Berthing Violent Nostalgia: Restored Slave Ports and the Royal Caribbean Historic Falmouth Cruise Terminal
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Berthing Violent Nostalgia:
Restored Slave Ports and the Royal Caribbean Historic Falmouth Cruise Terminal

By partnering together with the Port Authority of Jamaica, we are working to deliver our shared vision of Falmouth’s rebirth.

—Craig Milan, senior vice president of land operations, Royal Caribbean Cruises, quoted in Travel Daily Media

We want our passengers to feel as if they are in the old world of the Caribbean when they arrive.

—John Tercek, vice president of commercial development, Royal Caribbean Cruises, quoted in Travel Weekly

Berthing Nostalgia

In March 2011 Royal Caribbean hosted the grand opening for the completion of Jamaica’s fourth cruise port, Historic Falmouth—the “first-ever thematic cruise terminal.” Declaring a glorious “renaissance” and “restoration” for the Trelawny Parish capital known for its preserved Georgian architecture and its role as a central port of the Atlantic slave trade during the height of Jamaica’s sugar cane production, Royal Caribbean berthed its two colossal cruise ships—the largest in the world—at Falmouth’s artificially extended coastline and loosed its thousands of passengers onto the newly cobbled occupation. Roads were shut down to accommodate pedestrian traffic, and local schools were closed for the public spectacle, which included marching bands, dancers, stilt walkers, and a performance by the Jamaican-born American singer Shaggy. Present during the ribbon cutting were Royal Caribbean executives, Jamaican ministers of transport and tourism, Falmouth’s mayor, and Jamaica’s now former prime minister Bruce Golding, who officiated the proceedings with a speech, stating: “There are many projects, I know, that were launched about the same time when the global recession hit … (but) despite all of those challenges, Royal Caribbean remained steadfast in their commitment [End Page 669] and today, we celebrate the birth of this fantastic facility—the dawn of a new day for Falmouth and Jamaica.”1

Citing the difficult three-year development that began in the midst of the worst global recession since World War II, Golding’s reasoning here claims a direct link between corporate investment, technological advancement, and national growth for which the birth/berth of the cruise facility becomes a national symbol of newness. This narrative of tenacious modernization is mostly unremarkable, familiar in its insistence on “steadfast commitment” to forward progress. Yet the proliferation of the language of “re-” in the press releases and other media coverage of the port, including terms like “reawakening,” “revival,” “revitalization,” “resuscitation,” “reconstruction,” and “restoration,” promises a profound departure—on a colossal spatiotemporal scale, both physically and imaginatively—from the long-neglected, slow death of a people and place disinherited from the past, barred from entry into the future, and kept in a permanent state of injury.2 Facing the “long dyings, the staggered and staggeringly discounted casualties, both human and ecological … underrepresented in strategic planning as well as in human memory,” such a promise of rebirth is a deeply burdened one, and the construction of a new epoch—a haunted design.3

As Royal Caribbean’s strategic planning and selective memory would have it, the history of Falmouth is marked and legitimated by three foundational events: first, the era of sugar prosperity; second, the abolishment of slavery that led to the port’s “unfortunate” decline; and now, finally, the revival of the port’s original eighteenth-century “glory” at the advent of the “Historic Falmouth” Cruise Port. Collapsing over two hundred and forty years of history into an amalgamated, immersive “heritage tourism” attraction, the site proposes to educate both cruise passengers and local Jamaicans about the port’s significance in the growth of the British Empire while injecting its “sleepy” economy with a Royal dose of tourist capital flow. But what ghostly remainders persist in this economizing calculus of history and rebirth? What shadows and exclusions are necessitated by this enlightened reciprocity between private interests and the public administration of cultural memory? What does restoration erase?

Royal Caribbean’s restoration of this port—which once trafficked in slaves, sugar, and rum on a scale larger, more technologically advanced, and more profitable than any other British colony in the West Indies—seeks to profit from the selective memorialization of this violent labor history through its decorative refurbishment, all...