Academic journal article Black Music Research Journal

West African and Haitian Influences on the Ritual and Popular Music of Carriacou, Trinidad, and Cuba

Academic journal article Black Music Research Journal

West African and Haitian Influences on the Ritual and Popular Music of Carriacou, Trinidad, and Cuba

Article excerpt

Afro-Caribbean ritual music may be divided into two broad categories. One includes the music for Caribbean religions that seem to draw traditions from one particular ethnic group in Africa or another. These religions tend to have separate rites and devotees. For example, the orisha of Trinidad and the Lucumi of Cuba are largely Yoruban. In Haiti, there once were seventeen nanchons (nations); each nanchon (except for Petro, which was born in Hispanola) is thought to be derived from a separate ethnic group in Africa--Rada, Kongo, Nago, Ibo, and so on--although many putative nations draw their traditions from more than one African group. The second category includes Afro-Caribbean religions, where the music of many nations is brought into a single ritual, for example, the Big Drum dance of Carriacou, Grenada. In this article, after mentioning Haiti's influence on the musical development of the music of the Caribbean, the ritual music in Carriacou, Trinidad, and Cuba is examined, and that music is compared with secular (folk and popular) Caribbean music. One theme that emerges in this comparison is unity, a unity first created by enslaved Africans in the Caribbean based on ethnic origins (Yoruba, Kongo, and so on) and then later based on a sense of "Creoleness" as found in secular or popular Caribbean music.

Eighteenth-century Haiti was rich in the production of sugar, indigo, cotton, and coffee (Desmangles 1992, 21-28). Enslaved people outnumbered the (white) French by more than eleven to one. The Code Noir (Black Code) prohibited the enslaved people from carrying out any form of African religion, effectively driving incipient vodou underground and putting it in the hands of the many maroons who had fled to the hills and who were a constant problem for the estate owners. This forced the enslaved people to mask ritual behavior in Sunday gatherings that were allowed under the watchful eyes of the French. It also led to vodou being syncretized with Catholicism. Among the maroons, ceremonies of the separate nations, which often involved possession, were maintained. It was these maroons, interacting with the enslaved people on the estates, who carried on vodou as a protest religion:

   As one of the first collective forms of resistance, [vodou] was both a
   cultural and, in its practical applications, a politically ideological
   force. Since it was severely outlawed in the colony and therefore forced
   into clandestinity, its development and proliferation were reinforced in
   the general context of marronage. The maroon leaders of African origin were
   almost without exception either voodoo priests or, at least, voodoo
   devotees. And, of course, the case has generally been made for the
   perpetuation, or at least reconstitution within a New World context, of
   African ways in marronage.

   Characteristically, it was in the voodoo ceremonies that African
   traditions--language, dance, religion, world view, and medicine--were all
   evident. Indeed, the words of the sacramental voodoo hymns were almost all,
   if not exclusively, of African origin. In a sense, then, the various
   African languages constituted in themselves a form of cultural protest
   against the colonial order, as well ... as a means of reinforcing a
   self-consciousness and a cultural identity independent of the white
   masters. Voodoo as generally practiced in Saint Domingue (and especially
   its linguistic diversity) constituted, in effect, a broad synthesis of the
   various religious beliefs and practices of all the African nations forming
   the slave population. (Fick 1990, 57)

After the Haitian revolution, separate rites that were syncretized with Catholicism blended with each other in various ways in the Haitian countryside.(1)

Haiti had an important influence on the music in the rest of the Caribbean, especially the Catholic Caribbean. In the eighteenth century, enslaved people were bought and sold within French islands, including Haiti and Carriacou, and some estate owners and enslaved workers from French islands settled in Spanish Trinidad. …

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