Jamaica is a diverse and beautiful country, full of lush forests and pristine beaches as well as excellent food and music. It also has a long and difficult history. The country was colonised from 1655 up until 1962, which has a knock on effect on Jamaica’s strong sense of identity. This has also led to many traditions and customs that are uniquely Jamaican. Here are 7 of most unique traditions in Jamaica.
7 Unique Traditions in Jamaica
Rastafarianism is technically a religion, but it’s more of a way of life that’s uniquely Jamaican. It developed during the 1930s, stemming from Christianity. Above all, rastas are peaceful people, which could have contributed to Jamaica’s laid back reputation. They don’t cut their hair, choosing to wear it in dreadlocks instead, for they believe their power is in their hair. They also smoke marijuana to open themselves up to spiritual awareness. Rastas also consider their body a temple, only filling it with nourishing and balanced foods and mainly sticking to a vegetarian diet. Although there are rastas all over the world, they’re quintessentially Jamaican.
Revivalism ceremonies occur in some way across European and African identities but have become something uniquely Jamaican. It began in 1860 in Jamaica as part of a religious movement called the Great Revival. The ritual involves drums, clapping, singing, shouting, foot-stomping, and dancing along with prayers. Revivalist Christianity in Jamaica doesn’t believe in a separation between the living world and the dead world, meaning spirits can affect the lives of the living. Therefore, it’s best to keep the spirits happy by worshipping them at ceremonies.
Nine Nights ritual
The Nine Nights ritual was traditionally celebrated to ensure the deceased’s ‘duppy’ didn’t come back to haunt the living. A duppy is a ghost or spirit, generally a malevolent one. These rituals arose as a way to appease these spirits. While many Jamaican death rituals are dying out nowadays, the Nine Nights ritual is still going strong. It’s a nine-day-long wake and typically involves music, plenty of food, dancing, anecdotes, and lots of rum. Friends and relatives will meet and celebrate the life of the person who has passed, and the gatherings are normally very lively and fun. Traditionally, the person will be buried after the ninth night, once the celebrations have finished.
Kumina is a Jamaican religious ceremony combining dance, music, drumming, and spiritual possession. It’s often performed at revivalism ceremonies, as a way of celebrating and appeasing ancestors. Most of Jamaica’s traditions have roots in Africa, but this is perhaps the most deep-rooted in African Cultures – the Kumina religious group came originally from the Congo. The Kumina dancers will perform hypnotic chants to ‘catch the spirit’, it’s believed that the ancestor will be called down and possess one of the dancers.
Kumina is performed at funerals, wakes, weddings, engagements, and birthdays. It’s also performed when luck is needed, like if a court case is coming up.
Food is undoubtedly a huge part of Jamaican tradition. It combines the rich flavour of Africa, the ancestry land, with the Caribbean island. They take food very seriously – under no circumstances would a gathering be held without food. Not only is it ingrained in their culture and tradition, it’s delicious. Jerk chicken, rice and peas, ackee and codfish, callaloo, curry goat, and many more excellent dishes. As we’ve said, there’s a strong sense of identity in Jamaica, and food is a big part of that.
Patios is an English-based Creole language, born when Jamaicans ancestors were taken from their home country and forced to speak English. Patois became even more popular after Jamaica gained independence in the 1960s. Jamaicans are a very proud people, and Patois is a form of expression and identity. Out of all of the traditions in Jamaica, speaking Patois is probably the most connected to their everyday life.
Obeah is a form of black magic. It’s officially illegal, although it’s rare for someone to be convicted for using it. People turn to obeah to put a curse on their enemy, to protect themselves from enemies, to bring themselves luck, or to be healed. There are special obeah consultants, known as ‘obeah men’. These consultants are still popular in rural areas but considered immoral in urban areas. The obeah men take money for their services, so they’re often accused of preying on the vulnerable by profiting off their superstitious beliefs and poverty.