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

Author:Davy, Bandele Agyemang


"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-Jamaican (3) "religious form/complex" (Braithwaite 1978-81).

According to Moore "these people [from south-eastern Jamaica] (4)are 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 Kumina (5). 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). This process has reproduced composites of African, European and Indigenous elements fashioned by centuries of conquest, domination and subjugation as "the Other".

However, I have viewed 'Africa' or my 'African-ness' through my lived experiences in Britain as an 'Afro-Caribbean'; a constructed term. This interpellation has been used to identify me and others; the colonial products of systemic African and American hegemonic economic and industrial expansion.

Ortiz examines an emergent African 'cultural-identity' firmly rooted within the cultural and historical context of 'transculturation' (1923). This is a 'variegated-broad-mesh' to which Hall (2003) referred to as the "site of the repressed". Hall extracts meaning from the above major components of Caribbean "cultural identity". He separates the notions of cultural identity from being robust and stable to fluid and mutable.

This work explores the performance of Kumina. It is an indigenised Jamaican 'cultural-diasporic' expression often viewed as a house-yard funerary practice. Kumina has resisted beyond 'antithetical-hegemonic-subsumption'. The literature indicates there is a lack of information on contemporary discourse related to the survival and transformations of indigenised Jamaican house-yard funerary rites. This apparent void has provoked a series of questions that has led to this particular line of investigation.

"Does Kumina contain linkages to its African past?" My primary question springs from my personal experiences of attending Kumina. Practised within this African-Atlantic diaspora, I question whether present-day Kumina, an indigenised burial practice, contains linkages to an 'African' past. My thesis investigates whether Kumina is a determined whole continuity of an African cultural expression or a 'creolised' cultural tradition consisting of European influences. I analyse what Kumina does.

Chivallon (2008) asks, "What of memory and cultural trauma?" Regarding power relations and the structures of power debate, she argues that registers of memory offer a framework for understanding Caribbean identities. This provides an analysis for an informed discourse on the authentic or 'hybridised' nature of memory and its reconstitution.

Equally important, is the near erasure of 'collective memory'. Psychological rupture was caused by established discriminatory practices and systems throughout the brutal history of successively meshing and violently intermeshing a 'trinity of component parts'. This has resulted in the construction of a 'Caribbean-identity-complex'. Over time, spurious claims have been made by ideologies of the dominant European culture. The marked "absence and constriction of a reflective space" as stated by Adams (1999), has created a tradition exhibiting the profound 'pain of disconnection'. In addition, a legacy of inter-generational oppression and multi-generational trauma has been generated.

Should the predations of 'antithetical-hegemonic-subsumptive-cultural-monotheism' (6) be held accountable for its role played in generating a state of aporia amongst those African captives? It may prove useful to question the part played by 'antithetical-metaphysical-subsumptive-thought', and how it partially weakened the resolve of multitudes of enslaved African people. We need to ask how the histories of 'multi-generational-collective-memory' were obscured. This weakened the fortitude of many held captive to the plantation of commerce and industry. Obscured 'multi-generational-collective-memory' prevented widespread sedimentation of African spiritual belief; the arrested development of its cultural practices and systems in many constituencies across Jamaica. This work builds on the current available literature and attempts to inform the reader.

This work explores the continuity of Kumina, which assists its actors, past and present, within this particular African-Atlantic 'diasporic-setting'. The cultural practice of Kumina is a tradition indigenised in Jamaican folklore (Barrett 1976). I examine 'discontentment' with the term 'creolisation' as a paradigm of African-Jamaican cultural identity. Palmie (2006) remarks on the current diffusion of vocabulary used in generalised terms such as 'hybridity' and 'creolisation', which describe post-modern Caribbean cultural identity.

These terminologies offer little in the way of a nuanced description of an ever-present African heritage. Kumina's longevity is perhaps derived from a genealogy of various core African cultural components; cosmologies and theologies. This paper investigates how Kumina, has auspiciously resisted differences in expropriation, exploitation and oppression despite longstanding political opposition and widespread social condemnation.

This work is formed of six parts, an introduction, a literature review and an analysis of the term 'creolisation' wherein I put forth the arguments of Besson, Price and Palmie to discuss the claims of continuity and discontinuity in Kumina culture and 'diasporic-identity'; an examination of the ethnography of Kumina, the methodology and main methods used to test my hypothesis and generate the results, a look at the history of the eighteenth century African-Atlantic 'house-yard' Kumina burial tradition, through Kumina's interaction with Jamaican landscapes, I discuss 'diasporic-cultural-identity'; to unravel the discourse relating to aporia and Chivallon's text on collective amnesia. I discuss the role of aggressive 'antithetical-hegemonic-subsumptive-cultural-monotheism' in the African-Atlantic, and a conclusion.

Literature Review: African or Creole

"What we are getting at becomes plain: Mastery of language affords remarkable power."

- Frantz Fanon

It is the earlier term 'creolisation', that I turn my attention to throughout this work. To analyse the term 'creolisation', my thesis investigates whether Kumina is a determined whole continuity of an African cultural expression or a 'creolised' cultural tradition consisting of European influences. I put...

To continue reading