Kumina in Rural South-Eastern Jamaica: Beyond Resistance to Antithetical-Hegemonic-Subsumption

By Davy, Bandele Agyemang | The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online), November 2018 | Go to article overview

Kumina in Rural South-Eastern Jamaica: Beyond Resistance to Antithetical-Hegemonic-Subsumption


Davy, Bandele Agyemang, The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)


Introduction

"Well, for me, I don't know if other womens play drums, but I was playing drums since my little brother died, that when I started playing drums." (Informant B).

My informant's quotation permits a glimpse into a facet of lesser known Jamaican history from eighteenth century African-Atlantic; Kumina, an African-Jamaican3 "religious form/complex" (Braithwaite 1978-81).

According to Moore "these people [from south-eastern Jamaica] 4are descendants of slaves brought over from different nations in West Africa and the Congo and who, therefore represented different African cultures and spoke different languages." (1954: 6).

This work focuses on Kumina5. It is an 'intra-African' cultural tradition, performed in southeastern Jamaica. This study of Kumina represents a contribution to the growing body of literature on one of many under-represented aspects of African-Atlantic 'diasporic-culture'.

The research reflects a narrative for these African-Atlantic agents of history. Furthermore, it challenges the 'etic notions' and theories surrounding the constantly evolving nature of cultural and social realities experienced by actors. These agents were formerly engaged with a globalised ideology of 'involuntary-migration' and pronounced racial enslavement.

They were encumbered by the brutal industrial machinations of equally incontrovertible barbaric 'plantation-economy' practices of eighteenth century Jamaica. "For Hegel, the only essential connection between African people and Europeans was slavery." (Shohat and Stam 1997: 90). Enslaved African people were unwillingly transformed through a series of violent processes that almost erased their former cultural traditions and identities. This led to the ruthless extraction of their unfree labour to cultivate the alien and unforgiving terrain of enslavement in the Americas.

This work is the culmination of my research interests. Part of the initial motivation for understanding Kumina, is my longstanding personal interest in genealogy and tracing my African ancestry via Jamaica through DNA testing. I am seven generations removed from Ancestors born on the African continent. "African-ness has always signified something symbolic, intangible, and even inaccessible to many descendants of enslaved African people in the Caribbean and the Americas" (Stewart 2005: 142).

I have used my insider knowledge of Jamaica, its cultural traditions, people and institutions, as a research aide. I have successfully traced my father's maternal ancestry back to the south-eastern parish slave plantations of eighteenth century Jamaica; namely Lyssons, Stokes Hall and Golden Grove. Merton indicates that "Insiders are the members of specified groups and collectivities or occupants of specified social statuses: Outsiders are non-members" (1972: 21).

I am aware that my involvement as an 'insider-observer' having 'lived experience and familiarity' with the group of people and topic under study may affect my research on Kumina. I will nevertheless attempt to use this a priori knowledge as an 'insider' to help clarify and objectively contextualise my position in relation to this research process when describing my 'emic observations'. Okely states, "The specificity, positionality and personal history of the anthropologist are resources to be explored, not repressed." (2012: 125).

One might ask, "What is African about African cultural traditions in the Caribbean?" From my own DNA genealogical research, I acknowledge that on a phylogenetic level, descendants of enslaved African people in the Caribbean carry unambiguous traits of their former 'Africanness' . These markers are phenotypically evident in our multi-heterogeneous collection of hair texture, eye colour and skin tone variations. This forced transformation was a coalescence of historicised cultures and identities. This underpins my rather complex, yet inescapably rich and varied modern cultural identity (Raman 2017). …

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