Patchwork Culture
by Roy Mackpenfield
Westwood Books Publishing

"I hope that this story will help to secure a lifelong learning of the Maroon culture, especially to those children born outside of Jamaica."

Born and raised in Jamaica, where he lost sight in one eye at an early age, author Mackpenfield emigrated to Wales at nineteen, where he studied, developed professional skills, and for forty years thought of himself as grounded in the United Kingdom. But as older age overtook him, bringing with it near-total blindness, he conceived the ambition to revisit the country of his youth, aided by reuniting with an old friend, Copey, who had returned to Jamaica and offered to assist Mackpenfield in his journey. It turned out to be not only a trip back in time but an immersion in a culture that, while familiar in memory and in the history books he had read, was very different from what he had anticipated. He would need to revise his stereotypes of Caribbean society by fully experiencing the real place and the real people, sincerely seeking a secure legacy of information and memories for his children and grandchildren.

Staying with Copey, the author met a remarkable man who chose to call himself “Ralston.” Ralston’s attitudes and perspectives quickly pulled the visitor into a new view of Jamaica, both as he found it in the present and as it had evolved over the centuries. Parsing the complex history of the African slave contingent of which the author’s family was a part, he would learn that, along with the British who wrested the productive island from the Spaniards who first conquered it, there was a mysterious band of African warriors, including one powerful woman named Nanny, who led a slave rebellion with remarkable success and whose members are honored even now with a yearly ceremony in early January. Attending those festivities, bonding with fellow countrymen, grasping their shared history, and letting himself enjoy the rhythmic music and rich foodstuffs for which the island is famous gave the man from Wales a deep comprehension beyond mere historical fact.

The result is this engaging work, interlacing Mackpenfield’s intimate experiences and emotions with an intriguing exploration of the exotic Jamaican concept of necromancy known as Obeah, its lushly embellished folk tales, and such thorny issues as some islanders’ embrace of the Rastafarian religion and subculture and their enjoyment of cannabis, known there as ganja. Having been raised in a strict family environment and inculcated in rigid British mores, the notion of Obeah—seemingly a sort of mystic manipulation of the spirits of the dead that, Ralston, a practitioner of this mysterious craft, assured him was only used for good deeds—was especially hard to accept. The author also candidly admits to how fearful he was when he saw large groups of Jamaicans openly smoking ganja, sure the police would arrive at any moment. Yet as he began to enjoy the island’s hospitality, its healthy foods, and weather undeniably sunnier and more relaxing than that of Wales, his approaches melded into acceptance, an inner journey that the author effectively recounts in the narrative. He insightfully observes that he gained the intuitive sense that, though the logic was sometimes lost in the traditions he witnessed, what truly mattered was the ability to absorb and help preserve his and Jamaica’s Maroon heritage in all the ways it has expressed itself over the centuries. Mackpenfield’s fascinating account should enchant anyone familiar with his homeland and educate and attract new visitors to it.

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

Return to USR Home