PILGRIMAGE TO THE ‘HOLY GROUNDS’ OF REGGAE
he lives and deaths of many of the world’s musical icons have created ‘holy grounds’ and shrines for their followers. While Elvis fans visit Graceland and Jim Morrison fanatics remember their favorite singer at Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, admirers of the late reggae star Bob Marley trek to the tiny village of Nine Mile to see his final resting place. We talked to four aficionados, who described their pilgrimage to the ‘holy grounds’ of reggae and the glimpse into the early life of Jamaica’s musical phenomenon as a very special experience. T
Almost three decades after his death, Bob Marley’s fame has reached every corner of the world and his catchy tunes play in the background at most Jamaican vacation spots. It is hard to fathom that this musical genius, who catapulted himself and his small island country onto the global music scene with No Woman, No Cry, walked his childhood steps in a tiny village in the hills of St. Ann.
family house where it all began. During the tour through Bob’s grandmother’s house, where he lived as a young boy, the guide shared some little known insights into his childhood and musical career.”
Doug found it fascinating to visit the rooms where the singer and songwriter had lived and worked; “We thought it was very special that it was here, in this small board house, that Bob wrote his famous song Is This Love and we could just imagine him laying on the small bed, creating the line; “We’ll be together with a roof right over our heads; we’ll share the shelter of my single bed”.
Born February 6, 1945, in the rural community of Nine Mile, Robert ‘Nesta’ Marley continued to find musical inspiration in his secluded birthplace from time to time throughout his life. Marley was only 36 years old when the world was robbed of his talent in 1981. The beloved singer received a state funeral which combined elements of Ethiopian Orthodox and Rastafari tradition, before he was laid to rest at his birthplace. The four pilgrims from left: Doug and Jennifer Campbell, Erin and Patrick Westfall from Boulder, Colorado (Photo: Heidi Zech)
His presence on the island is still strongly felt, transcending his earthly existence. Marley’s spirit reaches far beyond his marble tomb and the Jamaican legend still moves island life and culture more than 27 years after his death. Among the island’s Rastafari population, of which Marley was a devout follower, it is a widely accepted fact that the musical genius who grew up among them achieved eternal life and continues to live in Nine Mile. His final resting place has become a shrine to reggae fans from faraway places, who journey into the Jamaican mountains to feel the spirit of their idol first hand.
Massive Bob Marley fans since their teenage years, sisters Erin Westfall and Jennifer Campbell decided to go on a pilgrimage to the shrine of the late ‘King of Reggae’ during their visit to the island together with husbands Patrick and Doug. The two Colorado couples took the journey in a private car; “We really made the right decision to book a private car from Jamaica Tours, it was both convenient and relaxing.”
The group credited their driver Kwame Crooks for imparting knowledge about Jamaican culture and way of life. Described Jennifer; “The drive from Montego Bay to Nine Mile provided plenty of time for the knowledgeable Kwame to educate us about Jamaican history, people, landmarks, food, flora and fauna.
According to the four, the most interesting part started at the turn-off from the north coast highway in Discovery Bay. Explained Erin; “The road was winding, but quite good. When we entered the village of Nine Mile, we were impressed by how nice and clean the Nine Mile Basic School was and we learned that it was adopted by Bob’s mother, Cedella. It is really great that the people in the area get some help towards the education of their children.”
Upon their arrival, the group was brought to a waiting area with a nice bar and a TV screen, where a very informative Bob Marley documentary was shown. Explained Patrick; “This got us completely in the reggae groove, before our Rastafari tour guide showed us the Jamaica Tours driver Kwame Crooks (Photo: Heidi Zech)
Jennifer expressed the same opinion; “One of the other things we found touching was that we got to stand on ‘Mount Zion Rock’ where Bob used to meditate and rest his head on ‘the pillow’, a flat round stone made famous in the song Talking Blues; “Cold ground was my bed last night; and rock was my pillow, too.”
Doug described the visit to Marley’s final resting place as an extraordinary experience; “Finally, with a somewhat sad but curious feeling, we walked through the mausoleum, the final resting place of the Reggae King. The tomb is made of white Italian marble, with Bob’s head facing east, towards Ethiopia. We also saw the fireside where young Bob Marley cooked his meals as depicted in his song No Woman No Cry, where the lyrics describe ‘We would cook cornmeal porridge of which I share with you’. The grounds are full of memories.”
The four agreed that although the tour was only around an hour, it was worth the trip. “To us, it was important to see were one of the world’s greatest musical talents originated from. It was very special to us.”
Back on the road, the four adventurers enjoyed a jerk chicken lunch and afternoon river-rafting on the Martha Brae River. They all agreed; “It was the perfect way to end this adventurous journey in a mellow way.”
Erin Westfall in front of Marley’s grandmother’s house (Photo: Patrick Westfall)