According to Irina Bokova, Director General of UNESCO, “our intangible cultural heritage is a bridge linking our past and our future. It is the way we understand the world and the means by which we shape it. It is rooted in our cultural identities and provides a foundation of wisdom and knowledge upon which to build sustainable development for all. Intangible cultural heritage is a precious asset for communities, groups and individuals across the world.”1

Indeed intangible cultural heritage is important to everyone because it plays a very important part in helping to shape the identity of every society. According to Article 2.1 of the Convention for Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, intangible cultural heritage refers to “the practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, skills- as well as the instruments, objects, artefacts and cultural spaces, associated therewith-that communities, groups and in some cases, individuals recognized as part of their cultural heritage.”2

Jamaica has a multi-ethnic society with various cultural practices emerging because of our colonial past.

Ettu Dance Jamaica

Ettu Dance Jamaica Video

The Ettu people of Hanover claim Nigerian ancestry because they are “descendants of Africans that migrated to Jamaica as indentured labours and settled in the communities of Pell River, Cauldwell and Kendall in the parish after slavery ended. They are very strict with following their cultural beliefs because this is how they connect to their ancestors. I got the opportunity to speak with members of the group who provided clarity on the things they practice, why it is done and the way it is done.

During my last visit, they did not have any reason to have a ceremony I had to visit the African Caribbean Institute of Jamaica in order to get video footage of them performing aspects of their culture. Many of the Ettu people are Christians belonging to the Anglican, Methodist, Baptist and revival faith.”This shows that the practices of the Ettu people are a way of life and also a religious tradition. “They identify their strongest heritage practices as music, dance, language and food and they are only performed on special occasions such as death, wedding of persons within the group, when their ancestors needs to be appeased or whenever a member has a serious illness. The functions are regarded as Dinner Plays.”When someone dies they have what is called a ‘forty night’ and on the 39th night they have a dinner play to feed the ancestors.

Only two drums are used for all ceremonies done by the Ettu people. The drums are called the “Accata which is a tin drum which is primarily a kerosene oil tin pan and the Irrie which is a double-headed wooden drum covered with the skin of a female goat because the male goat skin produced a coarser sound.”The Ettu people are the only group within the island that uses the tin drum and according to Dr. Olive Lewin “the use of the tin drum is not an adaptation but a strong cultural retention with Africa because there are areas in Africa which has tin mines therefore explaining the use of tin as the raw material for these drums.”6

The drums are central to every Ettu ceremony and they “announce the beginning and the end of each song. The dance is controlled by the drums and the dancers perform facing the drums.”For an Ettu dance to end there is a “signal from the dancer to the drummers. It seems simple and straightforward, yet requires specific coordination between feet and right arm which provides difficult for non-Ettu persons to master without very careful observation of several dancers.”When dancing to the music the dancers perform solo acts except when the dancer is being ‘shawled’, this is done when as a mark of appreciation and encouragement by the members of the group, who steps forward with a long scarf and throw it around the dancer’s neck. “The shawler then presses the dancer’s torso backwards from the waist and stretches his or her arms in turn, by raising each one diagonally from the shoulder.”9

Within the group exists family dances and each dancer is called when his or her song is played and sung by the accompanying musicians. “There are obvious and close interactions between dancer and drums, with no attempt at pleasing or relating to anyone outside the group. Throughout the dance, feet are flat and in contact with the earth. Men dance with more energy and agility than women, who use subtle, angular hip movements, body erect or slightly tilted forward, with knees bent.”10 This shows that what they are doing is genuine and they are more focused on their cultural practices as against pleasing the individuals around them watching. “Because of the importance with of contact with the earth, stage performances of Ettu are not taken seriously by the group. In addition, for the same reason, all meaningful plays are held out of doors and in touch with the ground.”11

The group also claims that “possession is not necessary, since the ancestors speak to them through dreams or signs which can be interpreted by special members of the group.”12 This shows that they are deeply connected to their ancestors and this is the only cultural group in Jamaica that does not believe in possession.

The language spoken by the Ettu people is called “Twi” and over the years the frequency of its use has dwindled, it is not used often in everyday conversations and only a few of the elders along with some of the younger generations know a few of the words and it is mainly used in ceremonies.”13 In the early years after independence when research and documentation work started on the Ettu people “the use of words such as bizzy/ cola nuts, fu fu/ tum tum, in both songs and conversation and which were not understood by non-Ettu people suggested that another link with Jamaica’s African past had been found.”14 This is very important because this link was not affected by slavery like the other forms because the Ettu culture started after slavery ended with the immigration of Africans to Hanover as indentured workers.

Within the Ettu group like all the others in Jamaica, appeasing the ancestors is very important. Within the Ettu group they depend on the “ancestors to advise them in matters such as healing and betrothals. Ancestral help is also required to ensure rest for sprits of the departed.”15 Therefore from time to time the Ettu people host dinner plays to entertain and appease their ancestors. “For specific purposes, a dinner is ‘built’. The main foods are tum-tum or fu-fu, to be eaten in the traditional manner, soup or stew of okra, spices and annatto seeds, and offal. Some food is earmarked for the spirits, and therefore cooked without salt. This is never eaten by the adults, but can be given to children.”16 This practice of cooking food without salt when appeasing the spirits is common among the Maroons as well. Whenever the sprits needed to be appeased a dinner play was held but whenever a member of the group passed away a “Forty Night was held on the 39th night after the death of an individual. The rituals for both ceremonies were said to be the same except for the food served. Fufu, tum tum, calaloo, and okra were served at dinner play. Callaloo and okra might be thought to be familiar dishes to the majority of Jamaicans however, the Ettu version of these foods was quite different from the vegetable dish served in the average home. Fufu and Tum tum were made starching tubers and fruits such as breadfruit and yam which were boiled and pounded in a mortar then made into balls. At a forty night only one dish was prepared. This was white rice with cubs of goat.”17

In the past Ettu burial spots were marked with “plants with the most popular being the Croton and Calabash, presently they use tombstones;”.18 This shows an evolution in burial practices within the group, it is important to note that the traditions remain the same within the group. When burying individuals they are buried “east to west unless they were considered wicked by the community in which case they were buried north to south.”19

References

[1] United Nation Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Register of Best Safeguarding Practices 2011. Paris: UNESCO, 2011 (p.2)
[2] 2003 Convention for Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage Article 2.1
[3] Hamilton, Sandra. Ettu Celebrations of the passing of life. Minnesota: Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota, 2008 (p.76)
[4] Hamilton, Sandra. Ettu Celebrations of the passing of life. Minnesota: Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota, 2008 (p.77)
[5] Hamilton, Sandra. Ettu Celebrations of the passing of life. Minnesota: Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota, 2008. (p.77)
[6] Ettu and Nago African Retentions in Jamaica. Directed by Junior Beckford. Performed by Ettu Group and the Nago Group. 1998. (13minutes and 45seconds into the documentary)
[7] Hamilton, Sandra. Ettu Celebrations of the passing of life. Minnesota: Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota, 2008. (p.78)
[8] Lewin, Olive. Rock It Come Over: The Folk Music of Jamaica. Kingston: University of the West Indies Press, 2000. (p.183)
[9] Lewin, Olive. Rock It Come Over: The Folk Music of Jamaica. Kingston: University of the West Indies Press, 2000. (p.182-183)
[10] Lewin, Olive. Rock It Come Over: The Folk Music of Jamaica. Kingston: University of the West Indies Press, 2000. (p.182)
[11] Lewin, Olive. Rock It Come Over: The Folk Music of Jamaica. Kingston: University of the West Indies Press, 2000. (p.183)
[12] Lewin, Olive. Rock It Come Over: The Folk Music of Jamaica. Kingston: University of the West Indies Press, 2000. (p.183)
[13] Hamilton, Sandra. Ettu Celebrations of the passing of life. Minnesota: Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota, 2008. (p.78)
[14] Lewin, Olive. Rock It Come Over: The Folk Music of Jamaica. Kingston: University of the West Indies Press, 2000. (p.180)
[15] Lewin, Olive. Rock It Come Over: The Folk Music of Jamaica. Kingston: University of the West Indies Press, 2000. (p.181)
[16] Lewin, Olive. Rock It Come Over: The Folk Music of Jamaica. Kingston: University of the West Indies Press, 2000. (p.181)
[17] Hamilton, Sandra. Ettu Celebrations of the passing of life. Minnesota: Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota, 2008. (p.92)
[18] Hamilton, Sandra. Ettu Celebrations of the passing of life. Minnesota: Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota, 2008. (p.89)
[19] Hamilton, Sandra. Ettu Celebrations of the passing of life. Minnesota: Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota, 2008. (p.88)

Bibliography

  • Ettu and Nago African Retentions in Jamaica. Directed by Junior Beckford. Performed by Ettu Group and the Nago Group. 1998.
  • Hamilton, Sandra. Ettu Celebrations of the passing of life. Minnesota: Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota, 2008.
  • Lewin, Olive. Rock It Come Over: The Folk Music of Jamaica. Kingston: University of the West Indies Press, 2000.
  • Reynolds-Baker, Athaliah. Jamaica Information Service . October 29, 2014 . http://jis.gov.jm/culture-ministry-embarks-initiative-preserve-legacy/ (accessed April 4, 2015).
  • United Nation Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Register of Best Safeguarding Pracrices 2011. Paris: UNESCO, 2011.

 

http://gounesco.com.s3-ap-southeast-1.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/28185231/Ettu-Dance-Nigeria.pnghttp://gounesco.com.s3-ap-southeast-1.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/28185231/Ettu-Dance-Nigeria-150x150.pngOshane RobinsonIntangible HeritagePerformanceStudent Programancestors,burial,dance,ettu dance,jamaica,nigeiran,oshane robinson,ritual,travel,world heritage travel
According to Irina Bokova, Director General of UNESCO, 'our intangible cultural heritage is a bridge linking our past and our future. It is the way we understand the world and the means by which we shape it. It is rooted in our cultural identities and provides a foundation of...