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Jamaica and Religion

By Marcia Davidson
Posted Thursday, May 1, 2003

The Bible reached the African-Jamaican people in the 1790s when 2 black Baptist preachers, who had been freed by their masters, came to Jamaica. George Lisle and Moses Baker. They built up large followings, Lisle in Kingston and Baker in western Jamaica. Their congregations grew rapidly and they appealed to the newly founded Baptist Missionary Society in England for help. By the 1820's white Baptist missionaries, troublesome dissenters in the eyes of the plantocracy had begun to arrive.

Never before had the enslaved people held a book in their hands and certainly not the Bible, for it was not regarded with favour on the Jamaican sugar-and-slave plantations. All school doors were closed to African-Jamaicans, so they could not read. Church doors were closed to them, for in the eyes of the plantocracy, God was white and there was a colour line. The African-Jamaicans, a very religious people, sought what comfort they could find in a communion with Obi, Myalism, Cumina, in Haiti with Vodum, in Trinidad in a later period with Shango. Barred from the church, the school and any form of marriage the African-Jamaicans were derided as being superstitious, stupid and immoral.

Now, with the missionaries as their teachers in Sunday School, the Bible became their holy book that contained the word of God, their comforter and beloved companion in the Valley of the Shadow of Death. It was their certificate of identity, which confirmed their status as God the Fathers children, their guarantee of a future in the Fathers company and above all their blessed assurance that each one was a worthwhile somebody for whom Massa God gave His only Son. They were no longer the only ones who had been slaves. They shared the Jewish experience of having been an oppressed people. In the prophets, patriarchs and psalmists they found comfort and hope. The Jewish story had for them an almost unbearable piercing relevance.






Jamaica's popular music has achieved world fame through the emergence of reggae, a music form that emerged from traditional indigenous Jamaican music with African and Black American roots. Many reggae artistes have won international fame for original compositions, recordings and performances--notably the late Robert(Bob) Marley. For his cultural contributions, Marley received Jamaica's third highest national honour--the Order of Merit.

Although he died in 1981, this legendary Jamaican still lives on as one of the greatest musical philosophers of all times, evidenced by the fact that his name was recently enshrined in the American Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Since the inclusion of a reggae category in the United States of America Annual Grammy Awards organized by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences in 1989, several Jamaican artistes such as the Melody Makers, Black Uhuru, Shabba Ranks and Shaggy "Mr. Boombastic" have won the award.

The 1999 winners are Sly Dunbar and Robby Shakespeare.