A youth called Brownskin – A life of missed opportunities and mistakes in rural St. Ann

Gloom and sorrow   shrouded  the  chilly   air  of  the  February 1981  morn. The  shrubbery , wet from the overnight due  ,  the  tall   Weeping  Willows  and  lush Guinea  grass   that   lined   the roadway to the   old limestone  cut-stone  Baptist  church    created   an   idyllic   yet   somber   atmosphere    that  complemented  the  majestic    structure  perched   loftily on the  apex of the Dry Harbour Mountains in St. Ann, Jamaica.  As  I  climbed the hill  to this  rural  church  positioned  like the last outpost in some Western  Colorado  scenery , I became   overwhelmed with grief  and  pulled  a white cotton   handkerchief from my   inner tweed jacket pocket , then   mopped my  sodden  eyes   lamenting  the  loss of  a needy  but adventurous  adolescent.

The  windy and chilly  air  blowing from  the North  American heartland   that morning   smashed   into  the faces  of the mourners  who  huddled together and briskly walked  up the steep limestone  incline  to  procure   a seat  in  the pews  of  the  Eccleston  Baptist Church.   Eccleston  Baptist  was the  perfect   church   chosen for  the funeral  of  Brownskin, a  youth  fallen  from grace.  Built  in 1838 from  donations  sent  from  the London Baptist  Society  ,  it had  never falter  in its service to the  poor.   What a coincidence  I surmised ,  Brownskin’s   funeral  would be conducted  by his  mentor  and role model , the affable  Rev. Dr. Sean  Knight ,  Irish – Canadian Missionary pastor from  Stoufville,  Ontario who had labored with the locals  since his arrival in  1926.  It would be  pastor’s  last  duty on the island.   Strong  political voices   of descent  and resistance  , espousing  Fabian Socialism  resonated vociferously  against the western  economic models , against Imperialism , against  the white man’s  system , against American capitalism  consequently  aborted his  desire to   retire  in Jamaica , his adopted home.

story that took place in St. Ann Jamaica Just  five years earlier  a  funeral of like size was held  for   Charles  Love , the uncle of   an International calypso  singer   Harry Belafonte  who had  received fame  on the US A  Billboard’s “Top100 Albums” charts. This  morning  funeral  was not for the celebrity connected  as the church  was   conferred  the unpretentious role of providing  a  solemn  service for the  district’s  son,  the once  choir boy  and church member   who  had become wayward  , departing  from  the faith , moral upbringing , western religious  traditions and fell out of grace with rural values and morals.

By eight o’clock  the church was  filled  with mourners paying their respect  to  the  youth  who had     cheated  death at age 10.  Outside the church  young boys discovering all the church benches taken  took  refuge  in the  branches of the  Broadleaf trees  facing the   side  entrance ,  ostensible to catch a glimpse of  his  coffin. The small boys some aged four and five swung from June rose branches with the energy in  their lithe frames generating acrobatics  like young Brazilian muriqui.


I peered inside the  church   before I took my  seat  and   saw  his   parents and family members ,  the  vegetable  farmers, small time  marijuana   farmers  , school teachers , the village  sweet potato  pie bakers,  the   Member of Parliament   and  the loyal congregants . Death had finally  sealed the fate  of a  restless village  youth  trapped   in a life of  poverty,  dancehall culture,  and  clandestine    activities , all harsh realities of rural post – independent , post –colonial Jamaica .  Again, I sighed , “Independence has not made us independent , our people have  turned  to so much illicit ways  to survive.”

Ten feet from the  pulpit laid the  glossy cedar  coffin  in a sea  of  locally grown   Gladiolis,  Joseph coats , Carnations,   and Star lilies. The   poignant  scent of the   French -polished   coffin  overpowered  the  wails  of  mourning  villagers  who were ,  filling  the church   to view the  remains   of their  aspiring  dancehall disk jockey  and part time marijuana farmer  comically  and  affectionately  called Brownskin.  A raspy voiced  echoed from the back of the line, “ At last  Miss Enid’s  son  will get  some rest , his final rest. This  district is not a good district  for poor people pickneys , the system kill him mon” . I looked down the  aisle  in time to hear Miss  Birdie  blasting  the   Member of Parliament ,  Arthur Gallimore  for ineffectual duty  and failed responsibility to the poor.  This was  understandable as  such a village as Eccleston  was located  in  the  mineral  rich environment of Jamaica  which  provided  over eighty percent of  the island’s  bauxite, gypsum and  limestone . These resources hardly  ever   benefitted  the locals and  villagers. The wealth from these resources gave income and salaries to migrant workers and skilled workers from outside the parish benefitting them tremendously.

As  Pastor  Knight entered from the vestry I heard another commotion. It was coming from Miss Birdie a neigbour to Pa Crothes,  Brownskin’s   father  . She loudly and   openly  castigated all those who desired free handouts from the state, stating that prior to  independence  there were  no handouts, no soliciting for staples and  no drug trafficking   nor  quick money mentality. Welfare was not a part of the rural folks vernacular.  Birdie  knew damn well that  traditional black rural folks were too proud to fall to clientelism or any sort of political pork barrel.

Brownskin, twelfth son of Pa  Crothes and Miss Enid , like  most  underprivileged  rural youths  of central Jamaica,   experienced   bitter sweet  and restless    adolescent years during the  late  nineteen  seventies  to  early nineteen eighties .   Growing up  in this  dark period of  Jamaica’s history  was  difficult in a society stratified  and heavily influenced   by class , colour , ethnicity and  typical post colonial  problems of  the Third World nations.  While the period created a difficult time for youths , for parents it  was not  much easier.

Parents   faced  so many  challenges that were  insurmountable,  exacerbated by  women run homes,  poor family structures ,  financially delinquent and  absent fathers ,  lack of saleable skills,  and low educational achievements.  Women became sole breadwinners as many  fathers continued   to see  their roles as  studs  to breed (impregnate) the village women reneging on  their God given  responsibilities to be productive and  moral  leaders of homes and society . It was therefore natural for women to look up to the next generation especially to their sons  to lift the social and economic  fabric of their lives .

The era  was  unique to  Jamaica   in  that it   created  international cultural expressions and forms  giving the world the  pulsating dancehall  music  ,  providing  the  cultural space  for  its   black nationalist Rastafarian religion to  mushroom, achieving  and attracting  international following  . The era was also a time when Jamaica came into its own identity because so much social groups impacted on who you became , which Jamaican you associate with and  what became your philosophy and ideology.  It was  a time of  groups and they were several of them  for  which one could  and would  belong : vocal left of centre movements like the People’s National Party ;the  cantankerous and aggressive upper  class driven right wing advocacies such as the Jamaica Labour Party  and its affiliate Young Jamaica and Women’s Freedom Movement;  multi class  and multi ethnicities  forming  the anti-political  religious  Rastafarians group  The  Twelve Tribes of Israel;  extreme left wing  Communist  groups such as Trevor Munroe’s  Moscow financed  Workers Party of Jamaica; Moderate  Socialists and Trotskyites such as the   Revolutionary Marxist League and Christian pro- American Evangelist and Established churches.  Middle ground hardly existed as  almost  all made alliances and  exercised sympathies  with particular group and ideologues . It was the greatest period of nation identity and socio-economic consciousness whether you were young, middle aged or old. It was a time of finding the right gear if you were “driving” in this Jamaican space.

In the decade of the  seventies to eighties ,  Jamaica  a proud  independent  nation  painfully  searched  for  its true self,  its  true identity and  its role  within the community of nations. The island  made bold  maneuver to change its existing   relations with the hegemonic  and  domineering  west.   Caught  in the middle of the cold war  and  cognizant  of  its  colonial legacy  ,every sphere of   its people’s life were  severely  affected  in  that  challenging period . Its unique  geography  and  proximity to Cuba and the USA ,  the crossroads  of east and west conflict in Latin America   stymied   national development , social and economic   life  of  many   young male adolescent. In   this  Caribbean  space  ,  the   politically  charged   environment    impacted negatively  on  the island’s   ability and capacity  to  economically  support  its people ,  especially  its  rural youths   who became  handicapped   from  lack of opportunities  and  low  economic  welfare .  Exerting  power  and   demonstrating rationale for change   some   radical  politicians   devoted their time  and power    to find  a third path – a path  between  exploitative Capitalism and human rights robbing   Communism as   neither   system   decreased the inequity  or  polarization in  the  island. This  search propelled  the wrath   of  investors, the hegemonic upper middle class, the sons of  the plantocracy,  and the owners of capital.   The  dire effect was  massive  closure of factories,   losses in  many industries and  plantations ,  redundancies,  massive unemployment, flight of  capital  , flight  of  the middle  class and  rich,  shortage of foreign exchange   and food shortages.  The severity   forced    many  citizens  to   resort  to  clandestine  means to survive  and to  provide for their families.  While markets for   rum , bananas, sugar and bauxite exports dried up,  Jamaica  was  punished by the west by high interest loans and structural adjustments  by the IMF. Tourism  fluctuated   from  mid occupancies to low occupancies , often  kept afloat  by nefarious figures some  bent on exploiting the  poverty and   wealth  potential  from   ganja (marijuana)  cultivation  and  export .  With  turmoil  comes  survival strategies  so the culture began to morph with marijuana  production  substituting for   previously legal  economic activities  .Elements of the well to do residing in the United States and  American criminal elements   would influence the  drug’s cultivation, financing  and  trafficking of  marijuana in Jamaica  for the  lucrative American  market , making the island the largest exporter of the weed . The fragile economy  was  fully exploited  for  criminal activities in that decade. Illicit drugs changed the agricultural activities which had served and provide income for the rural folks.


Creative talents  also changed with the  music morphing into different genres  of Jamaican popular music attracting host of unemployed youths who  saw “making a tune” (recording a song ) a ticket out of poverty.

The  change of  culture  impacted traditional   values  and morals   previously  mimicked   from the  colonial master.  Slowly traditional culture was    substituted by  elements  of  North American culture. Increased air travel, increased mass communication , immigration to the US,   vacation of  US nationals, farm work programmes ,  introduced US practices and  negative  way of life  impacted  Jamaican  society. Ex Vietnam soldiers and lumpen tourist elements     also made  their inroads  into the nation   to which some   folks gravitated  developing this quick   rich mentality and disregarding  thrift and industry. Their shared values intensify the already transformed values and trapped many youngsters not only nationally but at the village level.

The change in our music made serious  and consequential impact on the society. . What was once subtle listening to Rand B and  sentimental music gave rise to hard  dancehall  genre with its lewd  , crass, and  unsavoury  lyric laced with  homophobic themes  and often  social commentary . Vulgarity  character ized and popularized many of the practitioners , while for others the socio-economic impact was related in songs. Concretised   in  patois (Jamaica informal ) , it was easy for those who have  natural vocal skills but most importantly the music served  as “bread and butter” for   marginalized youths   deprived  of  financial support from family or government. It was this music that  drove  Brownskin  to the world  of  non academics  having  failed by the education system. He  became fascinated to  its magnetic  draw which could make an artiste a hero  and  provide the ambition to  become  night club entrepreneur.

For  Miss Enid  life has never been good,  especially since the birth of Brownskin , but her Christian virtues  and values made her  nurtured her children  and  instill  disciplined manner. Pa Crothes had abandoned the family seeking solace in the bed of a younger woman . Miss Enid was left with the brutal task of raising a throng of boys in  financially strapped times. Nevertheless, she desired the best  for Brownskin her favourite son for whom going to church was compulsory.  Other youths had risen   from poverty and Enid  knew  that if her sons followed  in  the path of the law and pay their dues to society it was highly probable  there would  become successful  men. Her spirit was kept afloat by the strong Baptist faith  and her dedication to religion. It  was bolstered by the respect the “white” minister gave her. Pastor Knight gave her a job to clean the church and to wash the Knight’s clothes. The income along with  that from raising  of her goats  stretched at most time;  it  put her pot on fire.  At early as  six months she took Brownskin  to church  and expected him to grow and prosper in the faith   to become a good boy.   She did not mind dragging   each Sunday all twelve boys up the steep  gravel road  to the church , all  dressed in their patched hand me down clothes. Miss Enid   insisted that Sunday school and church were compulsory  for her sons  and she would not tolerate absenteeism.

During his  formative life as a   Sunday school student, Brownskin  was able to master  reading his golden text  as the teachers devoted their times  nurturing him in Christian beliefs , values and  principles. He won several prizes at Sunday school for punctuality and regular attendance and he excelled in drama  and singing so much that at age  five  he  was  the  young  star  of the  annual Christmas play  and Easter Cantata. At church he found  solace and refuge in a spiritual inspiration that   kept the community bonded, becoming the endearing child. It provided camaraderie and sense of belonging in free village  Eccleston.

By age ten in 1972 , his convictions  drove him to become  a Christian , so he professed his faith  and  was baptized by Pastor   Knight.  He joined  the choir   belching out melodious  hymns  at   inspired  services  and  youth group meetings, especially Sunday evening’s Young People’s Meeting. Being  the youngest member he was delighted to be  respected by his  peer  and  the church congregation.  Church however was meeting ground for everyone and it was their he met Phil, Philly Phil, and  Cha Cha  all  spoilt  and   delinquent youths  whose  fathers were gamblers  and  later  small time ganja (marijuana) farmers  and whose mothers  lack  motherhood skills . Associating with these youths   would later inveigle him and influence him to  break  the law.  Phil,  Philly Phil and Cha Cha  had a reputation for constant  chattering throughout Sunday school and  were rascals who had no second thought to raid  the   mandarin fruits from small  farms adjoining the church lands.

Sunday school  was religiously attended  as  it was not only a place   for parents   to send the children in the district for religious instruction and knowledge but a place for socialization and  consolidation of kindred spirit.  Children as far  as three miles away in  Anderson Town  would attend church as conservative and fundamental Baptist worship resonated with the conservative nature of that region of Jamaica.

 Sunday school molded him at an early age and instilled  the discipline of courtesy, religious tolerance, morality and respect for  fellow men and institutions.  As one who earned   yearly prizes Brownskin became inspired to gain more out of church.   Eccleston Baptist  Church Sunday school with its rigid adherence to  listening, reading, singing and memorization   complemented his yearning  for primary  education .

Pastor Knight ‘s wife  Miss  Georgina , a very inquisitive woman  noted Brownskin’s  devotedness  to church  and Sunday school  and burned with a desire to help the poor native.  So  Impressed was


 “ Miss G”    that she sent for Brownskin and  gave him a weekly errand to  collect the  mails  from  the church’s  post box   at the Cave valley Post Office which was  half a mile away from the church. His task was to   deliver daily  to the church manse  all mails collected  from  the post office .  On his trip to the post office one day  he met  and   befriended  Brenton  and Brown Maurice , kids   who had all the time in the world to idle as their parents toiled for twelve hours  on the  Bog Hole tobacco farms  and in the barns operated by  Machado Tobacco Company . These  friends were of  elementary  school  age, maybe a year his senior  but unfortunate    young wrongdoers indulging in a myriad of  petty crimes including    stealing   other children lunch monies,  stealing  oranges from  fruit crates  and removing bottles of coca- cola from slots in contract lorries .  By alliance  with these  youths   he   discovered early  trustworthiness  in  conducting  illicit activities  in the years to come.

Outside  religious responsibilities   village life at an early age meant firstly  attending the Baptist run Infant school. Like most of his peers , poor children had no option but to be in nearly  overcrowded  pre-primary institution.  Poverty however  was no excuse  for  indiscipline and ignorance  and Miss Enid  had did not subscribe to that; she wanted knowledge for here son, all the knowledge he could possible get. Miss Enid played her motherly role by teaching  Brownskin the  basic manners  and  courtesy.  She  despised and ignored the irresponsibility  of some women and  aggressively  pushed for education of her sons.   She had seen how  several  poor  children had  done well at  Elementary schools, gone to  high schools   and colleges  and later entered the job market as  professionals  building dream  homes  for their parents, contributing to the economic and financial welfare and giving them the  good life.  She was  excited that she had at least   made him attend Sunday  School frequently which   had  prepared and  molded  him mentally  for Infant school.  Now it was time for real  secular education.

Miss Enid  made it her mandate  early   to train Brownskin to be  courteous and polite.  In the 1970’s and 80’s good manners were  instilled in nearly every Jamaican; for rural folks it was part of their DNA.   “Good Marnin  Mam,   Good Marnin sar,  Good  day Mam, Good day Sar, Thank you Mam,  Thank you Sar, Howdy mam  and Howdy sar were ubiquitous   to  the then  polite vernacular.”  Her words might have been a  far cry from Standard Jamaican  English but   the  broken  English and  creole  she knew was  adequate  and  correctly  used  for  instruction and  the child’s early upbringing. Satisfied that he was ready for   school,   Miss Enid  insisted that Pa Crothes ,  her  worthless husband , as she  called him,  should bear some responsibility to pay the weekly school  fee for the next  three to four school years.  Enrolled at Miss Dinah’s Infant school , Brownskin  was a quick learner. Like Sunday School , infant school was one to be enjoyed and it gave him the freedom to express himself, explore , socialize with district kids, and grow exponentially. He mastered his alphabet , singing and reciting and by age five Pastor Knight   used his influence as chairman of the  School Board  to enroll him in the  Eccleston All Age school where he discovered he  was a year younger than  most children.

Eccleston  All Age   made an indelible  impression on Brownskin  the first day at  “ big school.” .  The new classroom on day one mesmerized him – geometrically spaced interior , fresh Berger painted wall, new Louisiana pined cabinets and  snow white gypsum ceilings astound  his aesthetic  sense.  The size of the building  seems to have a psychological effect , an effect of space and size which would remain in his subconscious   ; it was his first encounter of  a building of  sizable architecture, the exception being  the Baptist church. Soon it would  be  transformational in his life .  Size  would mean  everything , whether the being  the  taker of most academic prizes  or the taker of  prizes in music and sports. It would also influence him to be a go getter  for  money in  years to come.

Just after the first break  in the afternoon  on  the third   day  of   school , the  new class was   visited by  Mr.  Orville Malcolm,  the  feared  and  grumpy headmaster, a former People’s National Party  candidate for  the North West  Clarendon Constituency. Teacher  Malcom  called on  all the new students from Miss Dinah’s church run Infant school  who became apprehensive since  they had done not misbehaved.

He told them to face the chalkboard  while  he   wrote  six  words:  composition,  singing, Switzerland, England, morning,   and  Bustamante    (name of the prime Minister) . When asked what these words were , only  Brownskin  and his close friends Ardon , Marcus and Black Maurice could  answer correctly.  Impressed with them,  Teacher Malcolm marched them from Grade 1 A to  Mrs. Bryan Grade 1 B  class, a  grade more advanced   than Grade 1A. He told Miss Bryan they were too bright to stay  at Grade 1A and they were now in her hands. “ Buck Bryan,”  as she  was  nicknamed  has a reputation for  caning and caning frequently   if you mispelt or mispronounce a word . She  was known for brutally beating when you get your Arithmetic wrong.  However ,her ferocity was not a deterrent for Brownskin. He would attend her class and was determined to shine as an  A student.

Brownskin from  day one  at  All Age  school was cognizant of class division in the society   and relations of cultural power. His dress ,speech mannerism and   lunch made him an  oddity  compared to some around him , although he found  solace in the fact that many  students   came from  poor homes .  One  student Ewen Shadeed, scion of the Lebanese merchant  class  jeered  him  for his patched bottom pants but he couldn’t care less as he had a mission to learn and   knew that he was bright.  In fact  none of the rich kids could pronounce the words given by Teacher Malcolm and were left in Grade 1A.

Recognising  that in his class were  Donna Young , daughter of  Charles Young , the village Chinese illicit gambler and bar owner, Johnny Lyn Cook , son of the Chinese Wholesale  Merchant and  Andre Singh whose father grew tobacco for Machado Tobacco Company  at  Greenock  and of course the mocker Wayne   Shadeed.  He  was determined to out class them academically.  Soon “Buck” Bryan ( the jeered class teacher)  was singing praises that  this was the first time she had  so many  brilliant and articulate children in her class , but  none as excellent  a reader as Brownskin. She would boast to Mrs. Case and Miss Douglas, Grade 8 and 6 respective classroom teachers. At the end of the  first school year in   July  he  came second in his class but was  singled out to be the best reader and the best at reciting poetry. Only a low grade in  arithmetic  deter him from claiming  first prize at the end of the school year.

For  several  years he did well at  the Elementary school  and copped  first prize in Grade four, grade  six,  and grade eight but poverty  interject itself  throughout the years.  Poverty  impacted negatively  his nutrition  and by grade nine his mathematical skills   as  his mother’s  income could hardly stretch  to decently feed  twelve mouths.  Pa Crothes his  unskilled dad could hardly secure  a job as the rural economy was drying up and  affected  his ability to  offer any serious support  to his children.  So  extra classes  so crucial to the Eleven Plus Examination  and the 12 Plus examination for Technical High schools  designed by post colonial educators   came tumbling down at  Brownskin’s feet . The twice failure   of the  Eleven Plus Examination    meant  he would have to  prepare  to sit the  Technical Entrance   Examination  in Grade 8 .  At  least that could  give him as space at Holmwood Technical  if he was successful..

This rural  youth  became an example of a  excellent  student  despite his marginalised  social status and several absences from class . He gave the highest representation  that could be given.  In Grade  six , his closest  friends Ardon  migrated to  New York and Black Maurice left  to live with his aunt  in Montego Bay. It was subsequently he  experienced  mild depression  on the departure of his friends  and  sought companionship of Paul, Philly Phill and Cha Cha,  sons of  delinquent parents  whom  he met at Sunday school.


It was   one night practicing  for the  Grade 8  class quiz , when Cha Cha passed  by his home with  a small paper bag in his  hand.  Brownskin  asked  what they have in the bag and they invited him  to come with them to  Mr. Lyn Cook’s   truck shining  under the  moonlit country night. In the truck the wrongdoers exposed what they disclosed was  Lamsbread  marijuana stolen from one of their parents illicit plot. They  rolled a spliff and jubilantly    participated  in  puffing the pungent smoke  of this variety of the weed. It was his initiation in ganja smoking and this would be the genesis of  his illicit activities . He did not mind the experience , he thought  it  was a big boy  thing and that he was a big boy now.  Grade 8 became a disappointment as he also failed the Technical Entrance which he was relying on to attend the four year high school.  He wondered why he was so bad lucky but kept his hope high  as he could also attempt the Grade Nine Achievement test. . Yet he was not jealous nor did he demonstrated ill feeling  towards  those  like Donna Young and Everton Brown , well off youths who passed for Knox’s  College    or   Olga and Adeane who  passed their Technical Entrance for Holmwood   Technical  High school . His emotions were naturally human  and a  feeling of  sadness  and   guilt temporary   overtook him. His willpower told him to do  excellent  at Grade  9.

By   the Easter  term Brownskin   had    captained  the school  music  and  poetry  teams  at   the   parish finals  in  St. Ann’s Bay.   With  a repertoire of  Colonial songs instead of patriotic “yard” music  their delivery  was so  profound and  harmonious. Betty was a black cat, Up the Airy Mountain and Coromantyne Tacky  were rendered getting  in music  and speech respectively. He also captained

 the cricket  team winning the coveted Hugh Marston trophy for rural  St. West St. Ann Primary and All Age schools in . He was highly respected for his bowling and was  voted  the  best batsman  of the competition; he  gave the highest representation  that could be given.

During  Grade  9 , he  became fascinated with  the drug . Not satisfied  with  his introduction and some casual smoking  of  bush weed  he  wanted  to  experience  smoking   of the  real Mckoy . This led  him to request  of  Brenton  some Lambsbread   variety  . Brenton ‘s father was a known small time ganja farmer  who boasted he produced the best weed  in  the Aboukir Woods interior. It was at the same time Miss Enid’s   intuition told her something   wrong was  going on.   Her son had failed  three exams and  she was advised  that he was  truant at times. She  was livid  and pressed him for answers but he insisted everything was okay.  Brownskin started to arrive late from school, sometimes as late as seven o’clock.  Miss Enid  did not spare the belt and beat his buttocks more than once.  Pastor  Knight  learned through the grapevine that Brownskin  was also homegrown   tobacco leaves  laced with  pumpkin leaves.  He knew and was conscious  that as an adolescent he was  breaking the law  and worst doing  that  undesirable of  a student .

Brownskin’s   friendly nature  and respect for mentors  pushed  him  to  call on Pastor Knight  and during his last term   he made a visit to the manse.   He knew  that in this world you have to   relate  to those who are  leaders  and those  with influence and conviction. Pastor Knight    warned him of adopting  what he saw as creeping  and alien culture. The  American ways  of  getting rich  quick  and drug usage were abhorred by the  man of the cloth  who stressed the  values  of  hard work, Christian virtues  and  importance of  education as a means  of  getting out of poverty. Knight  decried  the  current   economic  trends  of   Dry Harbour ,  St Ann . Knight bemoaned  the  resorting  by some farmers  to ganja farming which he said  could only be a quick fix,  it was not conducive to  long  term  rural  agriculture.  Ganja cultivation  was  anathema  to   what was  a culture  of hard work  and  toil.. “ By the sweat of thy brow , thou shall eat bread.” Were his words of wisdom to the restless kid.

Brownskin’s   drug usage affected his  countenance  and behavior and even his relationships with some family members  and friends   as he now  begin  to adopt alternative lifestyle. Averse to the culture of rural populace. His style of dressing   when not at school compromised  the norm as he adopted the sartorial elements  of the  lumpen  of Kingston’s  inner cities .The ratchet knife, argyle socks and exposed trousers soon  became  standard   dress code.  He had  also graduated from smoking raw tobacco or tobacco laced with  pumpkin leaves  to smoking tobacco soaked  in  Bull Brand Shandy, a  sugary bulk  unrefined wine.  Friends  to Brownskin  now  were  lawbreakers  who could  supply him with  illicit substances   and  he  became more  engaged in  the company  of  Brenton and Brown Maurice. Their passion for smoking   Lambsbread and Collie Weed   nearly resulted   in his death one  hot June night  in 1977.

That dark  and  quiet  Wednesday night  Brenton,  Brown Maurice  and a cousin Moses  decided it was smoking night.  Meeting  in  my grandfather’s   pumpkin field, near where his dad  Pa Crothes  cultivated  an hectare  of cayenne peppers  , the  group of young weed  smokers  lighted a huge chillum pipe with Collie Weed .  Earlier in the day  Brownskin had persuaded   Brenton to cut down a marijuana tree at his father’s farm  and plucked the  fully mature buds  bearing  the potent THC content . He thought it was just another Collie weed  plant  , not knowing that  Brenton’s dad  has  resorted to  planting the new strain  of weed  known as  Sensimilla  introduced  a year  earlier  to the parish.  Believing  the spliff was hi s usual Collie weed variety  , he decided to light a second chillum pipe without knowing  that what was now placed in the pipe was Sensimlla  strain. He took a deep gulp smilingly and was felt    he was  in  the air . He proceeded to take deeper  gulps  but  on the third puff , he subconsciously  reckoned  that  something   was   amiss. “ How di feed mek fi feel so, I feel cherry now, Ifel cherry now ” he  kept  repeating in   the  typical rural  patois .  “A sensi mi give you, “ retorted Brenton. But by the time he said sensi, Brownskin thought he saw three houses instead of one and felt like someone knocked him with a twelve  inch brick.  Such was the effect and  potency  of the  weed  that he   immediately ran down the hill  from the  pepper  field  like a mad   March hare  being chased.  Subconscious of what was happening to his brain he ran right into an six  feet  pond of water  at the foot  of the hill retained as a watering hole for  My  grandfather’s   cows and goats . Unable to swim , he   went  immediately under the water . He again submerged and came up struggling and panicking . The  gods must have  had favour on him that night because as he was to make the third and last dip he was spotted  by  Roy Reid , a small  farmer who went to collect his goat nearby. An able swimmer Reid dashed into the water shoe and all to try and save  him.  He grabbed his waist and pulled him  onto  the African star grass. His friends came storming down glad to know that he was saved  His breath had stopped for  what seemed  like   minutes when miraculously he started breathing again.  That night the village came out in drove to help on the cry of his wee smoking crew.

Obviously ,  Miss Enid and the family were  quite furious .   Embarrassed and  upset  she told him if he was smart to “sleep  on di same side you sleep last night.” As for Pa crothes , the worthless father  , he came  late and  nearly  collapsed  his face saturated  with tears.  Surviving death’s  clutches.  Brownskin promised  , “I am going back to my savior. I want  to  reconcile with my  church. I shall never touch the ganja again.  I believe God is punishing me because  I have become a backslider”  Miss Enid reminded him that  history has shown that when the poor abused  themselves or violate the law of the land,  the penalty has always been harsher than for those  who are  rich .  She scolded him for the abuse of drugs , and for truancy and keeping bad company  and   exhort him  to cease using   the grass , reminding him  d that   ganja smoking  is  alien  to the culture  of St. Ann freevillagers.  “Brownskin,”  she   shouted , “if you break stick into your ears, you will feel it.  If you break the law , I can’t help you. I cannot afford  lawyer  fee.  Bwoy, mi always a tell yu , long road draw sweat, but short road draws blood. Stay on the short road  of  the life .  If you spread your bed in worms, you will wake up in maggots.   I have nothing more to say to you. I am begging you, leave that ganja thing to bad breed people. Ganja smoking belongs to old negroes and American jueveniles.  Let me say again , if  you use it  the weed, it will mad you. You will end up in Bellevue , the national mental asylum.”   For weeks when he came home she warned him to leave bad company and take up the book.

But Brownskin was trapped. One has to understand that psychologically youths who do not see immediate dangers are filled with adventurism. As one who witnessed Brownskin’s adventurism and who was a member of the community I fully understand youthful indulgences and exuberance.

That year he again failed his examination for high school , the Grade Nine test and  realized  that life now would be harder for him.


Especially for a country  boy whose parents lack resources to send him to a private  high school , life was going to be difficult.  The  new  secondary schools   at Alston and Alexandria  were not accommodative to youths who had gone to Grade 9  as they only had one more year before graduation.   Thinking rationally ,it  resonated that options for post elementary education were limited.  Miss Enid and Pa Crothes  fell despondent and  encouraged  him  to learn a trade  ,  to try  get  skilled training  perhaps at a youth camp or with a private contractor  but   that was the last thing on his mind , he  just was not interested. They could not spare another cent , things were so hard financially.  Worst, he felt that with his knowledge apprenticeship would be below his status. It was belittling as high school attendance had the status.   By  15 he wished he was living in “foreign .”  With the devasted economy of the seventies and he being unlucky in  securing a farm work ticket for the farms in Florida or the  Hudson Valley  of Upstate New York , he  drew on  the  one talent he thought  had ,   dejaying . He was known outside of school especially  around  the microphone  of    Sir Davis  Music  System to be good  with the lyrics of  the Jamaican popular music.  He followed the sound system  to  wherever the dances were kept  honing his talent  as a musical poet.  And,  for a virtuoso of  the lewd dancehall lyrics  he could  manipulated the music for his fans to enjoy.

In  1979 Brownskin    fully immersed himself  into the new genre of dancehall music  drawing all his skills  with the use of  creole language, social commentary  and  native  poetry . He put the pulsating and vulgar lyrics to the mike and chanted  in the fluent  vernacular  about  street life,  ghetto life,  country life, sex , love , money,  economics,  and  thuggery  in the local  bars, nightclubs, pubs and dancehall lawns in the parish and in the  adjoining   parishes of Clarendon  and Manchester .  His songs  and music  were sweet  to the ear of  post colonial youths  dabbling into their native creations. By 1980 Brownskin became man  in demand for dances  and  dancehall parties;  without his songs , the dances had no spirit and would  be  lifeless. He became village icon for his mastery of the dancehall music.   His peer loved him and  it was easy to influenced the young rural  listeners of Central Jamaica. His style of infectious  dejaying  style , his pleasing personality and his repertoire and ouevre of music  created a loyal following for whom  he could do no wrong.  Hundreds  would attend his dances.  The  “lost” generation became fascinated  with  his   lewd and  vulgar  lyrics  especially  those  about  sex and the  female  genital. The village market   frequently  became  home    for him to  demonstrate  his artistry  and the Christmas  dance of  1980 sealed his prowess as rural king of the dancehall when thousands  from Middlesex county  watched him defeated  the other lyrical genius  Papa Galante .  He recalled  the first day at  elementary school when he was  enamoured  by size . Size was always impacting  him physically and psychologically . For a youth who was five feet four inches he had high ambitions now to own a nightclub. He thought he  had arrived ,  unstoppable and no one could convince  him to return to school books. He would often  complain, “can school provide food. School cannot pay my bills”  To him skill and trade training and anything post elementary  were tantamount to  boot camp.

I remember clearly coming home from Kingston and seeing him a late July evening at  “Cleve’s Hideaway. “  He had  one foot on a box of Red Stripe  beer, argyle socks exposed , shirts unbuttoned and churning out rhythms and lyrics in profusion as he charmed the crowds with , “tourist season,  me and one tourist  a go reason.”  Later he switched  to  his ubiquitous anthem song, “ My ganja (marijuana) plane a go land Sunday morning.”   I  realized he was smart, heard  of his accolades in school  and  encouraged him to go to evening class to pursue the subjects that could prepare him for college, but my counseling was futile.  To me Brownskin had  the aptitude to become a fine Caribbean  poet or at the least  a  lyrical master of Jamaican music. His interest was money  by any means.  “ is money mi a defend now, brother Winston, “  he snarled.  Well, I could not convince him to change his ways, not one for who money now was god.

How could  popular culture ,  drug culture and the fascination with quick money changed the life, morals, values  and the character  of a country boy who  grew up with  a caring mother ? That was the question asked in the last two years of  Brownskin’s life.  Academics and hard work no longer matter or surfaced on the agenda of many youths caught in the harsh economic and political  realities of the  seventies and early eighties.  Youths had to make ado with  what was available. It is sadly the same now. The more things changed , the more they remain the same.

The growing illicit drug trade of the seventies  became attractive to Brownskin. Many  adolescents  were using their contacts working at the few operational hotels on the island’s north coast to fuel their entrepreneurial passion for illegal business. To Brownskin ,  this was the golden opportunity to uplift himself and family from poverty. It means bigger things than  pop music.  Meanwhile Pastor repeatedly sent for him  to beg him to leave the business of singing lewd lyrics. Nothing was hidden from the Rev. John Knight. So integral has he become a part of the society since leaving Stouffville, Ontario that what happened in  Eccleston,  Nine Miles,  Cave Valley,   Clarksonville and Borrowbridge  concerned him .   It had reached pastor’ s ear  that his good choir boy and one who he mentored had turn against the Lord. But Brownskin had more “earthly” things to achieve. God’s business was secondary.

Not satisfied with the  direction and income from  dancehall music , he sought out Philly Phil and Paul whose  marijuana  farming  empire  could supply him with  adequate  amount of the  Sensimilla  variety .  He paid for   the   first bag of weed to be delivered to a white  American on the northcoast. The price of $1000 US   by the white man  was attractive  and  he sworn   he had to get a piece of the action.  Making connections with friends at  Club Caribbean  Hotel  and  Redgewick  Sea  Resort  he  was able  to connect with  some traffickers from Boston , USA.  They would fly  their Cessna  plane  to Jamaica, and he would contribute  four  bags in  the total shipment.  By spring of 1980 despite the increased concern  and presence  of US authorities ,   the deal was made , Brownskin  negotiated  a good  deal for    1500 pounds of  marijuana  . With precision  The boys from Boston  sent their pilot to  fly  the  stuff from  the lonely Bauxite company constructed  road one Sunday morning. It arrived successfully in the states  and  two weeks later the Boston  boys sent their bearer to pay  for the portion they had credited. The returns in US dollars  were great for such a shipment.    Brownskin’s capital for his night club was getting bigger and bigger. It was his desire also to build a “mansion” for his mom.

While  Jamaica ’s winter tourist season   was launched   officially in  December 1980 , the American drug importers from Boston   came under the guise of  tourists  to strike  a deal  with Brownskin and  other local  marijuana  farmers. They  wanted  a larger shipment  for the winter , this time 2000 pounds of high grade sensimilla . It was to be the biggest shipment out of   Aboukir and the Murray Mountains.  The month of February  1981 was thought to be the best time to come for the drug  as  the harsh New England winter   created   a  large  demand  for  smoking.  It was also ideal from the supply side since no  ganj farmer   in the island’s hinterland wanted to keep  dried  marijuana for extended period; it could rot or become trashy  resulting in use  only  as for fertilizer. The abundance of the weed that year , the rich harvest of  late 1980 created a surplus  in which Brownskin had the upper hand. He would only  use  a portion of the money  to  advance  the other four farmers , buying the rest  on  credit.  The Bostonians  traffickers  Teddy , the Greek and Walter the Italian  paid their contacts  in St. Catherine to bribe the Guanaboa Police who would turn a blind eye to their airplane landing on the  private Worthy Park estates in  the community.

 Brownskin  welcomed  the  demand for a larger shipment.  His  greed  was only matched by a desire for  earning   more Yankee  greenback  for expenditure on his planned  nightclub and  big  house.  It was this deal which the white men came and sorted  out in early  February 1981 giving  him a hefty down-payment  in  US greenbacks with promise to settle the remainder after  the shipment  arrived in  Boston.  “Yes, my bank book will  be full of cabbage,”  he excitedly  smirked.  Quite pleased was he  calculating that if these white men did not return  after the shipment , he could  cut his losses and personally made a profit . He made sure all the  Sensimila to be shipped  was  procured partly  on credit and  promised  Vee,  Ivor Shaw, Brenton’s  and Brown Maurice father   eternal  riches when the plane landed.   The thought of  money and more money  washing his pockets   stimulated  his mind   for the  following weeks. Evil thoughts came to his mind  as he wonder if he could  send some  criminals from the adjoining Thatchwalk  district to rob the white men when  the plane land and take back the weed to  St. Ann which he could double profited by selling to  another American  trafficker. After all, these dirty games played out some  times in  the lucrative ganja business.

The success of the illicit activities to date  gave him courage to break the narcotics law of the island again. “I want this   big  shipment to the USA and then I’ll call it quit and this will be the last time I  dabble in marijuana business t ,”  he excitedly told his brother. It was  four  days before the fateful event in  late  February 1981 when he hopefully expected  Teddy and Walter to  visit him with the downpayment. Ganja business in the  seventies  to early eighties was  done with respect and honour and the Americans kept their words turning up with a  hefty down payment  of US dollars.

Brownskin  paid off the police  in his district  to ensure the weed leave Aboukir  without a hastle for the main road. He could  not take any chances  because the entire police force knew Aboukir was the ganja  production centre of St. Ann. He also contacted a few more farmers  for  extra pounds  of  cured weed. .  Excited by the prospect of  wealth and  believing his goals would soon  be accomplished  he decided to host a  dance  at Ruddy’s  lawn in the most quiet district of Clarksonville.  He thought his time had come and  advertised the  biggest  dance  to be held in the village. It was to churn out his repertoire of the finest lyrics , some  which would be new  and  which he hoped  would  excite his  fans and  audience  inclusive of  social commentary, lewd lyrics and even some anti-politicians and  homophobic  lyrics. This dance would draw the entire communities of the Dry Harbour Mountain   and  crowned  him  not only as premier entertainer  but as an  entertainment host. It was free to all villagers  and the first hundred would get free spirits and beers.


In  his  now  twisted self  he  wanted to avoid  spending  but  maximizing on  earnings. Losing his moral way over the last few  years he decided that he would steel electricity from the cables   of the  government owned utility company. He could not bear to know others were stealing electricity and  he could  not. Why should  he use up  much kilowatts of hour  pumping his 3000 watts   amplifier disco.

At five o’clock that evening  Brownskin decided it was time to get the party rolling, time for the good vibes to kick off and time for noise in the dancehall space by the 3000 watts  Jack Ruby HI Fi  sound system.  In the absence of “Jack Ruby,”  the owner he decided to take his chances at stealing the electricity.  In his now morally deprived  state  he decided to connect the  cables and toss it on the high tension  via stone balances. . “Watch your self , brother , “ shouted Roland , his sibling. “   “This is the way poor people get free light,” was Brownskin response. “ This is the way we take from Caesar  what is ours,”  These were  his last words , he had cheated death by nearly drowning in 1977 , but this time he was playing with fire and high voltage!  Stepping on the grass covered stone he tried to toss  the  illegal extension to the  government utility company  high tension cables . He failed  at the attempt and  his foot  moved  a foot more  from the  stone on which he stood.  Just then he slipped and  lost his balance. What happened next was that  the rodwood stick with the wire  attached caught   the 240 volt wire instead of the 120 volts.  A large sound emitted and fire gashed as we looked around and saw Brownskin flung  to the soggy ground burnt and scorched by electrical shock.  We knew that moment  that  he was no longer, he was dead as a doornail.  His face blackened  and his torso twisted by electrical currents as the wailing started  and the police  was summoned.

 I took  a breath of relief wishing I was not present. “  I came to listen his  muical recitation  but I witnessed death instead.  Just then  I realized , “ this is  life in the tropics.”  A  poor youth had lost his way ,  education had failed him ,  or he had failed to make use of education . I could  not answer , the  society  made life  so harsh for the poor  but sometimes  the poor failed  to step above the system. For a certainty opportunities were lost and  chances missed. Not everyone should believe in luck but I was certain there is a thing called destiny. Perhaps, this was Brownskin’s destiny. Isn’t that the core belief of Baptist Christians?  Brownskin was preached to so often. Rev. Knight had not espoused Calvinism but Brownskin must have read about it; he read profusely. He  would not listen and like  some adolescents  had chosen to break the law and  ignored  the straight road of the law   for the highway of crime and its attendant glamour. Now he paid the price for his stupidity and stubbornness.  Another generation has been condemned, his poor mother   looking for  a son to take her out of poverty was now left  to face embarrassment and jeer.  It would be perpetual poverty.  I   wanted to  continue listening to  his deejaying gimmickry and mastery of the Jamaican music, but  he was now  no longer alive . I bit my lips and repeated again  ,  “ Such is life and destiny in the  tropics.”

If you like this article please consider joining our Forum HERE to help us grow.

Remember to share this article on Facebook and other Social Media Platforms. To submit your own articles please send us an EMAIL at: [email protected]. Subscribe to our mailing list to get new articles sent to you automatically.

0 0 votes
Article Rating

Winston Donald

My name is Winston Donald. I am currently completing a MA in Cultural Studies researching Street Art ( from a cultural studies perspective) I am Recruiting Officer and Enrollment Officer for University College of the Caribbean, New Kingston. I contribute to the Commonwealth Short StoryCompetition Columnist for the defunct Sunday Herald Newspaper Author on Marijuana : Export trade and Rural economics (manuscript being completed) Author on Rural Jamaican Cooking Creator of The Diaspora - Word Press blog Contributor to Sun Sentinel newspaper of South Florida Regular/Frequent contributor to the Gleaner and Observer newspaper

Notify of

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments