Jamaica 2

Jamaican Taino Arise! - Diane Golding Frankson (Taino)

Left to right: Jake Homiak, Jorge Estevez, Ken Bilby

Mission Purpose: Jake Homiak from the Department of Anthropology at the National Museum of Natural History, Ken Bilby Research Associate, Department of Anthropology, NMNH and Jorge Estevez of the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, will explore the Jamaican countryside, mountain communities, individuals in search of Indigeneity that may or may not be present in modern Jamaica. Jake has been traveling to Jamaica for 35 years working with the Rastafari community while Ken has been returning to Jamaica for 40 years specializing with the maroon communities.This is my 3rd trip to Jamaica, although my first in this capacity.

 Smithsonian Latino Center -SLC

Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History-NMNH

Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian-NMAI


Saturday September 5, 2015


Day 1

 Jake  and Ken write:

After some delays at the airport due to storms, I arrived at the Kingston airport. In past trips, Carol”Fofie” Miller met me there.  Carol is an amazing woman whose life is dedicated to ancestral knowledge, particularly Akan and Taino. I was alone this time, awaiting for Ken and Jake to arrive about 40 minutes later.  All I could do was walk across the street and by a fresh, cold coconut full of juice.

Shortly after I see a tall man walking towards me, It is Ken Bilby, who recognized me from a photo. This is my first time meeting him and Jake. They however are longtime friends and colleagues.

 We pick up the rental car and head to the Alhambra Hotel where we will be for the next three days as we explore parts of eastern Jamaica. This is a very short trip, we must make the best of the time we have. On the way to the hotel I learned that our Taino word Cahuil (cashew) is called KUSHU by the locals. Question: are there many Taino words in Jamaican English or Patois?

 Day 2

Sunday, September 6, 2015

I was able to get on wi-fi at the hotel the night before. It was then I realized that all the emails I had sent to my contacts had been re-routed to a DRAFT folder. Thus, no one knew exactly when I was coming! Not good.

In the hotel lobby Jake introduces Ken and I to Gelani Nya, a Rasta man, lecturer at the University of Kingston. I was impressed and secretly embarrassed. I realized that my perceptions of Rastafari were very stereotypical. I could not get over the fact that this man was a professor. Totally need to check myself on this.

 Our first stop is the Source Farm in St. Thomas.  I first visited this community in January 2014. I was invited to do a series of Taino cultural workshops for children. The Farm is a sustainable eco village or “Intentional Community” where some 5 families reside and work and is headed by Nicola Philip. Most of the homes are Earth Bag Lodges, which affords its residents very nice homes and are relatively inexpensive.  They practice sustainable agriculture on two acres of land. The farm itself sits on 68 acres of beautiful Jamaican forest, with streams and a river that runs through it.  I was very impressed to say the least.  Nicola and her clan have made the place work.

The reasoning for coming back to the source farm was to interview Nicola and her commitment to Kumina and Taino spirituality. Nicola had spoken to me of the spiritual need to connect with the spirits of the islands first inhabitants. During my stay at the farm, I introduced some customs such as praying to the four directions and blowing Guamo (conch shell).

Nicola was not available when we arrived. The three of us took a short tour of the village. Ken suggested we visit the Scotts Hall Maroons as they were relatively close. We agreed and off we went. Throughout the ride Ken spoke to us about his experiences with the maroons. I marveled at the knowledge that both Ken and Jake have of Jamaica and its people. They constantly spoke of Colonel’s (Leaders in Maroon Communities) or very prominent Rastari. I was getting a lesson on Jamaica that no school room could provide. I felt truly blessed to be in the company of such knowledgeable men.


Four Directions symbol introduced to Source Farm by Jorge Estevez
Source Farm School
Jorge with Source Farm students during cultural workshop

Scotts Hall Maroons

We arrived at Scotts Hall and meet with Jone Williams the Deputy Colonel. She is a very beautiful woman with piercing eyes and her mind seems to be racing at all times.  I could see why she is a leader in her community. She takes us to see Colonel Prehay. Although the visit was short, we did get to explain to him the purpose of our trips and what we hope to find and explore. He mentions Dorkuss Peccos, a short,  light skinned woman with straight long black hair who lived in the 1950’s who was of possible Taino Arawak descent. NOTE:  Must do genealogical investigation on this surname

 Jake , Ken and Jone and another woman take a break at a small shop for some refreshments. Jake strikes up a conversation with a man known as Sargent.  We also discuss the issues of certain terminologies such as Arawak, Coolie, Indian East Indian etc. NOTE: must be careful as these names can be used interchangeably to describe non Afro-Jamaicans

Ms. Williams suggests we return she would gather some of her people and we may interview them and explain the purpose of our project. Our time is short however. Ken and Jake promise to return after I depart for the States.

Scotts Hall Maroon Community has a very good feel to me. I am sure that upon our return we will uncover some good things here.

 Before we leave we are treated to a tour of the community’s gymnasium/wrestling gym. Mr. Douglas, the instructor was a professional wrestler who fought in the United States.  A powerful looking man, he was very proud to be able to offer the youth of his community a place where they can learn wrestling and build their bodies.  


Scotts Hall Maroon Community
Jake Homiak and Ken Bilby
Jorge Taking Selfie

Monday, September 7, 2015

Carol "fofie" Miller

Monday, September 7, 2015

Charlestown Maroons


 On Sunday evening  we were able to connect with Carol “Fofie” Miller. Carol is an amazing woman. Dedicated to her Akan spirituality, she seeks ancestral guidance every day. I admire Carol  and love her for her great work, but mostly for being true to her beliefs and convictions . She is without a doubt one of the most amazing women I have ever met. I met Carol in June 2014 when she invited several Taino delegates to participate at the Charlestown Maroon Conference. Attending  the venture  were Robert Borrero, Tai Pelli both of the United Confederation of Taino People , Brooke Hernandez and Gary Gavesendy (Jamaican) of the of the Taino Nation and myself representing Union Higuayagua.  Carol has been very vocal about the need to include Taino as part of the dialogue of national Jamaican identity and the emerging voices who claim that they are descendants of the Taino.   

“My Akan ancestors tell me that we [Jamaicans] can’t make progress here until we bring the Taino forward.” She voices repeatedly

Carol agreed to accompany us to the Charlestown Maroon and the Taino Heritage Camp at Oracabessa. This is a full will be a full day.

Carol arrived at 8:30 am . We all had breakfast and headed out headed out shortly after.  Our plan is to talk with the Maroons of this community about their knowledge of “Arawak” ancestors and culture.  During the ride Carol mentions an African mythological creature , from Ghana to be exact, the “Motia” who in some ways resembles the Taino “Ciguapa” a woman said to have long hair , inverted feet and lives in the forest.

Jake  and Ken write:

Carol also introduces to us the term “motia” (sp?), an Akan term for a mythological figure that has long hair and backward feet—which engages some discussion with Ken about how the Maroons fooled those attempting to track them by using backward footsteps. I ask her if this term is used/known in Jamaica—to which she says yes, by some. But it’s most likely a term that she has carried to Jamaica from Ghana and implanted here. Neither Ken nor I  has heard it here before, although Ken recognizes it from Rattray’s ethnography on the Ashanti.

We reach Charlestown and head to the home of Shirley Douglas. We explain our trip purpose and Shirley grants us a film interview.  Jake explains that we are very interested in plant knowledge. Shirley knows much of her Maroon culture.  Not surprisingly many of the things she mentions are familiar to me as they are identical to cultural customs from the mountains of my homeland, the Dominican Republic.  One topic that immediately catches our attention is her description of the “cacoon” plant and seeds. 

  I am familiar with this seed. It grows near rivers and lakes in high mountain country.  In the Dominican Republic, Cuba and Puerto Rico we know it by its Taino name “SAMO”.  In Jamaica the entire plant and seed nuts are called Cacoon, just as in the DR the whole plant and seeds are called Samo. The seed or nut is used to make yo-yo’s, jewelry, medicine , food , spiritual purposes, divination  etc.  It is also poisonous. Both Ken and Jake know this seed as well, particularly Ken who has encountered often among his travels through Maroon country.  NOTE- A MORE IN DEPTH STUDY OF CACOON IS NEEDED

While the etymology of the word Cacoon does not appear to be of Taino origin its similar uses among mountain people across the Caribbean points to its Native origins. QUESTION: If all the Taino truly died off in Jamaica, how would another group invent identical uses of this seed/nut as their predecessors?

One thing that appears unique to Jamaica is their use of the cacoon fibers to camouflage themselves. Ken told us stories of maroons able to get close to British soldiers without being noticed.

Jake explained that there is a food made from the seed called “rundong”




Cacoon aka Samo
Avery Vargas Estevez with Samo shaker
Accompong Maroon necklace

Jake records Shirley’s testimony:

 The nut is used for food, medicine and divination and other spiritual purposes by the Maroons and may have Taino connections. One wonders, for example, how the Maroons came to know this botanical specimen and how to use it—especially since it is poisonous. Today, the plant is used for toys (“Jamaican yoyos”) and in the making of local jewelry—primarily for necklaces. I have several in the collections. As food, cacoon is taken out of the shell and boiled, grated and juiced (perhaps to remove the poison). It’s used in the dish “rundong” which is made with coconut cream. For divination, it is used to test water supplies—placed in bucket of Spanish jar. If it sinks, the water is bad or poisoned. It is also used in the famous Maroon “ambush” tradition that was part of guerilla warfare with the British in the 17th and 18th centuries. The cacoon wiss would have been wrapped around individuals to camaflouge them. (This same tradition is referenced in Accompong—where the cacoon vines are pointed out to us.) The thin but very tough vines of the cacoon were also used as a kind of communication device—pulling them in pulses that sent different codes/messages across whatever spaces. Shirley refers to these pulses as “dancing waves.” Cacoon was also used to ward off malign spirits and wearing it is said to have had positive spiritual effects. As topical medicine it could be placed around areas of swelling to reduce inflammation; and it was also used as a native poison to kill rats who would get into local food supplies.


Sharon also talks about the different types of cassava used by the Maroons—sweet and bitter cassava. Both are used by them to make bammy. It is peeled, washed, and grated and wrung out in a piece of cloth. Everywhere we traveled and spoke about cassava traditions, I queried individuals about whether they’ve ever seen a long thatch-woven kind of sleeve cassava press that I witness in use in Kingsvale (or Grange) back in 1989 when we did the Folklife research. None of the Charles Town subjects have ever seen this. The cloth wringing technique is what they’re familiar with. There is also talk about pepper pot soup using the heart of the coco, Indian bill, breadfruit and something called  ‘gaugah’ (sp?). And there is also talk about “busso” soup, a term the etymology of which deserves more attention.  NOTE: THIS IS THE FIRST TIME I HEAR OF JAMAICAN BAMMY BEING MADE FROM POISON YUCA (CASAVA) – BUSSO AND GAUGAH intriguing- Jorge Estevez

There is also talk of a Maroon named Bobo who used to make an earth oven to steam food. This also sounds like something that might be of interest as a possible Taino connection. Perhaps this was something used when Maroons were “on the run” from the British—a way to cook without noticeable smoke that would give away their location.  NOTE- THIS SOUNDS LIKE THE TRADITIONAL BUREN OVEN USED BY Classic  Taino and their descendants in Cuba and the DR.

I taped the entire interview with Shirley and later with Kim when she arrives. When Kim arrives I recognize her as someone I met in December of 2010 when we visited the Asafu yard and got a demonstration by her of botanicals/plants used by the Maroon.

At some point there was talk about Shirley’s maternal great grandfather having been “tall, slim with straight black hair.” The statement is made that he was “mixed with Indian” and that “we’re mixed with Indians—the Taino.”  These claims should be treated with some caution and require more research insofar as what is remembered or meant by Indian could be confused with East Indians.

During out visit with the Douglas family a Maroon Rasta brethren shows up. I’ve now lost his name—something like Padam—yes, it’s Padam, otherwise “Captain Delano Douglas” of the Charles Town Maroon Drummers and Dancers )—but he’s linked with Mama Fiya’s Nyahbinghi tabernacle at Black Rock, St. Mary’s, on the coast. Padam also reminds me that we also met in December 2010—he was at the conference in Kingston and did some of the drumming in the Asafu yard.  He tells me that he and other Maroon drummers just came back from there having played in a wake for Black Star Liner—a Rasta sistren who recently passed. He apparently took his Maroon (goombay?) drum and played it there. He’s linked with Ras Pele (Mama Fiya’s son to whom I gave a testimony in Panama at the 1st Hispanic Rastafari Summit) and others on that side. The same Padam is working with a student of Ken’s (who is doing fieldwork in Portland) on drumming music. Padam plays for use on the computer a UTube piece done by he and the student called “Only a Wise Mon.

We visit the Asafu Yard museum—check the fish trap which is Taino-like. Ken gets caught up in a reasoning with one of the young Maroons about royalties from the music that he recorded there years ago. That’s a whole other story.

Jorge Estevez writes :

 We  are  given a tour of the Asafu Museum by  community cultural interpreter, Marcia Douglas

Many of the objects on display  appear to be of Taino/Arawak extraction.  Ms. Douglas is quite good at explaining their uses. One thing absent are the native names of said objects.

The objects below are found on all three of the major Taino Islands as well as Jamaica. In the Spanish Caribbean they are documented as having Indigenous origins



(1a) Calabash water carrier

(1b) Maima used for carrying water –Dominican Republic


(2a) Calabash bowl

(2b) Dita- Higuera bowl- Puerto Rico


(3a) Fish Trap

(3b) Nasa fish- Cuba



1a: Calabash Water Carrier
2a: Calabash bowl
3a: Fish trap
1b: Maima
Dominican Republic
2b: Dita
Puerto Rico
3b: Nasa



Jake and Ken write:

We take leave of Charles Town and head toward Oracabessa and the Taino Heritage Camp.  This is a bit off the beaten track after passing through Oracabessa. At the entrance road to the camp is a carved post—looking very much properly touristic—where a Rastamon named Keith and his family are kotched in a small shop. I ask Keith if he’s part of the Camp and he tells me that he’s “working with the Taino people dem.”


Florence, Giles and Leon Gregory
Large four directions symbol
Taino bust at camps entrance

Tuesday ,September 8

The famous Birdman Cemi of Jamaica

 We set off first thing in the morning for the St. Elizabeth Parish.  This place has been known for its Taino presence by Jamaicans. Jake tells us that the bird man Cemi known as the “Birdman” was found here. Now located in Europe, this famous cemi  is one of the most important artifact of Jamaica.

  Carol has set up a meeting with Mrs. Valerie Dixon, who graciously invited us all to lunch at the Mandeville Hotel.  Mrs. Dixon is relentless in her struggle to save sites in Jamaica that she feels are important. Presently she is trying to prevent the Rinker Mining Company from its mining operations in in the Canoe Valley. Limestone is in great abundance in this area. Although it is a boom for Jamaica, the price to be paid by the destruction of habitats is far too great.

 Jake & Ken write:

After lunch in Mandeville, we follow Vivian to Resource, Manchester, a small community where Marcus Garvey founded a UNIA local in 1923 (an interesting story based on a Jamaican from Resource who heard him preaching in Hyde Park in the teens—check that as a possibility). She takes us to the Rustic Guest House (, an off-the-beaten-track place near the crossroads of Cocoa Walk and Cross Keys in South Manchester--with rooms and one of the most outstanding coastal views imaginable of the Southwest coast of Jamaica. Valerie makes sure we all get pictures together and then positions Jorge  Estevez at the viewpoint and asks—“Now Chief, how are you going to let them destroy this beautiful place? I need your help.” She also made sure we took pictures at the signed posted by the Rinker Mining Company and their public declaration to mine the area. We tour though the open plains area—see a variety of cassava plants—some of which she suggests are “legacy” plants that come from the shoots of cassava all the way back to Taino times. I’m not sure how one would verify this. We do get shots of what we believe to be both sweet and bitter cassava.

 On the way out we stop at a little shop and ask about cassava making. Vivian gets a local named Stanford Taylor to show us the leverage-style cassava press they use (but no recognition of the long woven sleeve press of the kind I saw). What we extract from this interaction is the understanding that a woven thatch bag called a “bankra.” (It’s also pronounced “bangra”trust that Ken has both forms.) What we see across the duration of this trip are ways of making cassava more easy and efficient. The woven-thatched bankra bags are no longer to be found, nor the hanging sleeve press; rather its pressed in cloth and ground by means of machine power.


Mrs. Valerie Dixon
Ken Bilby, Valerie Dixon, Jorge Estevez and Jake Homiak
Jorge with bitter Yuca variety.
Stanford Taylor demonstrating with Casava Press.
Casava press used for extracting poison from the bitter casava (yuca)

Treasure Beach:

Erica Neeghan and her mother Olive Moxam (TAINO)

Jake and Ken:

On the way into Treasure Beach we pass a basket shop/bar. Jorge wants a stop—me too, but for different reasons. Jorge purchases baskets. I drink beer. We don’t reach down to Taino Cove until nightfall. Greeting Winne and Patrick Hylton, the proprietors, and give them our brief. Winnie says she’ll direct us to some folks that might be helpful, including Earl Moxam, a journalist and radio personality who is Taino-identified. (The Moxam family turns out to be the most likely Taino extended family we come across in the overall trip.) Dinner at Jack Sprat, a local eatery which is reasonable. It’s the three of us in one room.

Jorge Estevez writes:

I am increasingly grateful for having been offered the opportunity to work alongside both of my companions. Jake Homiak is amazing. He has a clear mind and an inquisitive nature.  He  easy going puts our subjects at ease.  Both men have amazing memories of their previous treks across Jamaica. Ken Bilby reminds me of the old television series “Columbo” played by Peter Falk.  The character would always ask “one” more question of whomever he was investigating.  So it was with Ken, just when I thought we were done interviewing a subject, he would ask one more question! This was amazing. He extracted information when I already thought the well was dry.  Both Jake and Ken speak fluid Jamaican. Without them I would have been lost. Truly an honor and I consider both my friends and teachers.

The Taino Cove is a beautiful, off the beaten path hotel.  I have a good feeling about this area.

On June 2014 I attended a Conference at Charlestown Maroon community.  Carol Fofie Miller invited a delegation of Taino people were to this  3 day event.  Robert Mucaro Borrero and Tai Pelli of the United Federation of Taino People, Brooke Rodriguez and Gary Gravesendy of the Taino Nation and I representing Union Higuayagua were in attendance.  At this event we met a young woman, Erica Neegan, and her mother, Olive Moxam, who had striking Indigenous facial features. We were pleasantly surprised to learn that she was Jamaican and Taino identified.  Erica spoke to me of the Moxam clan, how they knew they were Indian, but as in many people in the Caribbean carried the stigma of being Indian. Thus many prefer not to identify with their native roots, while others do. It was quite obvious to me that Erica and her mom were sincere. Interestingly, Erica is married to a Canadian Indian of the Cree Nation.  She promised to help us with logistics and finding other Arawak ( as Taino are called in Jamaica).

Upon my return to the States, I forwarded information on Erica and the Moxam clan to our C.I.L.P. team. Ranald Woodman of the Smithsonian Latino Center dug up a photograph of a man of Indigenous descent from the Pedro Bluffs area of St. Elizabeth, the same place where Erica and her family originate from.  The  caption on the back of the picture indicates that the man in the photograph claims to be Indian:  1892. This information was amazing and certainly helped us in moving forward formulating a game plan is to study the indigeneity of Jamaica.  

Day 5: September 9 (Wednesday) –

Indian identified man from the Pedro Bluffs area circa 1892


{Great Bay, Pedro Bluffs, Southfield, and Sandy Bank, St. Elizabeth}. Winnie suggests we get breakfast at a placed called Smurfs. After driving around and getting lost, we finally locate the place. As Jorge and Ken are ordering breakfast, I’m talking with an apparently [Asian] Indian named Gandhar Chakravartky who asks what we’re doing. I make reference to research and introduce myself as Jake Homiak. It turns out he’s an anthropologist too, from Canada, who is studying Rastafari. Of course he knows both Ken and me by reputation. We’re both cited in his dissertation, he tell us. We wind up having a very nice chat about our respective work.


 Jake and Ken write:

At Smurfs, Jorge learns that the owner is going to be processing cassava to make bammy that very afternoon so we plan on returning there. Meanwhile, we’re off to Great Bay on Winnie’s recommendation and looking for contacts who might provide leads or would be good to interview. She gives us the name of a place called the Blue Marlin—a guest house (owned by one Sandy Tatum) that has Taino artifacts. Also tells us to ask for someone named Artie Parchment who knows a lot about the area.  Before we reach Great Bay, we notice a corner where a small thatched bohio-like structure (tatu, in Jamaican Creole) is standing with three people sitting inside. One of the men is of Scottish descent (as he tells us) and about my complexion. We ask about Taino presence and cassava making. (Lost the names of these people). I recall describing my long-sleeve, thatch cassava press to him and asking if he’d ever seen one—to which he replied yes. But he didn’t know if any were still around or where I could find one. But we do get one valuable tip.  We are informed that the man we are hoping to find in Great Bay, named “Steve,” is better known as “Birdman.”  (“Steve” is a local artifact collector whose name was given to Jorge by Erica Neeganagwedgin (otherwise Erica Moxam).)

 As we reach Great Bay (and pass the beach part of it), we pass a young man hauling fish traps (“fish pots”) for sea fishing down to the beach on a wheel barrow. Jorge asks for a stop so he can get pictures. In the course of this he apparently tells the man—named Tommy—that we’re looking for someone named “Steve” or “Birdman.” Tommy recognizes the name right away and agrees to take us to Birdman.

 Upon reaching Birdman’s somewhat isolated yard and house, we find him, his mother and some friends of siblings. Birdman’s given name is Steve Deleon (Great Bay/Calabash Bay Postal Agency, St. Elizabeth, JA; 876-248-6176). We give Birdman our brief and he starts pointing out objects that he’s collected. Jorge does some interviewing with his mother—whose name I never get (but her name should be on Jorge’s video recording).  Birdman’s mother says she is of Scottish descent and doesn’t know of any Taino ancestry in her own family.  Birdman also says he is of Scottish descent. Jorge purchases a stone artifact from Birdman that Dianne Golding-Frankson later declares “authentic.” Most promising, however, is the fact that Birdman tells us of having known an “Indian” man from the area named Larry or Lawrence Gordon since he was a youth.  (Larry passed way only recently.) Larry Gordon is someone originally from Great Bay who knew the local Taino caves and took Birdman there as a boy. Birdman never really got far inside as Larry apparently told him he shouldn’t go in. But Birdman identifies Larry Gordon and his wife, Miss Lou (originally from a nearby district in St. Elizabeth known as “Flagaman”) as “the last of family of Indians.” Again, we spend some time parsing what might be meant by “Indian,” trying to ensure he’s not speaking of East Indians or “Coolies.” He asserts to this that he means “The Indians that were from here [Jamaica.]”  I showed Birdman and his mother the Xeroxed picture (taken in 1892) of the gentleman at Pedro Bluff who self-identified as an Indian. He wanted a copy and I said I would send him one.

 Birdman tell us that Larry Gordon has a son around here that might be able to direct us to his mother, who moved from the area 5-6 years ago with her daughter Rema Gordon. We locate the brother, but he claims not to know the exact whereabouts of his mother. Nothing forthcoming on Taino heritage. He informs us that his mother, Miss Lou, moved with his sister Rema to Kincaid, a housing scheme, that is ”top side of Southfield.” At Southfield we ask a man walking by for Ms. Lou Gordon. He introduces us to an elder man who, he says—“if anyone knows her, him will know! Him know everyone.”  It turns out that “him nuh know.” Kincaid, moreover, turns out to include the Belleview Housing project, a large “housing scheme” that has three sections or phases and hundreds of homes. Predictably, we trace through Phase I, Phase II and only when we get to Phase III do we hit on someone who knows Miss Lou and can take us to her residence. Mrs. Lou Gordon is in her early 90s, is of light brown complexion with straight hair, and seems reticent about talking. We meet her at her back door—two white guys and a cacique—and Jorge gets a brief piece on video.  Interestingly, at first she says that she herself is “Indian,” and she says that her mother, who was originally from Flagaman, was “Indian” (not sure if Jorge caught this part on video).  She makes an intriguing comment about her grandmother having very long hair that she used to comb and wrap around her chair. But upon further questioning, she claims to know nothing else, and says that she doesn’t know whether her mother was “Arawak,” “Coolie,” or anything else. It is clear that she is not feeling well – she is physically ailing – and we decide not to bother her further, saying thanks as we leave. With more time and getting to know her some things might well come forward.

 We go back to Taino Cove Hotel and get a line on Miss Vivie Moxam, a cassava bread maker in Sandy Bank, a place just up the road from Taino Cove past the local school on the left. We find her yard where two men are in the front making fish traps like the one Jorge photographed earlier that day. We pull around back and come into the yard. Tommy is still with us as our guide. We explain our Taino brief. Vivie’s husband, a man named Howard Moxam, comes back to talk to us. Jorge asks if he’s Taino—and he responds with a question—“Am I?”                   

 The situation here (and throughout southern St. Elizabeth parish) is no doubt made more complex by the fact that there are many Scottish-descended (and some German-descended) people in the area who have intermarried. Howard seems more interested in whether we’re going to buy bammy from Miss Vivie. (As it turns out, Miss Vivie sells to Jake’s Place, a local eco-resort, and Jack Sprat a lot of bammy and cassava bread.) She shows us her operation. Her press is no longer the log-press style with branka/bankra, but a hydraulic jack that presses out the grated cassava in a white cloth. Rather than a hand grater, Miss Vivie has fashioned her own grater-plates which are fit to an electric motor and run like a power-drill with a circular sanding pad on the end. She says the work is too difficult and time consuming otherwise for all the cassava she needs to bake. We get a whole series of pictures of her process—including a traditional bamboo woven cassava sieve that she still uses. (Miss Vivie gives us a contact in Southfield where we can purchase these – a bar and grocery shop where they’re still being made [the shop once belonged to a woman named Olive Berlin, who is now deceased, but the current owner continues to sell the traditional sieves].)

 Ken also drills down into the types or strains of cassava she uses—calling out names like blue bud, white stick, white top, dog blood, yellow belly and others. This diverse lexicon known by Miss Vivie for varieties of this root crop suggest it is an important cultural foci in this area. Ultimately we bought a pack of six bammy from Miss Vivie—but not before meeting the family of her brother-in-law, Norman Moxam. Norman lived in Nicaragua for some 12 years as a fisherman and married a Miskito woman named Yolanda. Jorge gets a photo of the whole family. While with him we learn that Earl Moxam is their cousin and that he lives in the house next door. This whole corner of Sandy Bank is called “Moxam Town.” And there’s reason to think that Erica Needganagwegin, a self-declared Taino, is part of this extended family. The most promising lead, however, comes after we leave Moxam Town. When going back to Taino Cove to wash for dinner, we talk to Winnie Hylton about what we saw. Jorge stated that he wanted to buy one of the sieves but that Miss Vivie didn’t want to part with hers. Winnie encouraged us to return and offer her something. We did. When we got back she said it was good we returned, because she was talking to her husband Howard who reminded her that his mother, now deceased, was Taino. (She told us that Howard’s mother’s name was Doris Parchment; Doris’s mother [Howard’s maternal grandmother, also deceased] was named Margaret Deleon, and she too, according to Miss Vivie, self-identified as “Indian.”  Vivie also suggests that we talk to one Hursley [or Herstley?] Moxam in the nearby community of Bluntas, for he also “knows a lot” about “Indian people” in the area.) Vivie’s happy to share this information with us. Much more could be done with this extended family. As it turned out, Vivie also remembered that she still had an older traditional cassava sieve of the same manufacture that was somewhat worn and that she no longer used.  Jorge offered to buy this second sieve, and she was glad to sell it. Dinner again at Jack Sprat.

 The connection between the Moxam, Deleon and Parchment families noted by Jorge and several of the people we’ve talked to in southern St. Elizabeth parish appears to be an important lead in tracing down a possible Taino genealogy.


Woman selling baskets and other woven materials.
back side of post card for Indian identified man from Pedro Bluffs area
Tommy our guide in St. Elizabeth
Tommy and local boys
Steve "Birdman" Deleon
Shirley Deleon

Jorge Estevez writes:

“Birdman” is an impressive individual, quick minded and gregarious. He is also an avid collector of “things found around the bush”.  Erica Neegan mentioned to me that he could lead me to Taino descendant families in the Pedro Bluffs area.  He has several items on display for sale. One catches my eye instantly. It looks similar to a “thundertone” only thicker and with a concave hole in it. This style appears to be Melleican which is the most prevalent in Jamaica.  As he is selling the item, I fear that it may land in the wrong hands I if do not purchase it.  I am certain that this item constitutes a Jamaican national patrimony.  My plan is to have our experts at the Smithsonian look it over and then locate and return to the proper authorities or interested groups.

The Birdman talks about the artwork he creates, finds in the area and sells. According to local lore, a ship from Scotland ran ashore at St. Elizabeth and its crew, stayed and intermarried with the locals.

It is quite clear from visual observation that Birdman and his mother Shirley Deleon have European ancestry.  However from my perspective it seems obvious that they have Indigenous admixture as well, especially Shirley.  Visual identification is unreliable, this is true, but it can also be a good starting point. As I am not an anthropologist, I can get away with making such statements,. For example, if I visit a village in Dominican Republic and found that many of its  inhabitants may had African phenotypes , I would automatically and probably correctly deduce there is African ancestry.  Shirley phenotype to me is tri-partite (African/Indigenous/European).

I interview Shirley Deleon and she confirms that she does have Scottish ancestry. I ask her if she knows where her surname, DeLeon, originates but she is not certain.  In fact she did not know it was a Spanish surname. She also mentions she, she has no knowledge of Indian ancestry.

Birdman informs us of the late Larry Gordon, “the last Indian” of the area and the man who named him Birdman.  He says “when I was a child, I often went to the caves with Larry. He taught me about symbols. He used to say I was always flap my arms like a bird. So he called me Birdman”.  They also say that his wife Ms. Lou is still alive but has since moved away living with a daughter named Rema.  They make no family connection with Ms. Lou. We are also informed that Ms. Lou has a son living in the area.

Jake is gifted a buckshot that Birdman found in the area. It looks authentic as well and may have been fired during the Spanish occupation in the 1500’s.  We say our goodbyes and are off to find Ms. Lou’s son.

On the way back to the Taino Cove, I mention to Jake and Ken that it was hard filming Ms. Deleon as there was too much talking in the back ground. Jake informs me that my filming technique is all wrong, I need closer shots. I agree and thank him for his advice.  At this point I also mention that on my other research trips I never announce that I am neither Indian or especially Cacique, an honorary title bestowed upon me by a group of dedicated activists I formed 5 years before.

Our guide Tommy helps us locate Ms. Lou’s son.  We find him walking down a road with a companion. He appears to be of mixed ancestry with noticeable East Indian facial features.  This lead takes us nowhere as he has absolutely no clue of family history, ancestry or even the where abouts of his mother! We thank him and continue searching for Ms. Lou.

After nearly half a day we finally locate Ms. Lou. Now in her late  90’s her health does not appear well. She also seems forgetful. She does say that her mother was Indian. She comments that her grandmother had very long straight black hair. However she did not seem to know the difference between the term “Coolie” for East Indian or Arawak and so on. Unable to give us any solid information we decide not to press her too much. She does reveal one important piece of information, she is a Deleon.  Birdman and his mother Shirley are of the Deleon family as well.  Back at the Taino Cove we had met a man named Henry Gayle who claimed to be of maroon heritage and was also of the Deleon family. He claimed he was both East Indian and “Arawak” as the Taino are called in Jamaica. This is an important bit of information.  It appears that the Deleon family may have Native American heritage. Also he understands that there is a difference between American Indian and East Indian, which in some places does not seem clear.  We say our goodbyes and head back towards Taino Cove.

Back at Taino Cove our hostess gave us information on the Moxam family who live in a hamlet called Moxam town.

When we arrive, we learn that Vivi Moxam is burning casabe.  We decide to record her. As a casabe maker, I am very critical of badly made casabe. Casabe makers take pride in their craft. Ms. Vivi mentions to me that she is of Acompong Maroon descent, although I don’t think Ken and Jake caught that. I am amazed at her casabe technique. Further she can make four kinds of casabe. I had been perplexed for a time as to why Jamaicans make what they call “Bammy” and not the usual casabe cracker we call casabe. I wondered if it was a different kind of casabe or perhaps an African adaption.  She explains that bammy is one of 4 kinds of the bread she knows how to prepare. Also reveals that her bammy is made strictly from bitter (poisonous yuca). 

Jake notices a “jibe” (sifter) similar to those found in the Dominican Republic.  I walk outside and see their casaba grinder. At this point Vivi’s husband , Howard Moxam, walks up to me and asks me “how much money do I get for letting you take a picture of my machine”? he says jokingly.

I notice that he has very strong Indigenous features. At this point, I break a personal cardinal rule and ask him if he is Indian. He stares at me and says “ Am I”? and walks away.  I follow him to his fish traps. He and his brother Norman are fisherman by trade as was their father before them.

At this point Howard’s brother Norman comes to say hello. Jake and Ken are still interviewing Vivi. Norman asks me if I am Indian. I reply that I am and he says “I want you to come and meet my family. My wife is Indio like you”.  I get excited about this bit of news. His home is right behind Howard and Vivi.  His wife comes to the door and I am surprised and perplexed. She is appears to be full blooded Indian to me, very friendly and speaks Spanish. Her name is Yolanda.  She asks me where I am from. I respond that I am Taino from the island of Kiskeya (DR). She replies that she is Miskito Indian from Honduras and that it is a pleasure to meet another “Indian identified” person in Jamaica. At this point her daughters, Sidania and Milania, come out to meet us. Norman explains he met his wife on an oceanic fishing trip and stayed in Honduras where he met his wife, married and brought her to Jamaica.  

I tell Yolanda of our trip purpose. She feels it is important. I ask her if she knows if her husband’s family have Indian blood. She says the people in the area all claim to be of European heritage. She also says that she has often wondered if her husband and his brother had Indian blood (perhaps because of their features?)

The Miskito Indians are one of the largest ethnic groups in Honduras. Their name is sometimes confused with the Spanish Mosuito (Fly) but the names are not related. At one point many Miskito warriors aided the English in their wars against the Jamaican maroons. However many of these Miskito switched sides and fought alongside the maroons. The English used them primarily as scouts.  It could be that many Jamaicans are in fact of Miskito ancestry and not Taino. Or it may be that the Miskito joined the Taino/Maroons in their common struggle. The latter version is the one that makes more sense to me.

We depart and head back to Taino Cove to Freshen up. Jake informs us that we should have tried to purchase the “Jibe” from Ms. Vivi, an excellent idea. We return to Moxam town and ask Ms. Vivi is she would sell us one of her Jibe (sifter). She agrees. She then reveals that her husband’s grandmother was in fact of Taino ancestry! Erica Neegan had warned us that people were rather shy about identifying with anything Native. At this point we were able to witness this first hand.


Thus far, this small community has yielded surprising results:


Erica Neeghan (Moxam)  and her mother Olive Moxam

Taino Identified

Have always known of their Native Ancestry- Perhaps there is a local stigma about identifying with Indian, something common throughout the Caribbean

Larry Gordon

Taino Identified

According to the Deleon family

Ms Lou Deleon

Declared that her mother was Indian

not very responsive-ailing

Henry Gayle (Deleon

Taino Identified

Ms. Lou is of Descent according to Henry

Ms Vivi Moxam (by marriage

Maroon identified

Mentions that her husband  Howard’s grandmother was Taino

Margaret DeLeon (Howard and Normans Grandmother)

Taino Identified

Accoring to Ms. Vivi

Howard Moxam

Did not claim indian descent, nor did he deny it

Perhaps the same Stigma as Erica and Olive Moxam?

Norman Moxam

Did not discuss his heritage with me/us

Is married to a Native American woman from Honduras

Tommy (our guide)

Claimed to be Arawak as well related to Deleon



It appears that the two families, Moxam and Deleon have either knowledge of Native ancestry, facial features (un-reliable, but clearly there) and also engage in either fishing or bammy (casabe) making. Further people in the area associate them with having Native ancestry.

On the way back we find a Bohio (Thatch roof hut) made by Austin Rochester. It is made in a very traditional manner. Our first Bohio sighting on this trip.  We also photograph two ladies on the road who appear have native ancestry, although they would not give me their first names, they did provide their surname, Deleon.