He’s buried with a marijuana joint, his Gibson guitar, a soccer ball, a Bible, and a ring from the son of the Ethiopian Emperor he worshipped. That’s just one of the interesting things we learned about Jamaica’s most popular musician Bob Marley when we visited his childhood home in Nine Mile and also the adjacent mausoleums where he and his mother are buried.The whole tour site is very commercialized and after paying a $20 American entry fee they continue to try to take your money at every turn. As soon as you walk in the gate there are people ready to sell you marijuana cigarettes to smoke. Marijuana is illegal in Jamaica so this was rather surprising but the tourists who bought the marijuana and smoked it on our tour didn’t seem at all concerned about breaking the law.Before you begin your actual tour the guide tries to sell you a drink-water, beer, pop or a Bob Marley shot glass filled with three layers of liquor. For $10 American you get to keep the glass your drink comes in. Our guide pointed out a large billboard style painting of Ethiopian Emperor Halie Sellasie and his wife. According to the Rastafari religion which began in Jamaica in the 1930’s Sellasie, who died in 1975 was a divine messiah who would someday lead the people of Africa and the African diaspora to freedom. Bob Marley, his mother and his wife were all devout Rastafari followers. Our first tour stop was a kind of shrine with framed copies of all Marley’s award-winning albumsand numerous portraits of the artist whose song One Love was named Song of the Millenium by the BBC in 1999. Next we were ushered into a sitting area in front of a stage where some reggae musicians were performing a medley of Marley tunes. Naturally we were encouraged to leave a tip in the basket on the stage as a way to thank the musicians. On the way up to see the house where Bob Marley spent his childhood we stopped to look at the graves of his maternal grandparents. Bob was born in their house in 1945, to his 18-year-old mother Cedella Booker who was of African descent. His father was 60-year-old Norval Marley. A plantation overseer he was of British descent. His father was seldom home and died when Bob was 10. We were invited inside the small two room house where Bob and his mother lived from the time he was six months old till he was 13 and they moved to Kingston. The guide obligingly took a photo of each tourist beside the bed where Bob Marley slept but of course we found out later the guide was expecting a tip for providing this kind of personal service. Since the home of Bob and his mother only had two rooms cooking was done in this outdoor kitchen behind the house. Before we entered the mausoleums where Bob Marley and his mother are buried we had to take our shoes off out of respect and were also encouraged to buy a candle to light for Bob Marley. Outside Bob Marley’s childhood home we were invited to lie down on a rock made famous in one of Bob’s songs “Talkin’ Blues”, where he refers to a rock that was his pillow. I was expecting we’d have to pay for this privilege too but we didn’t.
The first mausoleum we visited paid tribute to Bob Marley’s mother. Bob Marley died in 1981 and his mother Cordella in 2008.This is the mausoleum where Cordella is buried. After Bob was born Cordella went on to have a daughter and two more sons with two different men and she adopted one of Bob’s sons. Bob Marley had fourteen children with nine different women, although he only married one- Rita Marley. Bob Marley is buried in this mausoleum along with his half brother Anthony who was killed in a shoot-out with police in 1990 after he began open firing with a shotgun in a Miami shopping mall. Outside the mausoleum was this sign to remind us that Bob Marley lives on through his music. As you leave the Bob Marley site you pass through not one but three different shops selling Bob Marley souvenirs.
The road up to the Bob Marley Nine Mile Site is in terrible condition and very twisty and narrow. It is used by local buses that ignore the idea of any kind of speed limit and pass without wondering what other vehicles might be around the corner. I was so glad we were in the hands of expert driver and Pentecostal pastor Andrew Moody. His astute observations about Bob Marley and the Nine Mile site as well as the story of Andrew’s own personal life experiences, including working on different farms in Canada were worth the car fare on their own. We saw so much of the Jamaican countryside on our trip to Nine Mile and that was great!
We’ve talked to people here in Jamaica who aren’t at all happy that a marijuana smoking, Rastafarian, womanizer has become their most famous citizen but there are others who say that you can’t underestimate the value to the Jamaican tourist industry of Marley, the reggae great who has been inducted into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame and has won a Lifetime Acheivement Grammy. He’s certainly put Jamaica on the map.
There are other Bob Marley sites in Jamaica and I don’t know what they are like, but the Nine Mile one while interesting is definitely a tourist trap and as you drive through the streets of Nine Mile it is clear whatever profits the Bob Marley site is making none have trickled down to the people in the ghetto-like, run-down and impoverished neighborhood where he was born and where tourists now flock to learn about him.
Other posts about Jamaica…….