By Laura 'Simply Leah' Mcneil
Jamaica night was a highly anticipated night at the 2019 CaribbeanTales Film Festival. The Caribbean community was buzzing about this night, and I’m pretty sure it had much to do with the stories that were about to be shared with us. After watching the films, I had a complete understanding as to why the buzz was so big. We gathered at the Carlton Cinemas in Toronto and got right into the first film of the night, entitled Rockstone and Fire. This short film directed by Courtney Coke took us to a page in Jamaica’s history that is rarely talked about, and how it the lives of the people residing in the parish of St. Elizabeth.
I have always heard the Jamaican term ‘Rockstone’ and assumed it was my ancestors’ backwards way of saying ‘Rock’ or ‘Stone’. To our Jamaican readers having a chuckle at my expense, I now know that I wasn’t too far off, and I soon found that there was a deeper meaning! For the sake of clarity, the term refers to a coarse stone used in the construction of buildings; told you I was close! In this short film we learn how this coarse rock or stone was created and used to build homes before the times of cement sand, concrete blocks, and steel in Jamaica. According to the storytellers in this film, when a person or family in the parish of St. Elizabeth needed to build a home the whole community came together and loaned a few hours of their time towards this goal. Many people were needed for the first step of this process, which was to build a kiln so that some of the materials to be used during construction could be melted and then hardened. During the time of the Spanish settlement in Jamaica, this was their way of building homes and other buildings. They passed this knowledge on to the rest of Jamaica’s inhabitants before their departure in the late 1600s.
In this film, Courtney Coke takes us through the process of making what’s known as wattle and daub - the main material used in the construction of these buildings he so fondly speaks about during the film. Mr. Coke draws from his personal memory bank, highlighting times when he himself witnessed his community coming together to help one another with this grand task.
I personally am happy that Courtney Coke saw the importance in this part of Jamaica’s history. After watching the film, I was definitely in agreement with the desire to preserve and share. Together with Carol Campbell, Ann Hodges, Peter Francis, and Enith Williams they formed The Wattle and Red Earth Collective better known as W.A.R.E to bring awareness about this seldom discussed topic. Rockstone and Fire is definitely a must see, as this process is truly an amazing one. Each member of W.A.R.E is featured in this film and also share their memories of what they regard as good times in Jamaica. For me the memories shared painted the picture of a big family barbecue, where everyone would bring a dish or something to drink while socializing into the wee hours of the morning. It was definitely worth the laughter and greater knowledge that was brought forth by this short film.
*Editor’s note: Rockstone and Fire was screened at the CaribbeanTales International Film Festival ‘19