Jablonski, Marek (Michael)


(i) Ritual and ceremonial



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(i) Ritual and ceremonial.


Christianity was introduced to Jamaica with the Anglicans and Quakers (in the 17th century), the Methodists (1789), the Moravians (1874) and the Baptists (early 19th century). The slaves soon fused aspects of Christian belief with African tribal ritual, resulting in Afro-Christian syncretized spirit cults of various categories. The Zion Way Baptist and the Pukkumina are both revivalist cults; the Kumina incorporates non-Christian deities and is considered African by its devotees. Jamaicans also categorize cults as ‘spiritual’ (City Mission, Baptist, Free Church, Pentecostal Holiness) and ‘temporal’ (Anglican, Methodist, Seventh-Day Adventist).

Some Jamaican cults share concepts and expressions with other cults of the African diaspora such as Haitian Voudoun, Cuban Santeria and Trinidadian Shango. Through ritual music, cult groups communicate with their gods, goddesses, ancestors and heroes, as well as with the forces of nature at levels which the outsider is rarely allowed to observe; consequently the use of cult music for study or publication is limited. Several rituals involve sacrifices and purification by fire or herbal baths, while all include music. Leaders strive to activate the psychic links that connect humans with the supernatural forces. The symbolism of sound, word, gesture and movement is usually understood by cultists alone and at times only by those at the top of the cult hierarchy. Ritual music usually derives from speech: it includes chanting, improvised melodies and choruses accompanied by drums, cymbals and other percussion, clapping, stamping, groaning and percussive breathing.

The followers of the Kumina cult sing bailo (generally with English texts) and ‘country’ songs, an improvised genre that incorporates many Congolese words and is designed to appease or amuse the spirits. Adherents believe that the ‘country’ songs are taught by the spirits only to those they possess. Kumina songs are usually for a leader and chorus, have melodies with short phrases, and are accompanied by drums (the kbandu and the ‘playing cast’). Revivalist cult music, on the other hand, is often based on Christian hymns and is accompanied by ‘trumping’ (loud rhythmic breathing), hand-clapping and foot-stamping; cultists often sing in ‘unknown tongues’ (using non-lexical syllables). The popular genre ska, which originated in western Kingston, derives from these songs.

Since the 1940s, Rastafarianism has been a strongly influential cult. There are several groups of Rastafarians, some of which are Christian. All claim allegiance to Africa and many maintain that their music is African. In its short history, Rastafarianism has significantly affected national life, especially through its music, poetry, art and general regard for nature. The popular Jamaican music form Reggae owes much of its development to Rastafarian music and musicians.

The dominant feature of this cult music is drumming, using drums from Buru, a Christmas masquerade which dates back to the days of slavery. There are three types of drums: bass, fundeh and repeater. All three are double-headed barrel drums, made from staves with goat-skin heads. The bass drum is 50–70 cm in diameter and is played with a padded stick. The fundeh (20–25 cm) and the repeater (20–23 cm) are smaller and are played with the fingers. The repeater is always smaller than the fundeh, to produce a higher pitch. Drumming provides the foundation for distinctive chanting which is accompanied by other percussion (e.g. maracas, tambourines and scrapers).

In all cult groups that use ancestral languages, ritual songs often include words that ensure secrecy within a small and select group of devotees. This does not apply, however, in the case of events open to the public or to Revival and Rastafarian songs, which all use widely known Jamaican speech style.

Jonkunnu (Junkanoo), originally a Christmas celebration during the early days of slavery, combines West African and English traditions. After the abolition of slavery, Jonkunnu was celebrated on 1 August to commemorate freedom. Processions are led by drums, fifes and men wearing traditional costumes and masks. In some areas where Buru (a variant of Jonkunnu) is practised, the whole procession sings the chorus to a leader’s solo, usually about an embarrassing or scandalous local event. Songs are similar in style to mento (see below).

Hosay (Hussey, Hussein), celebrated mainly by East Indians in Jamaica as well as Trinidad, is a Muslim festival honouring three Islamic heroes: Hussein, Hassan and Ali. Models of elaborate bamboo mosques, tall paper stick-puppets and a moon are carried by men who dance to the accompaniment of Indian drums; sword and stick-fighting are also included.




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