Sun | Feb 28, 2021

New movement in 'German Town'

Published:Monday | March 31, 2014 | 12:00 AM
From left: Debbie Burnsed and Rosalee Vieira look on as Jeanette Lynch makes her point.
Residents of German origin in Seaford Town (German Town) in Westmoreland, Rosalee Vieira and her nephew Chris Hacker.
Debbie Burnsed holds this baby girl, one of the newest residents of Seaford Town.
Residents of German origin in Seaford Town (German Town) in Westmoreland, Rosalee Vieira and her nephew Chris Hacker.
The Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church that was established by the first German settlers in Jamaica. It was rebuilt after it was half-destroyed by hurricane in 1912. - Photos by Ian Allen/Staff Photographer

Laura Koch, Gleaner Intern

In the deep rural countryside of Westmoreland, the community of Seaford Town stretches over the hills. This village is somehow special, as the closer one gets to the community, the lighter the skin colour of people appears.

Seaford Town is also known as 'German Town'. Almost 200 years ago, a group of Germans settled there. Today about one-third of the roughly 300 inhabitants are still white, with some being even blonde and blue-eyed. Still, none of them can speak German. Only a few words like 'auf wiedersehen', 'goodbye' or 'guten tag', 'good afternoon', remain in their vocabulary.

Some residents of Seaford Town are media shy as a result of the many negative stories of the past. Some articles even dubbed the residents 'lost', hinting at a certain degree of poverty and alleged inbreeding. The community's image suffered and added to that, only a few tourists have visited recently.

Transforming Seaford Town

Now, one group of returnees wants to change the scenery and make Seaford Town become a tourist attraction again. This will be for the betterment of everyone, they say, and have formed a non-governmental organisation (NGO).

Among them are Rosalie Vieira, her sister Debbie Burnsed, and their friend Jeanette Lynch. The elderly women, who spent most of their lives overseas, returned some years ago. On a recent visit, The Gleaner met the residents.

Vieira, 72, is proud of her maiden name - Hacker, as she thinks it is German. She left Seaford Town at the age of 15 and stayed more than 50 years in Canada working as a florist. Since retirement four years ago, she returned home.

"This is where I come from, these are my roots", Vieira said in response to why she returned after so many years - and even owning a Canadian passport. "I'm a German-Jamaican", she emphasised.

Jeanette Lynch agrees: "I just came home, that is it."

Lynch spent many years managing hotels in Europe and working for the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB) in Negril. "I am fully trained and fully exposed to villa and hotel management", Lynch stated. These are skills the women now want to use to benefit Seaford Town. They have many plans.

New Museum

Lynch said the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF) will support the ambitions of the women and finance the building of a new museum.

Currently, a classroom in the primary school serves as the town's museum. It contains artifacts of the German settlers, including bowls and combs and pictures.

"By the end of this year, we should have that new museum", Lynch told The Gleaner.

Sanitary facilities have already been donated by the German Embassy in Jamaica. In 2012, Ambassador Joseph Beck officially handed over the bathrooms to the residents.

"The broader goal was to revive the touristy tours by fulfilling the standards of the JTB", Maria Carta, head of the embassy's cultural section, explained. "We wanted to emphasise and honour our friendly relations to Jamaica." The women are also interested in showcasing German culture.

"Especially the German food," Lynch explained. They plan to serve sausages, like frankfurters, typical granary bread, called 'pumpernickel' and schnitzel, the latter being a piece of breaded pork or calf meat.

"But we want to mix that with Jamaican dishes." They also plan to sell T-shirts and craft items.

"That is heritage tourism", Jeanette Lynch stated. "We must preserve the heritage for prosperity."

How it Began

After the abolition of slavery in 1834, plantation owner Lord Seaford (for whom Seaford Town is named) was looking for contract labourers. He found them in the north-west of Germany and roughly 350 of them migrated to Jamaica between 1835 and 1850. Unaccustomed to the tropical conditions, many of them soon died of malaria or yellow fever.

The survivors didn't want to intermingle with Jamaicans. Today, attitudes have changed and most children and teens of Seaford Town are mixed. The people in 'German Town' see themselves as one community regardless of skin colour, hair and eyes.

The returned residents are aiming to tighten the solidarity among the citizens through their voluntary work. Like last year, the women of the NGO will host an Easter celebration called 'Easter Splash'. Funds raised will be used to build a community centre where citizens can gather, Viera revealed..