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Zakiya McKenzie: Excerpt from Testimonies on the History of Jamaica Vol 1

In her pamphlet ‘Testimonies on the History of Jamaica Vol 1’, writer Zakiya McKenzie imagines what the people of Jamaica in the 17th century might have said, given the chance. The following is an excerpt from Tansy’s Testimony. The Character Tansy, born into slavery, worked for the Long and Moore families, who were among the first set of English people to capture Jamaica in 1655. Tansy travelled with Edward Long writer of the infamous 1774 publication, ‘The History of Jamaica Vol 1’, and Edward’s sister, Catharine Long Moore. Catherine’s Peak in Jamaica is named after her after; she is said to be the first woman to climb the hill.

Ms Tansy:

Me travel all over Jamaica with the Longs and then with Catharine Moore. They keep me close ‘cause me quiet and them think me ignorant, but me just can’t bother argue with any of them for me decide one day that if me get one more beating, me going to kill one of them. From that day me stop argue and just do what me told. All over Jamaica me go, carrying bag and pan and walking miles for them to write book and draw picture and pretend to love Jamacaru family.

Me was there, you know! Me was there when the one them call Hans Sloane visit Jamaica and collect all the plants him carry back to Queen Anne in England. Him, Dr Barham, Dr Patrick Brown—they send back most of the things from the Americas that they really and truly become addicted to. They draw and write description of every plant and animal and try to claim what Queen Jamacaru lay out as for themselves. Me was there when him collect all of them, and the whole of it was there before we, so they don’t really know what they even do the collecting for. By time all of them wish finally come to be, England create a ‘botanical garden’ in 1779 at Bath in Saint Thomas in the Vale where they generally call ‘The Walks’ because all the white people visit the parish and walk around saying “ahhh” and “oooh” at the things that grow there.

When the Moores travel (and they travel a lot, for Catharine husband Henry become governor of Jamaica) me get to see all about what happening in different place. In Saint Andrew, by Mona estate, there is a market that me love to visit to see some of the new food they bring into Jamaica that now growing here. Slave no get to know all these food, for they bring it in for the white people to eat, but some of them grow here anyway and me just get to learn about the other variety from other Caribbean country or from North America where they have good fruits. The River of the Hope freshen up this part of the island. At the market at the bottom of the river near Papine plantation, me get to see French bean, celery, radish, lettuce, cucumber, strawberry, melon, mulberry, some strange apple, fig and all kinds of peas. Some of the same fruit grow in Clarendon you know, like the quince trees at Old Woman’s Savannah. Or you could even get the fruit they call nectarine at the Vale at Lluidas but enough of it grow in Liguanea Mountain in Saint Andrew where the air cool and the soil ready for it, so it taste better from there. They don’t make me plant it to sell like sugar though. No! They only bring it because some wife complain that she going back to England at once
if she don’t get something for her figgy pudding. Me know because me was right there with them.

Zakiya McKenzie was born in South London, raised in Kingston and now lives in the southwest of England. In 2019 she was Writer in Residence for Forestry England and, at Ujima 98FM in Bristol, she was a Black and Green Ambassador in 2017. Zakiya is a PhD candidate at the University of Exeter with the Caribbean Literary Heritage project researching Black British journalism in the post-war period.

Zakiya is speaking on the panel at our upcoming talk Sowing Roots: The Stories of Plants. Join us on Tues 23 November, 7pm.
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