Travel Tips & Features

Bringing out the South – Trelawny Yam Festival 2007

Written by Adam Rhoads

Every morning starts the same in south Trelawny. Sometime around 6am the sun shyly peeks up over the top of the farthest Cockpit and light slowly but steadily illuminates a world unto itself. A cock’s crow breaks the near perfect silence and rings the alarm for this world to wake. Thick layers of mist envelope the deep Cockpit depressions and their valuable treasures while in every direction towering limestone hillocks glisten in the rising sun. A short time later the first farmer hits the road – water boots, an old pair of clothes, a hat, a pack containing breakfast and the day’s water slung over the shoulder. In one hand a machete, in the other a rope leading to his only co-worker. The donkey trots along, empty baskets slung over the back, farmer’s fork secured with a piece of rope. The farmer and the beast pass by then moments later disappear down a trail the average person wouldn’t see if they didn’t already know it was there. The two climb down a steep slope, passing a field full of ripe yam, planted 10 months ago and ready to harvest as soon as the price is right. Their destination is the fertile and mineral rich bottomlands where a day of yam-hill digging in the hot Caribbean sun awaits. By 10am the two will have done more work than most will do all day.

In a place full of great places, south Trelawny stands apart, and many would say above, all others. From the capital city Kingston to laid-back Treasure Beach to the west end of Negril, Jamaica is a wildly diverse country. But the place that perhaps best captures Jamaica’s rich culture and heritage, and captures best the ideal of the Jamaican Spirit, is south Trelawny. The first true Jamaicans made their homes here – Alps, Quick Step, Freeman’s Hall – where Maroons declared their right to independence and established some of the first free villages. It encompasses a large swath of Cockpit Country, Jamaica’s last remaining wilderness and largest contiguous forest area. Many of the forest’s plant and animal inhabitants are found nowhere else in the world. South Trelawny produces one of Jamaica’s trademark crops, the yellow yam, widely regarded as the best yam in the world. It is a place where people still have a sense of community. Where neighbors look out for each other, children are safe to play on the street and the verandah doesn’t always have to be locked.

It’s a shame that all of this priceless treasure is locked away deep in the hills away from the eyes of the world. Ask your average Jamaican not from south Trelawny what their impressions of the area is and you will hear this – Bush. Can’t reach there because of the roads. Boring. Just a bunch of farmers. Ask your average foreigner about south Trelawny and you will get this – “Which part of Montego Bay is that?”

It is time the world knows what is really going on down here. There are so many good things happening in south Trelawny its time to make it known. Leading the way in doing this is the 2007 Trelawny Yam Festival. For the past 10 years the Trelawny Yam Festival has been staged in the rural community of Albert Town, high in the hills of Cockpit Country. The Festival has been successful over the years, many times attracting over 10,000 visitors. Yet every year people not from south Trelawny give reasons to stay away – the roads are too bad to travel, there is no parking, the place is too crowded. Sadly, these complaints are true. There is no proper venue in south Trelawny to stage an event as big as the Yam Festival has come to be and because of that the culture of south Trelawny is not getting the recognition it deserves.

All of that is about to change. In an effort to showcase south Trelawny in all its splendor to as many people as possible, the Trelawny Yam Festival is moving out of the “bush” and to Trelawny’s north coast to show-off the many fascinating aspects of the area to other Jamaicans and, indeed, to the rest of the world.

The 2007 Trelawny Yam Festival will be held at the Hague Agricultural Show Grounds, just minutes off the north coast highway, on Easter Monday April 9th. Easy access, proper parking, good roads and a large festival grounds make this the perfect opportunity for everyone to experience the culture of Yam Country. A day and night affair will have something for everyone while showcasing and promoting Jamaica’s yam-producing basket. Gates open at 9am and there will be much to see and explore. A highlight of the Festival is the Yam Culinary Area. Here visitors will find professional chefs demonstrating their skills in preparing yam dishes and yam carving, while next door the Culinary Competition will showcase the innumerable uses of yam as schools, individuals and professionals enter yam dishes to compete for prizes. Here Festival patrons will also have the opportunity to sample all the yam dishes and vote for their favorite. Next door is the Flavors of Cricket Attraction where national dishes from the 16 countries participating in Cricket World Cup will be combined with yam and available for sample by visitors.

There is still much to do after seeing these amazing culinary displays as Festival patrons can visit the yam market, the community showcase, kid’s area, Cockpit Country display, craft and flower vendors or get a piece of roast yam from one of the many food vendors. For those with an adventurous appetite, yam by-products will abound at this year’s Festival. Pizza, pepper sauce, easter bun, salsa, punch, wine, beer and many other items – all made from yam – will be available throughout the day.

An all day cultural show begins at 11am and will showcase many talented singers, dancers and performers from Trelawny and across the island. To top everything off this year’s Festival will have an evening stage show with John Holt, Likkle Hero, Leroy Sibbles and others rocking the Yam Festival crowd late into the night.

South Trelawny and Trelawny Yam Festival invites the rest of Jamaica to come see what this magical part of the island has to offer. The Festival has something for everyone, make it a day and bring the entire family. For more information on the 2007 Trelawny Yam Festival visit www.stea.net.

Trelawny Yam Festival: Born in south Trelawny. Visiting the rest of Jamaica. Next stop the world.

About the author

Adam Rhoads