The Red Men of Treasure Beach

06/08/2017 | Saint Elizabeth,

Red is a popular color around here.

Years before ever setting foot in Treasure Beach I’d heard there are a couple things one would surely notice in that area: 1) the red dirt, and 2) the lighter complexion of the locals.

One of the most fascinating aspects of Jamaica in general is the diversity of race, culture and background of its people. The “red men” of Treasure Beach are no exception.

The very first inhabitants to settle in the Treasure Beach area (formerly known as Pedro) were the brown-skinned Taino Indians. They arrived in Jamaica around 700 AD and settled comfortably there for hundreds of years, minding their business and peacefully building their communities.

Although there is no official documentation of it, the locals and history buffs tell of a Scottish ship that, when passing by Jamaica, capsized on a reef. Sailors from the ship swam to the shores of Treasure Beach and decided to settle there. Inevitably, time would have them mixing and mingling with the Tainos which created a whole new generation of mixed race residents having lighter “red” skin, many with freckles, reddish hair, and light-colored blue or green eyes.

Having known this story for years before visiting Treasure Beach, it was in the back of my mind the first time made I the journey. Driving through the flat farming countryside toward the town one thing was undeniably accurate - the red dirt. This seemed particularly interesting because I’d never noticed it anywhere else in Jamaica (though it is common in areas where bauxite is present.).

Continuing the drive, I started paying closer attention to random people walking along the roadside, the lighter complexions and lighter hair color were noticeable on a few. Arriving in Treasure Beach, I expected an overwhelming number of people to be of this red-skinned, light haired variety, but that simply isn’t the case. Although they’re there, and probably more noticeable once you know about them, after spending any time at all in Jamaica, you know that locals come in many colors, shapes and sizes.

No matter what the appearance of Jamaican residents, they all have a couple of things in common; they’ve been here for generations and they speak the local language of Patois. Jamaica’s official language is English, and the adopted dialect of Patois is a blindingly fast, broken and slang version of English. Listening to locals speak to each other is like chaotic poetry. You may not even realize you’re hearing English.

History tells us that Patois was invented by Jamaican slaves in an effort to communicate with each other without the slave owners understanding them. Today, although Patois isn’t considered an official language, it is the predominant dialect among Jamaicans.

It is captivating to hear an Asian, or East Indian, or even a Caucasian person speak fluent Patois when you’re expecting them to sound like Asians, East Indians or Europeans. Jamaica is full of delightful surprises.

The country’s national motto is “Out of many, one people," which certainly describes the diversity of Treasure Beach, and Jamaica as a whole.

(Photo: Red men, red dirt—even red skies at Treasure Beach. “Jamaica Tour 2011,” by dubdem sound system is licensed under CC BY 2.0)