“Out Of Many One People”

Attached is a viewpoint about Jamaicans and heritage, which I felt may be a useful read for expats moving to Jamaica.

Posted: Monday, August 20, 2007


George W Graham @ AuthorsDen.com

Funny, I Don’t Look Jamaican

Sometimes a duck may not look like a duck, but if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck it could be a duck.

LAKELAND, Florida – Foreigners are often startled when they hear me talk. The unmistakable lilt brands me as Jamaican, but my appearance does not fit their racial profile.

“Where are you from?” is nearly always followed by, “You don’t look Jamaican.”

So what does a Jamaican look like?

True, most Jamaicans have dark brown complexions, a combination of a West African heritage and the island’s sunny climate. And that brings us to one myth: people with dark skins tan, just like people with lighter pigmentation. You should see how much paler some of my friends became after living in Toronto for a while.

Historians tell us many Jamaicans are from such tribes as the Ashanti, the proudest and fiercest of West African warriors. And it stands to reason that prisoners of war would make up a large part of the captives shipped in chains to work on Jamaican sugar plantations. It was customary for prisoners taken in battle to be enslaved. The Egyptians did it to the Jews, the Romans did it to other people all over Europe, and somewhere in the world someone is probably practicing the same heinous form of human exploitation right now. We just don’t hear about it.

Many owners of Jamaica’s estates were not Jamaican but British – absentee landlords. They spent part of the year in the island, but their homes and hearts were back in England or Scotland. In the days of the tall ships, a journey across the Atlantic would take months, and a land owner would be reluctant to spend all that time getting to Jamaica only to turn around and sail right back. They would spend months in Jamaica before heading home. And men being what they are (most of us, anyway), some of these landowners would establish second families in Jamaica. Their mates were invariably slaves.

To protect their children from being sold into slavery, they would declare them legally “white” – hence the expression “white-by-law.” Landowners could count on their offspring to protect their interests in Jamaica during their absences back in Britain.

That would account for at least some of today’s “Jamaica white” islanders. Others, of course, are descended from colonial civil servants who came to Jamaica and founded families there. And a few came from America and other countries as clergymen, missionaries or businessmen – or for some other reason.

A significant part of Jamaica’s heritage is Jewish. Sephardic Jews fled from Spain and Portugal to escape the Inquisition, and remained in the island after the British drove out the Spanish in the mid-1600s. You can see this heritage in many Jamaican surnames. One of my great-grandmothers was a Miss Salomon, a distinctly Jewish name.

With the abolition of slavery in the 1800s, large numbers of indentured servants came from India, with a sprinkling from Ireland and other parts of the British Isles. Traders from China, Lebanon and Syria (and from other countries) also migrated to Jamaica in search of business opportunities.

It’s no wonder that when Jamaica achieved independence in August 1962, our leaders chose as our motto: “Out of Many One People.”

On this, the 45th anniversary of Jamaican Independence, I would like to propose that we declare the existence of a Jamaican race. Not “black.” Not “white.” Not Asian or Middle Eastern. Jamaican.

My late mother had blonde hair and blue eyes. My cousin, Kathleen, has tawny skin and black hair. Her father, a distinguished schoolteacher, had chocolate-colored skin. His ancestors were from West Africa. It would be preposterous for me to think I belong to a different race from Kathleen or her children and grandchildren. They are my flesh-and-blood.

Another cousin’s married name is Chin. Is her daughter Chinese? Of course not. Her daughter is an American of Jamaican descent.

Yes, Jamaican. We are a race apart.

We might look European or African, Chinese or Indian, Jewish or Syrian, but make no mistake: we are Jamaican. We share the indomitable pride, the intolerance of injustice, the irrepressible spirit that distinguishes Jamaicans wherever in the world our destiny sends us.

My Jamaican brothers and sisters, I embrace you on this, the month of our Independence, whether your skin is the darkest dark or the lightest light, whether your eyes are blue or green, brown or black, whatever your facial or physical features might be. We know what it is to be Jamaican. And it has nothing to do with the color of our skin.

Funerals and Glass Caskets In Kingston Jamaica

Up until moving to Jamaica almost three years ago, I had attended only four funerals in my entire life: my grandfathers’ funeral which occurred when I was perhaps six or seven years old, my mothers’ less than six years ago, a good friends’ father’s funeral in 2005, and my own father’s funeral in October of 2007.

Burying both parents in less than six years rates very high on my difficult experiences chart, and it’s my belief that the only people who may understand this pain are people who have lost loved ones or parents. I told my husband recently that attending my parents funerals were the two longest days of my life. He is forever thankful to have both his parents living fifteen minutes away from and in good health.

Tears are still hard and sharp for me when I have the desire to telephone them, to share experiences of what life is currently like for me now living in Jamaica. Oh well, I tell myself,  life goes on and I simply deal with my  thoughts and feelings until they subside.

Anyhow, my experiences with funerals since living in Jamaica have been extremely different from those earlier experiences, as I have now attended three more in 2008 over a period of less than three months.

The funerals I have attended in Jamaica can be described as an entire community involvement experience, as they’re rarely ever private services for immediate family and close friends only, that begin at 10am in the morning, where you are back home or at your office for lunch by noon.

Firstly the sheer crowds are amazing, with standing room only in each of the three different churches where the services I attended were held. The first two I attended, were held in Kingston in Upper St. Andrew, both being extremely formal  services where most people were immaculately dressed. I could have been at a wedding, a graduation reception, or even a Grammy award ceremony, had it not been for the presence of the casket at the front of the church.

I could have forgotten that I was at a funeral, as the atmosphere was more joyful than I remember earlier experiences to be. The heat of course stands out, as air conditioning was non existent at of these funerals, so the buildings were extremely hot.

The third funeral was probably the most difficult, as this was for a 19 year old cyclist friend of mine. His name was Alden Clunis and he was from an area called “Above Rocks” up above the Stony Hill area in Kingston. Clunis as we called him, was an extremely disciplined, polite, mild mannered funny young man, that I met since living here. He died after succumbing to head injuries after being hit by a bus on a 5am training ride.

His sidekick Shane is another funny character, who usually stayed with me a great deal on long training rides, as I often times was at the rear of our group. I now worry about Shane as those two were inseparable and nobody has seen Shane. Clunis usually greeted me at the beginning of a long training ride and then at the end, checking to make certain that I was okay.

He worked at a bicycle shop I frequent here in Kingston, and that was were we had some of our more recent chats about his future. My husband and I will miss him a great deal, as my husband even teased me some days that these young men behaved like ” I was their mother” since after each race they would come over to our vehicle knowing I would give them drinks, sandwiches, and warm, caring support. Rarely could I follow all those early conversations with these young energetic Jamaica cyclists, and now I wish I had caught more of what Clunis told, but oh well.  Read about dear Clunis at


I cried throughout this funeral, as Clunis is what many would describe as young and gifted. He even recently qualified to represent Jamaica in the upcoming Olympics.  His funeral was attended by the top brass from  Jamaica’s cycling federation and cyclist colleagues from all over the island, many wearing cycling clothing and some even parking bicycles outside the church.

This funeral started at noon, and as you drove into the town you saw people dressed up all heading in the same direction. We stopped to ask this elderly lady who looked like she was heading to a funeral which direction was the church, before I was finished asking, she was trying to open the vehicles’ door for a ride with me to the funeral. ” Leh mi show yuh miss,” she said.

I left the funeral at 5pm and they were not even half- way through the program, which was extensive. I left only because I had another evening function to attend where I was the host. I really hated having to leave as I was curious to see how it would all end. I was amazed by it all, as a woman walked around the church yard, shouting at the top of her lungs “A who wah buy a bag juice, mi have wata. ” Some shooed her away yelling  “tek weh yourself!!”  I was speechless as I had never seen such drama at a funeral. Even the local “mad man (mentally ill derelict)” attended the funeral peeping through the church windows during the services. Community event indeed I said to myself.

I later heard it all ended at around 8pm when my dear pal was finally buried in the ground in the back of his church home. What an experience; as I drove away with a friend, trying to understand it all. I knew I would never see my smiley, face pal Clunis waving at me ever again. I last saw him a week before he was killed.

While the above video does not reflect any funeral I have attended here in Jamaica, both my husband and I have witnessed at least three different occasions where glass caskets with dead persons being taken for burial were seen being pulled on the road, by trucks with a glass hearse attached to the rear to accommodate the glass casket. The first time I saw this, I was speechless, as I saw several mini- buses trailing behind a vehicle pulling a glass hearse and glass casket, with a body bouncing around as the vehicle hit one pot hole after the other in road. I saw one as recently as this past weekend, with an elderly lady’s body moving each time the lead car hit a bump.

“Amazing!!!!” . “Only inna Jamaica” .

New Hotel in; Kingston Jamaica

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There are currently two or three hotels in New Kingston Jamaica where potential Expats considering a move to Jamaica, initially stay while doing  that very important pre-arrival visit to the country. They are the Pegasus, the Hilton and the Terra Nova Hotels.

I have had varying feedback about all three mentioned, but peoples expectations generally differ. The following new Hotel may be the next best thing in Kingston,  but who knows at this point. I saw it at a site and decided to share it with you the readers. Contact them with questions.

Jamaica’s capital to get first new hotel in 40 years
By: Gay Nagle MyersJune 03, 2009


The Spanish Court Hotel will open its doors on June 14 as the first new hotel to open in Kingston, Jamaica, in more than 40 years.

JAM-Spanishcourt   Amenities at the 107-room, contemporary-style, urban hotel include spacious guestrooms accessorized with Jamaican-made fabrics and furnishings, complementary in-room and lobby WiFi, an infinity-edge lap pool and sundeck, a gym, a café and cocktail bar, and the Sky Terrace meeting space.

The hotel is on the site of the former Spanish Court shopping center. The Crissa Group, headed by owner and developer Christopher Issa, paid $12 million to acquire the center and transform it into the hotel, preserving the Spanish-style exterior and arches on the ground floor.

Room rates through June start at $135 per night, double. From July 1 through August, rates start at $145. The price includes breakfast and Internet access.