Jamaica has come to Shepherd Park, courtesy of Donald G. Morgan.
Morgan, a sociology professor at Bowie State College and a native of Jamaica, has constructed a 56-by-14-foot "simulation" of Jamaica--in his front yard on Kalmia Road.
"I decided to build this just about the time that President Reagan met with the prime minister of Jamaica in January of 1981 ," Morgan explains. "I was very impressed with the warm reception and the pledges that President Reagan made . . . I felt like writing and expressing my personal thank you to the president, but I was afraid that it might get lost in some bureaucratic shuffle. So I built something of a tribute to the president and the American people in general."
The brick and concrete "island" is ringed with a shallow, turquoise reservoir representing the Caribbean Sea. Historical markers are scattered throughout, including a bust of Christopher Columbus, who visited Jamaica in 1494. Among the environmental details: a plaster donkey bearing a cart of fruit, a crocodile ("the native reptile") lazing on a rock, a ceremonious American eagle. And, in the middle, Morgan has hung plastic oranges from the branches of a holly tree, to "symbolize the fruitfulness of Jamaica."
In keeping with his purpose, Morgan flies both U.S. and Jamaican flags. "The gold is for the sunshine, the black indicates the hardships that the people had to endure, and the green . . . indicates the life, food and green pastures--hope and prosperity," says Morgan, holding the edge of his native banner.
Morgan, who has lived here for 22 years, completed the bulk of the construction last October, and since then, he estimates he has led more than 500 people through the display. The tour was a feature of two parties he gave on behalf of "Jamaica Volunteers," of which he is the president. Other visitors are "people who drive, stop by, come off the street."
A tour of the exhibit also includes Morgan's collection of Jamaican products, including colorfully labeled cans and bottles of Tia Maria coffee liqueur, Pickapeppa hot pepper sauce and breadfruit ("It tastes very nice, at least to us"). The products sit alongside tourist brochures and a photograph of Jamaican Prime Minister Edward P.G. Seaga, and Morgan's descriptions are spiced with lore.
"The White Witch perfume is named after a woman who killed her seven husbands and buried them under a palm tree," said Morgan, holding a bottle of the Jamaican scent. "I guess they named it that because it is so strong and powerful." A sampling of Jamaica's arts features a box and painted coasters made of lignum vitae wood. "You can make a whole house out of it," says Morgan. "This doesn't rot."
Jamaica began celebrating the 21st anniversary of its independence from the British yesterday. "All over Jamaica and wherever you find Jamaicans, there will be a lot of celebration through the month of August," said Morgan. "As a sociologist, I know that you get along much better with people if you know something about where they came from."
The simulation is not only directed at Americans who know nothing of Jamaican history but also at the Jamaicans in this country, who number in the thousands in the Washington area alone. "For Jamaicans, wherever on the islands you are from, you look at this simulation and it gives you a sense of home, a sense of belonging."