The Barrel From "Farin" (Foreign)


The ritual of sending a barrel from foreign has been a long standing tradition in Jamaica. Most Jamaicans dream of migrating to abroad so they can have the privilege of sending foreign goods and difficult to obtain items home.

During times such as Christmas, Easter and Summer Vacations a vast amount of barrels are sent to Jamaica. Many times the barrels are sent because there are food items that have become scarse or rare. Sometimes the cost of clothing and other essential items are so astronomical that it makes better economic sense to import the items from abroad.

Items that are normally imported are rice, coffee, sugar, canned goods, toiletries, fabric, sneakers, shoes, hair products, perfumes, and clothing. The curious may ask why do Jamaicans feel the need to import items such as coffee, rice and sugar when they have the capability of growing these items and selling them for a reasonable price?

The answer to the question would be, because even though Jamaica harvests these items, they are sold to foreigners and foreign countries at unremarkable prices in order to bring revenue to the country. Therefore, the average Jamaican is unable to afford these items on a frequent basis without creating a hardship for their families.

Barrels are sent home because it is a way for immigrants to send gifts as well as much needed supplies to their families. The items they often send, are essential food items that have become unavailable in the regular markets. There was a time in Jamaica when certain food items were rationed, or the prices were raised so high that it required a “king’s ransom “ to obtain these products.
Essential food items such as meat and poultry have become luxury items in the country therefore, reforming individuals to become vegetarians or importing canned meats and other products for survival.

Barrels are sent from importers like Laparkan, Caribbean Shipping Services, and Inter Island Shipping which ship merchandise to Jamaica from around the world. Once the barrels are sent from abroad, the act of retrieving  them becomes a tedious task. The excitement, joy and anxiety that has built up with the great expectation of receiving the goods are soon thwarted by the heavy fees and tariffs that are required to clear the packages.

When the barrels arrive in Jamaica, approximately $5,000 JA is needed to clear each barrel. The recipient of the barrel/barrels must have shipping and airline documents from an agent abroad, showing the origination of the items and their final destination.

The Freight Agent in Jamaica is responsible for handling goods when they arrive at Jamaican Ports. The shipping documents have to be taken to the freight agent, where the recipient of the goods obtain an airway bill/bill of lading for clearance of the goods. If the goods are declared as personal effects or household items, and their value does not exceed the cost of freight or insurance ($3,000 US)  or ($282,000 JA), the recipients can proceed to the wharf, airport or wharehouse to collect the barrel.

The person designated to receive the barrel must have the following documentation:
Taxpayer Registration Number, drivers license, passport, voter’s identification, invoice, airway bill/bill of lading, and customs forms identifying the value of items . After the paperwork has been scrutinized and approved by the Customs Manifest Branch at the clearance point, the Customs Officer will process and stamp the goods declaration form and the documents are returned to the recipient.

The recipient is then instructed to take the airway bill to the wharehouse keeper, who locates the barrel/barrels and then places the package in an examination area to be inspected by customs.The documents are shown to the Customs Officer, the merchandise is inspected and if there aren’t any applicable fees, the officer will release the merchandise. However, if there are duties payable, the recipient will have to make a payment at the Customs Cashier before retrieving the goods.

This is when most Jamaicans become disheartened and lose their cool. Oftentimes, Customs Officers rummage through the items with a vengeance and disdainful tactics, confiscating products that they deem illegal or inappropriate to be brought into the country. The inspection of barrels are also a time of revelation, when things listed as sent, are reported missing upon the perusal of the barrel/barrels.

After all the red tape has been waded through, the recipient usually bears a sigh of relief. The enthusiasm and excitement of receiving goods from Farin once again emerges to the forefront and everyone in the family is satisfied by all their requests being met, providing goods were not confiscated while being inspected.

Many recipients of barrels have been subjected to unfair fines, confiscations and the willful taunting by customs officers partaking in their products in their presence.

Despite the complicated process, and sometimes humiliating experience, the legend of the barrel continues long after it has been emptied and the products have been used and worn. In certain households in Jamaica, the empty barrels are used for storage instead of Rubbermaid containers. They are covered with decorative pieces of material and disguised as side tables or night stands. Children will often find games to play by rolling the cartons in the backyard.

The barrel from Farin brings joy, comfort and relief to many recipients in Jamaica, and although most people may perceive it as something “poor people” may do, one has to remember that it isn’t an inexpensive activity. Barrels aren’t sent because of impoverished states, because the recipients have to possess money in order to retrieve the goods.

Research data provided by

About the author

Margaret J.Bailey