A friend of mine, a travel writer and documentary film-maker, will be coming back home in a couple of days to make a documentary on Jamaican jerk called the Jamaican Jerk Tour. Here’s how she describes the upcoming production on the documentary’s Facebook page: “Jerk cuisine’s status has risen from its humble beginnings in Jamaica to global appeal. This gastro-historical film traces jerk from it’s roots onto the high end international restaurant tables.” Needless to say she is ecstatic about her upcoming filming in her homeland. I’ve offered myself as a taster for this tour but she hasn’t gotten back to me on that as yet. Hmm…
You can follow my friend’s Jamaican Jerk Tour filming from the documentary’s Facebook page.
But seriously folks, Jamaica is known worldwide for the succulent spices that goes into making jerk pork, fish, chicken, sausages, etc. and is a cuisine in its own right. But isn’t it more than just food? Couldn’t you say that jerked meats are a part of our culture?
But of course! Duh! A wah kina question dat Kerry?
In fact, the fine culinary art of making jerked meats is what is known as an intangible cultural heritage. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage:
The ‘intangible cultural heritage’ means the practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, skills – as well as the instruments, objects, artefacts and cultural spaces associated therewith – that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognize as part of their cultural heritage. This intangible cultural heritage, transmitted from generation to generation, is constantly recreated by communities and groups in response to their environment, their interaction with nature and their history, and provides them with a sense of identity and continuity, thus promoting respect for cultural diversity and human creativity.
The Practice of Jerked Meat in Jamaica is a Form of Intangible Cultural Heritage:
So the practice of making jerk pork, sausages and other meats is most definitely a form of cultural expression that goes beyond just seasoning meat. It is a cultural form itself that includes the act of preparing the jerk seasonings and the meats, the instruments used in the preparation such as the type of wood that Boston in Portland is known for, and even how it is served. In fact, some jerk pork aficionados can tell from the taste of the pork where it came from because of the distinct way some renowned jerk pork spots create their spices, season their meats and select the type of wood to cook the meat.
Some areas in Jamaica have become so renowned for jerk meats that, as the above definition of intangible cultural heritage states, they have become cultural spaces such as Walkerswood in St. Ann and Boston in Portland, with the communities intertwined in this cultural and economic practice. These communities are synonymous with jerk seasonings and jerk meats with a wide variety of jerk seasoning products coming out of Walkerswood and the annual Portland Jerk Festiva. I’ve been to the Boston Jerk Festival and it is a mouth-watering experience from you touch the parking lot!
Jamaican Expressions and Sayings are also forms of Intangible Cultural Heritage:
So what other forms of intangible cultural heritage exist in Jamaica? Well, let’s look at our expressions such as our proverbs. These are so distinctly Jamaican that when you hear them expressed there is no doubt in your mind about their country of origin. Some proverbs may be expressed slightly differently depending on the parish you’re in but their meanings remain the same. The following proverbs are featured in the proverbs section of the Jamaican Echoes blog:
Now where else in the world do you hear expressions like these?
The Maroon Heritage of Moore Town has been Officially Designated an Intangible Cultural Heritage:
In August 2010, the Jamaican Cabinet gave approval for the ratification of UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage. According to the Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture, Olivia “Babsy” Grange, the country’s ratification of the Convention is “an important tool that would help to ensure that Jamaica’s intangible cultural heritage is transmitted from generation to generation.”
But even before Jamaica officially ratified the Convention – which, according to a Jamaica Observer report, seemed to have been a reaction to expressions of concern from UNESCO officials about Jamaica’s failure to ratify some conventions promoting cultural expansion – UNESCO had already proclaimed the Maroon heritage of Moore Town in 2003 as a Masterpiece of oral and intangible heritage under the Convention. The Maroon heritage of Moore Town was later inscribed in 2008 on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Forms of Intangible Cultural Heritage are Echoes from our Past:
All these forms of intangible cultural heritage have echoes from our past. For instance, we actually inherited the practice of jerked pork from the Maroons who may have learnt some of their skills from the Tainos. However, the Maroons used the method of jerking meat to preserve the pork provided by the many pigs found in Jamaica’s mountainous interior during the early years of slavery in Jamaica. They were in constant guerilla warfare with the British militia so they had to find a way to preserve the pork to last them during their battles in the field. Jerking the meat served that purpose.
Can you suggest any other forms of intangible cultural heritage in Jamaica that should be officially recognised as such on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity? In keeping with the definition of intangible cultural heritage, I would definitely suggest our Jamaican proverbs, which, sadly, are hardly being passed on as they used to, and the culinary art of jerked meat. The Rastafarian movement also has a distinct culture that that we should also consider their distinct forms of expressions as a form of intangible cultural heritage. Do you have any suggestions?
Until next time…
Jamaica Observer (2010), Jamaica to ratify UNESCO Convention on Intangible Cultural Heritage
Diana Ogilvie (2011), The Jamaican Jerk Tour
Olive Senior (2003), Encyclopedia of Jamaican Heritage. St. Andrew: Twin Guinep Publishers, Ltd.
UNESCO (2010), Intangible Heritage Lists