Monday, July 7, 2008


A few pictures from Jamaica. The first is the Eliot Church, up on top of a hill among mountains because I think the missionaries liked to be closer to God. It was one of the most stable missions because the long-time minister, Loren Thompson, was a good preacher and everyone appeared to like him. He came to Jamaica in the early 1840s (after a brief career as a traveling Bible salesman and a few years at Oberlin), and he died in New York, during a sabbatical, in the mid-1860s.

The second is a picture of a farmer, Robert, working the "family land" near what was once the Brandon Hill school, an out-station of the American mission in Jamaica. You can see, sort of, the mountains in the background. In spite of their appearance, it is all mostly cultivated land, planted with coffee bushes, banana, mango, yams, breadfruit, casava, etc.

After slavery, freed people took small plots of land and claimed them for their own. Many left the enormous sugar estates of the coastal plains and came up into the mountains where they could get land. Unlike the European way of doing things, a person's land was not left to an eldest son, but it passed on to all of the children in a family, and they cultivated it together to pass onto their children. This infuriated the missionaries who could never quite understand why husbands and wives worked on separate yards.

The fecundity of the island should be clear - my guide said that there's a Jamaican joke - if you plant a pencil you'll grow an eraser tree. The tiny plots of land are sufficient for growing a diversity of food, and people trade with their neighbors for whatever they don't have.


Joyce Cheng said...

Thanks, Gale, for your pictures and explanations. It is very interesting that the Indonesians have a similar joke about Java: anything you plant will grow. My aunt Lifen says the same about Taiwan, she said that she loved planting things as a child, such as peanuts, and watch them grow miraculously. What is disheartening is that all these fertile lands seem to be living with economic poverty. This shows that there is something about wealth that is imaginary. "Capital" is just number, isn't it, whereas a banana tree is a real banana tree.

gale said...

Ann and I had a chat about Jamaica as a "developing country" and the problem with this newer pc political economy term. Jamaica's developing? Really?

My tour guide told me that her husband laughs when first-worlders comment on how many Jamaican's live beneath the international poverty line. He says, I have plenty to eat, so why am I poor? I suppose not having a phone line, a washing machine, etc. qualifies as needy in the minds of many in the first world.

Of course certain first-world advantages - health care (well, I suppose that's debatable in the US), clean water (hmm, that might be too), public safety - shouldn't be taken for granted in some kind of errant glorification of poverty. But being in rural Jamaica makes you rethink what items we in the first-world have come to see as essential.

That said, I had several somewhat poor Jamaicans tell me that I absolutely needed a cell phone that works while I was on the island, but I managed without!

Joyce Cheng said...

Comletely agree with you about the relativity of poverty in Jamaica. What are considered essentials for a "First-World" living condition? I just looked at the Bed Bath & Beyond advertisement and realize that these "things" are what is required to live a basic life in the West - they are not even luxury but dorm room things, like shower rack, etc. Who makes them? China, of course, who's figured out that its entry into the world scene so to speak begins by taking over the manufacturing of "first-world" necessities. Alas, we, in this life, cannot live without a thing to hang your towels, drawers to keep your documents, desk lamps, etc.