ST. THOMAS: PAUL BOGLE COUNTRY
Beyond the Balm Yaad Myth!
What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when St. Thomas is mentioned? Be honest now.
For most Jamaicans, the answer is: obeah, or ‘balm yaad.’
Just in case you’ve bought into the folklore branding St. Thomas as the obeah capital of Jamaica, then the sign mounted at Twelve Miles BullBay-100 feet west of mile post twelve – should set you straight.
It reads: WELCOME TO ST. THOMAS…PAUL BOGLE COUNTRY.
“There’s more to St. Thomas than obeah,” it seems to suggest. “Move beyond the balm yaad myth; and enjoy the rich legacy of one of Jamaica’s oldest and most historically important parishes.” For those willing to heed, there is a fascinating world of revolutionary drama, and socio-cultural richness, waiting to be discovered.
And the central figure whose life, deeds, death, and memory define St. Thomas is Paul Bogle, who along with William Gordon was made a national hero in 1965. A knowledge of the important facts about the parish’s origins; its geography, and history will provide the context for understanding the inextricable and identity-defining connection between Paul Bogle and the parish of St. Thomas itself.
ST. THOMAS: AN OVERVIEW
Origins and Important Facts
There are two versions of how the parish of St. Thomas got its name. One is that it was named for Thomas Hickman (Lord Windsor), who was Governor of Jamaica in 1662. The other is that it was named in dedication to the Saint of this name, in keeping with the desire – and custom – of early colonizers to establish church districts in their newly acquired territories.
St. Thomas as it exists today, was originally called St. Thomas-in-the-East to distinguish it from St. Thomas-in-the-Vale, which is now a part of St. Catherine. It was enlarged in 1867 to include the former parish of St. David.
St. Thomas consists of 780 square kilo-metres (300 square miles) with a population of approximately 92,000.
St. Thomas is a very mountainous parish which lies to the south eastern end of the island. It extends from Bull Bay at the West to Morant Point at the East and from the south coast, northwards, up the foothills and southern spurs of the Blue Mountains to the high ridges of the Blue Mountain Range, which forms the major watershed of Jamaica. Blue Mountain Peak is Jamaica’s highest and rises to 2,255.8 meters(7,402 ft). Its entire eastern Range lies in St. Thomas.
The main rivers inSt. Thomas are the Yallahs River, Plantain Garden River, and Morant River.
The southern coastal shoreline is between Yallahs and Hector’s River, and includes large wetland areas including Cow Bay Swamp, Albion Swamp and the Great Morass. There are also many beautiful cliffs punctuating the verdant expanse of the rolling hills along the coastline.
Several sandy or gravely beaches also dot the shoreline, including Rozelle, Diamond, Prospect, Mezzgar’s Run, Retreat, and Lyssons, a one-mile stretch of sandy beach which is the most popular in St. Thomas.
- Stokes Hall Great House
- Morant Bay CourtHouse
Morant Bay Courthouse: Paul Bogle Statue at Front;
Fort and Memorial Monumentat Back
- Morant Bay Park
World War II Memorial in Morant Bay Park, in honour of those who died
- Morant Point Lighthouse
- BathBotanical Gardens&BathFountain
- Three-Finger Jack Marker
Artist’s Rendering of Three Finger Jack
- Bogle Memorial Garden, Stony Gut
The Political Divide
St. Thomas is divided into two constituencies: Western and Eastern, which are currently administered by Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Member of Parliament (M.P.), James Robertson, and M.P. Fenton Ferguson of the People’s National Party (PNP), respectively.
Historically, St. Thomas residents have earned their livelihood from several industries including dairy (Serge Island Ltd.), food processing, garment manufacturing, motor vehicle tyre manufacturing (Goodyear Jamaica Ltd.), cement and construction, and coffee, sugar, coconut and banana cultivation.
St. Thomas Production: Ackee, Breadfruit & Banana
A confluence of several factors, over the years, has virtually decimated all these industries. Eastern Banana Estate no longer operates; and the Golden Grove Sugar Estate, formerly the St. Thomas Sugar Company is operating at only a fraction of its previous capacity.
Entrance to Morant Bay Market
One official of the Rural Agricultural Development Agency (RADA), believes there is reason for optimism in the sector, however. He asserts, “There has been some increase in domestic fruit production in recent times. We expect that the increase will be even greater over time. Despite the challenges, there are opportunities in agriculture, which we are intent on helping farmers to exploit. To that end, we at RADA, are working closely with the St. Thomas Co-op, and other similar lending institutions to secure special loan facilities for our farmers.”
Crime and Security
Crime is a growing problem in the parish. According to Sergeant Ransford Smith of the Community and Safety Department, Morant Bay Police Station, most categories of crime are increasing in the parish.
Bath Police Station-Most Modern Station
This rise in crime is attributable to a combination of high unemployment, availability of guns, and residents’ inability to resolve domestic problems.
DEFINING EVENT: THE MORANT BAY REBELLION
The Morant Bay Rebellion of 1865 is the defining event in St. Thomas’ history.
Lasting over a week, between Saturday, October 7 and Sunday, October 15, The Rebellion was led by Deacon Paul Bogle, who had started to train his followers in the use of arms after he was unceremoniously turned away from seeing a Crown official in Spanish Town; he had marched from his home in Stony Gut, a distance of forty five miles. He concluded that no one in authority would do anything about the distressing conditions of the people, except themselves.
Paul Bogle Statue by Edna Manley
He consequently initiated a revolt that ended with the destruction of the Courthouse, the killing of the Custos, and the death of 580 people, including his own hanging and that of George William Gordon, who in fact had nothing to do with the rebellion.
Morant Bay Rebellion Memorial Monument: “In remembrance of Paul Bogle, George William Gordon and the 437 Jamaican Martyrs of October 1865 who fell because they loved freedom.”
The Morant Bay Rebellion is the dominant hue in the tapestry of St. Thomas’ historical significance. To many historians, this parish is the cradle of the modern Jamaica, for the reason that it was the 1865 Rebellion which begun a new political advancement to independence, thus making Paul Bogle – the central figure of the Rebellion – such an important symbol of the parish, and the country.
ST. THOMAS: THE OUTLOOK
St. Thomas faces several challenges as its citizens seek to forge satisfying lives, on the foundation of their outstanding historical legacy.
Esther Gordon: 34 years selling at the Morant Bay Market: “Tings bad; really bad, since the factories lock down.”
High unemployment is adversely affecting every aspect of the parish – economic, security, education, and social, to name a few.
The road conditions leading into the parish from Kingston are a particularly critical concern. It seems a travesty that the lapping white waves punctuating the calm blue sea on the one hand, and the green rolling hills on the other, should be cradling such a treacherous, poorly maintained roadway. In several sections, it is obvious that when it rains, it becomes dangerous, if not totally impassable.
Rays of Hope
Apart from the generally poor road conditions, and lack of job opportunities,St. Thomas is a fairly well developed and progressive parish. Its capital,Moran Bay, boasts four pharmacies, four banks, four gas stations, three supermarkets, and a bakery. It also has more than two car marts, making it unnecessary for residents to have to drive to Kingston to purchase vehicles; as well as one of the most modern police stations in the country, at Bath. Transportation is easily facilitated by an abundance of taxis. Visitors to the parish also have their choice of quality accommodations, from Morant Villas, in the capital, to Golden Shore Resort in Lyssons, and Bath Hotel & Spa, farther East.
HEART Trust, the government’s national training agency, has been spearheading the Banana Sector Retraining Program (BSRP) which has been having some success in helping displaced banana workers develop new vocational skills.
Another major positive development is the planned extension/renovation of the Bath Hotel & Spa, which is expected to provide some jobs, as well as improve the general prospects for the struggling community. General Manager, Desmond Blair explains: “$100 million have been ear-marked for the Bath Hotel project, from the Tourism Enhancement Fund. All the 16 rooms will be improved to make the hotel into an international standard boutique spa hotel. The overall plan includes the enablement of greater employment opportunities for the community.”
What About the ‘Balm Yaad’ Myth?
According to Clement Baptiest, historian and Development Area Coordinator at the Social Development Commission, “St. Thomas has a tradition of African spirituality and healing unlike any other parish. It is based upon the use of special herbs on the one hand and ancestral spiritual practices on the other. The parish has special herbs used for healing that are found nowhere else in Jamaica. Every second person you meet inSt. Thomas can tell you about what bush is good for what ailment, and they themselves drink these herbs.”
He further clarifies: “There were two women who started the obeah workings; Madda Preddie and Yaya Moodie. People couldn’t afford doctors, so they would come to them. As this tradition of going to balm yaad grew; it became interrelated with the African tradition of kumina, usually associated with the playing of drums. This is one kind of revivalism; the other is jollification revival.”
Paul Bogle Country
The enduring legacy of Paul Bogle, George William Gordon, and the martyrs of The Rebellion will continue to define St. Thomas, however. Although often referred to as ‘the forgotten parish’, it’s national historical importance will always be epitomized by its unforgettably pre-eminent national hero, Paul Bogle. If ever there was a fitting epithet for a parish, it’s St. Thomas’: Paul Bogle Country.
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