Of Many Cultures The People Who Came
Of The Africans
Dr. Rebecca Tortello
life in all aspects cultural, artistic, political, economic, scientific
was borne out of a brutal system forged through an integration
of people and place and emerged as a triumph of the human spirit.
of Africans being captured and led to the ships for their long journey
across the Middle Passage.
the early 1690s Jamaica's population was relatively equally mixed between
white and black. (Senior, 2003, p. 446). The first Africans to arrive
came in 1513 from the Iberian Peninsula after having been taken from West
Africa by the Spanish and the Portuguese. They were servants, cowboys,
herders of cattle, pigs and horses, as well as hunters. When the English
captured Jamaica in 1655, many of them fought with the Spanish who gave
them their freedom and then fled to the mountains resisting the British
for many years to maintain their freedom, becoming known as Maroons (Senior,
2003, p. 5 and 446).
By 1700 Jamaica was awash with sugar plantations and Jamaica's population
was comprised of 7,000 English to 40,000 slaves. The sugar industry grew
Jamaica -- in 1672 there were 70 plantations producing 772 tonnes of sugar
per annum -- growing in the 1770s to over 680 plantations. By
1800, it was 21,000 English to 300,000 slaves, which increased to some
500,000 slaves by the 18th century. In 1820 there were 5,349 properties
in Jamaica of which 1,189 contained over 100 slaves (Brathwaite, 1971,
Each estate was its own small world, complete with an entire labour force
of field workers and skilled artisans, a hospital, water supply, cattle,
mules and horses as well as its own fuel source. Each plantation fueled
the wheels of British mercantilism. Sugar, molasses and rum were exported
to England for sale and ships were financed to return to Africa and collect
more slaves in exchange for trinkets and transport them to the West Indies
as a labour source. This became known as The Triangular Trade. Money was
not left in England's colonies, the financing came from Mother England,
and to Mother England the profits returned.
To a large extent, Jamaican customs and culture were fashioned by sugar.
According to John Hearne (1965), for two hundred years sugar was the only
reason behind Jamaica's existence as a centre for human habitation (as
quoted in Sherlock and Bennett, 2001, p. 157). For centuries, sugar was
Jamaica's most important crop. Jamaica was once considered the 'jewel'
in Britain's crown. In 1805, the island's peak of sugar production, it
produced 101,600 tonnes of sugar. It was the world's leading individual
of sugar was intricately intertwined with the system of slavery. This
connection has set the course of the nation's demographics since the 18th
century when slaves vastly outnumbered any other population group. The
descendants of these slaves comprise the majority of Jamaica's population.
They have influenced every sphere of Jamaican life and their contributions
ATLANTIC SLAVE TRADE
The Atlantic Slave Trade began in the 15th century when the Portuguese
took hold of land near Gibraltar and soon encountered Africans. Devout
Catholics, they quickly took these "heathens" prisoner, and by mid-century,
the first public sale of these prisoners was held. By 1455 Portugal was
importing close to 800 African slaves
a year bartering for them peacefully instead of capturing them
through warfare. Sugar cultivation began in the Azores islands, and as
the demand for sugar grew, so did the demand for slaves to work the fields
of sugar cane. By the 16th century, other countries wanted a piece of
this action and the competition for the sugar and slave trades began.
Between 1500-1800 some eleven million Africans were moved as a result
(Sherlock and Bennett, 2000, p. 124). They were captured by war, as retribution
for crimes committed or by abduction, and marched to the coast in "coffles"
with their necks yoked to each other. They were placed in trading posts
or forts to await the horrifying six to twelve week Middle Passage voyage
between Africa and the Americas during which they were chained
together, underfed, kept in the ship's hold in the thousands packed
more like sardines than humans. Those who survived were fattened up and
oiled to look healthy prior to being auctioned in public squares to the
highest bidders. Jamaican slaves tended to come from the Ashanti, Coromantee,
Mandingo and Yoruba. Field slaves fetched £25- £75 while skilled
slaves such as carpenters fetched prices as high as £300 (Lonely
Planet, 2000, p. 21-26). On reaching the plantation, they underwent a
'seasoning' process in which they were placed with an experienced slave
who taught them the ways of the estate (Senior, 2003, p. 446).
Although the initial slave traders were the Portuguese and the Dutch,
between 1750 and 1807 (the year in which the British Empire abolished
the slave trade), Britain "dominated the buying and selling of slaves
to the Americas" (Sherlock and Bennett, 2000, p. 161). Shipbuilding flourished
and manufacturing expanded: the "process of industrialization in England
from the second quarter of the eighteenth century as to an important extent
a response to colonial demands for rails, axes, buckets, coaches, clocks,
saddles...and a thousand other things" (Inikori, 1979, as quoted in Sherlock
and Bennett, 2000, p. 162).
A typical sugar estate was 900 acres. This included a Great House where
the owner or overseer and the domestic slaves lived, and nearby accommodation
for the bookkeeper, distiller, mason, carpenter, blacksmith, cooper and
wheelwright. With the exception of the bookkeeper, by the middle of the
eighteenth century, skilled black slaves had replaced white indentured
servants in these posts. (Brathwaite, 1971, p. 131). The field slaves'
quarters were usually about a half mile away, closer to the industrial
sugar mill, distillery and the boiling and curing houses, as well as the
blacksmiths' and carpenters' sheds and thrash houses. In addition, there
was a poultry pen and a cattle yard along with a Negro hospital. Some
estates, if large enough, had accommodation for an estate doctor (p. 131-2).
Estates had estate gardens and the slaves had their own kitchen gardens
as well as polnicks provision grounds found in the hills, which
were required by law from as early as 1678. During slavery, however, slaves
kept pigs and poultry and grew mangoes, plantain, ackee, okra, yam and
other ground provisions (Brathwaite, 1971, p. 133-4). The cultivation
of these lands took on greater proportions as plantations were abandoned
when the island faced increasing competition from Brazil, Cuba and beet
sugar, a loss in labour after emancipation in the 1830s as well as the
loss of protective trade duties after the passage of the 1846 Sugar Equalization
Act in England.
The workforce on each plantation was divided into gangs determined by
age and fitness. On average most estates had three main field gangs. The
first was comprised of the strongest and most able men and women. The
second was comprised of those no longer able to serve in the first, and
the third, of older slaves and older children. Some estates had four gangs,
depending on the number of children living on the estate. Children started
working as young as 3 or 4 years old (Senior, 2003, p. 207).
street parades of Jonkonnu were misunderstood by Europeans.
Jamaican slaves came
mainly from West Africa. Their customs survived based on memory and myths.
They encompassed the life cycle, i.e. a newborn was not regarded as being
of this world until nine days had passed and burial often involved libations
at the graveside, and the belief that the dead body's spirit would not
be at rest for some 40 days. They included forms of religion in which
healing was considered an act of faith completed by obeahmen and communication
with the spirits involved possession often induced by dancing and drumming.
African-based religions include Kumina, Myal and Revival. Many involved
recreational, ceremonial and functional use of music and dance (Brathwaite,
1971). "Slaves," Brathwaite explains, "danced and sang at work, at play,
at worship, from fear, from sorrow from joy" (p. 220). They recreated
African musical instruments from materials found in Jamaica (calabash,
conch, bamboo, etc.) and featured improvisation in song and dance. All
of these customs and many more such as the Christmas street parades of
Jonkonnu, were misunderstood and undervalued by Europeans with the exception
of the political use of drumming to send coded messages from plantation
Drumming of any kind was therefore often banned. Jamaican music today
has emerged from the traditional musical forms of work songs sung by slaves,
the ceremonial music used in religious services and the social and recreational
music played on holidays and during leisure time (Senior, 2003, p. 339).
The cramped housing space provided to the slaves, which limited their
dwellings (often made of wattle and daub) to one window and one door,
meant that very little other than sleeping took place indoors. Life, as
in Africa, was lived communally, outside. (Brathwaite, 1971, p. 233-4).
Similarly language, as in Africa, is considered powerful particularly
naming. Brathwaite (1971) gives an example of a woman whose child falls
ill and wants her name to be changed, believing that this would allow
her to be cured, (p. 237). Language is certainly an area where African
retention is strongest. Jamaicans today move between Patois a creolised
English and standard English. Jamaican patois was born from the
intermixing of African slaves and English, Irish, Welsh, Scottish sailors,
slaves, servants, soldiers and merchants. The African slaves spoke many
dialects, and given the need for a common tongue, Jamaican patois was
born. It has been in use since the end of the 17th century by Jamaicans
of all ethnicities and has been added to by the Jews, Chinese, Indians,
Lebanese Germans, and French Creoles who also settled on the island. Some
words also indicate Spanish and Taino presence in Jamaican history (Senior,
2003, pp. 273-276).
Many of these traditions survive to this day, testament to the strength
of West African culture despite the process of creolisation (the intermingling
of peoples adjusting to a new environment) it encountered (Brathwaite,
JAMAICANS OF AFRICAN DESCENT
There are too many notable Jamaicans of African descent to name. Here
is a small sample: George William Gordon, National Hero, George Steibel,
the island's first black millionaire who built Devon House, Sir Alexander
Bustamante, the island's first Prime Minister, Norman Manley, the island's
first premier, Marcus Garvey, black nationalist and National Hero and
more contemporarily, Merlene Ottey, Jamaican track and field star, T.
P. Lecky, creator of the Jamaica Red Breed of cattle, Cecil Baugh, world-renowned
potter, Bob Marley, worldwide musical superstar and the Hon. Louise Bennett-Coverley,
Their impact, and that of many others, whose contributions to Jamaican
life in all aspects cultural, artistic, political, economic, scientific
was borne out of a brutal system forged through an integration
of people and place and emerged as a triumph of the human spirit. It
is largely thanks to Jamaicans with connections to Africa
that Jamaica is what it is today an intense land, a place of extremes
that is rarely boring or predictable an island that is 'little
Brathwaite, E.K. (1971). The Development of Creole society in Jamaica,
1770-1820. Oxford: Clarendon Press., Brathwaite, E.K. (1974). Cultural
diversity and integration in the Caribbean. Great Britain: Savacou., Cundall.
E. (1934). Lady Nugent's journal. (London: The West India Committee).
Hearne, J. and Nettleford, R. (1970). Our heritage European and
Asian influences in Jamaica. London: William Collins and Sangster Jamaica
Ltd., Nettleford, N. (1970). Mirror, mirror - Identity, race and protest
in Jamaica. London: William Collins and Sangsters Jamaica Ltd. Senior,
O. (2003). The Encyclopedia of Jamaican heritage. Kingston, Jamaica: Twin
Guinep Publishers. Sherlock, P. and Bennett, H. (1998). The Story of the
Jamaica people. Kingston: Ian Randle Publishers. (January, 2000). Lonely
Planet Jamaica 2nd Edition. Victoria: Australia: Lonely Planet Publication
March 1: The series continues its 'Out of Many' segment
with the Arrival of the Germans.
|Feedback To the Series
an absolutely fantastic series. It is critical that we preserve these
for the long term as well as continuing to share with upcoming generations
so that they can understand and feel connected to the past and that it
continues to have some relevance to their future." - Peter,
was heartfelt. I moved away from my home country, Jamaica, as a little
girl and have missed out on some of the history that I was to have learned"
- Cadiehead, Jamaica.
"My son is
now learning a great deal about the history of his parents homeland. Please
continue with this fantastic educational site." - Sonia ,
"Keep up the
good works. It's important that these events and people are chronicled,
so that history doesn't die, or get misinterpeted. Remember no history,
no future." - Fabian, Canada.
touching I yet again applaud at how much exposed Jamaica is. Keep writing
these articles they are they main reason I read the newsletters (Go-jamaica)."
- Georgia, USA
are great. I remember growing in Jamaica and hearing my grandmother using
some of them." - Richard, Puerto Rico.
these proverbs are very, very good especially for me who always like my
roots and culture so much. Indeed I appreciate things of like this that
not only educate but keeps one in line with their past. Once again thank
to you all for this great effort. Now I know where to procure educative
information. I am really impressed. Go my Jamaica. " - Motumbo,
First 500 years in Jamaica
taking you for a stroll down memory lane for the next six
months. Along this journey,we will relive several events which
significantly impacted on the social, political and economic
development of Jamaica. As we travel share your experience
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of the Past,
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