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Igbo Revolution in The Caribbean: Jamaica, Trinidad, Barbados

Hello All! So it seems you all really loved the post on Igbo’s presence in Haiti and Cuba, I am so glad you did. Today, I want to break this blog post into sections, I will be focusing on revolution and other aspects using the examples of Jamaica, Trinidad, and Barbados, respectively, then tying it all in.

Jamaica

From the Bight of Biafra (or the Bight of Bonny) in West Africa, Igbo people were taken in relatively high numbers to Jamaica as enslaved Africans, arriving after 1750. Besides Virginia, in the United States, Jamaica was the second most common point for ships with Enslaved Africans arriving from the Bight of Biafra. They were forced on plantations around Montego Bay and Savanna-la-Mar (the capital of Westmoreland Parish, Jamaica). Igbo enslaved Africans in Jamaica practiced resistance more so than revolt, they did not succumb to the abuse of oppressors, although they still depended on revolt. Of all the enslaved Africans in Jamaica, according to records, Igbos revolted the most. Many of them took their own lives because they believed after death, they would return or “fly back” to our homeland in Africa (see: Igbo Landing in Georgia). That breaks my heart to write that, as I have heard some people measure whether or not slaves were strong, based on their ability to “survive”. We all did, and still do, what we can! In 1815 and 1816, 2 of the biggest revolts were led by Igbos in Jamaica, they chanted “hymns” mocking the British, naming them “Buckras” (white men who owns slaves).

Remember when I told you all that in America, colonizers referred to Igbo slaves as Red Igbos, which eventually turned into the term “red bone”? Well, the same name was given to us in Jamaica. Igbo enslaved Africans were distinguished physically by their “red” or lighter skin tones. Today, in Jamaica, “red eboe” is used to describe people with light skin tones and African features. I say this not to divide, but create a commonality amongst evidence I have presented in past blog posts on this Igbo story, (colonizers studied us and our traits to divide us!). Igbo women in Jamaica were paired with Coromantee (Akan – Ghana) men because of the belief that the women were bound to their first-born sons’ birthplace (again, divide and conquer). Keep this in mind as I will tie back in this point later. Jonkonnu, a yam festival Masquerade held in Jamaica, is attributed to the Njoku Ji – Yam spirit festival, of the Okonkwo and Ekpe of the Igbo (remember I told you all about the Ekpe secret society of Cuba, and masquerade festivals, here). The Igbo also influenced language with actions such as “sucking-teeth” coming from the Igbo phrase, “ima osu” and “cutting-eye” from the Igbo phrase “iro anya”. Words were added to Jamaican Patois (broken English) when slaves were prohibited from speaking their own languages, and it prohibited colonizers from understanding what they were saying. These Igbo words still exist in Jamaican Patois, including words such as “unu” meaning “you” (plural),”di” – to be, which eventually became “de”. There are about 7 known Igbo proverbs active in Jamaican culture along with numerous words that were formed using other languages as well. I am aware that other languages make up the patois dialect, but again, my Igbo story is focusing on Igbo presence in the world. Whew! I try to be clear because I realize people from all parts of the world are reading, so I am getting better at explaining things. Let’s move on to Trinidad…

Trinidad

You want to talk about revolution? Everything we have done as a people, as a result of colonialism, is revolution that we now enjoy and forget the origin of. If anything, remember that we still have the tools to revolt for freedom, today, but follow this story. Calypso music is attributed to Trinidad. Calypso is derivative of an Igbo word “Kaiso”… In my research, I found that the term kaiso derives from an Ibibio/Igbo/Efik word used as an exclamation, such as “Bravo!”, “Let us join”. It can also mean “Let us be friends” in Igbo – Anambra dialect. *Ibibio and Efik, according to historical records and oral tradition, show accounts of Efik and Ibibio peoples migrating from Abia state in Igbo land to their present location in Calabar*. Igbo Trinidadians used calypso music to mock the slave masters and to communicate with each other. Calypso evolved into a way of spreading news around Trinidad. Politicians, journalists, and public figures often debated the content of each song, and many islanders considered these songs the most reliable news source. Calypsonians pushed the boundaries of free speech as their lyrics spread news of any topic relevant to island life, including speaking out against political corruption.

I remember growing up, my dad’s best friend, Mr. Hawkins, was a Trinidadian man, and my dad used to go to Trinidad with him. I always wondered why I couldn’t go, when we would go everywhere else, and a Trinidadian told me when I got older that he probably was going to Carnival! Well, at my former Trinidadian roommate’s family reunion in 2019, I remember being shown pictures and videos of Carnival, I immediately said “that looks just like the Igbo Masquerade!” I pulled out videos I had, and they were shocked, “I never knew they did that in Africa!” they said, “we’re all the same people!”. From then that broke the ice and we learned about each other’s cultures. The Trinidad and Tobago Carnival is an annual event held on the Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday (February) in Trinidad and Tobago. 

Barbados

Today I am clearly focused on aspects of revolution, and I have tied in aspects such as the masquerade. The point is, revolt didn’t always look like an all out war; various parts of Igbo culture have been used to strategize, spiritualize, musicalize, and even hide revolution (remember I talked about that in the Aba Women’s riot post). Now let’s talk about actual physical revolution in Barbados, shout out to my Bajan people.

Barbados saw the biggest slave revolt in British West Indies History (we know of the successful Haitian revolution against the French, led by Igbo slaves, with Henri Christophe, the 1st King of independent Haiti being Igbo). Led by an Igbo born Slave named Bussa, the Bajan revolt was the first of three large scale slave revolts in the British West Indies that caused people to doubt the effectiveness of slavery. This revolt is famously known as “Bussa’s Rebellion”. I dislike the use of the word rebellion, because when I think of the word “rebel”, I think of a child who doesn’t listen, not slaves that want to be free. I now use the word, revolution.

Bussa was was forced to Barbados from the Bight of Biafra in the late eighteenth century. He began planning the revolt after realizing that the British parliament had no intention of freeing the slaves after slavery had already been abolished. After much planning and coordination for about a year, Bussa, along with a few other enslaved Africans, led other enslaved Africans into battle at Baileys Plantation on April 14, 1816. He commanded about 400 freedom fighters, both men and women who were born in the islands. By his side were other enslaved Africans such as Washington Franklin, John and Nanny Grigg, a senior domestic enslaved African, and Jackey. Nanny Griggs was a domestic or “house slave” who could read and told her followers that “the only way to obtain freedom was to fight for it.” They started the revolt on April 14th, Easter Sunday, and By April 15, martial law had been declared on the entire island and was not lifted for three months. Martial law is defined as an extreme and rare measure used to control society during war or periods of civil unrest or chaos. Bussa’s rebellion did not fully free the Afro-Bajans, but, as mentioned before, it was the first of three major slave revolts named the “Late Slave Rebellions”. The second revolt took place in Demerara (now Guyana) in 1823, and lastly, in Jamaica in 1831-32. The British government finally abolished slavery in 1834. We can learn a lot from Bussa, his success did not happen overnight. He planned for one year along with like-minded people to carry out a task that others in the British West Indies would build on later. In 1998, Bussa was named one of the 10 national Heroes of Barbados. These people will always celebrate someone after they’re gone, let us celebrate each other now!

Another interesting fact about Igbo presence in Barbados is that, 44% of enslaved Africans in Barbados were Igbo from 1771-1775. Olaudah Equiano, a very famous Igbo enslaved African and author, was enslaved in Barbados, and later sent to Virginia, another highly populated area with Igbo enslaved Africans.

Conclusion

There are 2 parts to this conclusion. First, recognize that as many people are looking for revolution in physical form, I have shown through part 1 of this post, and this post, that within 5 Caribbean cultures, Igbos have used a variety of strategies to trick oppressors, strategize, celebrate culture, preserve culture, worship ancestors, etc. We today can still learn, I always say, it doesn’t have to look the same for everybody. We each have contributions that can collectively work together. When a people are divided so long, they tend to follow that model, but if today we decide that no matter what, I am going to use what I have based on what I know of myself and my people, we will be free today. Everything we celebrate and water down now, was once used as a means for survival.

Part 2: Remember I told you that research suggests 60% of all African Americans have 1 Igbo ancestor? I am arguing throughout this story that whether one lost tribe or all, the colonizers have fought to hide the true identity of Igbo people. As you can see through examples I’ve given, Igbo culture is seen in the dominant parts of these Caribbean cultures, meaning, they are well known and associated with the countries, but because of lack of education, have not all been attributed to Igbo culture. Everyone knows Calypso is from Trinidad, but who knew it was an Igbo word? Remember, with divide and conquer, the point is to divide us and dilute our true heritages. I say that because for some reason, people will credit Jamaica with Akan ancestry, Haiti with Yoruba ancestry, and name everybody else but Igbo’s, etc., or just dilute the Igbo ancestry (like many other places in the world) forgetting that colonizers mixed up and tore apart our ancestry on purpose (I said in the Jamaica section of this article, that I would tie this point in). Identities, as we can see now, are everything to Black people, globally. It is where we find customs, bloodlines, family information; important aspects to our heritage, and answers.

As I have said for years, we are the only people in the world who have been named, and renamed, and renamed again. On the African continent we have been divided into 54 countries and thousand of languages, adding on to that, the colonizers language. In the rest of the world, we have been doubly divided, and stripped of a place to call home, very unlike any other group on earth, which is why there is no alliance or joined struggle. All these made up names – Nigerian, Congolese, Sudanese, sub-Saharan, MENA, Nigger, negro, black, colored, African American, people of color, Jamaican, Haitian, St. Lucian, and everything in between, are not reflective of our original cultures, at all. We are the most scattered and divided people on the earth who have had the privilege taken away of knowing our true ancestry. Remember, even on the continent, people were scattered around to different colonies, forcing us to make up new languages and customs that dilute us from the original (even though we have recreated something even more beautiful in each location). We are the only people collectively who have to depend on colonizers to tell us what “country” we originate from through a DNA test that doesn’t always tell the “tribe”. As I continue to tell this Igbo story, and our impact in the world, you will see why colonizers worked extra hard to dilute our identity. The same way people praise Kemet and Egypt, we have another point of reference that is worthy of honor as well. Whether one lost tribe or all, there is something to be said about Igbo people and culture in the world.

Find the thread of Igbo Story posts I’ve written so far using this link!

Remember, you are Solid as a Rock, African, unbreakable, express that through these “Solid as a Rock” waist beads, handmade by me!, and read this post on the meaning of waist beads.

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