Seville Great House
Washington, Vinell and Bill are in the yard working. The pigs are being fed. A routine that begins predawn as the cocks crow, signalling 24 hrs. When I wake up to greet them a couple of hours later, it’s 7 am. I ask my brother in laws, where is Seville Great House? I want to visit the historic site. A national landmark that has been identified as the birthplace of modern Jamaica.
A cacophony of different opinions regarding the directions results in an agreement that the house is between Ocho Rios and St Anns Bay. As it turns out it’s off the main road just before you reach St Anns Bay heading east from Discovery Bay.
The route taxi drops me off on the roadside at the entrance, and I begin the slow walk up towards the heritage site.
It’s a steep road. Off to the left rusting artefacts embed themselves into the ground. New plaques are waiting to be erected, so there are no signs visible to inform us of the object’s origin. Nature is not interested and devours a story partially exposed. Instead, I imagine what may have happened, as I look at the beautiful contrast between metal and nature.
An anchor laden with iron chain reminds me that Jamaica’s ports once housed ships that ferried people chained and shackled in conditions many barely made, some of whom were thrown overboard and later claimed for through insurance companies as lost “property”.
It’s the 14th March 2017. If she was still alive it would also be my mother’s birthday. I hadn’t deliberately planned for the dates to coincide, but no doubt my subconscious played a part.
Without her, I can not exist.
A star nebulae energetically evolving, a spec of dust on this tiny planet in a universe that mysteriously pushes me forward.
My mom plays a strong role in my cultural investigation. She brought me into this world and she also played a part in the racial abuse that happened during my formative years. A white, English woman that worked long factory hours as a single mother. She put food on the table. Conflicting traits. Her verbal abuse, that narcissistic part of her nature is difficult to speak about and took me a long time to reconcile. Something I still have to manage and can only re-visit through creative portals, through my own writing or in a safe space. In that subjective experience of racial and emotional abuse, I understand the deeper effects aggressions and anger have on a person’s sense of self-worth. The brain will do its best to find answers. To work it out. To give reason to why. You don’t need a PhD to understands the fundamental basic requirements a human being needs to maintain a healthy sense of self-worth. Take away a person’s sense of being and all hell turns loose. This brings me here. Revisiting my history on my own terms. And whilst my meditating has softened the after-effects of an abusive start to life, and still help me to maintain an equilibrium, the tapping at my door and the hands of the past want to come inside to be loved, held and healed.
I do not believe that people are naturally abusive or racist. I believe it is a learnt behaviour from close genetics (family), or a sickness impregnated into our DNA, left over from a barbaric past, where ideas regarding elitism and social enlightenment over-looked fundamental human rights of the working class and especially people of African descent. It’s shocking and it’s not over.
In my child world, there were racial insults that I’m able to pack away and operate in the everyday business of “getting on with it”. Something my grandparents had to do, or I can embrace the intention of Sankofa and venture to understand further how our past influences our present. And if given a chance can offer us a positive future. Not ignoring the traits within my bloodline, my point of interest now is how colonialism not only altered and destroyed indigenous cultures but how it influences our current day narrative in almost everything we do, say and think.
Again it is now fashionable to use premeditated strategic insults to galvanise a following and evoke hatred that’s being used by extreme groups and more worryingly within mainstream politics, media and social media.
Repeated patterns from our past.
We are like computers. Repeating ideas that one group deserves more than another. A mirroring reflection ricocheting back and forth.
A chaotic calamity waiting to be settled.
Inside Seville House that is now an educational museum, I’m appropriately met by a Olymeye or Kola Nut offering bowl made by an unknown Yoruba artist. Olumeye, means “one who knows respect” I take a moment as my heart opens and I cry. So many emotions passing through. I want to touch the object but it sits protected behind a glass cabinet.
Kola nuts are traditionally offered to respected guests visiting homes in West Africa and are a mild stimulant.
Coca Cola’s African roots. This in itself is worth a few thousand words.
Each room is filled with various artefacts dating back as far as prehistoric times. The Seville site has archaeological findings belonging to the Taino and Arawak. A tribe of people that became extinct due to harsh cruelty, murder, disease and suicide brought to the island by the Spanish and English colonies. Some Taino people managed to escape to the mountains and were later joined by the Maroons who were escapee Africans brought to the Island by the European colonies.
Taino people called the island Haymaica, meaning ‘Land Abounding with Springs’. The name changed shape soon after the arrival of Christopher Columbus and he referred to the island as Yamaye.
Seville Heritage Park is a national landmark operated by the Jamaica National Heritage Trust, as a cultural educational site.
Christopher Columbus sailed to the shores of Discovery Bay and became shipwrecked between 1503 – 1504.
The Spanish government gave Jamaica to Christopher Columbus and his son Diego was made Governor of the West Indies. It was at this site that Seville la Nueva was built and became Jamaica’s first capital before it was later moved to Village de la Vega, present-day Spanish Town.
Britain seized Jamaica from the Spanish in 1655. For the next three centuries Seville would make history for its slavery and sugar, thereby produce an incredible profit for the British Empire. The trade lasted for 350 years and helped fund the Industrial Revolution in Britain.
The land was given over to the Hemings family. In 1745 Seville Great House was built by Richard Hemings grandson. Their luxurious lifestyle underpinned by an industry that help shaped the modern world through the exploitation of enslaved Africans and Indigenous Indians.
Hemmings built the house originally over two stories but a hurricane blew away the top story leaving one wattle and daub construction with wooden floors. A veranda was constructed the full length of the house with an entrance portico with stone steps. The doors are made from raised panel mahogany and the slash windows modified to include jalousies.
Outside next to the Hemings tombs a memorial can be found for the African slaves whose remains were discovered on the site and reburied here in 1997.
3 times I circle the memorial and listen to the sound of the leaves crunch underfoot, whilst recalling the 20 million, the equivalent of 17 billion today paid in compensation to 46,000 Britons who owned slaves, I marvel how Jamaican people have managed in the wake of a trade that treated human being as “property” for such a long period of time and who received no compensation.
Referencing a term used by Dr Joy DeGruy. That “cognitive dissonance” that refused to accept Black people as human. DeGruy is an internationally renowned researcher, educator and an ambassador for healing and the author of Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome.
It’s apparent that the foundation that we rest upon can cause some to repeat racial, sexual and homophobic slurs and insults, rather than consider the varying angles.
These are some of the insults I have had directed at me through the 70’s and ideas still used today:
Get back on your jam jar
Black and white minstrel show
Get over it
That was a long time ago
Racism doesn’t exist
What’s that got to do with now?
I don’t see colour
Just stop talking about it
Here at Seville House, I tell myself, “you were right to feel scared as a little girl”.
I heal and hold my child for wanting to try and escape that pressure. For wanting to take her life, for wanting to commit suicide. I smile back and congratulate her on being so brave, for getting through, for being here today. I offer her a Kola nut and embrace her alongside the kindness of this space reframing a part of my history. It hurts to remember my own past and the past of Jamaica offers me inner peace and strength.
The rooms are filled with young Jamaican teenagers here from a school trips to learn the history of Jamaica before the Transatlantic Slave Trade, during and after. I listen as the teacher speaks of indigenous Indians, of African cultures and the cruelty of the colonies. He speaks clearly and directly about how people were treated. No bars held.
It’s a good sound.
Outside I sit with a tour driver that waits to take some of the children back to school. We share our thoughts. This form of pedagogy is relatively new. The history beforehand was given from a White British perspective, whilst still a British colony. Jamaica gained independence in 1962 and it is taking time to move out of a British historical narrative to ones written by academics of African descent. It’s not that a black narrative hasn’t been there. It’s more that it hasn’t had the attention due to the people who have been in charge. What is referred to as the ‘gatekeepers’. You have to search for it. I explain to the tour driver that our Black history in Britain during my educational years was also from a white perspective. Our experiences are similar in that we have both chosen to read material from academics of African descent to reeducate ourselves from broader and more interesting facts leading to exciting theories.
“You must visit the Marcus Garvey room in St Anns Bay,” he tells me and I place it on my DNA itinerary travels list of places to visit.
Seville property is identified as the birthplace of modern Jamaica and well worth a visit. A 300-acre property inviting you to connect and step back and explore Jamaica’s culture and historic past. It offers far more information than given here and being there on the property may serve as something outside of our understanding.
For further enquiries:
Tel: (876) 972-2191