Parallel Broughtons

Submitted by Editor on Sun, 01/11/2009 - 19:19

Unreliable geographies by Aeneas McHaar

No. 1: New Broughton, Jamaica
18º 12’ N, 18º 13’ W

New Broughton is a rural community of around 450 souls in the parish of Westmoreland. Most are fishermen or subsistence farmers.

Presbyterians from Edinburgh’s Broughton McDonald United Presbyterian Church, funded by the Broughton Place Missionary Society, founded New Broughton Church in 1837. Scotland’s National Archives contain reports on their missions from 1831–1942, including the Rev. Andrew Hogg’s letters about professional and personal concerns, health and financial problems, acquiring a manse, and murders announcing the Morant Bay Rebellion (1868). Hurricane Ivan ruined the church in 2004.

In 1873 one Charles J.G. Rampini sojourned in this ‘negro village’, rhapsodising upon the number and variety of birds: parrots, canaries, ground doves, quails, partridges, red-throated woodpeckers, black and golden banana birds, two-penny chicks, mocking-birds, old-man birds, Barbadoes blackbirds, pelicans, boobies, swallows and martens, picaflors, and ‘a weird old owl ... in search of food for her screaming progeny’.

These pleasant recollections then detailed a further 8 kinds of local fowl, numberless fish, black crab, 5 turtle species, and ‘the entirely gentle and harmless’ manatee, all of which Rampini devoured. Jamaicans, he noted without irony, described a wild fig’s parasitic destruction of a cotton tree as ‘the Scotchman hugging the Creole to death’.

Nowadays, most New Broughtonians live in wooden shacks, and socialise around shops lining unmade tracks to the beach. Each grocery has its specialism: Tom’s sells peanut porridge; Myrna’s, famous coconut drops; Laddie’s serves fried saltfish; Juliet’s chickens help finance 3 kids through college; Pippi’s has a TV. ‘When open,’ says one guide, ‘Miss Beryl’s offers a variety of food supplies, from Cheese Puffs to margarine to canned goods.’

108 children attend 5 classes at the primary school, with an attendance rate of 87%.

Despite frequent power cuts and serious poverty, locals boast that ‘no crime has ever been committed here’. However, the New Broughton Sunset Rehabilitation & Correctional Facility caters for harmless old criminals from all over Jamaica aged 54+. They grow food for locals and ‘tidy and beautify public places’, rather like our own Friends of King George V Park and Broughton Project Group.