Absurdity in St. Elizabeth and Westmoreland, Jamaica

Watch this (a little over 10 minutes)

That’s in St. Elizabeth.  (You can learn some about Font Hill in this video.)

Now look at this tweet…

O the irony...

…and the attraction that it’s promoting


Look at that beauiful water and hill backdrop.  I caught a glimpse of more of this beauty on my last trips home; on the most recent journey though my heart was very heavy I felt it perk up a little and smile when I looked out the airplane window.  Look. At.  It. 

Why is there a monstrosity on the Westmoreland coastline? Why is that monstrosity being used as a lure for the very 500 acre wilderness that it could harm or destroy? I wonder how this entire project…o…never mind.  I do not understand why anyone thought that it was a good idea to build a 360 room hotel that is arranged into Italian, Dutch, and French inspired villages? Sooo….folks from Europe visit an island and end up in a place that looks like Europe? No, no, no.  Folks from Asia or North America visit an island and end up in a place that looks Europe? O.  

As with Portland, it seems that the Government of Jamaica is intent on destroying Jamaica’s environmental resources.  And too many Jamaicans do little to stop them.  Development is all well and good, in fact it’s necessary for several reasons – provides jobs, improve living conditions and quality of life, improve access to goods and services…many many benefits.  There’s not a thing wrong with development.  But developing Jamaica  does not mean that we must destroy the living space that we have.  Yes because those people for whom jobs are apparently being created at places like Sandals Whitehouse or the RIU disgraces still need a healthy place in which to live.  Some of them may still need to fish in the waters near their homes, or to have their crops pollinated and by the birds, butterflies, and bees that live in this 500 acre wilderness.  The ecological value of Font Hill, Whitehouse, and the surrounding areas seems invaluable and, as is common with the environment, it is linked to other ecosystems.  Surprise! Think migratory birds, replenishing, fish populations, filtering the sea, protecting from floods and other water damage…things like that.  Yes, let me continue to beat this tree-hugging, green, sustainable, environment loving drum.  And I don’t beat it to drown out the cry for jobs or economic development.

Font HIll, St. Elizabeth, Jamaica. Whitehouse in Westmoreland is north of it. (Click to Enlarge)

Jamaica’s eocnomy is so externally oriented – tourism, export, remittances.  What are we building in the country that can sustain the country and its people? I understand that Jamaica doesn’t (and probably cannot) have an economy that provides everything that it needs, certainly not based on current tastes and expectations of the population.  But we can do better about the character of these jobs.  There’s this problem I have.  Something about mostly black service workers working in hotels serving mostly non-black tourists bothers me…rubs me the wrong way.  I know that honest work is honest work and shouldn’t be belittled.  I’m not doing that.  As MLK, Jr. said “all work has dignity.”  But I think that work also can and should empower.  That image in the Font Hill video of the uniformed lady picking up the little girl on the beach sticks in my craw.  Sure she may well enjoy her job and be damned good at it.  Good for her.  Yet that image, for me, represents this subservient (not mere employer-employee and those inherent boundaries) relationship that too many Jamaicans find themselves in.  It’s almost like these kinds of jobs reinforce the socioeconomic and therefore racial and colour hierarchy of Jamaican society.  Why is the plan for jobs seemingly only these kinds of jobs?  Am I reading too much into this or does it bother you too?  In a majority black country it is inevitable that some will work as housekeepers, gardeners, wait staff, customer service representatives…but that should be some, not most.  No?

Why wasn’t the plan for development of this area something that could have drawn upon the knowledge that the community has about its surroundings? Upon existing businesses and skills? I was thinking: instead of a European-style spa fronting a 500 acre wilderness why not build something that capitalizes on the wilderness factor and the growing eco-tourism market?  Build a smaller structure that is more attuned to the environment, and build it in a way that does not mar a beautiful landscape.  Build something that captures the raw beauty of the place.  Jobs would have included not only those who worked in the hotel but also guides who could take interested tourists on nature walks or other educational tours throughout these 500 acres; guides who would share their knowledge of the area’s history, geography, and culture.  I’ve always thought that Jamaica has a strong oral tradition so use and preserve it (before we lose the people who know).  Dare I suggest even developing the small businesses in the area?  Improve the area’s existing infrastructure (e.g. fix roads, standardize store fronts) and provide an opportunity for existing or new small business – restaurants, craft vendors, novelty shops, small supermarkets – to thrive and provide their goods and services not only to hotel visitors but also to other Jamaicans who want to explore their country and visit their beaches.  A lower environmental impact that could still have a high (more lasting?) yield.  And that centre for scientific research and development mentioned in the Font Hill video above sounds good too.  So too does a small airport.  Create or support an environment that empowers people by leaving them with some control over how to earn a living instead of creating an environment that may very well leave many feeling hard-pressed to look to the massah at the big house hotel for a living.  Just an idea.

Instead a large amount of space is appropriated to create some hostage all-inclusive  experience that necessarily means that most of the profits and other benefits are concentrated in hands of a few.  You know those people who are always blamed for harrassing tourists to buy this or that craft, fruit, or vegetable?  Leave aside the ones who’re just troublesome or lazy.  The remaining may be annoying but do you ever consider that they’re also possibly desperate and simply looking for a way to earn a living?  And that they find that hard to do because they have mostly been cut out of the supply and demand chain?

Meanwhile, and again, the very thing upon which this industry is dependent – the environment – is compromised.  The incongruence never fails to amaze me.

11 Responses to “Absurdity in St. Elizabeth and Westmoreland, Jamaica”
  1. Ms. Nikks says:

    I hate what they’re doing to our homeland. I’m so happy that our house is up in the hills, way up in the cockpit country…for now we’re sort of unspoiled. Probably because there’s no beach up there. Let’s see how long our tranquility lasts.

  2. Uomo Universale says:

    Great great great article. Also, what strikes me about this article is that it was done by someone who is not in the construction or design fields. I’m always glad when i see people who are looking on from the outside who can sense when something is not quite right and are willing to step outside of their comfort zone to make themselves be heard. As for the article itself there’s not much more i can add as you’ve made most of the important points. Hopefully it can be submitted to one of our major newspaper companies.

  3. Cee Jay says:

    All about a lack of long-term vision for Jamaica’s tourism product.

    If you think that the concept for the property is bad and that visually its awful, you need to check out the ‘bee hives’ on the North Coast. To think that in the past Jamaican nationals building similar properties had to conform with all kinds of planning and environmental regulations. Non-nationals, however, are not subject to the same rules – they are deemed INVESTORS – and as such they are sacred cows.

    I guess since most of our leaders were and/or are seniors, for them development is all about the next 5 years. It will be very interesting to see the impact of those tourism developments over the next 20-50 years. Dare I use the ‘S’ word? In other words, are they sustainable?

  4. Reblogged this on Jamaican Journal and commented:
    This blog is worth a read. It speaks to preservation and development issues in Jamaica. Happy Friday!

  5. Emma Lewis says:

    Like the writer I have no specialized knowledge of design, construction, etc. But clearly, CLEARLY, something is wrong. I understand that the area where Sandals Whitehouse was built was a wetland (actually I had visited there some years before it was built, I remember it) and breeding ground for crocodiles, fish etc. I heard rumors that crocodile nests were destroyed and concrete literally poured on top of the animals and their nesting sites, when it was built. And like you, how ridiculous to have a European-themed hotel in the Caribbean. But that isn’t the main issue here obviously. In our Twitter debate with Minister Crawford I raised the issue of eco-tourism (which is actually big business in the region these days) but he did not respond. Now I hear him talking on radio about “equilibrium.” What does tourism “development” really mean? Meanwhile, tourism numbers are falling in Jamaica. I wonder why?

  6. christobolb says:

    Manatees, wow. Jamaican people have to respect for what the lord has blessed them with. They sell the country out to foreign entities and when that is not enough they destroy it. A day will come when the lad will yield a serious drought upon them.

  7. christobolb says:

    IN the national anthem there is a verse that states “Jamaica land we love” , where is the love?

  8. owen says:

    lets sell that shit to the highest bidder! thats the current thought process. Sell what we have so we can keep living it up today!

Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] more here: Absurdity in St. Elizabeth and Westmoreland, Jamaica … . Tags: 360-room, a-360-room, a-good-idea, arranged-into, dutch, europe-, folks-from, french, […]

  2. […] and so would be serious about protecting the resources upon which the industry depends? I have wondered about this before…bewilderment is an understatement.  Fun […]

  3. […]  For your information, the feature picture for this post is one I previously used for post called Absurdity in St. Elizabeth and Westmoreland, Jamaica.  Somehow it seemed appropriate to reuse it […]

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