How The Igbo Flavoured Jamaica
The continental African presence in Jamaica largely stems from the Akan people in Ghana, underlined by cultural correlations, names, meals and assimilation.
However, there is a significant Igbo presence in Jamaica. Courtesy of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, there were captured and enslaved Igbo people from Nigeria’s south-eastern port towns of Bonny and Calabar and found themselves on the island.
Circumventing the system, slave ships from Bristol and Liverpool ferried the bulk of enslaved Igbo people to the Island between 1790 and 1807, when the British passed the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act which outlawed the slave trade in the British Empire.
They were used as forced labour on plantations. They populated the northwestern section of the island around Montego Bay and St. Ann’s Bay and soon enough they registered an imprint on Jamaican culture regarding language, dance, music, folklore, cuisine, religion and mannerisms. In Jamaica, they are called “Red Eboe” or “Red Ibo,” because of their light skin. Igbo slaves were distinguished physically by their fair or “yellow” skin tones, a stereotype which persists to present-day Nigeria. Today, in Jamaica, “Red Eboe” is used to describe people with light skin tones with African,
It is of no mere happenstance that in 1777 a German missionary of the Moravian Brethren, G. C. A. Oldendorp published the History of the Evangelistic Mission of the Brothers in the Caribbean. It contained a few Igbo words, numerals, 13 nouns, 2 sentences. Thus he was the first to publish any material in Igbo. It also revealed as far back as then the role the Igbo were playing in a developing Jamaica.
Since then, Jamaican Patois has seen an infusion of some Igbo words. They include:
Patois Language Original Word Description
Big-eye Igbo Anya ukwu “greedy”
Breechee Igbo Mbùríchì Nri-Igbo nobleman
Door-mouth Igbo Onụ́ ụ́zọ̀ “doorway”
Chink, chinch Igbo chị́nchị̀ ‘bedbug’
Akara Igbo Akàrà bean cake
Another influence is the yam festival, ‘Jonkonnu’ (below) celebrated in Jamaica on the second day of Christmas which is attributed to the Njoku Ji or “yam-spirit cult”, Okonko and Ekpe of the Igbo. Natives also allege that the Ibu Town is named after the Igbo slaves
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“From Jamaica’s history, the Igbos influenced the culture, music, the pouring of libation, the “ibo” style, idioms, language and way of life of the Jamaicans. The Jamaicans are so akin to the ways of the Igbos such that it is not uncommon to see Jamaicans watch Igbo Nollywood movies. Some of their rural areas take after the Igbo’s in Eastern Nigeria. So is the tradition of sharing kola nuts which as we know is an important tradition with the Igbo. In Jamaica, these nuts, just as in Igbo faamilies, are drunk alongside white spirits, in a combination called red nuts and gin. In fact, they love kola-nuts, whose health benefits they strongly believe in so much that they also drink it as tea.
The freedom-loving Igbo slaves were reported to have maintained “unwritten rules of the plantation” of which the plantation owners were forced to abide by.
Regarding spirituality, Igbo culture is credited with influencing Jamaican spirituality with the introduction of Obeah folk magic; although enslaved Akan people might have introduced the art or system first.
There is Archibald Monteith, born Aneaso, an enslaved Igbo man taken to Jamaica after being tricked by an African slave trader who issued a journal about his origins. Remember that the same thing happened to King Jaja of Opobo (above) whose roots can be traced to Nkwerre an Igbo town in present-day Imo State. Finally, there is the famous Olaudah Equiano alias Gustavus Vassa whose published autobiography, ‘The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano’ (1789) about the horrors of slavery received reasonable consideration.
Although noted as a prominent member of the movement for the abolition of the slave trade, he worked as an overseer on a Jamaica plantation owned by Dr Charles Irving. His 1776 Mosquito Shore (Miskito Coast) scheme in Jamaica, for which Equiano hired Igbo slaves is contentious given he was an African-born Igbo ex-slave. Equiano is said to have knowledge of the Igbo language and used it as a tool to maintain social order among his Igbo slaves in Jamaica.
Igbos have also been attributed to Jamaica's leading role in bucking both slavery and later colonialism in the Caribean.
For instance, Igbo slaves, along with “Angolas” and “Congoes” were most prone to be runaways. In slave runaway advertisements held in Jamaica workhouses in 1803, out of 1046 Africans, 284 were described as “Eboes and Mocoes”, 185 “Congoes”, 259 “Angolas”, 101 “Mandingoes”, 70 Coromantees, 60 “Chamba” of Sierra Leone, 57 “Nagoes and Pawpaws”, and 30 “scattering”. 187 were “unclassified” and 488 were “American born negroes and mulattoes”.
Some popular slave rebellions involving Igbo people include:
The 1815 Igbo conspiracy in Jamaica’s Saint Elizabeth Parish, which involved around 250 Igbo slaves, described as one of the revolts that contributed to a climate for abolition. A letter by the Governor of Manchester to Bathurst on April 13, 1816, quoted the leaders of the rebellion on trial as saying “that ‘he had all the Eboes in his hand’, meaning to insinuate that all the Negroes from that Country were under his control”. The plot was thwarted and several slaves were executed.
The 1816 Black River rebellion plot, was according to Lewis (1834:227—28), carried out by only people of “Eboe” origin. This plot was uncovered on March 22, 1816, by a novelist and absentee planter named Matthew Gregory “Monk” Lewis. Lewis recorded what Hayward (1985) called a proto-Calypso revolutionary hymn, sung by a group of Igbo slaves, led by the “King of the Eboes”. They sang:
Oh me Good friend, Mr Wilberforce, make we free!
God Almighty thank ye! God Almighty thank ye!
God Almighty, make we free!
Buckra in this country no make we free:
What Negro for to do? What Negro for to do?
Take force by force! Take force by force!
“Mr. Wilberforce” was in reference to William Wilberforce a British politician, who was a leader of the movement to abolish the slave trade. “Buckra” was a term introduced by Igbo and Efik slaves in Jamaica to refer to white slave masters
After the abolition of slavery in Jamaica in the 1830s, Igbo people also arrived on the island as indentured servants between the years of 1840 and 1864 along with a majority Kongo and “Nago” (Yoruba) people.
In Nigeria, Igbo people inhabit an area referred to as Igboland, which is divided into two sections along the lower River Niger. They live in most or all parts of five states: Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo, as well as minor parts of Delta, Rivers and Benue states. Small Igbo communities are also found in parts of Cameroon and Gabon as well as in Equatorial Guinea where Igbo is an official language.
Sourced from Michael Eli Dokosi's article From libation pouring to patois infusions, Igbo influences in Jamaica published in Face to Face and Igbo people in Jamaica and America published in Black History & Culture.