Storytelling is one of the oldest forms of communication and is an essential part of the history of Jamaican society. The art of storytelling has served to convey vital knowledge and information through generations.
During and immediately following slavery on the island, enslaved Africans would gather at nights to exchange stories and play music. Traditions and stories have been passed down throughout the centuries through oral accounts. The art form helps to transmit positive values and preserve aspects of the country’s heritage. Thus, storytelling has become a way of life for Jamaicans.
Local Storytelling Heroes
The late Louise Bennett-Coverley, affectionately known as ‘Miss Lou’, was Jamaica’s foremost storyteller. She has been hailed for her success in popularising Jamaican patois and folklore through her poetry, songs and plays, which all highlighted aspects of Jamaican culture.
Today, others continue to keep that tradition alive, bringing their own flair to the ancient art form. These include Dr. Amina Blackwood-Meeks, ‘custodian of the oral tradition’. She has been influential in reviving traditional Caribbean storytelling, particularly after the passing of Miss Lou. Dr. Blackwood-Meeks is a regular participant in events that underscore the importance of storytelling to Jamaican culture. One such event is the National Storytelling Festival, which features several aspects of Jamaican culture using stories.
Joan Andrea Hutchinson is known locally and internationally for her poems, monologues, stories and performances, written and performed in Jamaican Creole. A self-proclaimed chronicler, Hutchinson has done extensive work in preserving Jamaican heritage through dramatic narrations that have gained much fame locally.
Some of the best-known and oldest stories in Jamaican culture are tales of Anancy, a mischievous spider who uses trickery to get what he wants. After slavery, Anancy stories were told during the nights in Jamaica’s free villages and continued in many households long after that. Oftentimes, the recounting of Anancy stories was accompanied by singing. Stories about this character have origins in the Akan culture in Africa. Along with a band of co-characters, including Brother Dog, Brother Tiger and the occasional wife and children, Anancy the spider-man, West-Indian and West-African has stood the test of time.
Tales in Song and Dance
As illustrated by the engaging accounts of significant events in Reggae and Dancehall songs, Jamaicans’ storytelling ability is undeniable. Many popular songs tell tales of events experienced countrywide, such as natural disasters and economic hardship. Musical artists also utilise their platform to recount everyday experiences, such as using public transportation, many times with a comedic flare.
The African Caribbean Institute of Jamaica/Jamaica Memory Bank (ACIJ/JMB) and World Storytelling Day
ACIJ/JMB is a division of the Institute of Jamaica (IOJ), an agency of the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport, and has a mandate to research, document and disseminate information on African heritage and its impact on Jamaican culture. Each year, the ACIJ/JMB presents a special programme of activities that highlight the importance of storytelling to Jamaican culture. In 2022, the annual World Storytelling Day will be on March 20. In recognition of the occasion, the agency will post a pre-recorded lecture series titled: ‘Jack Mandora: The Roots of Afro-Jamaican Storytelling as an Intangible Cultural Heritage’ on its YouTube, Twitter and Instagram pages. Additional details of the series are below:
|Conversation with Dr. Jean Small (Discusses storytelling as an important element of Jamaican culture)||Dr. Jean Small (Retired teacher and storyteller)|
|Storytelling as Social Engineering – the Yoruba Example||Dr. John Bewaji (Retired Professor – Faculty of Language, Linguistcs and Philosophy, University of the West Indies)|
|Storytelling: As tangible as Jerusalem School-Room||Dr. Amina Blackwood-Meeks (Orator, Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts)|
For additional information, contact:
African Caribbean Institute of Jamaica/Jamaica Memory Bank
12 Ocean Boulevard
Twitter, Instagram, YouTube: @acijjmb