KINGSTON -While the birth home of Barbados’ Father of Independence, Errol Barrow, remains a ruin 31 years after his death and as vagrants use the childhood home of Roland Edwards, 52 years after his composition became the music of the national anthem, Jamaicans are reaping dividends because of their foresight to preserve their heritage.
One example is Devon House, the late 19th century home of Jamaica’s first black millionaire George Siebel, who earned his riches from gold prospecting in Venezuela. The 11-acre property which has been converted to a museum with boutiques, a restaurant and world-renowned ice cream parlour, hosts thousands of visitors every year. The attraction is just one of several heritage sites which are a major pillars of the country’s blossoming cultural and community tourism sector.
But before it became a major tourist attraction and a symbol of black achievement, the property would have been demolished to make way for condominiums had it not been for the vision of then Jamaican prime minister Edward Seaga. Barbados TODAY visited the property last Friday courtesy of the Jamaica Tourist Board, who are hosting their annual Jamaica Product Exchange (JAPEX). It was during this visit that tour guide Barbara Beckford gave the background into how a black man was able to acquire 99 properties (back then it was illegal to own 100 properties) including two sugar estates, a wharf at Church Street, Great Salt Pond and a Cattle Pen named Minard, in St Ann.
“This was a dream of the Honourable Edward Seaga because when he heard that this was about to be demolished and they wanted to build condominium, he said no way. So, he made a stand because money was not everything and he recognized that something like this was needed for our people. I consider him as brave because he made a decision that took guts and now it’s a place where not only Jamaicans can enjoy but visitors as well,” said Beckford.
During the peak tourist season, the property is inundated with bookings from tour companies and overseas schools eager to learn more about Jamaican history and culture, Beckford added.
“When children come we are able to give them a motivational talk and they can see it for themselves that someday they can achieve even if you are poor at the moment. This house stands as a symbol for all to see that with perseverance they too can make it,” she added.
A stone’s throw away at 56 Hope Road, tour guides at the Bob Marley Museum tell a quite similar story, boasting of 300 visitors daily in peak periods and about 50 persons per day in the off season.
It’s no wonder that Chairperson of the Jamaica Gastronomy Tourism Network, Nicola Madden- Greig could boast that Trench Town, which is the birth place of Bob Marley but was once described as dangerous ghetto, is now one of the more popular destination for Airbnb because its linkages to the legendary singer have been properly packaged and marketed.
She noted that even proponents of contemporary culture are getting in on the act, as choreographers and enthusiasts from all over the world come to Jamaica and stay for months at a time just to learn the dance to Dancehall music.
“Tourism in Kingston, which was designated as UNESCO heritage site for music two years ago, is basically sports entertainment and culture. We have just added the Peter Tosh museum as well. A lot of the attractions are rooted in the community such as the Trench Town Culture Yard and this area has become one of the most popular areas for Airbnb,” she explained in an interview with Barbados TODAY.
Madden-Greig, the marketing and sales manager at the Courtleigh Hotel and Suites, further pointed out that “every night in Kingston we have street dances, just an open space where people set up sound systems and have these dances, but we have people coming from all over the world as far flung as Russia and Ukraine to learn to dance to this genre of music. The music has a culture that goes with it which includes how you dress, so they come and sometimes stay for months,” she added. (CM)