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S PRING 2014
S PECIAL POINTS OF INTEREST :
I N S EARCH OF M Y G RANDFATHER 1960s when he went back to visit. Lowe Shu On didn’t treat my father well as a child, and I don’t think my father ever forgave him.
Here’s a photo of my father and oldest brother in London in 1954. My father was half Chinese, half black Jamaican. He left Jamaica for England in 1947. I’ve known my Chinese grandfather’s name for as long as I can remember, but aside from his name – Lowe Shu On – I’ve known very little else. My father only saw him again once after he left Jamaica, sometime in the
I went to Jamaica in April 2013, on a search to find out more about my Chinese heritage, not only to satisfy my own curiosity, but also hoping for inspiration for the two book projects I’m am on – one a collection of poetry and one a partfictional memoir. Both are concerned with the same theme and question – how to you construct your family ancestry across the distances of space and time? I’m interested in my grandfather – what his life was like, why he acted the way he did. Perhaps I want to
find a way to understand his behavior. I’ve imagined him from afar and written about him already, but in Jamaica, I hoped to flesh out these descriptions with real context and detail. From England, I made arrangements to meet up with the academic Keith Lowe, who happened to be in Jamaica during my visit, and with Marcia Harford of the Chinese Benevolent Association. I’d also made touch with Victor Chang, former professor of Literature at UWI, whose family, like mine, had run a grocery store in Yallahs, St Thomas. Continued on Page 2
The island of Jamaica sits almost smack in the center of the Caribbean Sea and forms part of the Caribbean archipelago that has been the epicenter of social and cultural change in the Americas for more than 150 years. No other island in the region maintains a connec-
tion to Africa that is as keenly felt as it is in Jamaica, and the capital Kingston was the major nexus in the New World for the barbaric triangular trade that brought slaves from the continent and carried sugar and rum to Europe. It was Jamaica that led the pillag-
ing of the slave plantation system through revolt that ultimately brought about the end of slavery in 1834 and since then the island has continued its dominance as a leader in social and cultural change throughout the region. Continue on page 3
Hannah Lowes trip to Jamaica
Richard Blackford ‘s Welcome to Jamaica
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I N S EARCH OF M Y G RANDFATHER CONTINUED FROM PAGE 1
I SHOULD ADD HERE THAT A GREAT SOURCE OF INFORMATION TO ME ABOUT MY FATHER ’ S LIFE HAS BEEN A NOTEBOOK HE KEPT ABOUT HIS CHILDHOOD IN J AMAICA .
I should back track a little to say that my two friends, the novelist Kerry Young and the film maker Jeanette Kong were instrumental in helping me make these connections. I’d never met Jeanette, but made touch with her after reading of her documentary “The Chiney Shop” about the iconic Chinese grocery stores in Jamaica. My dad had left school at eleven to work in his father’s shop, serving customers, so I was keen to see
this film that might tell me more about their day to day lives. I’d made touch with Kerry after reading her brilliant novel Pao, loosely based on her Chinese father’s life as an underworld businessman in Kingston’s old China Town. Jeanette lives in Toronto and Kerry in Leicester, England, but it was because they’d both travelled to Jamaica to research their own projects that I was able to tap into their knowledge about
who to speak to. On my first day in Jamaica, Keith Lowe told me the history of the Hakka and their migrations to Jamaica, how family members had come to join other family members, working together to build up their businesses. He told me about the programmes that sent Jamaican born children back to China for education and acculturation. He also explained the spellings and pronunciation of my surname,
, and that it was likely that all the Lowes in Jamaica came from one of two ancestral villages in Guangdong.
about his childhood in Jamaica. In a way, the notebook is as notable for what it leaves out as much as what it says, but he does mention that my grandfather came to join a cousin who was already living in Jamaica, and who, I assume, wanted my grandfather to work for him in his shop. That same day, I paid a visit the headquarters of the Chinese Benevolent Association
on Old Hope Road. As a creative writer, I’m as much interested in finding inspiration as historical fact, and so I photographed some of objects there, in hope these might later become the basis of poems. Of particular interest to me, as a long standing reggae fan, were the 7” reggae singles, made by Chinese record producers in the 1960s and 70s.
occasions, pledge and lose his shop in a game.
wonderful to see the echoes of China Town still visible in the Chinese names painted on shop walls.
This was fascinating to me and gave me a better idea of how my grandfather might have travelled to Jamaica. I should add here that a great source of information to me about my father’s life has been a notebook he kept
Later in the week, Vincent Chang kindly gave me a tour of the old China Town around Barry Street and Orange Street in downtown Kingston. Some sections of the prose book I’m writing are set there, in the 1930s and 40s when this area was home to the Chinese. It was there that my grandfather came to play Mah Jong, and on two
I loved seeing the old Chinese temple on Barry Street – such an atmospheric place. I could picture the beds that Vincent described where those in need would sleep. He was incredibly knowledgeable about the history of the Chinese in Jamaica, and it was
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This is me stood at the head of my grandfather’s grave in the Chinese Cemetery on Whitfield Road. Grateful thanks to Marcia Hartford who arranged for me to go down there with a group who were mapping the cemetery (ensuring the records of who is buried there are accurate) and to David Chang and Robert Huw who located by grandfather’s grave within minutes of knowing his name and approximate year of
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death. I had no idea there was a Chinese Cemetery or that he was buried there, so it was wonderful to find the grave. To learn more about Hannah, visit: www.HannahLowe.org
W ELCOME TO J AMAICA CONTINUED FROM P AGE 1 Its African culture is preserved through the Maroons (runaway slaves who took to the hills of Cockpit Country and the Blue Mountains) who safeguarded many of the African traditions – and introduced jerk seasoning to Jamaica’s singular cuisine. The sleepy parish of St Ann gifted to the world Marcus Garvey who founded the back-toAfrica movement of the
1910s and ’20s; and the Reggae icon Robert Nesta (Bob) Marley who underlined the movement for social economic and political change with music of such potency that it captured the attention of millions worldwide. The Rastafarianism movement had its birth on the island and played a lead role in the social movement, with their focus on social consciousness furnish-
ing the lyrical content of the island’s indigenous music through the period. It came as no surprise in 2012 when America’s CNN declared the island as the third most “Culturally Influential” country in the world behind China and Brazil
V ISIT WWW .R ICHARD B LACKFORD . COM Apart from its people and its culture though, Jamaica has much to offer, the curious, thirsty or weary traveler. The misty Blue Mountains boast the world’s best coffee, and as a visitor you must try a cup in the century-old factory at Mavis Bank in the hills of Saint Andrew. There are world-class reefs for diving all along its south western and
northern coast including those at Treasure Beach Saint Elizabeth, Runaway Bay and Ocho Rios in the parish of Saint Ann, and of course the Frenchman’s Cove in Portland. There are off-the beaten-track hiking tours, congenial fishing villages, pristine waterfalls, cosmopolitan cities, wet-lands harboring endangered crocodiles and man-
atees, unforgettable sunsets – in short, enough variety to satisfy the most discerning visitor with a promise of an utterly unforgettable experience. This is a country infused with pride in its unique history, stunning landscape and influential culture. Welcome to Jamai-
FROM ITS PEOPLE AND ITS CULTURE THOUGH , J AMAICA HAS MUCH TO OFFER , THE CURIOUS , THIRSTY OR WEARY TRAVELER .
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