Treasure Beach is located within the parish of St. Elizabeth,
known island-wide for having the friendliest and hardest working people
found anywhere in Jamaica. The sign welcoming visitors to the parish states, "In this parish we work, not shirk". This well-deserved reputation derives
from a work ethic instilled in generations of farmers and fishermen and
is one more way in which Treasure Beach is set apart from the rest of the
The Hardest Working Parish in JA
|Even the landscape of Treasure Beach is distinct. We
are known as the desert coast of Jamaica because we have the least amount
of rainfall on the island. This lack of precipitation is due to the natural
barrier provided by the Santa Cruz Mountains to the east. Many visitors
have made the comment that this area reminds them of the savannahs of East
Africa. The closer you come to Treasure Beach the more you see flat plains
with fields of low scrub grass, a variety of cacti (some reaching several
feet tall), acacia trees, and lignum vitae trees. Worth noting is the lignum
vitae, found in few locations around the world (and only on the south coast
in Jamaica) because they survive in a dry, arid climate. Its small purple
blossom is Jamaica's national flower and many people use the leaf for rubbing
on cuts and insect bites.
|| (For an "insider's view" on the area, check out Don Noel's book, Near a Far Sea, in the Eat and Play section)
The desert south coast
|The first residents of Treasure Beach were the Tainos
Indians, coming to Jamaica around 700 AD. The Tainos were small in stature
averaging five feet in height, with light brown skin and broad faces. One
interesting fact about the Tainos was that they felt a pointed skull was
something to be proud of and, therefore, used to bind up a babys head
using two wooden boards on either side ensuring the desired results. Tainos
were peaceful and non-materialistic believing in community living where
women gather the food and men fish and hunt. They were skilled potters,
carvers, weavers, boat builders, fishermen, and farmers. As a result of
the large population of Tainos which settled in the Treasure Beach area
around 1494 AD it is possible to go for a walk through a meadow and
find bits and pieces of Taino pottery lying on the ground (especially after
a hard rainfall). Unfortunately, when the Spanish "discovered"
Jamaica they captured and enslaved the Tainos who perished due to their
deplorable treatment. It is said that some were able to escape in boats
and made it to parts of the Americas (including south Florida) where small
Taino communities are still found today. Some Taino words you may be familiar
with are canoe, hammock, hurricane and tobacco.
Taino artifacts found in Treasure Beach
by Ted Tatham
|Fishing is the major industry in Treasure Beach. Talk
to any longtime resident and they will tell stories of several generations
of fishermen dating back 200 years. The fishermen today still use both a
seine net and traps (or pots) for catching their fish, but their vessels
have changed from a wooden "dugout canoe" --carved from a large cottonwood
tree-- to a cottonwood and fiberglass boat propelled by a 40 HP engine.
Many make their living on the Cays, a few small sand spit islands surrounded
by fertile fishing banks located 60 miles off Jamaica's South Coast, only
coming home to visit a few times a year. When a boat comes in after a day
at sea, the beach fills up with local residents checking out the catch of
the day. We encourage you to take part in this event and watch the colorful
fish, lobster, crab, etc. being unloaded, weighed, sorted, iced and sent
out in trucks for sale across the island. Talk directly to the fishermen
if you want to take some home for dinner.
Fishing done much as it was 200
years ago. Courtesy of Lee Weitzman
|Farming is the area's second biggest industry. In spite
of its low rainfall, St. Elizabeth is nicknamed "The Bread Basket of Jamaica"
because they supply more fruits and vegetables to the rest of the island
than any other parish. The drier climate has led to the use of "mulch farming"
--laying a thick layer of guinea grass over the planted field keeping in
the moisture-- and planting low-water crops such as watermelon, scallion,
and onion. Local irrigation typically consists of several 55 gallon drums
filled with water and a bucket for watering individual plants. When driving
through the area, take advantage of the many farm stands set up along the
side of the road and purchase some of their fresh fruits and vegetables.
In Treasure Beach watch for the famous "donkey ladies" and vegetable trucks
selling fresh produce daily.
Farm land of St. Elizabeth
| The history of Treasure Beach would not be complete
without telling the tale of a Scottish ship sinking off the coast in the
mid-1600 s. The survivors swam to shore and settled in the area. The inevitable
intermixing with the local population has led to the prevalence of residents
with light skin, blue and green eyes, and blond and red hair. Across the
island they are instantly recognized as "brownin's" or "red men" from Treasure
Beach. All we know is it makes for some truly beautiful people!
A Red Man of Treasure Beach