Research trip to Jamaica 1981 – Slideshow
Food, glorious food: Derek spent a day in the market buying just about everything on sale. Before we ate it all, he took this photo.

In the summer of 1981, we spent three weeks in Jamaica, travelling around the island taking photographs, interviewing people, and collecting reading materials, such as the books produced by Jamal, the Jamaican adult literacy programme. This slideshow is a snapshot of that trip.

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Research trip to Jamaica 1981
Young boys selling roasted peanuts on the beach in Montego Bay. After several years of political turmoil, tourism in Jamaica was at a low ebb.
August 1981, Montego Bay
The beaches, like this one in Montego Bay, were virtually deserted
And many shops had bare shelves, like this store in the village of Hopewell, where locally-made brooms and a few bits of wire wool were the only items available.
Getting around the island was an adventure. Hire cars were scarce and prohibitively expensive, so we travelled around using buses and taxis – usually old, battered Morris Oxfords
August 1981, Spanish Town
Derek found the hustle and bustle of the taxi ranks and bus stations fascinating: street vendors selling ‘shave ice’ and snacks like bami (cassava bread) and fried fish, mini bus drivers touting for customers, and the inevitable crowd of school children when he took out his camera
July 1981, Kingston
On board a bus, a young girl sells me a copy of The Gleaner
August 1981, Kingston
We also travelled by train from Montego Bay to Kingston, a journey which took us nearly six hours. Jamaica’s first railway line was built in 1845, only 20 years after George Stephenson’s Stockton and Darlington Railway first started operations in the UK, and was the first outside of Europe and North America. The line was a brilliant piece of engineering, rising to 1700 ft above sea level in the Santa Cruz mountains. Unfortunately, the track was severely damaged by Hurricane Gilbert in 1988, and closed completely in 1992.
August 1981, Montego Bay
The journey offered spectacular views, especially for the joyriders foolhardy enough to stand on the top of the carriages
I, however, managed to sleep most of the way
We visited many of my relatives on the trip. Here’s my Uncle Joshi and his wife Miss Gurlie. Uncle Joshi ran a big chicken farm in St Catherine, about 20 miles from Spanish Town, from where he supplied restaurants and fast food outlets
August 1981, St Catherine
Here’s Miss Gurlie and their six children (and in the background, under the tree, Joshi’s prized Morris Oxford). We used this photograph later as the cover of the first edition of Rocky’s Village
August 1981, St Catherine
Back on the other side of the island, we visited the country districts of Hanover parish where I grew up. This is my cousin Tooku sitting outside his ‘ranch’ – a plot of land in the hills above Lucea where he grew vegetables and fruits.
August 1981, Richmond, Hanover
My grandmother Miss Magg, who in spite of the efforts of many of her children to persuade her to move to more modern housing, continued to stay in the simple wooden house where she had lived since childhood
August 1981, Richmond, Hanover
Enjoying a cool drink in Miss Mel’s bar
August 1981, Reading
We stopped to take this photo because the scene reminded me so much of my own school days in Jamaica
August 1981, Lances Bay, Hanover
In Negril we stayed with Mr and Mrs Malcolm who had spent more than 20 years working in England and had returned to open some chalets to cater for the growing number of young American tourists attracted to the area. As we were considering the idea of publishing advice for returning residents, I recorded Mrs Malcolm’s thoughts.
August 1981, Negril
I stopped to buy a bracelet in one of the few souvenir shops open at the time
August 1981,Negril
In the 30 years since this photo was taken Negril has developed into one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Caribbean, but back in 1981 everything was quite simple and rustic, like this bar near the beach. (Note the vintage music system which you can glimpse through the serving hatch)
August 1981, Negril
While we were staying with friends just outside Montego Bay, Derek came across a woodcarver called Rocky, who was working in the garden of a nearby house. His carvings were extremely accomplished and Derek took many photos of him at work.
August 1981, Reading, St James
We kept in touch with Rocky and he became the inspiration for our first basic reading books
August 1981, Reading, St James
Another idea we considered was a book using signs and posters from Jamaica as a starting point for literacy lessons
August 1981, Montego Bay
This sign on the beach at Negril caught our eye…
August 1981, Negril
…as did this graphic sign above Lyle’s Intensified Inn in Montego Bay, which was the subject of endless semantic and cultural interpretations
August 1981, Montego Bay
a national symbol
August 1981, Montego Bay
An iconic image of a young Rastaman. This photo has been extensively used, not only in Handprint materials, but also as the cover image for Dr Tony Sewell’s book about the Rasta movement.
August 1981, Montego Bay

Working closely with the HAS client group, who were almost all completely disaffected with the norms and values of the traditional English education system, convinced me that new and radically different materials and text books were needed if I was to be able to reach out and help these young men.

During the course of my work I had come into contact with Sidelines, the design and photography agency run by Brian Homer, Derek Bishton and John Reardon in Grove Lane, Handsworth. Derek and Brian had published a book about Rastafarianism written by John Plummer called Movement of Jah People, and had also worked with Clare Short and Affor, editing and designing a book about police-black relations called Talking Blues.

I visited their offices several times to talk about my ideas for publishing materials to help with my literacy work, and Derek and I became close friends. In January 1981, Derek spent a month living with a group of Rastafarians settled in a small town in Ethiopia called Shashemane, and returned with many photographs and interviews. He was keen to extend his research to Jamaica, where the Rasta movement had originated from, and we decided to make a joint visit in the summer of 1981.

I had several objectives. Obviously I was looking forward to going ‘home’ and showing off my beautiful island, but I also wanted to find out more about the Jamal project, an adult literacy scheme set up by the Manley government in the early 1970s that had produced a range of reading materials. I also wanted to know what issues faced returning residents (many of my older students were considering returning to Jamaica, as indeed was my own father); and I wanted to collect as much material as possible that I could use as teaching materials with my HAS clients.

The trip was completely self-financed, but I was able to obtain a grant of £500 for film stock so that Derek could take photographs. We travelled all over the island, photographing places of interest such as the Marcus Garvey memorial in St Anne’s Bay, the Tuff Gong studio in Kingston, famous musicians and other cultural figures, and returned with significant amounts of educational resources – which also included books, and interviews which I recorded using a small cassette recorder.

When we returned to England and assessed the material we had gathered – which also included photographs and interviews with a Jamaican wood-carver called Rocky who we had met – it quickly became clear that we had lots of resources that could be turned into educational materials that would hold a special appeal to most of my HAS clients. Thus the idea of a publishing project was born.