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Culture and concerns about mining in Bunkers Hill

Sunday, August 25, 2019

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Back to roots is the journey you'll take when in Bunkers Hill, Trelawny. And on a day such as Emancipation Day, this community immerses itself even deeper into its carefully preserved cultural practices, as they throwback to a time of slavery, through dance and song.

It's the kind of knowledge and understanding the Bunkers Hill Cultural Xperience and River Tours aims to reconnect the wider community of Bunkers Hill and visitors with all year-round. They make a special effort to include Jamaicans from all walks of life, and tourists from around the world, in order to preserve and expose more people to a not so well-known part of Jamaican heritage, concealed in the belly of the Cockpit Country.

Tambu, which has its roots in nearby Congo Town, is a must -experience for visitors, especially on Emancipation Day. Gyrating waist lines of both women and men, showcase the inescapable African retentions, as they intimately perform seductive movements, while melodiously singing indigenous songs that mesmerise onlookers of all ages.

“Tambu is a traditional folk dance and it come from Congo Town,” Donna Grizzle explained.

“The drum represents the old Maroon,” her older sister, Sharon Ellis, who is also one of the performers, chimes in. “The drum is what them used to use to talk in a long-time slavery days. Every sound that it make is talk them a talk to the old Maroon them.”

The dance and music are comprised of different sequences, Donna continued. There is mabumba, which involves a shaking movement, and shay shay involves a call and response sequence that goes along with the movements.

 

Preserving Tambu

“My grandfather was in it. Him name Codner,” Donna explained her own immersion into the tradition. “Fi her mother (pointing to Sharon), the whole of them were in Congo Town a play tambu, so them start have them thing in a Congo Town, so from me a lilly pickney me a dance. Me a dance from me a 10,” the mother of two boys said.

Tambu drummer, Crampton McPharline, also learned from elders in the community.

“Me nuh learn from the original tambu player, me learn from one a him second that him did have because him dead when me was a likkle yute. But right now it come in like a me one can play,” he said with concern.

The Congo Town tambu group, tries to sustain their practice by visiting and performing in nearby schools, such as Muschette High, and performing at events.

“Some of them get big and forget it, but it not going dead out so easily,” McPharline expressed, optimistical about the continuity of the art form.

However, Donna and Sharon have taken efforts a bit further, approaching attractions and hotels to have them include tambu performances in their entertainment package to visitors. They are also seeking management for the group, to maintain its longevity.

“This used to be we job one time, but we need management,” Sharon said. “The only place we never dance tambu is Port Antonio, but all the rest you can think of we dance tambu. So we want some serious management to make sure the thing going.”

 

A sanctuary for indigenous history and culture

It was concerns like this, which played a part in the model Clover and Obrian Gordon chose to establish Bunkers Hill Cultural Xperience and River Tours. One of several social enterprises nurtured by the JN Foundation and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) under the now concluded Social Enterprise Boost Initiative, the business is about creating a sanctuary, of some sort, to preserve the community's unique cultural practices and history, while at the same time using those characteristics to generate income and promote development.

Before they introduced the facility, which boasts caves once occupied by Captain Kudjoe and his band of Maroons, as well as the Tainos, knowledge about the historical treasures Bunkers Hill and its adjoining Cockpit Country communities have safeguarded for decades, was sparse, even among residents. And Emancipation Day, for example, was never seen as an opportunity to showcase their indigenous practices before the Gordon's began hosting their annual affair.

“They (residents) didn't do anything — May be they would go to Falmouth or they stay home,” Clover Gordon explained. “But since we have been here, they come out every year and celebrate with us.”

Beyond tambu, patrons to Bunkers Hill will experience traditional Jamaican cuisine, with ingredients provided only from the community, that includes jerk pork and chicken; rundown; mannish water, blue draws and cornmeal pudding cooked over wood fire; among other authentic Jamaican dishes, which are served only from a calabash or enamel ware.

These are practices which Doreen James Adlam, from nearby Reid's Friendship, relishes.

She especially appreciates the focus on heritage, which she tries to share with her grandson.

“It is good fi you fi tell the children them about what happen before them come because the people now a days, them not telling them (the children) about them heritage and them just grow them up so, and them don't know the history and how rich it is, and how important it is to take care of them environment,” she emphasised.

“Them not to destroy the flora and the fauna, and the trees where you see the butterflies and so. It nice!” Mrs James Adlam mused.

 

Mining threatens everything

The concern about the environment is one the Gordon's also share.

With efforts underway to bring more tourists to this region of the famed Cockpit Country, the Bunkers Hill Cultural Xperience and River Tours has been a boon to the community and its environs. The road infrastructure is expected to improve soon, with funding from the Tourism Enhancement Fund, which should make it easier for more tourists to venture into the community to experience the well-kept cultural secrets.

However, there is unease, as talks about mining in the area are being discussed.

“Any mining would destroy all of this,” Obrian Gordon said tersely.

Pointing to the porousness of the limestone in the region, he stated that, mining activities could pose a serious threat to the famous Martha Brae, which supplies water to many areas in western Jamaica.

“Trelawny provides all these people with water, and we are going to this?” he said pointing to the Tangle River, which feeds the Martha Brae.

“We are adamant and we are exposing what we have, so that the people who are in charge will stop and take a look and see. Let's preserve the reserve, because the Cockpit Country is a reserve,” he concluded.


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