Landscape

Diary Monday 12th September 1994: Jamaica is heavily pregnant with vegetation. Everything is heavy and strong with green. Even the telephone and electricity wires carry small balls of grass growing on the droppings which the birds have left behind. Sometimes the sun catches the mountain behind the nearest, which gives a spectacular depth to the landscape.

 

Diary 3rd January 1995: The country side is so beautiful, everything natural is rich and luscious, nearly everything man-made, so delapidated and run down.

 

The Jamaicans are, each in their way, living with the strength of emotion that is the inevitable legacy of a contorted past which has consistently tried to wipe the slate that is Jamaica, clean of memories.

 

Take the basic facts.Columbus arrives on his second voyage in 1494, arrives in discovery bay (now marked by an enormous carbuncle of industry: an aluminum harbour, representing the excretion of raw materials exported to the West for a Western way of life that in Jamaica, is replicated by the re-importation of the products made of the aluminium) Within a few decades all but the vaguest memories of the Arawaks had been wiped out. They died of exposure to Europe.

 

For historical purposes, this is the first time that the landscape of Jamaica was wiped clean. Who knows what or whom the Arawaks replaced? This is the first time that the past was wiped off the island but not the last. The Spanish come to exploit, they bring slaves from the oldest continent to work the land and, if we are to believe the sources, treat them relatively kindly.

 

The English take over in 1655. It could have been the French, or the Dutch. But it was the English: they wipe away the Spanish. The slate as clean as they can get it. They are not quite as thorough as the Spaniards. There is more to wipe clean.The Spanish were European, they would not succumb to exposure to it. The Slaves owned by the Spanish are let free and form the core of what is now called the Maroons in Portland and in Trelawny. By now they had learnt what Europe meant. The maroons form the second set of independent Jamaicans, and the first group to survive to the present day.

 

Escaped slaves flock to boost their numbers until the English make a pact in 1760: The English promise not bother the Maroons if they in turn agree to return escaped slaves. The Maroons agree. It would be interesting to see how well enforced either side of the bargain truly was.

 

The English cultivate the land using the power of human bondage. They introduce a rich variety of plant life into the island, which does so well that one easily forget that so much of it does not belong. The English introduce the Mongoose which eats the indigenous fauna. Cleansed, Jamaica becomes the largest English Garden an eclectic and beautiful product of systematic inteference.

 

Fragments of England are transplanted over to the island. Buildings, bricks are brought for ballast, Agricultural methods, Social habits, the names of places. The whole of Jamaica becomes a wonderful network of familiar names: a little England, owned in full, by the Englsih, all that is that they are intereted in, the maroons are allowed their retreat.

 

With time and with a conscious forgetfullness many names have lost their origninal reminiscences: Bath, Falmouth, Manchester, Fonthill etc. instead they have become different names, with different pronunciations, standing for different memories.

 

The landscape in Jamaica is organised and divided as it would have been in England, with stone walls and hedges and daring roads to impossible places, auaducts in conscious imitation of Rome, dams, the whole paraphenalia of control: of nature, of people.

 

Administratively the smaller parishes have made the larger provinces obsolete, but they remain s names: Surrey, Cornwall... At times driving through St Annís, or indeed St Thomas, one is shattered by the resemblance of the landscape to that of England, distorted only by the palm trees and the guinea grass, but its greenness....