For the rest

Jamaica, the land of wood and water, is rich in the possession of
countless streams of clear, rushing water. Each of its mountains and
rocky hills contains at least one or two fine waterfalls; each of its
peaceful valleys is streaked with a silver band of river-water flashing
in the sun. To say which of all the rivers might be counted the most
beautiful would be to offend a thousand streams, and all the Jamaican
districts save one. But this at least can be said. No stream in Jamaica
is more beautiful than that part of the Rio Cobra River that flows from
Spanish Town, seawards, through the country called by the islanders, Bog
Walk.

I know a man who was sent by his English doctor to Jamaica for rest and
change. He landed in Kingston and, falling in love with the island,
determined to stop for many weeks. After three days he left Kingston for
Spanish Town, and there he saw Bog Walk.

His intention had been to stop in Spanish Town one night and then
journey farther inland in order to thoroughly explore the country.
Spanish Town delighted him; Bog Walk fascinated him. He bought a
fishing-rod and sat in a punt, anchored in the centre of the Rio Cobra
River at Bog Walk, smoking his pipe and catching fish for five weeks. He
could not tear himself away. And that was all the Jamaica he ever saw.
He had seen Kingston and Spanish Town and Bog Walk, and that he counted
quite enough. And who, knowing these places, knowing the Rio Cobra River
at Bog Walk especially, would be foolish enough to count my friend
foolish. At any rate he saw enough to enable him to say that Jamaica is
the most beautiful country in the world. That is his unqualified
opinion. To him Jamaica is a white city filled to overflowing with
bungalows and coloured people; and a glorious golden valley rich in
tropical trees and fairy flowers which shelter a clear river alive with
fish and brilliant weed. For five weeks he lived in Paradise, at peace
with all the world. His Jamaica is the memory of that time. For our part
we saw the rich Cobra River and drifted down along the shores of Bog
Walk in a flat punt, listening to the music of the birds and the melody
of the insects; watching the shadows of heavy trees flirting with the
river ripples; shivering along the dark stretches where the sky was
blackened by the heavy bamboo clumps, and listening, awe-stricken, to
the noise of their clicking stems. The beauty of the bamboo is a
melancholy beauty; the high canes, fluttering with wavy foliage at their
heads, look cold and miserable along their stems. Our sporting friend,
Large, said they reminded him of those unpleasant

[Illustration: DRY HARBOUR, JAMAICA]

moments in his school days when he chose corporal punishment in
preference to Latin lines. Forrest would not paint them. They were too
foolishly ugly. And I will leave them alone and remember only the rich
river glades of sunlit water studded with white lilies and aflame with
brilliant weeds. I will call to mind the banks filled with palm trees,
thin bush-topped giants, straight as arrows or curved like the archer’s
bow. The palm groves, planted by the mysterious hand of nature in the
form of army corps in battle formation; the front-rank trees on either
side of the stream engaged in bowing in accordance with the chivalry of
romantic forests. The bent trees form a graceful arbour, miles long. The
sun, filtering through the palm-tree roof, spangles the river with
flashing gems of light. And both banks are cool and soft and filled with
scented plants and gaudy blossoms. Occasionally a dragon fly, pursued by
twittering birds, flashes ahead, twisting and doubling like tropical
lightning. Our punt makes no noise as it floats down stream, guided from
the stern by a negro with a bamboo pole. I sit in the bow and watch the
little brown, river-tortoise, the water-rats and gleaming fish.

In the water of the Rio Cobra River there is only one thing that is not
really beautiful, and that is the tortoise. Made into ornaments for my
lady’s hair, the shell of the tortoise is full of subtle fascination.
But on the back of its mother reptile the shell is coloured like the mud
of the Thames at Lambeth; and in the scum that hides the beauty of the
shell weeds of the darkest, dreariest kind grow, like seaweed on an old
wooden sailing-ship. When the tortoise swims the weeds trail from his
back like a cluster of rats’ tails.

Animal life is not in evidence. The most remarkable thing in connection
with Jamaica is the fact that, practically, it cannot boast the
possession of a single indigenous animal larger than the rat species.
The island should be filled with deer. The high bush-covered mountain
slopes would give cover to the greatest of the antlered tribe, and here
among the trees of the valleys and the water of the clear rivers one can
imagine that the quiet pools are the drinking-places of herds of
elephants. But Jamaica is barren so far as animals are concerned. Not
even a monkey scrambles among the leafy vastness of the heaviest
forests, and even in the thickest undergrowth a man may tread with
safety.

Large, who in England is a squire and a sportsman, frequently bemoaned
this lack of animal life. “Put a herd of deer in each of the forests of
Jamaica, and in five years the island will be the sportsman’s paradise,”
he said. And I have no doubt his estimate was correct. I put his opinion
on record for the benefit of those who run the island for profit.

Our boat floated along a stream so narrow that one’s arm, stretched
horizontally at full length, would have measured the exact width; the
attitude would have enabled our fingers to brush through thick beds of
flowering orchids. We passed a native ruthlessly cutting away fragrant
weeds with a murderous machette; we swept beneath a bridge of solid
masonry, and in a little time emerged into a great pool of silent water
which made our little craft pause, and enabled us to dream in peace. It
would be a horrible thing to travel at more than one knot speed down
this river of scented beauty.

We remained quietly still and gazed at a scene as glorious as a young
child’s dream-fairyland. A dream of wood and rock and water, shaded and
shrouded by the wildest mass of luxuriant tropical foliage.

This Jamaica is indeed the Queen of the Antilles, the fairest jewel in
the golden Caribbean, the land of perpetual music and light and beauty.
As I have already written, its name should be God’s island. Its beauty
cannot be translated by art or word or music. It is a dreamland and a
land of dreams.

People talk of its industrial backwardness, its commercial weakness,–of
the impossibility of its finances. I myself have written of its
commercial future. As well discuss the poverty of the convolvulus or the
nakedness of the lily. Jamaica was created by Providence to show mankind
something of the meaning of beauty. It was to stand as an explanation of
Eden–a glimpse of Paradise. Nature never intended that it should become
a rum garden, or even a field for speculative agriculture. It is just a
place that should be allowed to stand for ever as the garden of the
world; the vigorous yet languorous Hesperian reflection of all the
beauty of the east and west and north and south; the heart and soul of
terrestrial beauty. We drifted along, but I know not what else we saw.
I remember the place in a hazy manner; my memory serves me as though it
were a kaleidoscope whose every piece of broken glass was a glimpse of a
new world fitted with joyous life and beauty.

I know that we slipped anchor at last and drank the milk from green
cocoanuts. I know that we got into a buggy and drove along a white dusty
road and reached a place where a meal was served and eaten. But most of
all I remember that across the pools and streams of the Bog Walk gorge
of the Rio Cobra River is to be heard the music of the stars and the
rich lullaby of the rustling of angels’ wings. And Large said it would
have been better had there been a few deer about; Forrest had put down
his sketch-book with a sigh.

For the rest any Jamaica guide-book will tell you that the flat-bottomed
river-boat cost you only a few silver coins.

I met him in a country road a few miles out of Spanish Town. He was a
well-dressed black, and had that air of sanctity about him which
immediately suggests the church of Nonconformity. He wished me good
morning with cheerful superiority, and I engaged him in conversation. He
was not a parson, but he prayed to God that he was a good Christian and
a deacon of His holy Church. He would have discussed every dogma known
to Christendom had I been in the philosophic mood. But I led the way to
politics, and my friend found congenial ground.

He was an Imperialist and a Protectionist, and withal, he added, a
staunch democrat. He believed in God and Jamaica and the negro race.
Jamaica for the Jamaicans. It must be a government for the people by the
people. Not a fantastical caricature of law-making and liberty which
always could be vetoed by a despotic Governor and his clique. He hoped
he was loyal to the Crown and to the King of Britain, but his heart bled
for his own country and his own race. He was prepared to make Jamaica
the horizon of his political outlook. His duty to God was to attend to
the needs of the people of his own race and blood settled in the country
of their birth. “We black people outnumber you whites by at least forty
to one; is it rational that we should always submit to your despotic
government? Though the British Government is the cleanest and the most
enlightened in the world, neither Imperial Parliament nor a Governor
four or five years resident in the colony, properly understands the
needs of Jamaica. Since the population is black let the Government be
black. The British gave their slaves unconditioned freedom; that was an
act for which no negro owes any thanks to Britain. Freedom is the
natural right of every individual, whether he is white or black; so the
black man owes no thanks to the white for having been permitted to claim
his natural heritage of freedom. Rather do the whites owe a great debt
to the black for the gross injustice of the slave days.” That was a
matter he did not wish to press. To-day he and the people of his race
are, as individuals, entirely free. His complaint was that politically
they were still bound. They are not permitted to govern themselves as
they would like to do. The Governor of Jamaica has never been a black
man. Yet, for all practical purposes, the population of Jamaica is
entirely black.

My friend had scathing criticisms to offer on the questions of the
Jamaican Representative Government. The minority–by law it is a
permanent minority–of the members of the legislative assembly are
elected by the people. The elected members were returned after having
pledged themselves to certain measures. These measures were, in the
majority of cases, thrown out by the Governors’ permanent legal
majority. Government under such conditions was characterised by my
friend as being little better than a farce. He repeated his phrase
“fantastical caricature of law-making.”

“What would you have?” I asked.

The verbosity of his reply was only equalled by its vehemence.

“I would have Jamaica governed as England is governed. The people of
this island have every moral right to govern themselves, to frame their
own laws and to administer those laws. We are no longer barbarians; we
are an educated people with ambitions, and the strength to attain our
ambitions. We recognise that it is a fine thing to be a part of the
great Empire of Britain, but we recognise, even more clearly, that it is
a finer thing to be a free, unfettered nation. England will always have
our heartiest support and affection. When we have become a nation and
ceased to be a crown colony, Jamaica will always feel that really she is
the child of Britain.”

“So you anticipate that one day Jamaica will be entirely independent of
England?” I asked.

“It is inevitable,” he replied. “Already the more educated coloured
people feel the bitterness of their semi-dependence. Already the
smouldering embers of the fire of absolute freedom are in evidence
throughout the land. We are not without our politicians. We are not
without our leaders; perhaps we have not yet found one quite strong
enough to lead us on to political victory. We have not found our
Cromwell. But, some day, soon, a strong man will appear, and Jamaica
will become an independent nation.”

“And what about the white men?”

“They will be unaffected. They will always be made welcome in our
country; law and order will prevail under the new system just as it
prevails to-day. You English have taught us how to become a great
people; you have given us the immeasurable benefit of your religion; you
have given us a framework for our laws and constitution. When the time
comes for us to make full use of that knowledge, you will find that your
wisdom was not thrown to waste.”

“But the freedom you aspire to can only come by revolution.”

“Political revolution–yes; armed revolution–no. We natives of Jamaica
think we frequently see indications in your English Parliament that your
Liberal party would not be averse to granting us that freedom which, one
day, we shall be strong enough to demand. I believe that in the end
justice must prevail. I know that our independence must come because I
know that it is just that it should come.”

“And,” I suggested, “if you cannot obtain it by peaceful methods you
will take it by armed force?”

“I do not think, when we are ready, that armed force will be necessary.
Jamaica is no longer of great value to England.”

[Illustration: ON THE BEACH, BARBADOES]

“But England guards the interests of her children, and nearly all the
land of Jamaica belongs to English planters.”

“The land of Jamaica belongs by natural right to the people of Jamaica.”

“You believe in the doctrine of land nationalisation?”

“I believe in the doctrine of justice.”

“Would you propose to compensate the planters when you despoil them of
their land?”

“That I cannot say. Compensation such as that would be a simple act of
grace. Morally it would not be necessary.”

I mentioned to him that I had heard much about the annexation of Jamaica
by the United States.

“That will never come about,” he said. “Jamaicans would not stand it,
America does not desire it. But it would be better for America if we
were entirely independent.”

“Why?” I asked.

“When the Panama Canal is completed Jamaica will be a place of some
strategical importance,” he replied.

The conversation drifted to the condition of the people. I mentioned
that the intelligence of the majority of the coloured people was not
equal to the standard of the white.

“There I disagree,” he said. “So far we have not produced one great man.
We have no great statesmen or warriors or divines. But in the mass our
people compare favourably with the agricultural labourers of England,
Germany or France. They are a clean-living, quiet people, easily led and
easily governed.”

“You know Europe?” I asked.

“I lived in England ten years,” he replied. “I have been to many of the
continental capitals. But my heart has always been in Jamaica. I like my
own people best. We live a happier life than any European people, and we
are cleaner in our mode of living.”

“Yet,” I ventured, “the majority of the children born on the island are
illegitimate.”

“True,” he admitted, “but have you seen in Kingston, or anywhere else in
the island, any traces of an immorality to equal the wickedness of
London, Paris, or Berlin?”

I took refuge in the remark. “If you are so happy why change your
condition; why attempt to alter your system of Government, why attempt
to become an independent nation?”

“Because we have ambition, and because it is good for any nation that
its children shall be eligible for the highest honours the nation can
give. As a people we cannot be perfectly happy while we know that
another race has drawn a chalk circle, as it were, round us, and has
said, Thus far you may go, but not beyond. The possibility of
maintaining a permanent minority in the legislative council is the chalk
mark.”

“How long will it be,” I ventured, “before the chalk mark is erased?”

“That I cannot say and do not care to guess.

[Illustration: OFF TRINIDAD]

Perhaps five years, perhaps less than five years, or perhaps it will be
a quarter of a century. Your Liberal party may rub out the chalk for us,
or—-”

“Or,” I insisted.

“America may suggest to England that it would be a graceful thing to
do.”

We walked along together and for some time there was a silence. Then my
friend began: “It is the only thing. The only possible solution of the
many Jamaican problems. The weakness of the English rule in Jamaica is
that the island is governed by those who are paid to govern. The
ambition of the majority of the English officials seems to be to earn
their money and begone. Jamaica is not their home. Just as I in England
always thought of this island as home, and worked in England so that I
might return here, so do the English people think of England while
living here. It would be foolish to expect anything else. The more
ambitious servants of the British Government work hard here, not so much
for the good of the place as for the good of themselves. They want to
make a noise and distinguish themselves. Their hearts are set on
promotion, not on the well-being of the people of the Government. The
same applies to some extent to the planters. English planters who have
settled in the island feel that they are living in exile. If they cannot
make money enough to afford long holidays in England,–if they cannot
send their wives to England every year and their children to English
schools,–they complain of their poverty. Economically that is wrong; it
is not fair to the country that so much money made in Jamaica should be
spent in England. I am a planter–a very successful planter. I make
quite enough money to live here in the greatest comfort, but I could not
afford prolonged holidays in England, neither could I afford to send my
wife and children there. If I were an Englishman I should bewail my fate
and call myself a pauper. As it is I count myself rich. I want no more
than I have.”

“But,” I said, “you have your tourists here. Surely more money comes
into the island from the pockets of English and American tourists than
goes out by reason of the holidays of the planters.”

“Yes,” he admitted. “But the tourist money goes to the hotel-keepers and
retail dealers in the towns. The money the planters take out is taken
from the agricultural districts; money which should have been invested
in agriculture, spent in improving the sugar plantations and the fruit
fields. We cannot hope to become rich because we have rich hotels and
flourishing tradesmen. We can hope to become rich if our agricultural
resources are developed, if our plantations are improved, and more
machinery is imported. The English planters treat the island as though
it were a gold mine to be sucked dry and then abandoned. The coloured
people know that Jamaica is not that. The three quarters of a million of
a people can only be supported in comfort by the commercial advancement
of the country. Do not forget that our population is rapidly
increasing.”

“I see at least one insurmountable difficulty in your path,” I said.
“Even if your dream of freedom came true, how would you deal with the
half-breed population?”

“We should absorb them,” he replied. “They are at one with us in our
dream of freedom.”

“And you can trust them to be at one with you always?” I asked.

“They will be our Irish,” he replied.

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