Mikhael or the hill
16th December 1996:There is a Rastafarian Commnity just behind Papine on
the way to Gordontown. It is called the Black Lion Community. The centre of the
commnity is on its edge and consists of a row of shacks, brightly painted, on
the edge of the road. It tries to profit from tourism. To get to Mikhael’s
house you drive a little further and cross the aqueduct running next to the
road, walk down to a small shallow river, the hope river, emasculated by the
Hope Viaduct which takes most of the water to the Mona reservoir. One crosses
the river near a waterfall and walk back up the mountain on the other side.
There was a Rastafarian washing his children in the river. He had long locks,
which he was washing. That is the place where the community hold their
baptisms. A priest from the Ethiopian Orthodox Church would be specially flown
over to conduct the ceremony. We walked down a steep path with irregular steps
moulding themselves around large boulders. Every so often the path is
punctuated by an entrance to a plot of land, a house announced by brightly
coloured washing hanging on lines to dry in front of brightly coloured walls.
We went up the hill. Right at the top of the community, slightly removed from
the others are two shacks. The larger one faces out and enjoys its view. It is
where Mikhael lives. The other faces Mikhael’s house. This is where Ikon lives.
Between the two houses is a tripod with fire. Ikon is a quiet man, something of
an amanuensis to Mikhael. Ikon paints. He is an artist, paints like a child.
Together they look after a baby left there by a sixteen year old girl, who has disappeared. Boxes of pampers and a
baby-carrier accompany the baby. Ikon shouted for Mikhael and left us to go to
his own house. Mikhael came out and led us into his house. The house is made of
a thick concrete floor, painted red with wooden posts supporting a zinc roof.
To muffle the zinc the ceiling is clad with bamboo slats. “For aesthetics” the
posts were here and there filled in with timber , but a lot of space was left
open. The rectangular plan divided into two squares one of which is dominated
by a mattress laid diagonally acroos the room with a radio and a light at the
head. The other half had a carpet, a small bookshelf and a line strung across
the room to hang clothes. Mikhael and Ikon were busy building the retaining
wall behind their houses. Building is a ritual, Part of that ritual involves
carrying the stones from the river up to the house. Ten stones everyday and ten
at night. We sat in Mikhaels’ first room and spoke. We talked of Michael Manley
“our great and charismatic leader” of Mikhael’s beliefs. His rejection of
materialism of the “hedonistic architecture of the cities” Of Greek philosophy
and Ethiopia. When the baby began to cry we fed it with a bottle.
Mikhael told us that “Big Daddy”, the leader of the Black Lion Community
assigned land to each member of the community on the basis of character. Each
member, having been assigned land, had to build their own house. Only recently
did a number of people join the community who would let others build their
house. One of them left with the house still unfinished. Mikhael’s house is
hung with prayers, slogans, newspaper artices making a point, pictures of His
Majesty, of Michael Manley and a painting by Ikon. The house is his world, his
utopia. The house is him to the world and the house is against the world.
Mikhael believes in solar power. He has three solar cells mounted on the roof with
which he charges a car battery to run a radio and a notebook. He sells T-shirts
and tea and complains against the world, materialism and the Jamaicans, how
they are lazy and do not work, do not think about how to build their country,
how the world is going to end. His favourite DJ is Buju Banton.
17th December 1996: Mikhael came to visit me yesterday. He had enjoyed
our visit and wondered if I wanted to give some money for a tent he wanted to
buy for the community.