History plays a large part in forming the landscape of every nation, both geographically and culturally. Every ethnic group that spends time on a piece of land will leave its mark, just like an earthquake or hurricane leaves evidence of activity. In that light, stories are told and retold from generation to generation; stories about the people, the land, and the sea. For historians it is the folktales that teach the most about cultural and spiritual traditions. Ancient artifacts play a role as well, but often experts are left guessing. It is the folklore that always tells the real story.
A rudimentary list of the ethnic groups with ties to the island of Jamaica would be as follows: Arawak aboriginals, Taino aboriginals, Ashanti African tribes, the Spanish, the British, various tribes from India, the Chinese and several undocumented West African tribes. Without going into an account of the chronological history of Jamaica, we know the Spanish either enslaved or massacred the Arawaks and Tainos, next the British took over the island. It was the British who brought all the African, Indian and Chinese slave and non-slave labour to Jamaica.
So we have several ethnic groups in servitude who struggled for ways to maintain the life of their individual cultures through storytelling and music. Since most of the slaves of African origin were taken from their home by force, they didn’t have anything but their memories of songs and stories. Thus, many of the Jamaican folk stories commonly related today include African elements such as the style of speech, use of humour and making fun of the ‘white man’ through trickery.
The original folktales were always told in Jamaican Patios, an English-African Creole language developed by African slaves. Some of the stories have been translated to British English for the purpose of publication and education on the history of Jamaica. Further, several world renowned Jamaican authors have used those folktales as inspiration for poetry and song. Jamaican native Thomas MacDermot is said to be the father of Jamaican Literature with his story Beckra’s Buckra Baby. Another Jamaican, Claude McKay, wrote with a mind for social change on a global level and thus is credited with inspiring the Negritude movement in France and the Harlem Renaissance in New York.
Jamaican storytelling is a tradition that is fairly young considering its cultural counterparts in Greece and Italy. Moreover, Jamaican literature as a literary genre is still in its infancy. During the coming centuries the world literary stage is sure to see a colourful blossoming of the written word coming from Jamaicans. All the components required for good stories are in place, so now we wait.
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