Loyalists and traitors

george liele
British Loyalist George Liele, first Baptist missionary, escaped to Jamaica with his family after being threatened with enslavement after the American War for Independence

The American Revolution, which ran from 1775-1783, had far reaching implications beyond its own shores and borders.

In Liberty’s Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World, Maya Jasanoff reminds us that about one third of residents in the 13 American colonies supported the British in the American War for Independence. In that sense, the revolution was akin to a civil war, and these British supporters were regarded as traitors by their fellow colonialists, the Patriots.

There were at least three groups, collectively called Loyalists, who supported the British. Whites who saw their interests aligned with that of the British, or who sought to preserve the life they knew or who felt the best future for the American colonies lay with Britain; Indian tribes such as the Mohawk and the Creek who believed their territories would be protected from further white incursion if the British won; and enslaved and freed Africans who believed the British promise that slavery would end for those who fought on Britain’s side.

All three groups lived in fear after Britain lost the war and the United States gained full independence. They feared for good reason. Some white loyalists were attacked, and their homes and properties destroyed or confiscated. More Indian lands were eventually taken over and incidents such as the infamous Trail of Tears remain horrible blots on American history. Many blacks, even those who were free before the outbreak of war, were enslaved or threatened with re-enslavement.

To escape their plight at least 60,000 loyalists –  black, white and Indian – fled the United States. Jamaica was a primary refuge along with the Bahamas, Canada, Britain and Sierra Leone. Some ended up in Australia, India and elsewhere.

“Of all the British colonies to which loyalists migrated during and after the revolution, Jamaica presented the most immediately attractive destination,” writes Jasanoff. Their hopes rested on Jamaica’s opulence and wealth:

Sugar was gold in the eighteenth century. Jamaica’s trade in sugar and rum helped make the island the wealthiest colony in the late-eighteenth-century British Empire. On the eve of the American Revolution, when per capita wealth for a white person in England averaged £42, and about £60 for whites in the thirteen colonies, white Jamaicans enjoyed a per capita net worth of £2,201.

Jasanoff suggests that about 8,000 enslaved Africans, more than half of those who left the US, traveled to Jamaica, along with about 3,000 whites.

Loyalists – black, white and Indian – were disappointed not just with the loss of the war but the level of assistance they received afterward, though many received passage to Jamaica and other locations outside the US.

The bulk of such assistance went to white loyalists, many taking slaves with them. The British assisted a few freed blacks who supported them in the war. Among these was George Liele who, with his family, escaped to Jamaica after being threatened with re-enslavement after the American war. “The sheer demographic shock of Jamaica’s slave society must have struck black loyalist George Liele even before he disembarked,” Jasanoff says. “The very same ships that carried his family away from Savannah to a fresh start in freedom carried almost two thousand other blacks onward into continued slavery.”

Liele went on to establish Baptist witness in Jamaica, starting in 1783, after previously founding churches in Savannah, Georgia. This makes Liele the first known Baptist missionary. His chief associate, Moses Baker, was also an American émigré who initiated Baptist witness in western Jamaica. Leile and Baker were among the more prominent or well-known persons of African ancestry who escaped the US to Jamaica in consequence of the American Revolution.

John Pulis, writing in The Historical Encyclopedia of World Slavery, states:

Between July 1782 and November 1783, the British evacuated Wilmington, Delaware; Savannah, Georgia; Charles-Town, South Carolina; and New York City…. A small, but influential, number of blacks opted for transport to Jamaica. Among the more notable among these were Moses Baker and George Liele, folk or itinerant preachers who laid the basis for the island’s practice of Afro-Christianity.

According to Jasanoff, Liele’s presence and preaching proved a problem:

All that talk of equality in the eyes of the Lord, all that talk of the freedom in salvation – it sounded suspiciously like revolutionary language to slaveowners, who worried that missionaries might incite their slaves to revolt. And how much more they must have worried when those missionaries were black, and former slaves to boot.

Both Leile and Baker were imprisoned for simply preaching. Jasanoff recalls that “Moses Baker was arrested for quoting the words of a Baptist hymn:

We will be slaves no more,
Since Christ has made us free,
Has nailed our tyrants to the cross,
And bought our liberty.”

Writing in 1913, Wilbur Siebert provided details on some of those who traveled to Jamaica. “When, in December 1782, Charleston was surrendered to the Americans, 3,891 persons embarked for Jamaica, of whom 1,278 were whites and 2,613 were blacks.” He said, “A few others from West Florida, with their slaves, arrived in Jamaica during the summer of 1783, settling chiefly in Kingston, according to the parish records of that island.” About 5,000 black persons and some 400 white loyalists arrived from Savannah, Georgia.

The Jamaican assembly made provisions to assist the white loyalists:

The Assembly of the island passed an act for the benefit of all white refugees who had already come in, or should follow later, with the intent of becoming inhabitants. This act was made applicable to former residents of North and South Carolina and Georgia… who were paying the price of exile by being forced to relinquish their dwellings, lands, slaves, or other property.

The white refugees received extensive tax breaks:

It exempted these persons for seven years after their arrival from the payment of imposts on any negroes that accompanied them, as well as from all manner of public and parochial taxes, excepting the quit rents on such lands as they might purchase or patent. It also released them from all services, duties, and offices, except the obligations to serve in the militia.

The new arrivals led to a mushrooming of Jamaica’s population. Siebert noted:

The above facts help to explain the remarkable increase in population of Jamaica between the years 1775 and 1787. The census for the former year showed 18,503 whites, 3,700 free colored people, and 190,914 slaves; while for the latter year the figures are 30,000 whites, 10,000 free colored people, and 250,000 slaves.

band-of-the-west-indian-regiment-jamaica-1924
Band of the West Indian Regiment, Jamaica 1924. Members of the Black Carolina Corps, a remnant of a British loyalist regiment of the American War of Independence, joined the band in the late 1700s.

Jamaica Defense Force indicates that some blacks who traveled to Jamaica had joined its ranks:

The Jamaica Military Band has direct descent from the first of the old West India Regiments, which was formed in 1795 in the Windward Islands of the Eastern Caribbean. One of two units drafted into this regiment was the Black Carolina Corps, the remnant of a British loyalist regiment in the aftermath of the American War of Independence.

Jamaica proved a disappointment for the refugees. Land, their main source of hope, was scarce. In the absence of obtaining land, hopes of putting out their slaves to work for Jamaicans largely proved unsuccessful, as the island had more than 200,000 enslaved persons. Within a matter of a few months, provision made for them ran out. “The first large companies of loyalists who resorted to Jamaica were furnished provisions by the British government, but the supply soon proved inadequate,” said Siebert.

There was growing resentment among locals at loyalists’ tax-exempt status and the expense paid out to support them:

The justices and vestry of Kingston presented a petition to the Assembly…calling attention to the effects of the measure upon their parish…. The petition explained that there were nearly seventy housekeepers in the town of Kingston who were refugees, and hence were exempt from parochial taxes, although many of these were apparently wealthy and were engaged in commerce to a considerable extent. Others were tradesmen or mechanics in the exercise of lucrative employments. Some of these persons were occupying fine houses in the best situations in the town. Thus, the petitioners were deprived of the taxes that might have accrued from the “opulent refugees.”

Attempts to settle 183 white American loyalists in the parish of St. Elizabeth, most of them from the Charleston, South Carolina group, proved unsuccessful as the location was inhospitable. Records from a committee meeting states:

That it appears to the committee, from the several examinations taken before them, that certain parcels of land bordering on Black River, in the Parish of St. Elizabeth, commonly called the Morass Land, and laid out by Patrick Grant, surveyor, for the Refugees from America, cannot be drained for cultivation, but at such a considerable expense as to make it highly unprofitable that they will ever be drained.  Passed in the affirmative.

Jamaican authorities refused to foot the bill to make the location habitable:

That it is the opinion of this committee, that certain lands in the Parish of St. Elizabeth stated to have been surveyed for the Loyalists from America, should not be patented at the expense of the island, and this House will not defray such expense, it having appeared in evidence that the lands are totally unfit for the purposes intended.  Passed in the affirmative.

Indications are that slaves owned by American white loyalists in Jamaica were sold off and sent back to the United States and elsewhere. Some of the white loyalists left Jamaica, some even returning to the US.

It is interesting to determine which families in Jamaica – black and white – are descendants of these loyalists who fled the US during and after the revolution, and whether American Indian descendants are on the island.

Eron Henry is author of Reverend Mother, a novelOle Time Sumting blog was recognized with an Award of Merit by the Religion Communicators Council in April 2018

Pining in exile

claude mckay
Claude McKay, a leading figure of the Harlem Renaissance in the early 20th century, pined for his Clarendon, Jamaican home

It is stunning the number of Jamaicans who live outside the country. Elizabeth Thomas-Hope, professor at the University of the West Indies, Mona, in Jamaica, said, “An estimated 1.3 million Jamaican-born persons are residing abroad, amounting to at least 48% of the population (of 2.7 million) living in Jamaica.”

This does not include the entire Jamaican diaspora. “Numbers of Jamaican-born persons plus the overseas-born generations are not really known, nor is the level of their identification with Jamaica easily quantifiable,” said Thomas-Hope in a 2017 report. “Estimates of the size of the diaspora range from 1.7 million to 3 million.”

The United States alone is home to more than one million Jamaican emigrants and their descendants. More than 30 percent of the US Jamaican community live in New York and about 25 percent in Florida.  Canada has significant numbers as well, about 150,000.

It is difficult to find a Jamaican household without some relative overseas. Louise “Miss Lou” Bennett-Coverley, Jamaica’s most revered poet, said it well:

Every seckey got him jeggeh,
Every puppy got him flea.
An yuh no smady ef you no
Got family ovah sea!

Jamaicans have always found reasons and places to travel, beginning in the 1700s. In previous blog posts, I have written of Jamaicans  in Cuba, Panama, Belize, Nicaragua and Sierra Leone and Liberia.

A wave of Jamaicans, for instance, traveled to Panama, first to work with the United Fruit Company, then in constructing the Panama Canal. The city of Colon has large numbers of Jamaican descendants. Many Jamaicans, such as my maternal grandfather, left for Cuba to work on sugar plantations. Jamaican communities are in Eastern Cuba, such as Santiago, Cuba’s second largest city.

But the real surge of Jamaican emigration began in the early 1960s when the United Kingdom encouraged colonists to travel to the “Motherland” to rebuild England after the devastation of World War II. Miss Lou recounted this mass migration of Jamaicans in her famous poem, Colonization in Reverse:

By de hundred, by de tousan,
From country an from town,
By de ship-load, by de plane-load,
Jamaica is Englan boun.

Dem a pour out a Jamaica;
Everybody future plan
Is fi get a big-time job
An settle in de motherland.

It is believed there are about 300,000 Jamaican-descended Britons.

The second great wave began in the latter half of the 1970s when many Jamaicans fled for fear of communism, the majority going to the United States.

Pining for home
Some of Jamaica’s most memorable poems were written by those who pined for home. Claude McKay, who migrated to the US in 1912 and was part of the Harlem Renaissance in New York, seemed to have lived in constant heartache with hopes of return:

I shall return again; I shall return
To laugh and love and watch with wonder-eyes
At golden noon the forest fires burn,
Wafting their blue-black smoke to sapphire skies.
I shall return to loiter by the streams
That bathe the brown blades of the bending grasses,
And realize once more my thousand dreams
Of waters rushing down the mountain passes.
I shall return to hear the fiddle and fife
Of village dances, dear delicious tunes
That stir the hidden depths of native life,
Stray melodies of dim remembered runes.
I shall return, I shall return again,
To ease my mind of long, long years of pain.

In FlameHeart, McKay’s memory started to fade but he recalled Jamaica’s flowery blooms in “warm December”:

So much have I forgotten in ten years,
So much in ten brief years! I have forgot
What time the purple apples come to juice,
And what month brings the shy forget-me-not.
I have forgot the special, startling season
Of the pimento’s flowering and fruiting;
What time of year the ground doves brown the fields
And fill the noonday with their curious fluting.
I have forgotten much, but still remember
The poinsettia’s red, blood-red in warm December.

I still recall the honey-fever grass,
But cannot recollect the high days when
We rooted them out of the ping-wing path
To stop the mad bees in the rabbit pen.
I often try to think in what sweet month
The languid painted ladies used to dapple
The yellow by-road mazing from the main,
Sweet with the golden threads of the rose-apple.
I have forgotten – strange – but quite remember
The poinsettia’s red, blood-red in warm December.

What weeks, what months, what time of the mild year
We cheated school to have our fling at tops?
What days our wine-thrilled bodies pulsed with joy
Feasting upon blackberries in the copse?
Oh some I know! I have embalmed the days
Even the sacred moments when we played,
All innocent of passion, uncorrupt,
At noon and evening in the flame-heart’s shade.
We were so happy, happy, I remember,
Beneath the poinsettia’s red in warm December.

Back then, before the era of air travel, the prospects of Jamaicans returning home were dim. Once they left few had the means and the opportunity to return. A return, if only for a short stay, was an investment in time, effort and money.

Jamaicans today may not feel the same yearning pain as McKay and his cohorts. Travel is relatively inexpensive and much less arduous. The island is usually a plane stop or two away, a trip done in hours rather than days or weeks on steamship. Much of Jamaica can still be seen and enjoyed via media. Jamaican cultural expressions, music and dance especially, are no different from back home. Jamaican cuisine can easily be bought or prepared. Parts of New York City and South Florida in the US and London and Birmingham in the UK have the stamp of Jamaica. Miss Lou recalled:

Jane sey she meet so much ole frien
When she strole down New York,
Dat sh feel like is dung King Street
Or Luke Lane she eah walk.

Jamaicans abroad often live in ambivalence, some haunted by a loss of identity. In Exile, Dennis Scott seemed unable to shed the guilt:

There are patterns to assure us;
At table, familiar spices;
The garden, hardly greener;
But something has changed;
Clothes we left behind;
The old affections hang loosely.
Suddenly, mouth is dumb; eyes
Hurt; surprised, it is we
Who have changed; glad, now,
To have practiced loving
Before that departure. To travel
Is to return
To strangers.

Mono Negative
Jamaican passengers disembark the HMT Empire Windrush at the Port of Tilbury, United Kingdom, June 1948

Still, there are Jamaicans who long for the warmth, the sun and the energy, the “vibes.” Beginning in the 1990s, hundreds of those who migrated to England in the 1960s returned to Jamaica upon their retirement. For many, it was the first they had returned since leaving 30 years earlier. One confessed. “For all the years I was in England, I never liked it there. I couldn’t wait to get back.”

The figures have trended down since the new century, but the trek continues. According to Thomas-Hope, more than 10,000 Jamaicans voluntarily returned home between 2007 and 2016, most from the US.

Some, who long for return, feel like Tinga Stewart who sang, “Cause when I check it out Lawd, nuh wey nuh betta dan yard.”

Eron Henry is author of Reverend Mother, a novel. Ole Time Sumting blog was recognized with an Award of Merit by the Religion Communicators Council in April 2018

Flexing international muscles

Jamaican Marcus Garvey influenced generations of African leaders and freedom fighters

As islanders, Jamaicans have a surprisingly cosmopolitan outlook. The typical Jamaican is highly informed on world affairs due largely to media that report much on world affairs. Jamaica’s educational system teaches and instructs on global occurrences and developments.  Nothing of import happens anywhere in the world without the typical Jamaican being aware of it.

It does not stop at awareness. Discussions and debates are the norm. Jamaica has a strong talking culture – on radio and television, in bars and churches, in offices and on sidewalks. And there are times when Jamaicans become vested in what’s happening half a world away.

This is nothing new. Jamaicans, perhaps because international events have had outsize impact on the island, have paid keen attention to developments elsewhere, whether it be the Haitian, French or American revolutions, the two World Wars, the Communist Revolution, or the American Civil Rights movement.

That more than 90 percent of Jamaicans are of African ancestry makes Africa of special interest. Jamaican Baptists, for instance, started sending missioners to Africa in the 1840s, just a few years after the end of enslavement in 1838. In 1878, The African Repository, Volumes 51-5, published by the American Colonization Society, reported:

[Jamaica] is training hundreds of the most capable as well as the most aspiring of her black population to lead as teachers, merchants and planters, in the numerous trading and missionary stations now in course of preparation for permanent settlement in Africa. The wealthier classes of Jamaica – her capitalists and great land-owners – do not wish to part with the working men of the island, nor will many of that class go to Africa, but it is the educated and ambitious young men of the country who will seize upon the vast field opened to them by the late explorations.

The report cited Calabar and Mico colleges, along with government educational institutions, as the schools primarily responsible for preparing persons for settlement in parts of Africa, such as Liberia.

From the early 20th century onwards, no personality was more influential on African psyche than Marcus Garvey, Jamaican National Hero. Sabamya Jaugu, writing for the African Manifesto, asserted:

Garvey’s legacy has influenced the careers of leaders who pioneered African independence, ranging (for the sake of brevity only a few are listed) from Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana; Julius Nyerere of Tanzania; Sekou Toure of Guinea; Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, Patrice Lumumba of the Congo; to Nelson Mandela of South Africa. Marcus Garvey is the father of African Nationalism.

The indigenous Jamaican religious movement, Rastafari, inspired by Garvey, is heavily Afro-centric. It gained gradual influence on Jamaican consciousness, if not widespread adherence, and focused the country’s attention on the plight of Africa and Africans.

It was not surprising, therefore, that African quest for independence and self-determination in the mid to late 20th century would pique Jamaicans’ interest. Some Jamaican artistes vicariously reflected the experiences of those who fought for freedom on the African continent. Peter Tosh sang in Apartheid:

Inna me land, quite illegal
You inna me land, dig out me gold, yes
Inna me land, diggin’ out me pearl
Inna me land, dig out me diamond

We a go fight, fight, fight
Fight ‘gainst apartheid
We got to fight, fight, fight
Fight ‘gainst apartheid

You inna me land an’ you build up your parliament
You inna me land, you build up your regime
You inna me land, only talk ’bout justice
You inna me land, handin’ down injustice

You inna me land, you no build no schools for black children
You inna me land, no hospital for black people
You inna me land, you built your prison
You inna me land, you built your camp

Bob Marley in his song, Zimbabwe:

Every man gotta right to decide his own destiny
And in this judgment there is no partiality
So arm in arms, with arms
We’ll fight this little struggle
‘Cause that’s the only way
We can overcome our little trouble

Brother you’re right, you’re right,
You’re right, you’re right, you’re so right
We gon’ fight (We gon’ fight)
We’ll have to fight (We gon’ fight)
We gonna fight (We gon’ fight)
Fight for our rights!

Natty dread it in-a (Zimbabwe)
Set it up in (Zimbabwe)
Mash it up-a in-a Zimbabwe (Zimbabwe)
Africans a-liberate (Zimbabwe)

Thobile Hans, writing for Forbes Africa, interviewed persons who were involved in and who studied what happened in the struggle for freedom in Zimbabwe. Fred Zindi, a professor at the University of Zimbabwe, told him:

During the years of Chimurenga (chiShona for uprising), Bob Marley’s music had been adopted by the guerrilla forces of the Patriotic Front; indeed, there were stories of ZANLA troops playing Marley cassettes in the bush. Certainly, Marley’s music has potency and a commitment which goes far beyond simple entertainment. He now enjoys a special place in Third World culture; an artist who directly identifies with the black African struggle. Thus, he was the only outside artist asked to participate in Zimbabwe’s independence celebrations.

Shadrack Gutto, a University of South Africa professor and constitutional law expert in South Africa who taught 12 years in Zimbabwe, said of Marley:

His songs were the food that people in liberation movements, particularly the armed wings, were swallowing. From that point of view… to be able to see that music was an important aspect of the liberation of this continent. Bob Marley, like Amilcar Cabral (the first president of Angola), articulated so well the importance of the role of culture and music in the liberation struggle.

Jamaica was, along with India, the first to impose economic sanctions on apartheid South Africa, doing so in 1957, banning trade and travel between the island and the racist-run country. A brief account by the Permanent Mission of Jamaica to the United Nations states:

Jamaica’s commitment to the principle of human rights and to a philosophy of “international morality” is exemplified by our stance on apartheid and racism. Jamaica was at the forefront of the international campaign against apartheid in South Africa…. The first country to declare a trade embargo against South Africa, was Jamaica, as early as 1957 even while the island was still a colony of Britain and thus without responsibility for its external relations. Jamaica consistently and unequivocally opposed apartheid and supported all United Nations’ decisions aimed at its elimination.

Theo-Ben Gurirab was minister of foreign affairs of Namibia from 1990 to 2002 and prime minister from 2002-2005. When former Jamaican Prime Minister Michael Manley died in March 1997, Gurirab wrote:

As Prime Minister of Jamaica, Comrade Michael Manley had the presence of mind and wisdom in assisting SWAPO (South West Africa Peoples Organization) to build up technical capacity during the struggles by helping us to train many young Namibians in various fields in his country. Today they are productive citizens and destined to become future leaders. SWAPO could always count on Jamaica in various international fora.

Jamaica trained Namibian revolutionaries fighting for freedom! In Jamaica!

When Namibia held its first free elections in November 1989, the island sent 29 police officers as part of a United Nations international peacekeeping force.

At a special meeting of the UN General Assembly in October 1978, Manley was among seven global personalities, including former heads of government Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, Jawaharlal Nehru of India and Olof Palme of Sweden, to receive awards “in recognition of their contribution, in cooperation with the United Nations, to the international campaign against apartheid.”

Jamaica’s support for Africa has been acknowledged by some leaders. A few have made the trek to the island to see the land where Garvey and Marley and Tosh came from. Veront Satchell provides a list:

 Among these visiting leaders are Haile Selassie I, the last emperor of Ethiopia, in 1966; Julius Kambarage Nyerere, independence leader and then-president of Tanzania, in 1974 and 1977; Kenneth Kaunda, then-president of Zambia, in 1975; Samora Moises Machel, revolutionary leader and then-president of Mozambique, in 1977; Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa in 1986; Nelson Mandela, the first black president of South Africa, in 1995; Robert Mugabe, president of Zimbabwe, in 1996; and Jerry Rawlings, president of Ghana, in 1997.

With the passing of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, who died on April 2, we remember the tribute paid to her in song by Jamaican Carlene Davis. Released in 1987 at the height of the anti-apartheid struggle, the song shared the pain and hopes Jamaicans felt for South Africans:

There’s a woman fighting for
freedom down in Africa
In prison is her distinguished
husband Nelson Mandela
Her natural beauty is like the rising sun
In a matter of time both will be gone
So rise up sister, rise to your call
Any day now apartheid’s got to fall.

Eron Henry is author of Reverend Mother, a novel. Ole Time Sumting blog was recognized with an Award of Merit by the Religion Communicators Council in April 2018

The doctor bird and the mountain cow

Belize, formerly British Honduras, is the only English-speaking country on the Central American mainland. Victim of rivalry between England and Spain, piracy and logwood trading played key roles in enabling Britain to gain control of the region.

According to the 1888-1889 edition of The Handbook of British Honduras:

The first appearance of the English on the coast of Honduras, according to reliable authority… was in 1638, when a few shipwrecked mariners or other adventurers were cast way and found refuge upon the mainland of the continent, and made for themselves a habitation and a home, which ultimately became the nucleus of a British woodcutting and trading community, able to hold its own against all the onslaughts and efforts of the most powerful kingdom then known on earth.

In a little over 30 years, “Belize was a thriving and prosperous settlement.”

Jamaica and Belize have had contacts and ties going back more than 350 years. The Handbook said, “in or about the year 1662, the first regular establishment of English logwood cutters was made by adventurers from Jamaica, incited, no doubt, by the increasing demand for logwood.”

Thomas Lynch, governor of Jamaica, wrote to the British king that British Honduras “increased his Majesty’s customs and the national commerce more than any of his Majesty’s colonies.”

Jamaica provided protection to British Honduran trade. George Henderson, writing in 1809, said “a convoy is appointed from Jamaica for the protection of the Honduras trade to Europe twice a year, in January and July.”

Henderson implied that enslaved persons from Africa were routed to British Honduras via Jamaica. “These have been mostly imported from Africa by the intercourse with Jamaica, no direct importation having ever taken place.”

Jamaican slave laws were applied to the Central American territory, at least in part. A March 1803 report out of British Honduras stated that the “Consolidated Slave Law of Jamaica is adopted in this settlement, so far as the local situation thereof will admit.”

Two hundred years after first contact between the two, British Honduras was placed under direct Jamaican control. “In 1861 it was finally determined to place the settlement in every respect on the footing of a colony, though subordinate to the Government of Jamaica, from which it is distant about 660 miles.”

During the 1860s, significant numbers of East Indians who spent time in Jamaica, migrated to British Honduras.

Christian churches

St John's Anglican Church-Belize
St. John’s Church in Belize, consecrated in 1826  by Christopher Lipscomb, first Anglican Bishop in Jamaica

Jamaican churches have had longstanding relationships with counterparts in Belize. Anglicans in British Honduras fell under the jurisdiction of the Diocese of Jamaica in 1824. Christopher Lipscomb, the first Anglican Bishop in Jamaica, visited British Honduras in 1826 to consecrate St. John’s Church.  Jamaican Anglicans granted funds for the building of a school for formerly enslaved persons.

The structured relationship between Jamaican and British Honduran Anglicans continued until the disestablishment of the Jamaican church in 1870 and that of British Honduras in 1872.

In A Short History of Baptist Missionary Work in British Honduras, published in 1930, Robert Cleghorn noted that while British Baptist mission work began in British Honduras in 1822, Jamaican Baptists became engaged in the Central American colony in 1845 with the arrival of a Mr. Kingdom. According to Cleghorn, a more formal relationship developed 40 years later after initiatives by David Waring, who

began making appeals to the Jamaica Baptist Missionary Society, and succeeded in getting them to send Pastor Charles Hobson to the Island of Ruatan, and later Mr. James Bryant to Belize as a missionary schoolmaster and agent of the Jamaica Society. Mr. Bryant arrived in Belize in 1886.

Jamaican Baptists took full responsibility for the British Honduras mission following the death of Waring in 1888:

After the death of Pastor Waring the Church in Belize continued its endeavors to bring about an affiliation of the Baptist Mission in British Honduras with the Jamaica Baptist Missionary Society. Thus in 1888, when certain resolutions were drawn up by the Church and sent to Jamaica, the Baptist Church and Mission in British Honduras were taken over and recognized as a Mission Sphere under the auspices of the Jamaica Baptist Missionary Society.

That arrangement seemed to have ended on or around 1904 with the return home to Jamaica of the most recent missionary, Charles Brown, and the formation and incorporation of the British Honduras Baptist Trustee Association.

Catholics in British Honduras fell under the jurisdiction of Jamaica from 1836 to 1888, after first being under that of Trinidad. Edmund Davis wrote that, for Methodists, “the District of Honduras was made a sub-District of Jamaica in 1932.”

Church leaders from Belize attended theological colleges and seminaries in Jamaica run by the various Christian traditions on the island.

Business and culture
There are business ties between Jamaica and Belize, which changed its name from British Honduras in 1973 and gained independence in 1981. Grace Kennedy, one of Jamaica’s largest groups of companies, started operations in Belize in 1982 in association with the Espats, a local business family. GraceKennedy (Belize) is one of the Central American country’s largest food and beverage distributors.

Another Jamaican company, Rainforest Seafoods, “invested US$2 million in a seafood procession plant in Belize,” news reports out of Jamaica stated in late 2016.

Chukka Belize, owned by Chukka Caribbean Adventures in Jamaica, provides adventure tours in a country blessed with large rainforests, rivers, and scenic features.

Jamaica, Belize and Trinidad and Tobago joined the effort at cultural preservation after all three countries ratified the 2003 UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage. Belize endorsed the convention in 2007 while Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago did so in 2010.

The effort is overseen by the UNESCO Cluster Office for the Caribbean states based in Kingston, Jamaica’s capital. In an informational booklet published in 2015, UNESCO reported that “representatives from the UNESCO Kingston Office met with Belizean government and culture officials regarding a Japanese funded initiative to implement the Convention in Belize as well as in Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago. Since that time, Belize has been fully onboard with the initiative.”

Jamaican groups participating in the UNESCO effort include the Maroon communities of Moore Town, Accompong, Charles Town and Scott’s Hall, the Revival community, the Rastafari Indigenous Village and the Rastafari Millennium Council, the Indian Council of Jamaica and representatives of the craft community.

Those from Belize include the Yo Creek Women’s Group, the Banquitas House of Culture, the Ugundani Dance Group and the National Kriol Council.

Though Belize’s land mass is roughly twice as large as Jamaica’s, the latter’s population is more than six times bigger. Jamaica has roughly 2.7 million people whereas Belize’s population is less than 400,000.

Jamaican, along with other influences from inside and outside the country, are reflected in Belizean cuisine.  Jamaican music, especially reggae and dancehall, have gained popularity in the Central American nation.

Eron Henry is author of Reverend Mother, a novel

Endangered and extinct

It is surprising the number of animal species indigenous or endemic to Jamaica that became extinct. Others are now on the endangered list.

Extinction in Jamaica goes way back and included mammals, birds, reptiles and insects.

Gary Morgan of the Florida Museum of Natural History claimed, “Jamaica has three extinct species of monkey.” Ross MacPhee and Clare Flemming said the Jamaican monkey disappeared sometime “after AD 1500, possibly after AD 1700” and seemed to have lived primarily in or near caves. These included “Long Mile Cave near Windsor, Trelawney Parish; Somerset Cave, Skeleton Cave, Lloyd’s Cave and ‘the new cave,’ all near Jackson’s Bay, Clarendon Parish.”

Fossil records were uncovered in 1919 by Harold Anthony in the Long Mile Cave in Jamaica’s Cockpit Country. Anthony reported:

January 17 – Spent all day digging in the long mile cave and secured some good bones. The most important find was the lower jaw and femur of a small monkey, found in the yellow limestone detritus. It was not associated with the human remains but not so far from them that the animal must not be strongly suspected as an introduced species.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), “the reasons for the extinction of this species in Jamaica are not known.”

The Daily Mail newspaper speculated, “Jamaican monkey bone fragments suggests that humans killed off the species after they settled on the creature’s island home.” The United Kingdom paper asserted that “the monkeys lived alongside humans around 1,200 years ago” and that “the monkey may be the world’s most recent primate species to become extinct.”

In the March 1966 Quarterly Journal of the Florida Academy of Sciences, Richard Etheridge wrote of the extinction of the northern curly-tailed lizard from Jamaica. As he did with the now extinct monkey, the fossil deposits were discovered by Harold Anthony, this time in Dairy Cave close to Discovery Bay on Jamaica’s north coast.

The Jamaica giant galliwasp is believed to be extinct as the last recorded citing was in 1840. “It is thought that the introduction of predatory species (primarily mongoose) to Jamaica, and the extensive conversion of woody swamp habitat, resulted in the extinction,” IUCN noted. If the giant galliwasp exists, it “is likely to be restricted to a very small area likely at risk from habitat degradation and continued impacts of mongoose predation. As such this species is listed as Critically Endangered (Possibly Extinct).”

Farming and ganja cultivation played a role in the demise of the galliwasp. IUCN elaborated:

The conversion of woody swamps for logging, subsistence agriculture, and residential development has been extensive through the species’ presumed range over the last two centuries. Extensive cannabis cultivation in the area of the Black River Morass, from which the species was historically recorded, has constrained survey efforts in this region and it is hoped that a subpopulation may consequently have survived here undetected. If so, it will undoubtedly be very small and localized, and it is unknown what impact habitat degradation for cannabis cultivation is likely to have on this lizard.

An article in the October 20, 2016 issue of Plos One journal reported that “the Jamaican Sunset moth, often regarded as one of the most beautiful of all moths, became extinct just 116 years after its description. Endemic to Jamaica, it inhabited low-elevation tropical rainforest.” Officially designated Urania sloanus, the moth “was named by Dutch entomologist Pieter Cramer in honor of Sir Hans Sloane (1660–1753), an English naturalist and collector who explored Jamaica from 1687 to 1689, recording and illustrating the species for the first time in his travel diaries published in 1725.”

Susan Koenig, a wildlife ecologist, said “at least one of Jamaica’s 21 endemic frogs, a species which was restricted to streams in the Blue Mountains, is already thought extinct and a second species, the Jamaican Bromeliad Frog, may also be near extinction.”

Another extinct species is the Jamaican rice rat. Three specimens were collected in the 19th century. According to Angela Han, “the Jamaican rice rat is an extinct rodent from Jamaica. This rat was thought to have dispersed into Jamaica during the last glacial period and is known via three specimens that were collected live during the 19th century.”

Two parrots, the Jamaican Red Macaw and the Jamaican Green and Yellow Macaw, are believed to be extinct. Two others, the Yellow-billed Amazon and the Black-billed Amazon, are deemed vulnerable. Though only regarded as “critically endangered,” the Jamaican Blue Mountain duck was last cited in 1879 or 1880.

Destructive mongoose
The mongoose is the most destructive animal species in Jamaica. Introduced from India into Jamaica in the 1870s to rid sugarcane plantations of rats, it is blamed for killing off other animals as well, not just in Jamaica but elsewhere:

The IUCN lists the small Indian mongoose as one of the top 100 world’s worst invaders. Most endemic island species are naturally vulnerable, occurring in small isolated populations and ranging over small areas. Based on the public health damages, killing of poultry, extinctions of amphibians, reptiles, and destruction of native birds, it is estimated that this mongoose is causing $50 million in damages each year in Puerto Rico and the Hawaiian Islands alone.

In the Popular Science Monthly of November 1898, C.W. Willis wrote:

About fifteen or twenty years ago the mongoose (Herpestes griseus) was imported from India by the colonial government and introduced into the island of Jamaica, in the West Indies, for the ostensible purpose of destroying the large, gray, white-bellied rat which played havoc with the growing cane on the sugar plantations.

The animal is excessively prolific.  “The mongoose breeds six times a year, and each time there are from five to ten young ones.” It began posing serious problems of its own:

In its native habitat it devours snakes, rats, lizards, and other creatures not in favor with humanity…. That the little animal has fairly achieved the object for which it was imported cannot be gainsaid, but that it would ever become the universal pest which it is at the present day, and has been for several years, was never anticipated. So long as it kept to the cane growing plantations, and ate the planter’s poultry and all young and available animal life, all went well; but with its rapid and prolific powers of reproduction and its vagabond and roaming disposition, in a very short time it was found to be in every part of the island, from the seashore to the tops of the loftiest mountains, the highest peak of which is seventy-three hundred feet above the sea level.

Willis grew almost poetic in describing the mongoose’s profligacy and destructive power:

Though it has not exterminated the cane rats, it has lessened their numbers, and saved the sugar planters a vast sum of money. But it has nearly exterminated the ground laying and feeding birds. It devours poultry and eggs of all kinds, on the ground and in trees, including those of the land turtle, so that the latter, once very numerous and highly esteemed as an article of food by the native epicures, is now seldom found. Here may be mentioned an interesting fact, that the mongoose, in no way a tree-climbing animal in its native India, has become such in Jamaica, as its voracious appetite lessened the numbers of ground feeding and laying birds, and compelled it to take to the trees in order to enlarge its food supply.

The mongoose kills young pigs that roam, half wild, over the island; also lambs and kids. It eats fruits of all kinds, fish, wild fowl, snakes, lizards, and crabs; and the once plentiful edible lizards and land crabs are now rarely seen. All young and tender life, both animal and vegetable, is included in its daily menu. When the mongoose has cleared off all the animal life, it turns its attention to the “ground provisions,” and here it shows the varieties of its tastes and the strength of its jaws. It will grovel with its paws until yams, cocos, sweet potatoes, cassava both bitter and sweet, and other ground food tubers are laid bare.

The mongoose contributed to the proliferation of tricks, disease carrying parasites, killing off the birds that feed on these blood sucking arachnids.

Iguana rescue

iguanna21
The Jamaica Iguana, thought to be extinct until the 1970s when a fresh carcass was found.  The first live iguana was discovered in the Hellshire Hills in 1990. A few hundred now survive due to preservation efforts. (Photo courtesy of Hope Zoo)

The news is not all bad. It was thought the Jamaican iguana had long died out until Edwin Duffus, a pig hunter, discovered a fresh iguana carcass in the Hellshire Hills of St. Catherine in the 1970s.  He found a live iguana in 1990 and informed the Hope Zoo in Kingston, Jamaica’s capital. Since then, conservation efforts have had some successes.

“The Jamaican iguana (Cyclura collei) is one of the world’s greatest conservation success stories,” said Charles Knapp, vice president of Conservation and Research of the John G. Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, Illinois, in the United States:

In the 19th and 20th centuries the Jamaican iguana began vanishing from its island home as habitat loss, hunting, and introduced dogs, cats, and mongooses (to control Jamaica’s rat population in cane fields) took their toll. By the late 1940s, the iguana was believed to be extinct.

But even with such success, there are grave concerns. “Recent developments in Jamaica may rock the iguana back toward a path to extinction,” Knapp bemoaned.  Adam Andrus cited scientists who worry that “a new plan to build a massive port in the iguana’s habitat could push the species back to the edge of extinction.” Deutsche Welle, a German international broadcaster, claimed “the illegal charcoal burning industry in Jamaica destroys its last remaining habitat.”

The Natural Museum of Jamaica lists other animal species that are vulnerable or are endangered. “The Giant Swallowtail is the largest butterfly in this hemisphere and is the largest swallowtail in the world. They are found only in inaccessible regions of the John Crow Mountains and the Cockpit Country. Their habitat is threatened by destruction.”

The coney is “found in remote mountain forests…. Apart from the rat bats, they are Jamaica’s only surviving native land mammals.”

The Hawksbill, the Loggerhead, the Olive-Ridley and the Green turtles “are hunted for their shells and meat and are faced with the loss of their nesting beaches. Accordingly, their numbers are falling.”

For many animals, extinction is still a portentous reality.

Eron Henry is author of Reverend Mother, a novel

Stealing national treasures

Underwater ruins at Port Royal, Jamaica, where theft of artifacts used to be rampant

Western nations are well known for appropriating the treasures of other lands for their own use. Sheer greed is at the heart of such theft. Some claim to do it in the name of science. The latter relates primarily to artifacts that were “discovered” or “rescued” for human posterity.

They, of course, would not term what they do as theft, but thievery it is. It is not often that such chicanery is brought to judgment. Among the rarest was one of the most recent. The Museum of the Bible opened last November, making it the newest national museum in Washington, DC., the American capital. Hobby Lobby, the main company behind the effort, was fined US$3 million for illegal imports of artifacts from Iraq. Allegations were that more than 3,000 items were illegally obtained and imported into the US.

Earlier this century, I came across what appeared to be blatant theft of Jamaican artifacts. I visited a cave near Duncans Bay in Trelawny on Jamaica’s north coast, where it is believed enslaved persons hid William Knibb, the British Baptist missionary. White retaliation against the Sam Sharpe Rebellion – also called the Baptist War and which occurred December 1831 to May 1832 – was at its most lethal and most destructive. More than 500 enslaved, including Sharpe, were executed and hundreds of churches and other buildings destroyed.

It is believed Knibb, possibly the most well-known Baptist in the colony, was kept hidden by the enslaved who moved him from location to location to spare his life. Local lore is that the cave near Duncans Bay was one such hiding place.

There was a water well in the cave and what looked like altars. There were what could have been tombs. These suggest the cave was more than a hideaway location.

It was alleged that a few years prior to my visit to the cave, students from a university in Florida in the United States had been to the cave, dug up human remains, and transported them out of the country without respect or regard for the laws of the country or respect for the country’s heritage.

Britain, with its far flung erstwhile empire that covered the Americas, Asia and Africa, is possibly the worst culprit in stealing and holding onto valuable artifacts.  These include the Rosetta Stone, inscribed with ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, Demotic script, and Greek script. More than 2,000 years old, it originated in Memphis, Egypt, and lies in the British Museum, ending up there after it was “discovered” in 1799. The Koh-i-Noor Diamond from out of India is part of the crown worn by the English monarch. The 4,600-year-old Egyptian sphinx head and China’s imperial treasures are being held  by the British as well.

A few stolen treasures have been repatriated. In 2003, a German museum handed back to Zimbabwe a soapstone carved bird, an emblem of the country that appears on its currency and national flag, after holding on to it for about 100 years; in 2005, Italy returned a 1,700-year-old stone obelisk to Ethiopia after stealing it 70 years earlier; and in 2011, Yale University from out of the US gave back 40,000 artifacts to Peru.

Jamaican artifacts formed the basis for the founding of the British Museum. In 1753, the museum opened its doors with the collection of Hans Sloane, who had willed his vast collection to Britain. A medical doctor who had spent time in Jamaica in the late 1600s, Sloane may have treated the infamous pirate and Jamaican Governor, Henry Morgan. Back in England he served as physician to King George I, Queen Anne, King George II and other prominent Britons. [It is this same Sloane who was credited with creating the first chocolate drink while he was in Jamaica.]

Sloane married a wealthy widow who owned a large plantation in Jamaica and thus became one of the island’s largest enslavers. “It is an unhappy fact that a considerable proportion of the money Sloane used to amass his collection was derived from slavery,” writes Peter Parker in his review of the 2017 book, Collecting the World: The Life and Curiosity of Hans Sloane by James Delbourgo.

Throughout his lifetime, he collected tens of thousands of artifacts, much of it from the island. Among Sloane’s collection were macabre items such as skulls and skin specimens of enslaved persons. “Every object taken by Sloane was a part of the system of slavery,” writes Josephine Livingstone, culture staff writer at The New Republic, an American magazine.

Also in the British Museum are Zemi figures from Vere, Clarendon, created by Jamaican Taino Indians in the fifteenth or sixteenth century. For six weeks in 2007, from May 3 to June 17, the British Museum put on display “three objects discovered together in 1792 in a cave in Canoe Valley deep in the mountainous interior of Jamaica, including an impressive and powerful male figure, a likely centrepiece in Taíno ceremonies.”

Perhaps the place experiencing the greatest theft was Port Royal on the tip of Jamaica’s southeast shore. Severely damaged by an earthquake in 1692, the once “richest and wickedest city in the world” lies in ruins, much of it under the sea. Suzie Thomas of the University of Helsinki in Finland indicates that shortly after the quake, “looters began targeting the submerged sections, many of whom were ‘wrackers’ (professional treasure hunters) from Bermuda. Much of this salvage and looting continued intermittently for years.”

Some of these treasure hunters looted Port Royal’s relics under the guise of conducting legitimate exploration activities. Americans became particularly interested and active in the 1950s. Robert Marx, who explored the underwater ruins, alleged that a major theft occurred at the Port Royal Museum in 1971 and was deliberately kept quiet by Jamaican authorities.

There have been attempts to redress some of the theft of artifacts by Western countries. Jamaicans being Jamaicans, some took matters into their own hands. Davina Morris recounts the story of Ras Seymour Mclean, London Chaplain of the Ethiopian World Federation Inc.:

Jamaican-born, London-based Mclean was jailed in the 1980s for the theft of over 2000 Ethiopian manuscripts from British libraries, which he intended to return to Ethiopia. His story was later turned into a Channel 4 film called The Book Liberator.

The following episode was the cause of his ire:

The British Museum, the British Library and the Victoria and Albert Museum are just a few of the British institutes that hold items that were looted during the invasion of Magdala in Abyssinia (now Ethiopia) in 1868 by a British punitive expedition army. In short, the British won the battle and then proceeded to loot countless items from the defeated ruler’s palace and from churches. In fact, it has been widely reported that it required a staggering 15 elephants and 200 mules to carry the loot, which included treasures and religious manuscripts.

More countries are becoming aware of the theft of their treasured past and are realizing their value. Jamaica, slower out of the blocks than others, has much to claim from Britain and elsewhere.

Eron Henry is author of Reverend Mother, a novel

Mosquito warriors and fighters

Of the many ethnicities in Jamaica, there’s one group few Jamaicans are aware of. It is highly likely there are descendants of Indians from Central America on the island, largely due to the Miskito, corruptively referred to as Mosquitoes.

The Miskito are mostly from the “Mosquito Coast” or “Mosquito Shore” in what is now Nicaragua. They were among the few groups not conquered by the Spanish. Richard Brookes wrote in 1812, “The Mosquito Indians are so situated between morasses and inaccessible mountains, and a coast full of rocks and shoals, that no attempts against them by the Spaniards, could ever succeed.”

British alliance
The Miskito forged mutually beneficial alliances with the English, both wanting to thwart the Spanish. Jamaica, the most important British possession in the Caribbean, played a central role. David Brooks, writing in the Marine Corps Gazette in 1996, stated:

Unlike other Central American Indian groups, the Miskito successfully resisted Spanish conquest in the 16th century. Later, in the 1600s they made common cause with British buccaneers who found them useful allies in raids against the Spanish for their canoeing and maritime skills. This de facto Indian-English alliance would receive official expression in 1687 when British naval officers in Jamaica crowned the Miskitos’ most prominent chief, Jeremy I. King of the Mosquito.

In 1828, the Papers Related to the Slave Trade, noted:

[T]he first establishment of the British on the Mosquito Shore…appears to have taken place at an early period, first by the buccaneers, and afterwards men employed in the contraband trade carried on between Jamaica and the Spanish Main. Afterwards the Mosquito Indians asserting that they were never conquered by the Spanish, made, under the Duke of Albemarle’s government over Jamaica, a formal cession of their territory to the King of England.

Richard Brookes recounted in 1812:

[T]he Duke of Albemarle was governor of Jamaica, and the king of the Mosquitoes received a commission from his grace, under the seal of that island…. When the king died, the male heir went to Jamaica, to certify that he was next in blood, and received a commission in form from the governor of Jamaica, to be king of the Mosquitoes; till which, he could not be acknowledged as such by his countrymen.

The Miskito ran an active slave trade between the Mosquito Shore to Jamaica and elsewhere. A 1741 Jamaican law referenced “Indian slaves.” The 1828 Papers Related to the Slave Trade suggested this referred to prisoners of war sold into slavery by the Miskito:

Wars, it appears, frequently appears between those (Miskito) Indians, and between the various neighbouring tribes of Indians; and the prisoners made in those wars were frequently sold to the English; and it seems a considerable number of Indians, either from this (Mosquito) coast, or from some other quarter, must have been sent to Jamaica for sale in that island.

Starting in the 1740s, the British, through Jamaica, established a more permanent foothold in Central America by appointing a superintendent over the Mosquito Coast who reported to the governor of Jamaica.

In the 1770s, there were attempts to register the number of Central American Indians in Jamaica by age, sex, and ownership, etc. Several pieces of legislation – August and December 1776, and February 1777 – were passed by Jamaican authorities penalizing those who trafficked Indians from Central America.

Though enforcement of these laws was difficult, it appeared there was success in curbing the trafficking of Indians into slavery. In May 1777, the superintended of the Mosquito Shore wrote to Jamaica, “The infamous practice of selling the Indians of the neighboring nations as slaves is now entirely at an end, but there still remains a number of slaves among the Mosquito men, who were in their possession previous to the late regulations.”

In 1787, The British evacuated the Mosquito Coast after surrendering it by treaty to the Spanish the previous year. While Indians enslaved by the British were freed, it appears some were still held illegally under bondage. This was the subject of an 1821 investigation and subsequent adjudications by Jamaica’s attorney general.

Maroon War

Maroons in New Nanny Town, Jamaica,  1908-1909 . The original Nanny Town was sacked by British and Miskito forces in 1734 (photo by Harry Johnston; courtesy of Royal Geographical Society).

Richard Brookes said, “the Mosquito men being excellent marksmen, the English employ them in striking the maratee (sic) fish, etc., and many of the Mosquito Indians come to Jamaica, and sail with the English in their voyages.”

With their marksmanship, experience in fighting wars in difficult terrain and tracking skills, Miskito fighters assisted the English in the ongoing Maroon War in Jamaica. The bulk of the Maroons were descendants of formerly enslaved Africans who escaped into the Jamaican hills when the British took the island by force from Spain in 1655. They were regularly joined by Africans who escaped enslavement under the British. There were long running battles between the British and the Maroons.

The Miskito were first utilized in tracking enslaved Africans who had escaped British bondage. The World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples, noted that “in 1720 the British signed a treaty with the King of the Miskito Coast of Nicaragua to provide 50 able-bodied men to assist the Jamaican plantation owners in their struggle against runaway slaves.”

As the Maroon menace continued, colonial Jamaica grew more desperate. Miskito Indians helped the British reach Nanny Town, Portland, in 1734, sacking and leveling the settlement high up in the Blue Mountain range.

According to a December 17, 1865 article in The New York Times, 200 Miskito Indians were recruited in a final, desperate attempt to defeat the Maroons in other parts of the island:

Resort was then had to the Mosquito Indians, who, it was thought, would be more than a match for the Maroons in bush-fighting. Two hundred of those people were accordingly imported into Jamaica, and employed against the dreaded enemy. But the Maroons baffled the Indians, and continued to bid defiance to the colonists, who, in their extremity, were compelled to advise Governor Trelawney, in 1738, to propose overtures of peace to the chiefs. These overtures were accepted; articles of pacification were signed; and certain lands in the island, amounting in the whole to several thousand acres, were assigned to the Maroons in perpetuity.

The Jamaican war against the maroons was not only long, it proved expensive, costing at least £240,000 or more than £14 million in today’s money, the equivalent nearly US$20 million.

The Miskito received compensation for their failed efforts against the Maroons. Thomas Southey in the 1827 edition of Volume 2 of Chronological History of the West Indies, said, “The Mosquito Indians were well rewarded for the conduct, and sent back to their country.” Other sources, however, suggest that some Miskito remained in Jamaica and settled in the southern part of the parish of St. Elizabeth.

It is likely there are persons in that region of the country, as well as those descended from other Central American Indians sold into slavery in Jamaica by the Miskito, who are unaware of that part of their heritage.

Eron Henry is author of Reverend Mother, a novel

Jamaica in Nicaragua

On a recent trip to the Nicaraguan capital, Managua, we met a couple who look and speak like any Jamaican. It is as if they are from Westmoreland or St. Ann or Portland or any other parish on the island.

They live in Bluefields, capital of the South Caribbean Autonomous Region in Nicaragua. The city, which lies on the Caribbean Sea coast of the Central American country, has had a long and interesting history.

An early photo of Bluefields on the Caribbean coast in Nicaragua

It was once a playground of pirates who were hostile to Spain. The first known Africans arrived there when a Portuguese ship carrying enslaved persons was wrecked off the coast in 1641. British subjects started arriving there in the 1630s and by the mid-1660s had a significant presence. Eventually an alliance was formed between the British and one of the indigenous groups in the area, the Miskito. Sometime in the 1740s the area fell under the administration of Jamaica’s colonial authorities.

The first set of Jamaican blacks known to live in what became Nicaragua were enslaved persons whose masters moved to the area. In 1796 the British recognized Spain’s sovereignty over the region, known as the Mosquito Coast. It became an alternative destination for Jamaicans who escaped enslavement on the island.

Kayomi Wada of the University of Washington in the United States notes that “Nicaragua has the largest population of African descent in Central America and approximately two-thirds of that group resides in and around Bluefields.”

The area has had an uneasy and sometimes troubled relationship with Nicaragua. “As history unfolded, Bluefields became a forgotten city, cut off from the rest of the country by a vast jungle and different culture,” an NPR report states.

“Historically Bluefields has been politically isolated from the rest of Nicaragua,” Wada writes. “It was originally part of the British Protectorate of Mosquitia and ruled by the British-supported Miskitu Indians until 1894.”

Wada says “English-speaking Creoles, as the persons of African descent now called themselves, had established an English language educational system distinct from Nicaragua’s Spanish language schooling.”

There was a tit for tat tussle among these English-speaking Creoles and the Mestizos for control of Bluefields and surrounding areas. While it was under British protection and influence, blacks in Nicaragua gained relatively high levels of influence in the region.

“In 1893, the Mosquito Coast was incorporated into the Nicaraguan state,” writes Carole Boyce Davies in Volume 1 of Encyclopedia of the African Diaspora: Origins, Experiences, and Culture. “Mestizos ousted Creoles from government and administration, Spanish replaced English as the region’s official language, and teaching in other languages was forbidden.”

Some 100 years later, “Bluefields would regain some of its historic autonomy from Nicaragua,” while remaining part of the country.

Bluefields became capital of the South Atlantic Autonomous Region in May 1990. “In this new role as a regional capital some of Bluefields’ Creoles have again risen to positions of economic and political prominence,” declares Wada.

For lovers of cricket and baseball, Peter Bjarkman provides an interesting aside. “Nicaragua owns a proud baseball tradition,” he writes in Diamonds Around the Globe: The Encyclopedia of International Baseball. “The game came to the country late in the nineteenth century (1889), when an American businessman, Albert Adlesberg, was horrified to see the British tradition of cricket putting down roots in the coastal city of Bluefields.”

Corn Islands
The Mosquito Coast (there are various spellings of the area) is closely related to the Corn Islands, also part of Nicaraguan territory. The two islands, Big Corn Island and Little Corn Island, about 70 kilometers or 40 miles from the Nicaraguan mainland, are also part of the Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region. Like Bluefields, the Corn Islands were part of the British protectorate from 1655 to 1860.

Aerial photo of Big Corn Island, overlooking the airport runway

The two islands, little in size and small in population, have never been fully integrated into Nicaraguan life, culture and politics, partly because of their geographic remoteness from the Nicaraguan mainland, their history and culture.

“British settlers from Jamaica began moving to the Corn Islands in the 18th century, bringing their African slaves with them,” writes Diane Wedner of the Los Angeles Times. “Most of the islanders today are descendants of those settlers and speak English.”

Greg Henry says the Corn Islands have “a totally separate experience from mainland Nicaragua” and “have more in common with Jamaica than Nicaragua.” Rather than Spanish, “English is the primary language and the native people are of African descent.”

For the better part of 100 years, beginning in 1894, the Corn Islands, though remaining part of Nicaragua, were leased to the United States, which lost the lease in 1970.

In The History of English: An Introduction, Stephan Gramley, writes, “Jamaican influence can still be seen along the coast of Central America, where laborers (were) moved to exploit natural resources such as wood in Bluefields, the Corn Islands and Belize. These people, who were speakers of Jamaican Creole were often slaves in the early period, but were later free laborers.”

A Jamaican, W.B. Morgan, opened a school in the Corn Islands in about 1880, the first such school to be recognized by the government, though another school had previously existed for roughly 30 years.

Hard times
Bluefields is currently facing hard times. Unemployment is high. It is at the epicenter of the drug trade between South America, especially Colombia, and North America. The Corn Islands remain largely undeveloped, though Little Corn Island has seen some tourism activity. Electricity and Internet services on the islands are in short supply, spotty and expensive.

A horrendous fire did much damage to Bluefields in 1970. The agricultural base of Bluefields and the Corn Islands were devastated by various storms, especially Hurricane Joan in 1988, which, at category four, was the most powerful in Nicaragua history up to that time. The L.A. Times reported that Joan “razed the Corn Islands and slammed ashore in the Caribbean port of Bluefields with 135-m.p.h. winds.” Hurricane Mitch in 1998 and Hurricane Otto in November 2016 caused further devastation.

While in Nicaragua a few weeks ago, we were told of a sliver of hope for Bluefields residents. The Nicaraguan economy is strong, the country is relatively peaceful, and it is attracting investments. BPO (Business process outsourcing) companies, more commonly known as call centers, are opening operations in Managua, the capital.

Because the demand for English speaking workers is high, hundreds of young people are being recruited from Bluefields to go work in Managua at above average wages for the country. There is even talk of opening call centers in the city.

Eron Henry’s article, Broadening the mind, freeing the spirit, is under consideration for the 2017 NUHA Foundation Blogging Prize. He is author of Reverend Mother, a novel.

The “Natives” and the English

George Liele, first Baptist missionary

As a Baptist Christian, I am intrigued to discover the African roots of my faith tradition.

Baptist work in Jamaica started in 1783 with the arrival of George Leile from Savannah, Georgia, in the United States. This made Leile the first Baptist missionary, not William Carey, an Englishman, as is the conventional claim.

Noel Erskine, professor at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, said that “with his migration to Jamaica in 1783, Leile became America’s first missionary, 33 years before Adoniram Judson sailed for Burma and 10 years before William Carey of England sailed for India.”

Leile was enslaved but was freed during the American Revolution. Facing the threat of re-enslavement after the revolutionary war, he moved with his family to Jamaica.

Prior to leaving the US, Leile was ordained in 1775, making him the first black person in the US to be ordained a Baptist pastor, and was likely the first ordained black Baptist pastor in the world. He planted churches in Savannah, Georgia.

His ministry in the US influenced others who went on to do significant Baptist work, including David George, baptized by Leile and who left Savannah for the Canadian Province of Nova Scotia and then later to Sierra Leone in Africa.

David George planted Baptist churches in both Canada and Sierra Leone. He founded the first Baptist church on the African continent, Regent Road Baptist Church in Freetown, the Sierra Leone capital, which celebrates its 225th anniversary this year.  I spoke at a special anniversary event at the church in early June.

Others who came out of Leile’s ministry included Andrew Bryan in Savannah, Jesse Peters in South Carolina, and Hannah Williams in England.

Upon arriving in Jamaica, Leile essentially continued where he left off in the US. He planted churches and developed local Baptist leadership.

An artist’s impression of Dona Beatriz (Beatrice) Kimpa Vita, leader of the Antonian Christian Movement in Kongo in present-day Angola, Africa

Stephen Jennings, Jamaica Baptist pastor and former president of the Jamaica Baptist Union, numbered Leile among descendants of the Antonian Christian Movement, led by Dona Beatriz (Beatrice) Kimpa Vita. Jennings contends that this movement was “present within Kongolese territorial space in 1684-1706.”

The Kongo (spelt with a K) is in what is now Angola, and should not be confused with either the Republic of Congo or the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Jennings, whose doctoral dissertation examined the impact of the Antonian Christian Movement in the Americas, said, “Though it did not survive as an organized movement within Kongo, it (Antonian Christian Movement) continued in pockets across the region and across the Atlantic.” He elaborated:

Kongolese people and people from the entire Western Central African region, including Antonian Christians, were exported to Iberian Brazil, the eastern seaboard of the United States – from Maryland to Georgia – Louisiana, and the entire Caribbean – specifically through the British, French and Spanish regions, including Jamaica.

Jennings declared:

Dona Vita’s movement was incarnated by those Kongolese Christians who were scattered all over the so-called “New World.” There is evidence of such persons leading an uprising in British South Carolina in 1739. There are also clear linkages between the Antonian movement and the Haitian revolution, as a number of Haitians who participated in this revolt came from the Kongo as followers of Dona Vita. Enslaved Kongolose Antonians were also sent to Jamaica, but underwent a name change over time. … It can be seen that Kongolese Christians were among those who came to the British Protestant country of Jamaica, carrying their faith and more precisely, their theological, cultural, and political outlook.

According to Jennings, when Leile went to Jamaica in 1783, he encountered people like him who were descendants of the Antonian Christian Movement.

He claimed that:

African Americans who went as preachers and missionaries to Jamaica in the late 18th to mid-19th centuries were probably first and second generation Antonians who were seeking to escape racist hardships that were increasingly present in the revolutionary North American British colonies. As Kongolese Antonians, they would have also joined the struggle for self-determination of their fellow Kongolese Antonian Christians in Jamaica.

Jennings said Leile named his congregations “The Ethiopian Baptist Churches of Jamaica,” reflecting their ties to the African motherland.

Native Baptists

This explains a debate among Jamaican Baptist historians about a group referred to as Native Baptists in the historical records but whose identity remains uncertain.

According to Devon Dick, Jamaica Baptist pastor and current president of the Jamaica Baptist Union, the Native Baptists named in the historical records was distinct from the English Baptists. Perhaps these were the same Ethiopian Baptists mentioned by Jennings and others.

in his book, The Cross and the Machete, Dick indicated that the British referred to Leile’s movement as Native Baptists. However, Dick differentiated between Leile’s group that was nicknamed Native Baptists by the British, and the group that officially bore the name Native Baptists. As one can imagine, this creates confusion concerning the literature:

With the arrival of the English Baptists in 1814, the nineteenth century writings, in attempting to make a distinction between the European Baptists and Leile, started to retroactively refer to him as a Native Baptist, perhaps meaning nothing more than to claim that Leile was a non-European Baptist.

Horace Russell, a retired professor of historical theology at Palmer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania and former president of the United Theological College of the West Indies in Jamaica, made the same distinction.

in Foundations and Anticipations, Russell referred to “the Native (Black) Baptists who were not organizationally attached to the Jamaica Baptist Union.”

Russell differed from Dick in claiming that the Native Baptists had grown into a parallel organization in 1860, several decades later than Dick’s own dating. Dick, in fact, suggests that Native Baptists were in perennial decline by that time.

Even if Dick is correct, some records suggest that Native Baptists continued to have presence, at least in the capital city, Kingston.  The May Pen Cemetery, Jamaica’s main cemetery in Kingston, was founded in 1851 and was divided into different burial grounds by an 1874 law. That law made a distinction between the burial ground for the Native Baptists and that for Baptists led by the British.

Dick asserted that Native Baptists even formed their own mission sending body, citing an 1841 report of the Jamaica Native Baptist Missionary Society.

What is not clear is how the Native Baptists came about. The sensible assumption is that churches founded under Leile’s movement and that of his disciple, Moses Baker, whose work concentrated in the west of the island while Leile focused on the east, formed the genesis of the Native Baptist movement. Some of these churches became identified with the English Baptists while others remained Native Baptist.

Arrival of the British
It is important to know how or why the British Baptists went to Jamaica. Baptist work on the island grew so rapidly that Leile appealed to the British for help. The first British missionary, John Rowe, arrived in Jamaica in 1814.  From then on, a series of Baptist missionaries from out of the UK arrived in the island.

Bethany Baptist Church in St. Ann is believed to be a successor to an earlier Native Baptist Church in the area

What is implied is that there was tension between Native Baptists on the one hand, and the British missionaries on the other.  Dick said “congregations became part of JNBMS (Jamaica Native Baptist Missionary Society) because of perceived maltreatment by the English Baptists” and “to redress the sidelining of male persons of African descent who could have augmented the pastoral ministry.” He said “these Africans also perceived educational snobbery towards them and took umbrage.”

After the Morant Bay Rebellion in 1865 that implicated some Baptists, Horace Russell said that “in reaction the white missionary began to distance himself even more from the worship forms and patterns of the black (Native) pastors.”

English missionaries who went to Jamaica never made peace with the “Africanness” of their African-descended congregants, even though when they arrived, Baptist witness was already flourishing among the enslaved in the colony.

Native Baptists and their influences were sidelined, and the British understanding and practices of ministry prevailed. This is so whether by Native Baptist we mean a separate, distinct group or simply a phenomenon within the English-led churches. Since then, Baptist worship, polity and organization has a distinctly British look and feel to it.

According to Dick, there were 38 Native Baptist congregations in 1841, but only about five in Kingston in 1859. He  suggested there were not many other “native” congregations on the island. The English-led Baptist churches, on the other hand, grew from 46 in 1841 to 69 in 1859.

IndigenizationDick suggests that several Native Baptist churches became English Baptist congregations. I’m familiar with a significant number of the churches Dick named as originally Native Baptists that are now part of the Jamaica Baptist Union.

Could this explain why indigenization happened so early in Jamaica? That, though Native Baptists as a movement waned, their influence never died.

Calabar College, the first theological training institution for black Baptist pastors anywhere in the globe, opened in Jamaica in 1843. Its name, Calabar, derived from a region in Nigeria, a nod to the African heritage of its student body. Though its education and training were distinctly British, it could be that the genesis of Baptist work as an African movement in the island had some residual effect in the founding of the college.

Indigenization of Baptist work in Jamaica happened early compared to other countries. Not only were there highly trained Baptist pastors of African descent, they emerged into leadership of the Jamaica Baptist Union not very long after the JBU was formed in 1849.

And if Stephen Jennings is to be believed, some of these congregations emerged out of a longstanding African tradition that preceded the Baptist mission. 

Eron Henry’s article, Broadening the mind, freeing the spirit, is under consideration for the 2017 NUHA Foundation Blogging Prize. He is author of Reverend Mother, a novel.

Islam in Jamaica

Though Islam has never taken deep roots in Jamaica, it has had a long-standing presence on the island.

With thousands of enslaved persons from Africa brought to Jamaica for more than three centuries, some, perhaps many, must have been Muslims.  Islam had had an early presence in West Africa, from where most enslaved persons in the Americas originated.

Estimates are that as many as 16 percent of indentured workers from India who came to Jamaica after full emancipation in 1838 were Muslims. It is possible too that, while most Lebanese who came here in the latter half of the 19th century were Christians, some of these Arabs may have been Muslims.

Muslim Hussay Festival in Westmoreland, Jamaica (Photo courtesy of the National Library of Jamaica)

While the evidence is not conclusive, there are traces suggesting Islamic presence in Jamaica from the time of the Spanish occupation of the island, which began in 1494 and ended in 1655 when the British took the island by force from Spanish control.

Jamaica’s official website for visitors states confidently:

Islam has been practiced in Jamaica since the 1500s, when African slaves brought the religion during the African Slave Trade. The religion was practiced more widely however after the abolition of slavery in 1834 with the arrival of Indian laborers.

In 2000, Sultana Afroz, a Muslim from Bangladesh and a lecturer at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica, implied that at least some Jamaican maroons were Muslims. “‘As-Salamu-’alaikum,’ the Islamic greeting in Arabic, meaning ‘peace be upon you,’ continued to be the official greeting among the Maroon Council members in Mooretown, Portland, Jamaica.”

In 2001, Afroz wrote that “[c]ontemporaneous to the autonomous Muslim Maroon ummah, hundreds of thousands of Mu’minun (the Believers of the Islamic faith) of African descent worked as slaves on the plantations in Jamaica.”

She made the remarkable claim that Sam Sharpe was Muslim and the Rebellion he led was Islamic jihad:

Jihad became the religious and political ideology of these crypto-Muslims, who became members of the various denominational nonconformist churches since being sprinkled with the water by the rectors of the parishes. Despite the experience of the most cruel servitude and the likelihood of a swift and ruthless suppression of the rebellion, the spiritually inspired Mu’minun collectively responded to the call for an island-wide jihad in 1832. Commonly known as the Baptist Rebellion, the Jihad of 1832 wrought havoc of irreparable dimension to the plantation system and hastened the Emancipation Act of 1833.

She said, “the dhikir, ‘Allahu Akbar,’ declaring the Greatness of Allah, still throbbed in the hearts of many of the former Muslim slaves when the Indian indentured Muslims first landed in Jamaica in 1845.” She made reference to “the many freed African Muslim slaves in the midst of great social, economic and political uncertainties following emancipation.”

Afroz further asserted that “with the arrival of the indentured Muslims from India, the peaceful revival of Islam in Jamaica began.”

Gordon Mullings said Afroz’s claims rest on a “shaky historical and cultural foundation.” Furthermore:

[T]he overwhelming historical and anthropological evidence is that our “crypto-Muslim” African ancestors were in fact predominantly and very actively animistic, and that Islam first gained a significant institutionalized presence in the region with the settlement of Indian indentured laborers in the mid-nineteenth century.  As for the concept that the Maroons were Moorish/Islamic to the point of constituting an Islamic community under Islamic law (i.e. an ummah), one should start by considering the fact that they have been famous, from Spanish times, for Jerk Pork — a major Islamic no-no.

Maureen Warner-Lewis, a UWI professor, said Afroz was engaging in a revisionism of Jamaica’s history. Her assertions were bedeviled by “inaccuracies of data and faults of argumentation.” In addition:

There are glaring disjunctures between the sweeping claims advanced and the paucity of the evidence proffered, while logic is defied by extravagance of assertion, leaps in assumptions, and glib transitions from probability to dogmatism.

She said Afroz employed “doubtful logic to the production of questionable historiography.” Among other things, she inflates “the number of enslaved Muslims in Jamaica” and she “distorts comments made by some nineteenth-century commentators.”

Warner-Lewis did not dispute early or longstanding Muslim presence on the island. Rather, she accused Afroz of overstating the case and for misreading history.

Some of these enslaved Muslims were literate. Warner-Lewis declared:

The religious ideas of these Muslims as well as the writing skills in Arabic which several of them possessed had in fact caught the attention of European planters, among them Jamaican-based Bryan Edwards (1819). In fact their numeracy and writing skills allowed them to secure jobs as storekeepers and tally clerks on estates.

Furthermore, “Magistrate R. R. Madden of Jamaica alerted anti-slavery and Africa colonisation interests in London to the Arabic autobiography (1830s) of Abu Bakr al-Siddiq, otherwise called Edward Donlan in Jamaica.”

Writing in 1922, Martha Warren Beckwith and Helen Heffron Roberts reported that descendants of Indian indentured workers in Jamaica observed the Hussay festival, which commemorates the martyrdom of Hasan and Hussain, sons of Ali. On the final day of this festival, a procession of mourners carried a tomb made from bamboo and colored paper:

As most Jamaica Indians are from Bombay (Mumbai), the Hussay follows closely the form of celebration described from that locality. It is regularly celebrated at different times in different parts of the island, the north side holding its Hussay in January or February, Vere in July or early August.

The two writers noted that the Jamaican government forbade Hussay processions in both Kingston and Savannah La Mar.

Mosque in Kingston, Jamaica

Currently, only about 5,000 Muslims are in Jamaica out of a population of 2.7 million. There are five mosques in Kingston, Spanish Town, Albany and Port Maria in St. Mary, and Three Miles in Westmoreland. Other places of worship (masjids) are at Santa Cruz, Morant Bay and Negril. They have two basic schools.

Several factors have been put forward as to why the presence of Islam on the Caribbean island is negligible, despite its long history there. In Islam Outside the Arab World, Ingvar Svanberg and David Westerlund asserted:

After the abolition of slavery, Muslims either converted to Christianity, or went back to Africa or to other places in Latin America where there were Muslims, or hid the fact that they were Muslims. Until the last quarter of the present [20th] century, Islam was almost unknown in Jamaica outside the small indentured East Indian Muslim community.

The Islamic Council of Jamaica, formed in 1981, seeks to unite Jamaican Muslims, comprising mainly persons of African and Indian ancestry, and some Arabs.

Among the more well-known Jamaican Muslims are musical artistes Jimmy Cliff and the late Prince Buster, who died in 2016.

Eron Henry’s article, Broadening the mind, freeing the spirit, is under consideration for the 2017 NUHA Foundation Blogging Prize. He is author of Reverend Mother, a novel.