The current organizers of the annual Emancipation Day donkey races at Top Hill in Lluidas Vale, St Catherine, are not sure exactly when the fast-growing event started in their farming community.
But they are of the view that it began in about 1994 among a group of friends from the area – including Percival Bair, Clifford Edwards, Joseph Gordon, and Loretta ‘Dimple’ McKenzie.
One of the current organizers, Melton Edwards, yesterday explained the genesis: “The sugarcane crop in the community used to end in about June. After that, the donkeys [that transport cane from the fields] were in their prime, and they didn’t have anything to do.
“My brother Percival and his friends used to argue over whose donkey is better. So they said, ‘let us race them after the crop and try them’. That’s how it started,” added Edwards.
He, along with others, became involved when the event was about to die.
“Some people [who started it] said they couldn’t bother with it anymore. We said we have to maintain it. It has become a community effort; that’s how we look at it and would like it to remain,” Edwards continued.
“It is not a political event. We don’t wear party colours; we don’t deal with that. Everybody just come and have fun – PNP, JLP, all of us grew up together and want to have fun together.”
The event has become a mainstay of Emancipation Day celebrations, pulling a broad mix of people from near and far.
In fact, it has outgrown the narrow stretch of roadway originally used for the donkey races. But the organizers have stayed put.
“Some people are saying we have outgrown the venue. But people always look forward to this venue because it has become so attached to the races – sentimental. So we have to work with it.
“If they change the venue, maybe it (the event) won’t be the same. Even now, people come from abroad for it. It is growing and people look forward to it,” Edwards told Jamaica Beacon.
He stated that, in addition to being upheld because of its rich cultural trappings, the event provides an amount of economic boom to the rural community of Top Hill and its residents.
“You have people jerking their chicken, frying chicken, curry goat, operate bars – it brings the community to life.
“The most important thing is that the community benefits and people enjoy it and earn so they can send their kids to school in September,” Edwards said.
He told Jamaica Beacon that the event tomorrow (August 1) is expected to live up to tradition, adding that more donkeys are expected to show up.
“Sometimes we have up to 20 donkeys. Last year, we had about 17 donkeys. Because the [sugar cane] crop lasted until the 30th July last year, some of the donkeys were tired. This year, they get a little more time to rest, so I am expecting more donkeys,” Edwards said.
He explained that, at the end of the activities, a champion donkey will be declared and the owner awarded.
“We try to start with 15 donkeys in preliminary races. Then you have eight winners.
“From the eight winners, you would go to a semi-final with four donkeys, and then to the final. Then you have the third-place run-off and the champion donkey being declared,” Edwards further explained. “It is really a big fun day.”
By Horace Mills