Igbo people in Jamaica
|Regions with significant populations|
|Primarily Northwestern Jamaica, especially the ports of Montego Bay and St.Ann's Bay|
|English, Jamaican English, Jamaican Patois|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Igbo people, Igbo Americans|
Igbo people in Jamaica were shipped by Europeans onto the island between the 18th and 19th centuries as enslaved labour on plantations. Igbo people constituted a large portion of the African population enslaved people in Jamaica. Some slave censuses detailed the large number of enslaved Igbo people on various plantations throughout the island on different dates throughout the 18th century. Their presence was a large part in forming Jamaican culture, Igbo cultural influence remains in language, dance, music, folklore, cuisine, religion and mannerisms. In Jamaica the Igbo were often referred to as Eboe or Ibo. There are a substantial number of Igbo language loanwords in Jamaican Patois, however the majority of African loanwords in Jamaican Patois are from the Akan language of modern-day Ghana. Igbo people mostly populated the northwestern section of the island.
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Originating primarily from what was known as the Bight of Biafra on the West African coast, Igbo people were taken in relatively high numbers to Jamaica as a result of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, beginning around 1750. The primary ports from which the majority of these enslaved people were taken from were Bonny and Calabar, two port towns that are now in south-eastern Nigeria. The slave ships arriving from Bristol and Liverpool delivered the slaves to British colonies including Jamaica. The bulk of enslaved Igbo people arrived relatively late, between 1790 and 1807, when the British passed the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act which outlawed the slave trade in the British Empire. Jamaica, after Virginia, was the second most common disembarkation point for slave ships arriving from the Bight of Biafra.
Igbo people were spread on plantations on the island's northwestern side, specifically the areas around Montego Bay and St. Ann's Bay, and consequently, their influence was concentrated there. The region also witnessed a number of revolts that were attributed to people of Igbo origin. Slave owner Matthew Lewis spent time in Jamaica between 1815 and 1817 and studied the way his slaves organised themselves by ethnicity and he noted, for example, that at one time when he "went down to the negro-houses to hear the whole body of Eboes lodge a complaint against one of the book-keepers".
Olaudah Equiano, a prominent member of the movement for the abolition of the slave trade, was an African-born Igbo ex-slave. On one of his journeys to the Americas as a free man, as documented in his 1789 journal, Equiano was hired by a Dr. Charles Irving to recruit slaves for his 1776 Mosquito Shore scheme in Jamaica, for which Equiano hired Igbo slaves, whom he called "My own countrymen". Equiano was especially useful to Irving for his knowledge of the Igbo language, using Equiano as a tool to maintain social order among his Igbo slaves in Jamaica.
Igbo slaves were known, many a times, to have resorted to resistance rather than revolt and maintained "unwritten rules of the plantation" of which the plantation owners were forced to abide by. Igbo culture influenced Jamaican spirituality with the introduction of Obeah folk magic; accounts of "Eboe" slaves being "obeahed" by each other have been documented by plantation owners. However, it is more likely that the word "Obeah" was also used by enslaved Akan people, before Igbos arrived in Jamaica. Other Igbo cultural influences include the Jonkonnu festivals, Igbo words such as "unu", "una", idioms, and proverbs in Jamaican patois. In Maroon music were songs derived from specific African ethnic groups, among these were songs called "Ibo" that had a distinct style. Igbo people were hardly reported to have been Maroons.
Enslaved Igbo people were known to have committed mass suicides, not only for rebellion, but in the belief their spirits will return to their motherland. In a publication of a 1791 issue of Massachusetts Magazine, an anti-slavery poem was published called Monimba, which depicted a fictional pregnant enslaved Igbo woman who committed suicide on a slave ship bound for Jamaica. The poem is an example of the stereotype of enslaved Igbo people in the Americas. Igbo slaves were also distinguished physically by a prevalence of "yellowish" skin tones prompting the colloquialisms "red eboe" used to describe people with light skin tones and African features. Enslaved Igbo women were paired with enslaved Coromantee (Akan) men by slave owners so as to subdue the latter due to the belief that Igbo women were bound to their first-born sons' birthplace.
Archibald Monteith, whose birth name was Aneaso, was an enslaved Igbo man taken to Jamaica after being tricked by an African slave trader. Anaeso wrote a journal about his life, from when he was kidnapped from Igboland to when he became a Christian convert.
After the abolition of slavery in Jamaica in the 1830s, Igbo people also arrived on the island as indentured servants between the years of 1840 and 1864 along with a majority Kongo and "Nago" (Yoruba) people. Since the 19th century most of the population African Jamaicans had assimilated into the wider Jamaican society and have largely dropped ethnic associations with Africa.
Slave rebellions and uprisings
Enslaved Igbo people, along with "Angolas" and "Congoes" were often runaways, liberating themselves from enslavement. In slave runaway advertisements held in Jamaica workhouses in 1803 out of 1046 Africans recorded, 284 were described as "Eboes and Mocoes", 185 "Congoes", 259 "Angolas", 101 "Mandingoes", 70 Coromantees, 60 "Chamba" of Sierra Leone, 57 "Nagoes and Pawpaws" and 30 "scattering". 187 were documentined as "unclassified" and 488 were "American born negroes and mulattoes".
Some notable slave rebellions involving Igbo people include:
- The 1815 Igbo conspiracy in Jamaica's Saint Elizabeth Parish, which involved around 250 enslaved Igbo people, described as one of the revolts that contributed to a climate for abolition. A letter by the Governor of Manchester Parish to Bathurst on April 13, 1816, quoted the leaders of the rebellion on trial as saying "that 'he had all the Eboes in his hand', meaning to insinuate that all the Negroes from that Country were under his controul". The plot was thwarted and several slaves were executed.
- The 1816 Black River rebellion plot, was according to Lewis (1834:227—28), carried out by only people of "Eboe" origin. This plot was uncovered on March 22, 1816, by a novelist and absentee planter named Matthew Gregory "Monk" Lewis. Lewis recorded what Hayward (1985) called a proto-Calypso revolutionary hymn, sung by a group of Igbo slaves, led by the "King of the Eboes". They sang:
Oh me Good friend, Mr. Wilberforce, make we free!
God Almighty thank ye! God Almighty thank ye!
God Almighty, make we free!
Buckra in this country no make we free:
What Negro for to do? What Negro for to do?
Take force by force! Take force by force!
- "Mr. Wilberforce" was in reference to William Wilberforce a British politician who was a leader of the movement to abolish the slave trade. "Buckra" was a term introduced by Igbo and Efik slaves in Jamaica to refer to white slave owners and overseers.
Among Igbo cultural items in Jamaica were the Eboe, or Ibo drums popular throughout all of Jamaican music. Food was also influenced, for example the Igbo word "mba" meaning "yam root" was used to describe a type of yam in Jamaica called "himba". Igbo and Akan slaves affected drinking culture among the black population in Jamaica, using alcohol in ritual and libation. In Igboland as well as on the Gold Coast, palm wine was used on these occasions and had to be substituted by rum in Jamaica because of the absence of palm wine. Jonkonnu, a parade that is held in many West Indian nations, has been attributed to the Njoku Ji "yam-spirit cult", Okonko and Ekpe of the Igbo. Several masquerades of the Kalabari and Igbo have similar appearance to those of Jonkonnu masquerades.
Much of Jamaican mannerisms and gestures themselves have a wider African origin, rather than specific Igbo origin. Some examples are non-verbal actions such as "sucking-teeth" known in Igbo as "ima osu" or "imu oso" and "cutting-eye" known in Igbo as "iro anya", and other non-verbal communications by eye movements.
There are a few Igbo words in Jamaican Patois that resulted when slaves were restricted from speaking their own languages. These Igbo words still exist in Jamaican vernacular, including words such as "unu" meaning "you (plural)", "di" meaning "to be (in state of)", which became "de", and "Okwuru" "Okra" a vegetable.
Some words of Igbo origin are
- "akara", from "àkàrà", type of food, also from Ewe and Yoruba;
- "attoo", from "átú" meaning "chewing stick".
- "breechee" from "mbùríchì", an Nri-Igbo nobleman;
- "de", from "dị" [with adverbial] "is" (to be);
- "obeah" from "ọbiạ" meaning "doctoring""mysticism";
- "okra" from "ọkwurụ", a vegetable;
- "poto-poto" from "opoto-opoto",
- "mkpọtọ-mkpọtọ" meaning "mud" or "muddy", also from Akan;
- "Ibo","Eboe", from "Ị̀gbò",
- "se", from "sị", "quote follows", also from Akan "se" and English "say";
- "soso", from sọsọ "only";"
- unu" or "una" from "únù" meaning "you (plural)"
"Ilu" in Igbo means proverbs, a part of language that is very important to the Igbo. Igbo proverbs crossed the Atlantic along with the masses of enslaved Igbo people. Several translated Igbo proverbs survive in Jamaica today because of the Igbo ancestors. Some of these include:
- Igbo: "He who will swallow udala seeds must consider the size of his anus"
- Jamaican: "Cow must know 'ow 'im bottom stay before 'im swallow abbe [Twi 'palm nut'] seed"; "Jonkro must know what 'im a do before 'im swallow abbe seed."
- Igbo: "Where are the young suckers that will grow when the old banana tree dies?"
- Jamaican "When plantain wan' dead, it shoot [sends out new suckers]."
- Igbo: "A man who makes trouble for other is also making one for himself."
- Jamaican: "When you dig a hole/ditch for one, dig two."
- Igbo: "The fly who has no one to advise it follows the corpse into the ground."
- Jamaican: "Sweet-mout' fly follow coffin go a hole"; "Idle donkey follow cane-bump [the cart with cane cuttings] go a [animal] pound"; "Idle donkey follow crap-crap [food scraps] till dem go a pound [waste dump]."
- Igbo: "The sleep that lasts for one market day to another has become death."
- Jamaican: "Take sleep mark death [Sleep is foreshadowing of death]."
"Obeah" refers to folk magic and sorcery that was derived from West African sources. The W. E. B. Du Bois Institute database supports obeah being traced to the "dibia" or "obia" meaning "doctoring" traditions of the Igbo people. Specialists in "Obia" (also spelled Obea) were known as "Dibia" (doctor, psychic) practiced similarly as the obeah men and women of the Caribbean, like predicting the future and manufacturing charms. In Jamaican mythology, "River Mumma", a mermaid, is linked to "Oya" of the Yoruba and "Uhamiri/Idemili" of the Igbo.
Among Igbo beliefs in Jamaica was the idea of Africans being able to fly back home to Africa. There were reports by Europeans who visited and lived in Jamaica that Igbo slaves believed they would return to their country after death.
Notable Jamaicans of Igbo descent
- Archibald Monteith, an ex-slave who was called "Aneaso" born in Africa, and brought to Jamaica and later wrote an autobiography
- One of Malcolm Gladwell's European ancestors had a child by an Igbo slave, which started off the mixed-race Ford family on Gladwell's mothers side.
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