Jamaican History Part 2: What it Meant to be “People”

Welcome back to our New Year’s tribute to Jamaican history! Last week we looked at the deep roots of Jamaican culture: the experience of the people brought from Africa to work the sugar plantations in the Caribbean. We thought especially about what it meant to those people to lose their homes, that core element of safety and stability, and find themselves in a strange and frightening world.

This week we’ll dig a little deeper into that experience, getting ready to explore how a new culture came out of that dark time. We’ll also feature another song from the Jamaican folk tradition.

From a plantation owner’s perspective, it was dangerous to allow transplanted slaves to honor, or even remember, the places they came from. As a result, plantation owners did many things to force slaves to let go of their heritage.

One major thing was that slaves from the same parts of Africa, villages or towns or even whole regions, were kept separate by design. You didn’t want to let people from the same hometown, who shared the same language and culture and memories, live or work together. That would keep the memory of home alive in them and could lead to rebellious ideas. So people hailing from the same parts of Africa were sent to different plantations to put them in enforced isolation.

You also didn’t want slaves practicing any traditions from home. So even if the slaves managed to communicate with each other, using a shared African language or the developing mixed African and European patois, social and religious observances were strictly forbidden. Dance, music, and stories from home were also forbidden (unless they were seen as harmless entertainment).

All of this amounted to attacks on the very personhood of these displaced people. As much as possible, life was reduced to bare survival, to force the people to forget who they were and where they came from. Personhood itself was dangerous to the plantation system.

At Creators of Hope, we know how the constant struggle for survival can lead to despair, when it seems that a better life isn’t possible. That’s why we build homes for Jamaica’s rural poor and give them the foundations to create a better future. That’s also why we honor the people who were brought to Jamaica and found a way forward despite everything they had lost.

This week’s featured song is “Chi Chi Bud Oh,” a call-and-response tune about Jamaica’s birds. This kind of song, involving a leader and a responding chorus, might have originally been a work song (or “digging-sing”) or a dance tune. You can find an English translation of patois lyrics here.

If you like what you hear, please share this post and help us honor Jamaica’s history. And please read more about our mission and find out how you can help Jamaica’s people today!

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