Life is quite unpredictable and I’m learning to roll with the punches more each day. Earlier this year I’d set out to visit this waterfall’s smaller cousin, Kwame Falls, but the public transport in Kingston decided against that plan. Thus, I was most excited when a high schoolmate of mine who is now studying abroad came out for Christmas and organized a few trips to discover more of Jamaica, perhaps inspired by his own overseas adventures or this blog 😅. Tacky Falls in Islington, St. Mary was on his itinerary and that’s how it came about that I visited the harder-to-find St. Mary waterfall first.
Loads of History Behind Tacky Falls
Teeming with history even more than beauty, Tacky Falls is named for the slave who inspired and led a series of islandwide rebellions against British enslavement in 1760. It was the most successful Jamaican slave rebellion before that of Rt. Excellent Samuel Sharpe 71 years later, yet we hear so little of him. Born Takyi from the Fante ethnic group of the Gold Coast (now Ghana), Chief Tacky was a fluent English speaker. Unfortunately, that’s because he was involved with the slave trade and sold Africans from the Ashanti, Nzema and Ahanta rival tribes into slavery. Africans are always blamed for having taken part in the trade but remember, their understanding of slavery was the domestic kind where slaves were treated HUMANELY since that’s the kind which existed in West Africa. Ironically, when a rival state defeated his army in battle, he was sold off to Jamaica via a different company. In the Caribbean he finally realized the evil his fellow men had been suffering. He, along with Ashanti Queen Nanny, both planned to take over Jamaica from the British but for themselves and not as allies.
Tacky and his hundreds of followers raided several plantations in St. Mary, armed with stolen ammunition and weaponry from Fort Haldane in Port Maria. Caribbean witch doctors or Obeahmen had boosted their confidence with a powder they claimed could protect them from injury in battle. Their chances of launching Jamaica as the Caribbean’s first Black Republic were great but a single slave ratted them out and foiled Tacky’s plan. Soon there were mounted militia after them and Maroons, bound by treaty to suppress slave rebellions. The militia learned of the Obeahman’s invincibility boast and so decided to capture and hang one with his mask and paraphernalia mounted visibly near the rebels’ encampment. Many of the rebels, confidence shaken, returned to their plantations. Tacky and 25 or so men retreated to the forests. The Maroons gave chase and their marksman Davy shot then beheaded Tacky for evidence and was handsomely rewarded. Tacky’s head was displayed on a pole in Spanish Town until a follower later managed to remove it in respect. The rest of Tacky’s men were found hiding in a cave near Tacky Falls, where they chose to commit suicide rather than return to the atrocities of West Indian chattel slavery.
It is said that the waterfall has diminished over the years and mainly eroded rocks mark its course today. The overland route is said to be rough too but of course, that didn’t discourage me. Starting from HWT, our rented bus drove through Constant Spring, Stony Hill then along the beautiful winding Junction Main Road to make it into St. Mary. At the roundabout near the banana estate, we went left as in the direction of Port Maria, then followed the A3 main road until we saw the sign which marks the turn-off for Islington. Don’t expect much of the road. Potholes are rampant. Some landmarks along the way include Ratty’s Rum Shop, the Islington New Testament Church and an Islington Kingdom Hall branch. Notice the landmarks– it is said that Jamaica holds the Guinness World Record for most rum-bars and churches per square mile (oh the irony 🤣) and this trip proved it.
The Zion Hill United Church is the closest point to the falls accessible by vehicle so we parked a little beyond there to start the hike. Thankfully this church can be found on Google Maps, making the drive easier for unfamiliar adventurers. In way of facilities, ask and it shall be given. That’s how we got access to bathrooms, cookshops and of course, rum for the desirous. At this point, make sure you ask for a guide or two. Our main guide was Mr. Davis, an elderly gentleman who makes his living from guiding the occasional tourist who drops by. Keeping up with him was haaaard– he’s swifter than us young folks– but don’t let him get out of sight! The trails are completely unmarked, if you can even call them that. The path is narrow, slippery and certainly God’s presence was palpable because “Oh My God” was the only sound on the 20 minute hike– save for the snapping of dry leaves and twigs underfoot. Try to keep your hands free because you will need them at some point. Hold on to any sturdy vine and tree you pass–they’ll save you from the deep ravines below. Come prepared with a decent level of fitness, determination and sneakers because despite how short the distance, the terrain is rather inhospitable.
Nonetheless, my mother didn’t raise a quitter so our efforts were rewarded with:
I’d expected more water with the recent heavy showers but still, the waterfall didn’t disappoint. Tacky Falls is a towering beauty with slivers of cool white water rushing downstream in shallow rivulets. These rivulets disappear over an even sheerer rock face which can only be cautiously admired from above since the trails leading there are now completely impassable. There isn’t enough water to swim but our guide welcomed us upstream to the river which supplies the waterfall, an invitation which we sadly had to decline in the interest of time. Nonetheless, Nature outdid herself another time with my watery back massages and I spent a lot of time picturing how much different the experience would’ve been for my ancestors, given the historical context.
The short hike was more strenuous than anticipated but it was certainly well worth the trip. Islington residents have a treasure of which to be proud, although I’m not sure how proud they are given the number of bottles hidden behind the main fall in a crevice. While Tacky ended up being a half-day outing for my group, I can easily see how it could become an all-day affair with music, food, games and eventually a dip in the river upstream when one grows tired of the waterfall. I’ll bear this in mind for the future as I rank Tacky Falls four stars, ☆☆☆☆. In terms of expense, transport and a collective tip were the only costs to think about which as you can imagine, is highly variable.
And as for Kwame Falls, named for one of Tacky’s soldiers? She’s on 2018’s bucket list, a post which will round out my 5 day blog-a-thon next week where I celebrate A.f.Elle’s 1st birthday and recap my 2017.
See you on the 26th! ✌