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Lesley-Gail Atkinson Swaby launches Taino children's book

Published:Friday | July 5, 2019 | 12:00 AMPaul H. Williams/Gleaner Writer
People participating in the singing of a Taino friendship song during the recent launch of Dr Lesley-Gail Atkinson Swaby’s book ‘Boianani: A Taino Girl’s First Adventure.’
Dr Lesley-Gail Atkinson Swaby (left) presents a copy of her book, ‘Boianani: A Taino Girl’s First Adventure’, to guest speaker Bibi Vanessa Inarunikia Pastrana at the recent launch of the book.

It was a book launch with a difference chock-full of Taino cultural and entertainment value when Dr Lesley-Gail Atkinson Swaby took a capacity audience through her journey as a Taino scholar/researcher/archaeologist.

The journey, she said, started at The University of the West Indies, Mona campus, where she first heard the word ‘Taino.’

“I, like many, was taught about the Arawaks and Caribs. It is interesting, though, how differently people react to change. I did not resist this seemingly new information at the time. I, however, was curious to learn more about the indigenous people who once populated this land,” Atkinson Swaby told the gathering of family, friends, colleagues, associates and well-wishers inside the Multifunctional Room at The UWI Mona campus, recently.

To learn more about the Tainos, she has unearthed many things, and her work has earned her academic degrees, motivated the writing of three books, and landed her jobs, among other achievements.

Boianani: A Taino Girl’s First Adventure is a project of love and a test of faith. Boianani is more than an intellectual property. She is part of me. In fact, she is me, not just in name but her spirit and determination. She represents my journey, and now we have come full circle,” she said.

In 2013, Atkinson Swaby was joined by Carol Miller, the master of ceremonies, her husband Chad, and her son Khalil as Cacique Mukaro of the United Confederation of Taino People conducted her naming ceremony on the banks of the Rio Nuevo. There, he named her ‘Boianani,’ which means ‘sweet water flower’.

Yet, the watershed moment that evolved into the manifestation of the book came when Atkinson Swaby was invited by IOJ’s Museum of History and Ethnography, now the National Museum of Jamaica, in 2010 to participate in its Taino Day activities.

“I thought that was fantastic, and a typical presentation on the Taino would not do. So I decided to do a story, something that would educate and engage the students,” Atkinson Swaby explained. “I was amazed at how organic the experience was; I wrote the original story in one night.”

“My only test run was on my aunt, Dr Karen Adair, in the wee hours of the morning. The children were incredibly receptive to the story, especially to the character of ‘Zum-Zum,’ her pet dog. I chose her pet as a dog because I knew dog remains had been recovered from Jamaica and from the White Marl [Taino] site,” Atkinson Swaby recalled.

And the rest, as they say, is history, a history of hard work, lack of funds, tears, disappointment, frustration, and, finally, manifestation.

“Bringing this publication into existence took a life on to itself,” she said. “In August 2017, I resigned from the JNHT (Jamaica National Heritage Fund), and many thought I was crazy. I left to pursue four main objectives. This book was the last of these objectives. It took 18 months.”

The 56-page children’s book is colourful and attractively designed and is published under the imprint of Plum Valley Publishing Limited. Atkinson Swaby has fond memories of visiting her relatives’ family home, built by her great-great-grandfather, Edward Wallen, at Plum Valley in Portland.

Also addressing the audience were KasikeNibonrixKaiman, the newly enstooled cacique of the Jamaican Hummingbird Tribe; Hilary Coulton, public relations and administrative manager at the CHASE Fund; Bianca Bonner-Harrison, the book’s illustrator; Jo-Ann Archibald, principal director, culture and creative industries, Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport, representing Minister Olivia Grange; and Boriken (Puerto Rican) Taino elder Bibi Vanessa Inarunikia Pastrana, the guest speaker.

Bibi Pastrana said it was a “marvelous” job that Atkinson Swaby had done and that she intended to use the book in children’s arietos (rituals) in New York and promote it in indigenous communities. Locally, Boianani is available at Kraft Village, Kingston Bookshop, Cozy Corner, Bookophilia, Sangster’s Bookstore, Liberty Hall in Kingston, the IOJ’s gift shop, and the National Gallery of Jamaica’s gift shop.