Ras Bushman outside his restaurant on St. Maarten // © 2010 Mark Rogers
Ras Bushman’s Freedom Fighters Ital Shack in St. Maarten is a small space with a big spirit. The restaurant is a symphony of rasta colors, presided over by local activist, musician and Rastafarian, Ras Bushman. Located on 7 Bush Road in Philipsburg, the Ital Shack is very easy to find on a major byway but, once you settle in, you’re likely to feel like you are miles away from the main tourist haunts — a place where the irie vibe prevails.
“We are open for everybody,” said Bushman, who catches the eye with a ready smile and dreads of an astounding length. “A mango is called many names — stringy mango, bullhead mango, papaya mango — but it’s still a mango. It’s the same with people, and everyone is welcome.”
The Ital Shack serves local organic, homegrown vegetarian food and fresh local juices without any of the chemicals one would find in packaged foods. During my visit, I sampled a ginger drink that was sharp, pungent and delicious. The Ital Shack serves organic vegan dishes prepared with produce grown on Bushman’s farm, which is just behind the restaurant.
“The Ital Shack started as an agricultural project by one of our beloved reggae performers and activists who sought to prove that St. Maarten can reduce its reliance on expensive foreign exports by growing healthier organic produce right here on the island,” said Regina LaBega, director of tourism for the St. Maarten Tourist Bureau. “The project was a huge success and has developed into a major source of fruit and vegetables for some of St. Maarten’s finest hotels and restaurants, however, no one serves it up quite like Bushman and his wife Raisa with their traditional Rastafarian home cooking recipes.”
The Ital Shack is open at 10 a.m. for lunch only and closes shop around 6 p.m. The restaurant is small, having only 18 seats, but there are some benches in the open air that can handle some of the overflow. The menu changes daily, and lunch will set clients back $5 to $8.
“Rastas generally adhere to a natural lifestyle,” said Bushman. “It has been said that the body is a temple, and so it should be protected and cared for as such.”
When not on premises, Bushman can often be found at one of St. Maarten’s entertainment venues with his reggae band, the Freedom Fighters. The band founded the annual Black Story Celebration Tribute to Bob Marley, which has been held on Marley’s birthday every year since Feb. 6, 2000. Bushman’s young son, Jawaran, who helps man the Ital Shack counter, is also a member of the Freedom Fighters. He’s an accomplished musician himself and his solo efforts have recently led him to record in Kingston, Jamaica, with legendary reggae and dub music producers Sly and Robbie.
Dining at the Ital Shack is certainly an experience in itself, and the owner is anything but shy when it comes to sharing his opinions or providing his guests with parting words of wisdom.
“If you want to change the world, start with yourself,” said Bushman.