set taking over from the other at various stage, with Robinson the only one doing the entire journey. It took nine days, ending up in Waterhouse.

They did not go around the eastern tip of the country, instead going over the mountains from outside Golden Grove, St Thomas. "You just keep going up and up and up," Robinson said.

Although the walks have generated public interest, there has not been any traction in the push to get Tacky recognition as a national hero. "To date we have not got a response, officially or unofficially," Robinson said.

Still, this December, the Tacky Heritage Group plans to go walking around the island again, with the theme 'Jamaica - a Beautiful and Safe Place to Walk'. And this time, Jamaica's eastern tip is included in the plans.

"We are going along the coast, staying on the flat," Robinson said.