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QUARTERLY OF THE INSTITUTE OF JAMAICA
JUNE '69 VOL. 3 NO. 2
.a-imaica Journal is published Quarterly
by the Institute of Jamaica, 12-16 East
SStreet, Kingston, Jamaica, West Indies.
Frank Hill, Chairman.
C. Bernard Lewis, Director.
Design and Production
Lithographed in Jamaica
Litho Press Limited
Jamaica 5/- U.K. & Europe 7/6
U.S. & Canada $1.00
West Indies $1.50 (B.W.I.)
Reader's Comment and Editor's Note . . . . . . .
HISTORY and the Institute
Cults in Jamaica . . . .
Cult Music . . . . .
River Maid (Poem) . . ..
Cult Dance . . . . .
The Slave Rebellion of 1831 . .
SCIENCE for the Layman
Caves in Jamaica . . . .
Notes on Bauxite and Alumina .
.. . Edward Seaga
. .. . Olive Lewin
.. . Edward Seaga
. . Rex Nettleford
. . Mary Reckord
.. . Michael Ashcroft
S. . . Basil McFarlane
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ART LITERATURE MUSIC
The Box That Laughed. . . . .. Vernon Anderson
Valley Prince (Poem) . . Mervyn Morris
Kapo; Cult Leader, Sculptor, Painter . . . . Alex Gradussov
Obeah and The Supernatural . . . . Kenneth Ramchand
Palm Tree (Colour) . . . . . . . . J.B. Kidd
NEXT ISSUE All award winning entries of the Literary Section of the
Jamaica '69 Festival as well as Paintings, Sculptors, Craft and Photographic award
winners shall from now on, space permitting, be printed after each Festival.
Three Pukkumina Cultists in Ceremonial Robes.
Cover Photo Edward Seaga
Reader's Comments t
My dear Alex,
I despair. Will the colonies ever make it into a functioning assumption of anything
like an independent culture?
Despair and question both prompted by the blithe way in which Sylvia Wynter puts
Schiller's Ode to Joy into Beethoven's Third Symphony (The Eroica) instead of into the
Nineth(The Choral) where it belongs and by you, of all people, allowing such a piece of
mission-school ignorance to pass not once but about three times.
It is very difficult for anybody, Jamaican or not, to take seriously the claims for
intellectual respectability implicit in the title of your journal when this sort of 'dropped
catch' is considered as permissible or insignificant.
I tlunk contributor and editor owe their readers some explanation and apology in
your next issue. Or is our developing West Indian culture of such self-sufficience that it
doesn't matter whether we believe that Priam was Hector's son or that it is Lear who ask's
'To be, or not to be'?
Reply to John Hearne.
I have sinned. John Hearne is right, of course. Throughout the novel, The Lost Steps,
Alejo-Carpentier clearly labels the symphony as the Ninth. So did I, in my first draft.
But it all goes to show that a little mission-school culture is a dangerous thing. Sometime
between my first and second draft the label Eroica seduced my imagination. The mistake,
in the context of my article, seems rather Freudian. John Hearne's very valid and im-
portant correction is betrayed by his anguish at what he obviously considers sacrilege;
and rather brings out my point about the fetishism of the super-culture worshippers.
The Editor regrets the error, too.
Editor's Notes 7
The editor would like to point out, too, that he is glad to have got the first serious
letter for his correspondence page. Readers please continue!
The picture in the last issue called Church Street should read Harbour Street.
The cover legend in the last issue does not imply discovery of Bauxite in 1942 in an
absolute sense but for commercial purposes. See article "Bauxite" this issue.
Edward Brathwaite, Woodville Marshall and Kenneth Ramchand are now assisting the
editor in planning a comprehensive survey of the West Indian literary and socio-historical
Notes towards a Sociology of Religion
by Edward Seaga
Illustrated by Osmond Watson.
"And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all
the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like of fire,
and it sat upon each of them.
And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the
Spirit gave them utterance. ................ Acts 2, ii- iv
"I came as Ifbretold," he said, "but thou didst not receive me kindly; nay, rather I did per-
ceive that thou didst intend to receive me unkindly: I did read it thus in thine eyes. Wherefore
dost thou reject me?Lo, I am the guiding spirit of thy race that I make myself known to thee, as
to the most worthy. Therefore forbear to look with fear upon me and beware that thou dost
not reject me, for behold,I bring thee good fortune.."' ........... Camara Laye 'The Dark Child.
During 1860/61 Jamaica experienced a religious movement called the GREAT REVIVAL.
The roots of this revival were both African and Christian. The impetus, no doubt, was
given by missionary Christianity, especially the Baptists, who for various reasons had always
been more inclusive as far as membership was concerned. The Baptists joined with Moravians -
who had in the past been very exclusive and other non-conformist churches to form the back-
bone of the movement. But the means of achieving salvation implicit in the Great '61 Revival
were far more African than European. These stemmed from the Myal Procession (1) and
going even further back, from the basic African religious belief that the spirit world was not
separate and apart from the temporal world but formed one unified whole; and this belief in
the unity of the spirit world has persisted to the present day among those sections of the pop-
ulation whose cultural formation remains Afro-Christian.
The Great Revival died and was succeeded by other Movements; as in turn the Great Revival
had been aided by Myalism and some forms of the Native Baptist Movement. (The origin of
the Native Baptists can be traced to free Negro preachers who came here from the USA as
early as the 1780's) Bewardism(2)was one of the most spectacular of these successor cults but
it was by no means the only one.
The main subject of this study, Revivalism, is the cult form which has persisted as the main
heir of the Great Revival in so far as Afro-Christian religious sects are concerned, and two
major groups exist, Pukkumina (3) and Zion. It is customarily spelled Pocomania which is often
justified as the proper form by relating the practices of the cult to the alleged Spanish trans-
lation "little madness". However, this appears to be a case of antipathy about the cult being
made to conform with the phonetics of the term, for there is no evidence of any Spanish linkage
or derivation. It is perhaps more closely linked semantically with Kumina, surviving as a purely
African Religious cult which absorbed Myalism and became prominent in the second half of the
last century, after introduction, it is said, by post-emancipation African migrants to the St.
Thomas area in the 1850's. More strength is given to this interpretation by the fact that the
the Great Revival, as the forerunner in inspiration of the Revival cult, took place at around the
The orthodox or accepted Christian Churches in Jamaica have rarely, if ever, been able to
come to terms with revivalist cults. And naturally the Revivalists have found the cold formality
of Christian orthodoxy unsatisfactory. At the root of the whole problem lies the basic differ-
ence of religious thinking: on the one side, stands Christian Monotheism, exclusive, guarded by
a jealous God who condemns the worshippers of the Golden Calf and other idols. On the other
side there is African Polytheism, all embracing and able to accommodate the Christian Trinity,
the Angels and Saints, the Prophets and the Apostles, combining these, however, with the
spirits including Ancestral dead, and even with the diabolical host. Christianity, in particular
Protestant Christianity, because of its exclusiveness and reliance on the truth of doctrine based
usually on the Bible alone, has given rise to a multitude of interpretation of Scripture, and this
in turn has promoted the proliferation of a multitude of Christian denominations, none of
which have really learnt in the final analysis to co-exist in doctrine. The Revivalist has no such
problem. His Gods permit him free intercourse with the available pantheon of spirits.
The Christian Church in its orthodox and accepted form, frowns upon the more emotional
manifestations of the spirit, and even if the fundamental division of exclusiveness and inclu-
siveness were somehow to disappear, a cultist would get little satisfaction in a service where his
participation is restricted to hymn singing and responses from a prayer book. Herein lies the
second significant point of division: whether there is acceptance of the doctrine of spirit pos-
session. From this dividing line Christian groups are classified as "temporal" or "spiritual". It
is true to say that sects or cult groups which accept the doctrine of personal possession by
spirit forces, classify themselves as "spiritual" and correspondingly categorize those which do
not as "temporal"; the orthodox denominations all falling within the latter group, while spiritual
groups include many Church of God and Native Baptist sects such as Pentecostal, Four Square
and others in addition to Revivalism.
Table I Membership in Revival Cults in Two Areas
Kingston and Suburbs Rest of Jamaica
Number of Pukkumina "bands" 15 50
Average size of "bands" 30 25
Total 450 1250
Number of Zion "bands" 70 240
Average size of "bands" 35 25
Total 2,450 6,000
Grand Total 2,900 7,250
Cult groups exist throughout Jamaica. But in cultist terminology these groups are referred
to as "Bands" always in the collective plural. In Pukkumina, urban and particularly Kingston
groups are more active than groups in the rural areas; rural groups are usually much smaller and
(1) Myal Procession of 1842. The major expression of a purely non-Christian African derived cult. The word
comes from Hausa Maya (a) sorcerer, (b) intoxication (c) return.
(2) After well known shepherd and Revivalist Preacher Bedward 1859 -1935.
(3) Cassidy is not quite sure of its derivation. In his Jamaican Dictionary he suggests that it is based upon the
Twi root syllable Kom, meaning "frenzied dance".
they tend to meet spasmodically and sometimes only once a year. Kingston groups on the other
hand, are much larger and have up to 60 members in each Bands. Zion Bands are more evenly
dispersed throughout the island. They are generally larger in number and have larger member-
ships. The concentration of cult activities in Kingston is in the Western and Southwestern sec-
tion of the city where more folk life has survived.
In the last two Census figures for 1943 and 1960 the percentage of the Revivalists for
Kingston and the rest of Jamaica has been greatly under-estimated. The reason for this must be
found in the fact that cult membership is of low prestige value within the dominant Christian
code of values. Status-conscious Jamaicans will often disguise their true religious allegiance by
claiming to be members of one of the orthodox and accepted churches e.g. Baptist or Anglican,
in order to enhance their status. In addition, the census has used the term Pocomania referring
to Pukkumina to which many persons will not admit membership,classifying themselves some-
what euphemistically as "Revivalists". This is especially true of Pukkumina members who
rarely use this term in reference to themselves. Zionists, on the other hand are not as particular
and will acknowledge membership as Zionists or Revivalists.
Table II Percentage of Revivalists in the Population of Jamaica
Kingston & Suburbs Rest of Jamaica Jamaica
1943 1960 1943 1960 1943 1960
Population 202,000 377,000 1,035,000 1,233,000 1,240,000 1,610,000
Pukkumina .1 .02 .06 .008 .07 .01
Zion .9 No data .32 No data .41 No data
Revival Bands of both the Pukkumina and the Zion cult have a preponderance of female
membership. Women can become leaders in either cult, and Zionists appear to have more female
than male leaders; in Pukkumina however, female leaders are rare. Approximately one tenth of
the Zion membership is male as compared with one quarter to one third in Pukkumina.
Many Revivalists in Kingston are not employed on a full time basis; when they do work they
are usually labourers, higglers, household helps, fishermen and tradesmen's assistants, port-
workers; rarely do they own land or property. Their earnings are usually below 5 per week.
Revivalists are mostly outside the socio-economic framework of the middle-class; member-
ship is drawn primarily from the working class. The Christian middle-class widely holds parti-
cular views of Revivalists: pagan, superstitious, comical in ritual behaviour, tolerant of dis-
honesty. The suspicion of the practise of Obeah (the use of spirit for destructive purposes) adds
further to the middle-class disrepute of cultists. The ambivalent attitude of the middle-class
groups towards their African heritage contributes to the contempt.
Revivalist groups are not forbidden by any Statutory Law but Cultists sometimes infringe
the Night Noises Prevention Law of 1911 and the so called Obeah Law of 1898, the latter
defines and proscribes the practice of Obeah, the consultation with practitioners of Obeah and
the publication and distribution of any material "calculated to promote the superstition of
(4) The Laws of Jamaica Revised Edition 1938 prepared by Sir Henry Close Brown, Government Printer,
Revival meetings are usually open to the public. However, not all members of the public are
welcome. Those suspected of being hostile for instance, are not admitted, or if admitted,
when discovered are ejected aggressively.
Members of the public who are conspicuously not from the working class who attend on
very rare occasions, are at first regarded as being connected with the Police or some other
branch of the law, or suspected of attending for purposes of amusement. However, when the
leader of the cult group is consulted by the visitors and assured that the motive for attendance
is sincere curiosity or sympathetic interest, permission to remain is usually obtained, sometimes
with the help of a donation. Visitors to the Island, who are usually more easily identified, are
therefore more readily accepted than local visitors.
Certain ceremonies are more exclusive and in such instances, only those placed in the highest
confidence of the group, are admitted. Such functions are not advertised but secretly organised.
Other functions are circularised by written invitations to leaders and general information among
all interested parties.
A "bands" is a unit group in both Zion and Pukkumina. Its members reside at their private
lodgings except for a few who reside at the "Seal ground" or "mission ground" where they all
meet. The "seal ground" or "mission ground" is the site where meetings organised by the
"bands" are held. In Zion, a hut called a "mission house" for accommodating those who attend,
is built on this site; hence the term "mission ground".
The site of the ground varies considerably. It is usually part of the yard space of the leader's
premises. The largest one known to the writer measured about fifty by ninety feet. Invariably,
a small garden of special shrubs, herbs and flowers which are used in the rituals is set aside to
one corner of the ground, or sometimes in Pukkumina, located around a pole in the centre.
The centre and other spots located around the edge of the ground, are of significance in
Pukkumina. The spirits of deceased persons who work with the "bands" that operates on that
site, reside at these spots. In Zion, spirits usually do not reside at the "ground" because the
Zion pantheon gives far less recognition to human spirits, and more to the heavenly or biblical
A tall pole usually marks a Zion or Pukkumina ground. It flies a flag which is intended both
to attract passing spirits and at the same time identifies the place as a Revival ground.
The most sacred area of the "ground" is known as the "seal". In Pukkumina, this area is
located around the pole at the centre; in Zion, it is usually in the "mission house". The "seal"
is the centre for the most important ritual activity.
The "mission house" varies with the size and prosperity of the "bands" but is usually about
20 x 30 feet in dimensions. Within it are benches, and a table at one end, which might or might
not be placed on a platform. Near the table an altar is sometimes located, spread with a white
cloth on which flowers, fruits, bibles, hymnals and candles are laid on steps. Around the walls
of the "mission" holy pictures or signs with biblical inscriptions are usually hung.
Most Revival yards also contain a water pool, or a large earthenware jug with water. This is
the source of all water used in the rituals, and in Pukkumina, the "home" of all functionaries
who perform with water, for example, the River Maid and the Diver.
Finally, most Revival grounds have huts which are large enough to accommodate two or
three people. These huts, called "offices", are for private consultations with clients seeking
healing, or aid through obeah. Spirits particularly efficient in such matters are said to reside at
A "bands" usually consists of both members who "have the spirit", that is, have experienced
possession by a spirit, and those who have never. During the meetings, many of those who "have
the spirit" are "possessed by supernatural powers".
Possession occurs in different ways in both cults. In Pukkumina it is said that the onset is
usually experienced by a paralytic shock in one leg followed by a recession of consciousness.
S The individual stamps the other foot at the moment of seizure and falls forward. He is held
motionless by bearers for about half a minute until he stirs, signifying that he is conscious
enough to stand.
At this point, the behaviour known as "groaning" or overbreathing begins. This is a series of
deep guttural sounds made by the rapid inhalation and exhalation of breath through the mouth.
Accompanying this groaning is a genuflecting or a bowing motion, in which the upper half of
the body bends forward while at the same time the knees are bent, resuming an erect position.
Each bend is accompanied by an exhalation-groan, with the inhalation-groan on the upswing,
setting a one-two beat. (This beat sets the rhythm for the accompanying music). This behaviour,
groaning with bowing, is called labouringg".
The individual might continue this behaviour for more than one hour, during which time he
often remains in one spot with some exceptions for dance movements. At some time during this
period of labouringg" the individual "delivers himself," that is performs the action appropriate
to the post he holds in this cult. This might be a dance imitating some action such as diving,
swimming, or cutting, or it might be an imitation of certain sounds, such as the coo of a dove,
or the ringing of a bell.
The Zion possession pattern is usually not abrupt in its onset. Groaning usually precedes the
possession, as it seems helpful in stimulating the trance stage, since the sounds attract the spirits.
(Physiologically, the repeated deep inhalation and exhalation also inebriates the mind.)
The bowing of the body to the accompaniment of groans is absent here in contrast with
Pukkumina. Instead, the motion is side-stepping. The body is raised a tip-toe on one foot and
then vigorously, stampingly lowered on the other; at the same time the downward foot is usually
moved sideways with a slight hop in that direction. At some stage of this side-step and groaning
drill, possession is said to occur. There is, however, no dramatically marked difference in be-
haviour to identify the change clearly.
The most noticeable difference in cult possession is the poly-rhythm of Zion groaning. Here
the rhythmic pattern of each beat has meaning and provides a gauge for the depth of possession.
Sometimes possession behaviour in which the individual wheels, rolls, and stumbles, almost
indiscriminately,occurs in both groups. Instances infrequently occur where individuals fall into
an immobile mediumistic trance, lasting from several hours to several days.
The other major form of possession behaviour is speaking or singing in unknown tongues or
"language" which Revivalists admit is composed of nonsense syllables. The use of "language" is
very popular in Zion but is used only in singing in Pukkumina.
Zionists call possession "receiving messages" from the spirits; in Pukkumina the possessed
"travel" in the spirit world. In Zion only the leaders or others who hold high positions in the
group are expected to understand the messages they are supposed to have received. Therefore
the leader's role is often concentrated on interpreting the messages he receives to the rest of the
group. To facilitate this he has to first organize those members who "have the spirit" generally
in a circle, and then drill them in the side-step and groaning pattern outlined previously. All
groan on the particular beat he sets, and change to another, and continue changing until he
feels that all those encircling him are now possessed to the same degree as himself. At this
point it is believed that all of the group are in full harmony and therefore communicating with
each other through the spirit. Now the leader reveals the message by singing shortimprovised
melodies in the "unknown tongue". These melodies are very beautiful and are a rich area of
These messages are never translated into words. If the performance of the possessed in-
dividual is harmonious, the message is felt to be one of "prosperity"; if disharmonious, then it
is understood to be evil. Alternatively, the message might be a reference to a chapter in the
Bible, from which each member might draw his own interpretation.
In Pukkumina, the group of possessed individuals are also organized into a circle. At the
moment of possession these individuals are all considered to be located as a group in the spirit
world. As the group encounters particular hazards or sites while travelling in that world, the
appropriate functionaries perform their imitative sounds or dances. Hence, when the group
encounters a river, the River Maid must dance in a manner simulating the motions of a swimmer
to take the "bands" across the river, on entering a church in the travels,the Bellringer must
imitatively in action and sound chime a bell. In both cults, all this is accompanied almost con-
tinuously by singing from those who are not possessed at the moment, to the accompaniment
of the rhythmic beats of the possessed through groaning.
The message is delivered in Zion by a particular spirit known as the "bands messenger". In
Pukkumina, the journey is led by one of the spirits who reside at the "ground" and is known as
the "journey prophet" or "journeyman". These spirits in both cults are contracted to serve the
"bands" in these capacities in return for a yearly feast with a blood sacrifice. Revivalists maintain,
however, that the spirits usually demand more than their share and if they are gratified, it would
only serve to encourage further demands. Therefore, it is necessary to discipline the spirits,
without angering them and thereby running the risk of being disciplined by them.
Revival members are classified into three grades:
(3) Floor members
The leader in Zion is called Captain if a male, and Mother if a female. Next in rank to the
leader is the Armour-bearer who is the leader's personal assistant in all matters, and therefore w
holds the highest post in the group apart from leadership. In bands led by males, Mothers
usually occupy the next rank in position. Third in rank, are the Deacons and Elders who aid in
all the affairs of the "bands" but especially in such rituals as Baptism and Communion; the Mothers
have general leadership duties.Onespecific post-holder is the Dove, who coos when receiving a
message. The remaining members are designated as floor members, and consist of both those
who "have the spirit" and those who do not. It is not absolutely necessary for certain of the
post-holders to have the spirit, for example Deacons and Elders, although it is preferable, if
The leader, who is almost always male in Pukkumina, is known as the Shepherd. Next in
command to him are the "Bands" Mother and the Shepherd Boy. If a woman becomes a leader,
she is termed Mother. Below these is a female functionary known as the Governess. All these
have very general duties extending over all the affairs of the bands and differentiated from each
other only in the degree of authority. Below them are over fifty other types of functionaries,
each with very specific duties. In most cases, these duties are suggested by the names by which
these functionaries are called: Dove, Cutter, Hunter, Sawyer, Planner, Messenger, Nurse, Bell
Ringer, Time Keeper, River Maid, Diver, Earth Cleaner, Engineer, Coal Maid, Surveyor, Postman,
Acolyte,etc.Each functionary performs as the "bands" travels and meets upon situations appro-
priate to their activities. Below these post-holders are those with no positions and often with-
out the spirit. There are very few positions in Pukkumina for which "having the spirit" is not
The leader is the central figure of importance in all Revival "bands" Although such function-
aries as the Mother, Shepherd Boy, Governess and Armour-bearer, have certain powers of
WHITE CANDLE SODA POP
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authority over the rest of the members in their groups, the leader is the primary and sometimes
only disciplinary force. In certain bands the power for discipline for male leaders extends as
far as to sanction the physical discipline of disobedient members. This, however, is far more
true of Pukkumina than of Zion.
The leader is also the centre for information on matters concerning ritual forms or doctrine
on spirit forces, as distinct from biblical doctrines where he might be fallible. The gap between
the leaders knowledge in spirit matters and that of the next in rank, is very distinctive. In most
cases, functionaries such as the Mother, Shepherd Boy, or Armour-bearer, are unable to provide
much beyond elementary information on spirit matters. The leader is never questioned on the
reason for ritual observances; such matters are regarded as his or her exclusive business. Any
information is passed on at the leader's convenience and only to those who are considered
worthy. In this worthy category are the functionaries next in command to the leader, and
others who have displayed enthusiasm in performing their duties in the group. There are no
formal classes for instruction.
Each individual in Revival who "has the spirit" is affiliated with a personal spirit. In all
cases it is the spirit who selects the individual and becomes his personal guardian and adviser
The individual in return must feed this spirit from time to time according to the terms of the
particular contract on which they "agree". As a result the spirit will be readily available for
consultation at certain times of the day. At the same time the individual is free to deal with
other spirits as he wishes, while still other spirits may contact him too, for specific jobs of heal-
ing, obeah, or other major matters; the supernatural power consulted is paid with a blood
sacrifice and a silver coin.
The major ritual forms are classified here into three groups:
(1) Prayer Meetings
(2) Street Meetings
(3) Rituals for specific purposes
(a) Feasting Tables or Duties
Prayer Meetings have several purposes including scriptural indoctrination through sermon-
ising, discussion of functions to be held by the bands and of disagreements within the group
and general worship of the supernatural powers with songs, prayers and bible-reading. Some-
times possession occurs at these meetings especially in Zion but this is not generally the case.
Street Meetings are held primarily to solicit new members, propagate Biblical doctrine, and
to collect money from spectators. As in Prayer Meetings, its programme consists of many
sermons, bible-reading, praying and singing. Possession at such meetings is very rare.
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Rituals for Specific Purposes, are the third group; these are Tables or Duties held for singular
purposes such as: thanksgiving for a particular event, prosperity, deliverance, memorial, death
and judgement, mourning, consecration, pole-planting, ordination, dedication, baptism, fare-
well,etc. The programme depends here on the particular form which the ritual takes. In Pukku-
mina, Feasting Tables, begin on Sunday nights. A table with fruits, candles, drinks (alcoholic
and carbonated), bread, vegetables, cooked food, and flowers, is spread. The Sunday night is
devoted primarily to speech-making by hosts and visitors on the purpose of the function,
mingled with much singing and a little Bible reading and praying. At roughly midnight the
table is "broken", that is its contents are distributed among those present with some being set
apart for the spirits after the candles are all lit. After this, there is usually some labouring until
near dawn. For Revivalists the most important part of the programme begins on Monday even-
ing when the "bands" travels in the spirit world. This continues until about 3 a.m. to 4 a.m. on
Tuesday. On Tuesday evening, the sacrifice is held, and travelling is resumed Tuesday night
until Wednesday morning when the feast is held.
The programme is not the same in Zion. Rituals in this cult, need not be held on Sundays.
The programme begins with speeches, Bible-reading, praying and the singing of "choruses"
(melodic and rhythmic spiritual quatrains ) accompanied by drumming. Drums are used in only
one type of Pukkumina ritual, where East Indian spirits are involved. The drilling follows then,
and before midnight the table is broken to conclude the meeting. If there is a sacrifice, which
is rare in this cult, it will either take place before the meeting begins or the sacrifice will occur
at the same time as the breaking of the table, or it will occur on the following day. In the latter
case, more drilling will occur on the night of that day, with the feast concluding the function at
Altars are arranged similarly to Tables. Singing and labouring or drilling occupy most of the
night, along with some Bible-reading and praying. The main event occurs about mid-way
through the function. Hence, if the altar is spread for healing, the afflicted one is attended to
at this time by calling on the spirits for aid, and then applying treatment at the direction of
these supernatural powers. Similarly, if for destructive purposes (obeah), the main event is the
dispatching of a spirit to accomplish the purpose in mind.
The programme in ritual Baths is almost self-evident. The individual is stripped and sponged
with a mixture which can include any or many of the following substances: water; milk, coco-
nut water; carbonated beverages; pharmaceutical compounds or blood.
This is done to the accompaniment of singing, bible-reading and praying, if sufficient members
are present. The liquid used in bathing is allowed to dry on the body.
To Revivalists the spirit world has three categories of supernatural powers:
(a) Heavenly spirits
(b) "Earthbound" spirits
(c) "Ground" spirits
The first category consists of the Triune Christian God, Archangels, Angels, and Saints. In
the category of "Earthbound" spirits, are the satanic powers (Fallen Angels), Biblical Prophets
and Apostles. The third group consists of all the human dead except those mentioned in the
The Triune Christian God is considered the leading power of the pantheon by both groups,
and although appealed to in prayer, it is the spirits of the lesser orders who are propitiated,
exorcised, remunerated, and contacted for advice and protection, for all specific purposes.
Zionists deal primarily with Heavenly spirits, and with Apostles and Prophets of the
"Earthbound" group. They believe in the existence of the other powers of the pantheon, but
consider them evil, and therefore useful only for evil purposes. Hence, the Zionist personal
"messenger" or the "bands messenger" would not be in the 'Fallen Angel' or 'Ground' spirit
On the other hand, Pukkumina followers work primarily with 'Ground' spirits and Fallen
Angels,' who in their value system are not considered evil. They maintain that these spirits are
more useful than those used by Zion, since they are nearer to them and more easily contacted,
and secondly, they are more attentive and quicker in action that the other powers, who are con-
sidered too busy to give personal attention and too cautious in action.
The spirits of all orders, except the Triune God, have particualr preferences in such things as
colours, food and drink, music-etc. The Angel Gabriel, for instance, prefers the colour red, and
likes wine. Hence, those for whom he is the personal messenger must propitiate him by wearing
red, or burning red candles, and offering him wine, as part of their contract for his services.
'Ground'spirits of East Indian Jamaicans like Indian Music and drumming, the colour red and
many vegetables which are specially associated with Indians.
On the other hand, there are items which impose prohibitions to spirits in general, except to
the Triune God. Lime, salt, and washing blue are the most popular examples. Naturally these
are used in the control of supernatural powers.
To Revivalists the supernatural world is much like the natural one. It has rivers, lakes, for-
ests, mountains, churches, cities and so on. Some of these have biblical names, such as the
River Jordan, and Mount Zion, while others have no specific names. It is also maintained that
spirits eat, sleep and drink, and in the case of 'Ground' spirits, conduct the same type of life to
which they were accustomed before death. Hence, they attend church, sit under shady trees,
gather for conversations, and so on.
Most Revivalists maintain that the individual in life has a dual soul. One of these is said to
roam while the person sleeps, and the account of this roaming spirit is manifested in the indi-
vidual's dreams. Few Revivalists, however, are clear about what happens to the two spirits of
the soul at death. All agree that one remains at the grave from which point it roams as it desires.
Some believe that the second spirit goes to Heaven or Hell, while others maintain that it is re-
incarnated in human or animal form. The one that is located at the grave plays a special role in
Pukkumina, for if the individual was a post-holder in this cult before death, he can now pass on
his post to a living person, thereby becoming the prophet or personal spirit of that person.
There is very little magical behaviour in Revival, that is behaviour which is not explicable in
terms of spirit influence Magical beliefs are termed Science by Revivalists and the source of
supply for this belief is invariably one of the numerous books published by the de Laurence
Company of Chicago, U.S.A. One of the most popular works of this Company, is the GREAT
BOOK OF MAGICAL ART, HINDU MAGIC and INDIAN OCCULTISM. These books, how-
ever, are proscribed under the Banned Publications Act 1943. These beliefs relate primarily to
healing and sorcery, and are therefore found primarily in these contexts in Revival Cults.
Science is considered by many to be as powerful as the use of spirits.
On the other hand, such phenomena as healing, poltergeists, apparitions, clairvoyance, divi-
nation, and others are explained by Revivalists in terms of spirit influence (this is not to say
that all phenomena or manifestations actually do occur; scientific observation of them was not
a part of this study). Such phenomena can best be classified as magico-religious.
Healing and Obeah are two of the principal forms of magico-religious behaviour.
The types of problems which require these forms of attention can be classified as (a) social
and (b) psycho-physiological.
Social problems include such matters as: winning a case in court; revenge against a landlord,
employer or lover; gaining the affections of a member of the opposite sex; or increasing pros-
perity in business. Psycho-physiological problems, which refers to problems of a psychological
and/or physiological nature, include paralysis, septic ulcers, sterility,venereal disease, distended
abdomen, headaches, extended pregnancy, tuberculosis, blindness, deafness, neuroses (especially
hysteria and kleptomania) and various psychoses, among others.
The healer and the obeahman are usually not two different people; invariably each practises
both, some being more renowned for obeah, and some for healing.
When an individual has a problem which he believes requires supernatural aid, he has a
choice of revealing the nature of the problem to his consultee, or allowing the latter to provide
a diagnosis, or as it is termed by Revivalists, a Reading.
There are two basic methods of reading. The first is an intellectual method which deduces
the diagnosis from pre-formulated beliefs. An example for this is the card-cutting technique in
which a card is selected to suit the individual's features and complexion, for example, the Jack
of Spades for a young black man of powerful thick features; its position is noted as the pack is
dealt out in rows of nine. All cards above the chosen card are the consultant's danger cards and
the specific forms of danger are interpreted according to the cards; those below this card signify
that he can control whatever they represent. (The role of the spirit here is to teach the Reader
what the cards represent, and this becomes a formula for future reference.)
The most popular methods of reading, however, are based on intuitive impressions rather
than intellectual deductions. These impressions are said to be received from direct consultations
with the spirits. One of the most popular techniques in this method, is the reading of a glass of
water into which a silver coin has been placed. The glass is set near a candle, or in the sun, so that
the light reflects in the water. The operator then concentrates on the coin visually until it
separates into two images, at which time the impression or message is received.
Once the diagnosis is settled, it remains to prescribe the form of treatment. There are two
major types of treatmentmnagico-religious and magical; as an example of the latter, a man who
desires a lady's affection might be told to place a large frog in a wire cage over an ants nest
until the ants have killed it. The frog should then be dried in the sun, opened, and a bone from
the left hind leg removed. This bone when stuck in the lady's dress will bring her affection.
Magico-religiously, however, the problem might be treated by prescribing that the individual
should perfume himself with a pharmaceutical compound having a pleasant odour and known as
Oil of Love. This perfume attracts the spirits and keeps them nearby to aid the romance.
Healers recognize that not all problems need to be treated by these two methods. An indi-
vidual with a septic ulcer on the foot, for instance, which is not caused by a spirit, is usually
bathed in some liquid which treats it physiologically in the healer's estimation. In another in-
stance, a man who consulted a healer for advice on increasing his prosperity in business, was
told by the latter to put a mirror in his shop which would attract customers. He did so and was
gratified, although the solution was a common sense one to the healer which he knowingly
passed on as a supernatural prescription.
The sexual behaviour of the male leader is a matter on which public opinion has well estab-
lished prejudices for he is supposed to be the partner of all female members of his bands. This
however is an exaggeration of his sexual status. He does have a few sexual partnerships with
female members, as do other males with other females of the group. (5)
In many Revival "bands" weekly or monthly membership dues are collected and kept by the
leader in a fund on which members can draw for certain purposes. These purposes are death or
illness in the family, or trouble, which usually means a court case. Expenses which are to be
met by the"bands"as a whole are taken from the offerings contributed at Prayer Meetings or
Street Meetings, or from special contributions from members if the offerings are not sufficient.
Such expenses might be the purchase of feasting cups, candles for the altar, or monthly charges
for electricity used at Meetings. Members also contribute if a fellow-member is unemployed
and in need of funds, or is unable to get the amount of money required to cover expenses on a
trip to a function to which the "bands" has been invited.
Revival members call each other brother and sister or, in the case of leaders and members,
the term "father" or "daddy" usually replaces shepherd or captain when the latter address the
former, and son or daughter when leaders address their members. This is truer of Pukkumina
than of Zion.
In both Revival cults, the individual"bands" are related to each other in specific ways. In
Pukkumina, there is a Sitting Crown Shepherd who presides over the entire cult. His authority,
however, is very limited. He cannot interfere with the internal affairs of any "bands" His primary
area of jurisdiction is in the matter of crowning a leader or post-holder who has reached a vener-
ated status in the cult. Such an individual should be passed by the Sitting Crown before being
crowned. If the crown is assumed without this sanction, then the individual would be recognized
as having achieved that status by the limited approval of the "bands" to which he belongs. Pukku-
mina cult groups pay no financial dues to the Sitting Crown Shepherd.
There is no single leader who presides over the Zion cult. In both Zion and Pukkumina
some bands are branches of other groups within their respective cult. The branch groups in
such cases, however, do not pay financial dues to the major body. The leader of this latter body
has authority over the members of the branch group, but such authority is usually exercised with
more restraint than in the case of his own bands.
The main purpose of the relationship between groups rests on the availability of each when
organising a function planned by either group. The presence of a second group also means addi-
tional people who might be possessed by the spirit, and since all are not possessed at one time,
the greater the number of such recruits, the better the possibilities of the ceremony lasting for
the scheduled time.
Among Zionists, Spirit possession is not too important; it usually lasts no more than one to
three hours at major functions, and a single "bands" generally has sufficient members to supply
groups of possessed individuals for one service. Additional groups are, therefore, not essential
here; they are considered desirable, however, providing the group is well known to the host
"bands" as is the case in a branch relationship. But in view of the fact that branches are rare, and
there is some suspicion among "bands" generally of working obeah against each other there are
often no invited groups at Zion functions, except where genuine friendships exist.
In Pukkumina, it is essential to have two or three visiting "bands,' if the ceremony is to con-
tinue for the usual three nights and two days. There is far less suspicion of obeah among the
groups of this cult.
In both cults, invited guests must be provided with funds to cover the expenses of their re-
(5) Some conjectures about homosexual tendencies in cult leaders have been voiced, but with no foundation.
turn journey if they are from a distant location. The hosts are also expected to return the visit
Two of the primary areas of association between members of different groups in the same
cult, are matters of healing and obeah. Members do not bind themselves to the ministrations of
their leaders in such matters.
Despite their many fundamental agreements on doctrine and ritual forms, Zion and Pukku-
mina exist almost independently of each other. The primary area of association is on matters
of healing and obeah; Zionists regard Pukkumina people as better practitioners of obeah, since
they deal with'ground'spirits constantly and these are considered evil by the Zion cult; on the
other hand, Pukkumina regard Zionists as more experienced in matters of healing.
On rare occasions, Pukkumina groups invite Zionists to their ceremonies. In such instances,
however, the Zion groups are merely spectators as the spirits who operate in the Zion cult do
not visit meetings where 'ground' spirits invoked by Pukkumina are frequent; hence possession
of the Zionists does not occur. In the odd instance where it does occur, however, the individual
cannot join the ranks of possessed people who are labouringg' since, it will be remembered,
Zionists groan on a polyrhythm which would conflict with the one-two Pukkumina beat. In such
instances, possession behaviour occurs, but separately from the main functions.
There are a few "bands" which operate with spirit forces of all types and manifest the pos-
session behaviour of both Zion and Pukkumina. These are called "Two-fold".
The primary Zion criticism of the Pukkumina cult relates to the dealings of the latter with
spirits of the dead. These are considered to be evil forces and their operators are said to be of a
socially inferior status since they violate a fundamental moral law. On the other hand, Pukku-
mina followers consider all supernatural forces as capable of good and evil. They quote the
Mosaic Law: "An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth" (Deuteronomy XIX:21) explaining
that the scriptures sanction revenge providing it is for a justified purpose, and revenge therefore
can be just and good, as well as evil and wrong.
The Pukkumina cult is primarily concerned with the rapidity with which the various super-
natural forces work and their availability, not with their characteristics of good and evil. 'Heaven-
ly spirits'are considered too distant and too occupied with the affairs of divine administration to
be readily available; secondly, they are more cautious in determining the merits of requests sub-
mitted for justified evil. 'Ground spirits' are readily available and make no request for moral
justification; hence, they are considered more powerful. Pukkumina followers base their major
criticism of the Zion cult on this argument, which they claim uses weaker spirits. Further evi-
dence for this criticism is based on the Zion possession behaviour in which, according to Pukku-
mina followers, the individual appears to be too much in control of himself to suggest possession
by a strong spirit force.
No doubt both Zion and Pukkumina offer their followers a spiritual, social and, at
times, economic aid which is to them available in an acceptable and satisfying form.
It remains to be seen whether the forces of social and economic change will either modify
or obliterate the revival practices of a significant sector of the Jamaican population.
Notes and Introduction by Olive Lewin
Slow, marked beat
hummed in unison
*Note the 2 bar phrase interpolated. In this way, in spite of the
very strict beat, accentuated by the trumping, the tune is given
a certain amount of elasticity.
This would be sung several times, and each repetition would
have slight rhythmic variations.
Simple, but full and effective harmony would be improvised.
The melody is often sung by voices an octave apart, and fre-
quent use is made of consecutive fifths, thus giving the plain-
song quality to the music.
HYMN as sung by REVIVAL CULTISTS
Revivalistsseem to have the ability to vary tunes with synco-
pations that are improvised, yet in some inexplicable way they
intercommunicate so that each improvisation is carried by the
Note the 3/2 time of this chorus. This distinguishes it as Zion
Revivalist music as distinct from the Pukkumina music with
1, 2 1, 2 pulsation.
Excerpt from INDIAN CYMBAL
V V V
Note the irregular lengths of the phrases in this cymbal. This is
typical, as is the fact that the melodic line varies from mode to
h / "
RIVER MAID, RIVER MAID*
by Edward Seaga
The poem relates the possession experiences of a River Maid, one of
the principal functionaries of Pocomania Revival; under possession she
confronts and deals with hostile water spirits who impede the spiritual
journey of possessed brethren through a river, her spiritual territory.
The ritual dance of the River Maid is performed against the heavy
rhythmic breathing, guttural groaning, singing and chanting (cymbaling)
of possessed brethren.
Call me name oh! Mother Nation,
Alarm oh! sound de alarm!
Mo 'nin' Shepherd 'Bendigo,
Peace-an' Love! Salaam!
Sound dat music Cymbal Myriam,
Mek me hear yu blow:
"Mo 'nin' River Mother,
Me tell yu Mo'nin, oh!"
Young gal stan' up in de corner
Don' know her Spirit near
Tu'n an'face me river daughter!
Is yu Spirit name yu hear.
Point her to me Spirit Pointer,
She out to shy de blow,
An'ah come to mek her labour in
De stream wid de cleansing flow.
"River Maid! River Maid! ",
Hear de Warnin' Dove ah scream:
Mek haste daughter, brethren call yu,
Evil spirits bar de way;
Dem call for yu to read de water
For de message: move or stay.
New dress and hat won't save yu
From roll an' wash a groun';
Forget yu clothes an' ban yu belly,
Wrap yu head an' don yu gown.
Drink a little 'daru', child,
Fe rinse away de cold;
River Maid! don' hide yu face
When yu Spirit yu behold.
Ah! now ah see yu foot a stumble,
Stamp it! for is dere ah strike;
Fd Down to groun' ah watch yu tumble
*Festival Gold Medal Winning Entry Yu eyes dem shut, yu head upright.
A bearer shout: "She gone, she cut-'way!
De Maiden drop! she get lick down!
Move dere people, don' crowd de body,
Spirit is a t'ing dat roll 'pon groun'."
River Maid performing her duties.
Roll! Roll! regardless, daughter,
Is me an'yu in motion now;
Come! raise yuself! assist her Bearer!
R-R-R-R-Rock yu body groan an' bow;
Jump in de line wid Revival children,
Don' labour wid a toss,
Raise me tune now, hundred voices:
"One More River to Cross. "
To de rockin' of de body ......
To de bowin' of de head .....
To de rhythm of de groanin '.....
De livin' dancin' wid de de'd.
Two hundred voices in upliftment,
Raise de music loud an' strong,
Fifty brethren groanin, bowiq',
To de rhythm of de song.
"Uh-HUH .... Uh-HUH ......."
Hear de mighty groanin' now,
Together as a single groan,
Together in de bow.
"Uh-HUH ....Uh-HUH ......."
Hear de rhythm of de band,
De voice of Pocomania journeyin'
In de Spirit Land.
Every traveller wid a spirit
In de Pocomania band,
Every one to guide de brethren
In de portion day command:
Shepherd follow Journeyman;
Engineer in front;
Centre Wheelin' Compass Man;
Hunter to de hunt.
Through de City of Destruction,
To de Desert of Despair,
Across de Mountain of Corruption,
Into Vanity Fair;
An 'from de Cemetry in de Valley
Hear de warning' of de Dove,
To de Poco band in trouble
Beside de River Love.
-- -- -~LI*(~~--~~Y-iilp~~
Oblanon of the River Maid.
Two candles, an' two hundred faces,
By a backyard water hole
Watchin' fifty heavin, breathing' brethren,
Wheel an' jump-up, dip an' roll.
In de darkness of de crowded yard
Hear de Cymbal call de dead,
Hear de shouts of people crowdin' round,
Hear de Dove now call de Maid.
"River Maid! River Maid!
Death-an '-Destruction near";
Have courage children, labour on,
Deliverance is here.
Lawd! how much longer wid dis labour,
Pass me through an' mek me dance,
Ah want to feel de water
Give me sweet deliverance.
Water me! do, water me!
Dash some water 'pon me head,
Bring me gown now for me Bearer,
Leave de white wrap, use de red;
Bring me rod an' me guidin' lights,
Clear de pass for me to go,
Move dere little Coolie Mother,
Is my time to deliver now.
White gown, red wrap, on head an' belly,
Barefoot in de cleansin' flow,
Sink down 'pon me knees ah feel it,
Soak me skin till blackness show.
Down 'pon knees an' bendin 'forward,
Dip an' rock back like a wave,
River is a t'ing dat run an' hump:
So river run, so dance de Maid.
River wash me! river bathe me!
Water rinse me roun' an' roun,
Coldness mingle wid sweat perspire,
Whaaai! somet 'ing een ya deh hol'me down!
Ah feel ah funnyness in me body
Rush me head like a sudden strike!
Bu'n me belly like man deh rub me,
An' black me brains wid a blindin' light!
Me t'ink me hear, an'yet me don' hear,
Me t'ink me see, but me only gaze,
Like a madness it deh cut me,
Inside tangle, outside blaze;
Like something bustin' near me brain,
It deh worry me, it deh sweat me,
Pilot me! do, Pilot me!
It deh bind me, it deh fret me.
Head ah move, back ah move, foot get up an 'jerk
Outa water into mud, me body start to work;
Rollin '-up, dirty-up, lashin' roun' an' roun',
Tearin '-up, sweatin '-up, body on de groun'.
"Rest! rest!" de Shepherd call,
In "unknown tongues" de Cymbal chant
Askin' what de spirits want.
Me-tell-yu-rum, oh! de-name-done-call,
'Im-walk-go-'roun '-an '-roun'.
"Read de Book' .4-nd Pray!"
__ _ I_~~__~ _1~1_
-. -'" .-:;- Almighty-God-an-Holy-Father!......
Oh! if-yu-bid-me-come ......
- . Why-should-1-delay ....
Help-dis-wonderin '-Revival-Band, ......
An '-in-de-name-of-God-de-Holy-Ghost! .....
Wheel now! Water wheel, wheel-up! wheel-up!
Flush water mek me cut-an'-clear,
De hot blood of de sacrifice,
Splashin', dashin' in de air;
A stench of white rum rush me senses,
Mixed wid blood A drink, a Vow:
Death oh! me know de name call,
But death mus'fight me now.
Left, right, front an' behind' me,
Revival Children jump around ,
A joyful hymn: "Across the River",
A mighty brethren drawin'-soun'.
Oh! lead me to de cleansin' stream,
Ease de frettin' 'pon me skin,
Mek water wash me everlastin'
Till ah find wat word it bring.
Drill de river - bank-to-bank!
Show me motion, broad an' bare,
Trampin' water for a reading ,
Kneel to find it when it clear;
Hands ah search for water message,
To stir a reading 'from de wave,
Question front de Poco travellers:
De message say dem loss, or save?
Is so de message say,
Hear de word!
Hear de word!
Evil gone away:
See dem deh!
Yes, See dem deh!
See dem ah go 'long now,
Raise a praise!
Oh, raise a praise!
Dem draw right down an' bow.
Pass through now me Poco children!
Maid, yu dance; de purpose done;
Bearer! get a towel, wrap her,
Rest her head, her spirit gone.
An' in de darkness of a poorman's yard,
Hear a Mother softly blow:
"Farewell-l-l,..... Farewell -1-1-1,
Me tell yu fa-a-a-rewell, Oh!"
by Rex Nettleford
.... But it was the River Maid simulating the ripples of waters surface ....
Much of dance is ritual. Dancers and
dance-creators have explored the richness
of it ever since man could move. And
this is said to have been from the Begin-
ning; so dance as ritual is often defined as
the basic art embracing the very life and
breath and feelings of man his enthu-
siasm and despair, his hopes and regrets.
This is how Pocomania, the Jamaican
revival spirit cult, has been not only for
members of the cult itself but for many
a dance-creator and Jamaican dancer.*
The rites of religious fervour and expres-
sion have called up artistic responses which
seek (if not always successfully) to cap-
ture the complex skills of movement used
by man to surmount "the riddles and
tragedies of his daily life." Edward
Seaga in his foregoing article analyses and
describes consummately the meaning and
significance of this and the related Zionist
cult. There are things which anthropology
and sociology in their own ways can do
better than a choreographic essay. Though
let me hasten to say that the 'messiah'
role of the cult leader, the solidarity of
group experience in worship, the signi-
ficance of the hierarchy of super-natural
powers are all valid subjects of dance.
As a choreographer I was to leave
these for later development and con-
centrated in my dance-essay of 1963 on
ritual and the ecstasy of individual parti-
cipation in the cleansing powers of spirit
possession and of worship through dance.
And it is my belief that in this, dance
theatre is unparalleled in what it can do.
It was Eddy Seaga, the researcher into re-
*The author has childhood recollections of a
pocoo" scene in just about every country con-
cert which he saw, participated in or produced
in Western Jamaica. Ivy Baxter's "Elation" of
1954 is a memorable staging in Jamaican dance
theatre by the Ivy Baxter Creative Dance Group.
The National Dance Theatre Company's staging
was in 1963 with choreography and musical
arrangement by the author, costume design by
Eddy Thomas and singing by the Frats Quintet
and Joyce Lalor. Berto Pasuko the Jamaican
choreographer who directed the Ballets Negre in
England soon after the war did two studies of
Pocomania which won high critical acclaim in
vival cults, who gave us valuable back-
ground assistance. The visits to cult meet-
ings by choreographer, singers, costume
designers and dancers of the National
Dance Theatre Company were indeed
facilitated by his own knowledge and in-
volvement with worshippers in West King-
ston and to this day the shuffling metro-
nome-like movement in space so typical
in the pocoo' rite is known as "a Seaga"
among NDTC members. It was he who
actually demonstrated some of the steps
in rehearsals and lectured to the NDTC on
the meaning of the cult as was his wont in
UWI Extra Mural sessions years ago.
As choreographer I did, however, man-
age to draw on my own experience of the
cult when I lived as a child in the Cockpit
country. I remember leaving Christian
Endeavour meetings and stopping off at
pocoo' meetings in those days with no
obvious clash of interests and there was
even a Trelawny paternal grand-aunt who
could "out-grunt" any of her followers in
another part of the parish. The outlines
were clearly the same as what I saw in
adult life in West Kingston but there were
variations of style and emphases between
the 'bands' as I knew them.
Not long ago the NDTC had made
field trips to Marlborough in St. Mary to
attend Pocomania festivals. And there
again style and individual preferences pro-
vided us with rich and varied sources from
which to draw. The purist will insist for
example that drums are never used in Poco-
mania, except for the Indian drums calling
up the Indian spirit. Neither my child-
hood experiences nor the festivals I at-
tended in St. Mary bore this out though
West Kingston depended on groaning and
counterpoint stamping of feet for its
rhythms. Such differences fascinated,
rather than confused. But details of
headtie and the sumptuousness of the
Shepherds' costumes both in West King-
ston and in St. Mary were carefully noted
for transmission on to the stage. The
Christian connexions revealed themselves
in the episcopalianesque styling of the
Shepherds' robes and in one or two parti-
culars it was obvious that the Roman
Catholic Church was in close proximity.
The Baptist domination of my boyhood
district produced nothing so lavish among
the Shepherds and Mothers I knew but
the predominance of solid reds and blues,
fading purples and yellows during the
Poco Festival brought back childhood
memories and put paid to the insistence
by the uninformed that all pocomania
cultists wear white.
The point was to find its advocates
when the NDTC dance was finally staged:
'it should have been in white,' groaned the
critics. We in the NDTC had decided on a
range of pinks, blues and reds and yellows
as it was in real life. But artistic liberties
were taken and what would last three days
was for one thing condensed into fifteen
minutes. The programme notes read:
"In this dance a pocoo' festival is por-
trayed covering the highlights of three
days and nights. First there is the blessing
of the upliftment table which in actual
festivals is usually decked out with fruits
of all descriptions, carbonated drinks and
breads of all shapes and sizes. The 'bands'
process in, each with a Shepherd (leader).
As they approach the table they greet
each other and pace the area around the
table pledging obeisance. The greeting
over, the Shepherds direct the lighting of
the candles ("Light de light oh"), each
candle costing the worshipper lighting it a
small sum. Choruses are sung and the
table is broken. The proceedings simmer
down while the worshippers and onlookers
partake of the fruits, drinks and bread on
The second day is called SUNDIAL
and can be considered a highpoint of the
Pocomania proceedings. For then the
sacrifice of a goat takes place and the
worshippers begin to 'labour' for their
journey through the spirit world. In this
dance the Bellringer and Rivermaid are
dominant features. The Bellringer imitates
the sound of a bell, the Rivermaid is
drawn to the pool (stage right). The
Indian Spirit is introduced at the end and
betrays the existence of a population of
East Indians, who came to Jamaica as in-
dentured servants to replace the erstwhile
slave labour after Emancipation.
The third -day is usually quieter than
the other two. But there can be more
labouring. In the dance a short closing
prayer begins to bring the ceremonies to
One naturally sought first to capture
the meaning of the psychology of sub-
culture cultism and the fundamentals of
worship. I have long believed that, in the
latter, Pocomania is naturally akin to the
orthodox forms without the disadvantages
of inhibitions imposed by the canons of
'normal' dignified worship and by those
constricting wooden pews in which one
has to sit through most of a service. The
individual communication with a spirit is
itself a personal and total experience, re-
sulting not in a senseless possession of a
human being by spirit but in a contract
suggesting mutual obligations. If as
Edward Seaga (see above) says that "the
spirit will be readily available for consul-
tation. . ." the individual must on the
other hand be prepared to "feed this
spirit from time to time. ... ." An under-
standing of the background and nature of
the cult was essential for me as dance-
creator and for those dancers who joined
in the celebration of the cult through
Inherent in this was the movement-
quality with which all choreographers
must concern themselves. A combination
of the right music and an understanding
of the subject-matter in addition to actual
observation of the real thing in the field
were ready assets. But the dancers had to
be, aware of the locomotor and dynamic
essences of the contraction-release com-
plex in the inhaling and exhaling of air
(known as "groaning"), in the stiff-legged
windscreen-wiper-like movement of the
trunk and head, in the shuffle of the feet
in their one-two repetitiveness. The
miraculous off-balances of the possessed,
the almost lightning transition from ten-
sion to a position of total relaxation, the
endurance test offered by the flat-back
contortion which seems to go on end-
lessly! These offer the dance-creator tre-
mendous possibilities for dance but must
be caught with the right quality and in-
tensity for any successfully staged version
of the original rite. Then how could one
forget the Shepherds' wheel? The gowns
billow out like dervishes and the pride
taken by actual Shepherds in sustaining
and repeating the wheel and the billows
betrayed a consciousness on their part of
the theatrical pleasure their performance
gives the onlookers (there are always on-
lookers at pocomania meetings). There is,
too, a spirit of worldly competitiveness
that does not for one moment seem to de-
flect from the spiritual devoutness of the
exercise. The Shepherd's feet are flat on
the ground, I was careful to notice, as if
the 'ground spirits' controlled his destiny
or determined his survival. As dance, it is
ecstatic, beautiful and fantastic. As wor-
ship, it could hardly fail to please the
spirits. For the Shepherd's turns im-
mediately reveal why he is the Shepherd
and why his followers are his flock ... the
movement conjures up strength, agility,
command, power. I could not resist the
pleas by some NDTC dancers and rehear-
sal spectators to end the dance on this
note though my first personal preference
was to go back to the quiet of the opening
procession corresponding, I suppose, to
the recessional in some orthodox religious
More movement ideas came to me from
such functionaries as the Bellringer, the
Engine Spirit, the Rivermaid, and the
Indian Spirit. Of course they all "tun de
roll" and genuflect. But the up-down
movement of the Bellringer imitating the
action that the term describes, lends
itself to much development. The 'engine'
jogging along with trunk in a horizontal
position was later to find itself in the
dance-halls of Jamaica as the popular
dance form "ska". The Indian maid with
simulated braids of sisal dyed black with
the bouree movement of the feet gave a
new dimension towards the end of the
dance in ample preparation for the cli-
mactic shepherd's wheels. But it was the
Rivermaid simulating the ripple of waters
surface that offered wonderful oppor-
tunities for the dancer; dances who, like
the snake spirit (Damballa) of the Voodoo
rites of Haiti or the python dances of
river-tribes of West Africa, must make the
trunk of the body ripple like a river in
flow. As choreographer I revelled in this
for its sheer movement possibilities. It is
movements like these which transcend the
psychological and sociological antecedents
of the rite and preserve in Jamaican dance-
theatre the treasures which must go to
build up the dance as an art.
Essential to all this, however, is the
music which must be appropriate in its
belly-centred sincerity, its tonal peculiar-
ities, and its off-beat inclinations. The
Sankey Hymnal is the best contributor
and I used the pocoo" tunes liberally and
"And number one, and number two, and another three" until the magical ten.
The almost lightning transition from tension to a position of total relaxation ....
The Shepherd's movement conjures up strength, agility, command, power.
with some liberty. The long metre style
and the syncopated symbolling provided
welcome contrasts and I introduced the
drum to vary the pace and heighten the
rhythms underscoring such tunes as "Back-
slider Beware", "Light de Light", "Yerry
me mi massa yerry me" and "Adam in de
Garden... ." I then interspersed between
these, the timbrous gutturals of the "groan-
ing" and the brush-brush brush-brush of
the feet simultaneous with the rhythmic
nasal count "and a number one. and a
number two and another three" until the
magical ten. The ritual greeting of "maw-
ning, mawning" follows. "Water, water"
shouts the lead falsetto while the rhythm
intensifies and builds into a crescendo of
sounds and shouts which accompany the
accelerated motions. The singers them-
selves move though nothing is "choreo-
graphed" for them. They are carried away
by their own involvement. With the
dancers it is the same since many of the
movements developed spontaneously dur-
ing the many rehearsals that must take
place before the simplest of dance is pro-
jected. There is, however, much method
in the madness floor patterns, move-
ment design and sequence must be given
shape else everyone will be bumping into
everyone else. The dance is allowed to
continue until I make one or two, who
are just about to fall out of an off-balance
stance, get caught by supporting "sisters".
Only one worshipper falls to provide
theatrical focus. Everyone else moves,
each phasing out into relaxed positions
while the Shepherds wheel and turn, wheel
and turn. By this time, the onlookers (in
this case the audience) become involved:
to show this they anticipate the final
curtain with enthusiastic applause as if to
release the tension of involvement.
Audience reaction was not always as
satisfying. Earlier Seasons of Dance used
to bring nervous gigglesfrom audiencesthe
moment the first 'bands' entered with
candles lighted and Shepherds fully gown-
ed. Nor were such giggles restricted to
middleclass audiences as some people
would have us believe. The very pocoo'
meetings we attended in country and town
had their fair share of spectators reacting
not unlike those audiences at the Little
Theatre. It was not unusual to see a
spectator making fun at the worshippers
(some of them his friends) at one minute
and being completely possessed within
seconds. In the 1968 Season of Dance
there was none of the giggle of embarass-
ment and nerves. It may be that the
regular theatre-going public is now more
informed about Jamaican folkrites, as
they should be or it may be that NDTC's
recent presentations of the 1963 work
have been now more poignantly drawn
and communicate more readily. My more
recent pantomime version of a facet of
the cult did invite outright laughter from
the broad-based audiences but this may
be due to the fact that well-known Jam-
aican comedians were involved.
Whatever purposes Pocomania may
serve it will continue to serve people like
myself and others with a rich and valuable
source of movement-designs and move-
ment qualities for Jamaican dance theatre.
It would be a disservice to the arts if
doctrinaire social-content attitudes were
allowed to freeze all that wealth of move-
ment and movement-ideas within the
authenticity of the cult ritual. For the
cult itself suggests all sorts of ideas for ex-
pression of how people think and feel and
this is what the dance as an artform is
about. Much of what is peculiarly revival-
ist (to use the generic term) can indeed be
woven into the fabric of the country's
artistic expression without threat to the
deeper social and psychological meanings
of the cults themselves. And the job of
artist to abstract and project the essences
of existence so that they can be of con-
tinuing meaning to the people they serve
is the very challenge offered by the cult
of Pocomania. The three Shepherds in my
own version already suggest a theme for a
new ballet they are leaders for one thing,
and for another they must have come from
some background of more than passing
interest. Most important of all they are
individuals whose joys, fears and hopes
must be unique to themselves to make
them what they are. But that is for an-
other staging and for another place. Mean-
while the present set work will continue
to be presented as a piece of Jamaican
dance repertory. The Shepherds and the
flock proceed; they light their candles,
'tun de roll' and 'break the holy table'.
The shepherds wheel, the sisters groan,
the symbols chant, the spirits move. Bell-
ringer, Diver, Rivermaid they all start
to travel in the spirit world, 'til Indian
spirits lead the dance. And Shepherds
make their sacrifice midst whistle call and
symbolling. The spirits now take full
control of Mother, Sister, Father, Child -
a prayer to the Brother, Son, and Holy
Spirit, Three in One. Much of dance is
PP' trtSWINAN l 1D 111 11)II U'V\ Id) KX' \'iiI
by Mary Reckord
from PAST& PRESENT
ON TUESDAY, THE 27TH OF DECEMBER, I831, A FIRE ON KENSINGTON
estate in St. James, one of the most important sugar growing parishes
in Jamaica, marked the outbreak of a slave rebellion which swept the
western parishes of the island. The rebellion was precipitated by
circumstances which comparison with Negro slave rebellions in the
United States suggests were classic ingredients for revolt: political
excitement stirred by rumours of emancipation, economic stress,
a revolutionary philosophy circulating among the slaves and the
presence of a group of whites whom the slaves could identify as their
allies.' The Jamaican rebellion, however, was characterized by the
fact that the missions were the source of the slaves' philosophy and the
missionaries themselves were cast in the r61e of the slaves' allies.
Further, a network of independent religious meetings which had
developed round the mission churches served the slaves as a ready
made political organization and thus supplied an element for which
SIH. Aptheker, American Negro Slave Revolts (Columbia U.P., 1944), chaps.
iv and v. Aptheker also specifies an increase in the slave population, a point
irrelevant to Jamaica where the slaves formed an overwhelming majority of the
there is no parallel in American slave revolts.
Violent protest against slavery in the form of riot or rebellion had
been endemic in eighteenth-century Jamaica; the outbreaks occurred
on average every five years, and two such efforts, the Maroon wars
of 1738 and 1795, secured freedom for small communities of ex-slaves
in the mountain districts. The abolition of the slave trade in x8o8
and the stabilization of areas of settlement produced more settled
conditions; the Negro villages were no longer dominated by immigrant
Africans and a creole slave society emerged. It was not until the
182os, under the influence of the anti-slavery agitation in England,
that further disturbances took place. The most important was in
Demerara in 1823; in Jamaica itself slave conspiracies were discovered
in 1823 and 1824.
The comparative quiescence of the slaves made no substantial
difference to the administration of the slave system. The white
ruling class, a dwindling minority of some 3o,ooo in a slave population
ten times greater, disciplined and degraded their slaves in the
traditional manner. The exclusion of slaves as witnesses in the
courts, for example, underlined the assumption that they were
George Blyth Thomas
creatures of inferior intelligence. Family life was discouraged to
demonstrate the intrinsically animal nature of the -Negro. The whip
as an instrument of punishment and a badge of authority symbolized
the whole tenor of slavery, and cases of excessively brutal punishments
came to the attention of the imperial government as long as the
system lasted. The imperial government's programme for the reform
of slavery, suggested in 1823, touched on all these features of the
system and won no effective support in the island.'
In such a society Christian missions to the slaves were inevitably
regarded as a dangerous innovation and the missionaries themselves
as agents of Wilberforce. Missions were only established in the
island through the good offices of individual whites, and expanded
under the indirect auspices of the imperial government which
promoted the activity of the established Anglican church among the
slaves as part of the amelioration programme. The missionaries,
mindful of their position, geared their teaching to promote obedience,
but this did not prevent the slaves from seeing in the doctrine of
spiritual equality sanctions for political discontent. It is significant,
therefore, that the rebellion took place in the western parishes' where
the missions were most numerous and independent religious meetings
proliferated. The Baptists were particularly influential in St. James
where Thomas Burchell, a popular and enterprising missionary, had
been in charge of the Montego Bay station from its foundation in
1824 and had built up a number of flourishing out-stations. The
Wesleyans were also represented at Montego Bay and Lucea and the
Moravians were active in the parishes of Manchester, St. Elizabeth
and Westmoreland. The missions played a r61e in the slave rebellion
in some repects analogous to that of the Methodist churches in
working-class movements in England. In England, also, areas of
intense political activity coincided with areas of intense religious
activity: for example, the Wesleyan church and the Chartist move-
ment flourished simultaneously in the West Riding of Yorkshire.'
The ideal of christian obedience and rewards in heaven proved
unsatisfactory to chattel-slave and wage-slave alike. The missions
therefore, unknown to the missionaries, provided both inspiration and
- indirectly organization for a rebellion which exceeded in scale
and duration any American slave enterprise.
The current of political excitement which sparked off the rebellion
derived from the campaign for the immediate abolition of slavery
launched in the House of Commons in April 1831. It was obvious
to the Colonial Office that this campaign was likely to create dis-
turbances in the slave colonies and, in June 1831, the precaution was
SThe proposals also included, the abolition of Sunday markets, the removal of
obstacles to manumission, the regulation of sales for debt, the prohibition of sales
sepratng members of the same family and the institution of savings banks.
Cfolonal] O[ffice] 854/1, Circ. despatch, 9 July 1823, pp. 160-4.
SAn independent conspiracy was formed among the head people on a small
group of estates in Portland, and slaves from estates in St. Thomas in the East
near Manchioneal planned to abscond to the bush where they built a hide-out
village: C.O., 137/185, Courts Martial Portland, St. Thomas in the East.
E. J. Hobsbawm, "Methodism and the Threat of Revolution in Britain",
History Today, Feb. 1957, pp. 120-I. E. P. Thompson, The Making of the
English Working Class (London, 1963), discusses the connection in chapter xi.
taken of supplying the West Indian governors with a royal proclama-
tion to quiet signs of unrest. But the white population in Jamaica
showed no such prescience. Intent only on expressing their
unqualified opposition to abolition, they exacerbated the impact of
the campaign by holding a series of public protest meetings through-
out the island between July and November. Inflammatory speeches
were made and duly published in the newspapers. Armed revolt was
advocated and the possibility of securing assistance from the United
States was openly discussed.5 Plans were made to set up a new
governing body, independent of the crown, consisting of delegates
from the parish meetings to meet concurrently with the Assembly in
November 1831. This scheme had no immediate results,' but the
Assembly itself, meeting in November, marked its unrelenting
opposition to any mitigation of the slave system by refusing, almost
unanimously, to discuss a proposal to abolish flogging for women,
a reform introduced in the Crown colomes in 1824. The governor,
the Earl of Belmore, commented that the parish meetings seemed
calculated "to disturb the minds of the slaves",' but he made no
effort to restrain them and the royal proclamation was not published
until December by which time the rebellion had virtually begun.
The slaves were therefore exposed to the full effect of these events.
Comparatively few were able to understand the precise nature of
events in England and the colonists' response, but the gist of the
political situation was translated into easily remembered and amended
anecdote, circulated endlessly among the population. A well-known
St. James magistrate and attorney, James Grignon, was said to have
told his fellow whites: "The king is going to give black people free:
but he hopes that all his friends will be of his mind and spill our
blood first". It was rumoured that the whites in the House of
Assembly were planning to keep the women and children in slavery,
while they took out the men and shot them like pigeons. Reports of
the intentions of the "high buckra" were confirmed by the conduct of
their underlings. Baptist members told Knibb: "When busha [i.e.
overseer] and book-keeper flog us they say we are going to be free
and before it comes they will get it out of us".8 The missionaries
reported in July from Kingston that "the expectation of the slaves
has been raised to the very highest point with reference to freedom".
The same month, at the other side of the island, Knibb wrote from
Falmouth: "The slaves believe they are soon to be free, and are
anxiously waiting till King William sends them their free paper".
Political awareness was sharpened by economic distress. A
six-month drought early in the year, followed by heavy rains in May,
Parl. Papers, House of Commons (hereafter referred to as P.P.) 1831-2,
vol. xlvii, no. 285, Despatches Relative to the Recent Rebellion, pp. 263, 266-8:
Petitions of Freeholders and others. W. L. Burn, Emancipation and Apprentice-
ship (London, 1937), p. 91.
'Belmore was advised that such a meeting would only be unconstitutional if
it had a seditious intention. Belmore avoided any direct action by letting it be
known that if the Assembly corresponded with the delegates he would dissolve
the House. C.O., 137/179, Belmore to Goderich, 17 Dec. 1831, no. 130.
P.P., 1831-2, vol. xlvii, no. 285, p. 263: Belmore to Goderich, 20 July 1831.
'H. Bleby, Death Struggles of Slavery (London, 1853), pp. 112, 114;
J. H. Hinton, Memoir of William Knibb (London, 1847), pp. IIS, I13.
affected the harvest of ground provisions in many areas. Smallpox
and dysentery were rife.* Hard times made the existing system less
tolerable for the slaves and the prospect of emancipation the more
Political discontent found expression in religious groups which had
developed side by side with the mission churches. The groups
reflected primarily the slaves' religious interests, and mingled
christianity with traditional African religious forms to produce a type
of worship which satisfied their emotional needs more completely
than did mission services. But, in a society where religious meetings
were the only form of organized activity permitted, such meetings
became the natural focal point for all the slaves' interests not served
by estate organization. Freed from the supervision of the missionary
and his emphasis on conformity and obedience, the slaves were also
able to express their political interests and to use religion as a sanction
for their hopes.
The same process has been observed in Africa, both among
industrial workers in South Africa subjected to the political restric-
tions of apartheid and in the Congo under the Belgians. Throughout
these areas separatist christian sects have proliferated under the
leadership of Africans, which combine religious functions, cleansing
from sin and protecting from witchcraft, with political aspirations,
looking forward to the end ofwhite domination. 1 Even in nineteenth-
century England, where church members could carry their concern
for justice into a range of political associations, brotherhoods and
unions, churches became political clubs. In Huddersfield the New
Connection Methodists were known as the Tom Paine Methodists
since they discussed Tom Paine at chapel meetings together with the
works of their founder, Alexander Kilham; and in Halifax a group of
Methodists purchased their own chapel and ran it as a Jacobin chapel.
The Primitive Methodist sect identified their church so closely with
the trade-union movement as to make it practically a labour religion,
and the church supplied almost all the trade-union leaders for the
agricultural labourers and the Durham and Northumberland miners
throughout the century."
The religious groups among the slaves fell into three categories:
groups consisting chiefly of mission members meeting on the estates
and modelling themselves primarily on the mission churches; groups
formed by mission converts, often church leaders, among slaves who
did not attend mission churches; and, thirdly, groups run by leaders
who were independent of the missions, or repudiated them outright,
while associating themselves with christianity these latter tending
to call themselves Baptists, "native" or "spirit" Baptists.
Each mission had a satellite of such groups. Slaves and coloured
people took up preaching and in some instances became known for
the influence they exercised over the slaves on a particular estate.
Political thinking developed to some extent along racist lines. But the
slaves' overwhelming political concern was not race but freedom, and
with the anti-slavery campaign in England reaching new heights,
Methodist Missionary Society archives, letters from missionaries in Jamaica
to the society in London (hereinafter referred to as M.M.S. letter), Pennock,
Kingston, ix July x831; Edney, Grateful Hill, 22 Sept. 1831; Duncan, Kingston,
7 June, 1831.
1 B. Davidson, The African Awakening (London, 1955), pp. 156-61;
M. Gluckman, "The Magic of Despair", The Listener, Apr. 29, 1954, p. 725.
1E. P. Thompson, op. cit., pp. 44-5 Hobsbawm, art. cit., p. xi8 and his
Primitive Rebels (Manchester, 1959), p. 138.
View of Montego Bay from Reading Hill. WIRL.
political discontent overflowed from these groups into the mission
churches. Hope of a better life in the world to come became hope of
a better life in the world after abolition. In the last months of 1831
there was what the missionaries described as "a great outpouring of
the Spirit" in the North Coast parishes. The chapels were crowded
out with hearers, and membership figures rapidly expanded."
After the rebellion it became clear that
many churches and congregations had been swelled by a host anticipating
freedom, who, now that their hopes were disappointed, fell away. It was
common for a backslider to answer an exhortation thus: "It is no use minister;
what can church and prayers do for we again ?..."."
Out of this political ferment emerged leaders who directed the
widespread excitement and discontent into action, utilizing religious
meetings and the authority of the missionaries to promote the cause
of freedom. The most outstanding rebel leader was Sam Sharpe,
a domestic slave who worked in Montego Bay and was a member of
the Baptist church there. Sharpe was literate, intelligent and
ambitious and, like many of his kind, he found an outlet and a
stimulant for his ambition in a mission church. As a convert, he
displayed a talent for eloquent and passionate preaching which won
him a position as leader, entrusted with the spiritual care of a class of
other converts. Sharpe, however, was not content to serve simply
within the church; he built up an independent connection with the
"native" Baptists among whom he figured as a "daddy" or "ruler".
At the same time he found mission teaching on obedience unsatis-
factory. From his own reading of the Bible he became convinced
that the slaves were entitled to freedom. 4 This conviction, combined
with the development of the emancipation campaign in England, of
which Sharpe kept himself well informed, led him to believe that the
slaves must make a bid for freedom. In recruiting aides, Sharpe
naturally turned to other Baptist slaves of whom George Taylor,
another church leader, Johnson, George Guthrie, Thomas Dove and
Robert Gardner all became leaders in the rebellion."6
Sharpe, according to the account he gave the Wesleyan missionary,
Henry Bleby, who had several conversations with him when he was in
jail, did not plan armed rebellion, but mass passive resistance. After
the Christmas holidays when the cane harvest was due to begin, the
slaves were to sit down and refuse to work until their masters acknow-
ledged that they were free men and agreed to pay them wages. Sharpe
expected that the whites would try to intimidate the strikers by
shooting hostages as examples; but the slaves were not expected to
fight back, simply to continue passive resistance."
It became evident, however, that plans were also made for armed
revolt. Several leaders in the rebellion, including Gardner and
Dove, took military titles and led a slave regiment. They claimed
that Sharpe himself had planned armed rebellion and timed it for
Christmas so that, with the whites away in the towns, the slaves
could easily collect arms from the estates.17 Possibly the intention
was that the majority of the slaves should strike while some undertook
military action to back up the passive resistance.
Whatever the case, plans for rebellion were promulgated at religious
meetings among mission members and among the "native" Baptists.
The usual practice was to hold a regular prayer meeting after which
a selected few were asked to remain behind; Sharpe's aide then
explained the plan and tried to persuade all present to swear on the
Bible not to work after Christmas. Sharpe himself was a speaker who
appeared to have "the feelings and passions of his hearers completely
at his command"; when he spoke against slavery they were "wrought
up almost to a state of madness"."1 His language, a combination of
religious imagery and political message, was no doubt the language of
radical Methodists in England. As one wrote of the pre-Reform
1 M.M.S. letters, Edney, Grateful Hill, 22 Sept. 1831, referring to Guys
Hill; Wood, St. Ann's Bay, i Oct. 1831. Revivals of this sort occurred
periodically; in 1828 and 1826 the mission churches had benefited in a similar
way. Such movements might reflect an outburst of purely religious enthusiasm,
but there seems no doubt that the revival of 1831 represented political interests.
M.M.S. letters, Ratcliffe, Bellemont, to Nov. 1826; Orton, Montego Bay,
13 July 1828.
I" H. M. Waddell, Twenty-nine years in the West Indies and Central Africa
(London, 1865), pp. 70-I.
Bleby, op. cit., p. xz6.
P.P., 1831-2, vol. xlvii, no. 561, Report of the House of Assembly on the
Slave Insurrection, p. 214, confession of T. Dove; p. 211, confession of Ed.
Morrice. Gardner belonged to Greenwich estate, on the borders of St. James
and Westmoreland. In X825 it had been reported to the Colonial Office that
a negro preacher held away over the slaves there.
Bleby, op. cit., p. x16.
17 P.P., 1831-2, vol. xlvii, no. 561, p. 217, Confession of R. Gardner; p. 210,
Confession of J. Davis.
Bleby, op. cit., pp. 111-2, 115, quoting R. Gardner.
_ __ __ _
Unequal laws and a partial administration plant a thorn in every breast and
spread gloom in every countenance .... It may justly be said of such rulers,
Their vine is the vine of Sodom and the fields of Gommorrah; their grapes
are the grapes of gall ....
And the oaths sworn by the slaves were probably like the oaths of their
English counterparts, based on the Bible: "Thus saith the Lord God:
remove the Diadem and take off the Crown ... exalt him that is low
and abase him that is high..."."
The arguments used to encourage the slaves to take action included
the notion, common to the Jamaican disturbances of December 1823
and June 1824, and the Demerara rebellion of 1823, and to
several American slave disturbances, that freedom had already been
granted and was being withheld by the slave owners.'" Sharpe,
though too well-informed to hold the belief himself, was said to have
told his followers that the legislation had passed in March 1831.
As a natural extension of this idea, it was also said that the king's
troops would not fight the slaves since they were only claiming their
rights, or even, that the king's troops would fight with the slaves.
During the rebellion some of the slaves believed that the "black
sand", or gunpowder, landed from a naval ship at Savannah-la-Mar,
was for their use."
The main body of arguments, however, related to religion, and
Christianity came to provide a positive justification for action. Sharpe
and his aides proclaimed the natural equality of men and, on the
authority of the Bible, denied the right of the white man to hold the
black in bondage. The text, "No man can serve two masters",
persistently quoted by Sharpe, became a slogan among the slaves. To
protest against slavery was a matter of "assisting their brethren in the
work of the Lord ... this was not the work of man alone, but they had
assistance from God"." The authority of the missionaries them-
selves was used to sanction the protest: it was widely believed that the
missionaries favoured freedom for the slaves. Sharpe's pastor,
Burchell, of the Montego Bay Baptist mission, who had left for
England in May 1831, was made in his absence into a political leader.
Messages attributed to him circulated among the slaves: that he would
be a pillar of iron to them, but they must shed no blood, for life was
sweet, easy to take away, but very hard to give. Slaves who were
unconvinced that freedom was already legally theirs, adopted the
pleasing and plausible expectation that Burchell, who was due to
return at Christmas 1831, would bring the free paper with him."a
Preparations for the Christmas rebellion probably started about
August 1831, in the interval between the arduous work of cane holing
and the cane harvest, and were a parallel development to the white
population's parish meetings. Given the network of religious
meetings and a ready-made following among the slaves, Sharpe and
his aides were able during that time, to spread their influence through
St. James, parts of Hanover and Trelawny and into Westmoreland,
St. Elizabeth and Manchester, an area of six hundred square miles.
It was not until the missionaries met their congregations for the
Christmas services that they learnt of the plans for rebellion and of the
political r61e with which they had been endowed. Naturally, the
missionaries made every effort to keep their converts from any form
of violence or disobedience, qnd demonstrated by their arguments
that the slaves must not look to them for support. The Presbyterian
missionary, George Blyth, who had just returned to the island from
a visit to England, strove to assure his congregation that he was in
possession of the latest news. He argued the case against rebellion on
grounds of principle and policy, describing
the bloodshed, anarchy and injury to religion which would be the consequence
of insurrection... I also described to them the great improbability of the
slaves obtaining their liberty by such means on account of the want of
unanimity, arms, etc.....
On the 27th of December, at the opening of a new Baptist chapel at
Salters Hill, St. James, Knibb used the occasion to warn the people:
I learn that some wicked persons have persuaded you that the King has made
you free. Hear me, I love your souls. I would not tell you a lie for the
world. What you have been told is false false as Hell can make it. I
entreat you not to believe it, but go to your work as usual. If you have any
love to Jesus Christ, to religion, to your ministers, to those kind friends in
Thompson, op. at., p. 393 quoting a minister of the Independent
Methodists; p. 392, the oath taken in a Lancashire conspiracy, ISoi.
,* This belief was also current during slave disturbances in Virginia, 183o,
North Carolina 1825, Alabama 1840. For a full discussion see H. Aptheker,
P.P., 1831-2, vol. xlvii, no. 561, p. 215, Confession of T. Dove; no. 285,
p. 286, Deposition of W. Anand.
bid., p. 218, Confession of R. Gardner; no. 285, p. 295, Deposition of
W. Anand. Bleby, op. ct., p. II1.
Ibid., no. 285, p. 286, Deposition of W. Anand; no. 561, p. 188, Evidence
of H. R. Wallace. Bleby, op. cit., pp. 2-3.
The Mission House at Salter's Hill WIRL.
England who have given money to help you build this chapel, be not led
away by wicked men.
A Wesleyan meeting at Ramble on the 26th of December was
conducted in the same tone: the day-long services admonished the
people that religion meant love to God and men."'
The slaves' reaction to such advice, however, reflected their
profound disappointment. When it became clear that the missionaries
were solely concerned with law and order, they became sullen, and
some openly angry. At Hampden, Blyth's congregation was "not
only disappointed but offended" with him. At Salters Hill the
Baptist congregation was:
perfectly furious and would not listen to... dissuasions from engaging in
such a perilous enterprise .... They accused their ministers of deserting
them, and threatened to take revenge upon them."
From the outset of the rebellion it was clear that the preparations
Sharpe and the other conspirators had made were inadequate for
success. In the first place, the rebellion proper was presaged by
a number of false alarms which served to put the white population and
the government on guard. A week before Christmas there was a
labour dispute on Salt Spring estate near Montego Bay: the St. James
magistrates sent for troops from Falmouth as a precaution, and the
governor, Belmore, on the 22nd of December sent warships to
Montego Bay and Black River and belatedly issued the proclamation
received from England the previous June. On the 23rd of December
in Trelawny, the trash house was fired on one estate, and on two
others the slaves went on strike. Receiving this news on the 28th of
December, the governor in council decided to send troops to Montego
Bay. These troops were ready to embark when news of the rebellion
reached Spanish Town and martial law was immediately declared."
The firing of the trash house on Kensington estate, St. James on
the evening of the 27th of December, 1831, which served as a signal
for the rebellion, was symptomatic of confusion among the slaves.
The destruction of property formed no part of Sharpe's original plan
and may have been started accidentally; on the other hand, the owner
of Kensington estate was warned by a neighbour on the morning of
the 27th of December that the slaves planned to burn the estate that
evening. It was said that the properties to be fired were numbered
and Kensington was first because, set on a hill, it served as a beacon."
In the event, the rebellion comprised all forms of protest action:
armed rebellion, withdrawal of labour, destruction of property, while
amid the confusion some slaves simply stuck to estate routine.
The rebels' military core was the Black Regiment, about one
hundred and fifty strong with fifty guns among them." The Black
Regiment, under the command of Colonel Johnson of Retrieve estate,
fought a successful action on the 28th of December 1831 against the
Western Interior militia, which had retreated from its barracks in
the interior to Old Montpelier estate, near Montego Bay. From
4" Scottish Missionary Society and Philanthropic Register (hereinafter referred
to as S.M.S.), March 1832, p. 98, Blyth, Falmouth, 2 Jan. 1832; Baptist
Missionaries, A narrative of recent events connected with the Baptist Mission in
this island (Kingston, Jamaica, 1833) (hereinafter referred to as Narrative
Account), p. 29; M.M.S. letters, Murray, Montego Bay, to Mar. 1832.
S.M.S., Mar. 1832, pp. 98, o10, Blyth, Falmouth, 2 Jan. 1832.
"P.P., 1831-2, vol. xlvii, no. 285, pp. 272-3, Belmore to Goderich, 6 Jan.
Ibid., no. 561, p. 2oo, Evidence of J. H. Morris. Bleby, op. cit., p. Ix6.
C.O., 137/185, Courts Martial, St. James, vol. i, f. 42, Evidence of Angus
McNeil. Bleby, op. it., p. 11.
Destruction of Roehampton Estate. WIRL.
there, the Black Regiment forced a further retreat to Montego Bay
and put the country between Montego Bay, Lucea and Savannah-la-
Mar in rebel hands. The Black Regiment then carried rebellion into
the hills, invading estates and inviting recruits, burning properties on
the border of St. James and setting off a trail of fires through the Great
River Valley in Westmoreland and St. Elizabeth. Its commanders,
"Colonels" Dove and Gardner, set up headquarters at Greenwich,
Gardner's estate on the border of Hanover and Westmoreland, and
from there a sketchy organization held sway over the surrounding
estates. The slaves were organized into companies, each responsible
for guarding its estate boundaries and holding allegiance to Gardner
and Dove at Greenwich. This sort of activity was carried on by
a number of rebel leaders, also Baptist members, notably Captain
Dehany operating in the Salters Hill area, and Captain Tharp in the
interior." Their work was supplemented by the activity of self-
appointed leaders, who took the opportunity to roam the country
collecting recruits, looting and destroying and intimidating other
slaves, enjoying a little brief authority.
There appears, however, to have been no co-operation among these
various groups. They were short of arms, no special arrangements
having been made to secure guns or ammunition.30 Moreover, the
slaves had no experience of military operations and in their contacts
with the soldiers showed no skill in guerilla warfare. The scene of a
typical skirmish between the rebels and their trained opponents was
described by the Wesleyan missionary, Bleby:
The insurgent slaves, with little judgment had posted themselves on the side
of a hill commanding the narrow mountain road; and when the soldiers
came in sight, they discharged upon them a volley of musketry and stones ....
C.O., 137/185, Courts Martial, St. James, vol. i, f. 20, Evidence of Philip;
vol. ii, ff. 46-7, trial of Tharp; vol. iii, ff. 37-40, trial of Dehany. Baptist
Missionary Society Archives, Brief on behalf of Francis Gardner, pp. 5-6.
"' Caches of guns and ammunition were found in negro huts on Ginger Hill
estate, St. Elizabeth, and at Catadupa estate, between Lucea and Montego Bay:
P.P., 1831-2, vol. xlvii, no. 285, p. 284; Major-Gen. D. Robertson to Belmore,
I Jan. 1832; Belmore to Goderich, 16 Jan. 1832. One of the rebel leaders
claimed that a white man on Lethe estate had taught some of them to make
cartridges: ibid., no. 561, p. 218, Confession of R. Gardner.
They then ran and attempted to gain the brow of the hill, but in so doing
exposed themselves fully to the unerring aim of the military .... Sixteen
bodies, dragged into the road, were putrefying in the sun when we passed
by... carrion crows were feeding upon them."'
The main rebel forces were rapidly disposed of. By the first week in
January, armed rebellion was virtually at an end.
Strike action was effectively organized in some areas. In
Trelawny, for example, the slaves on Carlton estate, "sat down"
firmly after Christmas. The Presbyterian missionary, Rev. Waddell,
went to the estate to persuade them they were not yet free, but they
accused him of being paid by the magistrates to deceive them. The
strikers were equally firm in dealing with a gang of rebels who invaded
the estate; they did not allow them to burn the property or plunder
the stores, arguing that if they were to be free they would want rum
and sugar for themselves."
Successful strike action, however, demanded the co-operation of
large numbers of estates, and it proved impossible to organize wide-
spread passive resistance with the help of a few aides and a prolifera-
tion of meetings where the converted kissed the Bible and swore
allegiance. A strong nucleus of strike leaders, working with the
headman, or one of the drivers on each plantation, with weeks of
careful instruction for all the slaves on the precise form the strike was
to take, would have been necessary for there to be any hope of success.
In the circumstances the authorities, instead of being confronted by
thousands of slaves over a wide area refusing to work, had to deal
only with isolated groups; and pacification consisted of forcing the
slaves to choose between martyrdom and submission. On Georgia
estate, Trelawny, where the slaves put up a determined and well
disciplined opposition, the negro village was subjected to a daybreak
attack by the militia using a fieldpiece; when they still refused to
move, they were dragged out, one by one, and one man was shot as an
example."s Sharpe had warned his followers that the whites would
Bleby, op. cit., p. 18.
Waddell, op. cit., p. 56-7.
C.O., 137/185, Courts Martial, Trelawny, ff. 12-15, trial of Edmund Grant.
try to intimidate them by shooting hostages; but only the conscious-
ness of being part of a solid strike resistance, involving hundreds of
estates, could have given the slaves the confidence to accept the
necessity for such martyrs. In the circumstances they were
intimidated and returned to work.
Most of the estates involved in the rebellion were neither part of the
rebels' rudimentary military organization, nor organized for passive
resistance. Their rebellion consisted chiefly in the destruction of
white property, and a brief heady disregard for routine combined with
assertions of freedom. Some indulged in isolated acts of defiance:
one woman put down her washing at the water tank to toss a fire
stick into the trash house as the militia passed the estate. Many,
caught up in the excitement, took the opportunity to kill and cook the
estate hogs, or hamstring the estate cows. The head driver of one
estate allowed a party of rebels to burn the great house and celebrated
his new-found independence by galloping round the property on his
owner's horse wearing his owner's hat.3' In some cases, faction
developed between the law-abiding slaves and those who claimed
their freedom. Judging by the testimonies of witnesses at the Courts
Martial, this split often occurred along class lines: where the head
driver and the skilled workers were for the rebellion, the field slaves
stood by "buckra", and vice-versa. On Burnt Ground penn, St.
James, for example, the head driver tried to prevent the buildings
being burnt, but an obstreperous field slave, one Henry James, who
had recently served a three month workhouse sentence, prevailed
on the slaves to fire them. At Moor Park, however, the slaves who
wanted to protect the master's property from the rebels were preven-
ted from doing so by the head driver."6
On estates where the rebel cause had no representative, confusion
reigned. The slaves were intimidated by the fires and by the
appearance of rebel bands wanting to loot and burn the property.
Some left their homes and went into hiding in the woods. Others
kept their nerve and organized guards to keep out the rioters; and in
some cases, as on the estates observed by a missionary in Hanover,
they carried on with the cane harvest, "making sugar and rum as good
as they usually do without any white supervision".'3
The failure of the rebellion left the slaves exposed to white
vengeance. The military authorities, represented by Sir Willoughby
Cotton, the commander-in-chief, were concerned simply to restore
order and combined retribution against slaves caught in rebellious
acts with free pardon for all who returned to work on the estates.
A proclamation to this effect was issued by Cotton on his arrival in
Montego Bay, and a hundred of the rebel prisoners were released to
circulate it on the estates.37 But for the overseers and attorneys-
turned-militiamen, pacification involved not only restoring order, but
vengeance for their losses and humiliation. After the defeat at Old
Montpelier, the militia had been pinned in Montego Bay until the
military arrived watching estates go up in flames, anxiously patrolling
the streets for fear of rebel incursion, their women and children
stowed away for safety on ships in the harbour. Pacification took
place amid the charred and blackened ruins of a countryside which
a few days before had been ripe for harvest. It was estimated that the
damage in St. James alone amounted to six hundred thousand
pounds.38 The militia were bent on vengeance and among them
were individuals whose political rancour approached insantity. They
raided and burnt negro villages on rebel estates, driving neighboring
slaves to take refuge in the woods for fear it was their turn next.39
Ibid., Courts Martial, St. James, vol. iii, f. 51, trial of Jinny; vol. i, f. 6,
trial of James Guy; vol. ii, ff. 20-I, trial of Thomas Linton; vol. i, ff. 17-18,
trial of Alick Gordon.
Ibid., vol., ii, ff. 35-6, trial of Henry James; vol. i, ff. 17-18.
S.M.S., March 1832, pp. 198-9, Watson, Lucea, 7 Feb. 1832.
3P.P., 1831-2, vol. xlvii, no. 285, p. 288, proclamation 2 Jan. 1832:
"Negroes, You have taken up arms against your masters.... Some wicked
persons have told you the King has made you free .... In the name of the
King I come amongst you to tell you that you are misled .... All who are
found with the rebels will be put to death without mercy. You cannot resist
the King's troop .... All who yield themselves up provided they are not
principals and chiefs in the burnings that have been committed will receive His
Majesty's gracious pardon, all who hold out will meet with certain death".
I.P., 1831-2, vol. xlvii, no. 561. aum total of losses in the rebellion in
St. James: 606,250
St. Elizabeth: 22,146
St. Thomas in the East: 1,280
Waddell, op. cit., p. 61.
Suspected ring-leaders and known troublemakers were shot out of
hand, despite the proclamation. In one case all the slaves on an
estate in Trelawny had been pardoned by Cotton in person when, an
hour later, a militia detachment under the command of the estate's
attorney, John Gunn, arrived. The slaves were again called out and
the attorney-turned-lieutenant ordered the second driver of the gang
to be shot. On this occasion the attorney was court-martialled,
and acquitted; the court martial was unique, such executions not
unusual. The Wesleyan missionary, Bleby, watched the militia
arrive at an estate where the slaves, in accordance with the proclama-
tion, were at work. Two men, a boy and a woman, were taken from
their work and sent for trial in Montego Bay where the men were
condemned and shot.40 Cases such as this cast grave doubt on the
official figure for slaves killed in the rebellion: 207, compared with 14
whites. As a Presbyterian missionary commented, "In the rage for
making examples [the colony] lost many able hands it could ill
The Courts Martial hastily constituted of militia men on the
warrant of the commander-in-chief4' were equally ruthless. At
Montego Bay, ninety-nine slaves were tried of whom eighty-one were
executed; at the Slave Courts, instituted when martial law was lifted,
eighty-one were tried of whom thirty-nine were executed; in all 626
slaves were tried of whom 312 were executed.43 The trials at
Montego Bay, where the greatest number of slaves were tried, followed
a regular pattern: it was established that the slaves on a particular
estate were rebellious, the prisoner was proved to belong to this estate
and a witness found to claim the prisoner had been seen to commit an
offence which could be considered a rebellious act, or even to have
heard him claim to have committed one. Witnesses were, from time
to time, condemned by interested attorneys and owners as "great
rascals", "liars", "notorious runaways", and the trial records suggest
they often had private grievances to pay off, or were turning witness
Hanover Courts Martial
Hanover Civil Courts
Trelawny Courts Martial
St. James Courts Martial
St. James Civil Courts
Westmoreland Courts Martial
Westmoreland Civil Courts
St. Elizabeth Courts Martial
Portland Courts Martial
Portland Civil Courts
St. Thomas in the Vale Courts Martial
Manchester Courts Martial
Manchester Civil Courts
St. Thomas in the East Courts Martial
St. Thomas in the East Civil Courts
to keep themselves out of the dock. Prisoners were condemned for
trivial offences; one man, arrested while cooking one of the estate
hogs, was executed for this; another, accused of ham-stringing a cow
and having said he had snapped a gun five times, was hanged. The
courts made no attempt to assess the degree of guilt, or even to
distinguish between prisoners who had taken some sort of leading
r6le in estate disturbances and those merely caught up in events.
Cases were personally known to the missionaries where slaves had
acted under provocation, or were condemned apparently to settle
private grievances. The Presbyterian missionary, Blyth, felt justified
in exerting himself on behalf of a Presbyterian candidate for member-
ship who had complained bitterly to him before the rebellion of the
harsh conduct of the overseer; he was found guilty of helping to cut
a bridge and breaking into the estate stores, and executed. The
Wesleyan missionary, Murray, saw a slave who was a leader in the
Wesleyan church executed condemned, Murray believed, because
his religious convictions made him "obnoxious to those over him".4'
'4 C.O., 137/185, Courts Martial, Trelawny, ff. 131-6, trial of Lieut. John
Gunn. Bleby, op. cit., pp. 48-54, 17.
Waddell, op. cit., p. 66.
The Courts Martial at Montego Bay were ordered by Col. George McF.
Lawson of the St. James Regiment of Foot Militia on Sir Willoughby Cotton's
warrant. It is not clear exactly by what authority they sat. C.O., 137/185,
Abstract of the Courts Martial at Montego Bay, p. i.
C.O. 137/185, Parish Returns. See table, p. 122 below.
C.O., 137/185, Courts Martial, St. James, vol. i, f. 6, trial of James Guy;
vol. ii, ff. 2o-1, trial of Thomas Linton. S.M.S. April 1832, p. 149, Blyth,
o1 Jan. 1832. M.M.S. letters, Murray, Montego Bay, 28 May 1832.
The executions bore final witness to white vengeance. In Montego
The gibbet erected in the public square in the centre of the town was seldom
without occupants, during the day, for many weeks. Generally four, seldom
less than three, were hung at once. The bodies remained stiffening in the
breeze, till the court martial had provided another batch of victims...
[The executioner] would ascend a ladder . and with his knife sever the
ropes by which the poor creatures were suspended and let them fall to the
ground. Other victims would then be... suspended in their place and cut
down in their turn... the whole heap of bodies remaining just as they fell
until the workhouse negroes came in the evening with carts, and took them
away, to cast them into a pit dug for the purpose, a little distance out of town.
At Lucea, the condemned men were put into an ox-cart, their arms
pinioned, a rope round their neck and a white cap on their heads.
In this way they were carried up under a strong guard into the midst of the
burned properties, distances of twelve to thirty miles and the sentence was
carried into effect on the estates as they successively arrived at them. On
each of the melancholy occasions, the unfortunate men met their death, with
a fortitude and cool deliberation that astonished all who beheld them."
The rebellion, though unsuccessful, demonstrated some degree of
political maturity among the slaves. They had created a protest
movement, partly inspired by christianity and organized through
religious meetings, in which religion had been subordinated to
political aims. A predominantly religious protest would have
produced a millenarian movement in which the leaders regarded
themselves as prophets announcing the will of God and their followers
expected a new world to be established "by divine revelation". The Nat
Turner rebellion of 1831 in Virginia was tinged with millenarianism:
Turner saw himself as a prophet "ordained for some great purpose
in the hands of the Almighty", and raised rebellion in response to
signs from heaven, first divulging his intention to other slaves after an
eclipse of the sun in February 1831. The original date for the out-
break, the 4th of July, was chosen for political reasons, but when
Turner fell sick on that day the conspirators waited for another sign
from heaven and found it manifested on the 13th of August, 1831, in
the greenish blue colour of the sun. Turner's rebellion started as
a crusade, the prophet leading six disciples," which apparently aimed
to carry vengeance, sanctioned by heaven, against the white popula-
tion; a vengeance that Turner inaugurated by first killing his master's
family. In the Jamaican protest movement, the most important
leader, Sam Sharpe, made extensive use of the Bible, but he
seems to have regarded himself more as a political leader than as a
prophet. The movement he organized did not aim to establish
a new world, but to make specific and limited changes in Jamaican
society: the slaves were to establish their right to sell their labour for
The slaves' activities in the rebellion were geared to the achievement
of this political end. Though they indulged in widespread destruction
of property, there was no hint of a crusade against the whites in their
activity. Their attempts at strike action were intended to win
freedom with a minimum of disorder and bloodshed. Even the armed
rebels fought only those whites who attacked them; whites who
offered no opposition met with no harm. The overseer of Ginger
Hill estate, for example, in the centre of the St. Elizabeth rebellion
area, was held prisoner under threat of death, but the slaves were
content to make him sign a declaration divesting himself of authority
on the estate.'7 There were only two crimes of violence against
white people throughout the rebellion.4" The fact that the slaves
formed an overwhelming majority of the population, of course,
contributed to their confidence in dealing with the white people.
Moreover, the temptation they were exposed to was limited, in that
the majority of the whites took refuge in the towns when the fires
started. Their restraint was, however, remarked on by con-
temporaries. A Presbyterian missionary wrote:
Had the masters when they got the upper hand been as forbearing, as tender
of their slaves' lives as their slaves had been of theirs it would have been to
their lasting honour, and to the permanent advantage of the colony."
It seems fair to conclude that such conduct was not entirely circum-
stantial, but reflected the nature of the movement.
The only millenarian element in the Jamaican rebellion was the
tendency of the slaves to turn the baptist missionary, Burchell, into
Bleby, op. cit., pp. 26-7; Waddell, op. cit., p. 66, quoting letter from
Watson, Lucea, 8 May 1832.
Hobsbawm, Primitive Rebels, pp. 58-9. Aptheker, op. cit., pp. 296-8.
P.P., 1831-2, vol. xlvii, no. 285, p. 286, deposition of W. Anand.
"Bleby, op. cir., p. 43. C.O., 137/183, Mulgrave to Goderich, 14 Dec.
1832, no. 45, enclosing Return of persons killed: total ot white casualties, 14.
Waddell, op. cit., p. 66.
a Messianic figure whose arrival was expected to herald freedom.
But even so, the figure was equipped with a political document:
Burchell was expected to bring the act of parliament announcing
The rebellion contributed indirectly to the abolition of slavery.
The whites blamed the missionaries for the rebellion and in the
aftermath of the revolt chapels were destroyed, missionaries tried for
direct complicity with the rebels and preaching brought to an end.
The Baptist and Wesleyan missionaries, on whom enmity chiefly
focused, concluded that their work could only continue in the island
if slavery was abolished and delegates were sent to England to
explain the situation. The delegates were immediately caught up in
the emancipation campaign and proved invaluable propagandists.
Thomas Fowell Buxton, who led the final stages of the campaign,
attributed their presence in England to "the over-ruling hand of
Providence, which had turned the intolerance of the [slave] system to
its own destruction";"5 but credit was more directly due to the rebel
slaves. Further, the missionaries' testimony against the slave
system was vitally influenced by their experiences in the rebellion.
As public speakers and as witnesses before the Parliamentary
committees on slavery, they not only expressed their confidence in the
Negro population and supported its claim to freedom, but also
threatened that delay could only promote further rebellion.51 The
precise impact of this threat on government circles and on public
opinion has yet to be established; but certainly it convinced no less
a person than the parliamentary Under Secretary to the Colonial
Office, Lord Howick, of the need for immediate action. His plan
for emancipation, considered by the Cabinet in January 1833
provided for complete abolition of slavery from I January 1835.52
The slaves had demonstrated to some at least of those in authority
that it could prove more dangerous and expensive to maintain the old
system than to abolish it.
The 1831 revolt was the last substantial rebellion in Jamaican
history. Emancipation was celebrated with religious services and
holiday festivities; the hardships of apprenticeship provoked no
protest and the final transition to wage labour in 1838 took place
without incident. In 1865, in a period of actute depression, a riot
in one of the parishes became known as a rebellion, but the label
reflected the scale of the government's reprisals and the potential for
violence in the desperate condition of the people rather than the size
of the popular movement. Discontent in the twentieth century has,
so far, been manifested in the "back to Africa movement" started by
Marcus Garvey, or been channelled into trade unionism and party
politics. Constitutional politics have achieved political independence
for the island; it remains to be seen whether these means can also
achieve the economic and social reconstruction which are as necessary
for the mass of the people now as in 1831.
University of Alberta, Edmonton Mary Reckord
** T. F. Buxton, Memoirs, ed. Chas. Buxton (London, 1849), pp. 305-6.
1 The House of Lords select committee on the laws and usages of the West
Indian colonies in relation to the slave population and the House of Commons
select committee on the extinction of slavery throughout the British dominions,
met from May to August 1832. P.P., 1831-2, vol. cccvi, pp. 430-1, 636-8,
668; vol. xx, pp. 75, 117, Iz2.
62 D. J. Murray, The West Indies and the Development of Colonial Government,
z8o0-34 (Oxford, 1965), pp. 194-5.
by Michael Ashcroft
Photos by D. Lee
In the limestone hills and valleys of
Jamaica, there are many sink holes and
caverns, some of great size, beauty and
grandeur. A few have been known for a
long time, some have been recently ex-
plored and undoubtedly many more re-
main to be discovered.
Caves have played a part in the history
of Jamaica. The original inhabitants, the
Arawaks, used them for ceremonial and
for burial purposes. Their crude carvings
can still be seen; for example, easily
reached specimens can be found decorat-
ing the small rock shelters near the road
in Manchester connecting Milk River with
Alligator Pond. The skeletons and earth-
enware pots made by these people have
long since been removed but a few shards
of pottery and fragments of bone can still
be unearthed from the debris covering
some cave floors.
In the eighteenth and nineteenth cen-
turies, caves were visited out of curiosity
and a few could almost be described as
tourist attractions. Picnic excursions from
the old capital, Spanish Town, were made
to the Portland Caverns in Clarendon.
Other caves which were visited frequently,
judging from the numerous signatures on
the walls (cave vandals were active then,
as now) include Roaring River in West-
moreland, Runaway Bay in St. Ann and
Rota sink with the Tangle River.
Peru in St. Elizabeth. In Jackson's Bay
Great Cave there is an inscription by T.
Mostyn dated 1791. The walls of Caram-
bie Cavern in Trelawny are said to be em-
bellished by the signature of the Marquis
of Sligo, Governor in 1834. We have not
however, been able to find it among the
hundreds of other inscriptions.
Caves were also used for other, less
innocuous purposes. In the seventeenth
century Henry Morgan may have hidden
his loot in a cave and to this day hopefuls
still search between Kingston and Old
Harbour for this legendary treasure. In
the eighteenth century Mr. Hutchinson,
living at what is now called Edingburgh
Castle in St. Ann, used a nearby sink hole
as a convenient receptacle for the corpses
of his murdered victims. It is not clear
whether the bodies were ever recovered.
A descent in 1964 made by David Lee
just failed to reach the bottom of the 275
foot shaft because the available ladders
were not quite long enough. Probably any
skeletons would by now be covered by a
deep pile of rocks which visitors delight in
chucking down the gloomy and notorious
pit which goes by the name of Hutchinson's
Long, in his account of Jamaica pub-
lished in 1774, mentions that an enter-
prising owner had built a sluice in the
Riverhead Grand Cave, St. Catherine, in
order to bring water to irrigate his cane-
fields. Remnants of this unique and an-
cient masonry can still be seen, nearly a
quarter of a mile inside the cave.
Many of the caves are the homes of in-
numerable bats whose droppings form a
deposit on the flooi, known as bat guano,
an excellent fertilizer, but often unpleasant
for the cave explorer. Guano has been re-
moved from most of the more easily ac-
cessible caverns; in the past it was ex-
tracted on a commercial basis from Cou-
sin's caves in Hanover, Windsor in Tre-
lawny and Portland Caverns in Clarendon.
Recent developments in the techniques
of spelaeology, as cave science and explo-
ration is called, have led to many new dis-
coveries in Jamaica. The electron ladder,
made of aluminium rungs connected by
wires, is light and it can be rolled up so
that it is readily portable. Descents into
sink holes which, in the past would have
been difficult and dangerous undertakings,
are now comparatively easy.
A detailed, or even a brief, description
of all the known caves in Jamaica would
fill a volume and we will mention the
principal caves only. The map shows that
most of the big cave systems lie near a
line connecting Linstead with Montego
Bay. The geological reasons for this dis-
tribution can be simplified. The surface
of the middle of the island, through which
the immaginary line runs, is composed of
yellow limestone and shales, both of which
are impervious to water. This feature is
called the Central Inlier and it is flanked
to the north and south by hills of white
limestone, a rock which is more permeable.
Rivers flow off the Central Inlier towards
the coast and, on reaching the white lime-
stone, they do not flow on its surface but
sink underground on the underlying im-
pervious strata, thus forming river caves.
Further on, according to the nature of the
underlying strata, they may or may not
emerge once more. The underground
course of a river may change with the re-
sult that many river caves are now dry,
but by no means all caves are formed by
rivers. Some, like sink holes, are formed
by slow solution of the white limestone.
In Jamaica, however, all the extensive
systems, with the exception of Jackson's
Bay Great Cave, are related to rivers.
The main caving areas will be briefly
described, starting from the west.
The Tangle River area near Maroon
Town in St. James, contains many caves.
The three major ones are Peterkin, Rota
and Rota Sink (1). These caves are all
associated with one river and lie close to-
gether although it is impossible to get from
one to another without coming out into
the open air. Peterkin, the upstream cave,
is notable for its grand and imposing en-
trance at the base of a cliff. Rota is a long
tunnel traversed throughout by the river
which disappears close to the entrance and
is next seen at the bottom of Rota Sink.
From there it can be followed for about
three hundred yards downstream before
passing into an impassable boulder choke.
In 1966 the Jamaica Caving Club found a
small tunnel circumventing this obstacle
but, owing to lack of time, the exploration
was not completed. In 1967, on a revisit,
the tunnel was unfortunately blocked by
mud. Further north, at Deeside in Tre-
lawny, a river which is probably a con-
tinuation of the Tangle River, bursts out
of a rock face. A mew cave (2), with fine
stalactites and stalagmites, was discovered
nearby by the Bristol University Caving
Club in 1967. A ladder descent leads to
the river which can be followed for a short
distance both upstream and downstream.
Seven miles to the east of Deeside is
Windsor Cave (3), which was once the
course of the eastern branch of the Martha
Brae River. Windsor is a well known cave
with an impressive first section consisting
of a huge vaulted tunnel; further in it be-
comes smaller and extremely muddy but
it is possible to exit from the far end of
the cave into a small glade in the Cockpit
Several caves are found near the emer-
gence of the Coffee, or One Eye River,at
Auchtembeddy, Manchester (4). The fin-
est is Coffee River, sometimes called Prin-
cess Alice cave, first explored by the Jam-
aica Caving Club in 1958. An easy descent
through a hole leads to the stream bed
1. Tangle river caves (Peterkin, Rota
and Rota Sink)
2. Deeside and Dromilly
4. Coffee River, Oxford, Golding and
5. Mouth river caves (Printed Circuit,
Mouth Maze, Harties and Carambie)
6. Quashies River, Bristol and Fonta- 13. Jackson's Bay Great Cave and Port-
belle. land Caverns
7. Cave river caves (Noisy Water, the
9. Worthy Park Sinks
11. St. Clair
14. Runaway Bay
17. Hutchinson's Hole
18. Roaring River
12. Rock Spring caverns
20. Douglas Castle caves
Curious Stalactites and Stalagmites in Jackson's Bay Cave.
,m. r^, jlA R -
Shamrock Passage, Jackson's Bay Cave.
which is followed upstream for about two
thirds of a mile. Several tortuous boulder
chokes, in which it is easy to lose one's
way, have to be squirmed through. Parts
of the narrow passages are floored with
fantastically eroded and extremely sharp
rocks, known as echinoliths, whichaare ap-
parently unique to Jamaica. Near the end
of the cave some magnificent formations,
among the finest in the island, are found
in Oxbow Loop. Nearby is Oxford Cave,
which probably represents an old bed of
the Coffee River, it is a well known, dry
and easy cave which is not uninteresting
and which can be easily reached from the
road where there is a signpost. Goldings
and Marley caves are more difficult; the
former has many muddy sections separated
by deep pools.
Caves near the sink of the Mouth River
(5), Trelawny, include a number of com-
plex and lengthy systems which are not of
great beauty, such as Mouth Maze, Printed
Circuit and Harties. Like those connected
with Quashies river, they were first ex-
plored and surveyed in 1966 by the Karst
Hydrology Expedition, whose members
have contributed so much to Jamaica
The underground course of Quashies
River (6), near Ulster Spring in Trelawny,
is associated with two magnificent caves.
The first, Quashies River Sink, contains
two tremendous waterfalls, 70 and 100
feet high. For sheer grandeur this cave
ranks with the finest in Europe but it is
not for the inexperienced or the faint-
hearted. The descent into the darkness on
a ladder made slippery with spray and
swinging perilously close to the cataract is
unnerving, made worse by the deafening
roar of the water magnified in the close
confines of the cavern. Quashies River is
next seen in Bristol cave where the biggest
known chamber, Cairn Hall, in Jamaica is
found, 200 feet wide by 300 feet long and
so lofty that the beam of a torch is lost in
the faint mist before it reaches the ceiling
Cave River (7), is the largest of the
rivers which run off the Central Inlier. It
sinks near Aenon Town, St. Ann and its
underground course can be reached at
several points in the succeeding 1%h miles.
The easiest entrance is at Noisy Water;
from here one can either go upstream in a
wide tunnel for about a quarter of a mile
or follow it downstream through a narrow
rift passage for about the same distance
until it sinks in a series of culverts. The
river is located at the bottom of a pothole
named the Volcano, because of the clouds
of mist and roaring sounds which are
emitted from the 520 foot deep shaft, the
deepest in Jamaica. The descent, however,
is not "free" and ladders of 520 feet in
length are not required. The deepest free
drop known in Jamaica, and possibly in
the Western Hemisphere, is the Asuno
Hole, one mile north of the Volcano in
the Dry Harbour Mountains. Only one
person, Mike Livesey, has ever descended
its 380 feet.
A large number of caves are associated
with the Rio Cobre in Lluidas Vale and
near Linstead. Swansea (8), in Lluidas
Vale, is a long and interesting dry cave,
suitable for beginners. The Rio Cobre
sinks at Worthy Park, where two caves,
Worthy Park 2 and 3, are well worth a
visit (9) The former is a long tunnel,
formerly used by the river but now dry,
which is reached by a ladder descent. The
latter is the course of the river itself which
is followed down cascades and small water-
falls for about 300 yards until it dis-
appears in a sump.
Three miles to the east of the Worthy
Park Sink is the Riverhead Grand Cave (10)
from which, during wet weather only, the
Black River emerges. It is believed that
the Rio Cobre flows underground from
Worthy Park and, about a quarter of a
mile from the entrance of Riverhead cave,
its usual underground channel, which
eventually emerges near Bog Walk, is con-
stricted. During the rains this narrow
channel is unable to cope with the in-
creased volume of water which therefore
overflows down the Riverhead cave,emerg-
ing into open air as the Black River. The
masonry built in the eighteenth century
is believed to be an attempt to force the
Rio Cobre to flow down the Riverhead
cave when the weather is dry. Riverhead
is usually blocked at its far end but, during
Flowstone (organ pipes) in Jackson s Bay cave.
the 1965 drought, members of the Jamaica
Caving Club were able to swim across the
final pool and through a low archway into
a part of the cave which had never been
penetrated before. One large tunnel which
was clearly the main Rio Cobre channel
was followed but the party was forced to
retire because of foul air. A secondary
tunnel was followed for half a mile but
the anxiety that a slight rise in water level
might cust us off for ever in those dark
catacombs shortened the exploration be-
fore many side-passages and chambers had
been properly inspected. On the next
visit the water in the pool had risen and
the archway was submerged, thus prevent-
ing access to this huge but incompletely
St. Clair Cave (11) is a simple tunnel
two miles in length and is the longest, but
not the most extensive, cave in Jamaica;
it has openings at both ends. St. Clair is
situated a few miles east of Riverhead and
was probably once the course of the Black
River. An expedition to this cave is not
difficult but a deep pool must be swum
across and one of the entrances leads to a
steep muddy slope down which many a
caver has involuntarily slid.
One of the most interesting caves is
Rock Spring Caverns (12) in St. Mary
which was first explored by the Leeds
University Caving Club in 1963. The
caver must duck under water to swim into
the first cavern from which a labyrinth of
passages, some of which contain running
water, can be followed. Three deep sink
holes connect parts of the system with the
open air. Other numerous sink holes in
the area have not yet been explored.
The caves described so far are mostly
river caves and many are of considerable
length. Caverns which have not been
formed by rivers are usually less extensive
but may make up by their beauty for their
smallness of size. Dromilly (2) in Trelawny
and three caves, Chesterfield (16), Light-
hole (15) and Runaway Bay (14), in the
parish of St. Ann, are well worth a visit,
although one must pay to enter the latter.
Some attractive caves are situated near
Douglas Castle, St. Ann.
The finest of the dry caves, and per-
haps the finest of all caves in Jamaica, is
Jackson's Bay Cave (13). Not far from
the sea shore five entrances lead to a
labyrinth of chambers and connecting pas-
sages, some with shallow pools of water.
Arawak carvings can be seen in one en-
trance. A narrow crawl of thirty yards
leads from Water Chamber to Shamrock
Passage, which possesses some of the most
beautiful cave formations in the island.
Gleaming stalactites hang from the roof
and elegant stalagmites stretch towards
them from the floor, occasionally uniting
to form graceful columns of every con-
ceivable shape. On either side the walls
are lined with dazzling flowstone, pure
white or sometimes tinted with pink, des-
cending in smooth undulations or in rip-
ples, like frozen waterfalls. Glittering
rimstone pools and scintillating cave pearls
decorate the floor which, in parts, is
covered with water of the utmost clarity
through which a lacework of stone can be
seen. Shamrock Passage is nearly half a
mile long and leads into a series of im-
mense caverns, including the Cl6osseum,
the Graveyard, the Amphitheatre, St. Pauls
and Archbishop's Palace, where three more
openings lead to the outside.
Jackson's Bay is on Crown Lands and
Chesterfield cave is ownea by the Jamaica
National Trust Commission; it is hoped
that they will have more visitors. It should,
however, never be forgotten that their
brilliant formations can easily be soiled or
damaged so that their splendour, which
has taken thousands of years to develop,
may be lost for ever. The caves of Jamaica
are one of its unique natural beauties and,
although not visited by many at the pre-
sent time, every effort must be made to
preserve their magnificence.
The Hand. A life-like Stalagmite in the
Great Cave at Jackson's Bay.
n mL.- mim ,rLe,.,mmi im .
The Role of Bauxite
in the Growth
by Basil McFarlane
Approaching the end of the sixties, we may well wonder if
we are likely to see a repetition of the spectacular growth-rate
achieved by the economy during 1950-59. In the light of the
hard realities of the Independence decade, the sheltered fifties
seem a little remote and unlikely.
It is true that in the fifties, too, no less than in the sixties,
we endured a devaluation of our currency: as a noted econo-
mist reminds us
it was a period of expansion and diversification of the whole
economy. The GDP rose from 95 million in 1952 to 231
million in 1960. Part of this rise was due to the fall in. the
value of money, but calculations of GDP at constant prices
showed that there was a substantial increase in real income.
At the beginning of the sixties, it was shown that Jamaica's
exports had risen from 15.2 million in 1950 to 55.7 million
in 1960, an increase of nearly 300 per cent. In the same period,
sugar production had increased by 50 per cent, and the export
of bananas by 80 per cent.
But no one doubted the contribution to this sensational
graph of two products of the Jamaican earth which, a short
while before, many of us had never even heard of: bauxite and
alumina. In the year 1960, the export of bauxite and alumina
comprised nearly half of the total value of exports (that is to
say, nearly half of 55.7 million).
The Economic Survey, Jamaica, 1968, just published, gives
us the latest figures for the intervening period. Clearly, we
oughtn't to expect anything like another 300 per cent rise in re-
spect of the figure for total exports; but at 91.4 million (and
with two years to go) this represents a respectable 62 per cent
increase over 1960. Of this the bauxite-alumina export share
is 44.4 million. Just for the record, the sugar export figure
for 1968 (19.2 million) is 30 per cent over the 14.8 million
of 1960, and bananas (7 million exports in 1968) show a 46
per cent increase.
Statistics aside, the sixties in Jamaica can hardly be regarded
as anything but an era of progress for the bauxite-alumina in-
dustry. In 1960, there were two companies exporting bauxite
ore from Jamaica Reynolds Jamaica Mines and Kaiser Bau-
xite Company. Alcan Jamaica Limited, the lone exporter of
alumina, in 1960 operated two plants: the eight-year-old Kirk-
vine Works near Mandeville and the just-completed Ewarton
At mid-1969, six separate bauxite concerns have holdings in
Jamaica. Three of them, Anaconda, Kaiser and Reynolds, have
formed the consortium, Alumina Partners of Jamaica, to oper-
ate Jamaica's third and largest alumina plant. This, at Nain, St.
Elizabeth, went into production last month.
A further two alumina plants, one at Maggotty, St. Eliza-
beth, and the other at Vere, Clarendon, are being constructed
by Revere Copper and Brass Company and Aluminium Com-
pany of America respectively.
These two are the comparative infants of the industry, local-
ly speaking; although Aluminium Company of America (Alcoa)
is reputedly the largest aluminium company in the world, with
plant dotted elsewhere throughout the Caribbean and even a
Puerto Rican smelter in project, according to reports.
Revere Copper and Brass is, of course, a newcomer in
every respect, having been forced out of copper by the current
world crisis in that metal. Their plant site at Maggotty, bare of
the sort of industrial architecture that has transfigured the
landscape at Nain and Kirkvine and Port Rhoades, lies open to
the white eye of the lowland St. Elizabeth sun.
The absence of trees, which is to say the near-hopelessness
of escaping the implacable sun, and continual reminders of the
water shortage (there is even a monument to a gentleman who
constructed a tank or dug a well or laid a pipeline or anyway
tried to do something about the fate of being without water),
are two lasting impressions of the landscape around Maggotty.
What is worse, on the day my driver and I visited the con-
struction site, air-conditioning in the prefab office buildings
was evidenced only by the breathless machines that did their
best to look inconspicuous in windowless rooms. We undid
our shirts and sat in the open doorways praying for a wind.
The engineers tried to enlighten us about their difficulties.
Although there was scarcely any water to drink, the presence
of it at some distance below the scrubby, sunbaked hillside
where we stood was apparently one of the things that gave con-
struction men sleepless nights. At any rate, it had been decided
that certain features of the Maggotty earthfloor made it un-
likely to support comfortably those towering precipitator tanks
we had seen at Nain. The answer to this, we were told, and
something that lengthened incalculably the construction phase
of the operation, was first to lay down a kind of immense
floating platform and on this to raise the foundations of the
Overhead line, Reynolds (Jamaica) Mines, Ocho Rios
Photo Jamaica Tourist Board.
"The impact of the bauxite and alumina operations on the
Jamaican economy, says Dr. H.D. Huggins, from whose book,
Aluminium in Changing Communities, we quoted earlier, "has
been from their inception a subject of speculation, varying
from the pessimistic pronouncements of those who feared that
mining would ruin the agricultural potential and the beauty of
large tracts of Jamaica without adequate economic gain, to the
rosy pictures, relating particularly to the balance of trade,
painted by others. "
Controversy there has been, certainly and Dr. Huggins
has contributed his share as to whether, under existing
arrangements, Jamaica was getting the best return for the
mineral known, as long ago as 1869, to lie locked in her soils.
In his book, Dr. Huggins deals pretty thoroughly with the
terms under which these foreign-based companies first secured
rights to mine Jamaican land; with the Bauxite and Alumina
Industries Encouragement Law of 1950, the relevant enabling
law; with the wry observation of the famed Hicks Report,
published about this time: ".... it looks as if a better bargain
could have been made by the Jamaican Government." Finally,
he chronicles and summarises the measures the Government
took in 1957 (and its concern to arrive at an understanding with
the three companies that then were here without having to re-
sort to bringing in an amendment to the enabling law) to
secure an agreement more equitable to Jamaica.
Most Jamaicans began to think about bauxite some time
not long after 1950; by which time the two companies Rey-
nolds Jamaica Mines and Alcan Jamaica Limited who both
claim the honour of having pioneered Jamaica bauxite, had set
up shop here. Reynolds made their first shipment of bauxite
to the North American mainland in 1952, the year that Alcan
produced the first alumina out of Kirkvine Works.
Of this event, Dr. Huggins says:
"The erection of an alumina plant in Jamaica was indeed a
notable event, because it was the first time in the history of
the industry that the decision had been taken to establish an
alumina plant at so great a distance overseas from the reduction
Published in 1965, there are long sections of Dr.
Huggins' study which are devoted to the question of the siting
of alumina plants, and the desirability or possibility of siting
them in the territories where the bauxite is mined. One won-
ders to what extent the author would be willing to say such
questions were resolved, in respect of Jamaica if nowhere else,
by the building of Alpart's giant Nain complex and with the
Vere and Maggotty alumina plants in the offing.
Alcan Jamaica Limited is the wholly-owned subsidiary of
of Alcan Aluminium Limited which is the bellwether of alum-
inium manufacture in Canada. The local company was first in-
corporated under the name of Jamaica Bauxites Limited, then
became Alumina Jamaica Limited, before assuming its present
We may be certain of one thing, which is that Alcan, in in-
itiating alumina manufacture in Jamaica, was moved by none
of those idealist considerations such as are likely to tease the
the minds of relatively dis-interested persons like Dr. Huggins
(who, incidentally, scouts the area of possible motivations with
commendable rigour in one of the more fascinating passages of
his book). The justification customarily offered (and accepted)
is that the smelters supplied by the Jamaican plants at Kirk-
vine and Ewarton were situated on the Canadian west coast,
several thousand miles away by sea, and even Arvida on the
Atlantic coast meant a considerable journey to the north of
On the other hand, the American companies like Kaiser and
Reynolds, with smelters (and, presumably, alumina plants as
well) situated in places like Texas and Louisiana and Arkansas -
or never, at any rate, further north than Virginia felt, or
need feel, no obligation to follow in Alcan's lead.
Concerning the idea, which has also been discussed publicly,
of building an aluminium smelter on, say, Jamaica, Dr. Huggins
seems ready enough to concede an immediate impracticability
but there is no mistaking the tone of his comment:
"While ores of varying composition are found in different
parts of the world, it is in the warmer regions that most of the
really massive deposits have been discovered. Since in general
the warmer countries of the world have thus far lagged behind
in technological expertise, it has meant that the main producing
countries of bauxite have not been the main manufacturers and
consumers of aluminium . in 1960, the Commonwealth
Caribbean's production of bauxite was four times that of
North America, nearly twice that of Europe (excluding the
Soviet allied bloc), over a third of the production of the
Western world and about 30 per cent of the world total.
Jamaica is the highest producer not only in the Caribbean but
in the world; and the output of the U.S.S.R., the world's next
highest producer, was in 1960 only 60 per cent that of
Bauxite, then, was known to be in Jamaica in 1869, forty-
eight years after it had been discovered in France and eight
years after it had been definitively named (for Les Baux, place
of its discovery); eveh then there was no aluminium industry
and another fourteen years or so would pass before the varied
processes would coalesce and make possible the commercial ex-
ploitation of what the scientists had established in more or less
an abstract way.
The cold facts of history suggest, too, that as much as the
genius of geologists and chemists it was the thrust given to in-
dustry during two World Wars that led to a recognition of the
importance of aluminium as a metal, and eventually brought
Jamaica somewhat belatedly into the industrial age.
When, some time in the late 1880s, the industry finally got
started (the seeming delay was caused simply by the fact of no
one being able to find a method for breaking down alumina
into -aluminium and oxygen) France was for some years the
leading producer, with Ireland and Italy in the field only in a
Port Kaiser. Photo Tyndale-Biscoe
Alcan Plant at Kirkvine, Manchester. Photo Alcan.
Excavating Bauxite, Alcan, Manchester. Photo Tourist Board.
Aerial Photo of entire Plant Site looking from West to East.
Photo Rivere Copper & Brass Co.
The first World War brought radical changes, however; and
France soon found herself lagging behind nations like Italy and
Austria. Furthermore, the war became the signal for the
United States to take an interest in aluminium.
Also, about 1917, British Guiana (as she was then) became
the first producer in the Western Hemisphere outside of the
continental United States: a position she maintained until the
end of the war and after.
With the end of the war, Europe once again began to assume
control of the world markets she had seemed about to lose to
the United States; and, in Europe, France once again became
This state of affairs continued until the outbreak of the
second World War, when, more or less, what had been the
pattern of things during the first conflict re-asserted itself.
Soon after the war ended, Surinam (Dutch Guiana) succeeded
to the position of leading world producer, a position she main-
tained until superseded by Jamaica.
Bauxite, the ore of aluminium, is of course the metal itself
in an unrefined state. One of the primitive employment of it
that is not likely to be displaced by any elaboration of tech-
nology is in the potter's craft. And, before the chemical and
other processes that resulted in the separation of the light,
white metal were developed, men used to talk about 'the metal
of clay' when they wished to describe the specific function of
Aluminium, then, as found in nature, is the commonest of
metals; and all the ore bodies of it are not, strictly speaking,
bauxite. Bauxite, or aluminium oxide, is really the ore in a
special, limited range of relationships (or combinations) with
other properties, such as iron, silicon or titanium; and there are
varying grades of bauxite, usually determined by the extent to
which silicon is present.
Alumina, the stage intermediate to bauxite and aluminium,
is produced from bauxite by a chemical reduction process
called the Bayer process (see illustration) after the man who in-
vented it. The bauxite is ground then digested in a hot, caustic
solution; after filtration or settling (or both) the sodium alum-
inate solution and a 'red mud' are separated, and the mud may
be further washed or filtered to raise the recovery: the clear
solution is cooled and pumped and seeded with hydrated
alumina to form a precipitate, the precipitate being washed
and calcined to produce aluminium oxide, or alumina.
Alumina is the raw material of aluminium, which is pro-
duced from it by the application of intense heat. Every pound
of aluminium requires nearly 10 kilowatt-hours of electricity
Alpart Plant at Nain in construction .Photo Tyndale-Biscoe.
FLOW SHEET, BAYER PROCESS
BAYER PROCESS OF ALUMINA PRODUCTION
Re-drawn A. Wiles after Reynolds U.S. Plant. Process in Jamaica
identical. Courtesy Reynolds (Jamaica) Mines Ltd.
to reduce it from alumina. Actual reduction takes place in an
electrolytic cell with a carbon lining which serves as a cathode.
Suspended from above into the cell is the carbon anode, made
from petroleum, coke and pitch. Cryolite is first melted in this
cell, at, about 1800 degrees Fahrenheit, by an electric current.
Alumina is then dissolved in the molten cryolite, and the
action of the electric current breaks down the alumina into
oxygen and metallic aluminium.
The molten metal accumulates at the bottom of the cell,
where it is drawn off at intervals into large crucibles by means
of a siphon. Then the metal is poured into moulds, to become
Aluminium metal is light in weight (specific gravity 2.7), but
it can be alloyed to develop higher tensile strength than struc-
tural steel. It is rust-proof, corrosion-resistant, and has high
thermal and electrical conductivity. It is non-toxic, non-
sparking and non-magnetic, and will reflect heat and light. It
has, without further treatment, an attractive appearance and is
The Box That Laughed
Illustrations by Alexander Cooper
I could not help but remark how
decently it was placed just behind and
below the brow of the hill so that it
could not be seen from Kingston Harbour.
A small complex of buildings, it was
austere in its functional simplicity. Even
the Chapel seemed to partake of this
austerity and the odour of sanctity was
antiseptic. I looked over its lines with a
professional eye an eye of envy for
the lines spoke. One window leaned to
get a glimpse of the sea, the other was
content with a half-closed view of a re-
ceding hill. Without bother, or blandish-
ment, what had appeared to be antiseptic,
rearranged itself into a kind of beauty.
The architect who had designed it, had
thought that this last halting place before
the final privacy should have overtones of
an art at once personal and immemorial;
that said neither "Hail" nor "Farewell",
but instead "Behold" and "Rejoice" and
"Yes," Paul said, sensing my reaction,
"my grandfather thought of that. This
death business, he said, should be clean
and private more private than birth. A
cement factory may pour out dust from its
chimneys the more dust the more divi-
dends but the dust from a crematorium
should return in its urn to the earth from
whence it came. Now and again he would
quote that section from "Ecclesiastes",
the one that begins 'Remember now Thy
Creator' and ends 'thus shall thy dust
return to the Earth from whence it came
and the Spirit to God who gave it'. But I
want you to meet one of his men who
worked with him for over thirty years. He
lives in a cottage over there, just behind
that clump of thick bush. He thinks that
his job is to watch the night watchmen -
and so he does, going to bed in the after-
noons but really he is a pensioner since
he had a stroke. My grandfather once told
me a tale about the old man and himself,
about the time they heard the box
laugh . ." "The box laugh? ", I said,
not following his remark.
"Yes", Paul said, "but there he is
now!" He broke off and called, "Swetty,
Swetty turned and hobbled towards us,
his crutch agitated, his face breaking into
a smile. We went to meet him.
"Oh, Mr. Paul, it is you sir? And how
you carry your head! Just like the Cap-
tain, to one side. You know sir, we older
ones always used to say that you ..."
But Paul was introducing us,
"Dr. Ricardo Munoz,meet Mr. Swetten-
ham Butt. Ricardo, Swetty is an old
friend of mine. He taught me to drive a
motor-hearse while I was still in short
trousers, and nobody in the family ever
found out about it, eh Swetty?Dr. Munoz
is an architect, visiting Jamaica, and he
came to see the Crematorium. I told him
that you were in the business from the
beginning, and that you knew grandfather
for years and years ..."
"If I knew him sir!" Swetty turned to
me, "Doctor, begging little Mr. Paul's par-
don", Paul weighed over one hundred
and ninety pounds "I was closer to Cap-
tain Galan than any man else, but nobody
who knew Captain Galan well can ever for-
get him. Sir, he was the sort of man that
after we laid him to rest, we old ones who
had worked with him, found that it was
more than love that we owed him. Sir,
we owed him growth; we grew inside our-
selves the way a plant grows and comes to
flower. Captain Galan had green fingers
for a man's soul, Sir. He could under-
stand anything a man feel without explan-
ation. That's what his widow, the old
lady, used to say and who should know
him better than she! Your grandmother,
she was somebody else again,eh Mr. Paul? "
Paul smiled, and satisfied, Swetty
turned to me again, hunched on his crutch,
eager to explain what lay behind the
buildings behind the brow of the hill, the
dream and the reality that had cemented
wood and stone into the final house of
"You know sir, when her time came
and she knew she was going, she told them
to bring out from the old trunk they
had to break the lock an old jacket, a
soldier's jacket that Captain Galan wore
in prison during the Kaiser's War. And
she directed them that after they close her
eyes, dress her and put her in the box,
they were to be sure to put her husband's
prison jacket over her shoulders before
they put her in the incinerator and burn
her up to ashes." We were silent under the
hot sun that shimmered on the sea, and
outlined the hills with a yellow blur.
"You know Mr. Paul, the last time I
went to see her, you were away that time,
she told me that dying was nothing new to
her. The first time she died was when he
marched off to the ship with his men be-
hind him. The second time was when she
met him when they discharged him from
serving his term in the military prison.
'His hands all cut up, his hands all broken
and mutilated by that blizzard', she said,
'and his feet .' I took up my hat and
took my leave, and left. I didn't want to
remember, to stir up her grief."
After a while, Paul and he began to
chat of other things, of the trivia of the
funeral business, the difficulty of getting
responsible workmen nowadays. Swetty
swore that he couldn't understand what
the world was coming to, andPaul, out of
politeness agreed. All at once, apropos of
"The paper, Mr. Paul, I found the
"The paper? Paul was obviously
"The paper 1 tell you about when we
were talking about the two times that the
box laugh, one time with Mr. Craddock
and the other time with Granny P. The
paper that your Grandfather's friend, Mr.
Beecher give to explain the reason why the
box laughed only then and not again. He
write it down for me that time. You re-
member I told you how he explain that
Granny P. and Mr. Craddock was 'exercis-
ing the spirits'? But let me get the paper
for you. You will understand what he
He hobbled away, carefully this time,
and returned shortly with a page from a
large notebook, wrapped in a piece of
brown paper. We said goodbye to Swetty
and returned to my hotel. Later that
evening I asked Paul about the blizzard,
the military prison and his grandfather's
part in it all.
We sat out on the balcony of the old-
fashioned hotel. The moon was coming
up and in the remaining areas of darkness,
fireflies dipped and fell. Over the ranges
of the hills the crematorium drowsed like
an ancient monument, shrouded in the
half-dark of time.
"Yes," Paul said "He did serve a
prison sentence. He was lucky not to be
shot! Not one of us ever dared to ask him
what had happened.
"But one day his Sergeant-Major went
to see the Captain's wife my grand-
mother. We heard that she went to the
garden and rolled the Sergeant-Major's
wheel chair under the shade of a tree and
sat by him. She kept patting the Sergeant-
Major's hand as he told her the story. At
one time he broke down and cried like a
baby. But she was still and cold. Only
patting his hand. The Sergeant was not
Sergeant then of course he was an ex-
serviceman with both legs amputated. He
lived in a wheel chair. But he had not lost
his legs through enemy action. He was a
victim of war but he wore no decorations."
The mahogany chair creaked as Paul
rocked to and fro and told me the story
that the Sergeant-Major -ex had told
Some seven months before, Captain
Galan and his Sergeant-Major had made
their Company the finest unit in the finest
force that ever left Jamaica to fight in a
foreign war. They were the first group of
Volunteers who meant to inform the
Germans in Flanders that things were not
ever going to be easy again for them for
Jamaica had arrived.
So they sailed away.
A couple months later a rumour spread
about Kingston it concerned a ship
which would arrive but the passengers
would not land-in Kingston. They would
be transferred to barges and landed at
Port Royal. The authorities were taking
no chance on a possible riot. For the
passengers they landed were those who
had lost legs and hands but not in
battle. They were some of the volunteers
who had sailed away so gaily some few
weeks before. The ship, after leaving
Kingston was to make its first land fall at
Halifax, Nova Scotia. It did. In the midst
of a Canadian blizzard. The Volunteers
from Jamaica were outfitted with tropical
uniforms and there were no other
clothes on the ship. The "Brass-hats" had
forgotten that it was winter in Canada; it
was just too bad about the blizzard.
Captain Galan lost half a foot and
fingers from each hand from frost-bite.
But his trouble with the authorities began
when he demanded help for his men who
were being frozen to death. He even de-
manded that they should turn the ship
round and run south out of the blizzard.
His demands were considered dispropor-
tionate. There was a war on. Everyone
had to do their bit. He insisted. His in-
sistance was considered tactless. There was
talk on the ship that he attempted to con-
vince a Brigadier, by grasping his (the
Brigadier's) ear by finger and thumb in an
endeavour to teach him which direction
was south. That, of course, was a serious
crime in military circles in time of peace -
in war it could mean a sentence of death.
He was however, merely stripped of his
rank and sentenced to a term in a military
prison. When he had served his term he
returned to Jamaica and rejoined the
family hardware business. He had no
thought then of becoming an undertaker.
In those days in Jamaica, the profession
did not exist. When a death occurred in a
family, one member went to arrange mat-
ters with a coffin-maker, another saw to
the grave space another took the medical
certificate of death to the Registrar, an-
other saw to the hiring of a hearse and so
The Sergeant-Major however, before he
was a Volunteer, was a coffin maker. Re-
turning from the war, minus his legs, he
unburdened his story to my grandmother,
then set up his shop again, directing his
apprentices from a wheel chair.
It was his old friend Beecher who got
Captain Galan interested in undertaking.
Beecher and he had passed through school
together, and had been very close until
Craddock had left to read law at Oxford.
The master who had most impressed him-
self on their young boys' imagination was
a Mr. Craddock. They knew him simply
as Mr. Craddock. He seemed to have no
other initial, no close friends or family
who would call him by a revealing first
name. And, wonder of wonders, he es-
caped the usual tag and derogatory nick-
name applied to other masters. The most
memorable thing about him was his laugh,
or rather a cross between a laugh and a
chuckle. Captain Galan and Beecher, like
scores of other boys, remembered that
whilst other masters got exasperated or
berated them for their stupidity, Mr.
Craddock's chuckle, far from wounding,
encouraged them to try again, reminding
them that everyone was stupid at times -
and this at times when the boys were being
unreasonably stupid. Somehow, Mr. Crad-
dock's half-laugh was a statement that
stupidity was an inalienable, possibly even
a precious part of mankind.
When age caught up with him, he re-
tired with his laugh intact, to pass away
the days in the boarding house where he
had lived, it seems forever. He died there.
When Beecher heard of his death, he went
to see Captain Galan, and both of them
went to the landlady and asked her for the
honour and privilege of conducting the
funeral of their old teacher, Mr. Craddock.
The landlady was only too pleased. As far
as she knew, Mr. Craddock had no rela-
tives in Jamaica. She knew that he was
English but was not quite certain whether
he came from Hertford or Hereford. All
that she asked was that the whole business
should be conducted as discreetly as pos-
sible. Boarding house guests did not like
to be reminded of Death. It brought
home forcibly their own transient con-
This was where Swettingham Butt
came into the picture. He worked as
gardener and coachman for the Beecher
family, and had often been detailed by
Beecher to take Mr. Craddock for a drive
along the seafront. So he too knew the
marvellous laugh that was half-a-chuckle
that Mr. Craddock laughed. This time he
was detailed by Mr. Beecher to help Cap-
tain Galan smuggle Mr. Craddock's corpse
out of the house and take it to the Ser-
geant-Major's coffin-maker's shop.
This was the first time that the box
laughed. Swetty heard it, just as they had
navigated the stairs and were pr sing
through the gate.
"There was no one about just the
three of us," as Swetty later told it,"him
in a rough box knocked up from a packing
case, me at one end, and Captain Galan
carrying the front. Captain Galan heard it
too. He stopped, turned, looked around.
Not a soul in sight or sound. The Captain
turn pale under the brown. He caught my
eye looking at him. He shook his head,
frowned, squared his shoulders, grasped
the stretcher firmly, and marched as if he
were leading his men again, and this time
to Heaven's Gate instead! I had to run to
keep up with him. For the way he was
marching Heaven's Gate itself would have
had to swing open when we rang that
They went to the Sergeant-Major's
coffin-maker's shop again. Captain Galan
saw to it that Mr. Craddock had all the
ceremonial pomp that a General could
have wished for. The funeral went off
with style. Swetty drove the hearse, and
everything went to time. Captain Galan
saw to it that almost every living ex-
student of Mr. Craddock came to the
funeral, coach after coach in line. It was
the finest funeral in Kingston for a long
time. It was the talk of Jamaica. Yet it
was the first time that Captain Galan had
ever acted as an undertaker. Swetty, too,
as coachman and hearse driver came in for
his share of the glory. But one thing
puzzled him. Captain Galan never once
mentioned the fact that they had heard
Mr. Craddock laugh, nor that just after
the laugh, the weight of the corpse had
dwindled from that of a man's to that of a
Just about this time Captain Galan had
"Swetty helped Captain Galan smuggle the corpse discreetly out of the house.
been having trouble with his left foot -
with the half that remained of it. With all
the exertion of his first funeral, it got
worse. He went off to the United States
for treatment. The healing process took
months. Whilst he was there, to keep him-
self occupied, he learnt the craft of the
undertaker. For, there, undertaking was
not only a profession, but one of the entre-
peneurial arts. To stage-manage death had
the kind of perfection that was denied a
stage-manager in the hurly-burly and rush
of life. When he returned to Kingston he
and the Sergeant coffin-maker went into
business, with Swetty Butt as coachman
and general factotum.
Captain Galan worked at undertaking
as if it were a hobby to distract him from
the boredom of life. 'The way some
people play Bridge,' he once said. He had
a great admiration for his clients. As he
used to say,
"No one can propound learned idiocies
to the dead nor discipline them with the
promise of the good life they are be-
His hobby however met a need. It
may have been a hobby but not a single
detail escaped his notice. The hobby be-
came a business with an organization and
life of its own.
Some of the 'learned idiocies' on which
he vented his scorn were the pronucia-
mentos of bankers and economists. The
inflation of the currency in Germany in
the twenties seemed to show that he had
a point. Why should a fresh egg last week
cost one million marks while this week a
similar egg cost two million marks? So
rather than put his money in the hands of
a banker, he used the dividends from his
family business and the steady profits
from his death trade, into land. He
bought land and land not a dozen miles
By the late forties, he was no longer in
a buyer's market the price of land was so
high. But he did not sell then. By the
fifties he would sell sometimes. To get
money to pay the taxes he would rent
land to those peasants who kept goats,
charging them just enough to take care of
the taxes. And no more. Then, when
Bauxite was discovered in Jamaica, he be-
gan to send away bits and pieces of soil
and rock for chemical analysis. A few
months later he found that he owned a
hill of gypsum near the shore line of
Kingston Harbour. He came to a brisk
arrangement with an International Gypsum
Company. He told them that they could
mine gypsum from his hill at the rate of
so many thousand tons per year, no more
and no less, for a stated number of years.
But they would have to build a good all-
weather road to the mining site, a road
that passed near to the hill. And, behind
the brow of his gypsum hill, they were to
build a crematorium with a Chapel attach-
ed. They were to build the Chapel to a
specific design. He knew whom he wanted
to design the Chapel a young architect,
recently returned to Jamaica, and who
had built a mission chapel without stained
glass, gothic proddings, nor the archaic
discipline of bells. A young man who
understood the poetry of line that merged
into the infinite; rather than straining to
dominate space with a spire. He com-
missioned the young architect to design
the Chapel for his crematorium.
The fee that the International Gypsum
Company would have to pay for mining
was so ridiculously low, that, thanking
Mammon for eccentric cranks, they quick-
ly closed the deal. The architect of their
firm built a modern crematorium. Above
the crematorium just behind the brow of
the gypsum hill, the young architect,
measured, paced and studied the land, and
the way it sloped down to the sea, and
meditated and drew his plans. The road
soon reached the hill. By the time the
first ton of gypsum was mined the crema-
torium was ready, and the architect had
begun to translate lines on paper into a
new arrangement of reality. Captain Galan
talked with him long into the night, and
looked across at the skeleton scaffolding
that even then seemed to rob Death of its
sickle and power.
About this time, his foot, the remnant
of his left foot began to bother him again.
He had another operation on it. The
operation was successful but one night
a clot of blood shifted. They found him
dead, as if he had died in his sleep. His
wife, Paul's grandmother, followed him
almost a year after. Both were cremated
in the crematorium,behind the gypsum hill.
The Chapel was finished by the time of
Paul's grandmother's death. They held a
memorial service for Captain Galan at the
funeral service of his wife. Swetty Butt
attended. Paul remembered him at both
in decent black, but morose and glum. He
explained to Paul at the gate of the Chapel
after the service:
"What I don't like with this incineration
business is that everything burn up inside
it flesh and blood and bone and spirit.
And the box with it, and the laugh that a
But Swetty was to hear, at another
time, another laugh. In the remote village
of his boyhood, Washfoot Pass in the
mountains of Portland. Every now and
then, Swetty, on his odd week off from the
funeral round, would return to the Pass.
One of the friends he always looked up
was Granny P.
She, Granny P. had had her children,
who in time had drifted away, and sent
back their children to be cared for. But
any child could, as it were, stray into her
yard, and if it needed care, remain to be
looked after. Sometimes there would be
six, seven children, only three of whom
would be related to her; the others had by
now strayed into her heart. But this heart
did not give any child the right to be im-
pudent or disobedient. When Granny P.
said 'You see my dying trial' and then
laughed in a certain way, no child would
continue defiance; no child would again
Swetty superintended Granny P.'s funeral.
except Swetty heard it.
step out of line. To Swetty Butt as to all
the others Granny P. was a monument.
When he returned on one of hisvisits, he
found that Granny P. had died the day be-
fore. As he was in the trade he took over
the funeral. The village did her proud, but
they did not hold with cremating. The
Earth waited to receive its dead as flesh,
and not as ashes. The funeral was a suc-
cess. The village emptied itself into the
small tabernacle. As they left after the
service, Swetty Butt and the village elders
carrying the coffin, he heard that laugh
again. It was Granny P.'s laugh. No one
else appeared to hear it. No one else
appeared to notice that the box became
as light as a boxful of feathers.
The second laugh disturbed Swetty.
Twice, not once, but twice in his life, a
corpse had laughed and suddenly became
light; as if the weight of death, and life,
had fallen off. Was he a sick man given to
hearing things? Or had Granny P. really
laughed?He decided to go to Mr. Beecher,
the Captain's old friend and his first em-
ployer, to talk over the matter and to ask
him whether such things could be.
He approached Mr. Beecher with hesi-
tation. Chronic ill-health, and a changing
social climate and political climate, in
which he was no longer at ease, had made
him irritable and temperamental. He could
be viciously patient in his obvious suffer-
ing of the many whom he considered fools.
Or, now and again he could be merely
patient and gentle; and at such times
sceptical of all thought and learning, his
own, as well as that of others. Swetty
found him in the latter mood. He told
i - -.
The village did her proud. But nobody
him of Mr. Craddock and Granny P. and
the twice-times laugh that the box had
laughed. Mr. Beecher, talked of Mr. Crad-
dock, and of the largeness of the man that
made him admit his littleness. He asked
Swetty about Granny P. as to what kind
of woman she had been. Swetty rather
than use adjectives told him anecdotes
about her, incidents in her relationships
with the village and the village's children.
Then Mr. Beecher explained to Swetty
what his idea of the whole business was.
He said that all gods are dreams figments
of man's adolescent imagination. The
dreams of peoples who are in a stage of
growth. Baal and Isis, Moloch and that
lot are the things we think are following
us when we are young and are hurrying
home on a lonely road on a dark night.
But these dreams have a life of their own
-they way-lay us, to meet us face to face,
when we are old and afraid and hurrying
home on a dark night, on a lonely road; in
other words when we die, are dying?
Only there are some people, one or
two, here and there, who have possessed
their powers, explored its uttermost limits,
extended themselves into others, and,
through this extension, acquired the gift
to see that wraiths are wraiths, dreams are
dreams. They will not tremble before
gods, nor be judged in some obscene par-
ody of a weighing in the balance. They
see through all scales, all weights and
measures, and laugh, and pass on to fur-
ther fulfilment. At their laugh the godlings
cower away to their kennels, their shrines
Paul had finished his story, and the
moon was round like the curve of the hills.
Her light poured everywhere leaving no
dark place for fear. The Chapel merged
with hill and moonlight and phosphores-
cent sea. Paul yawned and got up to
"Did Swetty understand the explana-
tion that Beecher gave him?" I asked.
"Not quite," Paul said, "he asked
Beecher to write it down for him so that
he could think on it ..."
"Was that the paper he gave you to-
day?" I wondered.
Paul took out the carefully folded
paper from his pocket, and turned on the
light, blotting out the magnificence of the
"I'll leave it with ydu until tomorrow.
As you can see, Beecher wrote here that
with the laugh, Mr. Craddock and Granny
P. were exorcising the spirits that's why
Swetty said to us that they were exorcising
the spirits then he goes on to quote
some lines from the 'Grand Ode' of Paul
He handed me the paper and I read
the quotation that Beecher had heavily
Blessed be your name my God
Who has delivered me from idols
And who has made it that I worship
And not Isis and Osiris
Or Justice or Progress or Truth or
Or Humanity or the Laws of Nature or
Art or Beauty.
For all these word-wielders have made
Themselves monsters without substance
With their surplus adjectives.
More hollow than Moloch, devourers
of little children
More cruel and hideous than Moloch.
And I desire not to be superior to
Righteous as thou art perfect; Right-
eous and alive among the other spirits
I walked with Paul to the gate.
"Do you know what interests me most
about the matter," I told Paul, "that
Swetty amongst all those words wielded
by Claudel and Beecher was impressed
only by one thing that Craddock and
Granny P. were exorcising the spirits, at
ease with them."
"Yes," Paul said "here Beecher wanted
to banish godlings, Swetty dreams to join
them for some pleasant sporting in a
green-grass meadow. Do you know a
"What?" I asked.
"When Beecher died, his wife who was
old-fashioned, refused to have him cre-
mated. Swetty and I went to his funeral,
a fine old fashioned one, and both of us
helped to carry out his coffin ..."
"And did the box laugh? I asked,
Paul shook his head.
"No, not once."
He turned and walked down the street
to his house. The bright moonlit street
was suddenly full of shadows and strange
and ancient dreams dogged my footsteps,
creaking alongside me on the old polished
floors as I went upstairs. I entered my
room and went out on to the balcony.
The chair on which Paul had sat was still
rocking. As 1 looked it shuddered to a
stop. My gaze was pulled up to the Chapel
just below the brow of the gypsum hill.
The windows that leaned over to the sea
seemed to stretch in a monumental grin.
The other window brooded over the
shadowed side of the hill.
(for Don D.)
Me one, way out in the crowd,
I blow the sounds, the pain,
but not a soul
would come inside my world
or tell me how it true.
I love a melancholy baby,
sweet, with fire in her belly;
and like a spite
the woman turn a whore.
Cool and smooth around the beat
she wake the note inside me
and I blow me mind.
Inside here, me one
in the crowd again,
and plenty people
want me blow it straight.
o0 But straight is not the way; my world
don 'go so; that is lie.
Oonu gimme back me trombone, man.
is time to blow me mind.
CULT LEADER -SCU LPTOR- PAINTER
by Alex Gradussov
There are no schools of belief. No one can teach you to
carve. And there is no way you can be taught to paint. So it
would be useless to 'justify' Kapo because he had no 'theological'
training, no one to teach him to see and to feel the world
around him. But then few are naive enough to presume that
God needs a formula. At any rate if those critics exist they
are both earth-bound enough to lack sympathetic insight and
conceited enough to refuse advice. In fact their role, that of
lap-dogs of culture rather than watch-dogs of taste, warrants
only definition but does not require refutation.
It is the unbiased observer who must still be puzzled: Why
waste years at an art school? Why pass degrees? Why study
Hebrew, if the path to salvation needs no interpreter? If the
validity of vision is based on talent and passion, and not on
skill and perseverance?These are at any rate some of the quest-
ions that must be answered if Kapo's claim in heaven and on
earth can be admitted.
Constantly the duality of Kapo, the Believer and Kapo, the
Creator has been stressed: and one is not thinkable without the
other. The strength of vision would flag if the Spirit World
did not exist for him. His search for images would cease if the
earth-bound aspect of his work were his only reality. Kapo
creates his figures out of certainty. Kapo might be slip-shod in
his carving and painting for many reasons human reasons,
such as the necessity to earn a living but never because of
uncertainty. And here is the crux of the whole genius: he is
self-taught; self-inspired and totally unselfconscious. And the
artist in the European mould has rarely, if ever, found such
freedom: Medieval craftsmen had training in the craft; they
escaped the cult of personality. El Greco was primitifin the
sense that he broke with the rules of perspective but he was
tutored and tortured by doubt. Van Gough was living among
the people in the Borinage'and in Aries but he was not, as Kapo
is, of the people. European primitives Rousseau is the best
example might live in their self-contained world; but only
the peculiar marriage of African archetypes, Christian mysticism
and the New World dispossession can produce a Kapo. It is
not the degree of his excellence that is argued, it is the unique-
ness of his position that has to be maintained.
"I was born 1911 the 10th day of February in Bynloss, St.
Catherine. My father's name is David Reynolds; my mother's
name before marriage was Rebecca Morgan. My father married
her when I was nine years old. I also went to school when I
*Coal mining district in Belgium
was nine years old. I am the only boy for my mother. She was
belonging to the Parish of St. Ann.
"My Father was born in Hamshire in the Parish of St. Cather-
"At the age of twelve I received the spirit of conversion. I
was then reading in fifth Standard. At the age of sixteen I left
school; I was not bad at reading. I did not love drawing. Draw-
ing days I used to prefer to go and work in the garden."
These are the words of Mallica Reynolds who later called
himself Kapo. His conversion was a vivid dream of angels and
the heavenly company. And although the vision was rejected
by his mother and father, and rejection was to remain for a
long time, Kapo persevered. He preached first in Portland, then
he returned home again; leaving finally for Kingston, which
was to become his base and 'seal-ground', at the age of twenty-
two. There was no other job Kapo did except preach, conduct
services in the manner of the Zion Revival NOT Pocomania, **
as is so often alleged and eventually carve and paint. His was
a fulfilled prophesy. We might not approve of the vision but Queen
we cannot deny the reality. Candace
His name, Kapo, has an odd and strangely unsatisfactory ex-
planation: waiting for the departure of some hired excursion
buses, he realized that he was short ten pounds for the buses.
Kapo shouted to his followers: "Pass all the money you can
spare to KAPO." That was the first time he used the name or
that he had heard the name. Subsequently theories have been
spun to explain it. But not by Kapo. Whether the name is
Latin or Italian derived -Kapo = caput (head); or whether it
has no accepted meaning is irrelevant.
Kapo, the Cult Leader, did not become Kapo, the Carver
and Painter, overnight. In fact the transformation was painful
and brought Kapo twice within the precincts of a Court of
Law charged with practising obeah.
Sometime in the late thirties, the exact date is neither
ascertainable nor really important, Kapo carved a finger with
the tip representing a human head. This was taken to be evi-
dence of practising obeah. For being the leader of a cult
offensive to the Magistrate and his class, for carving an in-
offensive object, Kapo was condemned to prison and the lash.
He won on appeal. But the stigma remained and was to remain
for many years and perhaps is still with him. They say he is an Fathe
obeahman, a sorcerer, working evil with images that are un- Abrahan
And whether the condemnation has come from over-zealous
agents of law-enforcement and law-administration, or from mis-
lead or ignorant poor people, or whether it has been expressed
in the pseudo-sophisticated words of the art critics, he was and
still is not fully accepted and acceptable to a society that fears
its African heritage, and has now reacted too violently to this
rejection by over-compensation. Africa used to be unmention-
able; some say now that it is the only place we need consider.
Both are social heresies. Kapo might be in the strictly Christian
theological sense a heretic; in the final analyses he might remain
the only culturally sane component of this society. He knows
he is black; he values his blackness; he rejects as irrelevant
"white" culture but he hates no one. He knows the mixture
of Jamaica might be a sham but its sham is a reality and he has
to live with that reality.
The figures that Kapo has carved are Negro carvings; pos-
sibly they spring from the racial memory, certainly they are in-
debted to Benin and the Yoruba, if indebted at all, but not to
Michaelangelo or Rodin. Kapo has no need for models. He
does not want to imitate. The heads that he has carved are the
images of his surroundings: Negroes, black people that he Rooster
knows and loves; or they are the ritual animals of his ancestors,
roosters; or they are groups or contrasted figures that portrait
the tortured gravity of our contemporary predicament in
**See article in the same issue 'Cults' by Edward Seaga. From
the collection of the Stony Hill Hotel
'esy Mr. Worth.
Lester and Lee
.- Miss Spindleleg
k' From the collection of the Stony Hill Hotel
." Courtesy Mr. Worth.
c.;-.-( i: ~C
Top Left Top Right
Mermaids The Cousins
Bottom Left Bottom Right
My Bride When I was young
From the collection of the Artist.
Jamaica. But Kapo is a craftsman, too. He works in lignum
vitae and in cedar, and the former, has, it seems, been more re-
warding. His chisel slips sometimes, his finish varies and he
does repeat himself. These are indeed shortcomings. But who
from fault is free?
Kapo became known to a wider audience through the en-
couragement of a few friends: a foreign anthropologist, George
E. Simpson, and a native born sociologist, Edward Seaga;
Christopher and Nora Hill, who exhibited his carvings first; of
late, the American critic, Seldon Rodman and the American
painter, Seymore Leichman.
Kapo has exhibited in Jamaica first at the Hills Gallery in
1961, then during many Independence Festivals and finally in
1968 at the Parish Library, the Creative Arts Centre of the
University of the West Indies and the Citizens Bank in 1969.
His work has gone to the U.S. on several occasions: first
carvings in 1952 exhibited at the Juster Gallery in New York,
then to Los Angeles in 1964 and '68 and finally at the Art
Gallery for Inter American Relations in 1969 again in New
The new dimension of painting has come very late to Kapo.
His first picture in oil was painted in 1960, and his more
accomplished third phase, as he calls it, coincides with the
publication in Jamaica Journal in 1967 of his 'Head'. And the
style of his 'head' is his strength in his present painting.
Fierce, grave, independent and visionary the figures hammer at
the mind, they do not soothe. His landscapes are different:
they are highly organized patterns of the Jamaica Kapo knows.
The sea, hills, huts and houses, and trees .... masses of trees.
Occasionally the figures inhabit the landscape but this is rare.
It is hard to agree with those otherwise appreciative critics of
Kapo that say the carvings are his strength and the paintings
are either a mild shadow of the true substance, or, and this is
completley lopsided, that he should never have painted.
Kapo does not choose to paint or to carve or anything else;
he is compelled. By the spirit or by his imagination or by his
very critics; it matters little; he has persevered and he cannot
go back on what he has done.
Kapo says that 'he was left upon the world as a lonely man';
and in his loneliness lies his strength. And his strength is the
vision of Jamaica as it really is: peopled mainly by black
people, backward and loving yet fierce and not to be defeated:
a beautiful country but not a pretty one. But above all, Kapo's
art is a fusion of the spiritual vision with everyday reality. Man
is spirit and spirits are men.
There are few indications in West Indian prose of the sur-
vival of African cultures in West Indian secular life. But the
frequent occurrence in novels of obeah and cult practices has
sometimes been held as evidence of survivals in the religious
field. Few West Indian novelists see these practices as anything
more, in fact, than the incoherent remains of African religions
and magic; and in all cases, obeah and cult manifestations are
associated with socially depressed characters. It is possible,
indeed, to be critical of the writers for having reproduced the
social reality only too exactly, and without enough invention
Obeah and cult practices occur in novels by West Indians of
every racial origin; the degree of prominence given to them
varies from novel to novel; and the authors' attitudes to their
raw material differ widely. J.B. Emtage introduces Negro
terror of the fetish in a mocking and comic spirit (Brown Sugar,
1966), but another White West Indian, Geoffrey Drayton, uses
obeah differently in the novel of childhood Christopher (1959)
the boy's increasing involvement with the Negro world around
him, and his growing-up process, are subtly correlated with his
development, away from an exotic view, to an understanding in
psychological terms of how obeah operates. Sociological truth
and a comic intention are both served in V.S. Naipaul's version
of obeah in The Sufferage of Elvira (1958).
Some of the comic effects in this work derive from the
doctrinal confusions of Hindu, Muslim and Christian in Naipaul's
newly-democratic Elvira: "Things were crazily mixed up in
Elvira. Everybody, Hindus, Muslims and Christians owned a
Bible, the Hindus and Muslims looking on it if anything with
greater awe. Hindus and Muslims celebrated Christmas and
Easter. The Spaniards and some of the negroes celebrated the
Hindu festival of lights". In the political campaign around
which the novel is built, the Hindu speculator Surujpat Harbans
is up against a Negro candidate called Preacher. Harbans has
the support of Baksh, a Muslim tailor; Preacher's staunchest
supporter is Cuffy who runs a shoe-repair shop called "The
United African Pioneer Self-Help Society ".
When the "big big dog" the drunken Baksh meets at night
turns into a tiny puppy in the morning, the Elviran king-maker
and his wife are convinced that the obeah-dog is an agent of
Preacher's evil will, and that it forebodes death for the whole
family. A visit by Mahadeo, one of Baksh's underlings, leads
the forewarned proprietor of the shoe-repair shop to suspect
that the Bakshes are counter-attacking:
Mahadeo brought out his red pocket-notebook and a
'I have to ask you a few questions, Mr. Cawfee.' He tried
some elementary flattery: 'After all, you is a very im-
portant man in Elvira.'
Mr. Cuffy liked elementary flattery. 'True,' he admitted.
'It's God's will.'
'Is what I think too, Mr. Cawfee, how your negro people
getting on in Elvira?'
'All right, I believe, praise be to God.'
'You sure, Mr. Cawfee?'
Mr. Cuffy squinted. 'How you mean?'
'Everybody all right?Nobody sick or anything like that?'
'What the hell you up to, Mahadeo?'
Mahadeo laughed like a clerk in a government office.
'Just doing a job Mr. Cawfee. Just a job. If any negro
fall sick in Elvira, you is the fust man they come to, not
Mr. Cuffy softened. 'True.
'And nobody sick?'
'Nobody.' Mr. Cuffy didn't care for the hopeful note in
Mahadeo's voice. Mahadeo's pencilhesitated, disappointed.
'Nobody deading or dead? Mr. Cuffy jumped up and
dropped the black book. 'Obeah!'he cried, and took up
'Obeah. Loorkhoor was right. You people trying to
work some obeah. Haul you tail outa my yard! Go on,
(The Suffrage of Elvira, p. 80)
Naipaul's Muslims are not only susceptible to the obeah-dog.
They are capable, putatively, of terrifying the Negroes by an
equally effective use of the black art. Both sides now begin to
fear the fateful quadruped. The climax to Naipaul's obeah-dog
episode, a brilliant parody of the Hollywood gunslinger's walk
down the hushed main street at high noon, comes when the
starving puppy returns limping and wobbling along the road,
causing consternation and awe among men, women and child-
ren, Hindus, Muslims and Christians (pp. 115-119).
In Naipaul's fictional world, there is no attempt to restrict
obeah to Negroes. It would be a mistake to read from the
novel back into the society if one did not have knowledge of
the society beforehand, but Naipaul's fiction corresponds with
fact at this point: in the West Indies, belief in obeah may be
found among the depressed and illiterate, whatever their race
or religion. This kind of truth to the fact does not prevent
Naipaul from making inventive use of sociological data.
The obeah man occurs as frequently as obeah, and in similar
contexts. Few writers have given him centrality or attempted
to explore his consciousness. Bra' Ambo in Roger Mais's
Brother Man (1954), illustrates the general trend. He is a
mercenary fraud who sells ganja, and mints counterfeit coins.
Early in the novel, it seemed as if Mais was building towards a
straight clash between the Christian love of Bra' Man and the
African superstition of Bra' Ambo:
Everybody knew that Bra'Ambo was a powerful obeah
Bra' Ambo himself had given it out that he was a higher
scientist than Bra' Man, for and he washed his hands
before him, and smiled smugly 'Bra'Man study de
science of de stars, astrology, an 'I study de science of de
stars too, but I study higher than dat, for I study de
science ofde Dead.'
It was given to few 'scientors, he explained, to be able to
read and understand the Book of the Dead. And he was
one of them, and a man named De Lawrence, over the
water, was another. And the way he said it, it might
have been it was just the two of them, and no more -
smirking like a cat before a saucer of milk, and washing
his hands in the air.
When people came and told this to Bra' Man he only
smiled and said, 'Let Bra' Ambo go on studying his
'Book of the Dead' And he looked over their heads and
said, 'There is the Book of Life open before him from
cover to cover, let him seek to study that, if he will.'
(Brother Man, pp. 84-85)
In the event, conflict never takes place. Ambo is flatly pre-
sented as the type of the exploiting obeah man, and seen com-
pletely from the outside. Mais settles to using him simply as a
foil to the Christ-like Bra' Man.
Mais's Ambo is constructed out of educatedattitudesto the
obeah man, and his presence in the novel is determined by the
needs of an intention focused on the holy central character.
Only one West Indian novelist has made an obeah man the
central character in his fiction; although conventional attitudes
to the obeah man appear in the novel, and although Ismith
Khan allows Zampi some strokes of supernatural power, The
Obeah Man (1964), grows away from the documentary and the
spectacular to become a serious fictional study of self-definition.
In the process, a highly personal view of obeah as a spiritual
vocation is disclosed.
Zampi the fictional obeah man is not a Negro. We are told
in fact, that he "has no race, no caste, no colour; he was the
end of masses of assimilations and mixtures, having the eyes of
the EastIndian, the build of the Negro, the skin of the Chinese,
and some of the colour of all" (p.11). But Khan's creative in-
tention is most clearly indicated by the use of the obeah man
as the novel's centre of consciousness. Zampi comes over as a
man ill at ease in a blighted world which he sees swallowing up
all his people; "It ain't have no place for we. The islands
drowning and we going down with them down, down, down.
One day the clocks in the big church and them go stop and no-
body here to fix them or wind them up... We is nobody, and
we ain't have nowhere to go. Everything leave me with a cold,
cold feeling in my insides, and I ain't have no uses for you or
nobody nor nothing -nothing..." (pp. 66-67). The obeah
man's extraordinary sensitivity puts him at odds with himself
and with his woman Zolda. It also alienates him from the un-
thinking people whom he wishes to serve. It is only when
Zampi learns to accept alienation as the painful condition of
art that a kind of peace comes into his life:
. An obeah man had to practise at distancing himself
from all things. He had to know joy and pleasure as he
knew sorrow and pain, but he must also know how to
withdraw himself from its torrent, he must be in total
possession of himself, and at the height of infinite joy he
must know with all of his senses all that lives and breathes
about him. He must never sleep the sleep of other men,
he must have a clockwork in his head. He must at a mo-
ment's notice be able to shake the rhythm from his
ear, to hold his feet from tapping. He must know the
pleasure in his groin and he must know how to prevent it
from swallowing him up.
If The Obeah Man fails, it fails because too much is made
to depend upon a naive philosophy of self-control. This is not
too obtrusive in the presentation of Zampi, since Khan ex-
presses the conflict within his central character in dramatic
terms and makes the acceptance of partial withdrawal a logical
act of choice that was always latent in the hero's attitudes and
behaviour. But when the relationship between Zampi and
Zolda is done in terms of aspiring spirit and voluptuous flesh,
such a crude externalisation does little justice to Khan's own
intuitions embodied in the actual presentation of Zampi. As a
result, the end of the novel is confused. Zolda's decision to re-
turn to the hills with Zampi in pursuit of higher life strikes the
reader as too arbitrarily contrived. And Khan slips uncertainly
back to the pre-conversion state of the character by allowing
her to wish (in another of the lurid patches of writing that mars
the work) "to have him possess her with thrusts like lightening
bolts that would scorch her loins." (p. 186).
Khan's imagining of an obeah man who sees himself as an
artist is a reminder, if such is needed, that the creative writer
can and often does distort the facts to suit his own end. With
one complex exception,* however, the writers who use the
cults in their novels stay close to the social reality. Sylvia
Wynter's The Hills of Hebron (1962) documents the wide
range of cults in the islands, including a pocomania cult (corre-
sponding to the Haitian voodoo worshippers); "the Believers"
(corresponding to the break-away Afro-Baptist cults which
Philip Curtain and Orlando Patterson** describe as having first
formed themselves in the 1860's); and the "New Believers" (a
cult invented from two related creeds Marcus Garvey's
Black God religion and the Jamaican Ras Tafarians'*** belief
in the divinity of the Emperor of Ethiopia). When the Believers'
movement collapses with the ignominious failure of their leader
to take flight to heaven, some of the brethren join the orthodox
Christian Church: "There was something atavistic about their
* George Lamming's Season of Adventure (1960)
**Philip Curtin Two Jamaicas (Harvard University Press, 1955); Orlando
H. Patterson, The Sociology of Slavery (1967).
***For a sound account of the Ras Tafari movement in Jamaica, see
Report on The Rastafari Movement in Kingston, Jamaica published by
the Institute of Social and Economic Research (1960).
singing as though they were shouting to recall lost gods from the
primeval forests of Africa. And at times their singing stirred
up secret urges in the Reverend's own heart which had been
slumbering through centuries of civilisation." (p. 120). Rev-
erend Brook's disturbance at his flock's hearts of darkness
corresponds with the uneasiness of nineteenth century mission-
aries at the incursions of rhythmic singing and other "African"
manifestations into the orthodox Church.
Miss Wynter comically deflates the cults depicted in her
novel. A good illustration of the method used is Moses's con-
fession to his first convert of how the Lord inspired him in a
vision: "It was just a day like any other, Sister Edwards. No
sign to mark it as different. I was watering the flowers. I came
to a rhododendron bush that stood alone by itself As I poured
out waterat the root, I see the whole bush light up with fire be-
fore my eyes. I step back, I stand still, I watch. The bush
flamed orange and green fire. The presence of God was all
round about me, I fall on my knees, I bow my head to the
earth. I make to take off my shoes but as it wasn't Sunday I
wasn't wearing any. And the ground on which I was standing,
Sister Edwards, was holy, holy ground". (p. 107).
But the author does not simply make fun of her cultists.
The novel shows a passionate concern about the void in the
lives of the socially depressed cultists, and sees part of the solu-
tion as lying in socioeconomic adjustments. This socioecono-
mic leaning is given emphasis by Miss Wynter's allowing Moses
to become unnerved when a labour leader rouses the people to
take stock of "the extent of their misery, the hopelessness of
their poverty, the lack of any future for their children" (p.204).
He advises them to have nothing to do with churches ("All that
is finished and done"), rather, they should believe in organised
labour and Man.* The weight of the presentation leads the
reader to think that this is Miss Wynter's advice too.
The socio-economic depression of the masses and the "great
emptiness, somewhere in their life, that gnawing at them and
begging for plenty plenty satisfaction"(p.59), underlie Andrew
Salkey's handling of pocomania cultists inA Quality of Violence
(1959). The spectacular elements of drums, rhythm, sacrifice,
flagellation and spirit possession occur. But Salkey sets the
novel in a period of drought and ardity in the land: this is the
clearest of indications that the author has larger artistic uses
for the frenzied manifestations of the cultists.
The pocomanians find the substance of their lives breaking
up beyond control in the endless drought. Dada Johnson their
leader sees their faith in him collapsing, and the deputy is look-
ing around for the right moment to make a bid for primacy.
These motives operate in the spectacular dance ("the Giant X")
in which the dancers equate their bodies with the land, each
whipping himself in an attempt to banish the barrenness of the
land and that of the earthly body! "We must lash the devil out
of the land. We must lash good water into the land." The
rivalry between Dada and his deputy spurs each man to more
and more incisive self-laceration until both collapse exhausted
and expiring. The Giant X claims both as sacrificial victims.
But the rains do not come.
This fierce vision of human aberration under burning stress,
and of the deafness of the gods is placed within a more con-
ventional ordering of experience in the novel. But although
the solid virtues and values of the Marshalls and the Parkins
help to disperse the pessimism in the work, it is Salkey's ex-
ploration, through the sacrificed and suicidal cultists, of the
irrational element in human existence that makes the novel
such a powerful one.
Another kind of approach to the cultists is represented by
Orlando Patterson's interpretation of Ras Tafarians in The
*A similar impulse is to be found in Ralph de Boissiere's Crown Jewel
(1952) where Cassie is freed from her belief in the Orisha by the love of
the labour leader LeMgitre whose movement she joins. De Boissiere's
account of a Shango meeting in Chapter 36 is of great exotic as well as
Children of Sisyphus (1964). The objects of derision in J.B.
Emtage's lampoon,Brown Sugar (1966) are handled realistically
and with compassion by Patterson. The progress of Sammy
the garbageman, for instance, as he drives his cart through the
dungle allows the author to describe the shacks and huts of the
slum-dwellers and to express the socio-economic causes of Ras
Tafarianism in harrowing terms.
But the novel intends to be more than just a socially realis-
tic fiction. In the long run, indeed, it seems to undermine
both the reality of the Dungle the author portrays in such
scarifying detail, and the appropriateness of the pity that de-
prived condition had aroused in the reader. Through the con-
sciousness of the Ras Tafarian leader, Brother Solomon, Patter-
son seeks to portray Rasta destitution and unavailing struggle
to escape as the fate of man in an absurd world. When Brother
John and Brother Ezekiel bring the news that the delegation to
Ethiopa has failed and that the Rastas would not be received in
the Emperor's kingdom, Brother Solomon reveals that he had
known it all along but had deliberately left all the other
Brethren undeceived; the deception must be maintained for as
long as possible. The deceived are not just poor and wretched
'Then what else them is? 'Brother John's voice broke in
'They are gods. You can't see? Every wretched one of
them is the archetype of the clown-man, playing their part
upon the comic stage so well they are no longer conscious
of playing. You can't see, Brothers?Everyone of them is
a living symbol full of meaning and revelation. Look!
They have before them one hour, two hours, five no
twelve, before the ship come. Twelve hours of unreality.
Twelve hours of happiness. Who else but the gods could
enjoy such happiness? For the moment they are con-
querors. For a moment they have cheated the dreary
circle. And it's only the moment that counts.'
When his audience object that, with a crowd outside waiting to
receive the news, meditations on life are inappropriate, Brother
Solomon continues to expound:
'Life,' Brother Solomon repeated, and he had half re-
treated from them again. 'Life, you say, Brother. You
speak of the long comic repetition, don't it, Brother?But
you don't fool yourself that it's only them that's tried;
that have their hopes raised an' then shattered only to
start again. No, Brother, no. They you see outside are
just the gods that make plain by magnitude what ordinary
mortals fear to face and run from. Everywhere in every-
thing, there is the comedy you see before you now,
(The Children of Sisyphus, p.202)
The studied nature of these passages from the penultimate
chapter (the doctrinal heart of the novel), and Brother
Solomon's thinly concealed bearing of the authorial message
illustrate the difficulties of a West Indian novelist who is intel-
ligent enough to know that social documentation is not suf-
ficient but whose creative inspiration is a received philosophy
rather than an evolving personal vision. For while Patterson's
avowedly inherited doctrine is not inapplicable to the life de-
picted in his fiction, the obtrusive manner in which the inter-
pretation is given makes it seem unnatural. This is not the case
in Roger Mais's The Hills Were Joyful Together for instance,
where the technique is just as clumsy but where one's sense of
the experienced author's deeply felt intuitions seeking to ex-
press themselves prevents the declared philosophy both from
being everything, and from seeming to be intellectually imposed.
Patterson's handling of his cultist raw material nonetheless re-
presents an ambitious and interesting attempt to translate
social reality into some of its possibilities by fictional means.
The attempt would have appeared more successful if George
Lamming had not shown larger possibilities in Season of
Mountain Cottage Scene
J. B. Kidd
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