author – activist – faculty – mom
As some folks know, I’m married to a Jamaican-American man. For years, I have really wanted to bring our daughter to Jamaica to connect with those roots, but his relatives have been steadily moving to the states, and the timing just never worked out. This summer, however, a fabulous family with a Jamaican dad invited us to join their vacation (actually I asked to tag along and they said yes!) As part of the package, we participated in a couple of tours with a new company called @BeingJamaican, which was fantastic. The company was started in April of this year by a Jamaican woman, Teika Samuda. We visited a Rastafari Indigenous Village and a bioluminescent lake. Both experiences were moving and profound. As a progressive person of color with Caribbean heritage, it has always been a challenge for me to travel in the Caribbean, because the tourism industry is set up to be exploitative. While I want to connect with my roots, the economic power dynamics with people from the US tend to kill authentic connections.
But Rastafarianism has traditionally rejected tourism, so the Rastafari Village had a completely different energy. It was a wonderful opportunity to explore the movement as part of Black Resistance to racism and colonization, as well as part of the tradition of black environmentalism. Also, they had a Q&A where they answered questions about evolving gender roles in the communities. I was surprised to see that they are developing a critique of the sexism in the Christian influences in the movement, and are shifting into supporting female leadership in their communities. They are still based on a heterosexual nuclear family model, but I was pleased to see evolution from the communities I learned about in the 80s and 90s.
The other excursion was to a bioluminescent lake, which was literally breathtaking. It’s difficult to explain what it’s like to stand in a brackish lake and have the water glow every time you move, or to pull your arms out of the water and your skin looks like a night sky dotted with stars. It was truly magical.
I look forward to going to both of these places again, and next year, hopefully we’ll also go to the Maroon Colony in Portland and visit the grave of Granny Nanny, the maroon leader. (For folks who don’t know her, Granny Nanny is to the Jamaica what Harriet Tubman is to the US).
Not since I traveled to Cuba with Global Exchange in the 90s have I been part of a tourism experience that felt so solidly liberatory for all.
I hope people will support this new business, because it’s critical to be able to visit and contribute to the economies of countries in the Global South, without participating in their exploitation. And I am thrilled to have such a hands-on way to learn about Black Resistance in Jamaica.
I’m a Jamaican-born writer raised in Brooklyn and really appreciated this recommendation. Sometimes, when I return to my birthplace, it’s hard to square being an American with anti-capitalist values with the “deals and steals” lure of the tourism industry. So I’m always looking for communities where I can give something to a value system I endorse and learn more about black Jamaican history. I will probably frequent this colony.
My dad was from Jamaica and I still have a cousin or two there – glad to know about this. Thanks!