The Craft in Jamaica
A Visitor’s View by GM Smith
Borrowed from Freemasonry Today Magazine
Freemasonry is deeply entrenched in Jamaican society, enjoying support and patronage at every level. A spry 85 year old Jamaican Grand Officer sees his role in life as one of awe; to "advise, warn, encourage." The “ancient” is Jamaica’s Governor General, His Excellency Sir Howard Cooke. Prominent too among Jamaican Freemasons are members of the government and the opposition, the executive, the judiciary, the civil service, the Jamaica Defence Force and the Jamaica Constabulary.
Freemasonry in Jamaica is populated with men from every walk of life. Members are drawn from commerce, law, publishing, medicine, tourism and academia. Airline pilots, customs and immigration officers, coastguards, architects, engineers and quantity surveyors, builders and tradesmen range under the banners of the three constituions – those of the English (EC), Irish (IC) and the Scottish (SC). Better still, its Freemasons are well known and regarded highly by Jamaicans as a whole. The contrast with Freemasonry in England could not be greater.
An island in the Caribbean Sea, Jamaica is about the size and shape of the English county of Sussex. Jamaica is 140 miles east to west and 60 miles north to south. A spinal range of mountains divides north from south, with the bulk of Jamaicans living on the coastal fringes. Of a population of more than 2m, almost two thirds live in Greater Kingston on the alluvial Liguanea Plain.
Most of the Craft lodges belonging to three constitutions are found in Kingston and Spanish Town. Freemasonry is active in the other centres of population at Montego Bay, Mandeville, St Anne’s Bay, Port Maria, Linstead and on the Cayman Islands.
There is no denying the vibrancy of Irish Freemasonry in Jamaica. It is expanding at a phenomenal rate, attracting many younger men and those in their middle years. Up to 1985, South Carolina Lodge No 390, founded in 1928, was the only Irish lodge active. South Carolina Lodge owes its heritage to members of the 1st West India Regiment which served in Jamaica, taking out the first warrant in 1906. The warrant was surrendered when the regiment disbanded in 1927. Fortunately, survivors sought and obtained its present warrant. Today there are five lodges with two in the process of being established. Irish Freemasonry has changed Jamaica from a solitary outpost to a fully fledged Province.
Numbers and Leaders
Scottish Freemasonry, with 17 lodges, is as well established as the English Constitution, which, with 23 lodges, is the largest grouping. However, the English lodges appear rather staid and orthodox in contrast to the other constitutions. Whilst the total numbers of Freemasons in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands (EC balliwick) and the Bahamas (SC balliwick) may amount to 4,500, many are members of rival constitutions, proving clearly that men can live in peace and harmony.
The leaders of the constitutions are eloquent men blessed with an ability to find a light touch to serious business. The Scottish are led by a dentist who succeeded a gynaecologist. The English are led by an attorney at law who succeeded a dentist - while the recently formed Irish Province is led by the director of an international conglomerate in which his family has a significant share-holding.
Just how the leaders are chosen is a mystery. What is remarkable is how often the brethren have got it right. The Irish and Scottish seem to favour fixed terms. The Scottish Constitution seems to favour five years while the Irish have ten year rule for senior office. The English Constituion is elective, the present District Grand Master having served eight years of what could possibly be twelve years if his predecessors’ periods of office offer guidance.
RW Bro Afeef Asaad Lazarus, District Grand Master of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, a man approaching 50 years, is a large avuncular solicitor now eight years into office. Initiated into Friendly Lodge No 239 in 1973 he became its Master in 1979. Today he is striving to persuade some of the older Freemasons to accept more of the ways of the younger man. A reluctance by older Freemasons to yield to the younger brethren has led to problems of recruitment.
RW Bro Barrington Earl Antony Miller succeeded Hugh Hastings Wynter as head of the Scottish Constitution in Jamaica. Now just over 50 years of age he is the oldest of the three Craft Masters. Initiated into the Clarendon Kilwinning Lodge No 1427 in 1970 he became its Master in 1976. This amiable, slightly built dentist owns an infectious laugh and a broad smile. Residing in Spanish Town, the former capital of the island, the District Master Mason is well located to undertake his duties visiting the 17 lodges in his jurisdiction.
RW Bro James Moss-Solomon is a relatively young mason, having been initiated less than 15 years ago into the Irish Constitution Lodge Western Shamrock No 889. He was its first initiate in 1985. Now in his late forties, he embraced Freemasonry with great zeal, becoming the first Provincial Grand Master at 43. Among his many attributes are a ready wit, a great sense of humour and, on the occasions he is not the principal visitor, plays the organ with the lightest of touches. His ability to reflect the moods of a lodge at labour with selections from the keyboard adds much to the good humour of the meetings. He sees life in bold perspective: ‘Do something; do it well’ is his doctrine. Leading from the front, he is a great motivator, advocating not only the gift of money to charitable causes, but the gift of self. He is particularly keen to promote charity for the less fortunate young.
With more than 45 lodges in the three constitutions, many brethren belong to more than one lodge, while many boast of cross-constitution loyalties. Sometimes this affiliation is evident in the ritual. Phrases heard in one constitution turn up in dialogue in another code. Invariably the audience notices an aberration with muffled amusement. Nonetheless, the constitutions attempt to ensure the best ‘purity’ of working obtainable. There is no prospect of the constitutions amalgamating. Their individual quirks and foibles are respected and enjoyed by all Jamaican Freemasons.
The rituals are fundamentally the same at the core but different theatre to watch. The most dramatic thing seen in the Irish lodges is the running fire greeting the apppointment of an officer or greeting a guest of note: “honour (dignitary) with eleven on the third coming down…” Fascinating. Even more surprising is how often a Brother miscounts, ending up embarrassing himself with the extra solitary clap – always the loudest noise. Some lodges are inflexibly rigid in squaring the lodge while others reflect pedestrian crossings in America where everyone goes where they please once the light turns to red.
With the ployglot population of Jamaica, skins of every hue are in evidence, reinforcing the national motto of ‘Out of many, One People’. With so many backgrounds on show, many variations of formal dress are present. At installations, normal dark suits are adorned by constitutional paraphernalia, with all kinds of masonic jewellery being seen. The constitutions follow orthodox practice of the most senior officials being in morning dress. Somehow the green and gold, enhanced by the sashes of office, make those of the Scottish fraternity spectacular. On occasions, leaders of the Scottish Constitution have sported white tuxedo jackets which, coupled with a dark complexion, have made the regalia truly magnificent to behold.
In most Jamaican lodges, the festive board or harmony is a light meal of chicken, beef, ham and mutton (goat flesh), rice and salad, followed at installation meetings by iced fruit cake. Coffee is not served but all manner of drink is available. The cost of the repast is borne by the lodge.
The light meal is an attractive incentive for most Freemasons, coming as it does at the end of a business day, allowing some in congested areas like Kingston relief from the need to return home first. Lodge Installations are very well supported, on occasions there being 200 and more, including non-masons, wives and ladies. Invariably the host lodge membership is dwarfed by those visiting. Regular meetings are supported too, but on a lesser scale.
As most meetings do not tyle until early evening, the brethren are at labour in the temple until well after 9 o’clock. Unsurprisingly, there is no tradition of a toast to absent brethren other than that included in the Tyler’s Toast.
By British standards funds are raised on a greater scale per capita. Recently a Brother in his mid-forties suffered a stroke and required physiotherapy abroad. A barbecue afternoon was staged at which in excess of £5,000 sterling was raised with pledges of more from absent brethren. Over 150 attended at relatively short notice. Not all were Freemasons but almost all of the Brothers of the host lodge attended with families and friends. Any fine, warm, sunny afternoon is a material blessing likely to encourage a good turnout. But it is noticeable that good weather or bad, most functions are well supported and attain the aims of the organisers. The evident camaraderie is encouraging.
Jamaican masons support many island-wide charities. An ex-soldiers’ home hit hard times. A number of lodges decided to adopt the cause. In addition to financial help, physical help has been given too. Numerous charities have been helped on a continuous basis, some homes for children enjoying days out with visits to the homes of brethren. Old folk are not neglected although much of the charity is directed towards the needs of young persons.
Ups and downs
While Jamaican Freemasonry is buoyant, it has not always been so. Less than 20 years ago, South Carolina (IC) answered a plea from Moore Keys Lodge (EC), a military lodge, to assist in maintaining numbers when it was in danger of contemplating a surrender of its warrant. Members of South Carolina affiliated with Moore Keys enabling a restoration of masonic health. Lodge St John (SC) faced a similar crisis in the early 70’s. Sister lodges rallied to its aid and it is now vibrant. Present inter-lodge memberships owe much to the actions of those saviours in the mid-70’s and 80’s.
The ease in which all Jamaican masons and visitors to Jamaican fraternal meetings move is proof positive that there is no disharmony, racism, prejudice or other demeaning characteristics of modern society which plague the world in general. The evident pleasure the brethren have in meeting each other spills over into the streets and by-ways of Jamaica. Jamaican Freemasons meet and talk freely in every place, invariably with a laugh and a smile.
The future of Jamaican Freemasonry looks secure. All three constitutions are succeeding in attracting younger men to their ranks. Acceptance by society in general adds to the lustre of Freemasonry. So long as Freemasonry continues to appeal to the influential core of Jamaican manhood, its future looks bright.
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