A report by Orantes Moore for Jamaica’s Gleaner.
JACK’S RIVER, St Mary:
As general manager of the Taino Heritage Camp (THC) in Jacks River, St Mary, Jenna Gregory-Archer spends her time coordinating educational tours to help students and corporate groups explore and understand Jamaica’s brilliant, but largely unknown, indigenous history.
The camp, which aims to empower visitors with key information about Jamaica’s ancient heritage, is set on an idyllic 15-acre property and run by Gregory-Archer’s family in accordance with the Ministry of Education (MoE)’s national curriculum.
Since launching in 2014, the project has earned endorsements from the Institute of Jamaica, the Rural Agricultural Development Authority, and Education Minister Ruel Reid, who has invited 28 schools from across the country to take part in the camp’s annual Areito (community celebration) next month.
According to Gregory-Archer, the THC, which was initially established as a mechanism to support vulnerable young men, features a series of interactive activities designed to engage visitors with knowledge about Taino culture, stories, food and music.
She told Rural Xpress: “As a family, we’ve been in education for about 13 years, teaching at-risk young males. As a part of that, every year we would have a team-building camp that ran under different themes, but would always incorporate heritage.
“We found it was a very effective tool in confidence-building and decided to create a similar platform, but one that all young people could have access to. The result is a series of activity-based experiences that are exciting and informative.
“It’s personal development under the guise of fun, so even though you’re working, you don’t feel like you are. Coming to the THC isn’t like going to a museum to see statues, words, and pictures. Here, you are re-experiencing and relearning your Taino culture, the culture of Jamaica and the Caribbean.”
Looking ahead, the THC hopes to launch a book on Jamaican history and encourages all Taino descendants to contact the organisation and share their stories. Gregory-Archer estimates that around 30 per cent of the population carry Taino blood, and subsequently believes that for Jamaica to realise its full potential, the nation’s citizens must first comprehend the cultural relevance of their Taino roots.
She explained: “It’s important for Jamaicans to understand that they belong in this country because they’ve been here since at least 650 AD, and will continue to promote and develop upon their heritage, which can be seen in things like architecture and some of the words we use daily.
“The words ‘hammock’ and ‘barbecue’ are examples of Caribbean words that have been exported globally: a hammock was something the Tainos slept in and was called a ‘hamaca,’ and barbecue comes from the Taino word ‘barbacoa’.
“It’s integral that we know where we’re coming from because, for many years, it’s been kept from us. This country is yours. You belong here and don’t have to say: ‘My ancestors are from Africa, England or Spain.’ My ancestors were here before the slave trade, so I can say: ‘This is my land and culture,’ and it’s important for young people to know that because so many of them are floating.”
The Taino Heritage Camp’s annual Areito takes place on Friday, November 18 in Jacks Hill, St Mary, from 9 a.m. to 4p.m. For more information, call 419-6121 or 726-4464.