I toured the Bob Marley House on Kingston’s Hope Road. Interesting. And in ways I didn’t expect or necessarily want. Not all museums and galleries have the same goals in mind, but it was the way they wanted us to move through the Hope Road house that seemed to contrive the entire idea of Marley’s life’s work and social philosophy. The presentation of Marley’s impact on the cultural politics and social history of Jamaica was canned and commercialized. Less like Biltmore Estate in which certain critical questioning and commentary is encouraged by curators, it reminded me more of the Texas Alamo — evacuated of cultural essence yet filled with petrified, staged relics.
I enjoyed walking the grounds before beginning the official tour.
Quite interestingly, there were some tourists taking the tour with us and posing as Rastafarians. One was a blonde white woman in cornrows, accompanied by two tall, thin black men—each with medium length, rather well-groomed dreads. Their main purpose, it appeared, was to encourage orderly, clockwise movement from one découpaged room of Kingston Gleaner newspaper clippings to the next, while prompting foreign tourists to exclaim their/our excitement over such gorgeously enshrined wonder in line with the requisite number of “oohs!” and “ahhs!”
The most significant duty of the fake tourists seemed only to help move us Yankees efficiently toward the fake gift shop. The docent allowed us a brief peep into Bob Marley’s bedroom when I commented that room’s location and layout looked like the brain center in an artists’ colony, That’s when I was corrected by the blonde woman in cornrows who told me that I was actually viewing the “lion’s den.”
Next, the docent clumsily herded us into the adjacent room and prompted all her “rasta” visitors to pretend-purchase CD copies of the Legend album—smack in the middle of the house on the second floor, no less! I found this absolutely hilarious since, as everyone knows, the gift shop is always located at the exit.
I was over the fakeness of the tour by then and all but completely tuned out, crawling around the perimeter of the rooms, trying to decipher the newspaper stories they apparently didn’t want us to read… since select controversial clippings had been pasted below the chair board. Sadly, the headline stories at eye-level were NOT about Marley’s cultural dissidence and political activism; those were all wallpapered at ankle height. Certain words and phrases were conveniently scratched out to obscure, if not outright change, the facts surrounding Peter Tosh’s assassination.
About a half hour into being upstairs on the second floor, I quietly asked the tour guide if I might briefly excuse myself from the group in order to climb the Marley House staircase three at a time, which according to her narrative, was exactly how Bob Marley himself used the steps. She pensively answered yes after some consideration. I bolted up and down the stairs twice before they asked me to stop. She did say that’s how Marley took the steps, didn’t she?
We decided it was time to leave once inside the sanitized “shotgun” room, which once again was wallpapered with posters, newspaper clippings, and overblown handbills. That’s when it occurred to me, and to anyone who might discerningly observe, the rastas on tour were not there just to provide the illusion of a thriving tourism landmark.
The Marley House is definitely a tourist trap, but more like something of the Lonely Planet cliché variety. I can only imagine (though not confirm) the rasta tourists had likely been planted by the museum to procure other kinds of plants for naïve tourists at exorbitant prices. I say this only because of how the buttoned-up docent so gleefully engaged the rastas’ thinly veiled innuendos about the famous herb that Marley popularized during his superstardom. I may have been a tourist with a selfie stick, paying $20 a pop for some cock’n bull tour, but NEVER will I get caught out in the world like a typical American party animal on the hunt for some foolishness. Not the kid… no, never that!
The best part was when I got to climb Marley’s staircase three at a time. It was—quite literally—a fun exercise in spatial recovery that also constituted a most useful ethnography on the practice of memorial decorum. (Well, you knew I had to get all “jargony-rhetorician” on you eventually, didn’t ya? :~)
UPDATE: The Marley House gift shop is indeed conveniently located near the entrance/exit. It’s a restaurant where they sell spicy beef patties, fresh coconut water, plantains, curry goat and other Jamaican fare for a not so fair price. I wouldn’t be surprised if the bottled water is their best selling item. I’m sure they nearly sell ’em slam out on the daily because they definitely ain’ tryna run the A/C during museum hours, ensuring their customers appreciate a thirst-quencher on the way out.