In Jamaica, it’s common to see an elderly person addressed as “Elder,” which is viewed as paying respect to the older inhabitants of the island, most born before Jamaica’s independence from England in 1962. These men and women are a walking library, holding information passed on to them by their grandparents who were born into slavery.
Both of my maternal grandparents were a wealth of knowledge although they both lacked any formal education. My grandfather — a skilled laborer from May Pen, Clarendon — helped construct many of the buildings erected in the ’50s and ’60s. Deacon Fisher was a jovial man, loved by the community and often called “father” by the many children who were without one.
Sister Lillian, my grandmother, was a stern and proud Christian woman who, because she gave more than she received, many people growing up at that time thought was wealthy. In actuality, she sold fish in the fishing village of Rocky Point, Clarendon.
After both of them passed a few years ago, I began to meditate on the rapidly dwindling society of my elders in Jamaica and returned there frequently, attempting to capture the essence of these men and women. Although they’re still viewed as the backbone of Jamaican society, the reality is we won’t have many of them around in the next 20 years. I traveled with camera in hand hoping to document these storytellers. What I found in each portrait was a proud history coupled with a humble yet strong dignity.