Visit to Reach Falls and the Nonsuch Caves

The group visited the Nonsuch Caves and Athenery Gardens. Once a very busy tourist attraction the Nonsuch Caves and Athenery Gardens have been closed for years now due to a drop-off of tourist visitors to this part of the island. The proprietor of the attraction however, along with a guardian of the property for the first time in ten years opened up the caves for a limited viewing by the group.

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The history of the Nonsuch Caves is inestimable. As the historian attached to the project (Dr. Cresser) makes clear, carved into the hills of Nonsuch are details that tell the story of the geological origins of Jamaica. During the Cretaceous period (approximately 140-60 million years ago), the island was built up from from volcanic deposits and emerged from the sea. The multi-chambered cave system is estimated to be over one million years old. Some of the chambers are fairly large – one having a ceiling approximately forty feet high. In these chambers are to be found stalactites and stalagmites – formed from deposits left behind by slow-dripping water. Today the caves are home to numerous bats, but fossils found in the caves tell us that marine organisms were once the inhabitants and remind us of the underwater history of the limestone features.

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The caves of Nonsuch do not only tell us about the natural history of Jamaica: their dark recesses also contain clues about the history of the indigenous peoples of Jamaica. The islands of the Caribbean were settled by successive waves of migrants from other parts of the Caribbean basin, a group originally from the Arawak-speaking peoples of the Orinoco River valley in South America had migrated up the Caribbean island chain, settled permanently in the island and established their own identity – referring to themselves as Tainos. The Taino were the inhabitants of Jamaica when Europeans arrived at the end of the fifteenth century. Their culture was based on farming supplemented by fishing, hunting and gathering; it had elements of social stratification; and a religious/spiritual system based on the worship of deities and ancestral spirits represented as zemis.

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Taino artefacts have been found in the caves at Nonsuch, which tells us that the Taino likely settled in or near this area. The fact that artefacts were found in the caves (and in other similar caves across the island) also tells us that caves played an important role in Taino beliefs and religious practices. According to Olive Senior, Caves in all the islands inhabited by the Tainos were used as sanctuaries where religious artefacts were preserved for ritual purposes, and where important burials took place, reflecting perhaps the beliefs shared by many other peoples that the cave is the threshold or gateway between worlds.

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Following their trip to the Nonsuch Caves the group then visited Reach Falls, an interesting site that features in the history of resistance against the system of slavery. Reach Falls, as well has a system of caves, however the caves are cleverly concealed by the beautiful falls and are literally underneath the waters of the falls. Early enslaved Africans knew of this hiding place and used it to their advantage.

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