Words by Jesse Serwer
Photo by Arthur Gorson
As a young man, I saw three movies that enhanced my view of Jamaica, providing a more substantial visual counterpoint to the snippets seen in reggae and dancehall videos. You might guess that the first two of these were The Harder They Come and Rockers, titles canonized not just as great Jamaican films but, among the great music films, period. The third enjoys far less recognition, but left no less of an impression after it was passed along to me on a worn VHS: 1982’s Countryman, directed by former Bob Marley manager Dickie Jobson and starring a man who, like his character in the movie, was identified only as Countryman. To this day, no one seems to know Countryman’s real name; if they do, it’s a closely-held secret. However, we do know, via social media posts from those who knew him (including photographer Arthur Gorson, who took the above photo) that he has just passed away after a long battle with lung cancer.
Like the character in the film, the real Countryman was a fisherman; in fact, he continued to make his living fishing out of Hellshire Beach until fairly recently. By all accounts, there was little difference between the superhero-like character in the movie and the man who played him. However, the namesake movie was not his first time acting. In the mid ’70s, The Harder They Come director Perry Henzell cast Countryman in No Place Like Home, which was never completed. He was already well known locally by the time Jobson and producer Chris Blackwell cast him in Countryman — in 1973, he had appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone. The magazine had come to Jamaica to do a story on Bob Marley, reggae and Rastafari; though a peripheral character in the story (which you can read here), his magnetic physical presence was clearly too much for the magazine’s photo editor to pass up.
While biographical details are sketchy, a commonly-told story is that Countryman, who was of Tamil Indian descent, ran away from home at age six, when he began living independently in the bush.