Tue | May 26, 2020

Celebration of Jamaica's heritage | 'Panya' jars

Published:Friday | April 27, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Tuscan oil jar

We continue our journey as we chart the course of Jamaica's history through the artefacts. Today we focus on Tuscan oil jars, or 'panya' or Spanish jars as they are more commonly called have become synonymous with Jamaica's heritage and have become exceedingly popular as decorative pieces for both interior and exterior use.

These jars have also become objects of superstition. For centuries many believed that the fleeing Spaniards buried their treasure at the time of the English conquest in large earthenware jars in the expectation that they would return to the island. Therefore many believe that the jars are enchanted and many obeahmen claim to know the secret to finding a Spanish Jar and have secured large payments in advance for doing so. (Olive Senior, Pg 373, 2003).

However, these jars are not of Spanish origin but Italian, and were manufactured in the Montelupo and Impruneta regions near Florence in the Italian Provence of Tuscany (Coleman and Porter, 2007). Otherwise known as Tuscan Oil Jars, these jars can be found not only in Jamaica but in other Caribbean territories, South and North America, Europe, Australia, Java in the East Indies, and Norfolk Island in the South-Western Pacific.

The Jars' widespread use is because olive oil was shipped from Italy to England and then her colonies around the world.

According to Coleman and Porter (2007), the Spaniards who settled in Jamaica for more than a century and half, did use large earthenware jars for their ships' water and food supply. However, the Spanish 'tinajas' (earthenware jars) as they are called are very different to the Tuscan oil jars in shape and size. The Spanish tinajas were top heavy with very narrow bases and were stabilised by square holes in wooden frames. When compared to the Tuscan Jar that is much larger and has a much wider top and base when compared to the Spanish tinajas.

This example pictured was presented to the Institute of Jamaica by Eric Coverley and Louise Bennett Coverley on February 7, 1991. It is said to have been in the Coverley family for over a century, owned by Benjamin Coverley, Joseph Coverley and Ivy Coverley, before being inherited by Eric.