Sun | Jun 16, 2019

The survival of Jamaican indigenous culture groups

Published:Sunday | August 5, 2018 | 12:00 AMKimberley Small
Professor Verene Shepherd (left) performing with the Charles Town Maroons.
Members of the Port Morant Kumina Group
Members of the Charles Town Maroons.
Christine Lee of the Port Morant Kumina Group performing at the Seville Emancipation Jubilee celebrations.

There are very few indigenous cultural performance groups in Jamaica today that retain the essence of the nation's African ancestry. The Charles Town Maroons have sustained this for over three centuries. Kumina groups emerged in the post-Emancipation period, which approximately dates their establishment to just under two centuries ago. Though the Kumina groups are younger, some believe that their potency in the performance space is weakening. Last week, the Charles Town Maroons and the Port Morant Kumina Group were among the invited performers during the annual Seville Emancipation Jubilee in St Ann. "The Maroons have always been setting the pace where freedom is concerned. Over 365 years ago, the Maroons had their freedom. In 1838 is when they said we're really free people the slave trade had stopped and we continue to maintain that. There is a part of it that we have to acknowledge. Jubilee is the place we can get it out," Colonel Marcia Douglas of Charles Town told The Sunday Gleaner."It always feels good for us to participate in whatever cultural activity there is because we always embrace ourselves as Maroons. I always feel good about my culture," Maroon Tajay McLeod added.

The cascade of Maroon cultural performance appears more potent than ever. Immediately following the Seville Emancipation Jubilee, the Charles Town Maroons travelled to the Scott's Hall, St Mary Emancipation Day celebration.

But for the Port Morant Kumina Group, that potency is missing. According to group leader Christine Lee, they have been included on the Seville Jubilee programme since the event first began in 1997. However, since Queen Bernice Henry's passing in 2014, requests to perform have completely stopped.

"From Queen Bernice dead, if is not Seville we coming, we nuh get nuttin. Dem fi remember us - that we are the international Kumina group from Port Morant," Lee told The Sunday Gleaner.


Oral tradition


But by the account of McLeod, the Maroons have had little trouble passing on the performance tradition from generation to generation. "Within the Maroon community, we don't really have to ask the young ones to participate because the performance is a vibrant part of our culture there. They come in and they like it, and they come and be a part of it. That's how we pass on the knowledge from the older ones to the younger ones," McLeod explained. "Next year, we're trying to get a better space in Grand Gala so that we can tell the entire Maroon story," said Colonel Douglas.