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Although he was not rich, he was comfortable, and he owned his own house, the house that Ciddy and Nesta lived in, the surrounding lands, and a thirty-acre spread called Smith on a nearby mountaintop. Work would begin before the sun came up. He would boil some fish tea over the fire on the stone stove outside the house and drink it, and then walk through the hills to the property at Smith.

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The work was long, hard, and hot. To prepare the yam field, they would clear the ground, dig holes, and mash up the earth with manure. The cuttings from old yams were stuck in the holes, and peas were planted all around to attract snails and prevent them from attacking the yams. When the vines started, Nesta would stick poles in the dirt for them to run up.

There were other crops to plant and harvest as well—cocoa bean, dasheen, corn, and sugarcane. At the end of the long day, if Nesta was riding the horse, he would race off down the hills. Omeriah had a gate in front of his house and Nesta would ride toward it at full speed, pull up, and have his horse leap into the air over the barrier. And the gate is about five feet tall. Ciddy was a member of the church choir, and Nesta joined, too. Singing is a spirit. Me love harmony. From long time me hear plenty harmonies, even certain times some imaginary harmonies.

He had an organ, fiddle, and banjo, and sometimes he would play rumba music and get people dancing. Omeriah also owned a Delco generator, one of the only ones in the area, and on Sundays he would start it up and friends and family would gather round to listen to the radio. Sometimes they would hear a sermon, sometimes music from Cuba, sometimes tunes from America.

Nesta often stopped by to listen. The only Englishspeaking radio station we heard was from Miami, but we got a lot of Latin stations, mostly from Cuba, before and after Castro. My music defend righteousness. After the British invasion, the black inhabitants of the island— many of them slaves from the Gold Coast of Africa who first arrived around —fled to the hills and forests of Jamaica. The British and Spanish had plenty of names for the black rebels. Music was an important part of the Maroon arsenal. British soldiers, over hundreds of years of fighting, were almost never able to successfully surprise Maroon troops.

There scarce a week passeth without one or two slain by them, and as we grow secure, they grow bold and bloody. A wide and complex variety of calls were employed, and it was said that a skilled abeng player could refer to an individual Maroon soldier by name simply by blowing his horn. The British, despite their superior numbers and supposedly advanced weaponry, had no way of signaling to one another over long distances.

Using the abeng to rally their forces, Maroons staged many surprise attacks against them. In Jamaica, the ethnic group that made up the bulk of the Maroons is known as the Koromantee or the Coromantie.

The Koromantees, once they reached the New World, developed a reputation for bravery, resourcefulness, and rebelliousness. They led many of the rebellions that took place in Jamaica between and the s, which eventually helped force the English to free their slaves. Led by the military genius of Maroon warriors like Cudjoe and his brothers, Accompong and Johnny, they were outgunned and outmanned, but relied on techniques suited to their environment to outmaneuver their foes.

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Before the legend : the rise of Bob Marley

In , Maroon fighters gave a peaceful demonstration of their gymnastic fighting style to the governor of Jamaica. This part of their exercise indeed more justly deserves to be [styled] evolution than any that is practiced by regular troops, for they fire stooping almost to the very ground, and no sooner are their muskets discharged than they throw themselves into a thousand antic gestures, and tumble over and over, so as to be continually shifting their place; the intention of which is to elude the shot as well as to deceive the aim of their adversaries which their nimble and almost instantaneous change of position renders extremely uncertain.


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In , exhausted from decades of fighting, the British forces commissioned a Colonel Guthrie to seek out the Maroon leader Cudjoe and sue for peace. Cudjoe traveled down the winding mountain paths to meet with his longtime enemies at Petty River Bottom. He was around sixty years old at the time, and had been fighting since he was about twelve.

He carried with him a long musket, a bag of shot, a powder horn, and a machete in a leather sheath he had tucked under his armpit. After the signing, Cudjoe trekked back to his home in the mountains. A round the age of four, Nesta began to read palms. Ciddy would hear stories about his fortune-telling from friends, relatives, and neighbors. She put little stock in it; Nesta was only a small boy, after all, and people were always telling stories of weird goings-on in the Jamaican countryside—stories of duppies a kind of Jamaican ghost , of rolling calves cows that burn with mysterious fire , and the like.

Nanny, a Maroon warrior queen, was said to have possessed the ability to catch bullets in the air. One day, a relative, Aunt Zen, came to Ciddy to tell her another tale. But Ciddy knew that there was a mystic streak in her family. Through Maroon culture, many aspects of African culture were preserved—including supernatural practices and rituals. Omeriah was known around the area as a skilled myalman.

Myalmen were direct descendants of African medicine men. Practitioners were part of a secret society that preserved the use of herbs and dances to cure the sick. The practice refused to die. Myalmen were often seen as the counter to obeahmen. While the obeahman often conducted his rituals in a graveyard, the myalman conducted his ceremonies around a cotton tree, which was thought to be the locus of power for the spirit world.

Dancing was another important part of the myalist creed. In , Monk Lewis witnessed a ritual in which myalmen danced until they seemingly fell dead from exhaustion and then were revived when the juice from various herbs was squeezed into their mouths. He could help free such souls with his dance.

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When Nesta was an ailing six-month-old infant, Omeriah used his skills as a myalman to nurse him back to health. He was a bright child and often tutored the other students in counting and reading. But Nesta soon came to take more interest in singing than in his other lessons.

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At lunchtime at school, he would play soccer—with oranges or grapefruits used instead of a ball—and when all the running and kicking was done, he would sing—so softly that he could barely be heard. Despite his soft voice, he won a pound at a local singing contest held at Fig Tree Corner. When Nesta was six, Captain wrote Ciddy and asked that the child be sent to Kingston for tutoring.

It was one of the only times Nesta would ever see his father.


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Captain dropped Nesta off at the home of a white woman named Mrs. Ciddy traveled to Kingston herself and took her boy home.

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There has never been extensive train service in Jamaica. The mountains, forests, and rivers make the construction of railways a difficult and expensive proposition. The most frequently boarded trains are rails of the imagination. Train imagery, however, is common in Jamaican song, a metaphorical import from England and from the blues, soul, and country songs islanders have heard on American radio programs. There are many Jamaicans who are always hoping to go somewhere, even if they are going nowhere.

Some folks living in the country want to go to the city; some residents of the city dream of returning to the country. Still others have visions of leaving for America, and more than a few Jamaicans who have left for America long to return home. And so the fantasy train travels on, making impossible journeys. When kids sang the song, they would form a line with friends and shuffle forward or backward in accordance to the lyrics. Linstead train a come, pah, pah Everybody come together Ewarton train a come, pah, pah Everybody back together, pah, pah The song of the city was calling out to Nesta.

He was a slight, energetic child who was serious about his schoolwork. He was equally serious about his pastimes. When Bunny did something, he applied himself. He had no time for foolishness. The two had met when Nesta was eleven years old and Bunny was nine.