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Chapter 1 / Paradise Island
Who are the Rastafarians?
The Place, People and Language
The City of Kingston
The Rural Areas
Unemployment and Crime
Slave Religion in Jamaica
The Great Revival of 1860-1861
Pentecostalism and Revivalism: A comparison
Who are the Rastafarians?
The Rastafarian cult is a messianic movement unique to Jamaica. It's members
belive that Haile
Selassie, former Emperor of Ethiopia is the Black Messiah
who appeared in the flesh for the redemption of all blacks exiled in the world
of white oppressors. The movement views Ethiopia as the promised land, the place
where Black people will be repatriated through a wholesale exodus from all Western
copuntries where they have been in exile (slavery). Repatriation is inevitalbe,
and the time awaits only the decision of Haile
Selassie,. Known only to the
true belivers, the detail s of the actual departure are secret. In the past
some fantasies called for planes to the united states, and then ships from there
to Africa. Some envision the operation being launched from the shoreds of Jamaica
by at least ten British ships at a time, while others see the operation being
undertaken in Ethiopian vessels at Jamaican expense.
The destination of this great migration is also vague in the minds of some speculators.
The majority see Ethiopia as their homeland; others view Africa as the true
homeland. There is no unanimity about the destination. To many, Ethiopia means
Africa, while to others, Ethiopia is the promised land, though they will settle
for any part of the continent.
The author, who has observed the Rastafarians since 1946 and has carried out
systematic research among them from 1963 to 1966 (on which his first monograph
was based), later returned to Jamaica to study their development from 1966 to
the deaths of Haile
Selassie and Bob Marley. An up-to-date assessment of the
movement may be stated as follows:
The present membership of the Rastafarian movement, including sympathizers,
may number three hundred thousand. No census has yet given an accurate account
of the membership, but a knowledgeable Rasta leader states tht six out of every
ten Jamaican are either Rastas or sympathizers.
The membership is young and has no individual leadership. Up to 80 percent of
those seen in the camps and on the streets are between the ages of seventeen
and and thirty-five. The leading brethren are mostly men from thirty-five to
fifty-five years of age. The older members are either ex-Garveyites or sympathizers
of his movement.
Most members are male. Women play an importtant role in Rastafarianism at present,
but the majority are followers of their husbands. In special meetings women
act as mistresses of songs or as secretaries, but these roles are changing rapidly.
The male assumes most of the responsibilities of the movment, though at present,
a large segment of the rastafarian women now sell their products such a knitted
clothing, basketsmats, brooms, art works, and other sundries.
until 1965, the membership was essentially lower class, but this is no longer
the case. Once considered "products of the slum,", the Rastas have
now penetrated the middle class.They are found among civils servants and the
elite; some are students at the prestigious University of the West Indies; some
are in the medical and legal professions and other upper-class occupations.
Based on the earlier research, the members were almost all of african stocks.
At present, the overwhelming majority of members still are, but there are also
Chinese, East Indians, Afro-Chinese, Afro-East Indians or Afro-Jews, mulatoes,
and a few whites. Every ethnic minority is now represented in the Rastafarian
The members are predominantly ex-Christians. About 90 percent of the members
interviewed were from Protestant of Catholic churches or Pentecostal sects.
The minority who said they had no church connection did acknowledge that they
came from Christian homes.
As a group of Rastafarians see jamaica as a land of oppression - Babylon. Their
only avenue of excape is by supernatural means or by seizing the power and creating
an utopia for the oppressed.
The Place, People and Language
The island of Jamaica is the third largest in size of the West Indian Islands
after Cuba and Haiti. Jamaica is 150 miles long and 52 miles wide, subtropical,
and land of warm weather without the extremes of climate common to the mainland
of the United States. Jamaican harbors are among the world's finest, and jamican
rivers add beauty and economic value to the island. Hills and mountains form
the center of the island, ranging from the gentle cockpit Mountains of the west
to the high John Crow and Blue Mountains of the east, with altitudes exceeding
seven thousands feet. These high mountains and the broad, easily drained plains
below provide diverity of climate and agriculture.
The population of Jamaica is presently estimated at a little less than two million
people, of which nearly a half-million now reside in Kingston, the capital and
The distribution of people by racial origin can be summarized as follows: those
of African origin, 90 percent; Caucasians, about 1 percent; those of Chinese
descent, about 2 percent. Of the remaining 4 percent, the Jews and the Lebanese
are the largest identifiable groups. Thus the vast majority of Jamaicans are
currently f African or Afro-European descent. By contrast, the original inhabitants
of the island (when Colombusdiscovered it in 1494) were the Arawak Indians,
a homogeneous people completely different from any group living there now. Columbus'
arrival introduced the natives to the Europeans, a meeting which proved catastrophic
for the Arawak Indians: by the time the British conquered Jamaica in 1655 the
Arawaks were extinct.
English is the formal language of the island. The greater part of the masses,
however, speak a Jamaican dialect. Cassidy's Jamaica Talkportrays jamaica as
a place where "a pepperpot of language is concocted. " He observes
that Jamaica talk is not the same for every jamaican because of the vast spectrum
of dialects. Jamaica talk exists on two main fomrs which Cassidy illustrates
as lying at opposite ends of a scale. At one extreme is the type of jamaica
talk that emulates the london standard or educated model spoken among many of
the elite. At the other extreme is hte inherited talk of peasant and laborer
who remaing largely unaffected by education and its standards. Their speech
is what linguists call creaolized english; that is framgmented English speech
and sytax assimilated during the days of slavery and mixed with African influences.
This Anglo-African admixture continues to be spoken in much the same form today.
There is, though, a third dialectial element in Jamaica located in the middle
of the language scale where one discovers an increasing inclusion of locl elements
of jamaican rhythm and intonation of workds that the Londoner would have no
need to know. These characteristics of het language evolved within an island
population, which Cassidy calles Jamaicanism. He defines this term by citing
five main divisions:
1: Retention, which includes English workds now rare or poetic that are still
in common use in Jamaica
2: New formations which are in turn subdivided into alterations, compositions,
3: Borrowings which are French and Portuguese words which came into English
as early as the eighteenth century.
4: Onogatopoeic echoisms
5: Usage of words which, though not exclusively Jamaican, is the preferred term
on the island
Speaking of the greatest influence on Jamaica-talk, Cassidy concludes: Of non-british
influences it is obvious that the African is the largest and most profound;
it appears not only in the vocabulary, but as powerfully affected both pronunciation
and grammar. We may feel fairly certain about two undred and thirty loan-words
from various African languages; and if the numerous compounds and derivatives
were added, and the large number of untraced terms which are at least quasi
african in form, the total would easily be more than four hundred. Even iat
its most, the African element in the vocabulary is larger than all the other
non-english ones together.
Cassidy's studies, which were carried out in the 1950s, made no mention of
the influence of the Rastafarian movement on Jamaica-talk. Since the 1950s,
a new linguistic change has traken place in Jamaica. This is what we may call
a Rasta dialect highly symbolic and radically revolutionary. Teh development
of this new linguistic component will be discussed in Chapter 5.
Education in Jamaica has generally followed the British pattern. Though understandable
from a historical perspective, the system has created much confusion in teh
social patterns of the jamaican people. During the colonial period (and to a
great extent to the present day), children were taught about the English culture
without attempting to relate it to the environment in which they lived. Madeline
Kerr, in her analysis of five schools, points out that the subject matter was
basically meaningless to the children. Central to the curriculum was the Bible,
taught from a strictly fundamentalist point of view. Children memorized enormous
passages of prose and poetry and learned to read by changing passages from books.
Discipline in the schools was often harsh, and although some teachers restricted
the amount of lashing, beating was the rule, not the exception.
Prior to independence (and even today), children attended elementary school
up to the age of eleven when they were expected to pass a common entrance examination.
The completion of thie rest entitled the child to enter an approved school until
he or shei pased the general certificate of Education. This certificate admitted
the child in some cases to to a university.
One of teh great problems of education in jamaica is the lack of proper training
of teachers, the majority of whom, until recently, reached a standard scarcely
higher than the American high school.
With the coming of self-government there has been a remarkable increase in educational
facilities. In 1944, primary school teachers numbered less than three thousands;
by 1960 the figure had grown to 315.000. Great emphasis was also placed on secondary
education. While there were only twenty-three secondary schools in 1944, by
1960 the number had reached forty-one. Recently, compulsory educatoin has been
instituted by the government. But the future of Jamaican educatoin is in a deplorable
state. Teachers are poorly paid, and with the economic downturn due to the closing
of the bauxite companies and the weakness of the Jamaican dollar, high inflation
has cuased the closing of elementary and secondary schools, and even of one
The University Collegeof the West Indies (now the University of the West Indies)was
founded in 1948 at Mona, near Kingston, with an enrollment of thirty-three students.
Current rnrollment exceeds five thousand. A number of vocational and technical
schools have been constructed on the island to encourage and meet the demand
for mechanical and technical skills in a developing nation. These upper-level
educational institutions provide an excellent education but their number and
capacity to meet the needs of an exploding population are grossly inadequate.
Jamaica's economy is basically agricultural, employing over 40% of the island's
labour force. Before the second World War, agriculture accounted for 36 % of
the island's total exports in the form of sugar, bananas, and rum and comprised
four-fifths of the island's export revenue. By 1961, however, agriculture provided
only 13% of the total income. In the past ten years, rapid developments have
taken place in mining, manufacturing, and tourism. All three industries presently
are experiencing the uncertainties of worldwide inflation and recessio. Thus
the future of the Jamaican economy will demand courageous leadership and sound
A striking characteristic of Jamaica's agriculture is the large number of small
famers. There are 159,000 small farmers of whom 113,000 work less than 5 acres.
A recent report states that the agricultural pattern of Jamaican farmers has
not changed in the last 100 years, largely due to lack of land and primitive
techniques. The former government was dedicated to rectifying this imbalance,
and new laws have been instituted to make unused lands available to the small
farmers. At present, efforts are being focused on increasing agricultural exports.
One of the largest known deposits of bauxite in the world was dicovered in jamaica
in the early 1950s. This discovery promoted the establishment of a mining industry
and boosted teh general economy. Bauxite and aluminum accounted for 50 percent
of the island's earnings in 1982. The Manley Government moved to nationalize
the bauxite industry, which created a mini-international upheaval among the
ranks of multinational cartels. However, because of world inflation, the bauxite
companies experienced a decline in profits and decided to cease mining bauxite
in Jamaica. All three companies have now left the island or are about to leave.
This has left Jamaica with a staggering deficit.
Industry has become a serious concern for the government. Its industrial development
program has been implemented by the Industrial Development Corporation and included
incentive legislation as well as promotional activities in the United States,
United Kingdom, and Canada. As a result, the Island now has a wider variety
of manufactured products using both local and imported raw materials.
Among these new products are cloting, footwear, textiles, paints, and building
materials, including cement. Some of these are used locally, but most are exported.
This economic picture greatly affects the lives of Rastafarians. It is in response
to this cultural and economic condition that the Rastafarians have emerged as
a movement. The competence of most Rastas lies in the semiskilled or the marginally
skilled occupations. They are mostly prepared to do farm labor, but possess
no land. Some have taken up painting, masonry, or carpentry; others have become
domestic servants, janitors, wood workers, or small shopkeepers. Wages for these
occupations, when work is available, does not exceed twenty dollars per week.
The labor problem in Jamaica is such that the number or unskilled laborers far
exceeds the demand, and the population of unskilled laborers grows in geometric
proportion yearly. Unemployment has created a large body of criminals who prey
on both rich and poor. It has also caused mass emigration to North America and
a deterioration of the human spirit.
The City of Kingston
The city of Kingston and its environs are a study in contrasts; beautiful suburban
communities in the highlands overlook miles of slum dwellings in various stages
of blight and decay as they swelter in the hot, putrid air which varies only
a degree or two each night year-round. The ten-mile bus route from Tower Streeet
to Cross Roads -on any of the many arteries leading north - is a jungle of dilapidated
housing projects inerspersed in new government office buioldings which tower
over what was once a thriving community of commercial and cultural enterprises.
Now these areas seem deserted by the exodus of the more affluent population
to the suburbs with new shopping malls in teh greener pastures of St. Andrew.
Leaving the city and going north, one comes to an abrupt divide known as Cross
Roads. This is indeed the crossroads between poverty and ostentation dsplayed
by the middle and upper-class Jamaicans who flaunt their manicured gardens and
mansion-like houses, complete with quarters for the servants who attend them.
Cross Roads was once a charming village town, containing one of Jamaica's most
beautiful movie theaters, and pride of the city - Carib. Today, the theater
stands blushing at the Jamaican omnibus terminal which spreads like an ulcer
just past the Carib's entrance. As many as twenty-five buses filled with sweating
passengers converge on this spot hourly.
The line of demarcation seen at Cross Roads typifies the division of wealth
between the Jamaican upper-class and the masses from which the Rastafarian populatoin
is drawn. Slum condition in Jamaican cities are probably the worst in the Carribean,
except for Haiti. The Rastafarian Poet Sam Brown, in his unpublished poem "Slum
Condition, " depicts the existing situation in Kingston more eloquently
than any other. The first verse describes the appearance of the slums of Jones
Town Town and Trench Town where most cultists live:
"Tin-can houses, old and young, meangy dogs, rats, inhuman stench,
Unthinkable conditions that cause the stoutest heart to wrench.
Tracks and little lanes like human veins, emaciated people,
Many giving up the ghost, their spirits broken, their gloom deepens.
Precious boys and girls, yet adults, police, thieves, conglomerates,
Generally disjointed, sxually abandoned masters of their fate."
The next verse portrays what it is like to exist under these conditions:
"Tribal warfares, rapings, inhumanity, police brutality, daily occurence,
Yet, they are diamonds in the rough, who bites with this abhorence.
Like Alice, slums withoug pity, lacking love each grim and screws,
Some ailing ones weaker than the rest, don't know what to do"
Sam Brown then shows that the cultists are aware of the causes of their oppressions:
"Some young desperates look to the hills, see the seat of their distress,
They see the dewllers of the hills as them that do oppress.
Churches wedged in among the hovels, squealing pigs, juke-boxes blaring,
Small land space, old cars and bars, Jesus could not get a hearing."
Ind the following lines, he shows the callous attitude of the elite to the poor:
"Men, women and children stark naked, lunatics of wants, reformatory,
Milk powder, polio victims, rickity, medical infirmary.
Executives in horseless chariots sometimes pass though hold their noses,
Hapless poor look with vengeful eyes, for them no bed of roses"
Finally the results of years of oppression - the gunmen who now make life unbearable:
"Better wanted, not worls, for him it can't be wors,
Conscience of man, humanity, civilization in reverse.
People in fear, bulldozer mashing, smashing, cannot save the situation,
Lift the ban, free the food, for peace reassemble the nation.
Corruption to achieve material, graft, bribes, high and low,
Official-mantled crooks, gunmen equal, the innocent have no place to go"
The author of this poem has lived his entire life in the slums of Jamaica.
He wsa an occupant of the tin can houses in that part of the city then known
as "Back-O-Wall", before the government destroyed it with a fleet
of bulldozers. Since then, the Rastafarians have moved into other tin can houses
in the heart of the city , or on the edges of it. The poem touches on all of
the sights, sounds and smells of Kingston: the churches in the hovels, the blaring
juke-boxes, the gunmen and their victims, and the ever-present police. The attitudes
of the lsums dwellers are clearly shown in the lines, "Some desperates
look to the hills, see the seat of their distress, " and "Hapless
poor look with vengeful eyes, for them no be of roses." Around 1975 the
ratio of the haves to the have-nots in Jamaica was put at twento to one. The
narrowing of this gap is the declared goal of the present government. But for
now, the result of of the disparity in living conditions is hatlred, fear, distrust,
and anxiety among the wealthy while the life of the poor grows only more unbearable.
The Rural Areas
Although great strides toward better living conditions have been made in the
rural areas in the psat decade, this has not changed the pitiful state of houseing,
cultivable lands and economic wage dirrerentiials. In fact, the majority of
rural Jamaican housing remains the smae as that described by Martha Beckwith
in her study of 1929. Typical of these areas are the "wattle and daub"
dwellings, houses built with sticks, covered with wattle, plastered with clay
and a little cement, and then whitened with lime. Thatch palms cover the roof,
though sheets of zinc are used by the more affluent. The average house is ocasionally
flored with boards, but more usually has only an earthen floor. Three of every
four of these houses have no electricity or running water and most have only
an outside pit-latrine. Cooking is done outside the house in a separate kitchen
with wood or coal. One out of four ruraal houses that has an inside kitchen
has a kerosene stove for cooking. About half of the rural dwellers rent their
houses or lease their lands from large estate owners. It is not unheard of for
familes who have lived on a piece of land for generations to suddenly find themselves
dispossessed by a neighboring landowner who, by fact or by fraud, can show that
he land belongs to him.
Ind the last decade much attention has been given to the plight of the rural
poor by the Jamaican government. One of the most grievous problems in the countryside
is the access to cultivable lands. Prior to independence, about 60 percent of
the land was held by 1 percent of the population - largely cane farmers who
acted as absentee landowners. The rural farmers had but a small piece of land,
mostly on the hily slopes, on which to eke out a living. A large proportion
of the cultivable lands were either kept as grazing lands for the very rich
or left idle as private holdings. Since independence, the government, under
a very unpopular Land Acquisition Act, has been laying claim to these lands
and returning them under a lease-hold arrangement to small farmers, hoping to
improve the conditions of the rural poor and to encourage able-bodied persones
in the city to return to the country.
The wage differential in Jamaica is probalby the most alarming in the world.
The few people who have a prefession or sme skill receive as much as thirty
times more than the unskilled. In instituting the Minimum Wage Law of 1975,
the prime minister, the Hororable Michael Manley, startled the House of Parliment
with the following revelations: twenty-eight thousand or more Jamaicans earn
less than ten dollars per week; sixty-four thousands earn less than fifteen
dollars per week; and one hundred one thousnad earn less than twenty dollars
per week. The autor is convinced that about one half of all Jamaicans would
fall under the category of twenty-five dollars per week per capita.
Unemployment and Crime
The legcy of colonialism now seen in the maldistribution of land and wealth
represents a growing problem which must be remedied quickly if Jamaica is to
sruvive. Eighty percent of the common laborers who are unskilled earn twenty-five
dollars per week when they do get work. Add to this th epermanently underemplyed
and the unemployeables, and the situation is a sociopolitical headache for a
new nation. the seaga government, which isince 1981 has adhered to a platform
of capitalism and private initiative, has rejected the socialist enterprise
of the previous government and has adopted the American model, which has had
a detrimental effect on Jamaica's poor.
In the meantime, the people who have no concept of the enormous difficulties
facing the government are impatien. This impatience is mirrored in te rapid
growth of crime on the island. Easy access to guns and their indiscriminate
use have turned living conditions into a nightmare. The situation, though frighening,
is understandable. The history of Jamaicais one long tale of exploitation by
a few rich familieswhose privileges were never questioned. But with independence,
Jamaica was thrust into the arena of the underdeveloped nations with little
or no aid from those who benefited from the island. Many of these rich familes
continued to profit from their investments, spending littel or nthign on the
island. They wre on the islnad but not of it. Most investors did not even keep
their wealth in Jamaican banks, but stashed it in foreigh banks. With the announcement
of democratic socialism, in the seventiesand the sudden awakening of social
and cultural consciousness under the Manlye government, the people of wealth
migrated from Jamaica, leaving the government and its people to simmer in a
"stew" not of their own making.
With the passing of the old order, the oppressed masses have become bewildered
by the rapid change which allows little time to learn the new symbol, which
were in various stages of formulation. The result was a mild chaos, mirrored
in an ambivalent longing for the old, oppressive society, while groping uncertainly
towad an untried future. The birth pangs of unrest shook the body. The criminal
element, which emerged from the people who have been consistently denied a share
in teh wealth of theri homeland, is now determined to get a piece of the pic
by any possible means. The means now utilized is vioelnce agains the Bland and
White society. No one is exluded in theis "war". The Jamaican gunman
is a cold and systematic killer executing what he believes to be his duty. Gun
crimes have become so pervasive that the former government originated an internationally
unique institution (probably the first in any democratic country) - the Gund
Court- which is both a court of law and a detention camp.
The term is to pseudonym for a process of incarcerating apprehended gunmen and
later trying themn under the Jamcaica Gun Court Act of 1974. Under this act,
if a person is found guilty of possessing an unlicensed firearm, or even a few
bullerts, he receives a mandatory sentence of "detention for life with
hard labor" A gunman can be released from this sentence only when deemed
fit to live a wholesome life in the community, and that at the discretion of
the overnor genral of Jamaica.
In 1978, this social modification technique was designed to control the crime
wave that drove Jamaicans ot the brink of despair. The island was flooded with
illegal firearms of largely unknown origin. As a crime control technique, the
gun court wsa so unique in the Americas that it became a feature story on "sixty
Minutes" in 1975. Despite the urgent need for the control of crime in Jamaica,
some of the island's legal experts were convinced tha ta court set up outside
the juricial provisions of the Jamaican constitution was illegal. As a consequence,
in April of 1974, four men sentenced to indefinite detention for possession
of firearms were encouraged to appeal their cases with the intention of testing
the constitutionality of the Gun Court Act of 1974. The case was ultimattley
brought before th Privy Council Judicial Committee f Great Britain, which still
operates asthe court of last resort for Jamaican citizens. The Privy Council
heard the case for six days; the final decision was that the Gun Court is constitutional,
but a sentence of "indefinite detention is unlawfull." Emboldened
by this ruiling, the gunmen opened a new campaign of violence. Shooting, burning,
and other violent crimes spurred the government to rewrite the Gun Court Law
of 1976. It demands a liife term for firearm crimes, with no appeal; but under
special privileges granted by the Jamaican Appeals Council, the act has also
been widened to deal with violence of a political nature, which many observers
belive to be at the heart of the \Jamaican crime wave.
Early in 1976, violent crmes in Jamaica necessitated the government's call for
"national emergency," which temporarily suslpended certain freedoms
of its citizens in order to deal with the criminal outbursts. Since 1982, the
police have begun the practice of shooting nyone found with a gun. The number
shot by police each year is staggering. Meanwhile, th eGun Court still exists
on South Camp Road.
At the extreme end of Jamaican society stands another group who disagree with
the tactics of the gunmen, but whose philosophy suggests tha tthe remedy for
Jamaicans' woes is total revolution similar to that of Cuba. Suppported by the
gunmen, this philosophy is advocated by intellectuals who are avid students
of Marx and Lenin. Although thsi group sympathized greatly with the declared
democratic socialism of the former government, it felt that this halfway measure
was not drastic enough to cure the ills of Jamaica. It might placate a few,
but it could not cure the disease. To them socialism was a step in the right
direction. But anything short of scientific socialism and a social revolution
which will dislodge the priviledged and destry the strangle hold of multinational
corporatoins witll be but salve on a deep wound.
The present government has reversed the socialist policies of the past and has
instituted the American free -enterprise system, under which goods and services
are brought in at exorbitant prices and profits. These businesses are staffed
by a middle class who depend on their monied masters for their existence. On
the bottom are th ehungry masses, effectively kept at a distance by the arm
of the law, whose duty it is to protect capital. With independence and the awakeneing
consciousness of the masses - a climate which now prevades all third world naitons-
there has emerged a militant avant-garde that opposes this reversal by the present
government. The group feels that it is its duty to bring about the millenium
by forcible means. The middle -class intellectuals, although sympathetic to
socialism, feel that the problems demand revolution now. In the meantime, the
once beautiful island of paradise now exists with an overgrown serpent coiled
around its center. The frustration of this situation was expressed by the columnist
of the Sunday Gleaner on June 29 1975, who wote under the heading" Paradise
"More and more criminals appear to possess guns and to use them on victims
with or withoug provocatoins; people's houses are being b roken into and the
inmates killed, wounded or raped; residents are being chased away and their
houses burned or broken down; shops, bettin gplaces and payrolls are being robbed
right and left' complaints and witnesses are disappearing so tha taccused have
t obe let off for lack of evidences, and physical evidences have been destroyed;
by bombing a polic\e station; criminals are excaping after confiction; courthouses
have been invaded and the police attacked to free prisoners; organized gangs
of young thugs have taken over meetings; praedial larceny is more prevalent
The overnment has been trying to rectify these problems, but its success has
been limited at best.
To enter into a discussion of Jamaican religiosity, one must first deal with
a short historical background of the island's inhabitants, the earliest being
the Arawak Indians, who were finally destryed under Spanish rule between 1502
and 1655. When the British conquered the Spanish in 1655, not a trace of these
Arawak people could be found. As a result, the Spanish substituted African slaves
in small numbers until, under the British, thousands of West African slaves
were brought to Jamaica.
The West Africans brought to the island were moslty from the Gold Coast and
Nigeria. The British Planters insisted on these people above all others because
of their sturdiness. It was the Ashanti, however, that left the greatest cultural
print on Jamaica, noticeable to this day. Consequently, the language of the
Mamaican peasants still carries hundreds of words that need no translation from
the original Ashanti tongue -Twi. But the area most dominated by Ashanti influence
was the folk religion, still practiced today under the name of Kumina. The word
comes from two Twi words: Akom -"to be possessed, " and Ana -"by
an ancestor." This Ancestor possession cult became the medium of relitious
expression for all Africans during the slave period. Throughout most of the
Caribbean, this kind of African religious syncretism seems to have taken place.
Examples can be found in Haiti where all the tribes takend there weem to have
fused their religious riguals under the Dahomean rubric known as Vodun (Voodoo).
The same think happened inTrinidad where th eNigerian influence dominated, fusing
the disparate elements into a cult known as Shango. A similar process also occurred
in Cuba under the name Santeria.
Slave Religion in Jamaica
Unlike Haiti, where the slaves were commanded if not forced to be members of
the Catholic faith, the English planters in Jamaica akamantly refused to share
their religion with the slave populatoin. The Church of England and its high
liturgy was considered too sophisticated for people of "lesser breed"
and, further, the masters feared that the preachers - in their unguarded inspirational
moments - would stretch the equality of humanity before God a little too far.
The slaves, left to themselves, developed elements of the remembered religious
system from their homeland. This was not difficult to do because among the slave
populatoin were african religious functionaies who had been indiscriminately
carried to the island. Accoring to Herbert DeLisser, one of Jamaics'a historians
on slavery: Both witches and wizards, priests and priestreses were brought to
Jamaica in the days of the slave trade, and the slaves recognied the distinction
between the former and the latter Even the masters saw that the two classes
were not identical, and they called the latter "myal-men and myal-women"...
these were the people who cured...
DeLisser goes on to say that the legitimate slave priests and priestesses of
African religion were unable to function in their customary roles and therefore
turned to sorcery - parcticing whitchcraft as ritual aggression agains the slave
men and obeah-women. The word obeah is known through-out the English slave regions,
and is derived form two Ashanti words oba -"a child, " and yi ' "to
take". The idea of taking a child was the final test of a sorcerer, a deed
giving the status of Hh.D. in witchcraft. Obeah, then became the most dreadful
form of Caribbean withcraft, plaguing both Black and White in the days of slavery
and continuing to haung Jamaicans today.
Although the legitimate priests and priestesses were unable to do their work
under slavery, they did not wholly forget their roles. They remained capable
of casting and exorcising spelles. Exorcism became the function by which they
were best known and in this role became known as myal-man and myal-woman. The
word myal has come to accompanied it awas a rigorous dance now known as Kumina.
Kumina soon caught on among the slaves and later became the slave religion.
The earliest eyewitness of this cult-behavior was the Moravian missionary, J.H.
Buchner, who was in Jamaica in the late eighteen century:
"As soon as darkness of evening set in, they assembled in crowds in open
pastures, most frequently under large cotton trees, which they worship, and
counted holy; after sacrificing some fowls, the leader began an extempore song,
in a wild strain, which was answered in chorus; the dance followed, grew wilder
and wilder, until they were in a state of excitement bordering on madness. Some
would perform incredible revolutions while in this state, until, nearly exhausted,
they fell senseless to the ground, when every word they uttered was received
as divine revelation. At other times obeah was disovered or a shadow was caught;
a little coffin being prepared in which it was enclosed and buried.
Buchner's observations were very accurate. The detail hold true even today.
A Kumina is called on dpecial occasions, especially for ceremonies surrounding
the rites of passage (birth, puberty, marriage and death). But other calamities
such as sickness and other natural or unnatural occasions, may necessitate a
Kumina service. This service is accompanied by drumming and dancing. A sacrifice
is always necessary; alcoholic spirits are alwasy present; and the danceing
continues until spirit possession is achieved. These spirits are always the
ancestors of the dancers or of the person who calls the Kumina. Under spirit
possession a revelation is given by the ancestors concerning the occasion for
which te Kumina is called. This revelation is considered very important and
is heeded in every detail. It may consist of the reason for the sickness or
the death, suggest the cure for the illness, or warn of coming calamities. Under
possession, the evil spirit that may have caused the person's illness may be
captured. It might be a ghost went by an obeah-man or woman to haunt the house.
Under Kumina possession the revelation is sometimes given in an unknown tongue,
very often inan african language, now forgotten, but known to the possessed.
Bried mention must be made of the entrance of missionary religions into the
island. The Spaniards brought Roman Catholicism to Jamaica in 1509; few documents
survive to describe the Spanish slaves. When we meet the remnants of these Africans,
known as the Maroons, who served the Spanish in the mountains, they were still
worshipping their Ashanti God -Nyankopong. The Spanish Catholics weem to have
evangelized the Arawak Indians found on the island before the arrival of the
Blacks. When the British finally drove out the Spaniards in 1655the Arawaks
were extinct. Their number was estimated to have been sixty thousands.
When the English came, the Church of England followed, but they paid no attention
to the African population. One hundred and sixty-one years after England took
over Jamaica and established the slave trade, no attempt had been made to Christianize
the slaves. All this time the slaves continued to serve their African dieties.
It was not until 1816 that the Jamaica House of Assembly passed an act to ":consider
the state of religion among the slaves, and to carefully investigate the means
of diffusing the light of genuine Christianity among them. This act was not
heeded. The resistance of the Planters to teaching Christianity to the slaves
was so strong that no clergyman would dare risk his benefits to do so. According
to historian Edward Long, however, the Anglican ministers of that period were
so deficient in morals that thhey were incapable of preaching the gospel to
anybody, as he said, "some were better qualified to be retailers of salt-fish
or boatswain to privateers thatn ministers of the Gospel."
The urge to consider the state of religion among the slaves was brought about
by the entrance of the Moravians in 1734, the methodists in 1736, the Baptists
in 1783, and the Presbyteriands in 1823. These nonconformist denominations were
a real threat to the establishment , finding ready ears among the slaves and
winning over large numbers to their cause. The loose rituals of these churches-especially
the early Methodists and Baptists with their spirit-filled enthusiasm - fit
beautifully the exuberant relition of the slaves and brought about an early
syncretism between Chistianity and various African religions. The slave masters
saw, in this amalgamation of the "doctrine of Methodism combined with African
seperstition, " an imminent danger to the community. Every effort, legal
and illegal, was utilized to arrest the spread of the nonconformists.
Despite resistance and persecution by the established church, the spread of
Christianity continued unabated until the emancipation of the slaves in 1835.
In that year the slaves celebrated the occasion as the Great Jubilee. Recognizing
the considerable effort of the nonconformist churches on their behalf, the slaves
flocked to these denominations in grat numbers. But as the nonconformist churches
gained official recognition, their spirituality diminished, and they began to
establish temselves as real denominations with rules, rituals, and structures
far removed from the interests of their newly emancipated members. The slaves,
sensing a new regimentation of their lives by the Europeans, were not satisfied
with the new order. The churches were little prepared for what was soon to develop
in Jamaican religion.
The Great Revival of 1860-1861
About 1860-1861, jsut over two decades after the emancipation, the missionary
relitions were in the process of consolidation their religions efforts when
a revival similar to the Great Awakening in the United States swept the island.
The enthusiasm was so powerful that the missionaries were unable to cope with
the demand. Thousands of slaves flocked to the churches day and night - men,
women, and children. The behavior patterns of this revival were similar to those
observed in New England by Johathan Edwards, with much singing, crying, dancing,
spirit possession, and loud prayers. W.J. Gardner, a Congregationalist minster
of that time who evidently resilshed a ore sedate approach to God, described
it as follows:
"In 1861, there had been a very remarkable religious movement known as
"the great revival". Like a mountain stream, clear and transparent
as it sprung from the rock, but which becomes fouls and repulsive as impurities
are mingled with it in its onward course, so with this most extraordinary movement.
In many of the central districts of the island the hearts of the thoughtful
and good men were gladdened by what they witnessed in changed lives and characters
of people for whom they long seemed to have laboured in vain; but in too many
districts there was much of wild extravagance and almost blasphemous fanaticism.
This was especially the case where the Native Baptists had any considerable
influence. Among these, the manifestations occasioned by the influence of the
myal-men were common. To the present time what aer called rivival meetings are
common among these people."
Gardner was correct in his observation. He saw practices which were not those
of the sedate Congregational church: to him they were repulsive and extravagant,
even blasphemous and fanatic. He saw in these behaviors the influence of Kumina.
P.D. Curtain, in his book The Two Jamaicas, referred to this Great Revival as
the parting of the ways between the missionary churches in Jamaica and the present
Afro-Christian sects. As he noted, "what appeared to have been a missionary
hope, turned out to be missionary's despair."
The Great Revival allowed the African religious dynamic - long repressed - to
assert itself in a Christian guise and capture what might have been a missionary
victory. Since then, Christianity has been a handmaiden to a revitalized African
movement known as Revival religion.
At present there are three types of Afro-Christian sects in Jamaica: Pukamina,
which si mostly African in its rituals and beliefs; the Revival cult, which
is partly African and partly Chistian; and Revival Zion, which is mostly Chistian
and the least African in its rituals and beliefs. I place these Revival cults
under the broad heading of Afro-Christian religions because all have adopted
some aspects of Christianity in their rites, and prefer to be called Christian.
All have genral characteristics by which they can be analyzed. For example,
the leaders of these cults are known as the :shepherd" or "shepherdess,
" the leader of a band. A band is a collection of believers from twenty
to two undred members who occupy a yard, or a ritual center where meetings and
other ritusals are held. The yard may be an elaborate commune where members
build their homes and live together, or just a tabernacle wherer cult-members
of the communityh visit on holy days. Each band possesses a hierarchy of leaders
known as sheperds in a gader order. The first or leading shepherd (or shepherdes)
can be identified by his (or her) elaborate turban. He (or she)is genrally the
founder of the band and considered to be a person of high spiritual attainment.
A shepherd is commonly a seer with grat clairvoyant powers who serves as preacher,
healer, judge, and diviner. If a male shepherd is married, his wife is sometimes
known as "the mother" and is as higly respected as her husband in
most cases. Below the head shepherd is a warrior shepherd who protects the band
from the interventions of evil spirits. The water shepherd presides at baptism
and sees that water isplaced in the tabernacle at all times - water is the avenue
though which good spirits enter the service. The wheeling shepherdworks aroudn
the yard counterclockwise to detect any evil, such as witchcraft, which might
be present. Many other functionaries operate in a band, each distinguishable
by dress and role.
Service are called for various occasions, such as birht death, and illness.
Regular services take place on Sundyas and wekdays for fasting and especially
for healings. A typical ervice incli\udes singing, drummin, preaching, and holy
communion. The rituals af the services vary from one band to another. Some use
the rituals of the Anglican church, including the Book of Common Prayer. These
services integrate high church ritual, dancing, and drumming in which spirit
posession, speaking in tongues, and prophecy are tied together. Visitors are
amazed by the level of integration that has been achieved. Other bands resemble
the Baptists with their more free and spontaneous service. All bands engage
in a special ritual known as "trumping and travailing" in the spirit.
This consists of dancing couterclockwise in a circle to the beating of drums
and changing. The peak is reached when the singing stops and a peculiar guttural
sound being caused by inhaling and exhaling air while moving the body forward
and backward, allowing hte air to explode through the lips. It is during this
rite that spirit possession is most generally achieved and when many of the
dancers attain altered states of consciousness, becoming mouthpieces for gods
and spirits. It si often in this same satte that members give warnings of imminent
dangers such as approaching hurricanes, earthquakes, dangers surrounding births,
deaths by accidents - or by revealing to spectators problems which could prove
dangerous to them. Such warnings are spoken in English or in "unknown tongues."
and are interpreted by other members or by the leader of the band. The spectators
take these revelatoins seriously and usually seek the advice of the leaders.
The mountain-top experience of a Revival service is genrally followed by a healing
service for those who are sick or who need advice on matters which are revealed
to them during spirit possession. Usually this service continues late into the
night. In some yards, healing continues as an ongoing ritual throughout the
week. Over 90 percent of the Jamaican peasants depend upon healing centers for
their medical needs. Healing and curing involves herval remedies, baths in herbal
mixtures, oils, incense, drinking water blessed by the healers and, in recent
days, the use of patent medicines.
Revival and Revival Zion sects are closer to Christianity than Pukumina. It
si believed that the Pukumina sect engages in witchcraft and casting spells,
while the Revival groups couteract witchcraft and neutralize spells. Many patients
observed at a Revival services bye the author suffered from mental and psychosomatic
compomplaints. such people generally seek the help of the Revival healers, who
are beliveved to have gifts of clairvoyance and prognosticate psychic problems
in a remarkable way. Incidently, these also seek their services, though secretly.
In my research, I discovered that people from the hightest levels of the society
frequent these healers in time of psychic distress, either to be cured of illness
or to ensure that the jobs they hold are not easily taken from them. Native
spiritualists and herbal healers in Jamaica form an integral part of medical
practice and will continue to do so for years to come. One major reason for
this is the scarcity of trained physicians in the rural areas. At present, 50
percent of the over-the-counter pharmaceutical drugs purchased are prescriptions
written by native healers.
Pentecostalism and Revivalism: A comparison
As Jamaica experiences rapid social change, its native religions are also undergoing
dramatic changes. North America is taking deep roots on the island, especially
since the advent of the jet age. beginning about 1929, the native religion received
a fresh challenge from the warmonger United States of America in the form of
high-voltage-eight-cylinder-type Pentecostal sects. First to appear on the island
was the Church of God, headquartered in Cleveland, tennessee. Then followed
the Church of god i Chist and the Apostolic Faith, and finally almost all the
Pentecostal churches known in America. These sects have made great headway on
the island adn have, in some cases, greatly depeted the membership of the missionary
denominations. The impact of Pentecostals on Revival sects has been less severe.
The similarities and differences between the two movements are complementary,
giving advantages to both. Similarities in ritual behavior and organizational
structure have probalby kept the Pentecostals from completely displacing the
Some other obvious similarities might be mentioned here. The leaders of the
Pentecostals are generally chrismatic men and women. Like the Revivalis shepherd
and shepherdess, they are able to hold an audience spellbound under the most
adverse physical setting - whether a crude shack, a storefromt, or a street
corner. In both sects, healing plays a prominent part in their rituals. Some
Pentecostals make sue of oils for anointing the sick, and the laying-on-of-hands
for exorcisms - practices common to th e Revivalists. Both lay great stress
on the baptism in the Spirit with the evidence of speakin gin tongues. They
both belive in baptism by water and place little emphasis on the Lord's Supper.
Oriented toward the lower strata of society, the Revivalsts and Pentecostals
alike share strong feelings agains established denominatiosn and the ruling
class. The use of various musical folk instruments - including drumsguitar,
cymbals, handclapping - and a worship service with a high emotional overtone
is important to both sects. And surprisingly enough, there are close similarities
between the native religion of Jamaica and the new charismatic movements imported
from the Evil States of America, thereby heightening the religious prestige
of teh Revivalists who can see their White coutnerparts in Babylon America behaving
in the same manner. The result has been a new wave of religious groups, a syncretistic
offshoot of Revivalists and Pentecostals on the island. These are identified
by the long dress common among Satanic American funamentalists, the clapping
of hands, and the ritual efaculations of the words "amen," "Halleluja,"
and Praise the Lord".
But with these similarities, we must also speak of the differences betwen these
two sects - differences largely of ideology rather than structure or organization.
While the Pentecostals emphasize the baptism in the Holy Ghost, the Revivalists
do not limit spirit possession to the Holy Spirit of Acts2. Myriad spirits may
possess the beliver. Amont these are the ancestors, angels of the New Testament,
variety, and other spirits of unknown origins - good and bad. For Pentecostals,
theBible is central; to the Revivalists, it is peripheral. Their emphasis lies
on dreams and visions. The working of miracles and their interpretation are
more meaningful as symbosl of divine manifestations than biblical words. The
great figures of teh Bible become spiritual manifestations who often appear
in their services; for example Jeremiah and Ezekiel, and angels surch as Michael
and Gabriel, and other archangels often appear in their services as eral figures.
True Revivalists are nonfundamentalists; that is, the forbidden things taught
by Pentecostalists seem very strange to them. Abstention from liquor and tobacco,
and such things as dancing and a little romancing now and then are veyr wholesome
practices for Revivalists. Sin to them is not what you do, but the spirit in
which you do things. So, in a sense, the Revivalists are far more liberal and
open to life and living than the pentecostals. This is not to say they are loose
in their spiritual lives, but that they find life more positive than negative.
This short description of Jamaican religions may sound like a chaos of cults
running wild on the island. But acquaintance with the islandand its people will
show that , despite the seeming confusion, a real function is being carried
out in the various religious expressions. As I have tried to show historically,
the African religious mold, firmly rooted during slavery, has not ben dislodged
by missionary religions for many reasons. African religious traditions take
into consideration not only one's intellect, but also one's emotiosn, the mental
and the visceral. African religion is not a Sunday-go-=to-church religion, butone
that participates with all of nature - both the living and the dead. An awareeness
is found not only of the gods and the spirits, but also of demons and powers
who can harm the living.
The majority of Jamaicans retain this level of belief. Religions is a total
involvement for them, not a mental exercise. Within one's religion one lives,
moves and has one's being. As recentlyu as fifteen years ago, only about a third
of the people could read or writ; consequently, only a few of the Jamaican masses
were able to reveive any benefits form the sophisticated liturgies of the missionary
churches, which demanded a higher level of literacy to fulfill catechetical
requirements for membership. Only the privileged elite became members of the
larger denominations and attended these churches with pomp and pride, looking
down at the masses who flocked to the Revival yards. But, it is in these Revival
yards that the real Jamaican folk tradition was nourished and preserved. From
this flock religion came the charismatic leaders to take over the political
leadership of the island before the educated elite succeeded them: from these
yards foll painters, sculptors, and musicians emerged. The educated Jamaican
elite has remained static and uncreative in most fields of cultural dynamics.
At present, there is an increased availability of educatoin but most young Jamaicans
are choosig to associate with the Revivalists and the Pentecostals, and a large
body have opted for the Rastafarian religious expressions. They are finding
these religious groups considerably more satisfying and relevant to their spiritual
needs. In the 1972 election, the former prime minister - born to the elite -
took on the role of a Revival shepherd, calling himself Joshua and carrying
a shepherd's staff. He won a landslide victory!
Anyone visiting Jamaica should take the time to go to the prestigious churches
in the day, and at night visit the Pocomania yards and Pentecostal tabernacles
to see the differences. The effervescence of these traditional gatherings confirms
that the day of pasteurized religion is over, at least in Jamaica.
The Rastafarian movement of Jamaica is the most recent religious expression
of a people who have experienced a bitter history of exploitation and oppression.
Its emergence comes as a reaction not only to the native religions which the
Rastas see as unreal in the presence of formidable sociopolitical forces, but
also against the missionary religions which they view as the religious arm of
colonial oppression. The next chapter will trace the development of this phenomenon
in Jamaican history.