By Mark Thompson
tourism, a product of slavery, is not new to the Caribbean. Every year
over 80,000 middle-aged women flock to Jamaica “to get their groove
back” in search of the “big bamboo”.
these words, the latest celluloid chronicle of sex tourism in Jamaica
opens, casting light on a longstanding issue that continues to thrive
in the industry, identified as the country’s primary engine of growth.
pursuit of sun, sand and sea has long been expanded to include sex — a
mutually beneficial engagement between consenting pleasure seekers from
North America and Europe and “financially challenged” Jamaicans. The
new documentary — Rent-A-Rasta — by German-born journalist and film
maker J. Michael Seyfert, narrows its scope to female visitors who seek
the services of dreadlocksed males.
“Sex tourism is
not new to the Caribbean. However, the combo of Rastafari and tropical
niche prostitution caught my attention. I always wanted to visit
Jamaica, so in this context I got my first look,” said Seyfert.
statistics of over 80,000 middle-aged women visiting the island in
search of sex is derived from the work of Jacqueline Sanchez Taylor, a
sociology lecturer at the University of Leeds. She conducted research
on “sexual economic exchanges” between female tourists and local men in
Jamaica as well as the Dominican Republic.
other sources of my own research bottom line about 200 women entering
Jamaica each day to get their island groove back,” Seyfert noted.
added that “Rent-a-Rastas” were present all around the region with or
without the dreadlocks. He identified low wages in Jamaica as
motivation for the practice, since these persons can earn their weekly
salary in one night.
Wayne Cummings, president of the Negril Chamber of Commerce and first
vice president of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA),
told the Sunday Herald that sex tourism is not condoned by the
organisations that he represents.
He pointed out
that although many visitors to exotic locations such as Jamaica often
arrive with hope of finding an “escort”, the country has made efforts
to move away from this image.
“It still happens, but
we categorise it as tourist harassment. We invite tourists here for
sun, sea, sand and Jamaican hospitality, which does not necessarily
include sexual favours,” said Cummings.
that sex tourism brought with it many negative implications such as the
spread of infectious diseases and a tarnished national image.
persons in the sex tourism industry are better served by getting
training and incorporate themselves into legitimate tourism jobs,” he
Cummings indicated that tourism interests in
the resort towns have better working relationships with the police, and
this has prevented the problem from being an overt one. He also
indicated that tourism interests have also begun to address the problem
through education. Cummings also spoke to the issue of staff training
at the Sandals hotel chain to ensure that internal and external
interaction does not become or appear untoward.
also addressed child sex tourism and human trafficking in the broader
sense of the problem, stating that his organisations were committed to
combat the scourge.
According to a recent global
estimate by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), two million
children in the world are victims of commercial sexual exploitation.
Mostly the sex
An excerpt of the narrative from the documentary contains an interview
with Karen, an Englishwoman from Devon. In it, she reveals her reason
for visiting Jamaica without any qualms.
“I’m not naïve, I’ve been around the block. I come for sex, of course the sun, but mostly the sex.”
forty-five-year-old Caucasian woman from Chicago voiced the view that
American women come to Negril because they are able to get what they
cannot get at home.
“A girl who no one looks at
twice gets hit on all the time here, all these guys are paying her
attention, telling her she’s really beautiful, and they really want
her…in Chicago this could never happen. Here it is like a secret, a
fantasy…and then you go home.”
In addition to an exploration of Jamaica’s sex tourism, the documentary also delves into the world of Rastafarianism.
epitomises Caribbean sex tourism with a twist in that it humanises
Jamaicans who “fill milk bottles” and at the same time opens a path of
understanding to contemporary Rasta culture, unknown to western
audiences,” said Seyfert.
Cummings questioned the use of “Rasta” in the title of the work, since those engaged in sex tourism were really “dreads”.
documentary was shot over two weeks in Negril, Montego Bay, Ocho Rios,
Port Antonio, Bull Bay and Kingston. The running time is 45 minutes and
its June 11 premiere has been delayed due to discussions with several
US film festivals to showcase the work with exclusivity stipulations.
Seyfert hopes to circulate the documentary worldwide for another two to