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Kingston: A Societal Patchwork

Kingston : un patchwork sociétal
Jérémie Kroubo Dagnini


Au-delà même des appellations de nombreux quartiers de Kingston — Trench Town, Jones Town, Denham Town, Rae Town, August Town etc. — qui font clairement référence à des noms de villes (dans la ville), la capitale jamaïcaine est divisée en deux sections bien distinctes, uptown, composée des quartiers chics et résidentiels du haut de la ville, et downtown, la ville basse, la vieille ville située près du front de mer où vivent les classes populaires et défavorisées. Cette « fragmentation urbaine » analysée par Romain Cruse (2010) and Rivke Jaffe (2016) a finalement accouché d’un véritable patchwork sociétal mettant en exergue des enjeux identitaires, sociaux, politiques, religieux et musicaux. L’étude de Kingston sous le prisme de la différentiation et de la segmentation sociétale forme ainsi le socle de cet article.

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Jamaïque, Kingston
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1Kingston is a town of many towns – Allman Town, Whitefield Town, Trench Town, Jones Town, Rae Town are just a few’ (Farki, 1981: 36). The Jamaican writer and economist, Neville Farki, is perfectly right in his description of Kingston, the capital and largest city of Jamaica. Denham Town and August Town could have even been added to this non-exhaustive list. To some extent, Farki’s quote is a first clue that illustrates the ‘urban fragmentation’ examined by geographers Romain Cruse (2010) and Rivke Jaffe (2016) in their respective article. Besides the designations of these numerous neighborhoods of Kingston that convey the idea of towns embedded in the Jamaican capital itself, it is important to stress that Kingston is also divided into two distinct sections, uptown, the northern part where the wealthiest residents live, and downtown, the historic city center situated near the waterfront which accommodates the low-income population. As a matter of fact, this ‘urban fragmentation’ explicitly gave rise to a true societal patchwork highlighting identity, social, political, religious and musical issues.

2Accordingly, this paper intends to study Kingston through the prism of differentiation and societal segmentation. The first part sketches the spatial structure and development of Kingston as the urban face of Jamaica. The second part outlines the uptown/downtown division, which is one of the most tangible symbols of the social and ethnic segmentation. The third part deals with the political and criminal segmentation. Finally, the last chapter focuses on the cultural segmentation, with particular attention to Trench Town, music and Rastafari.

1. ‘Concrete Jungle’ or ‘King’s stone’: the Urban Face of Jamaica

3Kingston was founded in 1692, thirty-seven years after the British captured Jamaica from the Spaniards. At that time, it was neither the first nor the most important settlement on the island. Port Royal, located at the end of the Palisadoes, was the first town created during the British colonial period, and it provided the colony with its vital maritime link with the mother country (Clarke, 2006: 11). In 1668, Port Royal had 8,000 inhabitants, most of whom were merchants, warehouse-keepers, vintners, and retailers of punch. The prosperous economy of Port Royal enabled it to outstrip Spanish Town in population growth and to serve as the capital of the island for much of the period between the British conquest in 1655 and the 1692 earthquake. In 1692, an earthquake actually destroyed Port Royal, killing hundreds of people and forcing the survivors to resettle on the Liguanea Plain. The central location of the Liguanea Plain relative to the distribution of the population of Jamaica and its size, coastal situation, and proximity to Port Royal made it ideal for resettling the refugees (Clarke: 12). The Council of Jamaica decided that the resettlement should be developed as quickly as possible and named this new area, Kingston, within six weeks of the destruction of Port Royal.

4The eclipse of Port Royal made Kingston not only the commercial centre and principal port of the island, but also the major rival to Spanish Town, the political capital of Jamaica. The population of Kingston experienced a rapid growth in the 18th and 19th centuries, increasing from 5,000 in 1700 to 35,000 in 1828 (Clarke: 13), and it was further intensified after the abolition of slavery in 1838 as the following figures show: 38,566 in 1881; 48,504 in 1891; 59,674 in 1911; 63, 711 in 1921; and 110,083 in 1943 (Roberts, 1957: 51). This growth was mainly due to the demand of the town’s economy and the desires of the rural depopulation.

5In pursuit of these policies, the capital was logically transferred from Spanish Town to Kingston in 1872.

6Concerning rural flight, one must understand that it resulted from a combination of circumstances, among which the aspiration of the newly freed black population to flee rural areas that were a ‘reminder of the Brutal hardships of farm life’ (Chang and Chen, 1998: 14) and an unprecedented crisis in the farming industry. The crisis in the agriculture sector was aggravated by the First World War, the succession of cyclones between 1910 and 1921, the Great Depression of 1929, and the hurricane that destroyed the island in 1930.

7Consequently, when the work stopped in the farms and in the bauxite mines, rural people had no choice but heading to the new capital city to seek a better life. In the meantime, thousands of Jamaicans who had gone to work as temporary laborers in Latin America returned to the island by the 1930s and settled in Kingston too in the hope of making a fresh start. Last but not least, the US and UK anti-immigration measures – the US Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 and the Commonwealth Immigrants Act of 1962 – also indirectly contributed to the urbanization phenomenon. Indeed, no other option was open for most migration candidates but crowding Kingston and its surroundings. As a result, between 1943 and 1960, the population of Kingston increased by 86 per cent to 379,600, namely a quarter of the population of Jamaica (Clarke: 136).

  • 1 Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry is a Jamaican producer well known for his innovative studio techniques and prod (...)

8This demographic growth in Kingston resulted, on the one hand, to labor market saturation and, on the other hand, to a shortage of appropriate housing and infrastructure, which gave rise to mushrooming ghettos and shanty towns at the furthest edges of the city. In the west of Kingston, impoverished areas swelled and spread such as Back O’ Wall (now Tivoli Gardens), Ackee Walk, Jones Town, Boys’ Town, Trench Town (the birthplace of reggae music) or Arnett Gardens, the latter being a government housing project better known by its more evocative nickname, ‘Concrete Jungle’. As a metaphor, ‘Concrete Jungle’ evokes the worst aspects of modern urban life: unnatural landscapes, cold depressing structures of concrete and steel, with man-made towers casting the area into shadow by blocking out the sun, living vegetation nowhere to be found. The east of Kingston wasn’t spared these precarious urban zones like Wareika and Mountain View among others. It is important to highlight that, with the passing years, Kingston has continually been covered in concrete, which clearly stands out against the greenery of the rest of the island baptized ‘the Land of Wood and Water’ by the earliest inhabitants of Jamaica, the Taino Indians. This ‘concrete overdose’ also echoes the subtle nickname given to Kingston by legendary Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry1: ‘King’s stone’ (Katz, 2012: 48, my emphasis).

9So, instead of finding a prosperous life in the city, most of these (in-)migrants faced misery, poverty and insalubrity. This massive urbanization contributed to widening the gap between rich and poor and put emphasis on the concept of two distinct nations within the same city (and by extension within the same country), ‘defined by geographical as much as social altitude’ (Bradley, 2001: 14): uptown, the Jamaica of the rich minority, mostly white and mixed, living in wealthy neighborhoods such as Mona or Liguanea, and downtown, the Jamaica of the poor, Afro-Jamaicans rotting in overcrowded inner-city areas of Kingston such as Back O’ Wall and Trench Town; Cross Roads symbolizing the virtual boundary between these two ‘worlds’.

Photo 1. Arnett Gardens aka ‘Concrete Jungle’

Photo 1. Arnett Gardens aka ‘Concrete Jungle’

Credits: JKD, 7 July 2008.

2. The Uptown/Downtown Division: Social and Ethnic Segmentation

10It was during this period of time that, just like the ‘White flight’2 in the United States, the white upper-middle class began to move away from the waterfront sector, toward which the black rural population rushed, so as to relocate northwards ‘to the Blue Mountain foothills and white-washed, landscaped, luxury villas, with high walls and secure gates’ (Bradley: 14). Indeed, migration movements impacted not only the overall growth of Kingston, but also the proportions of social and ethnic strata. Kingston turned from a less-than-60,000 people mostly white city in 1900 to a 380,000 people mostly black city in 1960, with a significant doubling between 1943 and 1960. Since independence in 1962, the population of the capital has even tripled to reach 937,700 inhabitants in 20113.

11In this context of massive urbanization, the division between uptown and downtown became much more pronounced and turned out to be one of the most tangible symbols of the social and ethnic segmentation. Between 1834 and 1943, ‘the white population of the city declined from about 6,000 to 1,800’ according to Colin G. Clarke (Clarke: 56), hence accounting to only 1.6% of the population of Kingston and 2.8% of the population of Kingston and suburban St. Andrew in 1943. ‘This shift in the distribution of the white population within the corporate area is most important, for it indicates the large number of persons of this racial group who were moving from the parish of Kingston to the suburbs’ (Clarke: 57). In the same year 1943, 30.7% of Kingston’s population was labelled as ‘Brown’ or ‘coloured’ and there were other smaller populations categorized as East Indian (2.6% which includes East Indian Coloureds), Chinese (3.1% which includes Chinese Coloureds) and Syrian (0.3% which includes Syrian Coloureds) among others. The largest percentage of Kingston’s population was obviously black: 60.2% (Clarke: 57).

12It must be reminded that this diversity was formed due to the histories of slavery, colonialism, and indentured labour as well as immigration in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. During this period of urbanization, ethnic segmentation of urban space took place in Kingston in accordance with the typical colonial model. The capital city was fragmented according to social and ethnic factors.

13White citizens monopolized the highest paying jobs in the secondary and tertiary sectors as well as government and justice professions and lived uptown in segregated districts such as Barbican, Mona Heights and Cherry Gardens, which they only share with Syrians and Jews, seen as ‘near-Whites’.

14Syrians – most of whom being actually of Lebanese descent – specialized in the dry goods trade and built up closed communities in the nicest uptown neighborhoods. With the passing years, the Syrians have become a major economic force, tightly integrated and with close ties to the Syrian community in North America and throughout the Caribbean (Bell, 1964: 85). Jamaica’s Jewish population was never large. The first Jews were originally of Spanish and Portuguese origin and were important in the entrepot trade with the Spanish Caribbean. Similarly to the Syrians, they built up relatively impenetrable communities in uptown districts and climbed the social ladder, partly thanks to their light skin pigmentation, their monopoly over the import-export trade and their strong business network in the region.

15Like the Syrians and the Jews, the Chinese were concentrated in commercial activity, but more in retail trade. Terry Lacey points out that ‘[b]y 1963, there were 70,000 Chinese in Jamaica, controlling 90 per cent of the provision trade (dry goods stores) and 95 per cent of the supermarkets, along with restaurants, laundries and betting shops’ (Lacey, 1977: 26). The author adds that the ‘virtual Chinese monopoly of important sectors of retail trade provoked anti-Chinese feelings among the Jamaican masses similar in nature and intensity to anti-Semitism’ (Lacey: 26). As time passed, Chinese people of Kingston scattered in rather wealthy coloured neighborhoods along with the emerging coloured middle-class.

16Finally, black workers and unemployed – and to a lesser extent East Indians – were prevented from carrying out commercial activities and any other lucrative activities through the granting of discriminatory licences and because of their lower level of education. These citizens were packed in overcrowded slums, mainly in West Kingston such as Trench Town where reggae superstar Bob Marley was raised. Since its beginnings, Trench Town, just like the other ghettos, has basically been abandoned and avoided by both the public and private parts of Kingston’s society. It has been isolated and controlled by the inhabitants consisting of police and gang violence.

  • 4 Some scholars like Professor and dancehall expert Carolyn Cooper prefer the expression ‘Jamaican’ t (...)

17Since the 1960s, Trench Town has been an area of violence, but it has been a community too, a political one in particular, notably when political parties – the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and the People’s National Party (PNP) –, in an effort to control electoral districts, started working hand in hand with ghetto gang leaders known as ‘dons’ in Jamaican Patois4. As a result, ‘each ghetto area came to be dominated by a gang with affiliation to one of the two political parties. The city of Kingston was [then] divided like a checkboard into political garrisons controlled by the gangs under the patronage of party leadership’ (Stolzoff, 2000: 84). ‘The “garrisons” are virtually 100% in support of a particular political party and people who support other political parties are usually driven out of such communities’ (Boxill and al., 2007: 151).

Photo 2. Gerbera Close, Mona Heights. One of the wealthier areas of Kingston (Uptown)

Photo 2. Gerbera Close, Mona Heights. One of the wealthier areas of Kingston (Uptown)

Credits: Professor Matthew J. Smith, July 2005.

3. Political and Criminal Segmentation

18Political and criminal segmentation in Kingston is intrinsically linked with the institutionalization of political violence in modern Jamaican politics and the never-ending quarrel for leadership between the JLP and PNP, which dates back from the 1940s.

  • 5 To be precise, they were quadroons. In the context of slave societies of the Americas, quadroons ar (...)
  • 6 For example in the 1970s, Arnett Gardens was a PNP stronghold whereas the lower part of Trench Town (...)

19The JLP and the PNP are the two major political parties of the island, founded by two cousins born to mixed-race parents5, respectively Alexander Bustamante on 8 July 1943 and Norman Manley on 18 September 1938. The JLP is a center-right party and the PNP is a social-democratic party. In the 1940s and 1950s, this quarrel for leadership occurred mainly via their trade unions, the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU) for the JLP and the Trade Union Congress (TUC)/National Workers’ Union (NWU) for the PNP. These political party-trade union alliances led a merciless fight to represent sectors of workforce and to control the construction industry. This strategy implemented to control populations and therefore voters has shaped Kingston into a political checkboard with areas of depressed urban Kingston fiercely loyal to the JLP or the PNP, each rival garrisons being divided by a frontline6 where it is hazardous to pass by. West Kingston was the area which suffered the most from this politicization of districts, the destruction of Back O’ Wall (a PNP garrison) being a significant example that we will discuss later.

20In the mid-1960s, the situation became even more terrible when gangsters invited themselves in the interplay of party-trade union alliances. Indeed, it is at this time that both political parties began to call in gangs so as to help them to have a stranglehold on building sites and consequently to swell the numbers of their voters. They began to pay and arm gangs to intimidate their opponents, taking good care to put dons at the head of these mobs. For instance, Dudley Thompson and Anthony Spaulding, the two PNP strongmen in West Kingston, offered themselves the services of two PNP posses, the Vikings and the Spanglers, respectively based on the waterfront and on Charles Street, downtown Kingston. Later in the 1970s, the same men – Spaulding was then Housing Minister and Thompson was successively Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Minister of Mining and Natural Resources and Minister of National Security and Justice – were known to have close relationships with Bucky Marshall and Tony Welch, two of the most dangerous gunmen in the history of Jamaican gansgterism; Tony Welch was then Concrete Jungle’s don. As for the Minister of Development and Welfare, Edward Seaga, the JLP strongman and Bustamante’s right-hand man, he turned to the Phoenix, a gang based on Salt Lane near Spanish Town Road. In the 1970s, Seaga worked hand in hand with Claudie Massop, member of the Phoenix and Tivoli Gardens’ don, and Carl ‘Byah’ Mitchell, Massop’s lieutenant in Tivoli Gardens (the JLP garrison which replaced PNP Back O’ Wall in the mid-1960s). These pernicious links that were developing between politics, trade unions and gangs resulted in a phenomenal increase in violence and criminality in Kingston, especially during electoral periods.

21During the summer of 1966, the politicization of districts and gangs reached considerable proportions when the PNP Back O’ Wall slum, already partly destroyed by JLP bulldozers in 1963, was completely demolished. Edward Seaga is the man who ordered the complete destruction of the shanty town largely populated by Rastafarians and PNP partisans. In his book, Norman Stolzoff gives precious details regarding this tragic political event: ‘Seaga’s plans for removing the squatters encountered violent opposition, so he had to resort to hiring gang leaders to enforce his orders and supervise the project. The use of brute force by the thugs only made matters worse. The situation escalated, and the government called a “state of emergency” in October 1966 to curb the growing unrest. During the month of state emergency, a joint police and military force was moved to Western Kingston where house-to-house searches were conducted and more than 300 persons were questioned by security forces’ (Stolzoff: 84). Seaga’s goal was to build up new harbor and industrial installations as well as apartments which would accommodate JLP dons like Claudie Massop who, in the 1970s, ruled supreme over this new JLP garrison renamed Tivoli Gardens.

Photo 3. Tivoli Gardens (JLP garrison)

Photo 3. Tivoli Gardens (JLP garrison)

Credits: JKD, 3 July 2008.

22In the late 1960s, like Back O’ Wall which had become Tivoli Gardens, Kingston entered a new era. Political rivalry took a decisive turn toward armed political warfare and the increase in political violence, especially the introduction of guns, generally raised the level of violence in Kingston, including police brutality against civilians. When the JLP and PNP started paying gunmen and handing out firearms throughout ghettos, they did not expect such an escalation of violence. ‘Politicians [had] created a monster they couldn’t control’ (Stolzoff: 85) and became dependent on gangs who threatened ‘to take the initiative from their sponsors’ (Gray, 1991: 122).

  • 7 Christopher Michael Coke aka ‘Dudus’ was the leader of the Shower Posse and don of Tivoli Gardens. (...)
  • 8 For further information on the birth of the politicization of gangs in Kingston, see Jérémie Kroubo (...)

23From the 1960s onwards, the JLP and PNP have resorted to hiring gang leaders to defend their political and economic interests. The politicization of gangs caused unprecedented waves of violence in the 1970s–1980s and today gangs are still affiliated with one of the two major political parties, the Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke affair in 2010 clearly illustrating this fact7. Nowadays, among the main JLP and PNP political garrisons in Kingston, one can mention: Tivoli Gardens (JLP), Denham Town (JLP), Hannah Town (PNP), Jungle (PNP), Rema (JLP), Tel Aviv (PNP) and Southside (JLP) just to name a few, and the following names are the ones of some ghetto-related gangs: the Shower Posse (Tivoli Gardens), the Black Roses Crew (Jungle), Action Pak (Rema) and the Tel Aviv Posse aka the Skulls (Tel Aviv)8.

24Thus, in the mid-1960s, the sociopolitical situation in Kingston became very critical. This particular context contributed to making the ghetto youth more aggressive or ‘ruder’ than ever and, to a certain extent, it gave birth to the rude boy culture, the bedrock of rocksteady music. As for the Rastafarians of Back O’ Wall, they had no alternative but finding refuge in other areas of Kingston. Many resettled in Trench Town, the little section of West Kingston which became widely known for its reggae music and artists. Others decided to relocate to the east side of Kingston in Mountain View, Rockfort or Wareika Hills, where many of Kingston’s musicians learnt about Rasta drumming – partly thanks to Count Ossie and The Mystic Revelation of Rastafari. Consequently, segmentation in Kingston does not limit itself to social, racial and political issues, but it also appears to deal with culture.

Photo 4. The letters ‘PNP’ embedded on the pavement of a PNP garrison in Kingston

Photo 4. The letters ‘PNP’ embedded on the pavement of a PNP garrison in Kingston

Credits: JKD, 27 June 2007.

4. Cultural Segmentation

25As previously said, culture was not spared this concept of segmentation. Indeed, West Kingston and Trench Town particularly was the birthplace of rocksteady and reggae music as well as the home of reggae and Rasta ambassador, Bob Marley, who spent much of his youth in a ‘government yard’ on First Street. His song, ‘Trench Town Rock,’ speaks for itself and has immortalized this vibrant neighborhood. Other Bob Marley songs such as ‘Natty Dread’ and ‘No Woman No Cry’ pay a significant tribute to it. But Bob Marley is not the only one who comes from Trench Town, a large number of great names of Jamaican popular music was raised there such as Alton Ellis, Joe Higgs, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer just to name a few.

  • 9 For further information on the Pinnacle, see Hélène Lee (2003) and Jérémie Kroubo Dagnini (2009).
  • 10 For further information on the YBF, see Chevannes (1994: 152–170).
  • 11 Leader and founder of the Ethiopia Africa Black International Congress (EABIC) aka Boboshantis.
  • 12 Other important events such as the Mission to Africa (1961) and the visit of Haile Selassie, the Ra (...)

26Why was this slum neighborhood the pivotal birthplace of rocksteady and reggae? Nobody can tell it with absolute certainty, but the following arguments can offer some initial explanations. First of all, as mentioned in the previous part, after the bulldozing of Back O’ Wall in 1966, numerous Rastafarians came in flocks to nearby Trench Town, and it is essential to point out that the number of Rastas residing in Back O’ Wall was not insignificant; Hélène Lee mentions ‘thousands of Rastas’ (Lee, 2003: 5), most of whom originating from Pinnacle, the first Rastafarian community founded by Leonard Howell in the hills of St. Catherine in November 1940 and burnt to the ground by the colonial government in June 19589. In other respects, the Rasta movement had already been burgeoning in Trench Town since the late 1940s, partly thanks to the Youth Black Faith (YBF), a group of five young Rastafarian converts – Brother Taf, Pete, Brother Firsop, Badaman, and Watson – based on Ninth Street10. Moreover, the YBF co-organized the very first Rastafari Convention with Prince Emmanuel Edwards11 in Back O’ Wall on March 1, 1958. This Rastafari gathering drew on Rastafarians from around the island and a multitude of other Rasta activists actually participated in this national event, including Mortimo Planno, another resident of Trench Town, a renowned Rastafari elder who belonged to the first generation of urban dreadlock Rastas. In the 1960s, Planno lived in the same neighborhood (Fifth Street) as Bob Marley and other members of the Wailers and became one of Marley’s tutor and mentor, enlightening him about the beliefs and practices of the Afro-centered religion. So in the mid-1960s, Rastafari had been slowly emerging in Trench Town for a little more than a decade, and the arrival of thousands of Rastas from Back O’ Wall only intensified this rise of the movement12, contributing in the meantime to the birth of its driving force: reggae music.

27The complex sociopolitical context, merging extreme poverty and political violence, is a second explanation that we can be put forward in the analysis. As said earlier, during the first half of the 20th century, thousands of people came from rural Jamaica to Kingston to find work, and most of them settled in the western side of the capital city as there were empty lands and also the location was convenient being close to downtown and the market district. But, unfortunately, few Jamaicans found a job in the overcrowded capital because there was simply no job for poor rural black Jamaicans in this (post)-colonial era. There was also a shortage of adequate, decent housing and infrastructure (urban transport and running water among other things). Consequently, most of them did not find anything but poverty and desolation in the image of the overcrowded slums spreading interminably towards the west of Kingston. This is the way Trench Town grew progressively larger and slums filled up the area with footpaths and alleyways connecting them (Chevannes, 1994: 152). ‘The feeling of collective frustration due to this great precarity was a contributing factor to the development of a culture of violence in ghettos [like Trench Town]’ (Kroubo Dagnini, 2011, 191), which was aggravated by the pernicious triangle formed by politics, trade unions and gangs.

28But this was also an ideal breeding ground for the birth of rocksteady which, contrary to preceding largely instrumental ska, allowed rudies to sing their discontent. With rocksteady, there was more space for lyrics, which could carry a message of dissatisfaction or revolt. Furthermore, Norman Stolzoff states that the rude boys who turned towards rocksteady saw it ‘as a viable alternative to exploitation in wage labor, the risks of criminality, and the patronage system of party politics’ (Stolzoff: 81). ‘They modeled themselves after American R&B/ [soul] vocal groups like the Impressions, both musically and sartiorally, but they remained firmly rooted to local musical idioms and cultural sensibilities’ (Stolzoff: 82). Rocksteady became for the young urban outcasts a sort of outlet for the desolation and harshness of ghetto life and so did the succeeding musical genre, reggae music, which embodies a spiritual consciousness, besides a sociopolitical one already present in rocksteady. With reggae music, Rastafari, in full expansion, entered the scene, and Jamaican popular music took a new direction.

29Thus, Western Kingston, especially Trench Town, has played a substantial role in Jamaican popular culture with the development of rocksteady, reggae and Rastafari, but the role of Eastern Kingston must not be neglected in this incredible story, notably the role of the legendary Alpha Boys’ School, based on 26 South Camp Road and which has been credited with influencing the development of Jamaican popular music, thanks to its outstanding alumni: trombonists Don Drummond and Rico Rodriguez, saxophonists Thomas ‘Tommy’ McCook and Lester Sterling, trumpet player Johnny ‘Dizzy’ Moore, drummer Leroy ‘Horsemouth’ Wallace, multi-instrumentalist Winston ‘Sparrow’ Martin and founding member of Israel Vibration Albert ‘Apple’ Craig, just to name a few.

Photo 5. Alpha Boys’ School

Photo 5. Alpha Boys’ School

Credits: JKD, 1 December 2006.

  • 13 One of the major Jamaican sound systems.

30In other respects, Wareika Hills, strongly associated with Count Ossie and the Mystic Revelation of Rastafari, also deserve to be mentioned. Indeed, in the mid-20th century, ‘Count Ossie paved the way for exponents of traditional Rasta music. He began informal drum sessions while living in West Kingston, heartbeat of early Rastafari, in the early 1940s. Moving to Wareika Hills in 1944, the movement grew to become the Stone Love13 of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Their “Grounations” are where top musicians like trombonists Don Drummond and Rico Rodri[g]uez jammed or just hung out. Many who attended learned about roots music and Rastafari. (…) Officially known as Count Ossie and the Mystic Revelation of Rastafari (MRR), the group helped put Wareika Hills and nearby Rockfort on the map as a musical hot spot. The sounds from impromptu jams found their way into ska songs by The Skatalites, a group in which Drummond was a key member’ (Campbell, 2017).

Photo 6. A wall in Trench Town, along Collie Smith Drive, honouring its reggae legends as well as Haile ‘Jah Rastafari’ Selassie

Photo 6. A wall in Trench Town, along Collie Smith Drive, honouring its reggae legends as well as Haile ‘Jah Rastafari’ Selassie

Credits: JKD, 3 July 2008.


31To conclude, we can point out that like all (post)-colonial capital city, Kingston (and more generally Jamaican society) has been founded on segmentation/fragmentation policy, namely on ethnic, social and cultural barriers. The best neighborhoods, housings or music venues (theatres, hotels) were for a very long time strictly reserved for the white and mixed-race elite while the scum of society, that is to say poor Black Jamaicans, remained confined in downtown slums of Kingston. But, as the late Professor Barry Chevannes said: ‘Good always prevails over evil because the human spirit wills it’ (Chevannes in Kroubo Dagnini, 2013: 15).

32Indeed, although this segmentation/fragmentation policy was clearly an evil situation it has indirectly allowed the development of avant-garde subcultures, lifestyles and religions – all Jamaican musical urban genres from ska to dancehall, the rude boy subculture, the sound system culture, the Rastafari religion among others – , which are by now intrinsic to global popular culture. ‘The collective will to survive was greater than the oppressive power to destroy’ (Chevannes in Kroubo Dagnini, 2013: 13), and this glimpse into the long and vibrating history of Kingston proves it. Let us take the case of reggae music; ‘the musical art form that is now a world music, is another gift to the world from a people whose collective will to survive [has] transcend[ed] the oppressor and his oppression’ (Chevannes in Kroubo Dagnini, 2013: 14-15). As for Trench Town, it is certainly a violent neighborhood, but it is also the location of Culture Yard (at 6, 8, 10 Lower First Street), a protected national heritage presenting the extraordinary history and contribution of Trench Town to the Jamaican cultural sphere and by extension to the worldwide one.

Photo 7. Trench Town Culture Yard

Photo 7. Trench Town Culture Yard

Credits: JKD, 7 July 2008.

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1 Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry is a Jamaican producer well known for his innovative studio techniques and production style. He produced a wide range of artists including Bob Marley and The Wailers, Max Romeo and The Congos. Born in the countryside in 1936, Lee Perry settled down in Kingston in the early 1960s.

2 White flight’ is a term that originated in the United States in the 1950s–1960s, applying to the large-scale migration of white people from racially mixed urban regions to more racially homogeneous suburban or exurban regions.

3 According to the World Population Review, URL: <> (last consulted on 1st November 2017).

4 Some scholars like Professor and dancehall expert Carolyn Cooper prefer the expression ‘Jamaican’ to Patois because it makes the link between the language and national identity. For further information, see Jérémie Kroubo Dagnini (2010).

5 To be precise, they were quadroons. In the context of slave societies of the Americas, quadroons are mixed-race people with one quarter African and three quarters European ancestry.

6 For example in the 1970s, Arnett Gardens was a PNP stronghold whereas the lower part of Trench Town, below Seventh Street, was sympathetic to the JLP. So Seventh Street, namely the road connecting the two garrisons became the frontline. The reggae record label, Front Line (a reggae subsidiary of Virgin Records), was named after this concept.

7 Christopher Michael Coke aka ‘Dudus’ was the leader of the Shower Posse and don of Tivoli Gardens. In 2010 he was arrested on drug charges and extradited to the United States. It was no secret that Coke was an associate of Jamaica’s Prime Minister of the time, Bruce Golding (JLP).

8 For further information on the birth of the politicization of gangs in Kingston, see Jérémie Kroubo Dagnini (2011: 207–212).

9 For further information on the Pinnacle, see Hélène Lee (2003) and Jérémie Kroubo Dagnini (2009).

10 For further information on the YBF, see Chevannes (1994: 152–170).

11 Leader and founder of the Ethiopia Africa Black International Congress (EABIC) aka Boboshantis.

12 Other important events such as the Mission to Africa (1961) and the visit of Haile Selassie, the Rasta God, to Jamaica (1966) boosted the Rastafari movement. It must be noted that Rastafari elder, Mortimo Planno, took part in both events.

13 One of the major Jamaican sound systems.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Photo 1. Arnett Gardens aka ‘Concrete Jungle’
Crédits Credits: JKD, 7 July 2008.
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,1M
Titre Photo 2. Gerbera Close, Mona Heights. One of the wealthier areas of Kingston (Uptown)
Crédits Credits: Professor Matthew J. Smith, July 2005.
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,2M
Titre Photo 3. Tivoli Gardens (JLP garrison)
Crédits Credits: JKD, 3 July 2008.
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,2M
Titre Photo 4. The letters ‘PNP’ embedded on the pavement of a PNP garrison in Kingston
Crédits Credits: JKD, 27 June 2007.
Fichier image/jpeg, 792k
Titre Photo 5. Alpha Boys’ School
Crédits Credits: JKD, 1 December 2006.
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,3M
Titre Photo 6. A wall in Trench Town, along Collie Smith Drive, honouring its reggae legends as well as Haile ‘Jah Rastafari’ Selassie
Crédits Credits: JKD, 3 July 2008.
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,2M
Titre Photo 7. Trench Town Culture Yard
Crédits Credits: JKD, 7 July 2008.
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,3M
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Référence électronique

Jérémie Kroubo Dagnini, « Kingston: A Societal Patchwork »Études caribéennes [En ligne], 39-40 | Avril-Août 2018, mis en ligne le 15 juin 2018, consulté le 23 février 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Jérémie Kroubo Dagnini

Docteur en études anglophones (Université Bordeaux 3) et actuellement chercheur associé au Centre d’Etudes Politiques Contemporaines (CEPOC), Université d’Orléans,

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Le texte seul est utilisable sous licence CC BY-NC 4.0. Les autres éléments (illustrations, fichiers annexes importés) sont « Tous droits réservés », sauf mention contraire.

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