If you want to learn more about Jamaican culture, Jamaica Cultural Enterprises’ Kingston City Tour is a great start. Its Kingston tours are well-reviewed by previous participants and the staff is “passionate about showcasing the best of Jamaica’s culture.”
The tour offers both an exploration of Jamaican artistic culture and contemporary Kingston, the country’s capital. Here are the six reasons we think this tour should be on your itinerary.
1. Emancipation Park
The tour started at 9am at Emancipation Park in New Kingston. Frequented by locals on their morning run, table tennis players, those seeking a respite from Kingston’s hustle and bustle, or as a convenient walkthrough, the park is a well-designed oasis that is both a welcoming greenspace and an appropriate “tribute to freedom.”
Our tour guides were Karen and Rasheeda. They started by pointing out the various adinkra symbols strategically placed at the park entrance and incorporated into the design of the gate and park benches. Adinkra symbols are visual symbols created by the Asante (Ashanti) people of what is now modern-day Ghana.
We learned about the origins of the many tropical plants and trees including the sturdy and highly dense Lignum Vitae, the tree that blooms Jamaica’s national flower.
The ceremonial entrance is lined on both sides by reflecting pools that seem to inspire a sense of both calm and introspection. Also featured in the entrance are the busts of Jamaica’s seven National Heroes.
The park’s main feature is Redemption Song, an 11 foot bronze sculpture of a Black man and woman who seem to rise in sync out of another of the park’s water features.
Designed and created by Jamaican sculptor Laura Facey, the towering figures are looking upward toward the sky and have been described as representing the triumphant rise out of the horrors of slavery. When she designed and crafted the stunning work, Ms. Facey is said to have been inspired by Marcus Garvey, one of Jamaica’s National Heroes, and celebrated reggae artist Bob Marley.
2. National Museum of Jamaica
One of the most enjoyable parts of the guided tour was the National Museum of Jamaica. Museum tour guide Abebe had an effusive enthusiasm about the relics throughout the museum. Whether he was explaining the origin and utility of African masks and objects or the societal structure of the Tainos, Jamaica’s original inhabitants, he was tireless and very knowledgeable.
An exhibit that displayed many of the instruments used for some of Jamaica’s musical traditions was very engaging. The exhibit included the rhumba box used commonly in mento music, a precursor to ska and reggae, and museum placards describing burru drumming and kumina. Abebe also described spiritual traditions such as the revival sessions still held on the island and Nyabhingi drumming practiced by some Rastafarians.
3. National Gallery of Jamaica
A ten minute walk to the National Gallery of Jamaica takes you past several restaurants and cafes and the well-known Negro Aroused sculpture originally created by famous Jamaican sculptor Edna Manley and recreated in bronze years later.
The National Gallery of Jamaica houses four permanent galleries: The Edna Manley Galleries, The Historical Galleries, The Kapo Galleries and The A.D. Scott Collection.
The remarkably fine detail of Edna Manley’s work in mahagony and bronze are striking and the bold and engrossing work of self-taught artist and sculptor Mallica “Kapo” Reynolds’ are a feast for the eyes. Also on display are the works of surrealist Colin Garland, including his iconic work In the Beautiful Caribbean.
4. Lunch at Moby Dick Restaurant
Moby Dick Restaurant is known for having the “best curry in town.” From its early days in the 1900s, this restaurant has been a place where the famished could fill up. Now owned by a local Muslim family, the menu offers a variety of curry dishes including several vegetarian options.
5. Orange Street (aka beat street)
Orange Street in Kingston was once the center of the gestational stages of ska and rocksteady.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Orange Street was the home of Coxsone Dodd’s record store, the original Tuff Gong International, and other record shops or recording studios. Dennis Brown, the “Crown Prince of Reggae” and iconic singer-songwriter Prince Buster were born on Orange Street. The first ska recording was made at Studio One on Brentford Road around the corner from Orange Street.
It was this section of this storied street that was the next stop on the tour. Many of those famous record shops are gone. This section of the street was bustling with storefronts and vendors displaying a wide selection of clothes and other necessities. It is in this whirlwind of activity that one can meet Jamaicans from all walks of life including an enterprising vendor selling fresh cut sugarcane or a young man selling snacks on parked buses.
6. St. William Grant Park
William Grant was a labor activist who championed workers’ rights and an associate of Jamaica’s first prime minister and National Hero, Sir Alexander Bustamante. The park was originally called Victoria Park but was renamed in 1977 in Mr. Grant’s honor.
Originally built as a fortress in 1694, Parade, as the park is sometimes called, was a popular meeting spot for Jamaica’s labor leaders including Messrs. Grant, Bustamante, and Marcus Garvey.
The park is flanked on its northern and southern ends by statues of National Heroes Norman Manley and Alexander Bustamante. In the center is an ornate fountain that on the day of the tour was empty.
Visit jaculture.com to learn more about this and other tours offered by Jamaica Cultural Enterprises.