Why Do I Write About Mona Heights?

Once upon a time, there was a place called Mona Heights…

In her review of Dub Wise, Mary Hanna called the collection "a gift." If she meant “a gift” in the way that Lewis Hyde in The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World defined it as an "act of gratitude," then all of my books have been gifts because they attempt to return to the source the sensory impressions that have affected my life's work.

And certainly, Mona Heights has been a source. My earliest memories of Mona Heights are of growing up with my sister, Judith, my brother, Ansel, and a house full of cousins. Down the street, my childhood friends, Paul Chin, David Griffith, and Paul Smith and always trying to keep out of trouble with our parents and extended "uncles" and "aunts": Uncle Danny and Aunty Joan Morrison, Uncle Welly Chin, Uncle Michael Witter, Uncle Michael "Jah Mick" and Aunty Ann-Marie Mowatt. The happier days of our childhood were filled with playing cricket, exploring the "open lands, of Hope Pastures, and skylarking at the annual Christmas fair.

It was an idyllic time. Even the streets had paradisiacal names: Garden Boulevard, Anthurium Drive, Daisy Avenue, and Plumbago Path,  where I grew up and which I’ve used as the setting for many of the short stories in Uncle Obadiah and the Alien.

This is not to say that there weren't problems associated with race and class. But our parents did what all parents should do--they protected us from the harsher aspects of life. They realized that Mona Heights was the beginning of a civil society in pre-independence Jamaica, and, as one of the first attempts to create an open middle class enclave in St. Andrews, Mona became a microcosm of Jamaican society with all its dreams, fears, and conflicts.

As we grew older, however, we began to become aware of the divisions, but we didn't care who was black, white, Chinese, East Indian, or browning. We belonged to a community.

We were friends and continued to be friends during the so-called communist threat of the 70's and long after the undeclared civil war broke out...


So why do I write about Mona Heights?

I’m a wild golden apple
that will burst with love
of you and your men,
those I never told enough
with my young poet’s eyes
crazy with the country,
generations going,
generations gone,
moi c’est gens Ste. Lucie.
C’est la moi sorti;
is there that I born.

(from Derek Walcott, Collected Poems, 1948 – 1984, Noonday Press, 1986/1993; originally from Sea Grapes, 1976)

It was there on Plumbago Path with Long Mountain to my right, Wareika to my left, and a child's delight in dirt and green things that I first had a feeling of awe, of being part of something larger than myself. It's the place in Jamaica where I first fell in love and where I discovered the work of three artists who would have a profound effect on my life: Bob Marley, Derek Walcott, and Dennis Scott.

Watching the pouis blanket the lawn while listening to the whistle of the peanut man, or waiting for our gardener, Victor, to regale us with his off-color jokes about "toning" as the Nyabinghi brethren called out, "Broom, Broomie," gave me the time to think about what Lorna Goodison, speaking about her childhood in pre-idpendence Jamaica, has called, "a very complicated, complex, rich place."

Later in the interview, Lorna also revealed, "I can be a witness. I can say, ‘In my life I saw this, and I knew this about Jamaica. If it doesn’t exist now, believe me, it used to exist, and hopefully it can exist again."

I feel the same way, Lorna. I haven't given up.


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