With a name like Goat Islands, you should have expected nothing but controversy over its recent 'discovery'. Suddenly, thanks to the Chinese, every Jamaican is aware that we are the proud owners of two little islands off the south coast with dubious names.
Intrepid explorers have already braved the high seas to walk the main island. Andrew Holness, the newspapers, the television stations, have all been there and back. The prime minister and Omar Davis are still to make landfall, but what's the hurry? No goats, no votes. No wonder Everald Warmington has already confined the Goat Islands to another dispensation. Those islands don't affect his plurality.
What is not well known is that Jamaica is the main island in an archipelago of about 70 small islands, cays and banks. One of the major areas, Portland Bight, not only includes Goat Islands, but also boasts Pelican Cay, Portland Cay, and Pigeon Island.
Swinging across to Port Royal there is the popular Sunday afternoon party scene at Lime Cay, but history also beckons us to Drunken Man's Cay, Bushy Cay, Gun Cay, and Rackham or Hangman's Cay where the infamous pirate Jack 'Calico' Rackham was hanged and quartered.
Our little empire is dotted with romantic names, there is the inviting Cabarita Island off Port Maria, the seductive Santa Maria Island off Oracabessa, the enchanting Sapphire Isle off Tower Isle, Salt Island off Jackson Bay, and a frontier Man O' War Cay, also in the Portland Bight, which must have been so named to ward off invaders.
The beautiful Navy Island has its own peculiar history. Navy Island, for those who have been forced to return to the geography books, is sited just outside Port Antonio. It was originally owned by the Royal Navy in the 19th century and used as a gun base to complement Fort George across the harbour. It enjoyed wild, heady days in the 1940s and 50s when it was owned by Errol Flynn, who used it as a private retreat where he hosted some outlandish Hollywood-style parties. In time it changed ownership and was slated for a luxury villa development, but this was interrupted by a most bizarre episode in Jamaica's labour relations history which I will tell you about.
Navy Island was leased as a private club -- the Admiralty Club -- for a short while, until a disgruntled employee, who was accused of stealing, got the entire staff to join him in a forced takeover of the island. They commandeered the only two boats and kept the owners of the club hostage for several days until they got their termination pay. We don't know if the employee declared himself prime minister, but it was a coup right under our noses fit for any Hollywood film.
So we now know that we have our Goat Islands, but did you, or the Chinese, know there is also a Monkey Island? It's correct name is Pellew Island and it is located in San San Bay in Port Antonio. Pellew Island was bought in 1953 by Baron Heinrich Thyssen, one of the wealthiest industrialists in the world, as a Valentine's Day gift for his fiancée, a beautiful Anglo-Indian international model. They divorced two years later and she went on to marry Prince Saddrudin Aga Khan. In those days, Port Antonio was the playground for European royalty and Hollywood jet-setters, and the Princess Aga Khan would often swim out to the island beach and scandalise everyone by sunbathing nude -- a no-no for Jamaicans of that period.
The moniker Monkey Island comes from the story about an earlier owner, Alfred Mitchell, an American millionaire who built the Folly Mansion and stocked the island with a colony of monkeys -- white monkeys it was said -- and white peacocks, pheasants and geese.
We don't know what the Americans got up to while they occupied Goat Islands during the World War II years. My elder brother, Boyd, remembers the American soldiers marching past our house in Clarendon, platoon after platoon, after disembarking from the train at the Four Paths Railway Station on their way to the Vernam Field aerodrome.
Vernam Field was a short hop across the waters from Goat Island, so there was quite a concentration of the USA war effort in south Clarendon in those days. They left behind many memories fired by moonlit nights and dances at Moonglow, Sunrise Inn, and Kenny's in May Pen, as well as the calypso hit of that era, "Brown Skin Gal stay home and min' baby."
Still, what a bangarang has been created by the Chinese interest in our little islands! The prime minister is right when she warns about scaring off foreign investments with our "cantankerousness". And the JLP is politically correct to have stayed out of the fray so far.
We must be more careful and circumspect and respectful of foreign interests, otherwise we can shoot ourselves in the foot for obvious reasons. Take time out to look at all angles, including the environmental risks. Then after that, you can decide whether you can have your goat and eat it. Or not.
Make the connection between tourism and foreign investment. The one brings in the other; two major players that can so easily be thrown out with the bath water.
The Chinese have an admirable and enviable history of integration into the Jamaican tapestry of economic and social life. The Chinese-Jamaican background and the African-Jamaican background merge into one in the context of our motto, 'Out of many, One people'. We tease them for their accents and comic patois and their indomitable cheerful spirit, and they reply with a jab and a one-upmanship of their own. They set examples in industry and commerce which we have yet to follow.
They are teachers, engineers, hoteliers, shopkeepers, scholars, big businessmen, sports stars, artisans, bakers, writers, boxing promoters, Caymanas Park icons, beauty queens, artists, lawyers, farmers, bakers, Customs brokers; they are part of the Jamaican landscape.
In making some of those harsh remarks about Chinese investments, let us remember we are treading on our brothers' toes.
Lance Neita is a communications and public relations specialist. Comments to email@example.com