Seville Heritage Park in Saint Ann’s Bay marks one of the first encounters between Old and New World. Unless you’re Jamaican or took Caribbean history classes, you’re likely hearing for the first time that English-speaking Jamaica was first colonized by the Spanish hence the town Sevilla la Nueva was named for Seville, Spain. Christopher Columbus first set foot in Jamaica in 1494 making an already well-known inhabited island first known to Europe. In 1503-4 he lived at the well-developed Taino town of Maima for over a year with his men after getting shipwrecked. However, it wasn’t until 1509 that Sevilla la Nueva was established becoming the first permanent European settlement in Jamaica and changing Jamaican, European and World History forever.
It was founded by Juan de Esquivel who arrived with 80 families and destroyed Maima in their wake to make room for Seville. The first Africans were free men and navigators who assisted the Spanish until later in the 1500s when they forcibly imported a West African slave labour force after almost entirely wiping out the thousands of Tainos they encountered. After a bloody fight and acquisition of Jamaica in 1655, the British settled in Seville too. They retained its Spanish name but converted Seville into a sugar plantation. This heinous clash of 4 cultures explains why Seville is currently one of two places on Jamaica’s tentative list for UNESCO World Heritage Site inscription. Today, the property has fallen into government hands so guided tours are available which allows one to time travel for an hour.
Usually I give directions from Jamaica’s capital city of Kingston but as you can see by my trend of St. Ann posts, I was staying in St. Ann for a while. This made my journey much cheaper and shorter. Coming from St. Ann’s Bay, Seville is on the first left turnoff just after passing the roundabout and Church River. There’s a sign which says 0.5km to Seville Heritage park after which you’ll see the above sign a few seconds later if you’re driving (or after about a minute’s walk). Turn there.
Admission prices are included in the photo (left). They’re open Mondays to Fridays from 9am to 5pm but closed on all public holidays. Parking is available on the lawn behind the greathouse and trust me, the greathouse is a long drive or walk from the front. That’s because greathouses had to be perched high as a lookout spot for danger from privateers, etc. Walk-ins are welcome! The tour commences after paying at the ticket booth which is the front room inside the greathouse. The last tour commences at 4pm but try to go earlier than 4 if you want time to wander around on your own after the tour ends. That’s the only thing I’d have done differently since I never got to go back inside and read the beautiful displays word for word. I used my university ID for the tertiary students’ discount. However, the new prices don’t seem to have come into effect yet despite that June 11 date because I was charged JA$500.00 and so did the price stamped on my ticket confirm (but who’s complaining?).
The greathouse tour commences in the Taino room which features pottery and other remnants found on the property by modern-day archaeologists as well as a colourful backdrop depicting their history. The Tainos are a group of Amerindians who mainly inhabited the Greater Antilles of the Caribbean and dwelled along rivers and the coast for their livelihood. They were an intelligent bunch but with customs the Europeans who found them in the late 1400s- early 1500s and modern-day people would consider peculiar e.g. keeping zemis (demi-gods) in their homes, worshipping gods of nature, having a shaman who inhaled tobacco smoke until he was knocked unconscious then coming back with visions he believed to be from the gods which were then used to govern their lives and having a polygamous cacique (leader) who could have many wives who thought it an honour to drink cassava juice and be poisoned just so they could be laid to rest with their cacique husband should they outlive him. However, this same group taught the world how to barbecue, how to build houses strong enough to withstand hurricanes, how to prepare cassava in a way so it wouldn’t be poisonous to consume and how to smoke tobacco (although now we know the health risks). Yes, this group of people which the world doesn’t know yet enjoys their legacy or denounces as being docile. Today there’s no distinct Taino group left. Few managed to escape to the islands’ mountainous interiors where they were later joined by African runaways and intermarried to produce a new ethnic group. Some also intermarried with European settlers. So what had happened to them?
They died in 3 ways. Overwork from Spanish enslavement, from diseases like influenza and smallpox newly introduced by the Europeans but sadly and chiefly from murderous games which saw them getting impaled or beheaded by Spanish on horseback. It was a competitive sport, much as how one would have rodeos except with the murder of real live human beings. That accounted for the largest Taino death toll. Some chose to commit suicide and infanticide to escape and reach coyaba (heaven or afterlife, they believed in no hell) rather than endure the evil. When the Taino labour force had dwindled from hundreds of thousands to mere hundreds, the Spanish replaced them with West African slave labour. If you’re unaware of the difference between chattel slavery as opposed to domestic slavery, kindly look up the difference. Simply put, African chattel slaves were property who could be bought, sold, bred, maimed or murdered at will. Chattel slavery was an economic, social & political system endorsed both by law and by the Christian church for 300+ years until Emancipation, granted in 1833 (the bill was passed in 1833, effective August 1, 1834) but not coming into full effect until 1838. When the British captured Jamaica in 1655, the system of chattel slavery as practiced on Seville and throughout the whole nation continued, just under a new master. The Spanish house was torn down and upon its foundations was constructed a grander house, typical of British sugar plantation greathouses throughout the Caribbean.
The heinous bloody Jamaican history recounted at Seville was spot on accurate and told throughout 5 rooms inside the greathouse tour. The artefacts found on the property from the 4 civilizations are artfully displayed in glass cases or mounted, a few of which are captured below.
On a lighter note, do you wonder why this greathouse has only one floor? It’s one of a kind as all Caribbean greathouses have at least 2 stories. The reason is that a hurricane blew off the top storey and the owner chose not to rebuild it. It was constructed from wattle and daub but maybe if they had gotten Taino advice it would’ve lasted, right? 😅
Exploring the Seville Outdoors
When land was first divided among the new British settlers, it was lavishly done with over 30,000 acres distributed to Captain Richard Hemmings alone, the absentee planter who owned Seville Greathouse. Check out all the treasures I discovered outdoors, both on the guided tour and while wandering without a guide.
It’s great to step back in time with tours like these and experience authentic Jamaican heritage. I spent a rewarding 2 hours here, learnt quite a bit and got a Jamaican history refresher too. Thus, I highly recommend Seville Heritage Park with full stars ☆☆☆☆☆ for anyone interested in experiencing Jamaica’s story in a way that only Seville can tell. Also, given this history, I wonder why would Saint Ann’s Bay have a statue of Christopher Columbus. I have zero respect for him and am appalled at countries which dedicate one whole day to a murderous moron. But that’s for a separate discussion. Adam Ruins Everything explains my disdain perfectly.
‘Til next time. ✌