Front Cover
 Table of Contents
 Notes on contributors
 Back Cover

Title: Jamaica journal
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00090030/00043
 Material Information
Title: Jamaica journal
Series Title: Jamaica journal.
Abbreviated Title: Jam. j.
Physical Description: v. : ill. (part col.) ; 31 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Institute of Jamaica
Publisher: Institute of Jamaica.
Place of Publication: Kingston
Publication Date: May 1984
Frequency: semiannual
Subject: Periodicals -- Jamaica   ( lcsh )
Genre: periodical   ( marcgt )
Spatial Coverage: Jamaica
Dates or Sequential Designation: Began with Dec. 1967 issue.
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00090030
Volume ID: VID00043
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: oclc - 01797964
lccn - 75027862
issn - 0021-4124

Table of Contents
    Front Cover
        Front Cover 1
        Front Cover 2
    Table of Contents
        Page 1
        Page 2
        Page 3
        Page 4
        Page 5
        Page 6
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        Page 30
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        Page 44
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        Page 51
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        Page 66
        Page 67
        Page 68
        Page 69
        Page 70
        Page 71
    Notes on contributors
        Page 72
    Back Cover
        Page 73
        Page 74
Full Text

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Treasures of Jamaican Heritage


The finest in Jamaican craftsmanship can be found in some of the antique reproductions produced by Things
Jamaican for Devon House's first restoration craftsmanship which provided an inspiration for the
subsequent development of Jamaican crafts and stimulated widespread interest among Jamaicans for fine
antique reproductions. The two pieces shown here are a Gentleman's Spice Cabinet and a Cromwell Chair.
\ ._________________-




VOL. 17 No. 2

MAY 1984

Jamaica Journal
is published on behalf of
the Institute of Jamaica
12 16 East Street, Kingston, Jamaica
by Institute of Jamaica Publications Ltd.

All correspondence should be addressed to
IOJ Publications Ltd.
1ASuthermere Road, Kingston 10,

Olive Senior

Assistant Editor
Maxine Patricia McDonnough
Design and Production
Camille Parchment
Circulation and Advertising
Tyrone Hollbrooke
Support Services
Faith Myers
Eton Anderson
Patsy Smith

Back issues: Most back issues are available.
List sent on request. Entire series available
on microfilm from University Microfilms,
Ann Arbor, Michigan 48106, U.S.A.
Subscriptions: J$40 for four issues (in
Jamaica only); U.S.$15, U.K.10.
Retail single copy price: J$12 (in Jamaica
only); overseas U.S.$5 or U.K.23 post paid
surface mail.
Advertising: Rates sent on request.
Index: Articles appearing in Jamaica
Journal are abstracted and indexed in
Historical Abstracts and America: History
and Life.

Vol.17 No.2 Copyright 1984 by Institute
of Jamaica Publications Limited. Cover or
contents may not be reproduced in whole
or in part without prior written permission.

ISSN: 0021-4124

COVER: The Cherubs on the round bas-
relief decorations on the ceiling of the magni-
ficent ballroom of Devon House are one of
the delightful surprises of the century-old
mansion. Hauffe/Collins


by Martin Mordecai

by Erna Brodber

by E.N. Burke

by Sylvia Wynter

by Sergio Dello Strologo

by Cheryl Ryman


by John Rashford


by Carolyn Cooper



41 ART Review by Gloria Escoffery
48 BOOKS Review by Mervyn Morris



'The Nearest Place to Heaven'

By Martin Mordecal

Photographs by Andreas Oberli

God Almighty first planted a garden,
and indeed it is one of the purest of
human pleasures. It is the greatest
refreshment to the spirit of man . .
Francis Bacon

The serenity (top) of Cinchona Great House
in its 'English Garden' setting is our legacy of
a colonial governor's need to impose his
familiar world on a tropical landscape.

The yellow flowers (above) of the Australian
Silky Oak (Grevillea robusta) are now a com-
mon sight in the eastern mountains where the
tree is frequently planted as a wind break.

One hadn't even known it was
a botanical garden. To the ex-
tent that it had a shape at all,
in the mind's eye it was a hillside 'up
there' on a ridge rising to 5,000 feet,
inhabiting a region unvisited by most
Kingstonians and therefore invested
with a mythic forest silence of clouds
and impossible beauty. It was in the
general vicinity of places in the St.
Andrew mountains more generally
known, like Top Mountain, and Clydes-
dale, where one had picnicked long ago
with a young baby who screamed with
shock and delight at the cold river water
he was flung into. One remembers the
water slipping over yellow-green rocks
across a road that led upward, disappear-
ing into tall green conifers and mist.
Those who had been there spoke of
the trees, the tall eucalypti in particular,
and on all sides the spectacular views -
plunging from the main ridge of the
Blue Mountains to Kingston harbour,
from Strawberry Hill at the bottom of
an eroded valley to Sir John's Peak and
Catherine's Peak. And everyone re-
members, from however long ago, the
air of a fragrance implicit in the
flowers and the absence of city smells -
and the silence.


The journey from Kingston to Cin-
chona begins where the story of bo-
tanic gardens in Jamaica can be said to
have begun, in Gordon Town, now a
large village in the Hope River valley
north of Kingston. By the 1750s Hinton
East, an Oxford-educated Jamaican of

English descent, had established at what
was then known as Spring Garden a bo-
tanic garden which would grow to im-
pressive proportions. Alan Eyre, noting
that every garden is by definition 'bo-
tanic', uses the word to mean 'a garden
of exotic variety and richness' into
which 'exotic plants are deliberately
introduced'. By that or any other mea-
sure, Mr. East's was a magnificent gar-
He collected plants and seeds from
all over the world and distributed them
throughout the island, establishing -
i.e., planting and growing upward of
600 species of plants new to Jamaica.
He brought cypresses from Greece,
cassia, casuarina, magnolia and bau-
hinia. He brought the hibiscus, the
oleander, the rhododendron, and the
garden egg from India. The golden

The Cinchona Tree (above left) is imme-
diately distinguished from other denizens of
the forest not by its pink flowers so much as
by its leaves which turn red before they fall.

The eye soars (above right) from Straw-
berry Hill located in the valley up to the
reaches of Sir John's Peak, to take in one of
the favourite views from Cinchona Gardens.
The now derelict Strawberry Hill Great House
and its orderly terraces established by the
Yallahs Valley Land Authority are poignant
reminders of the ephemeral nature of man's
activities in the area.

Once a year (above) for a few days only,
visitors in the vicinity of the Gardens are
rewarded with this vision of flowering 'crocus'.

Characteristic of Jamaica's mountain terrain, the Tree Ferns at Cinchona are among four species
found in the island.

Jamaica, while a prize post for the
career colonial service officer, was re-
garded as a frontier island, a cultural
outpost. A hazardous one too, at times:
if the Maroons didn't get you the fever
might. The nostalgic Governor Keith
wanted to create a colourful and familiar
recourse, one to remind him of home,
the other to impose some sort of order
on the tropical profusion and indiscipline
of the backwater he found himself in.
Hinton East was a member of the
Assembly which in 1774 appropriated
700 for the purchase of land suitable
for a botanic garden and 300 for the
salary of a botanist. The logical place
was as close as possible to Mr. East's
own splendid establishment, and within
a year Enfield, adjoining, was purchased.
Dr. Thomas Clarke was brought from
England to establish this outpost of

Eucalypti trace a pattern in the special
Cinchona light.

amaryllis lily from China, and the bay
tree from Madeira were brought to these
shores by Hinton East. This in an age
when it took a month or more for a
voyage from England to the Caribbean,
and the problems of keeping these
exotic plants alive were commensurately
magnified. His garden, according to a
much travelled contemporary, was 'per-
haps the most magnificent establish-
ment of its kind in the world'.
The garden also caught the fancy of

another contemporary, Sir Basil Keith,
who in 1774 was the newly arrived
governor of Jamaica. By the following
year he had decided not only that the
Crown should take a hand in the bo-
tanical enterprise, but that two gardens
should be established: a 'tropical garden'
and an 'English garden'. Sir Basil, it
appears, was homesick.
Every colonizing power seeks event-
ually to transplant its culture to its new
outpost. It is an exercise in consoli-
dation and nostalgia. After the guns
comes language, the necessary subvertor
of the old order and creator of the new.
The other attributes soon follow: edu-
cation, the ally of language, dress, food,
transportation, etc. The result is inevi-
tably a transformation of both outpost
and culture. The horse and buggy be-
comes the donkey cart. Creole is born.
So with gardens. William Fawcett,
one of the most distinguished of our
directors of gardens and plantations,
saw 'a love for gardening as an index of
a nation's advance in civilization'. He
was citing, with obvious approval, an
essay by the Elizabethan philosopher
Francis Bacon, and would have regarded
Jamaica's 'advance' towards 'civilization'
as having started with Mr. East. That
type of gardening, the assiduous collect-
ion and propagation of a large number
of plants from around the world, was
in those days essentially a European en-
And it must be remembered that

Characteristic brush-like branch of Caribbean


SeNO Gas.


Dr. Clarke tried. Adding to the plants
provided by Mr. East and others, he
introduced, among others, camphor,
litchi, China tea and the sago palm. In
1778 blighia sapida, the ackee, was first
planted in Jamaica.
But by that year it had also become
obvious that Enfield, on a steep hillside
given to swift erosion, was not a suit-
able place to pursue the dream of either
'tropical' or 'English' garden. Land was
purchased near Bath in St. Thomas,
where healing waters had been 'dis-
covered' in 1699. In 1779 a botanic
garden was established there. The ener-
getic Dr. Clarke was placed in charge.
In historical parenthesis one should
record the passing in 1790 or 1792 of
Mr. East. Spring Garden, his property
of 193 acres 'with buildings and slaves'
was acquired by the government. One
is not told to what use the government
put it, or for how long, only that it
was subsequently disposed of in what a
governor of the 1860s with a love of
gardens described as 'some sporadic
fit of false economy'. It was sold, to
his chagrin, 'for a trifle'. A mango
tree reportedly planted in what was
East's original garden, was destroyed
only a few years ago.
Bath had been no more felicitous a
choice than Enfield for a tropical, much
less an English, garden. The plot itself
was far too small, only one and three-
quarter acres by then, and at the mercy
of the Sulphur River, which might have
been good for healing a wide variety of
human ailments but would develop dur-

ing the frequent rainy periods a nasty
temper. Between 1848 and 1856 the
river inundated the Garden on five
separate occasions. The town itself was
being eaten away.
The fledgling department of botanic
gardens began to look elsewhere, and in
1862 began to convert a site 2,000 feet
in the St. Andrew mountains, Castleton,
into a botanic garden. One year after
Paul Bogle led his ill-fated rebels from
nearby Stony Gut, Bath Garden ceased
to be the headquarters of the depart-


The move from Bath to Castleton, a
cooler, airier place, symbolized an ur-
gent concern of the time tropical
fevers. Fever had been the curse of Euro-
pean settlers since the first great expan-
sion of the 15th and 16th centuries along
the coasts of Africa, Asia and into the
so-called new world.
The Spaniards had come upon a
remedy in the Andes mountains where
for centuries the Indians had cured fevers
with a tea brewed from the bark of a
certain tree found growing wild there.
In the tradition of Columbus who 'dis-
covered' a new world already inhabited,
it was not until the wife of a Spanish
nobleman was cured of fever by the
native tea that it was taken seriously by
Europeans. She was the wife of the
viceroy of Peru, the Count of Chinchon
- hence, Cinchona. The Jesuits adopted
the use of this tree's bark in their
missionary stations, so it became known

also as 'Jesuit's bark'. The active ingre-
dient was quinine, and there was a
world-wide market for it.
In 1860 the colonial administration
in Jamaica, with an eye to that market,
acquired 600 acres at a spot in the Blue
Mountains called Latimer's Patent, des-
cribed as 'remote virtually unoccupied'
forest land. Some of that acreage we
are not told how much was planted
out experimentally in cinchona seeds
sent out from the Royal Botanic Gar-
dens at Kew in Britain.
The experiments were successful: in
1868 Sir John Peter Grant who had
replaced the disgraced Edward John
Eyre as governor, ordered the establish-
ment of another botanic garden, this
one at Latimer's Patent, for the develop-
ment and propagation of the cinchona
plant. By 1869 the garden was offer-
ing 40,000 plants of cinchona for sale
to nearby planters at 5 to 7 per
A director of public gardens said
some years later that the objective of
the government in establishing and
maintaining Cinchona Gardens 'was not
on account of the pecuniary returns
likely to be yielded by them, but for the
purpose of showing that Cinchona barks
of good quality could be successfully

The Eucalypti are the giant emblems of the
century-old Gardens.

grown in Jamaica; and also that Cinchona
planting as an enterprise in private
hands possessed all the elements of a
sound and remunerative industry'. With-

Giant Tree Fern frond unfurls in the temperate air.

Three Cinchona stalwarts: Rhododendron (in bloom at left), Norfolk Island Pine (Araucaria), and
Masson's Pine, frequently planted as a wind-break.

in a few years that objective seemed ful-
It would appear that at the same
time as they were looking about Cin-
chona Gardens, the powers-that-be were
already having second thoughts about
Castleton, because of its 19-mile dis-
tance from Kingston, the major popu-
lation and commercial centre. Sir John
Peter Grant, who felt it 'important to
interest the public as much as possible
in such an institution as a botanic gar-
den', thought the selection of Castle-
ton 'unfortunate'. But he would not
allow it to be abandoned, as some were
It was perhaps as a caution that the
Hill Garden (as Cinchona was firstcalled)
almost immediately following its estab-
lishment, was made the headquarters of
the island's department of public gar-
dens and plantations; its superinten-
dent, Mr. Thompson, moved in that
same year to live and work on the
mountaintop one of his successors
would describe as 'the nearest place to
heaven'. And as if to compensate for
the failures of the past and the current
ambivalence about Castleton, plans for
the Hill Garden were appropriately
grand. In 1869 a 'small plantation' of
Assam (Indian) tea which had been
introduced into Jamaica around 1849 -
50 was begun. Some time later a hybrid
of Assam and China was planted. Sam-
ples of trees from all over the world
were brought to that remote wind-driven
hillside: cypresses and pines from Cali-
fornia and the Himalayas as well as the
Caribbean, fruit from Britain and Flori-
da, China grass.
And of course there was an 'English
garden'. In 1874 Mr. Nock (we never
learn his christian name) is brought
from Kew Gardens. He is to supervise
the introduction of European fruit and

vegetables, to be produced for the
Kingston market. By the following year,
superintendent Thompson reports that
Mr. Nock 'has been very successful in
producing an assortment of vegetables
such as are not grown elsewhere in the
island'. With his eye on that large
market in sight far below, he expresses
the hope 'that the peasantry will initi-
ate the cultivation of similar vegetables,
as these experiments show that at this
height almost all European vegetables
can be grown with advantage'. In
20 years Thompson's hopes are fully
realized, and the incumbent director,
William Fawcett, would report in 1897
that 'all the settlers round for many
miles grow such "English" vegetables as
peas, carrots, cabbages, turnips, potatoes,
artichokes, horse radish, cucumbers and
beets'. The hillside farmers of the pre-
sent day still grow these crops, and have
added others such as iceberg lettuce,
escallion, herbs, and flowers such as
agapanthus, Bermuda lilies and asters.
That aspect of the 'English garden'
was the most successful and fully real-
ized of the original objectives of the
Hill Garden. It soon came to be known
by the popular name of itsraison d'etre,
Cinchona; but in fact that plant enjoyed
a very brief period of success in Jamaica,
despite its obvious suitability. The
original 'plantation' of 40 acres, begun
in 1868 with five species, had grown
by 1882 to encompass at least 180
acres on which 25-30 species of cin-
chona were being grown experiment-
ally. The person in charge of the depart-
ment at that time, Mr. D. Morris, M.A.,
(Mr. Thompson had retired in 1878)
was quick to note that there was 'some
confusion respecting the classification
of more than one of the cinchonas now
under cultivation'; he was not the first
or last incumbent to cry out for proper
classification of the thousands of plants

under his care.
True to the original concept of pro-
pagation for commercial growth, the
gardens had distributed thousands of
plants to private planters over the years.
Morris adjudged that by 1882 the
possibility of establishing a remuner-
ative industry had been proven. After
all, in one year alone 17,000 had been
realized by the sale of cinchona bark
from Jamaica.
Yet by 1887 the market in cin-
chona, according to William Fawcett,
had 'collapsed'. The early promise of
quick riches the old and abiding
dream of 'new' societies was not ful-
filled. For all the impressive returns,
and apparent expansion in varieties
and acreage in the gardens, planters in
the area held back from expanding their
holdings or from going into cinchona at
all. One reason was that ancient (and
modern) handicap of Jamaican agri-
culture: lack of roads to get the produce
out at the right time, or at all. 'A golden
opportunity was lost' in the opinion of
Fawcett, by not putting in the required
infrastructure. In Ceylon (Sri Lanka),
to which Jamaica was constantly being
compared in so many areas, 'with good
roads and railways, .fortunes had been
made by all the pioneers' in cinchona
cultivation. The differences in costs
between the two islands became too
heavy to allow Jamaica to compete.
In fact exports from Ceylon itself
were declining by the end of the dec-
ade; when the market recovered, the
slack was more than taken up by bark
of very high quality from Java in the
Dutch East Indies. As a correspondent
from Kew Gardens wrote to a Jamaican
grower in January 1891, 'the immediate
future of cinchona is not reassuring'.
He meant, of course, bark grown in the
British Empire. A planter in Java or
trader in Amsterdam would have seen
things differently.
Indeed 1886 and 1887 were trau-
matic years for agriculture in Jamaica.
Fifty years after Emancipation, 20 years
after the Morant Bay rebellion, the
colony had still not found its economic
feet. For one thing, labour costs, while
low in terns of local living costs, were
high when compared to those in other
colonies. We have already touched on
the problem of infrastructure. And, of
course, actual market price was set
thousands of miles away, in London,
where one was bound to sell one's
crops. (In 1892 the United States was
importing upwards of half the world's
quinine production, but Jamaica still
had to sell to England.)

In 1886 prices for the agricultural
mainstays were experiencing one of
their cyclical lows. When, in that year,
Mr. Daniel Morris resigned as director
of gardens and plantations to become
assistant director at Kew Gardens (eventu-
ally becoming imperial commissioner of
agriculture for the West Indies) a com-
mittee of the legislature was formed to
consider the future of the department.
It is worth quoting the committee's
report at some length for its relevance
not only to its own time, but to ours.
The committee:
fully recognized the importance to a
purely agricultural colony of an organi-
zed department for the giving of reli-
able and authoritative information in
matters of agriculture and cultivation,
and for the dissemination of such
knowledge. The importance of this is
especially enhanced at the present
time when the depressed condition
of our staple products in the markets
of the world suggests not only the
application of all means of science and
invention to their more perfect and
more economical production, but also
the encouragement of the cultivation
of those so-called minor products for
which the soil and the climate of this
island are so fortunately suited.

The department of course survived.
One of the 'so-called minor products'
was tea, from the beginning a part of
the Hill Garden's programme of experi-
ment and propagation. No doubt
dreams of wealth inspired by the
seemingly insatiable demand in Britain
for the brew were woven around its
cultivation and export, but they appear
to have been more modest than the ex-
pectations aroused by cinchona. And
the economics of scale and labour costs,
the absence of infrastructure, were even
more starkly disadvantageous to Jamaica
in tea than in cinchona bark.

Nonetheless, several planters persist-
ed. Thirty years after the gardens began,
and when the production of cinchona
had contracted sharply, new tea plants
were still being ordered from the Hill
Garden. Nor was its cultivation con-
fined to the areas near the original nur-
sery. In 1903, 100 acres of tea were
planted at Ramble, in the hills of St.
Ann. The attempt to establish a tea
plantation was courageous, but by 1920
it had to be abandoned. Another false
start in a product which was adjudged by
a London tea broker as being of 'excel-
lent' quality.
Long before the cultivation of cin-
chona was given up, the character of
the garden begn to change; the 'bo-
tanic' in its designation began to emerge
as a major endeavour on the part of its
directors, superintendents and staff. (It
was a large staff: in 1882, a year after
a Penny Savings Bank for employees
was started, 134 depositors had 59.14
to their credit 'in the hands of the Man-
ager of the Savings Bank in Kingston'.)
By 1887, for instance, of the almost
1,700 plants distributed from the Gar-
dens, only 94, the smallest number,
were of the 'economic and medicinal'
category. 'Ornamental trees, shrubs and
plants' accounted for the largest number,
(866); 322 'timber and shade trees' were
distributed, and 414 cuttings.
Among the cuttings no doubt were
temperate fruit trees and citrus. Accord-
ing to Fawcett, 'splendid' oranges were
produced as high as 4,100 feet. Indeed
an orange experimental garden was
established at about 3,900 feet; a large
number of budded and grafted trees
were imported from Florida, and from
Rivers in England, who had supplied
the growers of California and Florida

when they were establishing groves.
Grapefruit, tangerine and shaddock
were also successfully grown, and in
1899 alone, 46,453 citrus plants were
Grape plants were imported from
California, of a variety 'which grow(s)
on the table-lands of Persia'. They
took to the high altitude and produced
a grape 'very highly spoken of by travel-
lers' to the hills. Fawcett saw the possi-
bility of grafting the native Jamaican
grape, which was 'abundant' in the hills,
with 'more tender' European varieties.
He does not tell us whether this was
ever done.
'There is nothing', said governor Sir
John Peter Grant in 1871 'to prevent
Jamaica becoming, for the quality,
variety and commercial value of its
fruit, the most noted spot in the world'.
It is a comment that remains pertinent
to our time. Fawcett was optimistic
that when roads were put in, the pro-
duction of the region would cause the
prosperity of Jamaica to 'advance by
leaps and bounds'. He also felt that it
could attract large numbers of 'settlers
from England when it became known
that we have a Florida and a California
in an island under British rule, with all
the advantages of those climates and
none of the disadvantages'.
High hopes never to be realized. In
January 1902 the expenditure of pub-
lic funds ceased at Cinchona Gardens
and the Orange Garden Resource. One has
a sense, reading the reports and bulletins
of the department, of the tremendous
effort by officials and labourers being
never quite enough. Things would grow
up there, certainly and aplenty. But
there were no roads to take them out
on; one had no control over marketing

The Blue Gum (a species of Eucalyptus) at right and the Norfolk Island
Pine (Araucaria) are dominant features of the lawn below the Great House.

Cinchona District

or price. And there were the storms and
hurricanes, which came frequently,
destroying years of work in a single
burst of fury. There was a particularly
violent storm in 1903, which uprooted
more than 500 trees and seriously dam-
aged more than 1500; most were eucalp-
pti, cypresses, junipers, podocarpus, pre-
cisely those which had been planted to
protect the smaller trees and the hillside
In that year the department leased
the Great House, which had been the
director's residence, adjoining buildings
including the Long and Short House,
and ten acres of land to the New York
Botanical Gardens, for ten years. The
arrangement was felt by both parties
to be advantageous. The department
planned to use the rental to repair and
upkeep roads and fences which were
now 'in a very neglected state'. The
director at the time of the N.Y.B.G.
thought Cinchona was the place best
suited in the American tropics for
studying 'tropical and sub-tropical
plants growing under natural conditions,
instead of under the necessarily
artificial conditions which glass houses
afford in the temperate zone'.
The N.Y.B.G. was very happy with
Cinchona, and with Jamaica's botanical
riches. As well as the facilities at the Hill
Garden the flora of coastal regions and
the 'vast collections' of Hope and Castle-
ton Gardens 'place within easy reach ...
an enormous number of species native
to regions with a range of conditions
from those of the most humid to those
of the most extreme audity', said the
When the lease ended in 1913 it was
not renewed, for reasons we are not
told. Next year the cataclysm of World
War I followed. William Harris, who had
been superintendent of Cinchona and
then Castleton, during the 1880s and
1890s, and had succeeded William Faw-
cett as director, died in 1920 'with no
worthy local successor', according to
George Proctor, a former botanist at the
Institute of Jamaica. These factors, in
his view, 'led to a drastic decline of our
public botanical activities'.

To a layman that seems an unduly
harsh judgement. The Gardens as a locus
of enjoyment such as Sir John Peter
Grant envisioned, has served three gene-
rations of Jamaicans (and visitors) well
since 1920. It is not the replica of
English gardens he may have known
but its tropical profusion of colour and
limpid air is its own virtue, and our


An arboretum, according to the Con-
cise Oxford Dictionary, is a botanical
tree garden. The word suggests orderly
groves of well-trimmed trees, labelled in
Latin and the vernacular, and arranged
for edification and delight.
Andreas Oberli says he wants to
make Cinchona all 30 acres which
presently remain as the gardens into
one large arboretum. Oberli is Swiss,
with an understandable passion for
mountains, including driving up and
down them in all weathers. He is in
charge of a project to restore and revi-
vify Cinchona.
The restoration idea began, as a
point of reference, with Hurricane
Allen in 1980. The latest in the litany
of storms to lash that mountain, Allen
ripped up trees, lifted roofs and washed
away tons of hillside. One does not get
an impression of frantic or even con-
sistent activity at Cinchona in the seven-
ties, but Allen was a serious body blow.
The effects are still visible in fallen un-
cleared trees lying across tracks, in the
empty frames and gaping roof-sections
giving an abstract perspective to certain
Oberli sees the restoration project in
three stages, the first of which he calls
a rescue operation; he means of buildings
and trees. The project began last year,
with funding by the Jamaica National
Investment Company. Why the creation
of a tree garden on public parkland
should be the concern of an investment
corporation is a tangled tale; but its out-
come bespeaks both Oberli's determin-
ation and a welcome broadening of view-
point in official circles.

The Long and Short Houses, adjoin-
ing the Great House, have been re-
furbished. The Long House provides
accommodation for the watchman and
the Short House a visitor shelter from
the rain (or the wind). The shingle roof
of the Great House is being replaced,
after which, in phase two, the walls,
floors and windows, almost entirely
of wood, will be repaired. A basic water
supply (icy cold) has been provided by
means of refurbishing existing pumps
and providing new ones. The provision
of electricity and water is basic to the
long term development of Cinchona,
electricity from Hall's Delight and water
from the Green River, which forms part
of the border between St. Andrew and
St. Thomas. To a bourgeois Kingstonian
whose previous frontier of basic living
had been the rough splendours of New-

castle, the absence of electricity made
the evenings romantic and cozy; the
absence of water in certain parts of the
Great House, indeed the absence of
those parts of the house at all! under-
lined one's remoteness. 'Coming to
come' as they say in Jamaica, but the
provision of electricity is viewed at
least by some with ambivalence.

As in Fawcett's time, so now, the
critical factor in Cinchona's future is
roads. Repairs to the roads from Top
Mountain to Cinchona and from Clydes-
dale to Top Mountain are the salient
features of phases two and three respect-
ively. Fortunately the burden, financial
and otherwise, does not fall entirely on
one agency. There is a patchwork of
agencies with projects in that area,
ranging from the Forestry Department-
the government department in which
most of our forest reserve is vested -
through the Coffee Industry Develop-
ment Company (CIDCO); the St. Andrew
Parish Office successor to the Yallahs
Valley Land Authority; the Kingston
and St. Andrew Corporation and the
Public Works Department. Somewhere
amidst all of that bureaucratic mass,
is the money (and hopefully the will)
to repair and maintain the roads.
Such action will be to the benefit
of all the agencies, for almost all of them
are also involved in development pro-
jects. The Forestry Department has leased
1,300 acres to CIDCO for coffee expan-
sion (another 'so-called minor crop' on
which great dreams are periodically pin-
ned, never more so than today).
The Forestry Department is itself
involved in growing coffee. But its big
thrust in that crop involves an experi-
ment started in the early 1970s, of
growing coffee under pine trees. The
yield from each, as one would expect, is
less than if they were grown apart. But
the benefit in terms of soil conservation
and watershed protection more than
Given the location of Cinchona, soil
erosion is an endemic problem to which
considerable attention is now being
devoted. An experimental plot has been
started on Eucalyptus Hill specifically
to test plants suitable for afforestation
of the badly ravaged eastern slope. More
than a dozen trees, many to be found
growing wild on the surrounding hill-
sides, are being tried. Their names are
musical and instructive: sweet chest-
nut, womanwood, silky oak, sairywood,
ilex, and, of course, the cinchona. The
most suitable quick growing, sturdy
limbs, strong roots and good for fire-

wood to boot is the mimosa, Black
As well as mimosa, acacia, cypressus
(Christmas tree), juniper, European oak
and yacca will be planted. Such plants
would have an immediate conservation
effect; in the medium and long term
they will serve as windbreaks and
timber storms and other acts of
God not withstanding.
Long term plans also include the
rebuilding of a nursery for the culti-
vation and propagation of fruit and
flowering trees, berries and ornamentals.
The range of plants being tried is wide,
from subtropical through Mediterranean
types to temperate varieties. Some do
better than others. Several varieties of
peach and cherimoya thrive. The out-
look is less optimistic for apples, pears,
and plums from temperate zones; but in
an island overblessed in fruits, the fail-
ure would be only of botanical interest.
The major day-to-day activity is a
continuing programme of clearing and
pruning of damage caused by Allen. To
appreciate the havoc one merely has to
walk around the Gardens. Some of the
pathways are dangerously eroded, almost
non-existent in parts. The dead carcasses
of fallen trees, some chain-sawed into
huge cylindrical chunks, redirect one's
step, round or over. Whole acres have re-
turned to the jungle from which they
were no doubt carved a century ago.
The rehabilitation process is a lengthy
one, involving the clearing of hillsides
and the pruning, sometimes as a last
resort the cutting down of trees. The
shrubbery and weed can grow so high in
that fecund air that in clearing it one can
discover whole trees twenty or more
feet high! Their branches and crowns
were one with the bush.
And by walking, the layman, know-
ing little or nothing about plants, can
discover the joys of Cinchona at every
turn. There are the two lawns below the
Great House, one above the other, sure-
ly made for rolling on but also, surely,
for croquet? Beyond the south-eastern
corner are two giant Norfolk Island
pines, rivalling in height the tallest
podocarpus or eucalyptus. And then
one is pointed to a squat tree on the
north eastern corner shaped like a
pregnant candelabra, and is told that
that too is a pine from Norfolk Island.
One wonders what other surprises
Norfolk Island, a dot off the coast of
Australia, would have in store.
Lacing the south-western slopes are
relics of the European aesthetic in Cin-
chona, a series of pathways leading up

and down the hillside. Young bamboo
and tree ferns arch overhead, thick and
low, forcing one to crouch. And one
must always be careful on the moss-
covered slopes. In places one is walking
over clusters of berries, squishy to the
feet and creamy to the touch, suggest-
ing the coolie plums of childhood. They
are the berries of the podocarpus or
yacca, dozens of which tower in sentinel
groups throughout the gardens.
Along with the giant eucalypti, they
are the emblems of the century-old
gardens. A stand of eucalyptus regnans,
as majestic as their name, rears to 150
feet or more over the Great House, and
twelve of the more than 1,500 species are
to be found at Cinchona. Prominent
among them is the silvery blue gum, the
centrepiece of the lower lawn, which
glows even in the weakest light. Behind
the Great House on the aptly named
Eucalyptus Hill, is a 'nursery' of euca-
lypti, slender saplings growing in a circu-
lar indentation which began life (under
former Superintendent James) as the
setting for a water tank. One's eyes
swing back and forth between the arrow
shoots and the giants coiling up into the
sky overhead, seeming to shelter their
As one walks along the pathways one
is surprised by gaps in the yellow green
walls of bamboo windows which look
out on hillsides of blue agapanthus lilies
and hydrangea and azalea bushes of red
and pink and white flowers. At Cin-
chona, the flowers are an aesthetic
counterpoint to the trees.
Through those windows one can also
see Kingston, if one wants to. Some
people don't. They prefer to sit on the
benches overlooking the deep valley of
Strawberry Hill. Its sides are ravaged by
erosion, from rain and the wilful fires of
lazy farmers clearing the land, and
which got out of control. On a flat ridge
in the middle of the valley is an aban-
doned estate house and barbecues,
suffering their own erosion of neglect.
On those benches, someone says, one
feels like one is sitting on the edge of
Or one can turn toward the south
west, past rhododendron trees and
massonia pines, one of the original set
of plants at Cinchona, with their char-
acteristic tufts at the end of each
branch, like something from a Chinese
silkscreen. One will encounter the
weathered greenhouse once the fore-
man's cottage with its exquisite un-
pretentious porch and outroom with
blue and green pastel boards. The green-

house will be revived, with an orchid
collection and possibly other plants, in
pots, for sale. Nearby is one of the
many oddities on the site, a North
American tulip tree which, far from
home, nonetheless responds to its eugen-
ic rhythms and sheds its leaves every
October, as its cousins to the north are
doing. The tight green buds return in
early March.
But all is not profusion and fecundity.
Even in Cinchona trees die. It is intend-
ed to keep as many of them standing as
do not interfere with the growing ones.
The birds like them as perches; and it is
a thrill for a city boy to see a hawk,
riding the air like a wild thought, a
thousand feet above his head.
But one must, at some point, return
to Kingston. There are parts of the
region around Content Gap, at the
head of the long Yallahs Valley, where
the straight tidy conifers, green terraced
slopes and neat pastel houses make the
hillside of Cinchona look well, Euro-
pean. And then, at almost the last mo-
ment before the road tilts irrevocably
towards the city, one looks back at
the thickly-covered Grecian-nosed spur,
plumed with huge podocarpus and
eucalyptus combed back by the cease-
less wind; and wonders at man's need
for order, and at his energy and ambi-
tion in seeking to impose it.


BRITTON, N.L., "The Tropical Station at
Cinchona", extracts from Popular
Science Monthly, New York: John R.
Whiting (date unknown).
EYRE, AlanThe Botanic Gardens of Jamaica,
London: Andre Deutsch, 1966.
FAWCETT, William, "The Public Gardens and
Plantations of Jamaica", Botanical
Gazette, Vol. 24 No. 5, November
1897, Chicago: University Press.

JAMAICA, Board of Agriculture and Depart-
ment of Public Gardens Reports,
Kingston, Government Printing Office,
Agriculture and Botanical Department
Bulletins, Kingston, Government Print-
ing Office, 1887-1894.

A Life Of Service

'Uncle Newton' reviews 'Newsy Wapps'. The Rev. E.N. Burke re-reads the hilarious tales of his
childhood with which he regaled Jamaican children (and adults) in the 1940s in six books
featuring the 'Newsy Wapps' character. (See p. 18).

The Rev E. N. Burke

Intervieured by

Erna Brodber

Q: Reverend Burke, I know you to
be 'Uncle Newton', who wrote
stories for us children; to be a
leading proponent of the com-
munity development approach to
social welfare; I know you to have
been one of our key men in Britain
at those times of race riots, and
now I see that you are the Rever-
end Ed Burke of the Anglican
Church. All of this spells serv-
ice. How did you come to be
such a service oriented personal-
A: Well, that goes back to my child-
hood. I was born in 1909 and I
lived in a little town called Chapel-
ton in Clarendon, and we who
lived on the lower side of the
town, called Bottom Chapel, had
no servants. We had to do every-
thing. We had to run to the shop;
we had to plant; we had to tie
out the pig; we had to move the

goat when it was in the sun; we had
to fetch in water; we had to use our
mouths as bellows to blow the fire to
roast the breadfruit to make the meal.
We just had to do everything from
morning until we ran to school and
then afterwards in the afternoon after
we left school, it was all service again,
in reverse; the pig went out in the
morning and the goat and so now they
came back in. And when night came,
particularly on moonlit nights, we had
all the things to do like fanning coffee
and beating chocolate, you know.
So you knew how to take care of the
things around. But how about people?
Your history shows you to be in the
service of Man.

Well, I should say something about my
parents. My mother was trained at
Shortwood College as a teacher. When
I was a tot she had a little dame school.
I found out that she started the dame

school for a boy who was the son of a
tenant in our home and myself. We were
two little rascals, she said, and she had
to find something for us to do at the age
of two. So that is how she started up
this little school. And this helped us.
Her service to you and to this little boy
was internalised by you?

Quite right. Now the other side is my
father. He was a shopkeeper. In those
days a shopkeeper was a man who had
a shop which served what was called
salt provision mackerel, shads, her-
rings, codfish, etc.; it served flour, rice,
sugar and so on. Then it served drinks,
mainly for people who came to Chapel-
ton to the courthouse and to the doctor.
It served lemonade and aerated water
and for the people who wanted some-
thing stronger, wines and rums.
So you are saying that in having to assist
in the shop, you were seeing all kinds of
people and understanding that they had
needs, even if they were just economic
needs which you were satisfying from
across the counter.
Yes, that's quite so. But more than that.
My father ran a social centre in the shop
- he was a humorist. And people came
to the shop not only to buy but to lis-
ten to him. We had to learn from him
how to serve the people; in those days
emphasis was on service. There were no
supermarkets then, it was serving in
the shop so well that the person would
return. And we had to learn now how to
speak to the judge; how to speak to the
judge's children; how to speak to the
maid who bought the things for the
judge; how to speak to her relatives;
how to speak to the man who cleaned
the drains. We had to learn the differ-
ent languages ....
So these two exposures combined to
make you a particular kind of personal-
Oh yes. I really think so. I got a round-
ed education. I always said it, though I
have visited so many countries, and
gone to so many institutions, the
greatest education I really got was with
my mother in her humble home and my
father in the shop.
Let me move on to another thing. You
were born in 1909, and so in 1920 you
were about eleven. Now at that time in
Jamaica there was Marcus Garvey,
there was Bedward, in fact Black Jam-
aicans were beginning to assert them-
selves. Did any of this excitement affect
your own development?

Well, I had to listen to Bedward songs
from morning until night. We had two
boys on a hill near to us and they
were very good singers and their parents
went to Kingston and brought back
songs. There were people in those days
in Jamaica who sold tracts. They were
sold for a penny, and these tracts had
the words, "Bedward want to fly but
him want a righteous member/Fly Mr.
Bedward, fly/But nuh fly and lef yu
member". And all of us on the Bottom
Chapel knew it, because these boys sang
so clearly that we lower down the hill,
we picked it up. So we heard about Bed-
ward. My exposure to Garvey was main-
ly in Kingston when he came and had
his first convention Negro conven-
tion. That was 1929 I think. And from
that time I was a Garveyite.

You were a Garveyite?

Yes. I loved Garvey. I didn't join the
movement actually but in spirit and in

Were you at Mico College at this time?

cipal, an ex-military man, but when-
ever we had our Wednesday afternoons
off, Saturday afternoons off and Sun-
day, I would get to Garvey's place at
Edelweiss Park which was near by and
listen to him. One thing I liked about
him: he was a short man, but he had a
most powerful voice. I have never heard
a man with such a voice. He could speak
for hours on end. In the Kingston Race
Course he spoke from the pavilion
which is on one side and you could hear
him at Wolmer's, far on the other side,
clearly. And what he was saying was so
sound! In Jamaica then, you had white
and dark. Then you had brown strong
brown, financial brown, then you had
light brown and light-skin and so on it
came down. We who were black like
myself, we were down the bottom so it
was something great to me, as a very
black man to know that somebody was
telling me that I could achieve, I could
be somebody; not only could I be some-
body, that I am somebody. Prior to
Garvey we had nobody telling us that
we black people were somebody.

Yes. In '29. And I went to so many of Do you think Garvey's philosophy, or
his meetings. We had a very strict prin- your exposure to him, has affected at

all your notion of yourself as a service

Oh yes! Of course. That's why I said
earlier that I am a Garvey man. I never
went and joined up with him because in
those days it was not 'the thing' for an
aspiring young teacher, to link up poli-
tically. In fact it was regarded some-
what as a crime, so I never linked up
with Garvey. He wrote the Black Man
newspaper and I read that and with
other people, I discussed it.

Let me go on to something else now:
your own writings. The ones I am most
familiar with are Stories Told by Uncle
Newton. What inspired you to write?

Between the years 1948 to '50, I wrote
six of them. At the time comics had
come into the country and they were
damaging us; in most of the comics
there is somebody who is hen-pecked,
for instance, and it was giving the wrong
idea of marriage and marriage relation-
ships. In some of them the man is a nit-
wit and it's making out that all men are
nitwits. In some of them, you know,
different things were denigrating human
beings. My view of life is that every per-

I ( ; ,, ,'

Mediator: E.N. Burke played a leading role in bringing peace to areas torn by race riots in Britain in the 1950s. Here he is shown on a BBC
programme discussing the problems with Donald Chesworth, member for Notting Hill on the London County Council.

son is a child of God and therefore I
never liked these comics and I wanted
to produce a Jamaican alternative.
Another thing was that in the years be-
tween my early childhood in the shops
and 1948, I saw a future for Jamaicans
way up. It was something like the vision
Jacob had at Bethel when he saw angels
going up that ladder. I therefore regarded
it as a contribution that I could make to
help to lift my Jamaicans up there.

So the Uncle Newton/Newsy Wapps
series was all part of the whole busi-
ness of your serving your country?

Oh yes, of course. When I mention the
year 1948 I have jumped a whole bit of
my history because in 1948 I was only
39 years old, and I had been teaching
from 1931 to '38, when I was drafted
into social work.

Could you tell us how you made the
connection between teaching, your writ-
ing, and your social work? Is there a

Oh yes. As I mentioned my mother ran
this little dame school. She had a tech-
nique of teaching which was quite rare
in thosedays;she would be inthe kitchen,
cooking, or in the house sewing, or in
the yard fanning coffee and she would
be teaching at the same time. She had a
powerful voice and she had another
thing; not only that she taught direct,
but the brightest child in the class al-
ways taught, and then she corrected.
So nearly all of us in the class became
teachers in turn, according to what you
were teaching. The child who remem-
bers his Scripture lessons best is teach-
ing Scripture, and the one who does
arithmetic best, is teaching the time
tables, and the one who is the best reader
is in charge of the reading class. Well
that influenced me away from my father.
As I mentioned to you my father was a
shopkeeper, I later found out that he
was priming two of us children to be-
come shopkeepers to succeed him, so
that he could have a wholesale and we
would be in charge of the branches. But
as I went on in life torn between these
two parents, who did not live together,
I found myself being drawn more and
more to teaching. And finally, I decided
that teaching was the thing for me and
I told him that I would like to get fur-
ther education. He was very disappoint-
ed, but my mother and all her relations
who were all teachers rejoiced. So I
went to Mico College and did my train-
ing there and I took a great interest in
methodology and when I came out I
was sent at the request of a Baptist

minister to a little country school called
The Alps.

Did he ask for you?

Yes, he asked for me. And when the
request came I shuddered because I was
to go to Trelawny, and I had heard of it
as a very distant part of Jamaica.

About what time was this?

That was the beginning of 1931.

Did any of your mother's style I
would call that a kind of participating
technique in teaching move into your
practice in The Alps?

Not for the first year and a half. For the
first year and a half I fancied myself as
somebody great. A great educator. And
I taught very much by speaking and
the children replying and then revising
the lessons and so on. Poor things, they
couldn't learn! After a year and a half
I was on the point of leaving the village
because I was a total failure I regard-
ed myself as such and I told one of
my inspectors, the head inspector who
was a foreigner, and he said 'have you
tried the project method of teaching?'

The project method?
'The project method. Or the Montessori
method.' I said 'Well, I learnt of them in
college, only one lesson on each. And
the Montessori method would be too
expensive. It calls for equipment. But I
have never tried the project method.'
He said, 'Why don't you try it'? Well, I
looked up my notes and he sent me
some information from a magazine and
I discovered that much of what the
method involved, was what Mami did.
That is, that the children would be so
caught up in the whole process of the
teaching that they would teach them-
selves or would teach the teachers. I
didn't have any teachers as such to assist
me. I had a pupil teacher and I had a
monitor. The monitor wasn't paid, the
pupil teacher was given 10 shillings per
month. They were my assistants till
later on I did get an untrained assistant.
These people and myself, we couldn't
handle the children using the tradition-
al methods, but now we began to tell
the children that we were going to try
something new. One day I said, 'I have
not been able to teach you, in fact I
have flogged you most of the time and
you have even become afraid of me. I
was getting discouraged and I wanted to
leave but the Inspector has told me not
to teach that way, to teach you what
you want to learn if you want to learn

anything. Tell me, you have anything
you want to learn?' And they said to
me, 'Yes.' And after two weeks, the
consensus we arrived at in the school
was that they wanted to build a house.
That's all they were interested in in
that school at The Alps. So I said,
'That's good. You really want to build a
house? Why you want to build a house?'
They said: 'We go out to Ulster Spring,
Albert Town, we go to Brown's Town
and we go to Falmouth and other places
like Clark's Town, and we see people
living in houses. We live in huts.' Usually
a hut is one room. We want to live in a
house. So we would like to put a house
at school so that our parents can see
what a house is.' And so I said, 'O.K. if
that is so, let's have a house. What
house shall it be?' And we took about
two to three weeks to decide on the
house. And the house we finally decided
on was a four apartment house. That
was the house they wanted.

How did the building of the house af-
fect the teaching of the 3-Rs?

Oh, that was the secret of the whole
thing. The children were caught up in
this thing which they designed the
house was designed by them. We actu-
ally made it first on the blackboard
and then after that we made it in card-
board and then finally we were going to
make this house now. The Department
of Education demanded a certain amount
of work to be covered in the weekly
scheme, the monthly scheme, the
annual scheme. The children didn't
know about that but I and my little
teachers who assisted me saw to it that
the curriculum was covered along the
line of fun and play and interest, be-
cause this project method is based funda-
mentally on fun.

So are you telling me that in the build-
ing of the house you would ensure that
the children would measure and add up
and things like that?

Everything. The method was automatic
right along. The science was taught the
same way. For instance if you were
teaching about the four stages of a
butterfly's life, they would take you out
there and show you the little eggs. And
you would say, 'What are these little
eggs here children. I don't know the
bush business like you, you know, I
come from a town, I came from Chapel-
ton. What are these little eggs? they
don't look like fowl eggs to me.' 'Teach-
er, what's wrong with you sir, you al-
ways making joke ...'

So apart from setting up a project, you '
would get them involved in their en-
vironment and as it were teaching you
their environment?

They taught me so much you see. There
is a lot of pretense in the methodology
for the teacher. You have to humble
yourself. But Jesus Christ said it -
unless you be like a little child you can't
go into Heaven, and all through this
method I had the Bible in my mind,
particularly the New Testament -
Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Jesus
Christ said, unless you be like a little
child ... So I had to cook down Eddie
Burke. As you may notice, I am 6ft 1
inch tall. All my little children were
down at 3 ft., and 3 ft. 6 and 4 ft. That
first year and a half that I told you that I
I wasted, I was always the six-footer
taking advantage of the little children.
Now I boiled myself down.

Now tell me something. I know that an
inspector of schools had advised you to -
use this method, but still you must have .i
been pretty original here in Jamaica
with the use of it. How did the people
in your profession respond to what you ,
were doing or even the people in the

Well, the people in the village were
wonderful. At first they came and attack- A ..
ed me and said they sent their children
to school to learn reading, writing and
arithmetic, and they noticed that the m 4 P
children were coming home without any I-
bruises I wasn't beating them again. *
They rejoiced when I came there and
that I used to flog. They said I was a
good teacher. But the children didn't P
love me. After I had got in the method I
kept on telling the parents at church -
I was the local preacher in the Baptist
Church that without their help I
wouldn't stay in the village because I M il.
wanted to leave and that these children AWARDS have been part of the Rev. E.N. Burke's life. Here he receives (top) the National
had decided on a difficult project, a honour of Commander of the Order of Distinction from the governor-general, His Excellency
house. And I said, 'You people have to -Sir Florizel Glasspole, and (below) the prestigious Mico Gold Medal awarded to outstanding
help me.' So that the parents now be- graduates of his alma mater. Mrs. Joyce Robinson, C.D. makes the presentation (1979). The
Rev. Burke has also been a recipient of the Norman Manley Award for Excellence (1974).
came my greatest supporters, my allies.
You ask me a question about my col-
leagues. Six months after I started the We have in stock a small back- The Jamaican Heritage in
method, it was my turn to entertain my AIAI4 ,A list of past issues and would be Dance by Cheryl Ryman
MI M d pleased to send you a list of Complete documentation of
fellow teachers at my school at teachers' eIRJI b =L numbers available and cost. all traditional dances of Jam-
meeting. In those days we had what was aica, with map showing dis-
called Jamaica Union of Teachers. So IS TIMELESS. Still available tribution around the island.
when they came I introduced them to No 44 which includes Over 30 dances are described.
the method. They laughed till they near- Our back issues are in demand
ly died while I was speaking. They laugh- because they represent a pre- No. 4
ed. They laughed. At first with me, and mier research source for ma- Charles Hyatt on the Jamaican
trial (articles and illus- language.
then afterwards they laughed at me. trations) on Jamaica's history,
And they said that such a method was culture, artistic and literary Each J$5 or U.S.$7.50 post-
pure rubbish. I kept on going though activities. paid.
because the head inspector had become


my friend in this. Well, after two and a
half years I had my first exhibition of
work, and I invited the heads of the
Training Colleges. In those days we only
had four training colleges. Two came as
did the director of education who by
this time had heard of it. He was the
guest speaker. He went wild over it
and the other people followed suit. The
two persons who moved the votes of
thanks that day were the two senior
teachers among my colleagues and they
confessed in public that they had laugh-
ed and that they thought that I was
only a fellow good for dancing and loud
talking and foolishness. Unfortunately I
must confess not many of the Jamaican
teachers took on to the method. The
method is called the project method,
but many of them took on to the project.
They would even employ carpenters to
come in and build a house, decorate it
and show the house as an exhibit, which
of course I condemned. They missed the

Did you move on to any other place de-
monstrating the method?
Oh yes, I was called to a few places. I
answered the call to the worst one. I
went and looked at it first. The two
assistant teachers at the school were
very cooperative, and they encouraged
me to introduce the project idea and to
build a house. So I had to explain to
them that in that methodology it's not
the teachers who decide on what the
project would be, it is the children in
consultation with the teachers. So we
then met the children as we did at The
Alps this school was Newstead we
put it to the whole school. After some
weeks, as in the first case, they decided
on a land settlement. They were going
to have a land settlement. They said
that their parents had no land, which
was quite true. Where were we going to
get the land? So we asked the Parson
and he said, 'You can have a half acre of
land here'. And we set to work to divide
up the land, and of course you can ima-
gine how arithmetic came into that!

Yes, the sub-division and that whole
business of chains and perimeter and all

Yes. Everything came into it. And we
did everything to scale. Every foot in
our business was a mile. The child who
got only 2 ft. long by 3 ft. wide the
others worked it out he had 6 sq.
miles of land and it built him up, you
see. And you know what he did? He
built up the whole school on the method-
ology. They took even the manure to
school! So the garden prospered. We

used no fertilizers, only yard manure
and we had a wonderful agricultural in-
structor who helped us right through,
a man called Laurie Coke. L.A.M.B.
Coke. He gave us advice from China
and Japan. So geography, history, every-
thing came into it. The hardest thing we
had to teach in the project method was
scripture. The only thing'we could do
was to tell it as a story. At this school
we founded Jamaica's first soup kitchen
because we had the river which had
crayfish and shrimps and our crayfish
soup became famous in a little time.
Any inspector and any visitor who came
to our school was invited to have soup.
Then in this soup kitchen the children
sold their products from their gardens.
So they carried home money.

They became farmers. Did any other as-
pect of Jamaican life get pulled into the
school as a teaching device? How about
the management of the school? Did you
involve them in the actual management?

Oh yes. Particularly in the second school.
In this school we began now to read
newspapers. And we found out that the
country was governed by a governor
who came from abroad and we said
after all, Newstead is self-government,
so we will have a governor but he will be
a Jamaican. So the first governor of
Jamaica came from Newstead School.
And then we appointed a colonial secre-
tary from among the children. We ap-
pointed the attorney general. Then we
went right on to a judge and we went to
lawyers, and we went to medicine -
doctor, nurse and first-aid outfit. So
they were involved.

I gatherthat you had left off teaching ...

Yes, I did. You see what happened,
Newstead became such a great suc-
cess that by the year 1938, that is after
three years there, I got three offers to
leave the school. One was to become an
assistant inspector, one was to become
the headmaster of a secondary school
and the third was to become a pioneer
in adult social work. Well my wife and I
decided that we would take the risk of
doing the pioneering work. You see, if I
had taken the other two jobs there
would be no risk. I would have pen-
sion rights and chances for promotion,
while in the pioneering work there was
no guarantee that the person in charge
could give me that I would be employ-
ed even for three years. He had just got
some money from the cess on bananas
sold abroad in Boston, United States,
and the people who arranged it were

very careful and said 'We will only give
the money while we get it. If we make a
profit we will give you one cent from
the profits made on each stem of ban-
ana, but if we don't make any profits,
you'll get no money.' So, I understood
that clearly but I took the risk under
God. I took the chance and I went into
that organisation called Jamaica Wel-
fare Limited. It was called Limited be-
cause it was a company, and the man
who founded it was Norman Washington
Manley, a barrister-at-law at the time. I
went and played my part, using the
techniques of the project method, visit-
ing the homes of the people, knowing
them, being known by them, discussing
everything that I was going to do with
them. I got my initial education from a
wonderful Jamaican who was the first
pioneer to be employed, Evan Donald-
son, in the Guy's Hill area, and then I
was sent to Porus. But after 3% months
Mr. Manley sent me abroad to check
up on an experiment, a world social
experiment, at a little university in
Nova Scotia.
Your name is associated with the busi-
ness of community development -
things like pioneer clubs, buying clubs
and all this kind of thing. Can you
somehow pull them together for me
and relate them to the project method
which you had developed.

Many things I have seen in Jamaica are
toppling because the people don't meet
at all. Other people are doing for them
what they should be doing for them-
selves. They should be meeting weekly;
they should know one another very
well. After they are meeting weekly
they are studying what to do to keep
together and to do business because
business is not accidental. Business has
to be done along businesslike lines. The
next thing you will say, 'Try to save a
little money for yourself. We keep a
little book, we write down in the book
and give you a copy of what you have
saved. Try to get in the habit.'

Is that what the thrift club is?

It's the thrift club. From there you go
on, from thrift to lending. People al-
ways want something to borrow, but if
people do not know you they will not
lend you. So that's where the weekly
thing comes in. Next comes a little busi-
ness. With money you can do a little
business. You can be an entrepreneur.
And if you can't be an entrepreneur on
your own, the whole group can be a
combined entrepreneur.

So you try to get people to operate along

this principle within your own practice
here in Jamaica. What was the response?
Well we started it in my area, that time I
came back to Porus. We launched our
study club early in 1939. By '40 we had
enough courage to start a little saving,
threepence per week it was in those
days, and that carried on for some time.
We noticed that certain people, the big
shots in the group, dropped out be-
cause they thought it was foolish to be
saving threepence per week they had
no confidence in the poor people in the
group so we made them go and we
built up. Then we had some advice from
above in our own organisation to go
faster and to do things quicker and to
go in a bigger way. The thing crashed.
We also organised too early, under advice
again, a cooperative store with shares.
When people saw things on the counter
that they wanted, they credited them. I
told them that in the cooperative move-
ment there is no credit. You borrow to
buy. But some people took the short-
cut which is very popular in Jamaica, of
buying on credit. That is totally against
the principles of the cooperative move-
ment. A cooperative cannot function
that way. So our early efforts in the

Porus area definitely failed. But it led us
to revise our outlook. My friend Evan
Donaldson had been trying in St. Mary
around Guy's Hill area, also with failures
for the cooperatives. We said we will
have to revise our attitude to the thing
in Jamaica and the best thing would be
for us to let the group study and then
go into thrift savings. So we coined a
phrase: 'Savings Union'. We concen-
trated now on the saving union. Other
people called it thrift club. Then we
also went into buying. What we did dur-
ing the war we encouraged people
to buy together in what was called the
buying club ten people go in a club
saving regularly, studying money and
money management regularly.
Let me ask you this: what is the relation-
ship in theoretical terms between com-
munity development and cooperatives
as practised here?
I think Mr. Manley was too polite to
say, 'we sent Burke to Canada to rub
off the rough edges'. But my friends in
the Christian Auxiliary Movement...
May I just stop you a minute. You are
mentioning for the first time the Chris-

tian Auxiliary Movement. How did
this come into it?
It was a Christian group that three of us
founded in 1933 called the Christian
Auxiliary Movement, meaning that the
Christian should be an auxiliary to the
whole Christian movement. He shouldn't
be tied to a denomination. We went
around doing all sorts of things. For in-
stance we did censuses. We visited
homes and that is when I discovered
what poverty was. So now it's with that
understanding that we could formulate
our programme of Christian work to fit
in with the people.

So you are saying that this Association
affected your social work?
Oh yes it did. Every year we met in
groups, monthly, and then annually;
we met in what we called the house
party and we had to report individual-
ly. We had to report what we were
doing ...
So they were there helping you to
evaluate your role in Jamaica as a
community development person?
Oh yes. We all helped one another.





We ensure that your interests and

those of your employees come FIRST.



All the people who are members have
to take pledges to relate their religion,
whatever denomination they come
from, to real life; they can't just go
spouting in a pulpit without any rela-
tionship to actual life.
So you are telling me now how the
cooperatives fitted into the community
development idea.
When we came back here we tried out
all types of ideas in this newly organized
Jamaica Welfare Limited and after
about five years, by 1943 we had for-
mulated a programme of social welfare
work. Jamaica Welfare. We liked the
name Jamaica Welfare: it meant that
any group linked to us and among
whom we worked should work for the
welfare of Jamaica. By 1943-44 with
the help of Professor Simey from Eng-
land, we were able to present a pro-
gramme to the interested parties who
came to visit us and study from us and
it went like this. In a village to which we
were called, we would call people to-
gether and once they got together...
Excuse me, the village called you?
Yes, the village called you. That was
very important, because afterwards
when politicians came into the picture,
they selected villages while in the old
days we did not select the villages;
people called us. I worked here in St.
Elizabeth as a pioneer, 1942-1944.
Why did you choose to come to Top

I was sent there. I was sent to St. Eliza-

Oh, it started off with your being sent,
then later on it developed into the vil-
lages calling? ....

Mr. Manley had been doing work in St.
Elizabeth through a man called Major
Moxie getting the people to build up
themselves economically and this man
had succeeded wonderfully. He had
grown tomatoes where tomatoes never
grew before; he had grown all sorts of
vegetables. A teacher copying the idea,
Teacher B.B. Coke had grown onions,
which never grew in Jamaica before.
And garlic. They had grown grapes.
Now Mr. Manley found out that the
people were taking the money and wast-
ing it. He said 'Burke, I want you to go
to St. Elizabeth and try to see how you
can get these people to learn money
management and to use money wise-
ly.' So that's why I came.
But you didn't come to any particular

No. I only chose Top Hill because I
could get a house to rent. Teacher
Coke was teaching there brother of
my friend Laurie Coke who had helped
me at Newstead.
So how long did you stay in this parish?
I actually stayed two years.

That takes us up to about '44. Where
did you go after?

I was sent from there to Guy's Hill. I
was promoted. We were working now
not in two areas of the island but in
four. I was made a supervisor. The
Jamaica Welfare decided to spread out
into other areas so I went establishing
the new areas and playing a leading part
in training the staff.

By which time you had worked out the
techniques. How did you get the name
Community Development now. Was it
still just Jamaica Welfare?
We had as our head of the organisation
in Kingston a wonderful man called
Thom Girvan. He went to a conference
in one of those countries, Nicaragua I
think. By this time we had developed
many fields. We were doing cottage
industries, crafts, sewing, literacy,
cinematograph work and had launched a
campaign for better nutrition in the
homes, called the Three-F Food for
Family Fitness campaign. When
people at that conference heard of it,
they said but this is community develop-
ment you are doing. So Girvan came
back with the term Community
Development. It was a blanket term that
could cover what communities were
doing, with guidance, but on their own.

Let's move a little bit now. I know that
you were in Britain. What is the relation-
ship between what you were doing here
in Jamaica and the call to Britain.

In summer of 1958, the world was start-
led with newspaper accounts of race
riots in Britain.
You were to bring an understanding be-
tween two racial groups?

Yes. Mr. Manley who was chief minister
of the country at the time, went there
and realized that it was a dangerous
thing that was happening. Many of the
Jamaicans who were attacked were run-
ning; they were buying tickets and com-
ing back to Jamaica where we were
suffering from unemployment and
couldn't accommodate them. And so he
promised the British Government that
he would send his chief community

development officer to handle the situ-
ation. So I went. I was actually
sent as an adviser to the Federal Govern-
ment we had a West Indies Federation
then. But I didn't limit myself to ad-
vising in the office in London. I jumped
on the train and I covered Britain, visit-
ing in the homes just as I did at The
Alps and at Newstead. I was given four
years to do the job of bringing peace to
black and white. With the aid of a won-
derful woman, Mrs. Stella Gregory, and
later on her husband, we trained four
others in London, and in two years we
had done our job. Other problems had
come up, so at the end of that time
Mr. Manley asked me to return to
Jamaica. We had certain problems here
in Kingston I came back to bring
peace among a new group called the
Rastafarians and some American people
who had come in.

About what time was that?
These troubles that Jamaica had were
more in '60. By the time I got back here
that problem had been solved or pushed
aside and I came back to my substantive
post which was Secretary/Manager of
Jamaica Welfare Limited. By 1964 I
answered an appeal of the United
Nations to come and serve them. They
had offered me two jobs before, and I
had refused both to serve my country
in England and to serve my country by
coming back here. In '64 when I reached
55 I decided to go and serve them be-
cause I needed more experience. The
job they offered me was in Addis ..

Did you find any comparison between
the level of community development
here and the level there?

Well,first of all I should say I was appoint-
ed to a Secretariat post. I was a United
Nations expert and my title was in the
area of Rural Life and Rural Institutions.
I had to advise the whole of Africa,
which is more or less 50-odd countries,
on the problems that they found in rural
life as such, not particularly just com-
munity development, but in the whole
area of rural life. Many of them wanted
to know what institutions they should
have. We are flooded here with insti-
tutions . Agricultural Society, Lands
Department, Mother's Union, Women's
Federation, Men's organizations .
They have very few. From my wide
knowledge I could, for instance, advise
them on agricultural agencies ...

Your work is now worldwide. So how
come we find you back in Jamaica?

After three and a half years in Africa

I returned to Jamaica on vacation and
paid my respects to many people includ-
ing the Anglican Bishop who was Bishop
Swaby. He asked me how things were
going, and I said I would be free in a
year and half either to retire to Jamaica
or England and he said, 'No, you can't
go to England. You must come back
here. We need you whole-time as a
Minister of the Gospel'. So he made
arrangements with his colleagues in
Africa, to take charge of me and guide
me in reading and training at the Colleges
out there. When I returned to Jamaica
in '69, I immediately reported again
to the Bishop. The conditions here had
worsened with the shortage of ministers
in the cures and instead of getting a year
to rest off, they saddled me and by
April I was ordained as a deacon, and
the next year I was ordained as a priest.
And since then I have been whole-time
as a Minister of the Gospel, an ecumeni-
cal minister because I have always found
it important to remember that Jesus
Christ did not found any denomination.
I decided to continue putting my em-
phasis on rural life and decided not to
accept a post in any of the towns or
cities; that I would commute in the
rural parts, and I was sent out here, to
the Gilnock/Santa Cruz area.
When you got the U.N. posting did you
choose to go to Africa?
It went like this. I was dedicated to
Jamaica Welfare and to nation-building,
but I had achieved my purpose more or
less in that the nation had been built. By
this time 1964 I was a part of

Jamaica's ,national cultural institution ,was
founded in 1879. Its main functions are to
foster and incourage-the development ofcul-
ture, science and history in the national ih-
terast -t operate ar statutory body under
the Insttute- of Jamaica-Act, 1971 and falls
unIps the portfolio of the Prime Ministrr.
The-Institute's cepiral decision-making bod
is the Council which ts appointed by the-Mini-
ster, The Council insists of Individuair ig.
volrd -irt variety aspect of Jamaica's cultural
nlfe appointed. in 'their own right, and rp-
resetatives of major cuhural ,organizations
and institutions,
Th*e Institute of Jlaaica consists of -a central
administratiqrl vi, 'a .number of cli*vlstio
operating with,'vyin.degeap rautonomV. -
-*: 'rmanrMa h ft-Johtrne e

England, Canada and the United States.
I had families in Scandinavia who re-
garded me as a part of themselves. But
Africa, that was the vacant part of my
heritage. So I wanted to go to Africa
and since the United Nations decided to
appoint me to go there, I was happy.
I want to go right back to your writing.
I re-read Newsy Wapps, Book 4. I was
laughing until tears came streaming
down. And this is 30 years after it was
done! How did .you come to develop
the ability to put humour into writing?
I just got it as a gift and when I dis-
covered that it came flowing, I was
tempted to give up my job and write
books for children, but I was pressed
by Jamaica Welfare and by the needs
of the burgeoning country to stay at my
post. So this was how I expressed my-
self. They were the cheapest books in
Jamaica when I wrote them 1/3d.
and 1/6d. when paper went up, 1/6d.
S. I sold them very cheaply so that
Tom, Dick and Harry could buy a book,
you could buy it for the price of a
bottle of beer. I felt that Jamaicans
were keeping back themselves by not
advancing and that if they knew their
roots . I would have called these
books "Roots" you know, but I didn't
want to be labouring a point too much,
so I put just a mild title, Stories Told
by Uncle Newton, and the name of the
book is Newsy Wapps. Newsy is from
my name, Newton; Wapps is a corrup-
tion of my mother's name Watts,

Reverend Burke, your life has been ex-
tremely busy. How did you manage to
be a father, a social worker, an expert
on this and a writer at the same time?

I think that the answer to that is prayer.
I prayed specially for my wife.

She is specially sent? Have you got any
word that you would like to hand on to
younger people, especially men?
Well, hold on to Jesus. Two, imitate
God in creativity. God created the
world. We are told in seven days. We are
not told what sort of days they were.
But what interests me, is that after He
created the world we have no further
account in the Bible that he went on
with his creativity. He left the rest of
creation to us, with the result that we
have created aeroplanes; we have crea-
ted television: we have created all sorts
of things. So I know that I would say
to men who are despondent: 'Create,

SI II( I 'S i
BuiTildng o


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Life Limited

D.C.&. Investments Ltd.
40-46 Knutsford Blvd.,
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Phone: 92-64711-9.


the name

that service

a VA

The 1717

The Ups and Downs of a Jamaican Boy
Newsy Wapps c.1920

By E.N. Burke


Newsy goes from his home in Chapelton to live with his
Uncle in Bartons and describes his first Sunday ...

My Small Buddies:

My first great day in my new home was Sunday. In fact
every Sunday was great to me.
But that first Sunday? Took the cake. Yes, sir.
First: I slept late.., with no Mami to wake me and to ask
me if I think I have to sleep enough for the whole town.
Then I yawned at ease and drew my cover closer and
pretended that I was most asleep whenever I saw anyone
approaching. (The term 'anyone' let me hurry to point out
did not include my new friend, Edith, whom I discovered
could 'keep secret'.)
Second: I had my breakfast as soon as I jumped out of
bed, up from prayers and out of the basin and towel. (Not
that I took any special care with the washing of my face. In
fact, I have always held that a boy's face is his own; he
should know when, why and how to wash it. Which seems
right to me.) The breakfast was new brand... a Barton's
Special. Know how it was made up? Half of a huge bammy
(from Old Harbour Market) toasted and buttered; two wide
slices of bread, buttered both sides (Ah, my fr'ens); a big
mug of hot chocolate (well boiled and thick with the fat on
top, flowing freely; and the steam saying, 'Come along and

Quick '); and of all the glories, the rhapsodies, the treasures
- one whole fried fish or as we called it 'WAN FRY FISH".
When my eyes sent the telegram to my belly that all that stuff
was coming down soon, the latter would not believe. In fact,
I was so frightened about the amount that I sat a good five
minutes surveying the scene... until Ditha (my pet name
for my pet cousin) pinched my open lips together. Then I
ate. None was left. Auntie said: What a boy can eat?' God
bless her she never forgot that. Neither did I.

Third: I prepared for church which meant having Uncle
Eddie clean my shoes, (boots, button side, tight and burning,
black); Newsy bathing himself (lucky I had no one to keep
an eye on me; did well in spite of that or who knows? maybe
because of that); Auntie getting me into my Sunday-go-to-
Church. Don't ask me about my tight Eton Collar, stiff and
sticking off, two sizes smaller than my neck being fitted by
Auntie with the help of Uncle Eddie. Don't ask if it took
them about half an hour to get the two ends of the collar
buttoned to the unwilling stud which sat sadly in my most
unwilling neck. (My neck hurts until this day). Don't ask
how many spoons they had to use to get on the boots? Uncle
Eddie to Auntie, 'I wonder how Emily got such a small
pair of boots for such big feet?' Then, my hat. I was
determined to squeeze it down, while Auntie said it should
sit a bit high and Uncle said that the back brim should be
turned up. Edith and Mona laughed widely. And I? What
would you do AFTER ALL THA T? I cried.

Fourth: Powdered and kissed and stuck between the two
girls, (both, frilled, ribboned and heavily powdered) I went
through the short cut to Church. Made the mistake when I


got nearby to point to the graves, which made Ditha warn me
that my fingers would 'rotten off'. Mona said that I should
BITE THE OFFENDING FINGER and 'they won't rotten
off, you hear.' Which I did. Lucky too.
Fifth: The Service: After the bell had stopped saying,
'Chi, Week-i, Week-i; Chi, Week-i, Week-i' a hymn was
given out. And who do you think was the Parson? A gentle-
man looking very serious, dressed in a white and a black
skirt, walking very stylishly. Guess? Uncle Eddie himself.
'So', I turned to Ditha, 'Uncle Eddie is a Parson.' Just at
that moment Uncle Eddie passed our bench and gave us such
a look that we kept quiet for a full minute... which was
long. I did not follow much of the service. The church was
not half as big or as beautiful as St. Paul's Chapelton. The
collection plates were old, the church was cold, too many
people came in late. Then worse, when the service was over,
everybody began to examine me up and down as if I was a
sixpence basket and to say whether I would be a good boy
or not. One job to get away from them ... my!
Sixth: Dinner Time: Let this be recorded that for the
three years I spent at Bartons I WAS NEVER LATE FOR
ONE MEAL. Some people call the midday meal 'lunch'
but we always called it dinner on Sundays. As usual it con-
sisted of a half moon of rice-and-peas; a few blocks of yams,
cocoes, potatoes; a spread of cabbage or callalu; and above
it all a pinnacle of meat (beef usually) crowned with a
glorious gravy. And what a joy when the meat was much and
the gravy was thickly And they usually were.

Seventh: After Dinner: We read the bible, ate mangoes,
washed our faces (terrible), and went for a walk. Usually we
had to take an enamel carrier full of dinner for some old
person. We would deliver same and collect 'God bless you
mi picknie. God bless the hand that send food for the poor.'
We gathered flowers on the way that first Sunday, called on
Mr. and Mrs. Gardener, ran a race or two and played hide-
and-seek. Poor Mona hid behind a tree which had a green
lizard with a saw in its back. When she saw it she ran so fast
that we had trouble to catch up with her.
Eighth: To Bed: After we had eaten our 'what left' and
a bit of potato pudding (we children always ate potato
pudding while Uncle Eddie always had bread pudding) we
washed down both with a mug of tea. Then we told stories -
'religious ones, remember to-day is Sunday ', said our
prayers, said good night right round and into bed.
And nearly all Sundays were like that one, with this
difference that on a few we had to attend weddings. Uncle
Eddie was tired of attending, so he sent us usually. Which
suited us fine. For we allowed some of the big men to make
the speeches (I refused to call a speech a 'toast' toast is
bread, isn't it?) while we ate mountains of cake and drank
rivers of aerated water like dandy-shandy and cream-soda.
And sometimes we got 'a little pinch of wine.'
Sunday was a great day. I always thank God for making
Your well behaved Sunday Uncle,

From: The Ups and Downs of a Jamaican Boy Newsy Wapps,
recorded to amuse you
by Eddie Burke (1946)

My Precious Little Girls:
All boys know what suffering means in the 'overhead'
department. I refer to that terrible custom called 'trimming
the hair'. As this is a faithful record of my Ups and Downs
I must record these sufferings of mine if not for the
edification (lovely big word, eh?) of the boys, then for the
education of you girls. For let me remind you that you do
not know the half of the trials to which boys are subjected -
in this country.
I have never grumbled about my make-up. In fact I have
always been proud of most of my sections. I have always
drawn the line just above my forehead. Below that line I am
loud in admiration of Newsy Wapps. But above that...
As much as I objected to taking water and splashing it
all over my face and worse yet, all over my body; as much as
I detested being squeezed out of shape so as to be enclosed

in stiff blouses and collars; as much, I say, as I hated any
mention of taking off my cap in a building I positively
despised anyone who tried to bring any argument to bear on
that section of my body above that line.
Mark you, that forehead line ran right from the front of
the brush top section round to the ears, around them and
down to the base of the 'cubbitch hole' the ditch at the
back of the head. It faded out a little south of the hole afore-
mentioned. You will agree that it was a pretty long line.
Within the space bounded by that line was a place covered
with hair. We boys called that area the head skull. And it was
great fun to us to kunk (you know, biff with the finger) one
another on the head skulls, especially when the skulls were
recently 'scraped' or 'peeled'
That brings me face to face with my main trial getting
my head scraped. Some boys were lucky to get their skulls
trimmed by barbers. Some had theirs 'docked' by fellows
who went around with combs and scissors in boxes. If such
had been my fate, I would have been merely sorry for
myself. But, my head was always scraped, peeled and left
bare with a few 'cane rows' to tell the tale of hair that once
adorned but which had gone before.
Such head scrapers and peelers were called trimmers. They
walked around without any tool or towel; sly chaps, the
police could never lay hands on them. Catch a trimmer and
search him and you wouldn't even find a shilling on him for
all he got for giving so much suffering was usually a dinner
or 'a drink' or a good promise that 'I will leave something
for you' or maybe a two pence or if it was near Christmas,
then a three pence. Left to me alone, each would have got
a sound thrashing.
For listen this was how the trimming went. Enter the
trimmer with lots of sweet howdidoos in his mouth, hands
being rubbed, eyes all looking destruction on your head.
'Miss Mill, I ready for the boys Mam. Who coming first?' I

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say that it is Sydney, and he says it is Newsy. The trimmer
grabs hold of me. He places around a small section of my
neck, a bit of cloth, which serves to keep all the hair from
going down my spine. Enough will go through to give him
satisfaction. Then he lays hold of the scissors produced by
Mami and of the comb produced by Sydney. Gets behind
me, that he does. Rakes and rakes and rakes while I
squirm and twist and cry. Rakes out all the bumps ( I know
that my hair is not the best but why be cruel in the
combing?) in the cubbitch hole area. I am in tears and he is
complaining that I won't keep still and that the head is getting
wet. (After all, isn't it my hair and who invited him?
Doesn't like it, he can leave; who is holding him?) He begins
clipping the hair from above down on the left side. Always
the left, first. Then he comes to the 'Ears corner'and there
trouble begins.

Play any trick you like on me, on the straight. Frighten
me, throw stones at me, set dogs at me, anything you like, so
long as you attack in the open on the straight. But be careful
how you touch me on the corners. Respect corners,
especially if they belong to me. And as to my ear corner...
Yes, the trimmer comes to the 'ears corner' I jump and
he sticks me with the scissors. Of course he claims that it is
all my fault and that if I would only keep still, like a good
boy... Who wants to be good anyway? I jump and shake
as he drives around the corner again and he kunks me in
the head with the back of the comb. I bawl and Mami arrives
with a strap and with her two eyes doing overwork in telling
me all sorts of unpleasant things. Wisdom whispers to me:
'Columbus suffered more remember what you learnt
yesterday.' I settle down and allow the Scissors Terror to
round the corner.
He shifts to the right, strains my head back, turns it to
the left and settles down to the corner again. We repeat the
drama but this time Mami gets in two strokes on my legs.
What a life?
The top does not give much trouble. The comb pulls un-
kindly at my knots but in a little time he gets off all the stuff.
(An advantage of getting 'a clean dock' is that there is
nothing to be combed or brushed for many and many a day.
Which is joy.)
Now he goes behind me. And that gets me suspicious.
Why go behind me? Then he squeezes my head into my
chest. When I shake, Mami appears and ties my hands to my
sides. Then he pushes that pair of scissors, one end of which
CUBBITCHNESS. I try to cry softly as I have been doing
since Mami arrived, but girls, this is beyond the endurance of
a small boy. I BAWL OUTI He descends again, digs, scrapes,
bends my head deeper, knips me again with those terrible
scissors and... tears, cane rows, blunt scissors continue.
Have you girls any trials like to these? If you have, tell
them to
Yours for less overhead work,


From: The Ups and Downs of a Jamaican Boy Newsy Wapps,
recorded to amuse you
by Eddie Burke (1946)

Proverb As Metaphor

In The Poetry Of

Louise Bennett

By Carolyn Cooper

Listen, no!
My Aunty Roachy seh dat Jamaica people have a whole
heap a Culture an Tradition an Birthright dat han dung
to dem from generation to generation. All like de great
philosophy of we Jamaica proverbs-dem. Mmmm.
Well, sah! As she could seh de wud "philosophy" so.
one facety gal dem call Muches gi out an seh, "A so-so
foolishness Miss Roachy she dah chatl How yuh could
put a deestant wud like philosophy wid de ole jamma
bad-talkin proverbs-dem?"
See yal Aunty Roachy never meck fun fi leggo tongue
pon Muches. She seh, "When goat laugh everybody fine
out seh him no got no teet!" [Bennett 1983 b].
The metaphorical proverb recurs in the poetry and
dramatized narratives of Louise Bennett to fulfil two
vital functions as exemplified above. Thematically, the
proverb provides conclusive evidence of the socially recog-
nized truth of the argument that a particular Bennett persona
articulates; structurally, the metaphorical proverb employs
graphic imagery derived from everyday Jamaican life as the

This article was first presented at the ACIJ/Folklore Studies Committee
21st Anniversary Symposium on the Cultural Heritage of Jamaica,
12 October 1983.

vehicle for social commentary. In both subject and structure
the metaphorical proverb affirms Bennett's umbilical con-
nection to that matrix of oral Jamaican folklore which she
describes in "Jamaica Philosophy" [1983 b] as 'Culture an
Tradition an Birthright dat han dung . from generation to
Analysis of the use of metaphor in "Jamaica Philosophy"
is instructive. Muches, the unfortunate antagonist of the piece,
is metaphorically described not only as the toothless goat but
subsequently as a jackass: 'No strain yuh jaw bone pon de
wud philosophy when yuh no know weh it mean'. The strain
on Muches' jaw bone is an obvious metaphor for the greater
strain on her brain. In a clever twist of referent, Aunty
Roachy introduces the metaphor of the jackass in a proverb
that ostensibly describes herself, but which it is clear by
implication is more appropriately applied to Muches: . 'if
yuh falla de philosophy a we Jamaica proverbs yuh would
know seh dat "When yuh go a jackass yard yuh nuffi chat
bout big aise!" (Don't offend people when you are in their
domain. Mmmm.) So yuh should come a me yard come call
me foo-fool!'

In addition to the use of these lucid metaphorical com-
parisons, Aunty Roachy employs a subtle technique to
underscore Muches' stupidity. She paraphrases many of the
proverbs she casts at poor Muches. The essence of a proverb
is its immediacy of access to members of the community
in which it has currency. The logic of Aunty Roachy's
pointed paraphrases is that Muches is either an outsider or a
fool. There is an Ashanti proverb, quoted epigraphically by
Cundall and Anderson in their collection of Jamaican pro-
verbs [1910], that is particularly appropriate: 'When a fool
is told a proverb, the meaning of it has to be explained to
Not all Jamaican proverbs are metaphorical in structure.
The proverb may be a literal statement: 'If yuh no know
bout no chat bout' [Bennett 1983 b p.50]. Or it may em-
ploy antithesis, alliteration, repetition and rhyme mnemo-
nic devices by means of which the proverb's potency is sus-
tained. For example, antithesis: 'Farden pocket an poun a
cheese'; alliteration: 'Cratch an rub cyaan cure cocobeh';
repetition: 'Teck weh yuh can get so get weh yuh want'
[Bennett 1983 b]. Mnemonic linguistic devices such as these
are identified by Walter Ong in Orality and Literacy [1982
p. 34] as the fundamental constituents of thought in primary
oral cultures such as Jamaica largely is:
In a primary oral culture, to solve effectively the problem of
retaining and retrieving carefully articulated thought, you have
to do your thinking in mnemonic patterns, shaped for ready
oral recurrence. Your thought must come into being in heavily
rhythmic, balanced patterns, in repetitions or antitheses, in
alliterations and assonances, in epithetic and other expressions,
in standard thematic settings . in proverbs which are con-
stantly heard by everyone so that they come to mind readily
and which themselves are patterned for retention and ready
recall . .
In an important study of "Figurative Language in Jamaican
Creole" [1983], Velma Pollard analyses the use of proverb
and riddle in the everyday speech of oral Jamaicans, and pro-
vides excellent examples of the way in which the proverb car-
ries the weight of thought in ordinary discourse. I cite one of
Pollard's examples and quote her discussion of it:

Informant: mi neva get nof/bot mi breda/aa mi sista . J
dem se di hogriis kyaaf sok di muos milk/
Discussion: In example I the subject is education. An old

man explains that he is illiterate compared with
his brother and sister. They represent the 'hun-
griest calf' since they were at a disadvantage in
terms of family finance (he in fact worked in
order to support them). There is an inverse
relationship here between place in the family and
eventual good fortune since the younger siblings,
finally, are better off than he educationally ....
Notice that after the first sentence the old man
gives up and lays the burden of expression on
the proverb.
Pollard draws the following conclusions from her study:
The suggestion is too often made that certain literary devices
are beyond the understanding of individuals whose control of
standard English is limited. Increasingly that view will have to
be abandoned in the light of more and more evidence of the
ease with which language is handled where standard English is
not required. So that in the schools, for example, it is English
that the children need to acquire, not the ability to under-
stand or to handle the figurative use of language.
What she illustrates is:
the ability of the folk to manipulate language not only effect-
ively but with a certain distinctive style that is part of a tradi-
tion of verbal art forms available within or outside of a per-
formance context. It is a style which surfaces again and again
in the writing of the more sensitive and competent of the
Caribbean artists.

Louise Bennett is the quintessential Jamaican example of
the sensitive and competent Caribbean artist consciously in-
corporating features of traditional oral art into the written
literature. Mervyn Morris, in the introduction to his critical
edition of Bennett's Selected Poems (designed for use in
schools), draws deliberate attention to the poetry as both
written text and oral performance:
Louise Bennett's art is both oral and scribal; the forms are not
mutually exclusive. The poem in print is, however, fully avail-
able only when readers are in touch with the oral and other
cultural contexts the words imply.

Similarly, Rex Nettleford in his introduction to Bennett's
Jamaica Labrish gently admonishes those who, responsive to
the apparently artless vivacity of Bennett's performances, fail
to recognize her careful craftsmanship:
And those who indulge her rumbustious abandon and spontan-
eous inducement of laughter will sometimes forget that behind
the exuberance and carefree stance, there are years of training
formal and informal as well as this artist's own struggles to
shape an idiom ....
Bennett herself insists that she is a writer: 'From the begin-
ning, nobody ever recognized me as a writer. "Well, she is
'doing' dialect"; it wasn't even writing you know. Up to now
a lot of people don't even think I write' [Bennett 1968].
That assertion is no facile attempt to be retrospectively vali-
dated by the hierophants of the scribal tradition. Rather, it
underscores the syncretic nature of her art. For Louise
Bennett is herself literate. Her creation of oral personae such
as Aunty Roachy is not a simple matter of spontaneous eja-
culation; indeed, Bennett's choice of subject matter and lan-
guage is an affirmation of what one might term naygacentric
aesthetic values, rooted in the particular socio-political con-
tradictions of Jamaica's history. As an aspiring poet in Jam-
aica in the 1930s, her models were the English Romantic
poets; her ambition was to 'express her thought /And whims
in dulcet poetry'. [Bennett 1983a]. But, responsive to the
explosive sounds around her, Bennett was to abandon dulcet
poetry for dialect poetry. Morris describes the genesis of her
first dialect poem thus:
One day she set out, a young teenager all dressed up, for a
matinee film show in Cross Roads. On the electric tramcars

which were then the basis of public transportation in Kingston,
people travelling with baskets were required to sit at the back,
and they were sometimes resentful of other people who, when
the tram was full, tried to join them there. As Louise was
boarding the tram she heard a country woman say: 'Pread
out yuhself, one dress-oman a come.' That vivid remark made
a great impression on her, and on returning home she wrote
her first dialect poem "On a Tramcar", which began:
Pread out yuhself deh Liza, one
Dress-oman dah look like seh
She see di li space side-a we
And waan foce herself een deh
[Bennett 1983 a pp. iv-v]
This literal spreading out of self is an evocative metaphor
for the irrepressible survival instincts of Jamaica's dis-
possessed who refuse to be squeezed out of existence. In the
poem "Nayga Yard", published in 1948 in Public Opinion,
Bennett celebrates the proverb-speaking rural and urban Jam-
aican nayga folk, for whom Jamaica is home, is yard.
Bennett employs a metaphorical proverb to introduce the
poem's theme: 'Cock cyaan beat cock eena cock own yard'
[p. 102]. The authority of the proverb is asserted: 'We all
know dat is true' [p.102] and then the problematic ques-
tion is raised for which the answer is already assured in the
proverb 'Is who-for yard Jamaica is?/ Is who dah beat up
who? [p.102] The poem proceeds at the literal level to list
a variety of professions and occupations and asks which race
is dominant in Jamaica:

Tink much different race a people
Eena dis islan,
An tink who is de greatest
Cricketer a nayga man!

Who is de greatest barrister?
A Jew? A Syrian?
Him white? Is Chiney? Coolie? No,
Him is a nayga man!

Call fi Jamaica fastes sprinters
Gal or bwoy, an den
De foremos artis, doctor, scholar -
Nayga reign again

Go eena every school, ask fi
De brightes chile dem got -
An nineteen out a twenty time
A nayga deh pon spot!

Go eena prison, poor house, jail,
Asylum wha yuh see?
Nayga dah reign predominant!
De place belongs to we!

The poem's irony is deliberate. Were it indeed self-evident
that Jamaica is nayga yard, Bennett would not have needed
to raise the question at all. The poem predates the happy fic-
tion of our post-Independence national motto; it exhorts
nayga people to 'carry awn; /Leggo [dem] talents broad./
Member de place a fi-[dem] Jamaica is nayga yard'.
"Nayga Yard" is a good example of the use of proverb to
express metaphorically and euphemistically a socio-political
statement that might appear inflammatory, were it baldly
presented as merely the individual's personal opinion, and
not a truism confirmed by popular wisdom. Mervyn Morris
supports this view of the proverb as a framing technique in
Bennett's poetry:

. proverbs often serve to widen the significance of a particular
incident or situation: because they represent the distillation of
generations of experience, reference to proverbs tends to sug-
gest that the immediate difficulty or the immediate occasion
for joy is not entirely new, and that the present moment is
part of the flow of communal experience (Bennett 1983a
p. xvi].

A comic example of this widening function of the pro-
verb appears in the poem "Sweetie-Pie" which begins with
two metaphorical proverbs: 'Donkey tink him cub a race-
horse,/ John crow tink him pickney white' [p.48] and then
furnishes a contemporary example of equivalent folly: 'Doah
Teacher mark John sum-dem wrong/ Him mumma seh dem
right' [p.48]. The laughter that the naivete of John's Mumma
evokes is tempered by the audience's awareness that her
weakness is not unique, her foibles are the common human
condition; further, the use of animal imagery in the proverbs
to describe human characteristics, suggests the ontological
continuum of the human and animal worlds a distinctive
feature of the metaphysics of primary oral cultures. 'Sweetie-
Pie', the poem's main subject, is variously described by his
doting sister as 'de lickle heart-trob', 'de darlin chile' and 'de
lickle dear'. The affectionate diminutives create a visual
image that is not at all supported by reality: the Bennett per-
sona is derisive:
Beck whisper, 'Him a come'
Me tun fi greet de 'lickle heart',
And den me tan up dumb!

Me did expec one pretty
Lickle bwoy bout six ear ole;
Me see one big strong-muscle man
Dah run fi fifty bolel

De man meck up him face an grunt
An stretch, an tare him yeye.
Me seh, 'Massi, me lawd a dis
Becky call 'Sweetie-Pie?

But when me get over de shock
Me laugh an seh: she right -
'Donkey tink him cub a race-horse,
John crow tink him pickney white.'
The best example of the sustained use of proverbs in
Selected Poems and Jamaica Labrish is the poem appro-
priately titled "Proverbs", first published in 1943 in the
Sunday Gleaner. Bennett creates the persona of a self-
righteous 'dead-lef' who perceives herself as victimized by 'all
kine a ole black nayga' (p.53) now that her mother is dead.
The use of judiciously selected proverbs reinforces the per-
sona's view of herself as a hapless innocent abroad, facing
a hostile world with only the traditional consolation of the
The poem's opening proverb immediately establishes
through metaphor the persona's perception of the grave
social catastrophe that has befallen her:

'When ashes cowl dawg sleep in deh'
For sence Ma dead, yuh see,
All kine a ole black nayga start
Teck liberty wid me.

The notion of the violation of social order is graphically ex-
pressed in the next verse by means of another metaphorical

Me no wrap up wid dem, for me
Pick an choose me company:
Ma always tell me seh: 'Yuh sleep
Wid dawg yuh ketch him flea'.
Temporarily abandoning the posture of social superiority,
the persona describes her sense of vulnerability in the yard

Me know plenty a dem no like me,
An doah de time so hard
Me kip fur from dem, for 'Cockroach
No bizniz a fowl yard'

In these circumstances she recognizes that one must observe
the rituals of social decorum:

Ah teck time gwan me ways an doan
Fas eena dem affair;
Me tell dem mawnin, for 'Howdy
An tenky bruck no square'.
She confesses to an occasional gossipy chat with parson -
her social equal for 'Ef yuh no go a man fire-side, yuh no
know/ Ow much fire-stick a bwile him pot'. The consequence
of which is:

Sake-a dat, as lickle news get bout
Dem call me po gal name;
Me bear it, for doah 'all fish nyam man,
Dah shark one get de blame'

She absolves herself of all culpability:
But when me go look fi parson
Me ongle talk bout me soul,
For Ma use fi tell me: 'Sweet mout fly
Follow coffin go a hole'.
The final proverb with which she eulogizes the dead mother
is; 'Back no know weh ole shut do fi i/So tell ole shut tear
Martha Beckwith in the introduction to her 1925 collect-
ion of Jamaican proverbs describes what she imagined to be
the dominant mood of Jamaican proverbs a fascination
with deprivation and oppression. Beckwith's judgement ap-
pears to be based on a limited understanding of the Jamaican
psyche, a failure to recognize the wry humour that permits
us to 'teck bad tings mek joke': Note the ubiquitous politic-
al graffiti, urban proverbs in the making. Beckwith, unlike
Muches, was an outsider, not a fool. Her description of the
psychic consolation of the proverb, though limited in its
general applicability, accurately defines one function of the
proverb, as exemplified in the case of the Bennett persona
analysed above;

... I was chiefly impressed with the dark sense of wrong and
the nursing by the weaker folk of injuries real or fancied in-
flicted by those upon whom they were impotent to avenge
themselves, which find voice in the apparently innocent or
merely sententious retort. It is to be noticed how many of the
proverbs apply to poverty, hunger, injury, and want. Love is
not celebrated, nor is heroism or beauty. Women are sel-
dom mentioned, and then generally to belittle. It is the fate of
the folk who are put upon by their betters and who smart
under injury which is here expressed with an almost uncanny
justness of observation; as if, by generalizing the experience of
misery and poverty, each man became dignified in his own
eyes. So he shares the common lot, and the hope of an eventual
retribution appeases his particular sense of deprivation [pp. 6 -

A more inclusive view of the complex conceptual and
emotional range of proverbs in African cultures and in neo-
African oral cultures like Jamaica is that of Ruth Finnegan,
who writes in Oral Literature in Africa:
In many African cultures a feeling for language, for imagery,
and for the expression of abstract ideas through compressed
and allusive phraseology comes out particularly clearly in pro-
verbs. The figurative quality of proverbs is especially striking;
one of their most noticeable characteristics is their allusive
wording, usually in metaphorical form ....

Louise Bennett has long recognized the evocative power
of Jamaican proverbs as the locus of folk philosophy. In the
words of Aunty Roachy:
Dictionary seh dat philosophy mean 'the general principles
governing thoughts and conducts', 'a study of human morals
and character' . . Dem-deh is we ole time Jamaica proverbs,
an dem got principles governing thoughts an conducts an morals
an character, like what dictionary seh. So doan cry dem dung,
for what is fi-yuh cyaan be un-fi-yuh.
Though public acknowledgement of the cultural significance
of Bennett's oeuvre has been grudging there are yet the
detractors who would ask 'A dat yuh modder sen yuh a
school fa?' her ultimate consolation must be the certainty,
expressed proverbially, that 'time longer dan rope'.

1. Bennett's parenthetical paraphrases of the proverbs in English
are intended as well for the audience.
2. Ruth Finnegan, Oral Literature in Africa, (Oxford University
Press 1970), p.391. Cited by Pollard [1983].


ANDERSON, I and CUNDALL, F. (eds.) Jamaica Proverbs, Kingston,
Institute of Jamaica, 1910; reprinted, Shannon: Irish Univer-
sity Press, 1972.
BECKWITH, Martha, Jamaica Proverbs, 1925, reprinted New York:
Negro Universities Press, 1970.
BENNETT, Louise, Jamaica Labrish (Rex Nettleford, ed.), Kingston:
Sangster's, 1966.
-, "Bennett on Bennett". Louise Bennett interviewed by Dennis
Scott, Caribbean Quarterly, Vol. 14 Nos. 1 and 2 March -
June, 1968.
-, Selected Poems (Mervyn Morris, ed.), Kingston: Sangster's,
"Jamaica Philosophy" in Mervyn Morris (ed.) Focus 1983,
Kingston: Caribbean Authors Publishing Company, 1983.
ONG, Walter, Orality and Literacy, the Technologizing of the Word,
New York: Methuen, 1982.
POLLARD, Velma, "Figurative Language in Jamaican Creole", Carib,

Metaphorical Proverbs in Jamaica Labrish and Selected Poems
(The orthography differs in the two collections)

I. Animal
Dog a sweat but long hair hide i:
But 'posen mawga dog don't dead? Crow haffe nyam
green grass.
Every puppy got him flea.

Yuh play wid dawg dem lick yuh mout.
Yuh sleep wid dawg yuh ketch him flea.
When ashes cowl dawg sleep in deh.
When dawg marga him head big.
When kitchen dressa tumble dung, de mawga dog dem
Cock cyaan beat cock eena cock own yard.
Cockroach no bizniz a fowl yard.
Noh mock mawga cow, him a bull muma.
Donkey tink him cub a racehorse.
Jackass say de worl'noh level.
All fish nyam man, dah shark one get de blame.
When horse dead cow fat.
John Crow tink him pickney white.
Efyuh fly wid John Crow, yuh wi haffe nyam dead meat.
Monkey should know weh him gwine put him tail before
him order trousiz.
Fire wan deh a Musmus tail him tink sey dah cool air.
Puss laugh when pear-tree fall.
When puss hungry him nose clean.

II. General
Back no know weh ole shut do fi iso tell ole shut tear off.
Bad luck wus an obeah..
Before me tumble down me hole macca.
Cook up yuh fat eena jesta pot, but no t'row weh old bun-
Coward man kip soun bone.
Efyuh fe dead wid coco-bey gun-shot kean teckyuh life.
Efyuh no go a man fire-side, yuh no know ow much fire-
stick a bwile him pot.
Every seckeh got him jeggeh.
Every sidung-smaddy got dem tan-up day dah come.
Every sore foot got him blue-stone.
Everything wha shine no gole piece
'Fore bickle pwile, meck belly bus.
Howdy an tenky bruk no square.
Kip yuh stick til yuh done climb hill.
Mout a laugh, but heart a leap.
No care how smaddy dah gwan bad sinting deh fi spokes
him wheel.
Noh care how man sey dem bad, man kean badda dan
No cuss long man till yuh sure sey yuh done grow.
Oman luck deh a dungle.
Sidung-man kean look straight eena tan-up ooman y 'eye.
Sweet mout fly follow coffin go a hole.
Time longer dan rope.
When trouble teck man, pickney boot fit him.
Yuh gwine reap what yuh sow.
Yuh shake man han but yuh no shake dem heart.
Wait no kill nobody.

New Seville

and the Conversion Experience of

Bartolome de Las Casas

This article is abstracted from a book The Rise and Fall of New
Seville 1509-1536 being written for the New Seville Restoration
Project by the author.
The priest Casas having at the time no knowledge of the unjust
methods which the Portuguese used to obtain slaves, advised
that permission should be given for the import of slaves into
the islands, an advice which, once he became informed about
these methods, he would not have given for the world ....
The remedy which he proposed to import Black slaves in order
to liberate the Indians was not a good one, even though he
thought the Black slaves, at the time to have been enslaved
with a just title; and it is not at all certain that his ignorance
at the time or even the purity of his motive will sufficiently
absolve him when he finds himself before the Divine Judge

(Las Casas, History of the Indies, Bk 3).
Clearly one cannot prove in a short time or with a few
words to infidels that to sacrifice men to God is contrary
to nature. Consequently neither anthropophagy nor human
sacrifice constitutes just cause for making war on certain
kingdoms .... For the rest, to sacrifice innocents for the
salvation of the Commonwealth is not opposed to natural
reason, is not something abominable and contrary to nature,
but is an error that has its origin in natural reason itself.

Las Casas' reply to Gin's de Sepdlveda on the occasion of
the 1550-1 debate at Valladolid, Spain, as to whether or not
Bartolomi de Las Casas. the new world Indians were equally 'men' (Las Cases) or
'slaves-by-nature' (Sepulveda).

By Sylvia Wynter

In June, 1514, a certain Pablo De La Renter'a who was on
a business trip to Jamaica stayed for a while at the Francis-
can monastery in New Seville.1 Whilst there, he under-
went a conversion experience. This experience took place
almost at the same time as a conversion experience under-
gone by his partner on their jointly owned estate near the
recently settled town of Espiritu Santo, Cuba.
Pablo De La Renteria remains a somewhat obscure figure.
What we know of him we know from his partner's account
of their parallel experiences. And there was to be no one,
after Columbus himself, who was to be more historically
significant in the new era of human affairs that opened with
Columbus' first arrival in the Caribbean in 1492, than De
La Renteria's partner, Bartolome'de Las Casas.
Nor was there to be an event of more crucial significance
to this era of history that had opened, than the conversion
experience of Las Casas which, like St. Paul's vision on the
road to Damascus, shifted Las Casas' way of seeing out of the
normative reference frame and uniform perception of his
fellow Spanish settlers. This religio-conceptual leap led to
the transformation of Las Casas from an encomendero -
i.e. an owner of an allotted number of Arawaks incorporated
as a labour force (an encomienda) under a traditional Spanish

system which, however, took on new and harsher aspects in
the frontier context of the new world to the most deter-
mined antagonist of the entire system of Indian forced
labour, whether in the form of the encomienda or in the
form of outright Indian slave-labour.
Two consequences of this transformation were to be of
special significance to contemporary Jamaica. The first
was that as a result of his conversion-inspired mission to
secure the abolition of all forms of Indian forced labour, Las
Casas was to propose the importation of a limited quantity
of African slaves both to recompense the settlers for their
Indian labour supply; and as an incentive to Spanish peasant
migration. This limited scheme proposed to the Emperor
Charles V and his royal bureaucracy was the initial occasion
for the subsequent sale by the Crown in 1518 of a licence to
one of the Flemish courtiers at the court of the half-Burgun-
dian King of Spain, one Gouvenot who later sold it to
some Genoese merchants to import 4,000 slaves from West
Africa into the Caribbean islands and the mainland. This
asiento was to be the charter, at one and the same time, of
the transatlantic slave trade, and, at a terrible human cost, of
the African presence as a constitutive unit of the post-.
Columbian civilization of the Caribbean and the Americas.

Once he was informed of the unjust methods used in the
enslavement of the Africans, Las Casas, who had worked on
the assumption that he was submitting men and women who
had been justly enslaved according to the moral-legal system
of Latin Christianity, for Indian men and women whom he
knew from personal experience to be unjustly enslaved
within the context of these same moral-legal doctrines, was
to bitterly repent of his original proposal.2
The second consequence of his conversion experience was
to lead to a daring conceptual leap made by Las Casas. This
was during the course of his theoretical dispute with the
theologian-humanist scholar and official royal historian,
Ginds de Sepulveda in the context of the formal debate held
at Valladolid, Spain, before a conclave of theologians, jurists,
scholars, royal bureaucrats and councillors in 1550-1.
Septilveda in order to provide a legitimatizing basis for the
Spanish conquest of the Indies, to represent it as 'just' and
'holy' and to derive the encomienda system as therefore just
and lawful, used a Neo-Aristotelian formulation to argue that
the Indians were 'slaves-by-nature'; that there is a difference
of 'natural capacity' between peoples, and that this differen-
tial gave those of a higher 'natural capacity' (the more per-
fect) the right to rule and govern those of a lower 'natural
capacity' (the less perfect).
Las Casas, in the course of countering Sepulveda's thesis
of a predetermined natural difference of rational capacity
between peoples, and the servile-by-nature Neo-Aristotelian
formulation of his antagonist, made a conceptual leap to
propose almost heretically, given the context of his time
that the human sacrifices made by peoples like the Aztecs
and their ritual eating of human flesh was not, as his an-
tagonist Sepulveda took it to be, evidence and proof of a
lack of natural reason but rather was an error of natural
In other words the practice of human sacrifice for the
Aztecs did not constitute a mode of irrationality but rather a
form of rationality, an error made by natural reason itself.
And in this form of natural reason, practices seen as vices by
the Spaniards 'in truth were not thought of as vices by the
Indians but virtues answering to a life view much closer to
natural reason than that of the Spaniards'.
Within the frame of this reason, assuming their false gods
to be the true God, those Indians who sacrificed humans to
their gods offered as they did so, 'what seemed most valu-
able to them', 'sacrificing innocents for the good of the
Commonwealth', only because it seemed to them supremely
rational to do so.
With this formulation Las Casas anticipated by some four
and a half centuries what anthropologists, post-Einstein, and
post-Levi-Strauss, are only now beginning to make us see,
in the reference frame of an on-going Copernican and decen-
tring revolution, as the relativity of all human systems of
perception including our own; as the reality, not of a single
absolute reason, but of culturally determined modes of
reason, as the reality of the cultural-historical relativity of
our own.
There are two paradoxical implications here. The first
lies in the fact that as the terms of Las Casas' repentance with
respect to his first proposal reveals, in proposing the import-
ation of African slaves as a means of ensuring the abolition of
the encomienda system and the Indian slave trade,. he too
had been trapped by an 'error' of natural reason, i.e. not only
by the fact that he had not known of the unjust methods

and therefore of the unjust titles by which the Africans were
enslaved both by the Portuguese and their 'African' partners3
but also by the logic of a specific mode of cultural reason,
that of the 15th and 16th century Catholic Christianity. For,
as J.F. Maxwell points out, it was not to be until 1965, that
the common teaching of the Catholic Church handed down
by its 'fallible ordinary magisterium' a teaching which had
approved of the institution of slavery, on condition that the
slaves were held by specifically defined 'just titles' for some
1400 years, was finally to be corrected by the second Vatican
Council [Maxwell 1974].
The second paradox lies in the fact that it was by his
daring, if necessarily limited given the time and circum-
stances, and religio-monarchical frame of his thought, impli-
cation of the existence of culturally relative forms of ration-
ality, that Las Casas not only laid the basis for the theoretical
delegitimization of all forms of inter-human domination and
subordination,4 but also laid the conceptual basis, some four
and a half centuries before it was to become an empirically
urgent necessity, for that 'higher-order of synthesis' now
vital to the survival of the post-atomic human subject.

Indeed mankind is already unified in a material sense. It is this
very fact that renders higher orders of synthesis necessary if
mankind is to survive. The race has always existed, but its
unity was in earlier times mostly a dream, a distant image.
Now, almost suddenly, mankind has become an inter-communi-
cating and inter-dependent whole in which every part is vulner-
able to destruction by other parts. For the first time our planet
is living a single history. The material unity which already and
irrevocably exists must be reinforced by legal, moral and
spiritual unity, which sadly despite all of our good intentions
still does not exist. [Hirschfeld 1971].
We shall attempt in this two-part article to glance at the
background and implications of both paradoxes. To do so it
will be necessary to look briefly at the before and after of
the conversion experience; the before of Las Casas' life in
Espainola and Cuba, the conversion experience itself, and the
after which was to climax in the formal Valladolid dispute
against his humanist/theologian antagonist, Gines de Sepdl-

Before the Conversion
Las Casas as Settler/Priest and Encomendero

Bartholomew (Bartolome) de Las Casas was born in
Seville, Spain in 1474. When he was 20 years old, his father,
one Pedro de Las Casas, and a merchant, sailed with
Columbus on the second voyage of settlement, the expedi-
tion with which Spain was to lay the basis for the emergence
of what Hirschfeld calls the 'single history' that all mankind
is living today. (It is often forgotten that this basis was first
laid by Spain, even more forgotten that it was in four Carib-
bean Islands, i.e. Espaniola (today's Santo Domingo and
Haiti), Puerto Rico, Jamaica and Cuba.)
When Bartolome's father returned to Seville in 1495
he brought back an Arawak whom he had enslaved and
gave him to his son as his personal attendant. Neither father
nor son saw anything wrong with this, in the climate of
belief and practice in which a non-racial and non-credal
slavery (i.e. slaves were both white/European, black/African,
Berber and Arab, Christian, Pagan and Muslim) essentially
domestic and artisan, was traditional and widespread.
When LUs Casas' father returned to EspaiFola to settle
there, Bartolome' de Las Casas soon joined him, sailing in the
retinue of the newly appointed governor of the Indies,
Nicolas de Ovando.

From the time of his arrival in 1502 until the time of his
conversion in June 1514, Las Casas, even though he was
to be ordained as a priest in 1510 and was always to treat the
Arawak peoples more considerately than most, behaved more
or less like any other Spanish settler, even as a 'conquista-
dor'. From the scanty indications that we have of his early
life in Espa 'ola, i.e. that he took part in the pacification
campaign on the east end of the island, as well as 'in several
Indian-hunting expeditions', that although 'he does not seem
to have engaged in gold mining at this period', he owned
food production estates and had allotted to him numbers of
Arawaks vhithin the encomienda serf-labour that had been set
up to secure a steady labour supply, that he supervised the
Indians in the growing of cassava and the making of cassava
bread, and that he made considerable sums of money from
this [Wagner and Parish 1967], Las Casas fully shared in
what might be called the 'land/gold/and hidalgo complex',
of the average conquistador/poblador; in the psychic com-
plex that underlay the expansionist drive of the first world
empire, that of Catholic-Christian Spain's.

The First World Empire and
the Complex of Limpieza De Sangre
Spain's year for destiny had been 1492. After eight cen-
turies of having been occupied and invaded by the expand-
ing forces of Islam, the Spanish Christian troops laid siege
to, and finally conquered, the last outpost of the Islamic
faith in Spain the city and province of Granada.

The contract that the Spanish sovereigns signed with
Columbus was signed in the town of Santa Fe from where
the siege of Granada was being directed. Spain's conquest
and her expansion into the new world following on Columbus'
windfall find, at once shifted both the balance of power and
the dynamic of expansion decisively away from Islam to the
Latin-Christian European peoples and their dazzling rise to
world domination spearheaded by Spain.
The latter's expulsion of all Jews who refused Christian
conversion in the high year of 1492 was an act related to her
growing sense of national destiny, as well as to the rise of a
new system of centralized monarchy based on the unifying
cement of a single faith the Christian.

With her capture of Granada in 1492, Spain now gave the
descendants of the former Islamic invaders the same ulti-
matum that she had given her Jews convert or leave. Many
converted, both Jews and Muslims, and were to become
known as the 'New Christians' or converses. Purity of faith,
limpieza de fe' became linked with purity of old Spanish
Christian blood, i.e. 'limpieza de sangre, and both were in-
creasingly linked to loyalty to the rising new monarchical
state. To be a morisco (a converted Muslim) or a marrano (a
converted Jew) was to be suspected, before the fact, of un-
Spanish activities.
The concept of limpieza de sangre, cleanliness of blood,
was a centralizing concept deployed by the monarchical
revolution to cut across the rigid caste hierarchy of the feu-
dal nobility. All Christians of genetically Spanish birth of
whatever rank, were now incorporable as 'we' and thelimpios
(of clean descent and faith), as opposed to the non-limpios
i.e. the Spaniards of Jewish or Moorish descent. For the mon-
archical revolution did not abolish the feudal status-prestige
system of nobleza de sangre (nobility of blood) but rather
drew it into a new symbolic machinery of monarchical
rationalism, one in which the hidalgo complex (the aspiration
to noble status, and to the title of Don), and the limpieza
complex (the aspiration to 'clean' status, to being the Spanish
Christian socio-symbolic norm) cross cut, balanced and rein-
forced each other in a dynamic equilibrium.

J.H. Elliot in his perceptive book on Imperial Spain, points
out that the concept of limpieza was used as a class weapon
by a new stratum, i.e. the sons of lowly born peasants and
artisans who through 'natural' ability and education were
able to aspire to the higher levels of the Church and state
bureaucracy. Finding their way to these posts blocked by
powerful members of the aristocracy who reserved them for
their own highly-born caste, the new letrado class (the letter-
ed class, the literati) consisting of jurists, theologians, scholars,
pushed the introduction of new statutes which reserved these
higher posts, especially those in the Church, for those who
could prove their 'purity of blood' during several generations
[J.H. Elliott, 1960].
In medieval Spain there had been considerable interming-
ling between the aristocracy and powerful members of the


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Jewish community, many of whom controlled the higher
reaches of finance and of the learned professions. In addi-
tion, in 1492, many Jews had accepted conversion rather
than endure expulsion, and they now formed a powerful
stratum, officially Christian, able to rival the Spanish letrado
class in learning and to outrank them, backed as they were
by highly-placed aristocratic connections.
With the rise of a theocratic monarchical state, the new
letrado class, making social use of the theological stigma
placed on Jews as a people who had 'rejected' Christ and
refused 'His Word', had constructed a concept of orthodoxy
in which the heresy of this original act of rejection was repre-
sented as being carried in the blood, generating in all their
non-limpio descendants a 'natural inclination' to heresy.

Men risen from lowly origins, from the villages, where
there had been no intermarriage, were therefore represented
as bearers of the socio-theological orthodoxy of limpieza de
sangre/limpieza de fd, as the nobility including the power-
ful converse Jews were the bearers of the socio-symbolic
orthodoxy of hidalgufa and noble blood. Each group, the
nobility and new letrado class, vied to play off their ortho-
doxies against each other.

Recent scholarship has raised the possibility that Las
Casas was of converse, New Christian Jewish descent, i.e. a
marrano. Las Casas himself was to insist that he was of 'good
old stock', i.e. an old Christian. He could genuinely have
believed this. Once converted, families went to great lengths
to 'pass', to repress all traces of their Jewish or Moorish
origins, since these origins barred many avenues to prefer-
ment in Church and state. Indeed, New Christians, whether
of Jewish or Moorish descent were officially banned from

entering the new world even though their de facto wide-
spread clandestine and unofficial presence is now being
documented by scholarly research (several documents, for
example, indicate the presence of both marranos and moris-
cos in New Seville).
But even had he known it, Las Casas would never have
admitted to it. The lesser evil, he insisted in another context,
was always to be preferred to a greater. Superb strategist that
he was, he would have known that the struggle that he fought
to abolish the encomienda would have been lost even before
the start had he admitted to such a 'taint'. Nevertheless, his
struggle for a universally applicable, rather than for a 'nation-
alist', Christianity, might have not been unconnected to the
creative ambivalence of his own origins.

The Reconquest and the Hidalgula Complex

Both complexes, that of limpieza and that of nobleza de
sangre, can only be understood in the context of the cen-
turies long crusade waged to reconquer Spanish territory
from the Moors. This crusade, called the Reconquest was
essentially a long 'anti-colonial' struggle against the religious
imperialism of Islam. For in a wave of expansion, after the
death of their prophet Mohammed, the followers of Islam
had entered Spain in AD 711, advancing into Europe as far
as Tours until stopped by Charles Martel (AD 732) in a battle
which saved Christendom.
Christian Spain, however, from the eighth century on-
wards, was corralled in, and confined to, the small northern-
enclaves, whilst Islam occupied the rest of Spain, develop-
ing a dazzling civilization which reached its high point in a
10th century apogee of commercial development and learn-
ing. This civilization was based on the co-existence of the
three Semitic-derived monotheistic faiths, Judaism, Christian-
ity and Mohammedanism, with the latter of course, hege-
monic, but relatively tolerant.
Although an interracial faith, Islam was primarily borne
by the Arabs. Latin-Christendom, as it fought against Islam,
and as it was cut off from its original Mediterranean range of
differing peoples, gradually 'ethnicized' itself, becoming a
Carolingian, Frankish/Gothic type of Euro-Christianity. It
was this particularistic Euro-Christianity which provided the
ideological basis for the Reconquest.
Both the hidalgo and the limpieza complexes carried
by the settlers to the new world were therefore generated
from a religious racism dynamically forged in the struggle
against an Arab-dominated Islam, during which the aristo-
cracy had come to play a central role. For the imperative
of retaking the lands occupied and ruled by the Spanish
Moors had placed a premium on the religio-military machine
consisting of the great nobles, the military orders and the
higher dignitaries of the Church. The additional fact that the
Reconquest was sanctified as a Holy War and was quite clear-
ly a 'just war', i.e. an offensive/defensive war legitimatized
the Spanish nobility's amassing of vast political and eco-
nomic power. Even more cruciallythe model of the noble- the
hijo d'algo or 'son of someone', i.e. the hidalgo, whose fight-
ing qualities were ascribed to the genetic superiority of his
caste and lineage became the normative model of identity
of the society.
The complex of hidalguia generated from the 'deep root-
ed crusading spirit . linked to a modernized medieval

Columbus taking leave of Ferdinand and Isabella at the Port of Palos
in 1492. From Theodore de Bry, 1594.

warrior/complex' [Moya Pons 1984], was expressed in a two
caste system in which the socio-symbolic norm, those of pre-
dominantly noble and fighting lineage, looked down upon
the agriculturalists (labradores and campesinos, i.e. peasants)
as well as on the free artisan urban class. Manual labour or
any connection with non-military or non-religious activities
tended to be deeply stigmatized. To be lowly born of pea-
sant or of artisan origin carried a stigma as powerful as that
of Blackness in the pre-1938 Caribbean.
The symbolic material apparatus of valorization/stigmat-
ization logically coded the normative desire. All Spanish
skins wore Don masks (cf. Fanon's Black Skins/White Masks).
However lowly-born, every Spaniard, like Cervantes' plain
Alonso Quijana, aspired to reinvent himself as Don Quixote;
aspired to be a Don.
The dominance of the aristocracy through its control
of what might be called the psychic desire/aversion appara-
tus of the order as a whole, was expressed at the economic
level by its control of a new system -the latifundium system.
For whilst the long centuries of the Reconquest had helped
to undermine the feudal order by creating a more open and
mobile frontier situation, it had also led to a situation in
which vast expanses of the lands recaptured from the Moors
had become concentrated in the exclusive ownership of the
great nobles, the high clergy and the military orders. The
latifundium complex was reinforced by the poverty of the
soil, and the high prices paid in Northern Europe for Spanish
wool, with both factors leading to the expansion of a nomadic
pastoral system of sheep-rearing [Moya Pons 1984].
This in turn led to a de facto form of enclosure system in
which landlessness for a growing stratum of the dispossessed
in the context of a demographic explosion became a fact of
life. And since the ownership of land was the basis of wealth
and the symbol of power in the hidalgua complex, the
opening up of new world lands to Spanish settlers and the
opportunity to become landed in the context of a new fron-
tier provided a powerful psychoeconomic motivation to emi-
gration and settlement.

Unhearing of the Voice in the Wilderness
Are They not Men?

The Las Casas of before his conversion shared in this
psychoeconomic motivation. And since New World land
without a steady labour supply was valueless, the Las Casas

of the before, saw nothing wrong in intra-Caribbean slave-
raiding and trading nor in the encomienda system. In other
words his mode of perception was determined by this always
already societally-coded motivation.

As a result, Las Casas found himself on the side of the set-
tlers in December 1511, when the Dominicans in a famous
sermon openly attacked and denounced both Indian slaving
and the encomienda systems.
The attack was delivered in a Christian sermon by Fray
Antonio Montesinos, a member of the Dominican order, but
the position put forward was that of the Dominicans as a
whole. Members of the order had only that year arrived in
the island of Espanola and they were horrified at the disas-
trous effects on the Arawaks of the regimes of forced labour,
slave and encomienda.
His voice, Montesinos said, was the voice of one crying in
the wilderness. By what right, he asked, or justice do you
keep these Indians in such horrible servitude? . Are these
not men? Have they not rational souls? Are you not bound
to love them as you love yourselves? All Spanish-Christians
who were holders of encomienda Indian labour were in mor-
tal sin, he warned; had condemned their immortal souls to
hell. The settlers, led by Diego Columbus, were furious. For
a while the lives of the Dominicans were in danger.
The Dominicans who had based their arguments on a con-
sensually arrived at theological-juridical position based both
on their concepts of what were the just titles under which
people could be enslaved, and on the conditions under which
the Spanish sovereigns had a just title to the Indies, refused
to retract.
The Santo Domingo settlers sent (in 1512) a Franciscan,
Alonso del Espinal, to argue against the Dominican's position.

The Dominicans for their part sent Fray Alonso de Monte-
sinos to defend their position. The crucial debates that were
to determine the future mode of relations between the
Spanish settlers and the new world peoples had begun.
Las Casas was, at that time, unhearing of the voice in the
wilderness; unheeding too, when, not long after, he was re-
fused absolution on the grounds that he was both a priest
and an encomendero. At the time he saw nothing wrong in
the encomienda since the setting up of an estate in the
frontier conditions needed a steady and continuous supply
of labour. And his position was at that time not only that of
the majority but the state position. For the institutions of
encomienda and of Indian-slaving provided the basis not
only for settler-aspirations, but at the macro-level, for the
commercial network called by the historians Pierre and
Huguette Chaunu 'Seville's Atlantic'; a network which in
turn provided the economic basis for the expansion of
Spain as a world empire.

Spain, Seville's Atlantic,
and the Modern World System

The new Spanish state based on the juridical political
system of absolute monarchy, was headed by the Catholic
sovereigns Isabel of Castile and Ferdinand of Arago'n. The
earlier marriage of these two sovereigns had laid the basis
for the monarchical revolution in Spain, against the decentral-
ized semi-feudal system which they inherited. With the help
of a new cadre of jurists (letrados) learned in Roman law,
they began to weld together a powerful modern state out of
two separate entities, Castile and Arago'n; and after 1492 to
initiate the world's first global empire.

Between 1494 and 1560, Spain came to gain control of
over half of the population in the western hemisphere.
Between 1494 and 1670 when the Treaty of Madrid confirmed
Spain's loss of Jamaica to the English, the land-mass area
under European control 'went from about 3 million kilo-
metres to about 7'. This Ipd to an unprecedented shift in the
land-labour ratio. This shift was to provide the empirical con-
ditions for the development of the mercantile system that
the Chaunus call Seville's Atlantic; as well as for the historic-
al rationale of the intra-Caribbean slave/trading and encom-
ienda system.

The Chaunus have documented the putting in place of the
new commercial network with its centre in Seville, Spain,
'where the world's heart beats' [Braudel]; the putting in
place of its mercantile, political and juridical structures, all
of which, transported from the Mediterranean, were to be re-
invented by Spain, leading to new and original structures
which were to evolve 'during the long passage of a century
and a half' [Chaunu 1959].
These new and original structures were to be at the same
time the founding structures of what Emmanuel Waller-
stein has recently defined as the first economic world system
in history. The structures of this emerging world system were
integrated, in its first phase, by the formula of mercantilism,
a politico-economic doctrine which although invented by the
Spaniards, was soon to become the 'fundamental law of all
Europe' [Eric Williams 1964]. And the central tenet of this
doctrine that a trade balance based on the excess of ex-
ports over imports was the goal of national policy led to
the implementation of policies which could ensure the autar-
chic self-sufficiency of the network.

The Role of New Seville
and the
Visit of Pablo de la Renteria

The town of New Seville after its founding by Juan de
Esquivel in 1509 came to constitute one of the chain of
settlements of the mercantile network of Atlantic 1. Its
role was therefore determined by the overall logic of the
As the Chaunus point out, until about 1518 when some
gold deposits were discovered on the island, Jamaica occu-
pied a bottom-of-the-ladder role in the context of the gold
cycle as contrasted with the gold-producing islands of Santo
Domingo, Puerto Rico and Cuba. Because of its relative back-
wardness with respect to the gold cycle, Jamaica got off to
a bad start under its founder Esquivel. Arawak Indians were
at first exported as slave labour to the other islands to work
in gold-mining and 'washing' there; this export of Indian
labour then led to the emigration of some of the original
Spanish settlers.
It was soon to flower, however, once the Crown ordered
a shift in its role and the governor and other officials were
instructed to develop the island as a food supply and pro-
vision base. Esquivel, in pursuance of this instruction had
established two royal estates at Pimienta and Melilla on the
basis both of the encomienda labour of the Arawaks and of
their already cultivated lands (conucos). And what the
Chaunus call New Seville's 'brilliant beginning' was to be
largely due to the rapid development of livestock rearing
and food growing in its hinterland. Already in 1514, it had
become the food provision supplier of the Caribbean.
Pablo De La Renteria's visit to Jamaica and to New
Seville was caused by his and his partner's need for live-
stock and food supplies. For in 1512 Las Casas had gone
with the expedition sent from EspaKola under Velasquez
to conquer and settle Cuba. However, as a friend of the
governor Velasquez, Las Casas after taking part in the settle-
ment of the town of Espiritu Santo, was assigned, together
with his friend De La Renteria, a 'good big' encomienda
(land and labour of the Indians who lived in the vicinity)
in 'the nearby Ariamo River the richest in gold yet'. [Wagner
and Parrish 1967].
In 1514 Las Casas' partner went off to Jamaica his goal
was to arrange to purchase and bring back a shipload of live-
stock and other foodstuffs both to feed their encomienda

,. ;.

Seville in the sixteenth century.

Indians who were now engaged in washing the sands for gold,
and to begin livestock rearing on their Cuban estate.

Stained is the Offering:
The Conversion Experience of Las Casas

Whilst preparing a sermon to preach to the Spaniards of
Espiritu Santo, Cuba during the absence of his partner in
New Seville, Jamaica, Las Casas was struck by the verse from
Ecclesiastes that read 'stained is the offering of him that
sacrificeth from a thing wrongfully gotten . . The verse
led to a train of reflection in which he remembered the hard
certainty with which he had rejected the Dominicans'
position, and the logical sequence of his own behaviour
which had been generated by the complex of a priori settler-

These Deadly Allotments
Against the Purpose of Jesus Christ

At this moment, as Las Casas would later relate, he saw
that no king nor indeed any earthly power whatsoever, could
'justify our tyrannical entrance into the New World, nor these
deadly allotments as is clear in Espanola, in San Juan and
Jamaica, and in the Bahamas'. The actions of the Spanish
settlers, and therefore of his before-conversion-settler-self,
had brought a great evil on the Indians precisely because
these actions were in explicit contradiction to the teach-
ings of the Catholic Christian faith.
All that we did and do, he concluded sombrely, 'go
against the purpose of Jesus Christ and against the charity
commanded in the Scriptures'. Above all, the 'deadly system
of allotments' the encomienda system, was, in the context
of Catholic Christian doctrines, 'unjust and tyrannical'.
Following on his conversion Las Casas went to see the
governor, his friend, Velasquez, and stunned the latter by his
decision to renounce the generous encomienda which had
been allotted to him. In August 1514, he went public with his
decision. Taking up the cry of Montesinos, Las Casas preach-
ed a sermon in which he told of his own conversion and set
forth to the settlers of Espiritu Santo what he now saw as the
mortal sin in which those Spaniards who held encomiendas
were living. He announced his own giving up of the encom-
ienda allotted to him, and urged on his fellow settlers the
restitution they would have to make if they were not to lose
their immortal souls.

Men Become Insensible, Blind and Inhumane

Las Casas in the meanwhile had written his partner ask-
ing him to speed up his return The latter concluded his
arrangements in New Seville a later document reveals
that a shipload of provisions taken from the King's estates at
Melilla and Pimienta had been handed over to one Salvador
De La Renteria, De La Renteria's brother and sailed from
New Seville.
In his account of his conversion and its sequence, Las
Casas records that as the caravel arrived off Cuba, he went
out in a canoe to meet his partner at ship-side. As they went
back to the shore and then on to their estate on the Ariamo
River, they recounted their experiences to each other. They
both saw the parallelism of their conversions, their common
turning away from the normative settler-mode of perception,
almost at the same time, as a sign that the mission on which
they were to embark had been divinely appointed.

Las Casas told his partner of the mission that he now saw
before him, of the need that he would have to wage a struggle
on two fronts. On the one front his aim would be to save
the Arawaks from the physical extinction which he saw tak-
ing place, because of the encomienda system which harnes-
sed them to a regime of intensive labour undreamt of and
unimaginable in the context of their former mode of life.
On the other front, he told De La Renteria his mission
was to save the Spanish settlers from the eternal damnation
of their souls. For Las Casas had an existential knowledge of
how his former settler colleagues thought and felt, of how
spurred on by the wide open frontier of possibility which
promised rapid enrichment and social ascension, the Spanish
settlers like his before-conversion-self, had become hardened
and callous, trapped by the demands of a settler-psyche -
(insensibles, hechos como hombres ciegos e inhumanos,i.e.
become insensible, transformed into blind and inhumane
men). And Las Casas knew that the conversion experience
for him had been an awakening from this spiritual and per-
ceptual 'blindness'.

Those We Hold in Contempt Will Sit At
the Right Hand of God: Predestination and Renter'as

De La Renter(a's conversion had followed similar lines.
The latter, Las Casas tells us, had 'always been a servant of
God and very compassionate with respect to the calamitous
state of the Indians'. Spending the'Lenten season in a Francis-
can monastery which at that time existed in the island'
(of Jamaica), De La Renterfa too experienced a process of
reflection in which the thought of the 'oppression of these
people and of the miserable life they endured' brought to
his mind the idea 'that he ought to ask the king to grant
him a licence and authority to establish a number of schools,
in which all Indian children could be assembled and instruct-
ed (doctrinarlos) so that the children at least could be freed
from perdition and extermination (mortandad) and that
those whom God had elected to be saved could be saved'
With this aim in view, he was determined, after his return
to Cuba, to go to Castille and to ask the King to give him
leave to set up such a school.
De La Renterfa's conversion centred about the theological
concept of predestination, a concept central to the great dis-
putes of the age. For the conflict between the Augustinian/
Pelagian attitudes to human salvation, with St. Augustine in-
sisting on God's grace as the true means to salvation, and on
the predestining by God of some to be saved, others to be
damned, and Pelagius to the contrary positing a strong role
for human free will in the attaining of salvation, could al-
most be called the structuring controversy of Catholic
Christianity. But both currents of this controversy had been
maintained in a kind of dynamic equilibrium before first
Luther, then Calvin and the new historical forces in whose
name and from whose perspectives they spoke, split the
church on the basis of a now absolute either/or between Pre-
destination/Faith/Grace on the one hand and Free Will/Good
Works on the other.
Both De La Renteria and Las Casas tended towards the
predestination wing of the orthodox Catholic Christian con-
tinuum. And the spiritual universal egalitarianism generated
by this attitude to predestination was to provide the key
point of difference between Las Casas and Sepulveda in the
Valladolid dispute of 1550. However, even before the dispute
with Sepulveda, against Dominican antagonist Fray Domingo


de Belanzos who declared to the Council of the Indies that
the Indians were 'bestial', that God had prepared a specific
reprobation for them, condemning them to extermination
for their sins, Las Casas had insisted on a divine election and
reprobation, specific to all men, universally applicable to all
All men, he warned his fellow Spaniards, were God's
people and 'it may be that once God has exterminated these
people [the Indians] through our cruel hands, He will spill
his anger over us all, ... inspiring other nations to do unto us
what we have done unto them, destroying us as we destroyed
them and it may be that more of those whom we hold in
contempt will sit at the right hand of God than there will be
of us, and this consideration ought to keep us in fear day and
With this new way of seeing, the partners now agreed
together that Las Casas should go to Castile to petition the
King in both their names so that they attain the goals, now
become the driving force in their lives, after the 'joy and
wonder' (alegrfa y admiracion: Las Casas) of their dual con-
version experiences, one in Espiritu Santo, Cuba, the other
in New Seville, Jamaica.

To be concluded next issue.
(Bibliographical References will be given at the end of Part 2).
1. The first town founded by the Spaniards in Jamaica 1509 was
originally and officially called Seville. In 1518 the site of the town
was moved and as was customary, the name New Seville seems to
have been used to differentiate the new site from the old. We have
used the latter name since this seems to have been customary in
everyday usage.

2. See quotation at the beginning of this article.

3. One uses 'African' here only in a geographical sense since the
African system of identification was tribal-lineage and it was there-
fore as metaphysically 'just' for the Christian to enslave the Mus-
lim and vice versa.
4. The Latin American historian Juan Freide has recently docu-
mented his claim that Las Casas was both the political and theoret-
ical forerunner of all later anti-colonial struggles [Juan Freide


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Devon House

The House of Dreams

By Sergio Dello Strologo
Situated well back from the corner
of Waterloo Road and Hope Road
in Kingston, Devon House sits like
a grande dame all dressed in white, sur-
rounded by formal gardens and an ex-
panse of green with boulders here and
there and majestic trees, including a
huge cotton tree (Ceiba). You walk
through the black iron gates and along
the royal palms skirting the round
paths leading to the Great House; the
cast iron cherubs in the fountains are
reflected in the water covered with blue
water hyacinths, and the flowering
rows of hibiscus lead to the front steps
which open into an apron pattern.
Jamaican doctor birds are buzzing in
suspended flutterings among the orchid-
like flowers of the Bauhinia or orchid
tree. During the month of December
swarms of newly hatched white butter-
flies flutter on the blue flowers of the

rounded domes of Lignum vitae trees
and transform them into shimmering
masses like huge bouquets. The old grey
statues of classical allegory brood along
the wall of the east terrace where the
Queen of England, H.M. Elizabeth II
gave her farewell dinner party a year ago
while on her state visit to Jamaica.
Still compelling after 100 years, this
mysterious house seems to have attract-
ed the dreams and aspirations and
imagination of people ever since it was
built. Some Jamaicans recall playing in
the house as young children; others re-
member only passing by on their way to
school and looking at it longingly.
Today Devon House has a special fascin-
ation for brides as wedding parties jostle
one another to have their photographs
taken in front of the steps of themansion.
Devon House is both symbol and dream,
but more than anything else it remains a

lasting monument to the skill of Jam-
aican craftsmanship in building great
houses out of wood.
It was commissioned in 1881 by
George Stiebel, a Jamaican of modest
origins, who was a carpenter and ship-
wright in his native land before migrating
to Venezuela and other parts of South
America. It is believed that he made his
fortune in gold: either he discovered or
invested in a gold mine. We do know
that he returned to Jamaica a wealthy
man after some time abroad. He decided
to build this mansion on a large property
called Devon Pen in what was then the
outskirts of town. He would have
known the kind of expert workmanship
and high standards he could expect
from his fellow countrymen and the
woodwork both outside and inside has
been admired by experts: historians,
restorers, and architects from all over.

We do not know many details about
the life of the Hon. George Stiebel, but
he achieved prominence in his native
Kingston and was honoured by Queen
Victoria with the C.M.G. He headed and
donated generously to a number of dis-
tinguished civic bodies and charities,
and was Custos of the Parish of St.
Andrew at the time of his death in

Devon House was inherited by his
only daughter Theresa, who married
Richard Hill Jackson (their family name
then becoming Stiebel Jackson). Theresa,
whose husband predeceased her father,
lived with her children at Devon House
until the 1920s. In 1922 the property
was sold to the Melhado family and
later passed into the hands of the Lindos.
It remained a family residence until
1967 when it was bought by the Govern-
ment of Jamaica.

The story of its many renovations
and changes probably never can be
written because so many people have
been involved in the interiors since its
creation. The only clear records we have
are those of the last 16 years after the
government bought the house. It was
saved from destruction at the last minute,
by the then Minister of Development
and Welfare, the Rt. Hon. Edward Seaga
who decided to use Devon House as a
showcase of crafts and furniture to
demonstrate the excellence of Jamaica's
craftsmen and cabinet-makers. It was
decided to create room settings from
different periods of Jamaica's history
as a means of displaying the pieces.
Things Jamaican, a government agency
established to stimulate the develop-
ment of craftsmanship, provided the in-
terior designer and craftsmen. The his-
torical room settings dramatized and
popularized antique reproductions. This
exercise demonstrated to Jamaicans that
the manufacturing of fine furniture was
something which could be a new busi-
ness and not only be custom-made for
rich patrons.

Structural restorations and work on
Devon House were begun in 1969, paying
respect to its original structure and char-
acter. For the inside of the house, Things
Jamaican began producing copies of
English and Jamaican furniture. One
room contained reproductions of early
Cromwellian pieces; others Charles II
and William and Mary styles, Queen
Anne, and the American Duncan Fyffe.
There was also a series of regional Jam-
aican and Caribbean furniture styles and
some rooms displayed Jamaican antiques

Part of the ambience of Devon House derives from its setting amidst mountains and greenery
(below) and man-made embellishments such as the fountain decorated with cast iron cherubs

donated by generous citizens.
Devon House with its gracious pro-
portions and spacious rooms provided
the perfect setting. This impressive work
which was completed in record time in
1969 enabled the craftsmen to demon-
strate what they could accomplish -
spice cabinets, gate-legged tables, Chip-
pendale chairs, dining room sets, high-
boys (or tallboys), and corner chairs.
The settings were enhanced with Persian
carpets and accurate reproductions of

brocade and upholstery of the period.
Chandeliers and original works of art
from the Institute of Jamaica were hung
and put the final touch to crystallize
stunning period settings.
The former Carriage House was made
into a 'Grog Shoppe' in the style of
William and Mary; Port Royal was used
as a theme. There was no Coffee Terrace
then, there was a back terrace in 1969
when it was first opened, as well as a
few shops. Devon House was an instant

The tree-shaded Quadrangle provides a setting for leisurely browsing in the shops which
surround it on three sides.

A rampant lion carved by a Jamaican craftsman from
mahogany has cast its eye over the Grog Shoppe since

The airy Coffee Terrace overlooking Quadrangle and shops is a popular meeting place.

sensation and inspired a style of old
Jamaica which became a classic trend
setter. (There is now a Devon House
Restaurant on Fifth Avenue in New
York owned by a Jamaican.)
In 1974 when the incoming govern-
ment decided to turn Devon House into
the National Gallery of Art, most of the
original furniture pieces were transfer-
red to the Institute of Jamaica. In 1980
the present government decided to res-
tore Devon House to its former status.
At that time some of these same pieces
formed the core of ideas which created
the second restoration and refurbishing.
This second restoration has been
designed to be more attuned to the ori-

ginal house, since it emphasizes antiques
of Jamaican and Caribbean origin. Mixed
among them are a few of the old repro-
ductions made by Things Jamaican and
recently purchased antiques and don-
ations and pieces on loan. The House
has been refurnished in the style of a
house of 1860-70 a Jamaican Great
House. It does not have the heavy dra-
pery of the English Victorian house of
the period, but the mixed furnishing
and ambience of Jamaican Great Houses,
mostly Jamaican but with some English
and European imports. There are riding
chairs, massive four poster beds in great
airy rooms. The carefully constructed
jalousies provide the wind currents that

one can feel on the upstairs floor so
that the house is never in need of fans
or air conditioning at any time, even
during the hottest days.
The Caribbean antiques and objects
are some of the most interesting features
of the house. The search for these ob-
jects which are now in the new settings
was rather haphazard but successful.
Some were found in local antiquarian
shops in forgotten heaps of junk, some
remained mysterious until cleaned and
properly set up, others could not even
be identified or their functions under-
stood until the experts had their say.
One such piece was the tea caddy, a
very beautiful table with the lifting
counterweight top which was used to
lock up the containers of then very
valuable tea. A revolving high stool with
a miniature bucket chair made for a
young child was traced to its English
manufacture in 1881 by a certain Mr.
Smythe. A bagatelle table which is
believed to be late 18th century began
as a mystery. It is hinged to fold, a fea-
ture unusual for a small billiard table.
We deduced that it must have been
used for a mobile company, possibly
members of the military, and needed
to be folded to be packed on horse-


back. The small special cue sticks and
balls had to be searched for in England
because the game is no longer being
played and few know the rules. The
baby's nursing chair, in the Master
Bedroom, is very low-slung, we assume
for safety's sake. And the hand blown
glass bottle of unusual shape was iden-
tified by an elderly lady visitor as a
baby's feeding bottle. She had seen
one when she was a young child.
The paintings and prints are typi-
cal of the ones hung in Jamaican Great
Houses and are from the collection of
the Institute of Jamaica. There are
some prints and cartoons of interest
which were bought expressly for the
house such as 'The Pursuit of Plea-
sure' in the Gaming Room commission-
ed by a Caribbean resident to be engra-
ved in London.
The crystal chandelier in the Great
Ballroom has survived and been revived
like a phoenix from two broken ghosts
of chandeliers which were part of the
original chandelier of the Stiebel man-
sion. This last version was painstakingly
completed with glass pendants and crys-

The crystal chandelier in the Ballroom.

tal chains found in the corners of
antiquarian shops in various places in
Jamaica, Barbados, Sussex in England
and Trinidad. It is difficult to find
these old types of triangular and beauti-
ful pendants, remnants of English chan-
deliers of the period.
The round bas-relief decorations of
cherubs on the ceiling of the Ballroom
were a surprise when cleaned; thev had
been painted green over the Wedgwood
blue. At first it was thought that the
decorations were Wedgwood porcelain
plaques, but testing and scraping reveal-
ed only a form of hard plaster. The
cleaning also revealed a lot more detail
that had been painted over.
One of the best furniture pieces is
in the Dining Room, a very beautiful
example of a cellaret (sideboard for
wines and liqueurs) of fine Georgian-
Caribbean design a rare piece. The
porcelain Ching dynasty plates which
are in the corner cabinets in one of the
Sitting Rooms are products of the
Chinese kilns for the Japanese market.
In the bedrooms, the large four
posters are typical of the Jamaican

The Grand Ballroom.

-- I *

9OUnmD 5LOW1 Pt1.aw

Sne Young Laayrs uearoom.


2Pr I

19 18


fl5? pLOor P.J,"

Great Houses. The Meissen porcelain
chandelier in perfect condition hang-
ing in the Young Lady's Bedroom is a
valuable find and special; it was discovqr-
ed by a stroke of luck in a Jamaican
antiquarian's collection on the north
coast. The Murano glass chandelier of
recent Venetian make, is in the style of
the 17th century Italian baroque.
The blue and white copper engraved
ceramic bidet in the Dressing Room was
found here in Jamaica and is not
common. The set of ceramic wash-
bowls and pitchers in the dressing rooms
with Prussian cobalt blue decorations
are very grand and typically Victorian.
Some of the quilts over the beds are
American antiques. The embroidery
and crochet bed covers are beautifully
made and unusual.
The Gaming Room also features a
ladies' playing table which folds out as
an envelope with four triangles making
a larger square. Apart from the folding
bagatelle table mentioned earlier, another
highlight of craftsmanship in this room
is a beautiful upholstered leather wing
chair in Jamaican calf skin which was
made to order here.
The Living Room features a superb
carved couch with rattan webbing in a
very classic Caribbean design. The Vene-
tian mirror in the same room was found
in Jamaica.

1. Front Entry Portico 9. Back Staircase Hall 17. Balcony
2. Entry Vestibule 10. Storage 18. Grand Ballroo
and Front Staircase 11. Coffee Terrace 19. Ladies Sitting
3. Dining Room 12. Coffee Serving 20. Ladies Sitting
4. Palm Hall 13. Offices 21. Young Ladies
5. Living Room 14. Vault 22. Sewing Room
6. East Portico 15. West Portico 23. Master Bedro4
7. Fern Room 16. Upper Vestibule 24. Master Bedroc
8. Gaming Room Dresing Ro

The Master Bedroom.

Ladies' Sitting Room.

The Dining Room.

The Palm Room has an elegant
panelling of palms painted on cotton.
The pattern seems to be a repeat but
closer inspection reveals that each one
is different. There are different flowers,
various butterflies and the colour com-
binations vary. This was repainted here
because the original Scalamandre silk
screened fabric was too strong in con-
trast so the decorators requested a Jam-
aican painter to repaint over the panels
and reinterpret it in a different palette,

The Gaming Room, highpoint of which is the unusual folding
bagatelle table at left.

. ~ ,

The Sewing Room
examples of drapery and upholstery
reproductions made today. Some of
the drapery may seem bombastic but
it is all a correct interpretation of what
would have been in a Victorian house in

The old oven in the original kitchen
has beer reactivated. The iron work and
the vents, doors and iron grills were re-
built and it is once again a working oven
which now bakes very fine cakes, bread

adding flowers of Jamaica and butter-
flies, ensuring that the final effect was
harmonious but not actually a repeat.

The carpets throughout the house
are antiques; their vegetable dyes are
a proof of their age, corresponding to
the period: a Kermanshah, a Meshed,
two Hamadans plus an unusual persim-
mon red Turkish carpet featured in the
Dining Room. The brocades imported
from Europe are some of the finest

The Living Room.

The Meissen porcelain chandelier in the
Young Lady's Bedroom.

Carved sofa, one of the tine examples of

T min

The Cellaret in the dining room is one of
the rare pieces of the house.

puddings, potato puddings, and fresh
coco-bread, popular items in the Bread
Basket shop and the Coffee Terrace.

Detail of a painted panel in the Palm Hall.
The 'vault' remains a mystery: what
exactly was it used for? It has been
referred to as a silver house, a place
where the silver was stored at night.
Another, more romantic, story would
have it as the place where George Stiebel
stored the gold from his South American
The Grog Shoppe has been com-
pletely refurbished, cleaned, and brought
back to its handsome brown woodwork
of the 1969 restoration. It has also been
doubled in size by extending the front
part of the pavement, thus creating
another terrace under the huge mango
tree. This complements the older terrace
under the mahogany tree and the two
blend harmoniously.
The quadrangle was fully comple-

The Palm Hall.
ed and a new series of shops has been
.created to show off Jamaican products
in crafts, gourmet foods, furniture,
graphics, books and other printed
matter, music, records, spices and per-
fumery. The shop names are in them-
selves descriptive: 'The New Kitchen',
'Old Things Jamaican', 'Country Crafts',
'The Pickney Shop' (dolls), 'The Bread
Basket', 'The Tannery', 'Essence', 'Ice
Cream', 'Brawta' (broad and large
selection of gifts). These shops carry
not only Things Jamaican productions
but also products made by the best
craftsmen and specialty product houses
of Jamaica.

The most attractive aspect of the
Devon House complex is the variety of
settings: the formal nature of the
front garden, then the more informal
quadrangle which is especially magni-
ficent in the late afternoon. Between
the house and the Grog Shoppe, over
the west terrace, the mahogany tree is as
majestic as ever. It is one of the few
large mahogany trees left, since very few
specimens remain outside the forests,
most having been cut down to make the
famous furniture for which Jamaican
mahogany was long famed. These trees
can reach up to 130 feet (40 metres) at
maturity and the Devon House speci-
men must be more than 90 years old.

The grounds have been planted in
the style which was prevalent at the
time of the original construction, re-
specting the architectural layout of the
house. The rear, at the back of the shops,
where George Stiebel used to pasture his
horses, is still wild and untouched.
Eventually that part of the grounds will
be developed.


The Upper Vestibule.

Detail of the copper engraved ceramic bidet.

The house is as great an attraction
as it has always been and the Grog
Shoppe continues to be a meeting
place for Jamaicans who regard it as
one of the places that is a must on the
itinerary of their visiting foreign friends.
And the brides continue to come. One
weekend, 100 wedding parties were
counted, all wanting to have their
photographs taken in front of the
Great House. This has created conges-
tion and is an ordeal for the security
staff but no one can stop Devon House
from playing its role as everyone's
dream house.
As befits an old house, legends of
Devon House abound. There are stories
about gambling in the attic with a stair-
case that could be wheeled away since
the law declared 'thou shalt not have

The front staircase shows the beautiful wood-
work which is a hallmark of the house.

any access to gambling establishments'.
This same law seems also to have been
applied in Barbados because in the Bar-
bados Club there is a circular staircase
on wheels which leads to an upstairs

room believed to have been used for
gambling. However, those who are
familiar with the Devon House attic find
it hard to believe that gambling or any
group activity could take place in that
small uncomfortable space.
The team which the Prime Minister
of Jamaica, Rt. Hon. Edward Seaga pick-
ed to complete the second restoration
of Devon House was made up of a group
of professionals and experts on Jamaican
history, plus private individuals; all
who contributed in their own way.
Many Jamaicans volunteered advice
which was taken and applied. Thus the
decorators had access to information on
what type of details would be most ap-
propriate. Spurts of imaginative inspir-
ation of assistants and workers con-
tributed in a collaborative spirit was
shared by all who gave ideas and parti-
cipated in this second restoration. The
individuals involved would make a very
long list; it would have to include those
who had set certain patterns back in
1969 and whose ideas were revived and
reapplied. In addition there are hun-
dreds of Jamaican craftsmen and others
who have contributed and who can
proudly say, 'Yes, I suggested that idea,
a piece of that is mine . .' or 'I chose
the plants for this garden . .' or 'I
sewed and hung those curtains . .' or
'We made the leather which is on the
wing chair. .' or 'I carved the rampant
lion in the Grog Shoppe . .' Unsung
craftsmen and cabinet-makers whose
names are not recorded did the most
important pieces; and the antiques.
These mute artists of the past are re-
membered in the rooms of Devon House.
It is much easier to compose the in-
teriors of a house with taste and grace
if one has at one's disposal beautiful ob-
jects which are important and self-
contained; they can never be out of
place. If you combine beautiful things
of excellent design and high quality,
they achieve harmonious relationships
even if they are not of the same period
or of the same styles. The excellence of
design and workmanship of a lamp, of
drapery, a fine print, or a Persian carpet
contrast beautifully and can fit in with
finely made Jamaican furniture. This is
why Devon House and its interiors are
elegantly coordinated. At night, the
house on Hope Road and Waterloo is
flooded with lights and makes one re-
member the past and provides ideas for
the future. Reclaiming and saving of
other Jamaican Great Houses can and
should become a trend, important
for better urban planning and the beau-
tification of Kingston and the nation.


what more is there to say?

By Gloria Ecoffery

This article is dedicated to the memory
of Philip Hart, artist, friend of artists
and dedicated member of the National
Gallery Board; he died suddenly, aged
48, before the close of the exhibition
under review, in which he was a parti-

us the memorable lines used
as a title for this review,l
came into his prime late in life, and was
much pre-occupied with the theme of
transience in human affairs. Some creat-
ive people die young, appearing to be
cut off in their prime, but artists are
known to be exceptionally tough sur-
vivors, continuing to produce signifi-
cant works well into their 70s, 80s or
even 90s witness, in modern times,
the great Picasso, whose last decade
of achievement, finally assembled for
reassessment, is currently on show at
the Guggenheim Museum In New York.
Is there such a thing, one wonders, as a
generation gap among artists? Is there
a recognizable art of old age; the late
Lord Clark (better known as Sir Kenneth
Clark) thought there was, and has de-
fined the aiterstil as 'a sense of iso-
lation, a feeling of holy rage developing1
into . transcendental pessimism'.
I owe this quotation to Avis Bar-
man, author of a fascinating article on
the lives and views of contemporary
American septuagenarian and octagen-
arian painters and sculptors, including
such pioneers of modernism as Reuben
Nakian, Louise Nevelson and Willem de
Kooning.3 The artists interviewed did
not think there was any 'esthetic syntax
peculiar to advanced age'. Typical of

Carl Baily, Two Women 1. 1983. Cont on
paO. 18" x li8'. Collection: The Artist.
their response was the explanation givqn
by Isabel Bishop, a frail but pertinacious
81: 'why don't artists retire? With an-
other go at it I might really, find some-
thing . I don't think I've made a
definitive formulation, but I may do it
tomorrow.' One artist, Noguchi, re-
fused perhaps sensibly to be inter-
viewed. At 79 he did not consider him-
self one of the older artists.
In the context of the Jamaican art
movement, to have recently passed the
80-year mark, like Albert Huie, Ralph
Campbell and David Pottinger, is to be
regarded as one of the pioneers of anti-

qulry. I ne real pariarcns -cana manley,
Alvin Marriott and Carl Abrahams, are
in their early 80s, with intuitives 'Kapo'
and 'Doc' Williamson, both born in
1911, treading hard on their heels. The
question of relative age, perhaps not as
relevant in such a short span of history
as it appears to us today, does come
strongly into focus in relation to the
1983 Annual' National Exhibition, an
unprecedently large and comprehensive
exposure of 182 works which gave the
public a chance to take stock of current
studio output over the gamut of age,
choice of medium, technique and style.
Does age matter as much as we think
it does?
Undoubtedly this show was a tour de
force of assertive talent for the young,
many of the glittering shoal being artists
relatively unknown to the public. The
first generation group of painters all
realists are represented modestly with
works of no great novelty. It is there-
fore not of them that I intend to write
- and not even primarily of the middle
generation, if one may so designate the
early graduates of the Jamaica School of
Art, who were well represented, their
established presence a firm yardstick
(Continued on page 44)


Valentine Fairclough, From Rnlity To Illusion Seris. Mixed media (with stones) on canvs,
Triptych: each 48" x 24". Collection: Jamalca School of Art.

Philip Gordon Hart


Head of Christ (painting with gold leaf)

From his early childhood Philip Hart
had had artistic tendencies and
talent. When the time came for him
to select his life's work he had been
accepted at a major Art School in
England, but, feeling the stronger
vocation for the priesthood, he wert
instead to the University of London
from which he graduated, and he was
subsequently ordained.
He was a remarkable, unique, multi-
faceted person but to the day of his
untimely death on 21 March 1984 his
true essence was that of a priest.
However, he still yearned to fulfill

his potential as an artist -although the
streams of his talents as priest and artist
had often confluenced. He had brought
creativity to his priesthood and deep
spirituality to his art.

Essentially self taught; he worked in
the strict Byzantine iconographic
tradition in which he had a consuming
interest. Apart from its beauty and its
historical and theological interest, that
school appealed to his disciplined mind
and his love of symbolism and ritual. He
felt that his gifts should be employed in
working within this ancient and
important artistic and religious tradition.

LI -


:: ;; . ..i

; i.;


i. `.' :-'::

He was, personally, strangely insecure
about his artistic gifts, but the sheer
skill, beauty and intricacy of both his
embroidery and his painting leave you
in wonder. He had an abiding fascination
with the moods and textures of
gold/gold leaf and he used this medium
to evoke superb images. Now sadly, there
are so many pictures yet unpainted.
Philip had a fervent and eclectic
interest in, and memory for, the visual
and performing arts. He was always
studying the work and techniques of
other artists.
He loved objects the animate such
as plants, birds and the butterflies which
he had collected in his youth with his
dear brother Robert, and the inanimate,
particularly miniatures which appealed
to his sense of detail and perfection. He
had a childlike wonder about beautiful
things and an ability to communicate his
enthusiasm and insight to others.
He brought these talents to bear on

The Rainbow Eluem (embroidery)

his work as Executive Director of the
Institute of Jamaica a post for which
he was especially suited. His major goal
was to build public awareness and pride
in our heritage.

Although he played an important and
often courageous public role, Philip
Gordon Hart, O.D., was a deeply private
soul. He brought to his life zest, humour,
elegance, a deep love of music and
language, a sense of drama, a love of
detail and texture, and an important
capacity for solitude.
From all of this his ministry and his
art emerged, and we are the richer for
his life.
But it was in the beautiful hills of our
land that he found a constant source of
joy and strength. He saw in them the
embracing love of God and there he
found peace and joy.
May we find these things too as we
remember Philip Hart.

John the Baptist (embroidery)


(Continued from page 4 1) .....--- of the poles of expression betweenvhc
against which the younger artists appear- te aete en;as h
ed to have measured themselves. As ti oehn ftefeh
for our two octagenarian sculptors, Iiinwt hc hysat
Manley and Marriott, one feels that the satyrvrig nodae
idea of an altretutil needs, if only curso-sarigontThsidsae
ril, t b brachd.trated by two Marriott works exeue
2 in 1983. Ever the high priest of feinn
The sense of purpose and energy beauty, he exhibits, in the cedarrle
emanating from the 1983 Annual jild"on ilbt i
Exhibition derived partly from the un- I4 oda cltrlmd
precedented number of works in whichhipncatorefedgaet
artists seemed to be testing their powersnteote adhi lse
of expressiveness in non-traditional On the rothrhnd his plaster portrai
techniques such as weaving, batik and states his ability to particularizeadt
a variety of 'mixed media'. The Jamaican celebrate the robust and self-conidn
gallery-goer, thanks to the pioneering
work of Dawn Scott, later of Sharon tably this work reminds us ta r
Chacko, is used to seeing batiks dis- Iosiue iin rdto;f
plaed iplisitag'blitpe'Rps en exhibition Marriott's natttrallismi.t
customer to. wall. hangings conceived as successor naturalism carreon e-. te
abstract Wodrk of art,. David Boxer's sur- ute nteitneysr
realist boxes and cabinets have become stitrlypoon otati
less startling with time, and the average SawrWo n"ba a
viewer may not notice minor changesinhstete;teatt sL
and developments in this field, such as *Lewin, a recent graduate of theJaic
his exploration of the traditional appli- Sho fAt
cation of gold leaf also used by Philipoi'ShlofAt
ii P

Hart in his two icons. Sculptors in their later years ofe e
'But cumulotively thisse forays into -- fresh themselves by a shift to unfmla
Basil atson Essene. 193. Grenhear

craft not excteding,. of course the sei esn sec.18.Oeneenmedia. Thus one sees Ednaany Int
presnce f esentallyfuntionl cea- ood. Height 3r'. Collection: The Artist* her eighties experimenting with cmn
mics by Cecil Baugh and other artists, whose works fell into the more conven- fondu., the medium in which he1:8
crete anatosher o oen-ined tional categories of landscape, portrait, piece, "The Future", is execute..u
advntrosnsswhch asublytiu- genre composition and still life. Here to my mind the more interestingohe
lating. Furthermore the appeal of the too was curatorial discretion in evidence; two sculptures in this show wait"ras"
show owed much to the intelligence the viewer was unobtrusively guided an allegorical female figure, withi~
with which the works were mounted along a trail which highlighted subtle business which derives from thedon
and distribteild over the large area of differences of style and invited him to to-earth realism of her later phas.h
four salons andl one large, olpen, mez- observe interesting contrasts and similar- backward arch of the torso sugg"sh
zanine area. First the -viewer had his ities. A particularly imaginative touch image of a moon, which of cousa
breath takenv away by the larger and/or was the highlighting, within the key very much a part of her recurrentmei
more colourful works, mainly but not alcove which in a way set the tone of station on cosmic themes. 4The modo
exclusively non figurative; then he the exhibition, of an outstanding piece 'holy rage' evident in the recent "het
moved on into the largest room, in which of humanist sculpture along with con- Mother" appears to have given wa1 t
the sculpture (except for some of the trasting examples of two-dimensional resolution which offers greater trnul
larger pieces downstairs) the ceramics, works of a spiritual or religious'char- ity.
the textiles,.. and most of the 'mixed acter. In studying the work of they e
media' works jostled with paintings As Avis Berman points out in the sculptors one cannot avoid thecn
by young, and somewhat older, artists article referred to above, major artists clusion that they were, in different wy
of the avant-garde. Thez intuitives had a are extraordinarily consistent, and while consciously challenging the achieveet
room to themselves, while the other two their work continually evolves, they of their forebears. Among the moe n
rooms were occupied by 'the rest', those seem to arrive at a sound understanding teresting experiments was Basil Waso'



"Essence" which seems to marry the
frontal formality of African esthetic to
a baroque essay in revolving forms. I
found the contrapuntal relationship of
shoulders to hips, and the divorce of
head from both, somewhat unsatis-
factory in the frontal view, but moving
round to the back, was delighted by the
dynamic relationship of the rounded
head and flattened cheek to the cubist
planes of the right hip. David Williams,
another very recent graduate of our art
school, was boldenough to have taken on
Michelangelo his contribution being
a lithe and not unworthy ciment fondu
68" high "David".
One fascinating feature of the Jam-
aican art scene is the way we assimilate
contemporary international trends. I
have touched on this theme in an article
on the work of Winston Patrick re-
presented here by his "Floor Piece" -
which, incidentally, needed a more
intimate setting, and failed to make its
potential impact in the milieu of the
National Gallery. Rachel Fearing, an
American-trained artist, is Patrick's
closest stylistic counterpart in this
show: she, however, appeared here to
great advantage with two wood carv-
ings in the open-sculpture style first
fully explored by Henry Moore. Of the
two I prefer "The Internal and the
External", study in which she uses white
paint, or enamel, to define certain forms;
and so sets limits to the overall fluidity
of the curves. With no conscious effort
one finds oneself anthropomorphizing
before this piece and perhaps imposing
metaphor where none was intended. Is
one permitted to recognize allusions to,
here a hip, there a torso, an arm, an en-
folding hand? So feminine is the sensi-
bility projected by this 'figure' that the
very act of looking with too curious
an eye seems an intrusion into the co-
coon:of privacy within which the inner-
most being seeks protective solitude.
As this does not purport to be a com-
prehensive survey of the sculpture in
the show, I need make no apology for
failing to comment on the Important

public commissions the Kay Sullivan
Sam Sharpe Monument and the much
publicized Christopher Gonzalez Bob
Marley. An interesting small sculpture
of a very private nature is Fitz Harrack's
"Black Moon" a piece with symbolic
overtones somewhat in the Manley
tradition. The cold grey of the cast
stone quite different from the warm
coloration of his other piece in the same
medium, helps to create a sort of lower-
ing physiognomy; moreover the medium
seems to lend itself to the sort of simpli-
fication in which every crisp edge creates
a distinctive shadow.which really counts.
The term 'mixed media' covers a
variety of materials, including paper
mache, sticks, stones, and every type of
graphic or painterly technique. An
outstanding feature of this show was the
range of expressive content in the
numerous examples of 'mixed media'
experimentation by younger artists. No
doubt the influence of two relatively
senior artists, Hope Brooks (tutor and
Principal at the Jamaica School of Art)
and Laura Facey, another imaginative
pioneer in this field, and also a gradu-
ate of a few years back, are now bear-
ing fruit; the results are most interesting.
Laura Facey, represented by two
compositions, "Hunters" and "Salt

Livingston Lewin, Stalwart Woman. 1983.
Oak. Height 22%". Collection: The Artist.

Kilns", appears to be currently pre-
occupied with the dynamics of topo-
graphy. Her poetic 'landscapes of: the
mind' suggests a. romantic identifi-
cation with the elements of nature in a
primitive world not yet transformed by
man into a slum. Valentine Fairclough,
carrying the use of the very stuff of
nature still further, uses as her medium
specimens of inorganic nature's most
obdurate constituent, or component -
stones; these she dispose in a most
dramatic way in her triptych, taken
from a "Reality to Illusion" series. The
viewer is almost kinetically. involved in
the dynamic movement of forms. across
the bland, blank surfaces of the tall
vertical panels, until, in the third area,
the stones come to rest like flotsam
deposited by the tides on a bare beach.
Only after this first reaction is one im-
pelled to come closer, and grapple with
the philosophic concept behind the
work, noting how, imperceptibly, illu-
sionist painting replaces the 'reality' of
actual pebbles.
Another interesting abstractionist in
this group is Pet Archer, who most in-
geniously pursues the ambiguities of
illusion and the subtleties of feminine
angst. Her two works are titled "Patch-
work the Female Pattern" and "Dis-
quiet". Here obsessiveness with pattern-
ed fabric which no amount of mend-
ing can rescue from ultimate disinte-
gration, plus a waywardness which
keeps demolishing the regularity of the
design, conveys the 'message', while at
the same time satisfying the human
craving for order. Obsession borders on
paranoia. Could those miniscule circles
within the (painted) squares of the
fabric really be watching eyes?
Has the femininity of these artists
anything to do with the overall im-
pression of a yearning for security, for
certainties that just aren' to :be found
in the modern world? tope Brooks,
represented here by three compositions
from the "window" series shown recent-
ly at the Bolivar, sometimes sketches in
the architectural framework only to de-

molish it; it is as if she wishes to ex-
press distrust of the frail barriers of geo-
metry (mental and physical) man
erects to ward off calamity. Erasure is
the name of the game also in Rosalie
Smith McCrea's "Veils and Transparen-
cies", which suggests to me the mysti-
que of a traditional wisdom we never
quite succeed in assimilating, because
the letters on the printed page do not
really reach us.
Forgive my search for meanings. Is
this what is called 'minimalism'? The
fashionable label means nothing to
me if I can't, for myself, arrive at an
idea of what these works are all about.
Put it down to temperamental bias, if
you wish, or to the generation gap
which places me in the lighthearted
company .of persons who accept illu-
sion, even self deception, as an integral
part of life; and demand of art the re-
assuring quality of a Shakespearean tra-
gedy. The worse the chaos we observe
around us, the more need we have of
every bit of gestalt the human mind can
come up with. But of course the basic
geometry must be subtle and the colours
not too garish. I was recently reminded
in an English Literature class of that
beautiful line in which Yeats tells us
that 'Hamlet and Lear are gay'; also,
with Pet Archer's work in mind, it is
illuminating to recall those other lines
about the hazards of the flesh; and the
consolations to be derived from the
spirit; 'The aged man is but a paltry
thing/A ragged coat upon a stick.
Unless/Soul clap its hands and louder
sing/for every tatter in its mortal dress.' 6
The decay of matter, which has al-
ways fascinated artists, has its peculiar
rationale and may well be celebrated
as part of a process of transforming
regeneration. Larrie Brown, yet another
of our young artists who goes in for
serials, uses his -observation of the
deterioration of fabrics, or paper -
or perhaps skin as the basis for the
most refined and elegant abstractions.
I personally find these works very
satisfying more so than the violent


David Williams, David. 1982. Ciment fondu.
Height 68". Collection: The Artist.

abstract expressionist response one notes
in, for instance, Eric Cadien's two 'land-
scapes' "Trickles" and "Summer".
What is the artist If he cannot to some
extent play God, and postulate the
kind of organic coherence that Cheryl
Daley achieves in her 'mixed media' un-
titled abstractions, Desmond McFar-
lane in his exquisite colour conundrums
(also untitled) and George Rodney, firm-
ly holding on to the image which was
the original stimulus, in his monumental
"Melody for a Handyman".
Mystery too may be a fruitful source
of inspiration. A sort of soft, out of
focus vision is the means effectively
used by Cecil Cooper in his untitled
composition. -Leonardo da Vinci used
sfumato to convey the enigma of the
Mona Lisa smile; following in this tradi-
tion, but informed by a modern sensi-
bility that reminds one of the world of
Goya, Carl Bailey uses conte crayon
to create the terrible loneliness of two
people physically together but locked
into separate worlds.
Here we are, back with the human

image. There is so much more I wanted to
say so many figurative artists' work I
would have liked to discuss. The Editor
will say that I have already exceeded
my ration of space...
1. W.B. Yeats; "Nineteen Hundred and Nine-
teen", From The Tower: 1928.
2. Excerpt from a lecture titled "The Artist
Grows Old", delivered at Cambridge
University in 1972.
3. Avis Berman; "When Artists Grow Old";
Art News, December 1983.
4. This aspect of Edna Manley's work was
touched upon in my article "Queen in
the House of My Shadow"JAMAICA
5. Winston Patrick: Transformations". JAM-
6. W.B. Yeats: "Sailing to Byzantium".
GLORIA ESCOFFERY, O.D., is artist, poet,
journalist and head of the English Department
at Browns Town Community College.

By Mervyn Morris

Vic Reid, Nanny-Town, Kingston: Jamaica
Publishing House, 1983,266 pp.

wame Oduduwa, narrator of Vic
Reid's Nanny-Town, tells of life
among the Eastern Maroons in
Jamaica between 1734 and 1738. 'From
the great war, when we made Nanny-
Town a sling-shot town, to the Treaty
of Peace with the English.' In those
days Kwame was a boy, apprentice to
the Griot, Kishee. At the time the
story is being told Kwame is himself
'the aging Griot of Nanny-Town', and
very proud indeed of the work.
It is mightier than any trade to be a
Griot. Mightier than a hunt or an am-
bush, for everything is in a story-tale
and in a song-tale. You are putting into
the minds, forever, into the minds of
those who hear you and into the minds
of those to come, the deeds of all the
tribe, black, white or brown. (p.253).
Nanny-Town shows us Maroon child-

0 _M

". the book is undoubtedly informative and demon-
strates the result of a great deal of research ....
". .. .a book into which the casual
reader may dip and find something of
considerable interest."
" .... To those who love to learn ofJamaica's history
this book will be a tremendous mental treat."
- Sir Florizel Glasspole, Governor General of Jamaica

8. $8.45:-- ,S12.OO.'
Post paid overseas m Jamaica only
All books available at


12-16 East Street, Kingston
Telephone: 92-20620

A Novel by Neville Dawes

"INTERIM is a well written
book, well worth reading...
... one must credit the author with providing us with
an exciting story and coming out on top with his fine
style of writing." Archie Lindo, The STAR.
"Few books can delight as INTERIM in its exhilar-
ating description of country life and its searching of
the rural tapestry of Jamaica in all its rich wit and
wisdom; spun for us by a highly skilled raconteur ...
Yet the book is not all fun and games, the city is
waiting and so is Politics.
INTERIM is a well-written and intricately structured
work... it unemphatically explores three attitudes
to the universe: 'Christian, Existentialist and Marxist'.
To me it seems one of the finest of Jamaican novels."
Mervyn Morris

"Dawes has created a masterpiece in INTERIM ...
the theme of a Jamaican people struggling for an
existence and identity ... ." Joy Scott, DAIL Y NEWS

in Jamaica only

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Centr ... .... The outstanding merit of the
SJamaicans, lies in its arti-


.'.'f .. / tr '" S ..NELEOPARD has done his

country and his countrymen
the distinguished service." -The BAJAN,
January 1979
Little is known outside of the Caribbean of
the part played by the Jamaican guerilla Juan de

Bolas in the adventure which established the English
in Jamaica. THE JAMAICANS is the great novel
which provides a magnificent te of these times.
PJamaican West Indian reader.
eThe outstanding merit of the
c Jamaicans, lies in its arti-
for culation of the Jamaican
j :feeling .... The author of
LEOPARD has done his
country and his countrymen
distinguished service." -The BAJAN,
January 1979
Little is known outside of the Caribbean of
the part played by the Jamaican guerilla Juan de
Bolas in the adventure which established the English
in Jamaica. THE JAMAICANS is the great novel
which provides a magnificent tale of these times.

in Jamaica only

Post paid overseas

ran: (bleok w-hte.amd.-wr) lewimgn
survLval skills: suoh -as how to 4ravel
warily in the countryside and toleave
no evidence of having passed, how to
signal toeach-other by birdrsounds which
initiates recognize as out of season or
out of place. We share syich adventures
as a Maroomchild's firft.visit to Port.
Antonio, his:firsenoow-ter with-poor.
whites and plantation slavbs,,--s intro-
duction to a- busy Sunday market We
get a child's-eye view of a ruse by which
the English are tricked into believing
that Nanny-Town is fully occupied
when they attack it. 'Nanny-Town was
not lost. It was used. As one would use
a bullet.' (The book offers an account
different fromrnthe one most commonly
believed.) We travel with tome 80 child-
ren on a long march from Portland to
the Cockpit Country, and watch them
imitate the organization of their adult
community, as they face such dangers
as hurricane, snakes ('You do not see
the old boas anymore') and English
soldiers on the move. Throughout,
we are reminded of the need for dis-
ciplined cooperation for the good of
the community. 'Don't you see that
disobedience to our own rules will-
destroy us in the end?'

Kwame reveres such leaders as Queen-
Mother Nanny, War-Chief Quao and the
Griot Kishee. But, as a child, he is also
drawn to the flamboyant warrior Gato
del Sol (Sun Cat) who questions the pre-
vailing Maroon strategy ofiguerrilla cun-
ning and restraint. The story artfully
highlights a basic conflict between the
impetuosity of Gato del Sol and the
loyal wisdom of Kishee. As Queen-
Mother Nanny tells the children:
'Beyond the war of fire and arrow, there
is the greater war called peace.'
By choosing a Griot as his narrator,
Reid creates a dramatic corrtext in
which to teach as well asi tell a story;
and Kwame teaches delightfully. The
hovel is 'a Learning'. Hisl narration is
rich with pride in things Jamaican;
landscape, history, folk custom, pro-

veibs, the language itself. Like New
Day (the only other novel by Reid
to employ a first-person narrator),
Nanny-Town presents itself as: the writ-
ten record of an oral performance. But
the linguistic strategy is somewhat differ-
ent: New Day tries to suggest creole
structures while remaining intelligible
to readers foreign to Jamaleen language;
Nany-rawn generally relies on stand-
ard English, much flavoured with local
vocabulary. Nanny urges (in 1734):
'This new language called English will
be ours someday. Learn to use it even
better then the Englishmen. We will
always be few, pikni boys and girls, so
let us be.talliwah.' (That the narrator,
implausibly, offers an immediate gloss
- 'A Jamaican word that means strong
and courageous' is one of the lapses,
mercifully rare. Such help as may be
required is, appropriately, usually avail-
able in the Glossary at the back.)
Published in the Mahoe Adventure
Series, Nanny-Town seems to address
itself primarily to 'pikni boys and girls'.
I believe it should please and instruct
many adult readers as weH. I recom-
mend it warmly.

Mervyn Morris is Senior Leoturer in the
Department of English, UniVersity Of the
West Indies.








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Stage 3 The Post Emancipation
Period (1838- )
T he post-emancipation period pro-
mised great changes for the in-
habitants of the island and for
Jonkonnu. Economic and social mobility
were foremost in the minds of the new
citizenry. A certain degree of mobility
did occur, but for the most part, the
social and economic institutions were
too firmly established and controlled by
the white ruling class, nationally and
internationally, for the Black population
to effectively participate in or reverse
the order. In addition, natural disasters
and wars together with a policy of
actively encouraged or contracted immi-
gration continued to frustrate the organ-
ized efforts of the Black workers for
better working conditions and wages
for at least another hundred years. In
the midst of this, a gradual shift in
colonial influence from Britain to
North America was taking place. Jon-
konnu in recording and reflecting all
these social forces in its characters, its
dance and symbols, once again demon-
strates an organizational framework that
is closely paralleled on the African con-
tinent. The Poro and Egungun are two
specific examples, which continue to
provide a richly illustrative model and
perhaps even the source and framework
for the development of the Neo-African
form Jonkonnu. As in Egungun, satire
and social commentary on the new
immigrants and on foreign influences
are the hallmarks of post-emancipation
The period of apprenticeship, prior
to complete emancipation, drew near
and the dazzling glory of plantation
Jonkonnu heralded the end of an era.
'August morning' 1838 dawned and a
newly enfranchised population tried in
vain to divest themselves of the yoke of
slavery. The economic and psychological
yokes were heaviest. Things associated
with slavery and an African past offered
either an alternative to the dominant
society or a stumbling block to mobility
within the society. The presence of the
Christmas Guards had always given cog-
nizance to the potential and actual
danger of slave gatherings under the
guise of Jonkonnu revelries. Serious
civil disturbances in 1841 arising out of
the economic and social stagnation of
the new citizenry gave rise to the ban-
ning of Jonkonnu by the then Mayor of
Kingston and Myal once again broke
loose at a popular level. Responding to
the pressures of the new society and the
gradual decline in plantation patronage,
Jonkonnu settled into the respective

JONKONNU MUSICIANS, c. 1952 beat out the rhythm on conventional and improvised instru-
ments; from left: fife, rattling drum, bass drum, fork, rattling drum and grater.


A Neo-African Form

Part 11

By Cheryl Ryman

levels of African masquerade expression
outlined earlier. Some 50 years later a
number of groups had ceased to per-
form, some hitherto confined to rural
and hill environs came out into the
open, and still others joined the parade
as extensions of old characters or reflect-
ive of new personages brought into the

Renewed restlessness, born of the
understandable need of the former
slaves to control some of the resources
and decisions affecting their lives, made
the continued dependency on the plant-
ation an abhorrence. Where this was
overcome and labour could be found
among the freed slaves, high wages were
demanded. Alternative cheap labour had
to be sought if the plantation economy
was to survive. Free Blacks were encour-

aged from outside the island. Immi-
gration from the other colonies was seen
as .an immediate source and by 1842,
free Africans were brought in from
North America, the Bahamas and St.
Helena, the latter being a particularly
important ongoing source. Still others
arrived from the African continent it-
self. In the early years of the program-
me, Sierra Leone provided the main
supply of Africans and by 1843 other
areas in Africa were canvassed. This
new influx of approximately 8,000
Africans between 1840 and 1860,
particularly the Kru, some Bantu and
Yoruba peoples, was to have a lasting
effect on the free Black/creole popu-
lation and Jonkonnu in Jamaica. The
Bantu and Yoruba were primarily set-
tled to the east and west respectively
while the Kru seemed to have been

distributed on a more random basis.
The Kru, referring to those groups from
Liberia and south-western Ivory Coast,
could have provided a later impetus to
the Poro influence on Jonkonnu.
Other non-African sources of labour
were once again tapped. Between 1845
and 1854 sizeable numbers of Indians
and Chinese were brought into the
island as indentured labourers. The
Indians were assigned originally to
estates in St. Thomas, St. James, Claren-
don, St. Elizabeth, St. Catherine and
Kingston but they later settled also in
St. Mary, Portland and Westmoreland.
The Chinese, who settled throughout
the island, unlike the Indians, tended
to avoid work on the sugar estates,
preferring to set up their own business-
es. The Chinese businessman, however,
operated originally at a peasant level
for the most part and although he re-
vealed very little of his cultural express-
ions, his contact with the Afro-Jamaican
population was extensive. Hence, the
Chinih (Chinese) Man figure has appear-
ed on occasion in Jonkonnu, in long
pants, smock, with a long braid and a
lantern-shaped hat. Other immigrants
like the Germans, and people from the
Middle East who came in the 20th
century, made little impact on the cul-
tural expressions in Jamaica. The cul-
ture of the Indians, who adapted more
successfully to the plantations, was
exposed and readily integrated into the

peasant culture. Dr. Ajai Mansingh, an
Indian born researcher in Jamaica,
confirms that, as on the Indian continent
and in Trinidad, the Muslim Festival
of Hosay successfully integrated both
Hindu and Muslim Indians, although
some 90 percent of the Indian arrivants
were Hindu. The strictly observed socio-
religious tenets of the Indians together
with their festivals, like Hosay, which
had both secular and religious functions
and had become highly Jamaicanized,
found parallels in and influenced the
existing religious and masquerade tradi-
tions of the Black population.
Stick fights in Hosay and popular in
some forms of Jonkonnu masquerade,
are a fairly common feature in Africa
and the rest of the Caribbean. They are
known as Muculele in Brazil and Kalinda
in Trinidad. Kathgora, the Indian horse
dance from Hosay, may have been the
source for the Jonkonnu horse or mere-
ly a reinforcement of the African
horse and British hobby-horse, if in fact
the latter was seen here. The horse
figure (horizontal body mask and horse-
head) forms the nucleus of the Buru
masquerade tradition in the parish of
Clarendon. Besides the procession and
lively music, the elaborately decorated
house-like structure, called a tazia,
provided the focal point of the Hosay
festival. This 'house' bore the symbolic
remains of Hasan and Hosein and could
well have been the source for House
Jonkonnu, had they been seen earlier.
In reality, the tazia simply paralleled
a previously established Neo-African
The very popular Babu or Habbress
dressed in a white wrap complete with
a beard and headwrap, long stick and
bag containing masala (curry stew), roti
(flat baked dough) and rum, assumes a
central role as entertainer in the Jon-
konnu bands where East Indians have
settled. Babu plays the clown, winding
and performing sundry antics such as a
kind of mating step (sharp contraction
and release of the pelvis) or shuffling
across the ground, propelled through
the hip, with the stick held laterally
between his legs. The dance movement
gives the lie to the Indian content of
the character, being more typically
associated with the fertility oriented
movements of other Jonkonnu char-
acters and Afro-oriented dances in
By 1860, the rapid growth of rural
middle- class cultivators, in the hill areas
of central parishes was evident. But
amidst these apparent social advances,
1860 was also a year in which deep

economic depression and the long strug-
gle for civil rights ensued, culminating
in violence and the Morant Bay rebellion
of 1865. Job opportunities and entre-
preneurship for the free-Blacks were
limited by dint of the Civil laws which
made it virtually impossible for a Black
man to own land or property. The op-
portunities, even for women, were al-
most totally limited to domestic work,
both in the literal and euphemistic
sense. The 'high brown' slave who be-
came a mistress of a free, propertied
gentleman was termed a 'housekeeper'.
Historically, an oppressed people
have always sought alternatives. In the
absence of open rebellion or perceived
mobility, working out these alternatives
has involved a going back to 'roots' -
to the source of cultural strength and
identification. The upsurge of religious
fervour (with increasingly strong African
overtones) among the Black population
in 1860, was related, on the one hand,
to the lack of social mobility that was
hoped for by some and actively pur-
sued by others, with limited success.
At the same time, those who felt secure
in their African ethnicity or a firmly
rooted indigenous identity, were equal-
ly forthright in asserting themselves dur-
ing the 1860 Revival.
The Revival movement, as the 1860
religious upsurge has been referred to,
at first took on a Euro-Christian mask,
which was ripped away within months.
Revival unmasked the very African (i.e.
Neo-African) Myal, which claimed an
increasing number of followers. The
substantive split in the Revival move-
ment has persisted even today in the
forms of the visually Euro-oriented
Zion, of 1860 origin, and the more
obviously African Puk-kumina, of 1861
origin. Puk-kumina is related to a Kongo-
based traditional religion, Kumina, in
which 'catching myal' (possession), the
dance and music and healing are import-
ant features. The latter features are
central to Myalism which is retained
most completely in Gumbay and will
be discussed later in this article.
Although Puk-kumina had absorbed
some of the religious aspects of Myal,
it was able to operate in relative open-
ness because of the Euro-syncretic
nature of its public image. If in fact
Myalism came out of the earlier religious-
based Jonkonnu, with the input of the
newly arrived Africans, could not this
'myal' revival have signalled a simul-
taneous resurgence in the religious
intent behind Jonkonnu? Unfortunate-
ly, we have no record of the masks that
Jonkonnu wore at this time, but, given

a possibly revitalized African meaning,
they were perhaps too sacred, too
'grotesque' to be seen.

A strong affinity had developed with
the United States starting with the arri-
val of Moravian and Baptist missionaries
and some Black 'converts'. Not only had
the Americans successfully freed them-
selves from the same colonial master,
under whom all Jamaicans were still
suffering, but they were quickly assum-
ing a position of self-reliance and such
power as to challenge the awesome
Britannia. The first and second world
wars, followed by massive migrations
and farm-labour contracts in the United
States, opened wide the doors of cul-
tural contact and dominance. Later, the
impact of films in Jamaica, starting as
early as the 1920s, played a monument-
al role in cultural contact and trans-
mission. Tarzan, Cowboy 'n' Indian
movies, and dance styles gleaned from
the American musicals, were to leave an
indelible mark on Jamaican society.
Some inter-Caribbean migration offered
its own points of cultural exchange but
also served to reinforce the growing in-

fluence and presence of the United
States in the region.

Some 100 years after emancipation
in 1838, a number of characters emerged
which drew their sources and inspiration
from this teeming post-emancipation en-
vironment: Babu; Chinih (Chinese) Man;
Cowboy; Devil; Feather Man; Doctor;
Indian (American); Mada (mother)
Lundy and related female effigies like
Aunty Fanny, 'Compong Nanny; Old
Haige; Sailor and Whore Gal (Prostitute).
All these characters and a host of others,
at least superficially, lend themselves
immediately to local sources of origin,
notwithstanding some African and Carib-
bean parallels and the Neo-African
framework, which facilitated their in-
clusion. Somewhat more problematic
are those other characters, who also
appeared after emancipation: Bird;
Drunkard; Executioner; Fish; Monkey;
Stilt dancer; Woman Sweeper and
Horsehead, who rose to such promi-
nence as a featured character, that the
genetic use of 'Jonkonnu' to describe
masquerade bands, was frequently
replaced, particularly in the written

media,20 by the designation 'Horse-
head'. These characters, and to a lesser
extent the aforementioned, require a
much deeper look at the process by
which African cultural knowledge
operated in creating some of the result-
ant forms in Africa and the diaspora.

It is at this point that we need to
assess on what basis non-African, parti-
cularly European, forms were incor-
porated into a predominantly (both in
content and form) Neo-African mas-
querade tradition. First, there were
simply cultural parallelisms or univer-
sals. A number of striking similarities,
which were already part of the contin-
ental cultures prior to their contact in
Jamaica, are to be found between
African and European forms as well as
between African and Asian or American
Indian forms. Some of the characters
drawn from the British masquerade
tradition include: Doctor, Fool, Drunk-
ard, Paper Boys (Pitchy-Patchy type in
rows of paper), Hobby horse, Jack
Finney (Sweeper), Calf, Horse and a
Bull. Similarities exist between the
Indian Hosay and Jonkonnu, and,




SJONKONNU (strong African preence) M Mrncommuntespresent)
W, OM M-nM-onemu jn(lpmt)
' MASQUItADE (Euro-ntricform) MO ,nm multp
Sy Yroruba -t-nI.... I.
JONKONNU/MASQUIADE (combination of all cultures) pomac npaton
K Kongo =ettlmots

between the feathered (brightly decor-
ated with mirrors) American Indians
and the African feathered figures. The
important point to note here is that in
some cases these elements were already
established in Jamaica by the Black
population before their reintroduction
by another culture group. This reintro-
duction could have served to reinforce
and encourage their continued survival.
Secondly, culture contact also allowed
for the introduction of 'new' forms,
largely where it complemented or cap-
tured an existing African culture trait.
This was the case with reference to the
Actor groups (and Koo-Koo) vis-a-vis
the Egungun players, and with reference
to the 'death and resurrection' theme
found in British Doctor plays but also
found in Africa among the Poro and in
the Jamaican Myal. There is every reason
to believe that these 'foreign' inclusions
were made selectively and not indis-
criminately. To what extent they devi-
ate from or conform to an African aes-
thetic and framework, will be explored
Those aesthetic sensibilities which
unfold as being largely African, have in-
fluenced the choice of materials and
props, and would have dictated what
changes could be made and how they
were to be made. Even in regard to the
'Masquerade' level of African expression
in Jonkonnu, the fascination with hier-
archies, which gave full rein to the
popularity of the British royal sets,
could have their roots in African models.
For example, both the Asante and
Yoruba were and still are highly central-
ized hierarchical social units in which
the equivalent of European King and
Queen figures (Asantehene and Oba res-
pectively) and a 'court environment'
are prominent. Both groups have strong
festival traditions. Further, the costumes
of the royal sets and courtier-typefigures,
though British in origin, parallel at least
two African examples of the hoopskirt,
which typify the costumes of a local
group from Westmoreland. Basil David-
son in Africa, History of a Continent
[1966 p.191] provides us with a photo-
graph of the Oba of Benin, wearing a
hoop-like skirt on a ceremonial occasion.
Even more striking is Sheila Barnett's
example taken from her own study
[1977 Appendix Ill.
These illustrations graphically com-
pare the senior woman and her 'hand-
maidens' of the Efik masquerade, who
carry fans, wear pantaloons and hoop-
skirts, to the 'courtier' figures in Jamaica
whose costumes are identical in con-
struction and appearance. Even if the

original source for both the African
and Jamaican 'hoop-skirt' may be con-
strued as British, the particular pro-
jection and popularity of the courtier
figures of Jonkonnu, did occur within a
common African framework, in that the
hierarchy and their corresponding sym-
bols were consistently interpreted and
In Jonkonnu the importance of the
stick, whip, house and horns and the
consistent use of mimicry-mime-buf-
foonery juxtaposed to and contrasted
with the frightening and awesome, all
strike a familiar note within an African
framework. Also of relevance to Jon-
konnu and an African framework or
context is the inter-relatedness of: the
belief in spirits; the mask as symbol and
manifestation of the spirit world; vene-
ration of ancestors; possession; use of
herbs; and the recognition of the
earth as a vital life force.
The mask is a widely dispersed arti-
fact in the world. Yet in Africa, there
are significant emphases in function
and meaning that we should bear in
mind when looking at Jonkonnu as a
Neo-African form, and in comparison
to its African counterparts. The African
mask helps to realize religious ideas link-
ed to deities or supernatural forces that
can assist in the material prosperity and
well-being of the community. By em-
bodying the spirit of the ancestors, the
wearers of the mask invest themselves
with nearly absolute authority and as a
consequence are able to uphold tradi-
tions and social norms. Supernatural

powers thus embodied and directed
through the mask, effectively reduce
the spirit world to a level at which man
might participate. Even where their
appearance is seemingly for entertain-
ment only, in a way that both the Egun-
gun and Poro sometimes extend their
activities, it should not be forgotten
that the masks still are, or at least
originally were, a means of upholding
social authority and of expressing more
deeply sacred functions and meanings.
The mask in Africa as symbol and
object of great aesthetic appeal, when
activated in the dance conveys the holis-
tic experience for which it was created.
Modality of colour, design and form em-
brace function and symbol, while the
emphasis on rhythmic complexities and
earth-centred dynamics in movement,
united in a masquerade context, release
the ultimate expression of the individual
forms. It is for this reason that masks
and 'masquerading' play such an import-
ant role in secret societies like the Poro
(and Sande its female counterpart),

which concentrate and administer sanc-
tions on behaviour in nearly every sphere
of life, thereby making it a dominant
social force.
According to Ena Campbell [1980],
traditionally all secret societies had a
religious basis and almost all required
some sort of initiation ceremony for
admission. The mask in many of these
societies acted as the primary source of
authority through which supernatural
power (deities, ancestors, natural forces)
was embodied and channelled. Some-
times the masked personages were only
messengers of the ancestors and deities,
as were the Egungun of the Yoruba,
some of whose activities were purely
secular, that is, for entertainment. Dr
Campbell continues, relying largely on
the work of Pierre Macquet, to identify
the range of functions associated with
masks and secret societies. Some of
these outlined here may be considered
in relation to early Jonkonnu.

The Awa of the Dogon use masks as
an integral part of their policing func-
tion. The Kono of the Bambara and
Malinke in the Mali and Senegambia
region exercised social control and ruth-
lessness via the Great Mask that killed,
in their execution of those who be-
trayed its secrets. The Hyondo Society
among the Sara of the Republic of
Central Africa, like the Poro, conduct
their initiation in the bush and involve
initiates in scarifications and the learn-
ing of a secret language, dances, cere-
monies and the use of herbs. Some
societies, like the Ogboniof the Yoruba,
considered to be the support arm of the
Oba (head of state), have political
functions, while others act as a judi-
ciary, carrying out their own sentences,
like the Man of the Igbo and the Ekpo
of the Ibibio in Nigeria. Pollak-Eltz
[1972 pp. 47, 162 226] refers to the
Gelede, a similar society to Egungun
found among the Yoruba. Gelede
masqueraders performed largely for
entertainment but also to bring rains
for a good harvest. Finally, Kenneth
Little [1949 p. 199] also articulates
the use of masks and a wide range of
secret societies, of which he considers
the Poro (and Sande) the most signi-

The Poro 'bush' school concerns
itself with the initiation (circumcision
and education) of young boys and pre-
pares them to assume the responsibili-
ties of adulthood. Concentrated in the
Liberia and Sierra Leone areas the Poro
(and Sande) have successfully integrated
different ethnic groups, some speaking

MODERN JONKONNU CHARACTERS. Courtier type figures in hoop skirts surround a Clown
(second from left) and Jockey (at centre).
different languages and each with its were greatly feared and respected on th
own chapters. The Poro and other re- plantation by both the Black and Whit
lated associations, which employ speci- population. Could Myal, given its super
fic rituals, signs, symbols and know- natural healing authority have develop
ledge and which are vested with a special sufficient power, particularly in relation
(supernatural) source of power, span to the masks of Jonkonnu, to demand
Southern Nigeria, the coastal area of the an oath such as that taken by the Por
rain forest including Liberia, Ivory in Sierra Leone, 1898? Would not th
Coast, Sierra Leone, and parts of Ghana, horned, 'deadly magician Sorcerer
Central Africa, Angola and Guinea Jonkonnu mask, if in fact related ti
Bissau [Little 1949 p. 349]. The range Myal, have taken on an even more con
of ethnic participation has given Poro create basis for multi-ethnic identify
a highly textured and complex socio- cation?
political base. It could also have pro- Christmas-time, Jonkonnu time, prior
vided a cohesive African mental model to emancipation, was one of the feu
from which Neo-African forms like the occasions on which the slaves front
Jamaican Myal and Jonkonnu could different estates were permitted to mee
have emerged, and minale without incurring harsh per

The supernatural powers invested
in the Poro are able to enforce the links
between the political and socio-religious
institutions of the community (which
can extend beyond clan and national
boundaries) forging them into a tightly
woven web. So wide and powerful is its
sweep, that members involving millions
of people are bound irrevocably to take
an oath, based on decisions taken or to
be taken, even if in ignorance of its pur-
pose. It has proven effective in gaining
unquestioned compliance and the exe-
cution of seemingly spontaneous action
over a wide area, as in the case of the
1898 rebellion in Sierra Leone, cited
by Little [1949 pp. 350- 351].
The implications of the sweep and
influence of Poro and its similarity to
other secret societies with reference to
the variety of African groups who came
to Jamaica, are far reaching. Iyal and
Obeah men, not always operating in ex-
clusive areas of expertise or inclination,





alties for being caught outside of their
respective plantation boundaries. It
would have been the ideal time to trans-
mit and solicit such an oath alleged to
involve the kissing of the earth (Poro
means the earth or of the earth and the
drinking of blood and earth). This cer-
tainly could have been the case with
reference to the apparently spontan-
eous and widespread nature of the Sam
Sharpe rebellion in which several plan-
tations were burned and plundered and
in which many lost their lives. One can-
not help but wonder what was the ex-
tent of the links between Jonkonnu and
Myal at that time.
In this respect, the Poro and Egun-
gun are two African masquerade orient-
ed secret societies which may again
throw light on the socio-religious as-
pects of Jonkonnu that must have been
present, at least during the pre-emanci-
pation period. Of course, the possibility
of continued Poro (and related societies)

consciousness following the post-eman-
cipation influx of 'free' African immi-
grants, does exist. They (Poro and Egun-
gun) also point to the legitimate 'enter-
tainment' value of Jonkonnu, which
does not preclude the possibility of a
strong association with deeper religious
activities in the past. Poro like Egungun,
also had a somewhat secular function,
as when the 'bush' school was not in
session (anywhere from one to five
years), the masks would appear toheigh-
ten the excitement of such occasions
as the coronation of a Paramount Chief.
These 'secular' or entertainment occa-
sions also served to keep the onlookers
constantly aware of the ever watchful
spirit world. This could have been the
type of secular function that Jon-
konnu served, with Myal fulfilling the
more socio-religious aspects of the Poro
prototype. However, whatever its source
or inspiration, a split between the social,
secular and religious aspects of Jon-
konnu did occur in Jamaica, partially
succeeding in projecting it as a playful
spectacle, at times apparently drawing
near to a European ideal.
Gumbay, the purest existing form of
the once popular Myal dance, is a prime
example of the African cultural pool
of knowledge that has been reinterpre-
ted in the new world. More important-
ly, its potentially wider and, in at least
one instance cited,21 specific asso-
ciation with Jonkonnu, singles it out for
closer examination. Gumbay, the heal-
ing dance, the drum(s) and masquerade
tradition (in Bermuda), has drawn on
diverse sources in Africa. In Jamaica,
the term Gumbay and its variants
(Gumbi, Gumbay, Gumbahi, Guma,
Goumbay) have been separately and
collectively associated with a drum,
a herb, removal of 'witchcraft' or
'sorcery' and a dance-music form linked
to traditional Jamaican religious-healing
practices, formerly associated with
Myal. The African etymologies are asso-
ciated with equally diverse elements -
a witch-finder, a herb, a drum, a ten-
stringed harp and a dance outlined by
Bettelheim [1979 Appendix X].
The Accompong Maroons of St.
Elizabeth refer to a square stool-like
drum as the Gumbay, which is associated
with a dance (Gumbay Myal) found
in Lacovia, a town located at the foot
of the Maroon hill-town Accompong.
Myalism has been strongly associated
with the parish of St. Elizabeth parti-
cularly among the Maroons. The
term 'Myal' has now come to be used in
a generic sense to mean possession.
In the Maroon Kromanti play, Revival
and Kumina, which have incorporated

many elements of the largely extinct
Myal, possession is referred to as 'catch-
ing myal'. Both Myal and Gumbay
dances concerned themselves with physi-
cal healing and the use of herbs, together
with the removal of the evil effects of
Obeah, the local practice of 'witch-
craft' and 'sorcery'. Mothers, female
assistants, who often go into possession
and diagnose the 'malady', parallel the
'mothers' in the Sande and Egungun
The head of the Sande society shares
'absolute' authority with the male
leaders within the Poro society. Accord-
ing to Watkins [1942-3 p.674] the
'mothers' are her assistants. In the
Egungun society, both female leaders
and 'mothers' female elders function
in a similar capacity to that of the
Sande female leader and 'mothers' [Dre-
wal 1978; Houlberg 1978]. They are
given sole charge over the chastisement
of witches. In addition to the authority
invested by the 'spirit' masks, the Poro's
power is increased by its possession of
a number of lethal 'medicines' which,
if administered carefully, have an almost
miraculous potential for healing. It is
for this reason that specialists are train-
ed, although the knowledge and use of
herbs form part of the 'bush' school's
general training. Like the Myal/Maroon
medicine men in Jamaica, Poro members
are regarded as the most highly trained
and skilled healers.
Given my developing inference that
the Poro (in its own right but more so
as an index of common African models)
played a significant role in the type and
form of cultural transmissions into
Jamaica and presumably into other
areas of the Caribbean, reference to
Moko-Jumbo seems timely. The stilt
man, Moko-Jumbo or Moko-Jumbie,
found within the Caribbean masquerade
tradition, is a well established figure in
West Africa, particularly in Nigeria and
Liberia. In the Caribbean, the mask (full
body) ranges from the bizarre to the
humorous. The name from which Moko-
Jumbo is thought to be derived, Mumbo-
Jumbo, is offered by Bettelheim [1979
Appendix V] and is found in the area
spanned by Senegal, Gambia and Mali.
It is associated with a huge vegetal
masquerader, now known as Fara-
Kankurang, who presides over cir-
cumcision ceremonies and has power
over female wrong doers.
In many areas of the Caribbean, the
stilt dancer has become associated with
the name Moko-Jumbo, without necess-
arily being a vegetal type. Although not
specifically linked to circumcision cere-

monies, Harley's reference to the Poro
and the dancer on stilts [1941-44
pp. 19, 25, 29] offers an important
precedence for a combined vegetal
figure and stilt dancer. This figure is
one of the most popular in the Poro
category of 'entertainer' masqueraders.
He wears a thick net veil of black cord,
twisted from palm-leaf fibres. Similarly,
in Jamaica, the nameless stilt man from
the parish of St. Ann, where a strongly
African-based Jonkonnu exists, wears
a mesh mask and psuedo-military cos-
tumes over which vines are draped and
Some of the other Poro figures who
appear as purely 'entertainers' besides
those on stilts already discussed in re-
lation to Moko-Jumbo, are a) naturalistic
faces in full costume, with tall head-
dresses decorated with bells and tufts
of feathers, and b) those wearing a
Chimpanzee mask. Among the cate-
gory of naturalistic faces are to be
found those who sing beautifully and
are accompanied by musicians. One of
these, who is considered an irresistible
performer, is described by Harley
[p.19], as being accompanied by an
attendant who sweeps down his raffia
costume. Bettelheim [1979 p. 74], tells
us that one of the followers of Gbeni
(the senior and most sacred Poro mas-
querader) Kpangbahoumoi, also carries
a broom which he uses to sweep in front
of the spirit. She also refers to another
African 'sweeper', from Senegambia
who accompanies masqueraders like the
Kumpo, and who clears the way and
covers his/her feet while dancing. Cer-
tainly, the Jamaican Jonkonnu 'sweeper'
need not have been soley inspired by
the British Jack Finney, as it is some-
times inferred.
Next to the great female Wai, the
Chimpanzee found in the third cate-
gory of 'Poro entertainers wears a gro-
tesque caricature face and has also an
important place in the education of the
initiates. It is considered a taboo to
kill a chimpanzee, who is spoken of as a
brother. The performer is a physically
powerful person who, paradoxically,
plays the part of a clown. His slap-
stick comedy often moves into antics
involving other people, who sometimes
fall prey to the objects that he throws
around. Any injury incurred in these cir-
cumstances, is not questioned. The
Chimpanzee's penchant for doing things
backwards gave rise to the term 'mon-
key' being used to curse a person behav-
ing foolishly. The term does carry similar
connotations in Jamaica as when, by
way of illustration, a Kingston Coun-
cillor moved in 1952 to have Jonkonnu

banned on the grounds that it was en-
couraging people to make 'monkeys'
of themselves. The significance of the
Monkey among the Egungun throws
further light on another possible African
model for this figure who also appears
in Jonkonnu. Egungun mythology attri-
butes the creation of the first man to
the mating of a woman and an ape. The
monkey who has no known indigenous
(Jamaican), British or other non-African
masquerade prototype, has appeared in
St. Thomas, Portland, Hanover and
Trelawny four parishes whose Jon-
konnu bands display a distinctly Afri-
can content and context and where,
in some of these parishes, Yoruba people
The Ge's or sacred spirits of the Poro
speak in a rolling falsetto voice, a fea-
ture commonly used to disguise the
voice in Jonkonnu or simulate that of
the ancestor/spirit in Egungun. Those
spirits, like the Wai and others who
constitute the 'inner council' and who
wield the power of life and death over
both initiates and non-initiates, are
often juxtaposed with those spirits
whose function is largely seen as comic
relief. The Chimpanzee and the Stut-
terer, who appear foolish and can say
nothing correctly, are typical examples.
But there is yet a further extension
of the love for mimickery-mime-buf-
foonery in a separate category of enter-
tainers and special spirits among the
Poro. They include a female figure
called the spirit of the dance and an
old man with an incessant cough, a fea-
ture which conjures up one of the
favourite devices of Jonkonnu's Babu
character. Another series of masks in
this category, which parallels a cate-
gory of entertainers in Egungun, depicts
the negative and positive traits of people
(generosity, greed, flirtatiousness) or
their physical defects, such as a crook-
ed mouth or a tumour in the cheek.
One of the 'special spirit' masks is that
of the Rice Bird which captures the
generally understood significance of
feathers in West Africa, as a powerful
device against 'witchcraft' and witches,
who are thought to be incapable of
devouring feathers. The Jamaican Bird
found in Lacovia, St. Elizabeth, and the
frequent use of feathers by early Jon-
konnu figures and by the characters
who are distinguished as 'Red' Indian
and Feather Man, find a Poro link here
and an even stronger one among the
Owo (Yoruba sub-group) Egungun,
whose headdresses are dominated by
feathers. The post-emancipation influx
of African peoples, largely Kongo, who
often employ feathers in their mas-

querade traditions, would also have pro-
vided a major (and later) contributing
factor to the popularity of feathers in
Jonkonnu on the eastern side of the is-
land, where Kongo peoples were pri-
marily settled in Jamaica.
A 'special' Poro mask of particular
relevance to Jonkonnu is the Demon
mask or Dandai of the Buzi and Gband
in Liberia. This figure incorporates a
number of features. His body covering,
made of stripped fibre, alludes to the
shape and size of the Jamaican Jack-in-
Green who 'guards' the Sets. There are
of course innumerable large vegetal
figures throughout West Africa, as the
Ekpo circumcision figure and the far-
kankurang of Gambia, who might share
an inspirational source for the Jamaican
Jack-in-Green. The Dandai mask (face)
itself is of even greater significance. It
is about three feet long and represents
a crocodile mouth. The figure, believed
to be the manifestation of Poro itself,
is associated with the initiation rites in
which each initiate is ritually devoured
by the crocodile and remains there in a
state of gestation until his rebirth. The
scars on the initiate's body are consider-
ed the marks made by the crocodile's
teeth. At least one Jamaican Buru mas-
querade group, which feature animal
figures, include a horizontal Alligator
mask, worn around the body.
The devouring feature of the Dandai
mask, associated with this most power-
ful spirit of the Poro and with other
devouring animalistic figures in the
Ivory Coast, Ghana, Upper Volta,
Cameroons and Mali provide a strong
associational basis for the fear and im-
portance of the Horsehead in Jamaican
Jonkonnu. In other areas of Africa, the
Horsehead itself is to be found primarily
in Bambara-Mande areas. In Jamaica,
Horsehead is a largely mountain pheno-
menon and appears in areas like St.
Elizabeth, St. Mary, and St. Ann where
a strong African level of Jonkonnu has
been established. Among Buru masquer-
ade groups either the horse figure itself
is worn 'hobby-horse' fashion (horizon-
tally), much the same as it is among the
Etik of eastern Nigeria, or the actual
Horsehead is worn.
The underlying factors which place
the horse in a prominent role among
Africans is summed up by Thompson
[1974 pp. 74 -79]: the horse which is
not indigenous to Africa but has been
imported with great regularity, probably
before the ninth century A.D., is rare
and precious in Africa; it is mystically
associated with the ruler or any person
of importance. Carvings and iron figures

INDIAN IMMIGRANTS to Jamaica from the mid-19th century onwards, influenced the religious
and masquerade traditions of Afro-Jamaicans.

depicting the horse and rider abound in
Nigeria, Dahomey, Kongo, Mali and
Ivory Coast. Riding is a popular motif
associated with power, corporal and
mystical. Significantly, the graduating
class of the Poro among the Senufo is
reported by Bettelheim [1979 p. 63],
as wearing a horse costume. In Jamaica,
a possessed person becomes a 'horse',
is 'mounted' and 'ridden'. This concept
is also projected by the Haitian Vodun
devotees whose deities have been des-
cribed as 'divine horsemen'. Maureen
Warner-Lewis, noted for her research
on Yoruba retentions in Trinidad, offer-
ed the Yoruba source for this Haitian
belief. Among the Yoruba, the word
'elegun' [elegu], meaning 'to mount,
ride', may also be used to refer to the
possessed Orisha (divinities) devotee,
meaning literally 'the person ridden'.
The dual mystical significance of the
horse itself and the mystical devour-
ing aspects to be found in the many
African contexts cited, including that of
the Dandai 'crocodile' in Poro, point to
another possible African synthesis and
reinterpretation in the 'new world. In
Jamaica, this could have been the basis
for which the Horsehead, with snapping
jaws and fearsome teeth, would be view-
ed with as equal importance in a Neo-
African context as the horned figure in

The mechanical similarity between
the 20th century Horsehead figure in
Jonkonnu and the British Horsehead of
the mumming tradition is striking. How-
ever, the choice of the animal itself in
Jonkonnu seems more properly related
to the many models and deeper signifi-
cance of the horse in Africa and its arti-
culated importance in Jamaica itself,
even outside of Jonkonnu. It became
so powerful a masquerade figure that
some Jonkonnu bands became known as
Horsehead companies, some Buru groups
being most frequently referred to as
one. Next to the Rolling Calf, who ap-
pears with blazing eyes and is discerned
in the distance by the sound of a rattling
chain, the Three-Foot Horse is the most
feared manifestation of an evil spirit in
Jamaica. Some Horseheads have been
reported as having eyes, like those of
the Rolling Calf, which are lit. In the
context of the plantation, the association
of the horse and the overseer/field
supervisor, who was often mounted, is
one that would have deepened the awe
and fear with which the horse was view-
Egungun is an important ethnic
counterpart to Poro, particularly as it
relates to the groups that were involved
in the formative years of Jonkonnu.
In that context, this Yoruba masquer-
ade/secret society, as a particular cul-

tural index for African masquerade, re-
inforces and further elucidates the rich-
ness of the cultural models from Africa.
The Egungun wear masks representing
the spirits of the ancestors, with whom
they are believed to communicate, and
who wield an awesome control over the
community. They punish witches and
sorcerers, and challenge and control
social deviation. Other masquerade
features of Egungun, incorporate female
impersonators, animal figures, stilt
dancers and the entertainer/clown figures
who often impersonate human stereo-
types, local and foreign.
Egungun specifically refers to the
masking tradition among the Oyo
Yoruba, but the term has been gene-
rically used to describe a wide variety
of related traditions throughout Yoruba-
land. The Yoruba Gelede masquerade,
for example, is similar in many respects
to Egungun, in that these masqueraders
appear in the street and also include fe-
male impersonators, comic figures and
entertainers. The performances of the
latter are characterized by acrobatics
and much 'vulgarity' contrived to shock
and amuse observers as are the antics
of Whore Gal and Sailor in Jonkonnu.
The Ekpo, yet another Yoruba masquer-
ade group, include masked animals,
historic characters and male/female war-

In relation to Pitchy-Patchy, the
Egungun is of particular interest. The
basic Egungun costume consists of
several panels of cloth in which the
colour red dominates and some of
which are thought to be sacred. The
costume usually covers the entire body
of the dancer. In performance, these
figures, embodying the spirit of the
ancestors/deities, have been described
by Thompson [1974 p. 219] as the
'whirling return of the eternal kings
of Yorubaland'. The Egungun mas-
queraders not only whirl like Pitchy-
Patchy (and Koo-Koo) but similarly de-
pict a wide range of 'spirits' cum charac-
ters, primarily by the changes in the
face masks and headdresses. Pitchy-
Patchy (explored in greater detail by
Barnett [1979] ) is a significant charac-
ter that cuts across all levels of Jonkonnu
and is to be found islandwide.

The most striking point of comparison
between Egungun and Jonkonnu (and
even Poro) is the range, type and organi-
zation of characters. The first and most
important figure, who approximates our
early horned Jonkonnu figure and the
Poro Gbeni, is the elder or Senior
Egungun. He wears horns, with sundry

items stuck in the base of his headdress
which signal that he is a Witch-Exe-
cutioner. He is the most powerful and
feared of the spirits. His female counter-
part is known as Agan, and like the Wai
of the Poro society and the Jamaican
'Jonkonnu wife' or 'female Connu', she
is the highest ranking woman in Egun-
gun. The Executioner, carrying an axe
and menacing wrongdoers, sometimes
appears in Royal Sets of Jonkonnu.
Jonkonnu 'Doctor' plays feature an
Executioner who guards the Queen and
carries out 'executions' on command
from the King or Queen. Yet, this
Executioner accommodated within a
Euro-Jamaican setting, certainly had
African models to draw on from among
the Poro and Egungun. The Witch-Exe-
cutioner embodied in the Senior Egungun
hunts and destroys witches; the Exe-
cutioner in Poro, aided by the Wai, per-
forms a similar function, while also
literally carrying out the execution of
those who deliberately break or fail to
fulfil any of the Poro laws.
It is in the category of the Egungun
Entertainers and Clowns that we will
find many parallel types and features in
relation to Jamaican Jonkonnu, past
and present. Here we will find animal
figures, foreign personages, as well as
satirical commentaries on physical oddi-
ties and social deviants. The Monkey, as
already discussed, is deeply entrenched
in Egungun cosmology. He appears as
a separate character; his entire body
covered. Other animal masks include
the Horse, Cow, Lizard, Crocodile,
Tortoise, Snake, Fish and Leopard,
the latter also turning up among the
Poro masks. The animal figures of
direct interest to Jonkonnu are, of
course, the Crocodile, Horse, Cow and
Fish. John Crayfish and King Cray-
fish in the 19th century Jonkonnu and
a 20th century Fish, which appeared in
the parishes of St. Mary and St. Ann,
are reminiscent of the.Egungun Fish.
Other masqueraders within this category
include the imitations of foreign ethnic
groups like the Hausa, Europeans, Nupe,
Dahomey Warrior, etc. In Jonkonnu,
those ethnic counterparts would be
found in characters like the Royal Sets
and Courtiers (British), Babu (Indian),
and Chinih man (Chinese).
The third group highlights imitations
of people with odd physical features,
like a man with big ears or nose, a small
mouth, or a generally deformed face.
These bear little direct relation to any
of the characters in Jonkonnu, although
the painted masks in Jonkonnu do in
fact exaggerate the features of parti-

cular phenotypes. The level of satiric-
al commentary which closely relates to
Jonkonnu and which is described by
Ulli Beier [1964 pp. 188-199] is lavi-
shed on the fourth group among the
Agbegijo Egungun. These make fun of
social types like the Prostitute, Drunk-
ard and Policeman. 'Whore Gal' the
colloquial term for a prostitute, as a
partner-in-vulgarity, often dances with
Sailor or the Devil in Jonkonnu. The
'mother' of the Egbado (Yoruba sub-
group) Egungun, who has had all her
children and therefore dances sedately,
dipping and gliding, is very reminiscent
of the Queen or Bride who appears in
Jonkonnu. Like her Jamaican counter-
part, she wears gloves, jewellery and a
handbag. Although these similarities
cannot all be considered direct African-
Jamaican transmissions the source
probably being more directly related
to foreign input, firsthand or via the
media the treatment of these items
in both areas is significant. It points to a
common African criterion for the select-
ion and reinterpretation of European
Dance and Music
An examination of Jonkonnu in an
African-Caribbean context would be in-
complete if the dance and music that
knit the performances together, were
not discussed, however briefly. Dance,
activated and sustained by music, com-
pletes and fulfills the artistic intention
of the mask as symbol and art. But, in
its own movement context, dance is the
focal point of the African experience
and a logical extension of its philosophy:
movement is a condition of life; to
dance is to reaffirm life; not to dance,
diminishes life and beckons death. In
the dance, man realizes his total being
spiritual and corporeal. Through the
integrative force of music, movement,
language and ritual, man communi-
cates with (in possession) or embodies
(through the mask) the ancestors/deities.
Music, usually understood in the western
context to be singing and/or the playing
of an instrument, is seen as an integral
part of African dance. Together they
constitute the music-making process. In
Jonkonnu these vital points are evident.
Strength, energy, fluidity, grace, mimi-
cry-mime-buffoonery, acrobatics, readi-
ly associated with African dance, also
punctuate the aesthetics of Jonkonnu
Jonkonnu is the repository for al-
most every dance/music form in Jamaica
including post-Emancipation forms like
Kumina, Bruckins party and Buru. The,
figure Mada-Lundy appears in the

Lionel Town Buru group (from Claren-
don) as a pregnant effigy, accompanied
by young female dancers -'her children'
- and by three horizontal figures -
Cow, Alligator and Reindeer. The dance
of her children is highly erotic and the
music emotive. Mada Lundy has also
appeared outside the Buru context, as
a solo figure accompanied by her own
music or within a non-Buru Jonkonnu
The steps employed in Jonkonnu
demonstrate both specific retentions, as
far as known African forms have allow-
ed comparison, and retentions in the
wider African framework, demonstrated
by their undoubted adherence to the
African principles of movement. Hence
a common feature of the dance posture
is that in which the knees are bent or
relaxed and the trunk tipped forward.
The isolation and co-ordination of the
body parts in response to the highly
complex and often fast rhythms, are
consistent with the African's multi-
rhythmic use of the body. Shimmy,
contraction-release, and rapid footwork
followed by sudden breaks (in the music)
are dance styles frequently employed in
Jonkonnu and in African dance. The
high forward kicks, jumps and pivots
of the Egungun dancer and the rapid
and repeated crossings, terminating in a
sudden stop of the 1837 House John
Canoe (sic), compare stylistically with
the high scissors kicks, rapid and repeated
stepping on the balls of the feet, fol-
lowed by the sudden split of a 20th
century Jamaican Devil.
Specific steps and styles are dic-
tated by the part the character plays.
Whore Gal frequently lifts her skirt
and engages in provocative movements
with Sailor or Devil. The Queen, by con-
trast, demonstrates gentility and lady-
like decorum in her dance at all times.
Horsehead kicks his 'hind legs', snaps
his jaws and appears menacing Pitchy-
Patchy is everywhere, wheeling, being
clouted and ridden by Jockey.

The musical instruments in the pre-
emancipation era were largely African,
including a wide variety of drums
(square gumbay, 'Bon' (sic) and sundry
'gumbe-gumbi' types), rattles, some
stringed instruments and cowhorns.
Today, most Jonkonnu ensembles con-
sist of a fife, a bass drum, which keeps
a basic four-four rhythm, and a rattling
drum, which plays more complicated
rhythms. A grater is often included and
this keeps up a basic four-beats-to-the-
bar rhythm with a doubling on every
other beat. Departures from this rhythm

are to be found in the parish of Claren-
don, where the Buru drums and rhythm
are included in the ensemble and in St.
Elizabeth, where the Gumbay drum is
used. Wooden knockers, shakers, a
stamping bamboo, a fork, a bottle, a
calabash and even the wheel base of
a car have been included in Jonkonnu
music ensembles.
The format and organization of the
dance and music faithfully reflect an
African model. The fifeman strikes a
greeting, the drums (rattling and bass)
return the gesture in turn, before mov-
ing into full rhythm construction,
and before the dance begins. Dancers
move professionally in order of import-
ance and greet the audience, if there is
one confined to a particular area. The
'open cut out', signalled by a faster
rhythm, follows in which individual
dancers are featured performing singly
or in couples, or in which a mime-play
takes place, such as the battle for the
Queen or the crowning of the Queen.
The characters have various functions to
perform, from leading the band in and
outside of the performance, to keeping
order, collecting money and generally
providing excitement and enthusiasm
among the spectators. The fife man is
considered a key figure by both music-
ians and dancers. It is he who literally
'calls the tune', he who dictates the pace
and change of rhythms appropriate to
the occasion and character, at any given


It is the assertion of the strength of
the inherent and evolved unity in African
cultural knowledge and models that
challenges the notion of a diluted African
or fragmented Euro-centric culture in
the diaspora. For it is only in the pre-
sence of a fragmented and culturally
deficient African ethnicity that cultural
erosion and the intrusion of a whole-
sale European model could have taken
place. This did not in fact take place
either in Jonkonnu or the Jamaican
society. The movement, music and
masks of Jonkonnu continue to demon-
strate many features of an African aes-
thetic in content and context. Although
Indian and a number of British parallels
and sources may and have been exhaust-
ively cited, it is well to bear in mind the
even greater evidence which demonstra-
tes that Africa provided either or both
the prototype and cultural points of
reference for the non-African forms that
were accommodated in the Jonkonnu
complex. Furthermore, the existence of

a common pool of cultural knowledge
on the African continent not only allow-
ed for a measure of cultural unity in the
new world but also assured the possibility
of a new basis for unity, in the midst of
the Black population shedding old differ-
ences and confronting new 'creole'
The Maroon alternative to the plant-
ation society in Jamaica, directed a
parallel but different process of African
unity. Hence in Maroon areas, the more
African characters like Cowhead and
Horsehead remain nurtured in the hills,
appearing at Christmas time amidst the
larger masquerade complex or indepen-
dently throughout the year. The inter-
play between these two forms of African
adaptation served to lay the basis not
only for Jonkonnu but also for a range
of national traits and patterns of be-
haviour exhibited today. In areas exhi-
biting African retentions, Jonkonnu
embraces the Cowhead, Horsehead,
Pitchy-Patchy, other animal figures, and
often the Devil and Feather-man types.
In Masquerade, as distinct from the Jon-
konnu level of African expression,
Africa is masked in European Kings
and Queens, Courtiers, Sailors and
Hand-maidens. The obvious British con-
tribution to this level of Jonkonnu is
counter-balanced only by the creativity
and consistent African approach with
which Neo-African people selected and
reinterpreted these forms in Jamaica.
Here the plantation and its patronage
extend even into the 20th century. In
Creole Jonkonnu, the African web
spreads wide to capture both forms -
Jonkonnu and Masquerade and em-
braces post-emancipation contributors.
Myal, expressed in its most complete
form as Gumbay or subsumed under
Kumina, Maroon Kromanti play and
Revival, has maintained its spiritual and
healing orientation. However, the large-
ly secular Jonkonnu of today has not
entirely severed links with an associated
religious-secular past, similar to that de-
lineated in the function and meaning of
the Poro and Egungun masks. The
central Jonkonnu figure, by name or
in essence, still inspires fear and awe,
still exerts a measure of social control
and remains shrouded in secrecy. Many
children can attest to the terror exper-
ienced in the face of the deliberately
menacing actions of certain Jonkonnu
characters. This terror was compounded
by the inability or unwillingness of their
parents/protectors to challenge these
'menacing' actions. Informants in Port-
land speak of the use of Jonkonnu as a
disciplinary or punitive device: a child

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who persists in wetting his or her bed,
is taken outside along with a chamber
pot; a feather is stuck in the child's hair
and the chant 'Jonkonnu, Jonkonnu',
which accompanies the striking of the
pot, is used to coerce the by-now terri-
fied offender into the appropriate be-
haviour. Cassidy [1961 p.262] confirms
recent oral assertions in emphasizing
that the identity of Cowhead (central
Jonkonnu figure) must be kept secret:
'if one tries to identify him you may be
struck'. The persistent attempts even to-
day to disguise the human identity
behind certain masks and the less than
natural voices assumed by Jonkonnu
characters, are sufficient to evoke haunt-
ing impressions of another time and

Jonkonnu linked to Myal and Ku-
mina, forms a network involving some
39 traditional dances [Ryman 1980].
They have served not only as a medium
for reconstructing African culture while
simultaneously evolving new cultural
forms among the slave population but
were and still are used as a medium of
protest and communication or simply as
a source of enjoyment and pleasure.
Their survival as Neo-African forms, in
spite of strong non-African inputs and
influences, speaks of the force of the
Africanisms emanating from the major-
ity of the people in Jamaica. More
importantly, these dances survive be-
cause they continue to function effect-
ively in the lives of a people seeking
fulfilment and growth.


20. [1961 p. 262]: ".. 'Juncanoo' is com-
monly called 'Horsehead': BOWEN
[1954]: "Horsehead come and gone'...
This monotonous ditty .. is the theme
of John Canoe"; Daily Gleaner, 28
December 1925, p.1, Column 1: 'Horse-
head exhibition'.

21. Evidence of this association although
limited at present, was noted in St.
Elizabeth by Beckwith [1929 pp. 151
and 155]. She cites identical Obeah/
Myal practices, songs and instruments
which were linked to Jonkonnu per-
formances there.


ADEDEJI, Joel, "Traditional Yoruba The-
atre", African Arts, 33: 1, Autumn
Anon. Characteristic Traits of the Creolian
and African Negroes (1979), Barry

Higman (ed.) reprinted Mona: Caldwell
Press, 1976.

BARCLAY, Alexander, A Practical View of
the Present State of Slavery in the West
Indies, London: Smith, Elder and Co.,

BARNETT, Sheila, "Jonkonnu and the Creol-
ization Process in Jamaica: A study in
Cultural Dynamics", M.A. Thesis,
Antioch University, 1977.
"Pitchy-Patchy", Jamaica Journal, 43,
March 1979.

BECKWITH, Martha Warren, Black Road-
ways, 1929, reprinted Negro Univer-
sities Press, 1969.

BEIER, Ulli, "The Agbegijo Masqueraders",
Nigeria Magazine, 82, September 1964.

BELISARIO, I.M., Sketches of Character...
of the Negro Population in the Island
of Jamaica, Kingston: 1837.

BETTELHEIM, Judith, "The Afro-Jamaican
Jonkonnu Festival: playing the forces
and operating the cloth", Ph.D. dissert-
ation, Yale University, 1979.

BOWEN, Calvin, "Jamaica's John Canoe",
Caribbean Commonwealth Monthly In-
formation Bulletin, 8:1 August 1954.

CAMPBELL, Ena,"Notes on Secret Societies",
African Caribbean Institute of Jamaica,
ms. 1980.

CASSIDY, Frederic G., Jamaica Talk, London:
Macmillan, 1961.
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and LePage, R.B., Dictionary of Jam-
aican English, Cambridge University
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CHAMBRE, Major, Recollections of West-end
Life, London: Hurst and Blackett,

CURTIN, Phillip D., The Atlantic Slave Trade:
A Census, Madison: University of Wis-
consin Press, 1969.

DAVIDSON, Basil, Africa: History of a Con-
tinent, London: Spring Books, 1966.

DE REID, Ira, "The John Canoe Festival: A
New World Africanism", Phylon, 3:4,

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John, "More Powerful than each other:
An Egbado classification of Egungun",
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HALL, Douglas, "Bountied European Immi-
gration into Jamaica", Jamaica Journal,
8:4 December 1974.

HARLEY, George V., "Notes on the Poro in
Liberia", Peabody Museum Papers, 9:
2, 194144.

HOULBERG, Marilyn Hammersley, "Egun-
gun Masquerade of the Remo Yoruba"
African Arts, XI:3, April 1978.

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Research Review, 3:2,1967.

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and Cultural Knowledge: Some Doubts
and Speculations", American Anthro-
pologist, 81: 1, March 1979.

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rative of 17 Years Residence", Bel-
fast: 1838.

KERN, Virginia and DIRKS, Roger, "John
Canoe", National Studies, 3:6, Novem-
ber 1975.

LEWIS, M.G., Journal of a West Indian Pro-
prietor . 1815-1817, London: John
Murray, 1834.

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Society in Cultural Specialization",
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Gleaner, 23 December 1962.

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PATTERSON, Orlando, The Sociology of
Slavery, London: Associated Univer-
sity Presses, 1969.

POLLAK-ELTZ, Angelina, Cultos Afro-Amer-
icanos, Caracas: Universidad Catolica
Andres Bello, 1972.

RYMAN, Cheryl, "Jonkonnu", unpublished
ms., African-Caribbean Institute of
Jamaica, 1975.
,"The Jamaican Heritage in Dance:
developing a traditional typology",
Jamaica Journal, 44, 1980.

SCHULER, Monica, 'Yeri Yeri Koongo' A
Social History of Liberated African
Immigration into Jamaica 1841-1867",
Ph.D. dissertation, University Micro-
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burgh, 1833.

SLOANE, Sir Hans, A Voyage to ... Jamaica:
London: B.M., 1707.
THOMPSON, Robert Farris, African Art in
Motion: Icon and Art, Los Angeles:
University of California Press, 1974.
VAN DANTZIG, A., "Effects of the Atlantic
Slave Trade on Some African Societies",
ms., n.p., n.d.
WATKINS, Mark Hanna, "The West African
'Bush' School", American Journal of
Sociology, July 1942-May 1943.

WYNTER, Sylvia, "Jonkonnu in Jamaica",
Jamaica Journal, 4:2 June 1970.

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1682-1833, New York: Dodd Mead
and Co.

Plants, Spirits and the Meaning

he word 'John' appears 33 times
in the Dictionary of Jamaican
English as a generic term in the
compound common names of people,
birds, plants and other objects. This
paper will show that objects named
'John' are often associated in Jamaica
with the world of spirits. I will focus
on the vine Abrus precatorius, which
Jamaicans call John Crow Bead, and its
links by virtue of John as a generic
term to the Christmas dancing in
Jamaica called John Canoe (also spelled
Jonkonnu) and to the vulture called
John Crow (Cathartes aura). This paper
suggests that the dance, the bird and the
plant all have the name John because of
their relationship to the world of
spirits and spirit possession. It shows
that John Canoe, who is the chief dancer
of a troupe of dancers, is a spirit person
or obeah-man (variously described as a
witch doctor, magician, jumbie-man or
sorcerer) and both the John Crow and
the John Crow Bead are associated with
death and with materials used in the
practice of obeah.
John Crow Bead
The John Crow Bead (Abrus preca-
torius) is a relatively small, woody,
twining vine common throughout Jam-
aica in thickets, hedgerows, and along
roadsides. It is often found climbing
on fences, shrubs and the trunks and
branches of small trees. Generally re-
garded as a vine of the Old World
tropics, and usually thought native
to India, John Crow Bead is now wide-
spread throughout the tropical and sub-
tropical regions of the world.
The most striking feature of this vine
is its showy clusters of pea-shaped fruits
that open when ripe to expose hard,
smooth, glossy red and black seeds
with the black covering about a third of
each seed. Because of their beauty,
these brightly coloured seeds have been
used in Jamaica and throughout the
tropics and subtropics to make amulets
and charms as well as necklaces, brace-
lets, earrings and other personal orna-
ments. Many of the most widely
known common names for Abrus
precatorius are related to its attract-
ive oval-shaped seeds.
The English common names for
Abrus precatorius are Crab Eye,
Liquorice (Licorice Vine, Indian Liquo-
rice, Wild Liquorice or False Liquorice),

Rosary Pea Vine or simply Rosary
Pea, Jequirity (Jequirity Bean or Jequir-
ity Pea), Precatory Bean and Prayer
Bead. It is also called Lucky Bean
(especially in relation to Africa), Love
Pea, Weather Plant or Weather Vine and
Coral-Bead Plant. In the 18th century,
Browne [1756] and Long [1774] in
their discussion of Jamaica's plant life
identified Abrus precatorius as Wild
Licorice and Red Bead Vine; they made
no mention of the name John Crow
Bead or any other common name. The
plant is still called 'Likrish' in Jamaica
and it is occasionally identified as Jumbie
Bead; today it is primarily known as
Crab Eye and John Crow Bead (or John
Crow Bead Vine or John Crow Eye).

Spirits and Plants
In the Caribbean the common names
for Abrus precatorius point to its asso-
ciation with the spirit world and sug-
gest that John as one of the generic
terms in its compound common names
is an expression of this association. The
link is made by the fact that in Jamaica
and elsewhere in the Caribbean, the
plant is known as Jumbie Bead, and in
some places, as for example, the Virgin
Islands, it is also called Devil Bead
[Williams and Williams 1941; Millspaugh
1902, 1974; Adams 1971b; Allan and
Allen 1981]. Jumbie (jumbi, jumby,
jumbee, jumbay, jamby) or zombi are
just different terms for spirits. These
terms are more widely used in the eastern
Caribbean than in Jamaica [Cassidy
1971, Beckwith 1929].
In Jamaica spirits are most frequently
identified as 'duppies'. They are largely
of human origin, being spirits of the
dead. Usually considered more harmful
than good, they interact with the living
and in doing so directly affect the
routine of daily life. They love the night,
especially when perfumed by the aro-
matic Basil (Ocimum basilicum L.) and
the strong sweet smell of the Night-
blooming Jasmime (Cestrum noctur-
num). They 'feed upon bamboo root,
"fig" leaves and the gourd-like fruit
of a vine called "duppy pumpkin" '
[Beckwith 1929 p.89] and live at the
root of cotton trees (Ceiba pentandra),
in burial grounds and old abandoned
buildings, and in dark places such as
caves, mangrove swamps, bamboo thick-
ets and forests. Duppies can be visible or


Duppy Cherry (Cordia collococca).

of John' in Jamaica

By John Rashford

Duppy Tomato (Solanum ciliatum).

Duppy Rattle (Crotalaria retusa).

invisible. When visible, they are said
to appear in human and non-human
forms. While these spirits are seen
as acting on their own accord, they can
also be controlled by spirit people -
'science' men and women who estab-
lish contact with supernatural beings or
forces in order to understand and influ-
ence the course of natural events. There
are over 35 names for spirit people in
Jamaica and obeah-man or -woman is by
far the most important [Cassidy and
LePage 1967].1 Another important
name is jumbie-man, a spirit person
Cassidy and LePage describe as 'having
magical powers'.
It was jumbie as a generic term that
first suggested the link between Abrus
precatorius and the spirit world. The
term seems to fulfil the same role in the
eastern Caribbean as John and duppX
do in Jamaica and jorka in Suriname.
There are over 20 plants in Jamaica with
duppy as the generic term in their com-
pound names [Perkins 1969], and it
appears that the same is true of jumbie
in the eastern Caribbean. In his Sketches
of African and Indian Life in British
Guiana, for example, the Rev. J. Scoles
[1885 pp. 51 60] wrote that jumbie
'be it known is a great power out here,
and we may almost add, a sort of public
pet, for so many things have been given
or dedicated to him, and on so many
things such as trees, flowers, seeds, ber-
ries and birds his name like a trade mark
or sign appears'. Things with the trade
mark jumbie are associated with danger
and death. Scoles [p. 62] reports that
the seeds of the 'sand-box Jumbie tree'
(which he also identified as Sand-box
Tree and Monkey Dinner Bell Tree)
'are a dangerous cathartic and have at
times destroyed young children, who
indulged in the too free eating thereof;
moreover we are told these seeds are
used by the wicked Obeah-man in mak-
ing up his deadly compounds to destroy
the victims of his wickedness'.
The initial reason for considering
jumble as a generic term and its links
to the world of spirits was its asso-
ciation with the plant Jamaicans call
Jumbie Chocho. Although she did not
know the scientific name of this plant,
Perkins [1969] noted that it 'seems to
belong to the Duppy Class'. Jumbie
Chocho which is now extensively
naturalized in the coastal areas of the
wetter parts of the island (particularly

in Portland and St. Mary) is the small
tree Morinda citrifolia introduced to
Jamaica from the tropics of Asia and
the Pacific.
Cassidy [1971] indicates that in
Jamaica Morinda citrifolia is known as
Indian Mulberry, Blunda, Duck Apple,
Hog Berry, Pig's Apple or Monkey
Berry. In eastern Portland (where I
conducted field work), Morinda citri-
folia is commonly called Hog Apple al-
though it is also identified as Jumbie
Chocho and (less frequently as) Duppy
Chocho. Cassidy [1971] does not iden-
tify Morinda citrifolia as Duppy Chocho
but he does point out that the name
Jumbie Chocho implies 'that though it
looks like chocho it is not good to eat
(as in the many duppy names . .)'.
Moreover, in explaining Monkey Berry
which is one of the Jamaican common
names for Morinda citrifolia, Cassidy
[1971 p. 382] writes 'Monkey does not
refer to actual animals eating the fruit
(as hog, pig, and duck do), but suggests
also that this issomething like the proper
plant but not really good it imitates
it in a ridiculous way as a monkey does
a man ...' Monkey appears as a generic
term in relation to several plants of
which Monkey Breadfruit or Prickly
Breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis) and Mon-
key Fiddle or Duppy Fee-Fee Pedilan-
thus tithymaloides) are two examples.3
On a broad level, the words duppy,
jumble, monkey and devil, when used as
generic terms in compound names,
suggest that things so named manifest
unusual, strange or tricky characteristics.
Some have false appearances resembling
or imitating things that are useful to
humans. Some thrive in dark places or
are active at nights; some make strange
sounds or produce strong smells and
some for various reasons are associated
with harm, danger, sorrow, graveyards,
and death.4

John Canoe

Although it was the term jumbie that
first drew my attention to Abrus pre-
catorius and its links to the world of
spirits, it is the name John Crow Bead
that has proven most interesting. It
points to the significance of John as a
generic term in compound common
names and suggests a relationship bet-
ween John Canoe, John Crow and John
Crow Bead.
John Canoe is African Jamaican street
dancing that traditionally occurs during
the Christmas holiday [See Ryman's
article in this issue]. It is clear from the
earliest accounts that John Canoe was

the name of the principal dancer as well
as the troupe of dancers; John Canoe as
the principal dancer was described as
wild, grotesque, and menacing. For ex-
ample, Long [1774 pp. 424425], the
English planter, politician and historian
who was in Jamaica during the 1750s
and 1760s wrote:
In the towns, during the Christmas
holidays, they have several tall robust
fellows dressed up in grotesque habits,
and a pair of ox-horns on their head,
sprouting from the top of a horrid sort
of vizor, or mask, which about the
mouth is rendered very terrific with
large boar-tusks. The masquerader,
carrying a wooden sword in his hand,
is followed with a numerous crowd
of drunken women, who refresh him
frequently with a sup of aniseed-water,
whilst he dances at every door, bellow-
ing out John Connul with great vehem-
ence; so that, what with the liquor and
the exercise, most of them are thrown
into dangerous fevers.
Twenty-three years after Long's ac-
count there is evidence that the dance
was already changing. An anonymous
writer in his description of John Canoe
dancers in 1797 reports that 'formerly
their conceptions and execution were
comparatively rude to what has been
exhibited for the few last years: their
aim was then a savage but is now often
a polite appearance'. Like Long, this
anonymous writer also recognized that
the principal dancer was 'always called a
John Canoe'. Unlike Long, however, he
described John Canoe as 'a whimsical
From the work of Cassidy [1971],
Patterson [1969], Bettelheim [1979],
Abrahams and Szwed [1983], and
others it is clear that John Canoe in
Jamaica has undergone considerable
change over the years.
In recent years John Canoe has be-
come a general term for different kinds
of troupes which have traditionally
participated in Jamaica's Christmas festi-
vities. Bettelheim attributes this in part
to the 1951 and 1952 'John Canoe'
competitions organized by the Gleaner
newspaper and to the fact that 'it is also
the generic name employed by the
government agencies, such as the Festival
Commission or the Jamaica School of
Even though it is obvious that 'John
Canoe is now a thorough mixture that
takes many forms . as Cassidy
[1971 p. 262] points out, it is import-
ant to remember that 'at the centre is
still the figure of a masked dancer who
makes the procession, prancing wildly
and shouting, in a traditional African

Although Sloane [1725] presented
one of the earliest descriptions of street
dancing at Christmas, it was Long who
first recorded the name 'John Connu'
in 1774. Cassidy [1971] indicates that
'the meaning of the name is uncertain'
and Patterson [1969] agrees. This
situation remains unchanged and the
effort here is only to identify a line of
approach that might prove useful.
Cassidy [1971] has critically reviewed
the different attempts to explain the
origin and meaning of the name John
Canoe. In contrast to these efforts he
has presented some interesting insights
of his own that have provided a basis for
further research. His trend of thought
supports the interpretation that John
as a generic term is associated with spirits
and John Canoe is one of the names of
a spirit person. Cassidy suggests that:

Any etymology proposed for John
Canoe must recognize that the dancer
so named was always the central figure
in the celebration the leading dancer,
grotesquely dressed, wearing a mask
or some other disguising but distinctive
headdress, who, with his train of
followers, leapt about acrobatically
and fearsomely as they wound their
way through the village collecting
contributions. The most likely source
is the Ewe language, in which dzono
means a magician or sorcerer, and
kunu means something terrible or
deadly, a cause of death; dzonko is
also a name which a sorcerer calls
himself, and -nu means a man thus,
'sorcerer-man', or 'witch-doctor'.
Patterson examined parallel practices
in West Africa based on his belief (and
that also of Daryll Forde, Herskovits
and Geoffrey Parrinder whom he cites)
that there is remarkable uniformity in
the supernatural belief of all West
Africans. Secret societies of West
Africa are highly developed institutions
and their ceremonial activities include a
central part in the seasonal festivals
of the populations of which they are a
part. This is especially true of 'the rites
associated with yam harvest . when
the gods and ancestral spirits are in-
voked . . Often the secret societies
hired professional bands of entertainers
on important festival occasions'. Patter-
son [1969 p.246] concludes:
We may suggest, then that the John-
Canoe was originally derived either
from one of the dances of West African
secret societies, or from the main dance
of the band of hired entertainers, or,
more likely, from both of these sources
. Cassidy's etymology for John-
Canoe the Ewe word meaning Sor-
cerer-man or witch-doctor strength-
ens our case when it is noted that
witch-doctors were often the head of
secret societies and themselves per-
formed the main ritual dances involved.

Both Cassidy and Patterson suggest
that John Canoe is the name of a spirit
person or obeah-man. The association of
the name John with obeah becomes
important when we consider the red-
headed black-feathered bird Jamaicans
call John Crow. In explaining the mean-
ing of John as a generic term which links
things so named with the world of spirits,
the significant fact about this bird is its
association with evil, danger and death
and with materials used in the practice
of obeah.

John Crow

John Crow is the common Jamaican
vulture Cathartes aura which was widely
known in the past as a carrion crow or
turkey vulture. In towns and through-
out the countryside, these birds can be
seen tearing at carcasses in the streets,
circling high in the sky, or simply perch-
ed in trees or on house-tops, sometimes
with outspread wings.
In the different accounts of the
origin of the name John Crow, a popu-
lar explanation is that the bird was
named after an Irish clergyman, the
Rev. John Crow who was in Port Royal
in the 1680s. The story has it that he
gave an unpopular sermon exhorting
transported prisoners to submit to the
authorities and 'in contempt, they named
the bird John Crow, its black plumage
and bald red head reminding them of
the time-serving preacher' [Cassidy
1971 p. 307]. Cassidy rejects this ex-
planation. The story was presented by
Gardner in his book A History of
Jamaica published in 1873 and as Cassidy
points out, he made no link between
the Rev. John Crow and the bird. The
sermon was given in November of 1689
and Cassidy and LePage [1967] report
that 'the first record of the bird's being
called "John Crow" is from 1826'. In
his evaluation of the explanation above,
Cassidy [1971 p 307] writes:

The greatest objection is that we must
assume a period of over one hundred
and thirty years to have elapsed be-
tween the giving of the name and the
first record of it. Since this is one of
the best known birds in the island -
one that has been a subject of legis-
lation and'one that most writers have
taken notice of it is hard to believe
that John Crow can have been its
name for so long without anyone's
mentioning it. As with such stories,
this was very likely made up after the
fact indeed, quite some time after.

Cassidy's explanation of the origin
of the name John Crow raises more
questions than it answers. He writes
that 'it is probably significant that the

American term "Jim Crow" came into
being at almost the same time as john-
crow'. He notes the similarities between
the Jim Crow dance and the dancing
in Jamaica (although he makes no men-
tion of John Canoe dancing in this con-
text) and he concludes:
My suspicion is that the popularity of
the American 'Jim Crow' helped the
parallel creation, Jamaican johncrow,
to rise into prominence. Applied to the
'carrion crow' as a nickname, it must
have established itself rapidly until it
superseded all its competitors.

Cassidy's 'suspicion' is not convincing.
How the popularity of the American
'Jim Crow' helped in the 'creation' of
the name John Crow in Jamaica, why it
was applied to the bird and why it has
superseded all other names are questions
that remain to be answered. Cassidy
is right in associating Jim Crow and
John Crow, but he offers no compelling
reason for this association.5

Cassidy and LePage [1967] have
offered two additional explanations for
the origin of the name John Crow and
while these explanations seem plausible
they leave many questions still un-
answered. They suggest that the word is
folk-etymology derived from its former
name carrion crow which has been
'reduced in popular pronunciation to
CYANCRO /kyangkro/whence by affri-
cation of /ky-/ to /ty-/ and voicing to
/j/ both common phenomena in the
folk speech the form /jangkro/'. They
have also argued that the name could be
the 'influence of such an African word
as the Ewe dongro, a large kind of fowl
with sparse plumage ....'

I suggest that the name John Crow
could be taken to mean obeah-man's,
sorcerer's or magician's crow or a crow
associated with obeah, sorcery or magic.
In Jamaica the John Crow is a bird of
great symbolic importance. It appears
frequently in proverbs, sayings and
stories and is most often associated with
imitative or false appearance, ugliness,
evil and (like the Duppy Bird, Dragon
Blood and Calabash Tree) with death.
In the following proverb the John
Crow symbolizes the opposite of the
church: 'You no care more 'bout it dan
John Crow care fe Sunday marnin'. In
the next proverb the John Crow is a
symbol of shame' 'When John Crow
wan' fe go a lowlan' him say a cool
breeze carry him'. (The John Crow
flies to the lowland because it smells
carrion but is ashamed to admit that
this is the reason why it is going). The
bird is also used to express the idea of

bad company as in the following pro-
verb which states that 'If you fly wid
John Crow you wi' nyam dead meat'.
Finally, the John Crow is a symbol of a
vain, imitative, pretentious person as re-
vealed in this last proverb: 'John Crow
say him a dandy-man, but same time
him hab so-so fedder'.

The John Crow is an omen of death
in Jamaica. Tradition has it that if the
bird perches on a roof top someone
inside will die. Pullen-Burry [1905: pp.
150-153] mentions a writer who saw a
John Crow fly across a market:
Instantly a large number of ragged
boys were pushed forward by their
elders, who cried out: 'Pickney oo' no
see bad luck bird,' a shrill chorus,
"Kirry outl Kirry outl" was repeated
with 'Pepper an' salt fe your manny.'
This treatment satisfying all parties,
they quickly retired. No one dares to
throw a stone at this bird, as it is
believed fever would result from such
an action.
Madden [1835 p. 72] wrote that
while living in St. Andrew, he found a
small obeah bundle with 'brown leaves,
broken into small bits, shreds of red
wood rolled up, mixed with hair and
some dirt'. He tells us that he

took it home and had it placed over
the door of an old Mulatto woman,
a very troublesome old lady, who
carried water for us, and who had a
mortal aversion for Johnny Crows
whenever she was indisposed. Her
antipathy to this black angel of death,
Captain Mason and myself were often
in the habit of rallying her about ....
This idea that John Crow knows when
death is imminent also finds expression
in proverbial form. It is said 'when John
Crow see mauger horse him roas' plan-
tain fe him' [Anderson and Cundall
1972]. Along similar lines, Beckwith
[1929] in her discussion of omens of
death in Jamaica reports that Crows
flying at twilight or in "funeral pro-
cession" are ominous'.
What has been said above is true not
only of Jamaica but other areas of the
Caribbean as well. Although the John
Crow has been the focus of attention
here it is clear that similar ideas are also
associated with others birds. Writing of
the Jumbie bird in Guyana, for ex-
ample, Scoles [1885 pp. 69- 65] notes
The visits of this black bird are alarming
and of course unwelcome, for when he
flutters around inhabitable dwellings,
it is [a] sad omen that one among the
living will quickly be numbered among
the dead. Ravens elsewhere, and some
say owls, are supposed to be birds of
the same bad, or evil omen.


In looking at the relationship between
obeah and the John Crow, the significant
point to consider, as Beckwith [1929
pp. 109 110] has recognized, is that
'Objects associated with animals of ill
omen also furnish good magic for the
Obeah Man. Feathers and beaks of birds,
horns, hooves, and hair of animals and
their bones or shells of insects are
among the objects found in Obeah
Man's bundle, as well as dried herbs
and seeds and dried parts of animals'.
This is pertinent to the meaning of
John and what this name tells us about
the dance, the bird, and the seed. From
this perspective we can make better
sense of what Lewis [1834: pp. 73 -
76] saw when he reported that at a
'festival' given upon his return to his
estate in Jamaica, 'Mr. John-Canoe'
wore a headdress 'surmounted with a
plume of John Crow feathers which
crowned the top ....'

John Crow Bead, Obeah and African
Jamaican Resistance

Coming back to the John Crow Bead
(Abrus precatorius), we see that like the
John Canoe and the John Crow, it too
(as suggested by the name John) is asso-
ciated with obeah and with spirits,
danger and death. This association is
especially important when we consider
the relationship between obeah, the use
of poisons and African Jamaican resist-
ance to forced labour.
It is often said that Abrus precatorius
is called John Crow Bead because of the
similarity between its red and black seed
and the vulture with its red head and
black feathers. While I was conducting
field work in Jamaica, several inform-
ants offered this explanation. Although
this might well be true, it still leaves us
to ponder the meaning of John in
Jamaica and to ask why this name is
associated with so many things includ-
ing the plant and the bird.
It could very well be that the seed is,
like the bird, an obeah-man's, sorcerer's,
or magician's bead or a bead associated
with obeah, sorcery or magic. In this
context it is possible that the name
Jumbie Bead which occurs throughout
the Caribbean could be interpreted to
mean the bead of a jumbie-man. Here
we should recall Beckwith's [1929]
observation that there were many ob-
jects in an obeah-man's 'bundle' or
'things' among which were usually
'dried herbs and seeds'. The signifi-
cance of seeds used as beads in the
African tradition has long been recog-
nized. McClure [1982 p. 295] writes:

John Crow Bead (Abrus precatorius).

The West Africans agree in the 'one
universe' custom' (Hughes, 1750) of
ornamenting their bodies with strings
of beads (Park, 1815). Sometimes beads
were the only protection worn by Afri-
cans . during their transport (Poole,
1850). Often beads reflect religious
undertones, as indicated by the neces-
sity of beads in the ceremonial garb of
West African tribes, the Arawaks and
the Caribs. Many African markets
devoted whole streets to the exclusive
sale of beads (Barth 1858 -1859; Poole

One of the cases from the criminal
record book of St. Andrew which Mad-
den [1835 p. 95] presents is the trial in
1773 of a woman named Sarah 'for hav-
ing in her possession cats' teeth, cats'
claws, cats' jaws, hair, beads (my em-
phasis), knotted cords, and other mate-
rials, relative to the practice of obeah'.
The British geologist De la Beche
[1829 pp. 25 27] also reports his parti-
cipation in searching an obeah-man who
had with him 'an old snuff-box, several
phials, some filled with liquids and some
with powders, one with pounded glass;
some dried herbs, teeth, beads (my
emphasis), hair, and other trash'. While
we do not know which beads are being
identified here, it is clear that John
Crow Bead could have been among
them. An anonymous writer at the end
of the 18th century [Higman 1976 p.

11] reports that'besides the usual Euro-
pean ornaments of earrings and neck-
laces, the women have at different times
used as beads, the seeds of Jobs' tears,
liquorice (John Crow Bead) and lilac'
Other factors also link the John
Crow Bead with obeah. One important
consideration is the fact that the plant
is useful to continental Africans and
to Africans in the New World, and there
are similarities and differences in the use
of the plant. As McClure [1982 p. 294]
indicates, 'some of the uses are of certain
West African origin while others are uni-
que to the Caribbean'. Abrusprecatorius
is a source of medicine and poison in
both places, and this is an especially
significant fact as the use of plants is
an important technique of spirit people
as is evident in the name bushman or
bush doctor. Beckwith [1929 p. 137]
reports that 'the knowledge of poison-
ous herbs is well-known to those who
are versed in "bush medicine", an
art in which the Obeah Man is bound
to perfect himself. Ordinary poisons
and their remedy are known to all but
the most ignorant.' One of the most
important similarities is the fact that the
John Crow Bead (like the John Crow
and John Canoe) is clearly linked to
obeah in Jamaica and McClure [1982
p. 295] tells us it is also'linked to witch-

craft and the obeah religion of West
Africa'. Junod [1927 p. 314] described
the use of Abrus seeds in the 'magical'
practice of Southern Africans. These
seeds which are called 'Lucky Beans'
were used in the construction of an 'en-
chanted flute'.Watt [1962 p. 535]
reports that 'the Luvale sorcerer when
plotting to kill a person, makes an effigy
of the intended victim and inserts an
Abrus seed in place of each ear'. Weiss
[1979 p. 47] says that among East
African fishermen, Abrus was used in
'witchcraft' and the only definite use
of it was in 'divination' where the seeds
were thrown and the pattern read.
McClure mentions the use of the seeds
in divination and suggests that this
could be related to the fact that the
seed resembles an eye. This is true. In
many places Abrus seeds are associated
with crabs' eyes, birds' eyes and so on.
It could be that the seed is called John
Crow Eye not only because it resembles
the eye of the John Crow bird (or any
other bird for that matter), but because
it is the 'eye' by means of which the
'sorcerer' or'magician'divines the nature
of things.
There is as yet no thorough study of
the cultural significance of Abrus pre-
catorius in Jamaica, the rest of the
Caribbean, or in Africa. The only other
important similarity to be considered
here is the use of this plant as a poison
and the way in which this is related to
the practice of obeah.
The association between obeah and
poisoning was one frequently mentioned
by the 18th and 19th century writers
[Edwards 1756; Long 1774; Lewis 1834;
Stewart 1823; Williams 1826; Lynch
1856]. Marsden [1788] went so far as
to say that obeah was the general African
name for poisons and Beckwith [1929
p. 138] reports that 'skeptical' African
Jamaicans said the same thing during
the time she did research in Jamaica.
Similarly, in his evidence to the Royal
Commission of Enquiry formed after
the 1865 rebellion, Beckford Davis
[cited in Rampini 1873] said that 'of all
the motive powers which influence the
(African Jamaica) ... character, by far
the most dangerous, is that of Obeah'.
He went on to define obeah as a 'two-
fold art . . the art of poisoning,
combined with the art of imposing upon
the credulity of ignorant people by a
pretense of witchcraft'. Rampini [1873
p. 212] tells us that in addition to grave
dirt, hair, egg shell, cats' claws, etc.,
'every bush and every tree furnishes
weapons': and this point is of great
interest especially when we consider one

of the explanations offered by Webster's
Third New International Dictionary
[1971]. It states that the word obeah is
of African origin and indicated that it is
'akin to Edo obi poison, Twi abia, a
creeper used in making medicine and
charms'. The association between obeah
and poisoning is still widely recognized
today. The Funk and Wagnalls New
Comprehensive Dictionary of the
English Language [1977] defines obeah
A kind of sorcery practiced by the
(Africans) . of the West Indies and
SE United States: a revival or survival
of African magic rites, specializing in
poisons and the power of terror.
The history of Africans in Jamaica
is a history of resistance to forced
labour. This resistance has taken many
forms insincerity of effort (such as
procrastination, evasion, and feigned
sickness), satire, sabotage, refusal to
work, escape, suicide and individual
and collective violence including riots,
rebellions and attempted revolutions
[Patterson 1969; Madden 1835; Beck-
ford 1971, 1972; Marshall 1972; Nettle-
ford 1972; Robinson 1974]. In dis-
cussing acts of individual violence, Pat-
terson (1969 p. 265] reports that 'the
means usually employed for exacting
vengeance . was poisoning. At this
(Africans) . were extremely expert,
especially the African Obeah-man from
whom most of the poison originally
came'. This is an interesting point
especially when we consider that
. Obeah functioned largely in the
numerous rebellions of the (Africans)
. . This was particularly the case
with the obeah-men from the Gold
Coast, one of whom took a leading
part in the serious uprising of 1760.
In the plotting of these rebellions the
obeah-man was essential in the ad-
ministering of oaths of secrecy, and in
cases, distributing fetishes which were
supposed to immunize the insurgents
from the arms of the whites [Patterson
1969 p. 1921.
Given the relationship between obeah
and African resistance, it is interesting
that Obeahman Bluebird or Obeahman
Cunny is the Jamaican name for the
bird Euneornius campestris and Cassidy
and LePage [1965] indicate that 'the
name alludes to its cleverness in avoid-
ing traps and not being caught'.

There were many reasons for an
obeah-man or -woman to avoid being
caught since hanging, torture, burning,
transportation were the principal pun-
ishments for obeah crimes [e.g. Madden
1835; Edwards 1793; Lewis 1834].
What were obeah crimes? There were
many but chief among them was 'the

administering of any poison or dele-
terious ingredient' [Madden 1835 p. 74].
Although Madden, a British colonial
administrator, had difficulty collecting
information for he tells us several
times that the Africans 'have a great
disinclination to speak on the subject of
obeah, or of poisons' he was well
aware of the existence of many poison-
ous plants in Jamaica, a list he thought
too long: 'to enumerate even the names
would occupy many pages'. Of these
poisonous plants Madden [1835 p. 61]
wrote 'the qualities of some of them
(were) better known to the (Africans)
... than the whites'.
It is within the context outlined
above that we must consider that Abrus
precatorius is a 'deadly vine' [Hardin
and Arena 1975 p. 81] whose seeds, as
Adams [1976 p. 56] points out, have
long been known to contain 'one of the
most virulent of all plant poisons'. Kings-
bury [1965 p. 25] says 'the tiny bean
itself is among the most highly toxic of
natural materials, organic or inorganic'
and the United States Department of
Health and Human Services report
[1982 p. 21 ] that Abrus precatorius
'is responsible for more plant fatalities
in Florida than any other species'.
Tampion [1977 p. 23] expresses the
present opinion of many when he says
'growing plants, seeds and any objects
containing the seeds should be consider-
ed highly dangerous . Objects once
made from the 'deadly seeds' [Everett
1982 p. 9] of Abrus precatorius are
now banned from many parts of Europe
and North America. Kingsbury [1965
p. 27] notes 'large number of neck-
laces, bracelets, and other ornamentals
are produced in Puerto Rico, Mexico,
and elsewhere and are imported into the
United States despite governmental
efforts to keep them out, or brought
back as souvenirs by tourists and distri-
buted widely'. In Jamaica, it is now ille-
gal to make and sell necklaces and other
personal items made from the seeds of
Abrus precatorius although they are still
used in making maracas and the eyes of
birds carved out of wood.
The poison of Abrus precatorius is a
phytotoxin, i.e. a toxin produced by a
plant. Chemically, however, the toxin
is related to snake venoms and to the
toxins produced by bacteria. Some of
the lethal symptoms include drowsi-
ness, cold sweat, nausea, vomiting, weak-
ness, severe diarrhoea, weak and acceler-
ated pulse and incoordination. It has
often been reported in the literature
that poison derived from the seeds of

Abrus precatorius have been used to kill
people and livestock in India [Allan and
Allen 1981; Blohm 1962 p. 29; Muens-
cher 1939 p. 124]. Grieve [1971 p. 492]
says Abrus precatorius has a 'notorious
history in India as an agent in criminal
It is easy to agree with Kingsbury
[1965 p. 25] when he reports that
Abrus precatorius is 'a common vine of
tropical countries, where its toxic pro-
perties have long been known and put
to use in legal and illegal ways' [Schery
1952 p. 283; Blohm 1962 p. 29]. Citing
nine references, Ayensu [1978 p. 144]
indicates that there are 'many places' in
West Africa where Abrus precatorius is a
source of poison. Although members of
the Apocynaceae appear to be the main
source of African arrow poisons, Watt
and Breyer [1962 pp. 67 68] identify
Abrus precatorius as one of 22 species
from which poisons are derived. In addi-
tion to Senegal, West Africa in general
as well as India, McClure [1982 p. 295]
cites authors who indicate that the plant
has been used as a source of poison in
the Bahamas and South Florida. She
writes: 'The rosary pea contains a toxin,
abrin, that has the potential for use in
Obeah curses . and Obeah cultures in
the Old and New World tropics, and
seems to be a significant reason for
(Africans) . to transport Abrus with
them on their (forced) voyage because
it had potential for protection against
evil spirits to be encountered in the new
lands'. Of the many people who have
provided me with information on this
plant, only one person (from St. Mary)
mentioned its use as a source of poison.
He said a lethal preparation made from
Abrus precatorius is without odour or
taste and that the poison was prepared
by mixing it with white rum.

It is puzzling that the word John
appears over 33 times in the Dictionary
of Jamaican English as a generic term
in compound common names, the major-
ity of which make reference in direct
or oblique fashion to the spirit world,
and this paper has suggested that often,
objects so named are associated with the
world of spirits and spirit possession.
The term obeah has been used in Jam-
aica from as early as the 18th century as
a general name for various beliefs in a
spirit world and those who seek to
manipulate this world. This paper has
sought to show that John Canoe, who
is the chief dancer of a troupe of dancers,
is a spirit person or obeah-man and that
both the John Crow Bird and the John

Crow Bead are associated with danger
and death and with materials used in the
practice of obeah. Abrahams and Szwed
[1983 p. 138] in their presentation of
extracts on African life in the Caribbean
taken from British travel accounts and
journals of the 17th, 18th, and 19th
centuries, report that African Jamaican
religious practice was always an import-
ant topic of discussion in these early
works and that 'the amount of detail on
the paraphernalia of practices was staq-
gering, but surprisingly, few of the ob-
servers tried to discover the system of
correspondences lying behind the objects
and their uses'. This article has been
concerned with this system of corres-
pondence, particularly as it is expressed
in the relationship between spirits and
plants and in the name John.
In the relationship between African
Jamaicans and the natural world, 'Plant
life', writes Beckwith [1929 p. 117], 'is
alive with spirit power'. John Crow Bead
is one of over 31 plants associated with
spirits in Jamaica and these plants enter
into all areas of social life from fishing
to burial customs. This link between
spirits and plants is important. It con-
tributes to our understanding of the
continuity of African tradition in the
New World. It furthers our under-
standing of the ethnobotany of Jamaica,
particularly the island's herbal tradition,
and it is essential to understanding
African Jamaican religion and its role in
the island's social history of resistance
to racial oppression and exploitative
labour. In considering the relationship
between spirits and plants, we must al-
ways remember that 'the lines drawn
among magic, superstition, religion,
funeral practices, and obeah belong
more to European cosmology than they
do to Afro-West Indian' [Abrahams and
Szwed 1983 p.139]. This is an import-
ant point especially when we consider,
as Ayensu [1981 p.87] makes clear,
that 'in African culture traditional
medical practitioners are always con-
sidered to be influential spiritual leaders
as well, using magic and religion along
with medicines. Illness is handled with
Man's hidden spiritual powers and with
the application of plants that have been
found especially to contain healing

I wish to express my appreciation to my col-
leagues at the College of Charleston who read
the manuscript and offered helpful suggestions.
My thanks to Ernie Rigney, Irene Siverblatt,
Nan Woodruff and Gary Brana-Shute.


1. While some words expressing the beliefs
of Jamaicans are no longer used and
some persist but have lost their import-
ance, others, Cassidy [1971 p. 395]
writes, 'are in rigorous use, especially
duppy and obeah, which have entered
into a great many combinations and
invaded every part of life'.

2. The term 'Yorka' and the way in which
(like Duppy and Jumbie) it is applied
to birds, particular locations and plants
(as with 'Jorka Okro' and 'Jorka Pese'
or 'Jorka' Peas) was pointed out to me
by my colleague Dr. Gary Brana-Shute.
In conversation, Dr. Robert Power of
Suriname has also provided information
on the use of Abrus precatorius there.
3. An examination of the relationship
between spirits and plants suggests that
religious ideas help to regulate the
relationship between Jamaicans and
their environment. It could be argued
that a practical significance of the
terms duppy, monkey, devil, zom-
bie or jumbie is that they help in
the necessary process of distinguishing
edible plants from those which only
appear edible and might in fact be quite
poisonous. This is particularly import-
ant for children to learn in a country
like Jamaica where all manner of fruit-
ing herbs, shrubs, vines and trees exist.
What is good for duppy or jumbie is
dangerous, even deadly, for humans.
There is the 'real' Chocho the fruit
of thevine Sechium edule- and Duppy
or Jumbie Chocho which Cassidy
[1967] says looks like a 'stunted'
chocho. There is 'real' Coconut and
Duppy Coconut, 'real' Tomato and
Duppy Tomato, 'real' Soursop and
Duppy Soursop, 'real' Cherry and
Duppy Unerry, real Uaaloo ana
Duppy Calaloo and so on.
In the same way that duppy names
help in a practical way to distinguish
edible from inedible plants,plants which
are kept away from dwellings because
they are associated with spirits might
actually serve some useful purpose.
Both Cestrum nocturnum and species
of the genus Jasminum grow in Jam-
aica and are called Jasmine as well as
Jessamy or Jessamine. The Cestrum
nocturnum is more specifically known
as Night-Blooming Jasmine or Jessamine
and Lady or Queen-of-the-Night. This
sprawling scented shrub which is a
native of the Caribbean is kept away
from dwellings because its strong smell
is said to attract spirits. Keeping certain
plants away from the dwelling is an
established tradition in Jamaica. Long
[1774 p. 803] notes, for example, that
'The (Africans) . are possessed with
an opinion of the good or bad qualities
of particular trees (and other plants),
when planted near any habitation, as
to the effects their neighbourhood may
occasion to the inhabitants'. Like the
owl, the Night-Blooming Jasmine is
seen as unusual because it is 'active' at
night, and it produces an 'overpower-
ing' fragrance. Considering this tradition
from a practical point of view, Webster
in Caribbean Gardening [1965] warns

us that the Queen-of-the-Night 'has
such powerfully sweet odour as to pro-
duce nausea, headache, so should not
be grown near houses'.
4. In Jamaica, children traditionally play-
ed with the seeds of Abrus precatorius
in a variety of ways, including their use
in games. Today these seeds are still
used in making shakers, the eyes of
birds carved out of wood and other
craft items. In the past Abrus seeds
were used in making purses, belts,
designs on straw baskets and other
souvenirs before this practice was
made illegal in Jamaica because of the
poisonous nature of the seeds. Abrus
seeds have also been used to make a
bracelet Louise Bennett has described
as 'baby fattening bead'. As the child
grows, additional beads would be added
to the bracelet. Informants from the
district of Brandon Hill in rural St.
Andrew say that in the past a few
Abrus seeds were put in 'kerosene oil
lamps' for decoration and 'to make
the oil burn longer'. This has also
been reported for Barbados. There are
many other uses of this vine that are
unique to either Africa or the New
5. An examination of the relationship
between Jim Crow and John Crow is
beyond the scope of this paper. I would
suggest, however, that Jim is used in
the same way as John. One factor that
indicates that this is so is a plant that is
called Jim Crow Nose in the United
States and John Crow Nose-Hole in Jam-
aica. The parallel significance of Jim
and John as generic terms explains in
part the relationship between Jim
Crow dancing and John Canoe dan-
cing, both with their 'grotesque' as-


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The Useful and Ornamental Plants in
Trinidad and Tobago, Trinidad: A.L.
Rhodes, 1941.



to yo r nrs
* a f ego^^^

81/2 million votes of

P J2 confidence since

we first took off.

In 15 years Air Jamaica has flown more people
in and out of Jamaica than all the other airlines
That's a lot of flights and a lot of people In the good
and not so good years. But we kept going through the
lean times when some of the others just simply gave up.
We kept on serving the peopleand the country of Jamaica.
And we're proud of it.
Now we're forging forward into the Eighties with even
more grit, determination and skill. With upgraded
equipment, even more convenient schedules and truly
competitive fares and service.
But perhaps the nicest thing about flying with us is
that you get to experience a little bit of everything good
about this country because We Are Jamaica.
Air Jamaica. Going good for 15 years and into a
brighter future.
OR Air Jamaica Reservations: Kingston: 922-4661,
Montego Bay: 952-4300, Ocho Rios: 974-2566,
Negril: 957-4210.

We are Jamaica


Going good for 15 years




k. *-. :m-


Martin Mordecai is the Director of the Information Division
in the Office of the Prime Minister of Jamaica. A writer of
poetry and short stories, he has had his works published in
Bim, Caribbean Quarterly, Savacou and Jamaica Journal. His
previous contributions to Jamaica Journal include the short
story "Pool of Memory" (4:1 1970).
Erna Brodber, a socio-historian, has carried out extensive
research in the area of social history. Her "Oral Sources and
the Creation of a Social History of the Caribbean" appeared
in Jamaica Journal 16/4.

Carolyn Cooper, a lecturer in the Department of English,
University of the West Indies, Mona, specialises in Caribbean,
African and Afro-American Literature. Dr. Cooper has a
particular interest in popular Jamaican culture.

Sylvia Wynter, professor of Spanish and Afro-American
Studies at Stanford University, California, is currently work-
ing in Jamaica as research consultant to the New Seville
Restoration Project. Professor Wynter was a lecturer in the
Department of Spanish, University of the West Indies, Mona,
1963- 1974.

Sergio Dello Strologo is the senior UNIDO adviser for indus-
trial development in the Caribbean. He coordinated the first
Devon House restoration and at the request of the Govern-

ment was also the coordinator of the second restoration.
Cheryl Ryman has been a principal dancer with the Jamaica
National Dance Theatre Company since 1967. Her interest
in dance has led her to conduct extensive research in Jamaican
dance forms with special focus on their African retentions.
Miss Ryman's previous contributions to Jamaica Journal
was "The Jamaican Heritage in Dance" (44, 1980).
John H. Rashford is assistant professor in the Department of
Sociology and Anthropology at the College of Charleston,
South Carolina. Dr. Rashford's research reflects his deep
interest in ethno-botany.
For the Record....
1. The original version of "The World View of Jamaicans"
by Mervyn Alleyne (17/1) was first presented at the
ACIJ/Folklore Studies Committee 21st Anniversary
Symposium on the Cultural Heritage of Jamaica, 12
October 1983.
2. In G.A. Aarons "Sevilla la Nueva: Microcosm of Spain
in Jamaica", part II (17/1) read Donohue for Donahue

3. In Vol. 17 No. 1 the caption on p.14 should read 'Creole
level of Jonkonnu' and that on p.16 'Jonkonnu level'
instead of 'creole level'.



lam:ias firits credit card ofemn ,., onmenrent. nnani
ctedl JL -ei 400 tltuslflentU Pl LhrlrO.nout Idflad n
Well as Carlh aJ*Ani at an. NCB hranch

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Financial a,
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Providing a
control, co!
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Private and

Aom.n,,i,,ian 0i Jeieasrd e,Uie Pens'..n F,,ni
In.estmeni Management

N CREDIT CARDS. Currenl-Checking Accounts
convenience for the tourist trade. Fixed Deposit Accounts Foreign Exchange
Transactions Collection/Importing/Exporting
LTURAL ADVICE: Goods Investment Management Services
distance and technical advice for any agri- Loans a Manager's Cheques Nationalbank
ject big or small. Loan (Personal Loan) Nationsave Accounts
device to businessmen in the areas of credit Safe Custody Savings Accounts a Standing
ting, pricing, budgeting, stock control, cash Orders Status Enquiries etc. (Credit
stingand basic accounting. Information) Transfer of Funds -
GEERVICES: (Local & Overseas) VIP Accounts

We take you into account, not just your money.



S?1Historic Structures.

The Old Kitchen
Devon House

The kitchen at Devon House functions today as well as it did
when George Stiebel built his gracious house on Hope Road,
Kingston in 1881.
The aroma from the kitchen wafts across to diners on the
Coffee Terrace as it is used to turn out bread, cakes and
pastries for sale and consumption at the Devon House complex.
It is believed that the oven is the only one of its kind
functioning in Jamaica, and it has a particularly interesting
flue system. Once the oven is lit and warmed it stays warm
for a long time without further fuel a particularly
economical way of baking large amounts.
The restoration of the kitchen was undertaken in conjunction ,
with the recent refurbishing of Devon House, and until the
first firing, the restorers were not certain that the oven would
actually work. The brick fireplace and oven were found to be
in perfect condition. However, all the accessories and oven
doors were missing. The restorers after much searching found "
an o;d oven door in a West Kingston yard. Adjustments had -
to be made by a welder to enable it to fit in both the oven -
door itself and the door for the fireplace below. The pot
hook and oven and open fireplace grates and utensils had to
be authentically researched and made to fit.
The restorers also searched extensively to find the accessories
and utensils that would have been part of a well-equipped
colonial kitchen. The Devon House kitchen is enhanced by
period pieces: yabbas of various sizes, measuring cans in 'gill'
and 'quatty' sizes; large wooden spoons and rolling pins,
Dutch pots of various sizes including a pot rack, frying pans,
muffin pans, a pewter food cover, mortar and pestle, copper
and iron kettles, a food chopper, water keg, baking pans and
bread pans, a coffee mill, old graters, and a butter churn, to
name a few.
The fireplace has a most interesting feature that was dis-
covered in the restoration: the large piece of timber which is
its main wooden support was found to have the
inscription: 'George Stiebel Esq. 1881'.



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