2005-08-13 / Columnists

Jamaicans Celebrate Independence Weekend With Reggae, Calypso

Island to Island
by Ralston Blair


Summer Heat

I’ve been told Michigan has been experiencing hot weather this summer. Some southern states have suffered dangerous and life-threatening heat waves.

Even here in Jamaica, many persons can be heard commenting on how much more intense the Jamaican temperature seems to be than in the past.

Over in Helsinki

Helsinki, Finland, is where we find this year’s staging of the10th IAAF World Athletics Championship August 6 to August 14.

Athletics, along with music, has proven to be one of Jamaica’s main claims to fame. Jamaican athletes usually fair quite well at track and field meets. Within the first two days, Jamaica had already secured itself one gold medal and one silver. These were won by Trecia Smith in the women's triple jump, and Michael Frater, coming in second place to the excellent 9.88 run of the U.S.A.’s Justin Gatlin in the men’s 100 meters sprint. By the third day of the competition, Jamaica again struck silver, when Veronica Campbell came second behind Lauryn Williams of the U.S. in the women's 100 meters.

It was a big disappointment to the whole Jamaican nation to know that our No. 1 man in the 100 meter category, Asafa Powell, would not be able to compete because of injury. It would have been a good run for our money to see how well he would have done.

I seldom view any such gathering of diverse nationalities without quickly casting my mind back to the similar situation of the various nationalities that come together on Mackinac Island each year, some of whose acquaintance I have had the real pleasure of knowing. I want to take time out to salute all of the other international workers, working alongside the many Jamaicans on the Island. For example, those from the Philippines (see, I remembered you this time---smile), Dominican Republic, Mexico, Eastern Europe and, of course, all of the others who also make up the Island workforce. A big hello to you all, and keep up the good work.

Down in Jamaica

Let me take you on a whirlwind trip around some of the exciting happenings this past Independence weekend in Jamaica.

A number of captivating shows took place at the celebration. For the younger crowd, the local soft drink company Bigga sponsored the Independence Beach Bling, Saturday, August 6, at the Aquasol Beach Park in Montego Bay and featured popular young stars like Kip Rich, the group Voicemail, Shane-O, and Twin of Twins. For those preferring Calypso, the show Soca Madness, Sunday, August 7, at Morgan's Harbor, Port Royal combined the priceless trio of The Calypso King of the World, The Mighty Sparrow, along with Soca King, Arrow and The Queen of Calypso, Calypso Rose. The more militant and cultural patrons gravitated to the eastern end of the island to attend Reggae Dance Hall artiste, Capleton's charity-related show “A St. Mary Mi Come From” on Independence Day, August 6, at Grays Inn Spots Complex, Annotto Bay, St. Mary. Featured were hot reggae stars such as Capleton (himself) Beenie Man, Bounty Killer, Elephant Man, Turbulence, Everton Blender, Coco Tea, Macka Diamond, and many more. (I know that some of these names might sound unfamiliar, to say the least, to many of my U.S. readers, but to the average Jamaican reader, it probably excites them just to read these names).

For the lovers of vintage reggae, two shows delivered on that promise. “Stars R Us” and “Heineken Startime,” which between them had such Jamaican oldies stars as Culture, Gregory Isaacs, Ska King - Derrick Morgan, D.J. Godfather - U Roy, Rock Steady King - Alton Ellis, Ken Booth, Leroy Sibbles, and Barrington Levy.

The “coup de grace” of events was the annual Prime Minister’s Independence Gala in Kingston, and this year it was dedicated to the great lifetime achievements of the legendary Bob Marley. Performers included reggae saxophonist Arturo Tapping, Judy Mowatt, a former member of Marley’s female backup singers known as the I Threes (the other two members being Marcia Griffiths and Bob’s widow, Rita Marley, who was sitting front row in the audience and was noticeably touched by Judy Mowatt’s gripping performance), pianist Orrett Rhoden, the Caribfolk Singers, international star Sinead O'Connor, along with instrumental reggae duo Sly and Robbie.

The Jamaican Ministry of National Security is broadcasting an advertisement in which it has made use of many top young athletes in spreading the call for peace instead of crime. The slogan for the ad is “Peace...Let’s Pass it On” and depicts one hand passing over a baton to another hand.

From Emancipation

to Independence

Last week I explained how significant August 1, 1838, was as the real Emancipation Day for the ex-slaves in Jamaica. This day irreversibly paved the way toward full independence for the island.

The island-wide discontent against poverty and low wages, which eventually brought about the famous Morant Bay Rebellion in eastern Jamaica, have etched the names of Paul Bogle and George William Gordon into the annals of Jamaican history with other heroes like Nanny, our female heroine, thestrong leader of her band of runaway slaves called the Maroons. In later years, closer to the period of independence, Marcus Garvey, Alexander Bustamante (our first Prime Minister), and Norman Washington Manley steered the political focus to a new constitution.

The British Union Jack flag was lowered and the black, green, and gold of the Jamaican flag was hoisted at midnight August 5, 1962, and a new independent nation was born.

Place Profile: Ocho Rios

Ocho Rios, on the mid North Coast of Jamaica, is simply captivating. This rambling resort has a coast lined with pristine white beaches and lush green hills with cascading waterfalls. Ocho Rios is probably a mispronunciation of the Spanish word chorreras , which means waterfalls. And its premier 600-foot waterfall, Dunn's River Falls, is world famous. The town contains one main historic site, the Ocho Rios Fort. Built in 1777 to defend the town against seafaring invaders, it today is used as an abattoir. Cannons that were once part of the fort’s defenses still remain today. Shaw Park Gardens is a lovely botanical garden featuring sparkling cascades of tropical plants and flowers, as well as exotic birds. Fern Gully is a lush spot, planted with ferns in the 19th century, and now boasts more varieties of ferns than any other location in the world (more than 500 native species).

St. Ann was the birthplace of national hero Marcus Garvey, who is regarded today as the father of black liberation. Nine Miles, another nearby area, is the hometown of the legendary Bob Marley. He went to seek his fortunes in Kingston (the rest is history). St. Ann's Bay is also the first place Christopher Columbus landed on his second voyage to Jamaica.

There is so much more that can be said about this beautiful part of the island of Jamaica, but as usual, I’ll leave a little bit for you to seek out and discover.

An Old Jamaican Saying

“Di higher di monkey climb, di more im expose.”

Translated meaning: The higher the monkey climbs up the tree, the more he is openly exposed.

There are no monkeys indigenous to Jamaica, however, the expression does serve its purpose in describing the kind of exposure (whether good or bad) that comes as anyone rises up the ladder of fame and stature.

Please feel free to send me your feedback, suggestions, or comments by e-mail to: blairnyou@hotmail.com.

Until next week, Stay Irie!

Ralston Blair is a Jamaican writer and journalist who has worked the past several summers on Mackinac Island. He is writing this year from Jamaica. Ideas and comments about his column can also be delivered in care of the Town Crier.

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