August 28, 2022

Sacred Rivers in Jamaica?

Rio Cobre

A few weeks ago, I read Diana McCaulay’s pilgrimage to find the source of the Rio Cobre, “which had suffered a devastating fish kill on July 30 -31 due to an effluent release from the bauxite-alumina refinery at Ewarton, currently owned by UC Rusal.” (

The article led to an interesting discussion on Twitter about her idea of “sacred rivers” in Jamaica and her observation, “Wondering if we have a sacred river - it's definitely not the Rio Cobre!” Kimberly John replied, “I think the closest thing to a sacred river in Jamaica is the Rio Grande, and even so, it's not a mainstream idea. We're more afraid of paganism than environmental destruction.” And I responded, “Our rivers, lakes, streams, @dmccaulay, also don’t figure in our imaginations.”

I could give a million and one reasons why we don't consider our waterways to be holy, sacred, or worthy of veneration and respect. Or why we don't wax poetic like the English do about the Thames or how the awestruck Japanese poet Basho wrote haiku about the Mogami River.

But I prefer to talk about solutions. For if we are going to have a fighting chance against projected environmental degradation due to climate change, we must engage our people’s imaginations.

But then I wondered, how will we engage our people’s imagination?

Drawing on my experience of writing haiku, which according to Tricycle, is “the most popular form of poetry in the world,” I proposed a haiku contest with the following rules:

Name of the place, either in the #haiku or title (yeah, I know)
17 syllables
A turn of thought.
The winner from each parish receives USD 50

In my enthusiasm , I omitted the seasonal reference that traditional Japanese haiku usually contain. I reasoned that we only have two seasons in the Caribbean, a dry and a wet season, and I wanted to highlight our waterways.

I was misguided.

A pearl of ancient wisdom is buried in traditional Japanese haiku, which is a meditation on time and space. It’s a way of paying attention to the planets, seasons, the earth, holidays, plants, and animals. And as Simone Weil notes, “Attention, taken to its highest degree, is the same thing as prayer. It presupposes faith and love.”

So here is my revised proposal:

17 syllables.
Season or seasonal words like “mango blossoms” or “guinep.”
Name of the place either in the haiku or title. I’m sticking with this because many of us don’t know a lot about our island.
A turn of thought.

No entry fee.
Open to anyone who has never published anything.
Best entry from the parish of residence
The judges, ideally from each parish, will select the best entry from the parish where they live. The judges would also have the latitude to ignore the seasonal word. What matters is the skill of the poet in recording a fleeting moment in the natural world--critics, like me, be damned. The judge’s decision is final.
The winners would receive USD 100.

I’d love for Isis-Semaj-Hall’s suggestion to be implemented, “I support this. And it would be good to see CatherinesPeak, Wata, Island Mist, Life Span, 876 Blue Mountain, or any other Jamaican water brands come on board to support/educate consumers/ citizens too.”

I’d take it a step further. Isis. The winning haiku could become a regular feature on their products and advertising campaigns.

According to the poet and translator William J. Higginson, “Haiku teach us not only to respect the experience of others, but to recall and treasure our own experience.” I hope this project will help us not only to treasure places in Jamaica but to appreciate the everyday beauty we often take for granted.

#haiku #environment #Jamaica #climatecrisis #climateemergency