Winston Donald is a Fine Art Gallery Operator, Cultural Practitioner and Newspaper Columnist.
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. As I climbed the hill to this rural church overwhelmed with grief , I pulled a white handkerchief from my jacket and mopped my sodden eyes lamenting the loss of an adolescent.
The windy and chilly air blowing from North America that morning smashed into the faces of mourners who huddled together and briskly walked up the steep incline to find a seat in the Eccleston Baptist Church. Eccleston Baptist was the perfect religious institution chosen for the funeral of Brownskin, a youth fallen from grace. Built in 1838 from London Baptist Society donations it had never falter in its service to the poor.. What a coincidence I surmised , Brownskin funeral would be conducted by his mentor and role model , the affable John Knight , Missionary pastor from Toronto who had labored with the locals from 1926. It would be pastor’s last duty on the island. Strong political voices of descent , espousing Fabian Socialism resonated vociferously , against western economic models , against white man system and aborted his desire to retire in Jamaica , his adopted home.
Just five years earlier a funeral of like size was held for Charles Love , the uncle of an International calypso singer who had received fame on the US A Billboard’s “Top100 Albums”. Charts. This morning the church had the role of providing a solemn service for the district son, once a choir and church member who had become wayward , departing from faith , moral upbringing and western religious beliefs.
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 finding no seat inside the church took refuge in the limbs of the Broadleaf trees facing the side entrance ostensible to catch a glimpse of his coffin.
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 local MP and the loyal congregationists , Death has finally sealed the fate of a restless village youth trapped in a life of poverty, dancehall culture, and illicit activities , all harsh realities of rural post –independent Jamaica .
Ten feet from the pulpit laid the cedar coffin in a sea of locally grown gladiolis, carnations, and Star lilies. The poignant scent of the French polished coffin overpowered wails of mourning villagers 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 son will get some 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 to the poor. This was understandable as such a village as Eccleston was located in the mineral rich environment that provided eighty percent of Jamaica’s bauxite and limestone which hardly if ever benefitted the villagers.
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