Category Archives: Community Groups

Trinidad and Tobago …. by Dr. William Milne-Home

Every year in August the folks at Jamaican Products organise a celebration of the independence of Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago. This timing relates to the actual days in August when the respective countries became independent: 6th for Jamaica, and 31st for Trinidad and Tobago. The celebrations are inclusive of the wider Caribbean community in Sydney and Caribbean food, music, dance, culture and history are featured. Unfortunately in 2020 a physical gathering is not possible because of the Covid-19 pandemic, but hopefully in 2021 it’s back on!

Map of Trinidad and Tobago

In the meantime we will reflect on aspects of the culture and history of the Caribbean starting long before the independence of Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago in 1962.

August is a significant month in history for our two countries and some other Caribbean islands. The first day of August 1834 marked the bill in the British House of Commons which abolished slavery in most parts of the British empire. Some historians consider the slave uprising in the French colony of Saint Domingue which began on August 22nd and 23rd, 1791 and which resulted eventually in the creation of the independent state of Haiti, also influenced the abolition. August 23rd is the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition (UNESCO). Finally, in passing, we remember that Marcus Garvey was born on August 17th.

These events in Augusts past continue to leave their mark. Since 1962 in Jamaica celebrations of August 1st (Emancipation Day) and 6th have merged and in Trinidad and Tobago, after it became a republic on August 1st 1976, Emancipation Day was declared a public holiday in 1985. It is also a public holiday in Jamaica and Barbados since 1997. In Trinidad and Tobago Emancipation Day formerly was called Discovery Day because Christopher Columbus reportedly landed on the south coast of Trinidad at Moruga on July 31st 1498 when he “discovered” the island. Columbus is commemorated by a municipal square and statue in Port-of-Spain. Although the statue has been there since 1881 its future may not be secure, as there are echoes of the debate in Australia over Captain Cook statues.

Statue of Columbus in Port of Spain

Reverberations from the Black Lives Matter and cancel culture movements in the USA, UK and Australia are manifest in demands to remove Columbus and rename the square. The statue itself was daubed with red paint and a banner reading “murderer” was draped around it in June 2020.  

The current uproar about whether Columbus should be removed highlights the resurgence of the long-suppressed and ignored First Peoples (Amerindians) of Trinidad and Tobago. They were lumped by the Spanish into Caribs ( tagged as fierce, warlike cannibals and therefore legally could be enslaved) and “peaceful” Arawaks. But there are many other First Peoples within the Carib/Arawak nations: Carib (Kalinago) who can be Chaima, Nepuyo, Suppoyo or Yao; Arawak (Taino/Lakono) and Warao.

After the landing of Columbus, as no gold was discovered, the export of Amerindian slaves was the next resort. The First Peoples resisted fiercely and achieved some success. A chief named Boucanar defeated the attempt of the Conquistador, Antonio Sedeño, to settle in Mucurapo (west of Port of Spain) in a war lasting three years. Eventually Sedeño’s army left Trinidad on August 27th 1534. 

Warao Nation Queen and Delegation with Port of Spain Mayor

A century later in 1637, a Nepuyo chief –Hyarima- allied with the Dutch from Tobago to burn down the Spanish capital San José (now St. Joseph) and caused the Spanish settlers to abandon Trinidad completely. Of course, the Spanish returned in force and Trinidad was firmly incorporated into Spain’s Latin American empire. Tobago was left to be fought over by Dutch, French, Latvian (Courlander) and British colonisers. The Carib and Galibi First Peoples in Tobago were gradually replaced by the sugar-producing estates like in the rest of the Caribbean.

Some of the remaining First Peoples in Trinidad lived in encomiendas (estates worked by indigenous labour); the most prominent of these were at San Juan, Caura, Tacarigua and Arouca, which today are part of the urban sprawl eastwards along the southern foothills of the Northern Range from Port-of-Spain towards Arima. This town gradually became a centre for First Peoples as the last Spanish governor closed the encomiendas and moved the First Peoples to the mission in Arima between 1784 and 1786 to make way for the influx of French settlers and their slaves  and the post 1789 refugees from the French Revolution in the islands. Today Arima is where the Santa Rosa Carib Festival is held each August (except 2020!) by the revitalised Santa Rosa First Peoples Community.

The Festival incorporates a church procession, smoke ceremonies, parang music and  heritage foods, like cassava bread. It has become more prominent since the Government of Trinidad and Tobago granted a lease of 25 acres to the Community on August 9th 2018 to establish a First Peoples Heritage Village and Living Museum.

Now, back to the statue of Columbus and Columbus Square. The queen of the Warao Nation, Donna Bermudez-Bovell and Shabaka Kambon, the director of the Cross Rhodes Freedom Project (part of the Emancipation Support Committee of Trinidad & Tobago) met with the Mayor of Port-of-Spain on June 12th 2020 to request the removal of Columbus and renaming Columbus square – shown in the Warao delegation photo. However, at about the same time, the Chief of the Santa Rosa First Peoples Community, Ricardo Bharath-Hernandez stated that replacement and renaming were pointless unless some tangible measures could be put in place which would benefit the indigenous peoples of Trinidad and Tobago. These conflicting opinions sparked a vigorous debate which continues to rumble along.

The Spanish ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago joined in the fray arguing strongly against removal of the statue and renaming the square. Even the Prime Minister, Dr. Keith Rowley, felt compelled to calm down the debate and is quoted  by Newsday on 11th July 2020 as saying:

Trinidad and Tobago Coat of Arms

“Columbus has gone a long time ago; let’s not fight over a statue. If we are no longer prepared to accept a colonial relic or anything that’s in our midst then let’s just look at it civilly and decide on whether he should be on a pedestal in Port of Spain or in a museum.”

Rowley promised to have a community discussion about it after the election. Well, his Peoples National Movement (PNM) has just won the election with a small but working majority so there may be some resolution soon. However, enthusiasm for change may well be tempered by the Columban symbolism embedded in Trinbagonian heraldry.

The Coat of Arms of Trinidad and Tobago, as shown above includes the three ships of Columbus’ fleet on the central shield. The three peaks of the Southern Range from which Trinidad was named by Columbus are also in the design below the shield. The Amerindian name is Iere or Ka-iri, but Trinidad and Tobago is the country’s formal, official and internationally recognised name.

Every country has so-called contested heritage in which historical commemorations compete to be the preferred view of the past. The statue of Columbus in Columbus Square can be compared with Hyarima’s statue near the Arima velodrome since 1993. Moruga also has a statue of Columbus and celebrates Discovery Day with a pageant of the landing of Columbus. He and his crew disembark from his three ships in the Columbus Channel and are welcomed by Tainos and Caribs. (By the way, Morugans also celebrate Emancipation Day).

But let’s leave the last word to Marcus Garvey:

“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.”

My Jamaican Mom … Wayne

My Jamaican Mom is proud;
Proud of her birthplace and her heritage;
Proud of what she and her husband have accomplished;
Proud of her children, grandchildren, great grandchildren.

Hazel Bigby

My Jamaican Mom is strong;
Filled with the strength and resilience of her ancestors;
Filled with strength from her sense of place and purpose;
Filled with the strength of God.

My Jamaican Mom is beautiful;
Beautiful in flesh and in spirit;
Beautiful in personality and character;
A reflection of the natural beauty of the place she was born.

My Jamaican Mom is intelligent;
Smartly embracing the ways of her adopted nation,
While never forgetting her Jamaican roots;
Astutely adapting to a lifetime of change.

My Jamaican Mom is loved …

By Wayne Bigby, a retired lawyer and business executive who lives in Canada and loves his Jamaican Mom, Hazel Bigby.

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Our Mother … Gary

Our Mother was a short woman in height, however she stood very tall in stature, brilliance, resilience, compassion and plain human decency. Mavis Thompson was no ordinary woman. As a mother and home maker, during the early 1980s she would get up at 1am to do laundry for us as that was the only time we could have water available. Then went to work for a full 8 hours.

Mavis Thompson

She worked a full-time job yet was always able to be home to accomplish tasks as if she was a full-time housekeeper and had been home all day.

As a family we knew what good well-prepared food was and that’s because she made it happen, no matter the economic or social circumstance.  Her culinary skills and ability to satisfy hungry bellies went beyond the family to grace many a social event. Some of us (Gary) may have benefited a little bit more than others in this respect.

Mavis was wise!  All her 3 children (Cordia, Roger and Gary) can attest to her broad band of wisdom that she was able to apply to all areas of our lives.  And we are the better today because of it.

Mavis and Victor Thompson

Our mother was a very attractive woman who on all occasions carried herself with poise and grace. Indeed, a prize-catch for the slick and equally handsome Victor, our Dad. But be not fooled for if required she could knock heads and come out swinging strategically as required. Not one to mess with as we all realized when we received the wisdom of her punishments on crossing the line.

This woman had a heart of gold. She gave of herself to all who she came across. Stories of Her compassion and sense of giving would resonate in our lives long after her passing. Her stature and her presence today are quite vivid in the looks and mannerisms of her grandchildren.  

Our Mother, Our Friend, Our Hero, your physical presence has been gone for awhile but the fire of your spirit continues to burn in our hearts and minds. Keep smiling down on us Mother we love you.

Cordia, Gary and Roger Thompson

Written by Gary, her 1st son in coordination with Cordia and Roger

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To My Mother … Marco

This year Mother’s Day things will be very different for me.

It was one month after Mother’s Day last year 2019 that I started planning what I should give my mother for her birthday. We had already taken my mother to Cuba for Christmas 2018 and were spending an extra two weeks with her in Jamaica as we would be heading back to Australia in January 2019. 

Young Inez Breakenridge

My mother died in June 2019 – one day before her birthday. As soon as I got the news I was on my way back to Jamaica. I could not wait to get there. On arrival in Jamaica I went immediately , to the funeral parlour and saw my mother lying there, eyes closed, motionless but with a smile on her face. She had meant the world to me.  

My mother, like all mothers with average education, was a great teacher, a doctor, a health worker, a fantastic cook, you name it she did everything for her 8 children. She was never selfless, always having a kind word for everyone, always giving to those who were less fortunate than her. And even giving to those who were more fortunate than her but trying to pull a swiftie on her.

The greatest gift my mom gave me was supporting me to pursue my dream which took me to Australia. She knew that our times together would be limited to one or two visits every other year- she coming to Australia or me going to Jamaica. However, the times we shared together will always be etched in my memory.  

That Enduring Smile

She was always singing and praying to the Lord for her children, her close friends, her husband before and after he died. She even asked the Lord to bless those who wronged her. 

Everywhere I went people always said my mother was waiting for the Lord, so when he took her she smiled. She had received her goal of being with the Lord. Thus, this Mother’s Day I will sit and reminisce on you, my mother and how you lived a humble life and pray that I can emulate you, so that when I die (we all will), I will have a smile on my face as I will be ready for my Maker. Hence my message to everyone whose mother is alive I encourage you to love her and celebrate the day with her. For those who live with their mother or those who may be separated from her please remember your mum always deserves the best.

I will be celebrating this and every future Mother’s Day by reflecting on the memory of times my Mom and I had together.

By Marco Breakenridge, the honorary Consul of Jamaica in Australia

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Reflecting on Daphne … Celia

When my Mom, Daphne Innerarity, married my father it became an immediate family of 6, as they had 4 children combined, and were shortly joined by myself and younger brother. Never did any of us feel that we were not all one.

My memories of my Mom are… active. She was always doing something or on the move. As such, as kids we had no choice but to be active ourselves. Mom’s passion is sport and she was an athlete (sprinter and netballer) turned Physical Education Teacher and Lecturer. She also taught dance (until she was 8 months pregnant with me) and was a Netball Coach par excellence.

Daphne Inneraity

I have so many memories of being at Netball Matches, watching Athletics at our national stadium, cricket at Sabina Park.  In addition there was the cultural aspect, being taken to every Pantomime (back in the day), National Dance Theatre recital and Play that was on. We were dragged until we became appreciative. Mom’s other passion was singing and she had a beautiful soprano that made her very popular on the wedding scene, as she serenaded many Couples with the song Ave Maria.

You never felt unwanted or uncomfortable around my Mom, as you’re getting a hug first thing! She has a warm spirit, an infectious laugh and ever the life of the gathering.  She can fit into any situation.

I appreciate her for the legacy of all these things. She has instilled in her children a love of people, which is expressed by the strength of friendships that my family has enjoyed over decades. I even became a hugger myself. I thank her for the love of sport and appreciation of the arts, especially music and dance. But most of all, I thank her for imparting the values by which we live.

My Mother embodies the Proverbs 31 woman. She was a wife of noble character, and has lived her life with purpose, integrity, honesty and love. Because of that her children call her blessed. She speaks wisdom, she prays for us, she sacrificed much for her family and continues to so. So today I honour her for all that her hands have done. She recently had her 80th birthday and unfortunately the celebrations had to be postponed. We give thanks that she is still here and going strong.

My prayer is that she will have health and strength all the days of her life and that she will know that she is loved.

By Celia Innerarity. Celia is a dietitian, working in private practice. She assists her clients, most of which have chronic conditions such as diabetes, with lifestyle management of their condition.

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A Tribute to Mom … Vil + Jos

Mom came into this world with a purpose to teach young ones and to serve her fellowmen.

Lorna Charlton was born on March 15, 1916, in Darliston, Westmoreland, Jamaica, and passed away on October 4, 2008.  Her marriage to Jeremiah produced four children- from the eldest to the youngest, Vilma, Jossette, Glen and Karl.   Apart from her husband, her children were her greatest confidant; so close were we all.  Many nights she chatted with us until we fell asleep.

Young Lorna Charlton

We vividly recall as young children being drafted by Mom over our summer holidays to carry out all the domestic chores generally done by the live-in helper.  As was customary, the live-in helper went off on holidays to her home town in the parish of Westmoreland.  To our chagrin we were required to: clean the board floors throughout the whole house, first applying the dye and then shinning the board with a coconut brush; wash the soiled clothing with the use of scrubbing board and wash pan; iron the clothes ensuring that the little iron heated on the coal stove was impeccably clean before applying them to the clothing. Even helping to prepare the meals was sometimes quite painful as we very often grated our knuckles instead of the coconut, and if we were not careful the wood fire in the iron stove would go out if the fire sticks were not continually adjusted. Balancing a bucket of water on one’s head and walking from the riverside up the rocky road to our house, was also a skill which we fought to achieve.

Perhaps we did not consider it much fun then, but as we grew older we came to appreciate the tremendous value and experience of those early years.  For that we are eternally grateful to Mom.  She helped to prepare us for life away from home.  In those days life away from home could begin as early as ten and eleven years old, particularly for country children like us, who were sent off to high school in Kingston.  

The Charlton Family

Lorna Charlton, spent her entire work life in the primary school as a teacher.  Like her husband, Jeremiah, who was generally the Head Teacher of the school, she was very soft spoken but extremely successful in preparing children for the upper grades.  Students in her class received a good foundation as they prepared for another two years of studying, culminating in the sitting of the National Common Entrance Examination.

At church, she played the organ and also devoted a lot of time to choir practice, ably supporting her husband who was the Choir Master.  Choir practice prepared the choir for regular church services and special events.  One of these special events was the Annual Choir Competitions in the parish of St. Catherine, which they won on several occasions.  After winning for many years the trophy was eventually retired to then at the Point Hill Baptist Church.  Later she also played the Piano for school.  As a matter of fact her two oldest children, Vilma and Jossette, were given a very good foundation in piano, before pursuing it further, during their High School years.

We remember Mom as a remarkable mother, very affectionate and close to her children.   On this Mother’s Day we salute her.

We remember Mom as a remarkable mother, very affectionate and close to her children.   On this Mother’s Day we salute her.

Vilma Charlton, OD, Officer Class in the field of Education and Sport. Olympian 1964, 1968, 1972

Jossette Charlton, OD, Officer Class in the field of Local Government.

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To My Moms … Eileen

The celebration of Mothers’ Day brings a focus on mothers.  In Jamaica, and indeed in the Caribbean, mother has a special significance being often the only constant and consistent parental figure in a child’s life.  Accordingly, Mothers’ Day is a big celebration when mothers are honored and saluted for the role they play in the family and the wider community.

Mother and Daughter

“Loving”, “caring”, “nurturing”, “sacrificial “, “selfless”– are terms we associate with “mother”.  You will hear it being said of a person who is obstinate and difficult and generally of unpleasant disposition -“only his mother can love him”. This is a reaffirmation of the unconditional love expected of a mother.

These maternal characteristics are not peculiar to the woman who gave birth to a child, but also demonstrated by other persons who assume the responsibility for the care and upbringing of children, whether formally or informally, in some cases voluntarily and in others coincidentally.  It is a common feature of Jamaican society for children to be raised by “granny” or “auntie” or other female relative or friend, and in rare cases a male.  Thus “mother” is defined more in terms of relationship than biological ties or even gender.  A celebration of the Jamaican mother must recognize this wider concept to be truly representative.

Granny – Miss Terry

From my own experience I have been blessed to have had the love and support of not only my biological mother but also some other wonderful women who were “mother figures” at critical junctures of my life’s journey.  In great part I owe what I am today (the good bits that is) and what I have achieved to them.

My mother, Louise, has been a supportive and stabilizing force throughout my life.  Though not physically present continuously, her influence, and I think her good genes if not her beauty, are   evident.  Friends and family members remark how much my expressions and gestures remind them of her, and as I move into the senior years I hear her voice in my laughter. I do miss her sense of humor and think how much she would enjoy my dog, Zorro.

Aunt Ives and Eileen

My Grandmother, “Granny” “Miss Terry”, was for all practical purposes my mother as she raised me from age 5 years.  She inculcated in me the good old fashioned values and the love of God above all else.  Although she believed in not sparing the rod for fear of spoiling the child, she was loving and kind and made me feel I was the best at everything.  She had an appropriate saying for every situation and her vocabulary was more expansive than the Oxford dictionary! Indeed, some of her expressions were unique and I would impress my friends with granny quotations.  Hardly a day passes that I don’t recall her with fondness. 

Then there is Aunt Ives who was married to my Uncle Reg and who took on the role of mother and confidante in my late teens and young adulthood.  She was loving and kind and imbued in me a sense of style and good graces and taught me the art of entertaining.  We enjoyed a good relationship which led some people to believe we were biologically related.

Aunt Ina

I was well into adulthood when I met Aunt Ina, my ”England mother” while I was pursuing post graduate studies at the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom.  I was introduced to her and her family by a friend to whom she was related.  We developed a special relationship.  We worshipped together and would have a tipple to celebrate occasions.  She not only fed me and gave me a home when I needed one but wholly treated me as a daughter. The family connection and friendship continue today even after her passing.

The above is just a brief mention of the impact and contribution of the amazing women who have mothered me.  There are other women who have played a maternal role along the way and whose mentoring and love and support have smoothed life’s pathway – I speak of the mothers of friends, my former boss, Miss Min and Mama Keizs. I think of them all with respect and affection, particularly at this time of year when we celebrate mothers. To my mind the best tribute to them is to emulate the good characteristics exemplified by them in my own relationships with children.   

Eileen and Zoro

I have not given birth myself, but I have been blessed with many children in the form of nieces; nephews; godchildren; the children of friends; my young colleagues and not to be left out, my pet, Zorro.  I thank God for the opportunity afforded me to practice what I learnt from my mothers and pray that the legacy will continue through those whose lives have been touched. 

By Eileen R Boxill CD,QC,Ph.D

Eileen is a former Consultant/Advisor to the Jamaican Ministry of Justice, and retired Director of Legal Reform at that Ministry. She was awarded a national honour – Order of Distinction, Commander Class (CD) and appointed a Queen’s Counsel (QC). 

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Jamaican Christmas Traditions

A bit of nostalgia for those of you who can remember, while for others a chance to learn, about some of our Jamaican Christmas traditions.

“Grand Market” and “Jamaican Sorrel” are two important elements of a Jamaican Christmas.

Grand Market Downtown Kingston

Christmas is the most celebrated holiday season in Jamaica.  Children especially look forward to this time of the year.  Not all because of Santa Claus.  It is the season when most Jamaican parents treat their kids to new clothes.  Thus the kids usually get to dress up in these new clothes and attend Grand Market and other events throughout the season.

Grand Market is held on Christmas Eve in all major towns across Jamaica.  It is considered by many Jamaicans as the highlight of the Christmas season. It is also the liveliest day of the year; as vendors and stores usually operate for the entire day and night.  From as early as 6 am on Christmas Eve most businesses are open.  The streets are lined with vendors selling clothing, household items, decorations, ground provisions and items not available all year round.

Grand Market provides an opportunity for parents and their smartly dressed children to complete their last minute Christmas shopping.  Festivities and music go hand in hand in Jamaica.  So sound boxes playing music are set up to entertain.  After a certain time of the night, a lot Jamaicans usually gather in a “street dance fashion” to dance, drink and enjoy themselves until Christmas morning.

Sorrel Drink with Pods

Christmas Day usually begins with the playing of Christmas Carols.  However Christmas dinner is what most Jamaicans look forward to.  It is a Jamaican tradition to have Jamaican Sorrel with Christmas dinner.

Jamaican Sorrel is a drink made from the Hibiscus Sabdariffa flower (Sorrel).  In Mexico this Christmas drink is called ‘Agua de Jamaica’ (Jamaican water).  The Hibiscus Sabdariffa plant is harvested and the dried flowers pods are boiled and used to make this famous and refreshing drink.  Ginger is added for flavor and it is sweetened with sugar and a splash of white over proof rum is usually added to give it a kick.

Jamaican Christmas cake

Jamaica Sorrel is not only tasty but has numerous nutritional benefits you may not be aware of.  Sorrel is an excellent source of Vitamin C.  It is also rich in iron, calcium, copper, magnesium and phosphorus. It helps to lower blood pressure, high cholesterol and it enhances liver function.

If you want to have a taste of Jamaica this Christmas just head to our website to purchase a bottle of Christmas Sorrel cordial or Contact Us for one of our delectable Christmas Cakes.

Thanks Jhana Dunbar for this informative post.

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Am I An Entrepreneur?

Who comes to mind when you hear the word entrepreneur?

Any women you can think of?  What about Lady Gaga or my favourite Oprah Winfrey? 

Lady Gaga

Some of the common characteristics of an entrepreneur are passion, perseverance and learning.  Can you see these features in your favourite entrepreneur?

As I sit updating my resume I contemplate writing Entrepreneur as my current role. But do I display these features in my Jamaican Products business?

My vision is to bring you an authentic Jamaican Patty through a marriage of local Australian beef and imported Jamaican products.  A patty contains various fillings and spices baked inside a golden yellow flaky pastry shell.  As the name suggests Jamaican Patties are commonly found in Jamaica and often eaten as a full meal.

Oprah Winfrey

With my superannuation to fund the scheme I established a bakery at home.  Now that is passion!

Initially I made the pastry by hand, but was faced with sore arms and uneven pastry thickness.  The Rondo benchtop dough sheeter in my bakery put an end to these problems. 

Manning the dough sheeter with a hit of the knobs I control dough movement from left belt to right belt and back, as the dough got thinner and longer.  Before you knew it the dough was falling off the sheeter arm onto the bench and then handing in the air.  I moved away from the controls and tried rolling the dough onto a rolling pin.  The machine was too quick for me and in this position my arms could not reach the stop button.

Jamaican Patties

The weight of the dough hanging off the machine caused the sheet of dough to break as I tried moving it to the other side.  There was dough everywhere, on the floor, ceiling, all over me and it was 1am.  I sat looked at the mess and wondered how seasoned bakers do it.  The photos show a rolling pin, which I had acquired, as there is no rolling pin attached to my machine.  Probably I can leave the rolling pin on the machine and use its speed to my advantage.  Two containers storing ingredients should do the trick. 

By 2am I had cleaned up and with new dough and the pair of containers I was ready to start again.  I watched with joy as the dough rolled onto the rolling pin with the containers on either side to hold the rolling pin in place.  But that was the left side and the dough needs to be thinner.  3am I had the strips of dough in the freezer.  Surely that shows perseverance.

Dough Sheeter

I drew a sketch of what I needed for the machine, rolling pin holders for each end.  I contacted the local machine distributor but they were neither interested in my suggestion nor shared with me what other bakers do.  I contacted the manufacturer in Switzerland.  They replied within 2 minutes and organised for the distributor to visit me and discuss the issue.  With each interaction I learn more about baking techniques and the machine.

As I reflect on the term entrepreneur I reply, yes I have what it takes to use the term.  I showed commitment, passion and faith to fund the scheme from my superannuation.  Yes, I persevered moving from rolling the dough by hand to become a novice baker using a dough sheeter.  I encountered challenges but enjoyed finding solutions with a desire to learn.

So there on my resume I describe myself as an entrepreneur.

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Jamaica’s Road to Independence – Part 2

Showing Showing Kingston and Spanish Town

The story continues.  So if you have not already done so, please read Part 1.

The Maroons

Maroons intermittently used guerrilla tactics against Jamaican militia and British troops, who had destroyed many Maroon settlements in 1686.  The British tried to capture them because they occasionally raided plantations, making expansion into the interior more difficult.  An increase in armed confrontations over decades led to the First Maroon War in the 1730s.

Jamaican Maroon

Edward Trelawny was appointed Governor of Jamaica in April 1738, at a time when the colonial authorities on the island were in the midst of waging an unsuccessful war against the Maroons.  This was the first of the great Maroon wars.  Trelawny quickly realised that the colonial militia, fighting on two fronts against the Leeward Maroons in the west and the Windward Maroons in the east, were unable to defeat the Maroons.  So he offered the Maroons of Cudjoe’s Town a peace agreement in 1739.  Cudjoe’s Town was later renamed Trelawny Town. 

Once Cudjoe signed this treaty, Trelawny offered a similar treaty to the Windward Maroons in 1740.  This overture was supported by the British settlers and the treaty officially recognised.  The treaty accepted the freedom of the Maroons and allowed them to have autonomy in their communities in exchange for agreeing to be called to military service with the colonists if needed.  This military service agreement resulted in the Maroons tracking and returning runaway slaves and assisting with quelling slave uprisings and rebellions.  This would later cause a rift between the Maroons and other Jamaicans.

Due to tensions and repeated conflicts with Maroons from Trelawny Town, the Second Maroon War erupted in 1795.  Other Maroon communities did not join in this uprising.  Being low in ammunition and with a measles outbreak they were outgunned and outnumbered by government forces.  The Maroons agreed to a truce with the government who claimed they had not abided by the terms of their Maroon treaty.  Thus in 1796 approximately 600 captive Maroons comprising of men, women and children were deported to Nova Scotia, Canada.  Jamaica granted £25,000 to pay their travelling expenses and those of accompanying administrative and medical personnel. 

Maroons Towns in Jamaica

The story of the Maroons in Nova Scotia is brief as they arrived in 1796 and left in 1800 for Freetown, Sierra Leone, in Western Africa.  Oral history maintains that a few Maroons remained in Nova Scotia while some of the Maroon descendants in Sierra Leone returned to Jamaica in the mid-1800s.

The only Leeward Maroon settlement retaining formal autonomy on Jamaica after the Second Maroon War was Accompong, in the parish of Saint Elizabeth.  Windward Maroon communities were located in the parish of Portland and included Charles Town, on Buff Bay River; Moore Town (formerly Nanny Town); and Scott’s Hall. 

In 2005 the music of the Moore Town Maroons was declared by UNESCO as a ‘Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity’.

Resistance

The abolition of the slave trade and slavery was not only achieved by frequent slave uprisings and rebellions in the Caribbean but also by the work of humanitarians who were concerned about the slaves’ well-being.  Humanitarian groups such as the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) publicly protested against slavery and the slave trade.  Quaker colonists began questioning slavery in Barbados in the 1670s, but first openly denounced it in 1688.

Medallion of Equality

During the 1740s and 50s the anti-slavery sentiment was taking a firmer global hold.  A new generation of Quakers protested against slavery, and demanded that Quaker society cut ties with the slave trade.  Beginning in the 1750s Pennsylvanian Quakers tightened their rules and by 1758 made it effectively an act of misconduct to engage in slave trading.  The London Yearly Meeting soon followed, issuing a ‘strong minute’ against slave trading in 1761.  The Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade was formed in 1787 by a group of Evangelical English Protestants allied with Quakers, to unite in their shared opposition to slavery and the slave trade.

There were many slave rebellions of note, including the Easter Rebellion of 1760 led by Tacky.  Jamaica’s slave population swelled to 300,000, despite mounting civil unrest and unstable food supplies.  During the period 1780–87 about 15,000 slaves starved to death.

In addition Jamaica was experiencing external threats.  A large French fleet, with Spanish support, planned to invade Jamaica in 1782.  However the British admirals George Rodney and Samuel Hood thwarted the plan at the Battle of the Saintes off Dominica.  In 1806 Admiral Sir John Duckworth defeated the last French invasion force to threaten colonising Jamaica.

Slave Density in Ships on Transatlantic Voyage

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the production of sugar in Britain’s West Indian colonies saw money pouring into Britain. The sugar production came to be controlled by a small circle of wealthy planters and merchants in Britain.  They nurtured ties with members of both houses of British Parliament and eventually a number became MPs.  For example William Beckford, owner of a 22,000 acre estate in Jamaica, was twice Lord Mayor of London and over 50 MPs in parliament represented the slave plantations.  No surprise that an Abolition bill first put to parliament in 1791 would in 1805 fail to pass for the eleventh time.

The Act of Union 1801 allowed 100 Irish MPs into Parliament, most of whom supported abolition combined with the general acceptance of the evils of the slave trade enabled the law to pass both Houses.  William Wilberforce, an Evangelical Christian and parliamentarian who spear headed the campaign against the British slave trade for 18 years, finally witnessed the passage of the Slave Trade Act in 1807. 

Unrest

The Slave Trade Act of 1807 made the purchase or ownership of slaves illegal within the British Empire, with the exception of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and Saint Helena.  The legislation imposed fines that did little to deter slave trade participants, so it acted to outlaw the slave trade but not slavery itself.  Abolitionist Henry Brougham realised that trading had continued and as a new British MP successfully introduced the Slave Trade Felony Act 1811, making slavery a felony act through the British empire.  The Royal Navy established the West Africa Squadron to suppress the Atlantic slave trade by patrolling the coast of West Africa.

William Wilberforce

The British were, by the late eighteenth century, the biggest proponents of the abolition of slavery worldwide, having previously been the world’s largest slave dealers.  Britain used its influence to coerce other countries to agree to treaties to end their slave trade and allow the Royal Navy to seize their slave ships.  The West Africa Squadron did suppress the slave trade but did not stop it entirely.  Between 1808 and 1860 the West Africa Squadron captured 1,600 slave ships and freed 150,000 Africans.  Many of these freed captives were resettled in Jamaica and the Bahamas.

Abolishing the transatlantic slave trade in 1807 increased planters’ costs in Jamaica at a time when the price of sugar was already dropping.  It was not until the passage of the Slavery Abolition Act 1833 that slavery itself was eventually abolished.

During the Christmas holiday of 1831 a large-scale slave revolt in Jamaica, known as the Baptist War, broke out.  What was organised originally as a peaceful strike by the educated Baptist minister Samuel Sharpe ended up mobilising some 60,000 enslaved persons throughout the island.  The colonial government used the armed Jamaican military forces and Maroon warriors to put down the rebellion by early 1832.

Some 14 whites were killed by armed slave battalions but more than 200 slaves were killed by troops.  Sharpe, other ringleaders and about 340 slaves were tried, convicted and hanged.  Whites generally blamed missionaries, who were working among the slaves, for inciting the revolt.  In the weeks that followed mobs gathered by the Colonial Church Union, an organization of white planters loyal to the Anglican church, and burned several Baptist and Methodist chapels.

Because of the loss of property and life in the 1831 rebellion, the British Parliament held two inquiries.  At that time Britain’s economy was in a flux.  A new system of international commerce had emerged.  Britain’s slaveholding Caribbean colonies, which were largely focused on sugar production, could no longer compete with larger plantation economies such as those of Cuba and Brazil.  So merchants demand an end to the market monopolies held by their Caribbean colonies and pushed instead for free trade.

Emancipation and Compensation

The results of these inquiries and the British economy contributed greatly to the abolition of slavery with the Slavery Abolition Act 1833.  This Act had two major parts: (1) the emancipation of all slaves throughout the British colonial empire except those held on the islands of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and Saint Helena; and (2) compensating slave owners for the loss of the slaves.

Emancipation would commence in stages on 1 August 1834.  The first stage was the freeing of all children under six.  Then the others would work a period of six years as unpaid apprentices for their former masters.  On 1 August 1834 the Governor at Government House in Port of Spain, Trinidad, on explaining the conditions of emancipation was drowned out with chants of ‘Pas de six ans. Point de six ans’ (‘Not six years. No six years’).  Continuing peaceful protests resulted in full emancipation for all being legally granted ahead of schedule on 1 August 1838.  Needless to say the masters continued to ill-treat and exploit the enslaved people in the British Caribbean until they finally gained their freedom at midnight on 31 July 1838.

Compensation to slave owners was paid for by the British government, funded by a loan not fully paid back until 2015.  The British government raised £20 million (equivalent to £16.5 billion in 2013 pounds) to pay out for the loss of the slaves as business assets to the registered owners of the freed slaves.  Not surprising the slaves themselves received no such compensation.

Morant Bay Rebellion

Post Slavery

Many former slaves left the plantations and moved to the nearby hills, where their descendants still farm small landholdings.  The planters received some compensation (£19 per slave) but generally saw their financial resources and labour forces dwindle.  The British parliament removed protective tariffs in 1846, further reducing the price of Jamaican sugar.

The immediate post slavery days were very difficult for the poorer classes. Though most of the English planters had left the islands and new owners were running the plantations, the old oligarchic system still remained. The will of the masses was not deemed important and hence ignored. To add fuel to the already burning flame, the American Civil War resulted in supplies being cut off from the island. A severe drought was also in progress and most crops were ruined.

In the economic chaos that followed emancipation the Morant Bay Rebellion of October 1865 is well remembered.  . The uprising was led by a black Baptist deacon named Paul Bogle and was supported by a wealthy Kingston businessman, George William Gordon.  Gordon was a prominent coloured legislator who was sympathetic to the problems of the poor people and later was blamed for the trouble caused by the masses.

Bogle and his men stormed the Morant Bay Courthouse while it was in session.  A number of white people was killed including the Custos of the parish, St Thomas.  Some three decades after slavery ended, the Maroons assisted the government in putting down the peasant rebellion led by Paul Bogle.  Paul Bogle and George William Gordon were hanged, more than 430 people were executed or shot, hundreds more flogged and 1,000 dwellings destroyed.  This was the last time the Maroons were to serve in this military capacity. 

With the general emancipation of slaves in 1834, things changed drastically for the Maroons.  Since the British no longer needed their services as a tracking force, they had little interest in maintaining distinct, partially autonomous communities in the interior of their colony.  The first formal attempt to encourage the assimilation of the Maroons into the wider population was the so-called Maroon Lands Allotment Act of 1842.  This piece of legislation aimed to abrogate the treaties of 1739 and absorb the Maroons into the emergent peasantry by dividing the communally owned Maroon lands and parceling them out to individual owners.  The Maroons, however, simply refused to comply and the colonial government did not force the issue.  It soon found that its interests were not necessarily served by dissolving the Maroon communities.

The story concludes in Road to Independence -Part 3.  Read more then.

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