Jamaica is filled with very exciting people immersed in the culture of the island and once you experience this lifestyle, it’s hard to forget such a vibrant and diverse Caribbean group. The lives of many districts within the urban and rural areas of Jamaica revolve around the market to this day and vendors are very passionate and committed to their service that they provide to customers on what Jamaicans call the ‘market day’. The term market refers to those structures which vend mainly fresh produce grown on the island as opposed to supermarkets which retail processed and packaged goods. Each parish and community has a market, sometimes two or three, with their unique brand of produce and experiences.
Market day was customarily held on Sunday so as not to interfere with estate cultivation, and the first markets developed in port towns such as Montego Bay, Lucea, Falmouth, Black River, Savanna-la-Mar, as well as inland towns like Brown’s Town and Chapelton. A critical apprenticeship for the higglers was their experience in the inter-property trade which required them to travel extensively to other properties on foot to deliver fresh meat, coffee, and other commodities for their owners. Some of the enslaved women arrived in Jamaica with some preparation for their role as higglers since “the vast majority of Jamaican slaves came from West Africa where markets were highly developed, and where women were predominantly the marketers”. (Mintz) – Adapted from historian Arnold Bertram’s article in the Jamaica Gleaner.
One cultural norm in Jamaica is Saturday morning market, where vendors from near and far set up “shop” with their flamboyant stalls and luscious fruits, vegetables and ground provisions. They come out as early as the crack of dawn to secure a prime spot which will guarantee them customer visibility, they set up their produce then wait patiently for prospective buyers.
“I have been going to the market for as long as I can remember, every Saturday morning I would go with my mother…The environment is one which certainly takes some time to get used to, the noise, the excitement, the smells… If you haven’t grown used to it, it would not be smart to simply think you can enter the market and walk around without being consumed by all the sensations that you would instantly feel.” – Jamaican sharing their views on the Jamaican market culture.
THE OVERALL MARKET EXPERIENCE
“Hundred dolla a pound!” is one of the most popular phrases escaping the mouths of vendors as they blurt out any given price as well as the quantity – it is then up to the desired buyer to vet their showcased items for sale.
If the sun doesn’t get to you, it’s the random bursts of people trying to sell you something at bargain price, or so it seems, so they can get that extra customer and go home with only the load of a job well done. Going to the market on a Saturday morning is something practiced by many Jamaicans and in the heat of the ‘hunt’, a patois talking authentic Jamaican can be brought out of even the poshest of middle-class women. But even if you are a peaceful shopper or a rowdy bargainer, you will leave the market with a pound, a bundle and a black scandal bag of something for your table.
It is an understatement to say that you can find some things at the market, because most if not all produce, vegetables, fruits and even sometimes other items are exhibited if you look hard enough. From sweet pepper to string bean and carrot, from coconut to avocado and breadfruit, from yam to dasheen and pumpkin, pineapple to cantaloupe and banana, there is everything available and accessible for purchase with even the country dirt still attached. There is also a fish and meat market attached to the markets, but that is for another time.
“In essence, Coronation Market is the venue for purchasing fresh fruits and vegetables at the most competitive prices. It is a market where vendors from all over the island come into “town”, which is Kingston, the city, to wholesale and retail all sorts of goods. This market has a reputation of offering goods for sale far cheaper than you would pay at the traditional supermarket or roadside vendors.” – Jamaican sharing their views going to Coronation Market in Kingston, Jamaica.
There are two sides to most markets, the inside and the outside and while the outside vendors have first dibs on the buyers coming from their cars, they are prone to heat and having to protect their items from other weather conditions. This accounts for the reason why they have very unpleasant temperaments sometimes and will not hesitate to bargain the price just so that they can pack up earlier than anticipated some days.
“It hot out ere man. Some of us out ere fah all eight nine hours in the day and don’t si wata or food until we guh home. I always av to try sell off ma belongings so at least a feel like the likkle suffering worth sumting you know.” – Market vendor told The Caribbean Current.
The varying smell of produce diffuses through the air giving even a blind man his exact location catches you on entry to the open space. The veteran customers often catch a whiff of a particular scent and the item they search for on their hand-written shopping lists meet their wandering eyes.
“If you manage to get used to the sounds, you will then have to deal with the smells, and being a market of fresh produce and numerous other items this can confuse your nose as well. Oranges, Banana’s, Melons, Coconut, Ground Provisions, and Spices are some of the items that are bound to fill your nostrils with their wild fragrances….The bad smells can sometimes be quite overpowering, the smells range from the rotting fruit and vegetables, to the sweat dripping off the bodies of the numerous sellers, fish and meat and other smells from things you can buy at the market.” – Jamaican sharing their views on the Jamaican market culture.
This is the initial process far too familiar in the purchase and execution of a trip to the market as some buyers close in on the target as their squinted eyes peer over their shades.
“It’s sometimes difficult to buy everything at the supermarket, so that’s why I come here. You get everything fresh and half the price; it’s only when I don’t find what I’m looking for here that I shop for vegetables and fruits in the supermarket. I save a lot in the market although it gets hot and miserable on a Saturday at 7 o clock when I’d rather be at home.” – Buyer told The Caribbean Current.
While some customers enjoy the market on a Saturday, others do find it quite strenuous; regardless there are many benefits to going to the market. These benefits included, but are not limited to, the ability to bargain down prices; developing relationships to get ‘first dibs’ on produce or make your own orders; you can get very reasonable prices you wouldn’t get anywhere else; and you can pick and choose from freshly grown produce with little to no preservatives or fertilizers.
PRIDE OF VENDORS
Vendors are very proud individuals as they neatly showcase their products to the world, be it arranged by category – fruits to one side and vegetables to the other – or by a beautiful scheme organized by primary colours. Notably their arrangement does not go unnoticed and catches the eye of even the toughest shopper to impress.
However, even the vendors with the best strategy to capture the attention of its buyers experience many challenges – like not able to land sales, not making a decent profit, issues with theft, not grabbing enough consideration with the array of products or not having enough products to sell in the first place.
It’s not only about selling their products though, as many Jamaicans socialize with each other within the market, be it with other vendors or with the buyers or the occasional evangelist, the sense of camaraderie grows each week and is the centre of the lives of thousands.
“I love [the market] because I always admire the camaraderie with which everybody treats each other in the market setting. Even people who seem like the worst enemies in one week can be seen the next week exchanging pleasantries as if they grew up together. On numerous occasions I have seen people leave their bags filled with fruits and come back to find them, and even seen sellers leave their goods behind and another person sell it for them with no charge for that service.” – Jamaican sharing their views on the Jamaican market culture.
By Alexandria Daley