Abeokuta Paradise Nature Park(pronounced A-be-o-ku-ta*) is located a few yards off the Dean’s Valley Road in Westmoreland. The centerpiece of this rustic eco-tourism destination is an almost Olympic-sized pool which is fed by water that is channeled via an aqueduct from the nearby Sweet River.
Abeokuta Paradise Nature Park took its name from the community of Abeokuta, which in turn got its name from the city in southwest Nigeria. When the Yorubas, who came to Jamaica as indentured workers, arrived in this part of Westmoreland, they thought it looked so much like the Abeokuta they had left behind that they gave it the same name. Abeokuta is part of the old Dean’s Valley Water Works Estate, a sugar plantation that at one time covered 2,200 acres.
The estate changed hands many times and eventually became known as Dean’s Valley, which is also the name of the community. The adjoining community took the name Water Works.
I grew up not far from the Dean’s Valley / Water Works area and knew of ‘Bekuta,’ as everyone calls it, but had no idea then of its significance. Later, I would hear that Dr. Olive Lewin, O.D., cultural anthropologist and musicologist, now deceased, had found and recorded the music of people there who spoke an African language. I was intrigued that anyone in Jamaica had preserved their native language and wanted to know more. I didn’t know then that Africans had come to the island as indentured workers after the abolition of slavery.
One night as my mom and I watched a documentary that was based on Laura Tanna’s book, Jamaican Folktales and Oral Histories, she screamed and pointed to the screen. Tanna had interviewed several residents of Abeokuta, and recorded their stories. My mom had recognized one of the interviewees whose name I’ve now forgotten but who I’m sure has passed on.
Abeokuta Finds New Owners
In 1980, part of Dean’s Valley, which included Abeokuta, was sold and two years later passed by descent to Owen Banhan, one of the new owner’s sons.
According to Owen, known as Daddy, it took several months for him to clear the almost 15-acre property of thick brush. Once cleared, he and his wife made a surprising discovery — the ruins of the 18th century Dean’s Valley Great House, the pool and aqueduct.
Seeing how the nearby Roaring River Park had been transformed into an eco-tourism spot, the Banhans set out to do the same at the place they christened Abeokuta Paradise Nature Park.
Taking a dip
The Abeokuta Paradise Nature Park was opened officially in January, 2003 by Florentina Adenike Ukonga, who was then the high commissioner of Nigeria to Jamaica.
It was after reading about the opening that I visited Abeokuta and met Daddy and his family. I’ve been back several times, the latest last weekend.
On a clear day, you can see Negril from here
Much has changed as Daddy continues to prepare the property to accommodate the increasing number of visitors and locals who come to enjoy this peaceful oasis with sweeping views of Westmoreland. On a clear day, you could see as far as Negril, which is about 26 miles away.
Aqueduct leading to Sweet River
Abeokuta Paradise Nature Park is garden of ginger lilies, ferns, taro plants, croton, palms, thickets of bamboo, etc. Nature lovers can follow the aqueduct to the source of the river, a leisurely 15 minute walk away. It is from here that they can view the rock that reminded the Yorubas of Olumo Rock, which had provided their ancestors refuge at the other Abeokuta.
Fish pedicure anyone?
For those who can’t or don’t want to swim, the pool offers another option: a fish pedicure. Dip your feet into the water — it’s a bit cool — and an inch-long carp, known as the doctor fish, will begin to feed on the dead skin on your feet. It tickles at first and the fish disperse at the slightest movement, but if you sit still long enough, you’ll enjoy a temporary exfoliating treatment.
Abeokuta Paradise Nature Park is open daily from 9 – 6 p.m. It’ll cost you $5 to enter, $4 for a guided nature walk. If you’d like to stay for lunch, that will be another $8, $10 if you prefer to have fish. Prices are in US dollars.
If you want to read more on Abeokuta, check out:
Rock it Over: The Folk Music of Jamaica, Dr. Olive Lewin
Jamaican Folktales and Oral Histories, Laura Tanna
* Nigerian author, Wole Soyinka who was born in Abeokuta, Nigeria, visited Abeokuta, Westmoreland in the 1990s. I remember seeing a video of him on television pronouncing the name, which is how I call it now. I searched online but couldn’t find the clip.
Watch “A Day at Abeokuta Nature Paradise Park, Jamaica” on YouTube