Black Woman and Child: The story of Cedella Booker and Bob Marley

Cedella Booker and Bob Marley

Early one Tuesday morning in February of 1945 Bob Marley was born and Cedella “Ciddy” Malcolm had come to the climax of what had been a tedious journey,and the begining of the journey of Cedella Booker and Bob Marley.

Her unborn child had caused her to be in a state of constant morning sickness and several hours of labour spanning almost two whole days.

Cedella lived in the humble community of Rhoden Hall and later moved to close by Nine Miles , St. Ann,Jamaica, for 17 years prior to giving birth to a 6 ½ pounds baby boy that would later become “the reggae king of the world”, none other than Robert Nesta Marley.

A shy, unassuming Christian young girl, who was known for her lovely singing voice, had unknowingly captured the imagination of one Captain Norval Marley. In the period of two years, now 19, she had experienced love, child bearing and a broken promise of a happy ending and a lasting marriage.

Captain Marley was a white skinned overseer of the West India Regiment. At day he was the ‘bockra massa’ that brokered deals with the poorer residents concerning farming contracts or resettlement to get more land. After settling in Nine Miles he had successfully sought tenancy at the Malcolm’s family residence, popularly called the Big House. It is here that he initiated a sexual relationship with his landlord’s 17 year old daughter. His actions were reminiscent of those of his slavery days ancestors who had carried on with many innocent and not so innocent young Black girls, with most of these relationships ending with pregnancy and the social scorn of illegitimacy.

It must have been rather challenging (financially and psychologically) for a young mother who had to now face the reality of raising a boy child without a father.

She however received great assistance from her immediate and extended family members in the upbringing of young Nesta.

Her brother, aunts and especially her father Omeriah had stood by her through the toughest of times although they were disappointed by her actions.

Cedella Booker and Bob Marley:Country Life In Nine Miles

In the small district that was Nine Miles, the Malcolm’s were among the most respected citizens.

Cedella’s father Omeriah was the Custos, a most esteemed position at the time.

The title was one that saw him acting in the capacity of what in those days were referred to as a Colonial Magistrate.

It also came with the fact that the Malcolm’s were among the principal landowners in the rural district.

This however did not cross over the lines of social status to economic gain or increased wealth.

The Malcolm’s were by rural standards well off as Omeriah was a very industrious man involved in farming, manufacturing and trade.

Cedella Booker and Bob Marley:Bob Marley's Childhood

Omeriah exhibited charming qualities that made him a favourite of children and attractive to women.

He was known to have had many extra marital relationships bearing other children than the nine he and his dedicated wife Alberta had produced.It is said that he discreetly cared for all of them.

Looking at Marley as he grew older we could say that he probably adopted some of his charming ways from his fatherly grandparent.

He was appealing to women and going on to have many extra marital affairs of his own while married to a woman that was very similar in approach to Alberta, Rita.

Cedella Booker and Bob Marley:Nine Miles a Culturally Rich Community

Although Nine Miles did not provide much by way of financial gain it was a culturally rich environment for the young boy.

A rural upbringing meant that Marley was exposed to the knowledge well that was an intimate community surrounded by his loving extended family.

Proverbs, gems, story telling, visits to the field and other rural chores had captured the youngsters imagination and would later reflect in his song writing as a musician.

Cedella Booker and Bob Marley:Bob's First Guitar ...

His first guitar was made from a herring pan and wood by his cousin. This is an important point to note in that Bob’s love of music was not nurtured by ready made tools and skilled professionals at this stage but by the simple life and a loving environment.

Cedella Booker and Bob Marley:Bob Cut Off From His Rightful Inheritance

Being the product of what was viewed by the Marley’s and other planter class Jamaicans, as a illegitimate relationship.

Bob learned early that his place in the social set up or the “shitstem” was definitely not at the top. His fathers’ family did not approve of neither him nor his mother (Cedella Booker) and therefore discouraged any form of relationship between the Captain and his young family.Even threatening with the removal of privileges and inheritance entitlement.

He learned from early on that being Black or mixed with Black at that time, required a high level of mental preparation for constant social and physical attacks not to mention social exclusion experienced by ghetto youth.

His mother Cedella had her fair share of discrimination as a young Black woman from Jamaica’s country side.

This included a constant cat and mouse game with her one time lover and briefly husband Captain Marley, and a court date for assault filed by a his white wife whom she had met in the streets after his death and cussed her out ‘Tuff Gong’ style for cutting her and Nesta off from their rightful inheritance.

Cedella Booker and Bob Marley:Four Months Old Bob Marley Became Ill

His grandfather Omeriah immediately diagnosed his condition as one that was as a result of ‘science’.

Science in the Jamaican traditional sense spoke to unseen forces that were being manipulated by other human beings for purposes of evil.

Bob’s great grand mother Yaya agreed with the diagnosis of the herbal doctor.

For the rest of his lifetime (although Bob outlived him) Omeriah would keep a fatherly watch over his beloved grandson.

It was his belief Nesta's life was under constant threat from the same spiritual world that would later give him constant inspiration for his song writing process.

Cedella’s relationship with her first born child was one that was initiated from birth.

She felt an intense love for him, but due to early incidents of illness in his life, felt very fearful for him and would spend most of her time trying to protect him from all ‘evil’ to the best of her ability.

She however confided in her father that she thought she had seen what she described as the intensity of a preacher’s eyes in Nesta’s and that it made her uneasy.

He seemed at such a young age to be able to read between and beyond the lines of life.

She would live to see the fruition of this noted quality not in the halls of a church but in their personal interactions and through his music.

The Story Of Cedella Booker and Bob Marley Continues As The Young Family Moves to Town

Following heart break and a brief attempt at running a tiny grocery shop in Alva. Cedella had decided to take her father’s advice and get over her failed relationship with the Captain and focus on building a life for herself and her son.

Nesta’s first experience of ‘town life’ came by way of a brief stay with, according to Bob Marley's father Captain Marley in his 1949 letter, one of his nephews’ who was a Kingston business man.

He and his family he proposed would be able to care and provide for the child better than his country mother possibly could.

It was not an easy decision for the young mother to make.She made the difficult choice of sending away her only child at the time to take advantage of what she thought was would be an elevated standard of living.

According to Timothy White in Catch a Fire, a book on Marley’s life,he equates ‘Ciddy’s’gesture with the Creole culture of Jamaica where a geographic move out of the country to an urban area or foreign equals upward social mobility.

The young Marley was very distraught but went anyway.

While he was away Cedella received few and later no letters saying of the child’s well being from his intended guardians in Kingston.

This initial migration did not last long and ended up with Cedella returning to Kingston for her child Bob.

Who turned out to have been essentially abandoned once again by his unfeeling father and left in the care of one Mrs. Grey.

The second time around when both mother and child would migrate to Kingston’s inner city, would prove more pleasant for Bob Marley more so than his mother.

A sense of adventure, pure ambition and sheer boredom of country life had propelled Cedella, now a young woman to make the move to Kingston.

Her final address after moving around for a short while became one of Kingston’s well known inner city areas, Trench Town.

Cedella Booker and Bob Marley:The Tenement Yard in Concrete Jungle -Bob Marley's Backgrounds

Cedella did not care much for the Kingston life and hated the cramped spaces of the Concrete Jungle in which she now resided.

Due to her ambitious attitude Cedella decided to see her new environment as a stepping stone to better things that were to come in the near future.

On the other hand young Bob Marley fit in his new tenement yard community quite well.

At first he was marveled by the limited space and rather “vulgar” behaviour by rural standards, of the city dwellers.

All the rude boys and bad men were overwhelming. However he would come to hold his own quite well becoming known as “Tuff Gong” because of his street fighting skills, the boy that was “likkle but tallawah” (small but powerful).

The tenement yards were a development in Kingston,Jamaica which mirrored the housing conditions which slave owners would subject there slaves to.

Housing developments designed to house at least four families with a wall enclosing the lot acting as the only means of entrance and exit.

No space for parking cars or well manicured lawns. The housing reflected aptly the reality of many inner city residents; they were fenced in with a one way in, one way out option.

Such living conditions could easily stifle the imagination of any human being but Marley strangely adapted quite well to his new home and used it as a source of inspiration for his first love, music, idolizing the area in songs such as “Trench Town Rock”.

Cedella Booker and Bob Marley:Young Men in Trench Town Suffer from Social Exclusion and A Cycle of Poverty

The economic advancement which the Black woman and her child were seeking was slow to come in the ghetto.

Young men like Bob Marley, who was now a teenager, were meant to suffer from social exclusion and the cycle of poverty that could only be broken by the tempting, fast benefiting prospects of illegal activity.

His mother fearful for the safety of her child in his new urban environment encouraged him to get a skill and earn an honest, decent living.

The skill that Marley learnt was welding, which he openly despised.

Not long after working as an apprentice, he suffered his first injury to the eye, which resulted in the end of his tenure and a pursuit of his interest in music.

On his sojourns through the community with his new friends and old childhood friend “Bunny Wailer” Livingston, his natural love for music was nurtured by the active music industry that thrived in Kingston.

Cedella was not sure at this juncture if encouraging her son to pursue his love of music as a career would be the right or safest thing to do.

However Bob ensured her that he would not get mixed up in wrong doing but would focus on his dream of becoming an artist.

Cedella Booker and Bob Marley:The Start Of Bob Marley Musical Career

While living in Trench Town Bob made his first recording “Judge Not” at producer Leslie Kong’s Beverly’s Production studio.

The song proved to be a hit and launched what would become an eternally great musical career.

Marley passed through the hands of many producers, chiefly, the late Sir Clement “Coxsone” Dodd (Studio One), Lee “Scratch” Perry and Chris Blackwell (Island Records).

From these associations he would come to get invaluable experience, hone his talent and develop a catalogue of work spanning over 20 years, a phenomenal achievement for a man who died at age 36.

This inner city area like many others in the turbulent 1970’s was rife with partisan politics which resulted in the formation of gangs and gun violence.

For a share of the economic pie, politicians were employing gullible and vulnerable youth as their eyes, ears and heavy hands in these areas. They meanwhile stayed in the lush nesting of their Cherry Gardens or Blue Mountain estates looking down on the chaos in Kingston.

With all the tension Marley was able to observe the people which became his primary concern and decipher the good, the bad and the ugly without becoming actively involved in any of it.

The themes that riddles his lyrics were a personal extension of him self.

His hopes, fears, personal convictions and love interests were evident through his songs which reflected the different stages and phases in the life of the Reggae icon.

Cedella Booker and Bob Marley:The Impact of Migration

His mother after a few years of living in Trench Town had decided to take up an offer made to her by her relatives in Delaware in the United States of America.

In contemplating migration she tried on several occasions to coax Bob into making the move with her and his half sister Pearl by his friend Bunny’s father, Toddy Livingston.

He refused!

His mind, his body, his soul and his career were thriving on the vibrant life of the sufferah’s in Trench Town,Jaqmaica.

The community was his material. He loved Jamaica and did not want to make a permanent move to a foreign country to take up residence.

Although a difficult and haunting decision, Ciddy as she was affectionately called, boarded the plane at the Norman Manley airport headed to Philadelphia en route to Delaware.

A teary eyed fear well as captured in "Catch A Fire", would not disturb the connection between a fatherless young man and his mother.

He had a certain level of understanding that reflected a maturity beyond his years.

He would fill the void of not having his loving mother around by locating a father in the form of Rasta elders such as Mortimer Planno and marrying the love of his life Rita Anderson (later Rita Marley) on February 10, 1966.

A breast leak at the time of a studio session would let Bob know that the young nurse who would later become his wife was already a mother.

At the time it was a shameful fact for a young unmarried girl to bear a child.

Although Rita had hidden the fact out of shame Bob was very understanding in his reaction.

This impressed Rita but more importantly showed that Bob was very aware of his own social circumstances.

After all his mother too was a single parent abandoned by his father and left to make a life for herself and her son, with the help of her caring family.

He was just returning a favour by showing Rita the same understanding and compassion that he was a product of.

While his mother was away she tried unceasingly to get Bob to come and live with her, however he refused and after letter communication with the help of Rita, he decided to visit for a brief period.

Mother and son were reunited and Bob had prior to his leaving relived a page of his mother’s history.

He had married a 19 year old woman and left her a day after their wedding.

Coincidence maybe or maybe not. Cedella now remarried to Edward Booker, got on quite well with her daughter in law, Rita.

While in Delaware Bob worked odd jobs, all the while keeping his musical goals in mind and saving money towards funding his ambitions as a fledging musician and a member of the Wailers.

He would leave Delaware after being told to take up the draft.He returned home to pursue a successful musical career.

Cedella Booker and Bob Marley:Bob Marley's Prophecy Fulfilled..

It was while at Cedella Booker’s house in Delaware a few years earlier that he had a dream of a short man, dressed in khaki’ s giving him a ring.

Cedella Booker thought it was his father but it turned out years later that it was Haile Selassie’s ring that he would be receiving from his son Crown Prince Asfa Wossen.

He would also tell two of his friends Ibis and Dion that he would die at age 36.

This prediction bothered Ciddy as she knew her son well and had always pondered on the potency of his future seeing capabilities.

The two continued to correspond on his return to Jamaica.

Cedella Booker and Bob Marley:Bob Marley's Death

On the afternoon of May 11, 1981 after a losing battle with cancer, Bob’s prophecy had been fulfilled.

He had died whispering comforting words to his dear mother Ciddy “Maddah, don’ cry”.

Reminiscent of the song he had written and performed in 1975, 6 years prior to this fateful day, he had already told her that everything was going to be alright in “No Woman No Cry”.

I remember when we used to sit

In a government yard in Trench Town

And then Georgie would make a fire light

As it was log wood burning through the night

Then we would cook cornmeal porridge

Of which I’ll share with you

My feet is my only carriage

So I’ve got to push on through

But while I’m gone…

No woman, no cry

No woman, no cry

Oh, my little darling I say don’t shed no tears

No woman, no cry

Little sister, don’t shed no tears

No woman, no cry

This song sums up in a nutshell the love of a son for his mother.

Even while he is carrying his own heavy burden he was thinking of her sacrifice, her love and her well being.

Although this song was evidently dedicated to none other than Cedella Booker, it is a universally fitting tribute to the love shared between a mother and her child and proves Marley was indeed a lover of all, especially women.

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