Welcome back to Creators of Hope’s New Year’s tribute to Jamaican history! Over the past two weeks, we’ve looked at the struggle that transplanted African people faced when they were brought to Jamaica, and other Caribbean islands, to work the sugar plantations. This week we’ll begin to see how Jamaica’s own unique culture grew out of that struggle and the strength of people hailing from different backgrounds and traditions.
As we saw last week, plantation owners did all they could to force their displaced slaves to forget the places and traditions they came from. Looking back, though, we see how the strength of those people won out over all such efforts.
Imagine, again, what it would be like to find yourself in a totally unfamiliar and hostile place. You have no roots, you’ve lost everything that defined your life and your sense of self, and you can’t communicate with anyone around you. What do you do?
You might hold, as tightly as you could, onto the few things you had that couldn’t be taken from you. Your memories. Stories you were told as a child. Songs and prayers your parents taught you. These sacred things helped you hold onto your sense of home even when you knew you would never see that place again.
In Jamaica, slaves gradually built a shared culture. One of the most important elements of that culture was the growth of a new, shared language, built out of the dialects from different parts of Africa and using elements borrowed from European languages, especially English. Over time, this mixed language became the patois spoken in Jamaica today.
Stories, legends, and musical traditions also helped form the new culture that bound the displaced people together. African gods and heroes found their way into stories being shared in the new world. Anansi, the legendary spider-trickster-storyteller of African folklore, is still a major figure in Jamaican folk tales (and also inspired some of the Br’er Rabbit stories told in the US). In music, the melodies of Africa found their way into the new songs being sung in the colony. Warm and lyrical tunes, reaching back to roots in many regions of Africa, were used to accompany stories about everything the displaced people found and dealt with in the new world. All of these things helped to forge a new sense of home in a people who desperately needed it.
This week’s featured song is “Mango Time,” a celebratory tune about the mango harvest. Like last week’s “Chi Chi Bud Oh,” this tune may have originally been a “digging-sing” or work song. You can find an English translation of the patois lyrics here.
If you like what you hear, please share this post and help us honor Jamaica’s history. And please read more about our mission and find out how you can help Jamaica’s people today!