Treasures of Kitson Town – Part I

In commemoration of Emancipation Day in Jamaica on August 1, over the next few days I will be sharing the wealth of history associated with the Free Village of Kitson Town and its environs in the parish of St. Catherine.

I didn’t know much about Kitson Town before April 2019. Which is a shame, considering how culturally rich it is. Fortunately, that month I carried a handful of intrepid photography students to explore Mountain River Cave. This was when I met members of the Kitson Town Community Development Committee (CDC), who introduced me to their village’s rich cultural heritage. I, in turn, am sharing this knowledge with you.

En route to Mountain River Cave.

Free villages were communities established in Jamaica after Emancipation in 1838 for newly freed slaves, normally by abolitionist missionaries. They were located away from sugar plantations in order to prevent the plantations owners from exerting power over their former slaves by determining their living conditions. Kitson Town was established on July 3, 1841 on 195 acres of land that was purchased by the Baptist Missionary James Phillipo. It was named after George Kitson in an area formerly known as Red Hills, in the former parish of St. John.

Why am I focusing on Kitson Town? Apart from being a free village, Kitson Town is unique in that in a very small area, visitors are able to interact with in situ remnants of Jamaica’s history. These include pictographs and petroglyphs from pre-Columbian Taino Amerindians, legacies of slavery, buildings and artefacts from the colonial era, and built heritage from Jamaica’s post-emancipation and pre-independence era. The Kitson Town CDC is focused on using this rich cultural heritage to lay a foundation for its sustainable development.  

Trodding with Tainos

As mentioned previously, my initial reason for visiting the environs of Kitson Town was to carry students to Mountain River Cave, which is designated a national monument by the Jamaica National Heritage Trust (JHNT).

Hiking to Mountain River Cave

Tainos were Jamaica’s first inhabitants, and were Amerindians that arrived from South America approximately 2500 years ago. They were a peaceable people who established villages throughout the island, cultivating crops such as cassava, maize and tobacco. Evidence of their activities are found across Jamaica, and one of the few places to view their pictographs and petroglyphs is at Mountain River Cave, located at Cudjoe Hill, which is approximately 30 minutes from Kitson Town. This is where we met our guide, Monica Wright.

From here we walked – or “trodded” as our Rastafarian brethren like to say. Trodding down some of the steepest steps I have ever walked, and then across the Mountain River. Then the hike really started – through limestone forests and over honeycomb rocks. Fortunately I was with a fun-loving set of students, a knowledgeable guide, her grandchildren and their dog, so the hour-long hike passed quickly. We were then able lay our eyes on artwork which experts have dated to between 500 to 1300 years old.

Taino Pictographs at Mountain River Cave, St. Catherine, Jamaica.

Early Europeans

In 1494, Spaniards led by Christopher Columbus landed in Jamaica. This represented the first recorded contact between Jamaicans and Europeans, and was an encounter that did not end well for the Tainos. I was taught in school that the Tainos were totally exterminated by the Spanish. However, this has recently been disputed, with one argument being that Tainos mixed with the Spaniard’s African slaves, resulting in Taino DNA being extant in some present-day Jamaicans.

A Spanish Jar in St. John’s Church.

The Spanish presence in Jamaica lasted until 1655 when British forces under the command of Admiral William Penn and General Robert Venables successfully captured the island from the Spanish. According to the Jamaica Information Service, the Spanish fled to Cuba and released their slaves. These slaves escaped into the mountainous interior and became the first Maroons, who were slaves that escaped from their colonial masters. The word originates from the Spanish word Cimarron, meaning wild. (More on the Maroons in Part II).

St. John’s Anglican Church – Guanaboa Vale, is one of Jamaica’s oldest churches.

At St. John’s Anglican Church at Guanaboa Vale we discovered signs of this early European contact, including a whitewashed Spanish Jar of indeterminate age. What I found fascinating were the 17th and early 18th century graves of early British settlers, located on the floor of the church. These include the grave of Richard Guy who was buried at the age of 63 in 1681. The nearby community of Guy’s Hill is named after him. Other graves found here included that of: the seven children of Charles and Sarah Price, who passed on in the early 18th century, aged between 3 weeks to 14 years old, and John Charnoch, who died in 1730, and whose tomb is graced with heraldry.

Heraldry adorning the tomb of John Charnoch
Tomb containing the 7 children of Charles and Sarah Price
The grave of Richard Guy, after whom the community of Guy’s Hill is named.

There is so much cultural wealth in Kitson Town, that one post will not suffice. Coming in Part II….haunted ponds, subterranean tunnels and the ubiquity of shackles.

Barbados Morn

Last month I was fortunate to find myself in the neighbouring Caribbean island of Barbados, somewhere that I have always wanted to visit. Although I was there for only two days of non-photographic work, I had to take a few hours to explore the environs around my hotel. Fortunately, these environs encompassed the UNESCO World Heritage site known as The Garrison. Needless to say, those two hours reminded me of the simple pleasures that can be had with a Nikon in hand.

The Main Guard of the Barbados Garrison, built in 1804

The Main Guard of the Barbados Garrison, built in 1804

The Garrison was designated a World Heritage Site (WHS) in 2011 by UNESCO. According to the UNESCO WHS website, this is due to the “outstanding example of British colonial architecture consisting of a well-preserved old town built in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.”

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A private building located in the Garrison World Heritage Site.

A private building located in the Garrison World Heritage Site.

From what I was able to see – which was centred around the Garrison Savannah race course – I was quite impressed with the preservation and usage of the buildings. Some were still used by the Barbados Defence Force, while others were private homes, some were museums and others were used by various government agencies.

Although I was impressed by the pride that our Barbadian neighbours have in their historical structures, I couldn’t help feeling a sense of “what if?” What if Jamaica invested in their built heritage sites in the same way that Barbados has invested in The Garrison? In historical Spanish Town there are numerous structures which date to the 16th century when it was known as Villa de la Vega and was Jamaica’s capital under the Spanish occupancy. A similar historical zone centred on Emancipation Square and the Cathedral could have been created. My uncle who was raised in Spanish Town, says that when he was growing up there was a large Brick Barracks that was used as a school – until it fell into disrepair. Such is Jamaica’s story…..

The Soldiers Brick Barracks, built in 1808

The Soldiers Brick Barracks, built in 1808

However, my task that day was not to mourn the deficiencies of my own country, but to celebrate and document how Barbados has been able to harmoniously make the past a part of their present and future.

The Barbados Light & Power building, formerly the Commissariat Provision Store and then the Garrison Theatre.

The Barbados Light & Power building, formerly the Commissariat Provision Store and then the Garrison Theatre.

 

 

 

 

Round About Bonn

A week in Bonn. I was fortunate to experience this a few weeks ago thanks to UNESCO-UNEVOC who invited me to attend a panel discussion on TVET skills and heritage preservation that coincided with the meeting of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee in July. During this week I was able to balance work with some sightseeing, photography and I admit, eating like a tourist.

Let me explain. I believe that when travelling to a foreign country, you should experience the culture, and one of the best ways to do so is to eat like a native, not as a tourist. Unfortunately I was unable to do so due to my limited (non-existent) grasp of the language. I admit the reason for this is solely my own. In spite of valiant attempts by a colleague to teach me usable German so that I could at least help myself in basic communication and experience the local cuisine, I failed miserably.

A view of the Rhine River from the UN Campus

A view of the Rhine River from the UN Campus

On the evening that I arrived, my search for dinner ended up at “Pizza Boy”. Yes the menu was in German, but I saw a name was quite familiar: “Hawaiian”. I pointed, nodded my head to the query of “beer?” and that was my first meal in Germany.  For the next two days, I repeated this pattern with minor variations. On day two I substituted “Hawaiian” with “Boston” and on day three I was adventurous, and ordered a pizza without at English name. I have no idea what it was but it had the number “4” in it, which I assume referred to the number of different meats on the pizza. I also substituted the beer with apple juice.  In my defence Pizza Boy was one of the few eateries that wasn’t chock full of smokers. I admit that I will eat moderately unhealthily at times, but I draw the line at second-hand smoke. After all, my body is a temple. One that is in need of more maintenance as the years go by, but still…..

Beethoven's statue.

Beethoven’s statue.

Running along the Rhine

Running along the Rhine

After three days of work, pizza and the hotel’s standard breakfast of sausages, toast, eggs and bacon, I was able to do some sightseeing in the Bonn city centre. The centre reflects the history, culture and pride of the former capital of West Germany. Home of Beethoven, his imposing statue glowers from pride of place in front of the Postamt building. The centre itself is deceptively large due to how compact the streets and buildings are arranged. Just when I thought I had seen everywhere, I made a turn into an unknown location that required exploration. This ended up being an intriguing mix of upscale shops and historical monuments and buildings, many of which were undergoing repairs.

One such structure was the Basilica of St. Cassius & Florentius, which dates to the 13th century. I spent some time walking around it, trying to get a suitable angle that didn’t involve restoration work and was not satisfied with my results. Then I noticed something…people were exiting the church. Needless to say, I entered. Immediately I was enveloped by the quiet and cool, dim light of the interior, which possesses Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque elements. This juxtaposed with the heat of the European summer as well as the bustle of the city centre.

After spending a few minutes to relax and offering up a prayer I made my way back out. An evening meal was becoming a priority and I decided to try something different. I found a restaurant and  ordered and ordered ..not pizza but pasta – without the beer! Okay, I will admit…it was a Pizza Hut restaurant.

Details from a wall on the streets of Bonn

Details from a wall on the streets of Bonn

The High Altar of the Basilica, completed in 1865

The High Altar of the Basilica, completed in 1865

So after an eventful week in Bonn I now need to restart my running regime and get back in shape. My desire is not fueled by all of the bicyclists that rode past me on the streets, nor by the fit looking runners that strode past me in the heat of the day.  It is none of these reasons. The reason why I have been inspired to return to fitness after a week in Germany is really very simple. Eating badly in Bonn.