BY ALYSSA MAHADEO
Amongst the many attractive sites to behold deep down in Kingston, Jamaica there lies the Trench Town Culture Yard, a place where lessons are learned, life is conquered and legends are born.
Donnette Dowe, Chief Tour Guide and Director of the Trench Town Culture Yard led us on a tour of the trenches where we experienced life in the first place reggae legend Bob Marley called home. Upon entering the culture yard you can feel the significance and deep cultural history of the grounds in the atmosphere surrounding the place. A tree stands at the entrance of the yard, over a hundred years old, the only witness to the many that once inhabited the grounds and left their mark in the tenement yard.
This authentic and original tour throughout the tenement yard, takes you on a journey of life in the trenches, through the small rooms that many residents inhabited and a glimpse at the lifestyle that those legends born there led before they rose to stardom. The Trench Town Culture Yard is an architectural and cultural museum where tourists are welcome and encouraged to visit so they can experience what life used to be like, how it has changed, and how it can still be improved.
Originally the area’s government yards, built back in the colonial era was intended to be a part of a desirable community to reside when Bob’s mother moved there in 1965. Unfortunately the political violence during the 1970s took its toll on Trench Town, and like most of Kingston, gained the reputation as a place that was dangerous and should be avoided due to all of the gang feuds and other political misunderstandings in the area.
Out of the ashes however there rose a new genre of music known throughout the world today as rock steady and reggae. Trench Town community leader Vincent ‘Tata’ Ford was the man that taught Bob Marley how to play the guitar and co-wrote one of Bob’s most popular songs ‘No Woman No Cry,’ a recollection of life in the yard. Bob Marley earned his nickname the ‘Tuff Gong’ on the community’s football fields after his mother relocated to the capital when he was a small boy and moved into a government-built and owned house at 19 Second Street. Bob Marley went to Trench Town and found a community rich in music, religion, nationalism and sports. Alongside Bob Marley also came some of the biggest names in the rock steady and reggae hall of fame including; The Wailers, Joe Higgs, Delroy Wilson, Alton Ellis, Ernie Ranglin, Dean Fraser and the Abbyssinians to name a few, as well as numerous Jamaican notables, from Labour leader and Garveyite St. William Grant to the late Rastafarian elder Mortimer Planno. Famous sports personalities such as cricketer Collie Smith and footballer Carl Brown also hail from Trench Town.
While on the tour you can see Bob’s former residence, the small tenement kitchen where he stayed, that has been preserved and left in its original state as though he were only there yesterday. According to Bob’s widow Miss Rita Marley, it is said to be the place where Ziggy Marley was conceived. Bob’s first vehicle sits broken down and rusted in the yards compound, waiting for him to come back and repair it. Some of the rooms have been converted into a museum style area where no pictures are allowed, as they contain relics, information, photos, newspaper clippings and other artifacts that are kept encased in glass to preserve their original state and add to the authenticity of the experience.
A statue in Bob’s likeness stands in the center of the yard in his signature one love pose pointing towards the heavens paying tribute to his early years and how much hope he gives the current residents of the yard. Residents of the yard live in a unique state of awareness, with their own brand of knowledge to offer, while children sit on their front steps strumming away at their own guitars learning and honing the craft of their predecessors.
Although Trench Town still remains as one of Kingston’s poorest areas, innovative members of this tight-knit community have been working together to find ways in which to regenerate their area using their Heritage and Cultural status for economic development. The first initiative was the establishment in 1993, of the Trench Town Reading Centre on First Street, a library and resource center with a mission to arm locals with information rather than weapons.
The Trench Town Culture Yard and Heritage Site is a vibrant, proud and creative community, a true cultural landmark that entices visitors to Kingston with it’s unique charm and is definitely a must see for those with a serious interest in the roots of Jamaican culture.