Monday, November 17, 2008

African Roots in Jamaica - a Closer Look

A fellow blogger recently referred me to a story published by a major media house with me. We agreed that the story took a only cursory glance at the connection that Jamaica has with Africa. I brainstormed a bit to make a case that surely my link to Africa is not as tenuous as all that, and I found that my knowledge in that regard was scant, so I started to read and talk to some people about it. In doing so it has become clearer to me how tangible, how strong, how evident our African ancestry is in our daily lives and I am thrilled to no ends about it.

Our African ancestors came from the West Coast, from ethnic groups such as Akan, Ga-Adangme, Igbo, Ewe-Fon, Twi, Yoruba, Bakongo, Cromantin, Mandgingo. In what ways did we in Jamaica deliberately and/or subconciously perpetuate their ways of thinking, their ways of being? Where in Jamaica, and in what forms do we find expressions that have their roots in these and other West African tribes? In a series of posts, I will attempt to answer both questions. I will show that we often set out to copy and retain our African ancestry, but I will also show that amazingly, some of these ways of thinking, ways of being were not taught to us, nor transmitted through any systematic means, neither did we deliberately preserve them. Some of them are simply embedded in our psyche and we express them in various forms; art, language, music, dance, religion and cooking.

In the next few posts I offer some specifics of some of our expressions that are purely African in origin. Here is a peek. The majority of homes in Jamaica are protected by buglar bars- what we call grills and guess what? The most common motifs in our grill work are basically carbon copies of Ghanian adinkra patterns like the ones picture above. In Jamaica, we are surrounded, immersed in African aesthetics everday.

More soon!


Fly Girl said...

You know I'm excited now! That link got me thinking as well and I'm so glad you're going to explore this. Those adinkra symbols are everywhere on gates in the U.S. too, people just don't realize it. I use the adinkra symbol for excellence as my logo and my husband and I have adinkras for a lasting connection on our wedding rings. Africa is everywhere, it's just that people often don't want to acknowledge the continent's vast influence.

Jacqueline Smith said...

Mi skin ketch a fire all the way to work this morning! The symbols are everywhere! They are on gates on verandahs, they are above doorways, I had no idea that Africa was so much in my face. I don't know all the symbols so well as yet, I gather there are quite a number of them. I plan to keep looking at them so that wherever I see them I will recognize them. I decided against publishing the link until I've written a letter to the editors telling them how, um, slight I think the piece is. Thanks for the link. Lots of fun stuff coming up.

Daisy Soap Girl said...

Oh my gosh. You're so right. I do have one of those symbols on my gates and never realized it. To make things more interesting I have a stamp set with 31 Adinkra symbols from West Africa with their meanings. The symbol on my gate translates "learn from your mistakes" or better "Return & Take It", reminding you to go back and get what you forgot and try to fix your mistakes. I think it symbolizes the Sankofa Bird. The book and stamps are illustrated by Mimi Robinson. As always your posts are thought provocative and interesting.

Jacqueline Smith said...

Thanks Daisy. I like that, "Return and take it", it suggests reflection, one of the states of mind that encourages growth. Do you collect stamps for a hobby, or do you just happen to have those?

Stephen Bess said...

Yes, African culture was preserved so well in the Caribbean. It is also preserved, although dying, in coastal South Carolina (Sea Island) and Georgia. This is very apparent with the Gullah people of South Carolina who directly descendant from the Rice Coast near Sierra Leone. Great post.

Abeni said...

Very interesting that piece about the grills.Looking forward to your other revelations

Stunner said...

Interesting bit about the grill work. Looking forward to these posts.

Denise said...

Hi Jackie, stumbled across your blog because I was doing some internet research on Jack Mandora and am glad I did. I am a Jamaican living in Ghana and everyday I am astounded by just how much we have retained by way of language and culture. The origins of some of the words we use like obeah from the Twi (a Ghanaian language) word obayo-fo which means witchcraft man or sorcerer, to chaka-chaka which also means untidy or unkempt on this side of the Atlantic too. It really is fascinating.

The links go backwards too, recently on my blog (see, the post of Nov 11th) I wrote a short piece about Jamaican missionaries who were contracted by the Basel Missionaries and who came to Ghana in 1843! Families with names such as Millers, Greens, Halls, Clerks etc. who decided to stay after their contract period was over and settle here in Ghana. There is even a place still called 'Little Jamaica' in one of the towns where they settled!

Will also be doing some more research on this side to make these linkages - will be posting them on my blog. Curious to see what I will come up with.

Jacqueline Smith said...

@ Stephen, Thanks for the education there about the Gullah people in South Carolina, I'd never heard of them before. Interestingly, I went over to Fly Girl's and she also mentioned them.

@ Abeni & Stunner,
Thanks as always for stopping by. I think its just fascinating that there is so much meaning and history behind something as mundane as the motifs in most of our grillwork.

@ Denise,
So glad you stumbled across me! I love that word 'chaka-chaka' it seems to say it so much better than unkempt! I will be doing a post soon on the many ways in which West African languages have influenced Jamaican language.

Little Jamaica in Ghana sounds like Little China in New York or Little London in Jamaica. I will be following your posts with interets. Nuff respec!

Bleu Dog said...

I aws so exited to find your blog! I live on a gullah island in South Carolina called Daufuskie Island. There was a book I read, "Gullah Animal Tales From Daufuskie Island South Carolina" On the cover there is an Adinkra symbol and I have been trying to figure out the connection of the symbols to our area. The book is really great as it has the stories in the gullah language on one side and the common English translation on the other. I highly suggest checking it out as well as looking more into the Island of Daufuskie. We have a gullah festival every year that is amazing.

Anonymous said...

"Patricia Bryan, in an African-Caribbean Institute of Jamaica article, notes that there is no available evidence that the meanings of these motifs have been retained in Jamaica."

Brother, they have been retained if you are blogging about it, writing about it, talking about it, and passing on the information. If so, then the meaning is being actively retained.

By the way, I'm glad that you mentioned Bakongo; I find that most tend to forget that this portion of the "puzzle".

Also, Bakongo is Central Africa, not West Africa. Central Africa starts from Cameroon, downward. My husband is camer, btw.

Most would consider the Bakongo/Kongo "Southern Africa", and not simply Central Africa, so it's even more complex than my original statement.

Please keep up the good work on this blog; I enjoyed this post and what a pleasant surprise to stumble upon this.

Megan Foster-Mayne said...

Keep up the good work