ACIJ/Jamaica Memory Bank hosts intangible cultural heritage exhibition
For some people and organisations the world over, February is the month set aside to highlight the history and heritage of black people, which is the largest racial group in Jamaica. Black people in Jamaica are invariably the descendants of Africans who were brought here to work on plantations.
The Africans brought over in their minds and bodies many cultural forms and nuances which they eventually passed on to those who were born here. Much of what they brought over was modified and imbued with the nuances of other cultures such as those of the Tainos, Europeans, and the Asians, who were brought here as indentured labourers. Thus, the Jamaican cultural heritage is a composite of all the peoples who came. Yet, the African influences and retentions are the strongest. And over the years, efforts have been made to preserve to and share them.
One organisation that is doing just that is The African Caribbean Institute of Jamaica/Jamaica Memory Bank (ACIJ/JMB), located at 12 Ocean Boulevard in Kingston. Established in 1972/73, the ACIJ "is mandated to create awareness of the contribution of African cultural retentions to Jamaican belief systems. It was founded for the study and the sharing of knowledge of African heritage and African culture influences on contemporary Jamaican culture," the ACIJ/JMD said. To add to the work of the ACIJ, the Jamaica Memory Bank was established in 1981 to "document Jamaica's social history by recording the memories of senior citizens ... The interviews were transcribed and catalogued into an archive of oral testimony that features an array of Jamaican history and culture".
In 1990, both institutions merged, which makes it the ACIJ/JMB. "In fulfilling its mandate, the ACIJ/JMB has developed a systematic research and documentation programme, thereby establishing its importance as a centre for the study of African presence in Jamaican and Caribbean." Now, this division of the Institute of Jamaica serves the public with its library, research, outreach and publication units. The research programme is about collecting information on traditional dance forms, various aspects of language, traditional and popular music, religions, food, social movement, herbal medicine,
festivals, and community
history, evolution and development. The information is then documented and archived in the multimedia and reference library, which has a collection of
books and periodicals on African and African retention in the Caribbean.
The division also produces its own research reviews, newsletters, fact sheet, catalogues and educational CDs. An important thrust of the ACIJ/JMB is its outreach programme, which shares with the public the findings of its research. Lectures and demonstrations are given to schools, teachers' colleges, and community groups upon request. "We have a very active outreach programme. Apart from the schools we have gone to prisons, (golden age) homes, children's homes, because they do have ready access to this information," David Brown, senior research fellow at the ACIJ/JMB, told Arts & Education.
And on Tuesday, February 10, the ACIJ/JMB opened an exhibition called Jamaica's Intangible Cultural Heritage, under the theme, 'Promoting respect for cultural diversity and human creativity'. In speaking with Arts & Education, a few days before the exhibition was officially opened, about the objective of the exhibition, Bernard Jankee, director of the ACIJ/JMB, said, "What we want to achieve out of this is to further sensitise the public to the importance of our intangible cultural heritage ... the exhibition is just an example of the work that is being done. It really is to show the public our involvement in documenting the country's rich cultural heritage."
Many aspects of Jamaica's intangible cultural heritage, including the Maroons, Revivalism, Rastafarianism, Kumina, storytelling and traditional craft, are on display. The show lasts until October. The ACIJ/JMB has so much to share, every month of the year, not just in February, when some people and organisations choose to celebrate black history and heritage.