Mon | May 10, 2021

Letter of the Day | Understanding our heritage

Published:Tuesday | October 22, 2019 | 12:00 AM


In July 2014, I was a guest of St Mark’s Parish, Enmore, East Coast Demerara in Guyana, to deliver a pre-emancipation address. In my presentation, I described members of the Afro-Caribbean community as descendants of the Akan people (modern-day Ghana).

Five years later, having done a DNA test, I discovered that my estimative heritage admixture consist of nine ethnicities: Nigerian (64.7 per cent), Kenyan (13.9 per cent), North and West European (8.9 per cent), Sierra Leonean (five per cent) East European (2.5 per cent), South Asian (1.5 per cent) and West Asian (0.9 per cent). Most shocking was that I had no ethnic connections to Ghana.

In Jamaica, the general emphasis during the celebration of Heritage Week and the Emanci-Independence period has been the contributions of our African ancestors, especially those from Ghana, on the assumption that the Maroons were mostly descendants of the Akan people.

Stories of Nanny of the Maroons, Cudjoe, Sam Sharpe and Leonard Parkinson, who was one of the leaders of the Maroons, who was active in the Second Maroon War; along with the success of African-American Alex Haley’s Roots have coloured the Jamaican slavery experience.

We have forgotten that to be Maroon is not an ethnicity, as the word comes from the Spanish word ‘cimarrones’, which meant ‘mountaineers’. It was given to the escaped slaves from the Spanish-owned plantations during the British takeover of Jamaica from Spain in 1655.


The Jamaican heritage admixtures includes the Akan people (Twi, Ashanti Akyem, etc), along with Africans from the Fante and Bono people, followed by Igbo, Yoruba, Fon people, Ibibio people and Congo or Guinea people, who originally settled in Congo Town, Trelawny, among other places, along with Europeans and Asians.

It means that the Jamaican people have contending ethnicities. Ethnicity refers to the cultural characteristics of someone. In this sense, ethnicity is something that is not always visible. Looking at an individual, one will not always know the language he or she speaks, nor the religion practised, or the country one comes from, etc. Hence, the thinking that we are one because of our race – black – ignores the dynamics of our ethnicities.

It would be interesting if a national sampling of the Jamaican population, via DNA test, could be conducted and analysed against the varied ethnicities to properly understand the psyche of our people as one nation.