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A Brief History Of The Igbo People Of Jamaica You Need To Know

Wah gwaan bredrin, everyting ire? Ever heard the word “red eboe” in Jamaica? Your suspicion is true. “Red eboe” was used to refer to the Igbo slaves in Jamaica because of their light skin.

Jamaica witnessed the influx of the Igbo race between 1790 and 1809, a time when the British had just passed the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act. The modern Igbo race dwelt in the Bight of Biafra in Nigeria. It was from here that the Igbos who were kidnapped and sold as slaves by the Europeans were taken to work on plantations.

While it is known that Virginia was the destination point of most slave ships from the Bight of Biafra, the majority of the slave ships from the Bight of Biafra that delivered the slaves to the Caribbean Islands landed in Jamaica.


Cane cutters in Jamaica. | Photo National Maritime Museum

Cultural Influence

Jamaica’s history cannot be discussed without mentioning the influence of the Igbos. The Igbos influenced the culture, music, the pouring of libation, the “eboe” style, idioms, language and way of life of the Jamaicans. While a large number of the Jamaican Patois is from the Akan language of modern-day Ghana, the Igbos, due to their inability to speak the language, the introduced some of their words which have now become infused into the Jamaican Patois. Some of these words include:

Unu – You people

Ima osu (Jamaica)  Imu oso (Igbo) – to hiss by sucking your teeth

Akara (Jamaica) Akàrà (Igbo/Yoruba) – bean cake

Soso (Jamaica) Sọsọ (Igbo) – only

Their yam festival, the Jonkonnu (A masquerade festival attributed to Njoku Ji (yam -spirit cult), Okonko and Ekpe masquerades”, was arguably introduced by the Igbos. Most of the Igbo/Akan -concentrated areas are found in the northwestern and southern sections of Jamaica. Some of these are Maroon Village, formerly known as Cudjoe’s Town (Trelawny Town), Montego Bay and St. Ann’s Bay. In Maroon, there are some songs called “Ibo”. The Jamaicans are akin to the ways of the Igbos such that it is not uncommon to see Jamaicans watch Igbo Nollywood films.

The Igbos showed themselves to be an organised sect. This is evident in slave owner Matthew Lewis’s confession after he noted that there was a time he “went down to the negro-houses to hear the whole body of Eboes lodge a complaint against one of the book-keepers”.

Exemplary Courage

Out of these people came individuals who left a mark in that period. A popular example is the author Olaudah Equiano who was very instrumental in maintaining law and order among the Igbos in Jamaica during the 1776 Mosquito Shore Scheme. He is also regarded as being one of the campaigners of the abolition of slave trade.

Anaeso, later rechristened Archibald Monteith, is another example. He wrote a popular autobiography of his kidnap from his homeland to Jamaica where he was converted to Christianity. Also, one of Canadian journalist Malcolm Gladwell’s ancestors is of Igbo origin and gave rise to the mixed-race Ford family.

Rebels

Known for their pride, the Igbos are said to have unwritten rules that even the slave owners were made to abide by. This maintenance of “unwritten rules of the plantation” arguably gave rise to the Obeah magic (the use of a Dibia in ‘predicting the future and manufacturing charms’).

The Igbo slaves were also popular for committing suicide as they believed it would return their spirits back to their homeland. This suicide was what made most slave traders sceptical of having them as slaves.

When they could no longer bear the slavery, 250 Igbo men in Saint Elizabeth’s Parish conspired to kill every white man in the land in what is now known as the 1815 Igbo conspiracy. The following year, that is 1816, another revolt tagged the Black River rebellion plot was uncovered after a novelist Matthew Gregory “Monk” Lewis took a recording of their song:

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!

ALL

To be sure! to be sure! to be sure!

These two events massively contributed to the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act.

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