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Igbo people in Jamaica

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Title: Igbo people in Jamaica  
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Igbo people in Jamaica

Igbo people in Jamaica
Total population
Regions with significant populations
Primarily Northwestern Jamaica, especially the areas of Montego Bay and Savanna-la-Mar
English, Jamaican English, Jamaican Patois
Christianity, Obeah practices
Related ethnic groups
Igbo people, Igbo Americans

Igbo people in Jamaica were shipped by Europeans onto the island between the 18th and 19th as forced labour on plantations. Igbo people constituted a large portion of the African population in slave-importing Jamaica. Some slave censuses detailed the large number of Igbo slaves on various plantations throughout the island on different dates throughout the 18th century.[1] Their presence was a large part in forming Jamaican culture as their cultural influence remains in language, dance, music, folklore, cuisine, religion and mannerisms. Many words in Jamaican Patois have been traced to the Igbo language. In Jamaica the Igbo were referred to as either Eboe, or Ibo.[2]


Part of a series on
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Calendar  · Cuisine  · Language
Literature  · Music (Ogene, Igbo Highlife)
Odinani (mythology)  · New Yam Festival
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Igbo  · Igboid  · Delta Igbo
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Ikwerre  · Ukwuani  · names
Politics (History)
List of rulers of Nri · Biafra
MASSOB · Anti-Igbo sentiment
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Igbo portal

Originating primarily from what was known as the Bight of Biafra on the West African coast, Igbo people were taken in relatively high numbers to Jamaica as slaves. The primary ports from which the majority of these enslaved people were taken from were Bonny and Calabar, two port towns that are now in south eastern Nigeria.[3] These ports were dominated by slave ships arriving from Bristol and Liverpool who delivered these slaves to British colonies including Jamaica. The bulk of Igbo slaves arrived relatively late after 1750. The 18th century in the Atlantic slave trade saw the number of enslaved Africans of Igbo descent rise by a large amount, the heaviest forced migrations were centred between 1790 and 1807.[4] Jamaica, after Virginia, was the second most common disembarkation point for slave ships arriving from the Bight of Biafra. Igbo slaves formed the majority of the people on the bight and became common among the slave population of Jamaica.[5]

Igbo people were spread on plantations on the island's western side, specifically the areas around [7] Olaudah Equiano, a prominent member of the movement of the abolition for the slave trade, was an African born Igbo ex-slave that on his life's journey in the Americas as a slave and free man, documented in his 1789 journal, was hired by a Dr. Charles Irving and recruited slaves for his 1776 Mosquito Shore scheme in Jamaica for which Equiano hired Igbo slaves which he called "My own countrymen". Equiano was especially useful to Irving for his knowledge of the Igbo language, using Equiano as a tool to maintain social order amongst his Igbo slaves in Jamaica.[8]

Most of the time Igbo slaves resorted to resistance rather than revolt and had maintained "unwritten rules of the plantation" of which plantation owners were forced to abide by.[9] Igbo culture influenced Jamaican spirituality with the introduction of Obeah folk magic; accounts of 'Eboe' slaves being 'obeahed' by each other have been documented by plantation owners.[7] However, it's more likely that the word 'Obeah', which is also used by Akan slaves, was being said before Igbos arrived in Jamaica.[10] Other Igbo cultural influences are the Jonkonnu festivals and in Igbo words in Jamaican patois. In Maroon music were songs derived from specific African ethnic groups, among these were songs called 'Ibo' which had a distinct style.[11]

Igbo slaves were considered suicidal. Suicide was resorted to by Igbo slaves not only for rebellion, but in the belief that after their death they will return to their homeland.[3][12] In a publication of a 1791 issue of Massachusetts Magazine, an anti-slavery poem was published called Monimba which depicted a fictional pregnant Igbo slave that committed suicide on a slave ship destined for Jamaica. The poem is an example of the stereotype of Igbo slaves in the Americas.[13][14] Igbo slaves were also distinguished physically by a prevalence of 'yellowish' skin tones prompting the colloquialisms 'red eboe' used to describe people with light skin tones and African features.[15] Igbo people were hardly reported to have been maroons, although Igbo women were paired with Coromantee (Akan) men so as to subdue the latter due to the idea that Igbo women were bound to their first-born sons' birthplace.[16]

Archibald Monteith, born Aneaso, was an Igbo slave taken to Jamaica after being tricked by an African slaver. Anaeso wrote a journal about his life from when he was kidnapped from Igboland to when he became a Christian convert.[17]

After the slavery era, Igbo people also arrived on the island as indentured servants between the years of 1840 and 1864 along with a majority Congo and 'Nago' (Yoruba) servants.[18] Since the 19th century most of the citizens of Jamaica of African descent have been assimilated into the wider Jamaican society and have largely dropped ethnic associations from Africa.


Igbo slaves, along with 'Angolas' and 'Congoes' were most prone to be runaways. In slave runaway advertisements held in Jamaica workhouses in 1803, out of 1046 Africans, 284 were described as 'Eboes and Mocoes', 185 'Congoes', 259 'Angolas', 101 'Mandingoes', 70 Coromantees, 60 'Chamba' of Sierra Leone, 57 'Nagoes and Pawpaws', and 30 'scattering'. 187 were 'unclassified' and 488 were 'American born negroes and mulattoes'.[19]

Some popular slave rebellions involving Igbo people include:

  • The 1815 Igbo conspiracy in Jamaica's Saint Elizabeth Parish which involved around 250 Igbo slaves,[20] described as one of the revolts that contributed to a climate for abolition.[21] A letter by the Governor of Manchester to Bathurst on April 13, 1816[22] quoted the leaders of the rebellion on trial as saying "that 'he had all the Eboes in his hand', meaning to insinuate that all the Negroes from that Country were under his controul".[23] The plot was thwarted and several slaves were executed.
  • The 1816 Black River rebellion plot which according to Lewis (1834:227—28) only people of 'Eboe' origin were involved.[24] This plot was uncovered on March 22, 1816 by a novelist and absentee planter named Matthew Gregory 'Monk' Lewis, when he had recorded what Hayward (1985) calls a proto-Calypso revolutionary hymn, sung by a group of Igbo slaves led by the 'King of the Eboes'. They sung:
    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![25]
'Mr. Wilberforce' was in reference to William Wilberforce a British politician who was a leader of the movement to abolish the slave trade. 'Buckra' was a term introduced by Igbo and Efik slaves in Jamaica to refer to white slave masters.[26]


Among Igbo cultural items in Jamaica were the Eboe, or Ibo drums popular throughout all of Jamaican music.[27] Food was also influenced, for example the Igbo word 'mba' meaning 'yam root' was used to describe a type of yam in Jamaica called 'himba'.[28][29] Igbo and Akan slaves affected drinking culture among the black population in Jamaica, using alcohol in ritual and libation. In Igboland as well as on the Gold Coast, palm wine was used on these occasions and had to be substituted by rum in Jamaica because of the absence of palm wine.[30] Jonkonnu, a parade that is held in many West Indian nations, has been attributed to the Njoku Ji 'yam-spirit cult', Okonko and Ekpe of the Igbo, and several masquerades of the Kalabari and Igbo have similar appearance to those of Jonkonnu maskers.[31]

Much of Jamaican mannerisms and gestures themselves have a wider African origin and an Igbo origin. Some examples of such behaviours are evident in the influences of the Igbo language in patois with actions such as 'sucking-teeth' coming from the Igbo 'ima osu' or 'imu oso' and 'cutting-eye' from Igbo 'iro anya'. There was also a suggestion of the Igbo introducing communication through eye movements.[32]


There are a few Igbo words in Jamaican Patois that stem from the Igbo slaves that were on the island. These words were added to Jamaican Patois when slaves were restricted from speaking their own languages. These Igbo words still exist in Jamaican vernacular including words such as 'unu' meaning 'you (plural)',[15] 'di' which is 'to be (in state of)' which became 'de', and 'okra' a vegetable.[33]


Ilu in Igbo means proverbs,[34] a part of language that is very important to the Igbo. Igbo proverbs did not fail to cross the Atlantic along with the masses of enslaved Igbo people. Till today several transliterated Igbo proverbs survive in Jamaica today because of the Igbo ancestors. Some of these include:

  • Igbo: "He who will swallow udala seeds must consider the size of his anus"
Jamaican: "Cow must know 'ow 'im bottom stay before 'im swallow abbe [Twi 'palm nut'] seed"; "Jonkro must know what 'im a do before 'im swallow abbe seed"
  • Igbo: "Where are the young suckers that will grow when the old banana tree dies?"
Jamaican "When plantain wan' dead, it shoot [sends out new suckers]"
  • Igbo: "A man who makes trouble for other is also making one for himself"
Jamaican: "When you dig a hole/ditch for one, dig two"
  • Igbo: "The fly who has no one to advise it follows the corpse into the ground"
Jamaican: "Sweet-mout' fly follow coffin go a hole"; "Idle donkey follow cane-bump [the cart with cane cuttings] go a [animal] pound"; "Idle donkey follow crap-crap [food scraps] till dem go a pound [waste dump]"
  • Igbo: "The sleep that lasts for one market day to another has become death"
Jamaican: "Take sleep mark death [Sleep is foreshadowing of death]"
  • "When cow tail cut off, God Almighty brush fly"; "God fan fly fi 'tumpa tail [stump-tailed] cow"
  • "Dog sweat, but long hair cover it"[35]


Obeah refers to folk magic and sorcery that was derived from West African sources. The W. E. B. Du Bois Institute database[10] supports obeah being traced to the dibia or obia (Igbo: doctoring)[7] traditions of the Igbo people.[36][37] Specialists in Obia (also spelled Obea) were known as Ndi Obia (Igbo: Obia people) and practiced the same activities as the obeah men and women of the Caribbean like predicting the future and manufacturing charms.[38][39] In Jamaican mythology, 'River Mumma', a mermaid, is linked to Oya of the Yoruba and Uhamiri/Idemili of the Igbo.[40]

Among Igbo beliefs in Jamaica was the idea of Africans being able to fly back home to Africa.[41] There were reports by Europeans who visited and lived in Jamaica that Igbo slaves believed they would return to their country after death.[42]

Notable Jamaicans of Igbo descent

A picture of Archibald Monteith's grave in Jamaica, he was an Igbo taken to Jamaica as a slave
Archibald Monteith's grave. He was an Igbo known as Aneaso and was taken to Jamaica as a slave.

  • Archibald Monteith, an ex-slave who was called 'Aneaso' born in Africa, and brought to Jamaica and later wrote an autobiography[17]
  • One of Malcolm Gladwell's European ancestors had a child by an Igbo slave which started off the mixed-race Ford family on Gladwell's mothers side.[43]

See also


  1. ^ Mullin, Michael (1995). Africa in America: slave acculturation and resistance in the American South and the British Caribbean, 1736-1831. University of Illinois Press. p. 26.  
  2. ^ "Petticoat-Rebellion". Jamaica Observer. August 6, 2001. 
  3. ^ a b Lovejoy, Paul E.; Trotman, David Vincent (2003). Trans-Atlantic dimensions of ethnicity in the African diaspora. Continuum International Publishing Group. pp. 85–86.  
  4. ^ Senior, Olive (2003). Encyclopedia of Jamaican heritage. Twin Guinep Publishers.  
  5. ^ Chambers, Douglas B. (2009). Murder at Montpelier: Igbo Africans in Virginia. University Press of Mississippi. pp. 14, 159.  
  6. ^ Eltis, David; Richardson, David (1997). Routes to slavery: direction, ethnicity, and mortality in the transatlantic slave trade. Routledge. p. 83.  
  7. ^ a b c Eltis, David; Richardson, David (1997). Routes to slavery: direction, ethnicity, and mortality in the transatlantic slave trade. Routledge. pp. 73–74.  
  8. ^ Lovejoy, Paul E. (December 2006). "Slavery and Abolition" (PDF) 27 (3). Routledge. pp. 15–16. 
  9. ^ Besson, Jean (2002). Martha Brae's two histories: European expansion and Caribbean culture-building in Jamaica. UNC Press Books. p. 43.  
  10. ^ a b Rucker, Walter C. (2006). The river flows on: Black resistance, culture, and identity formation in early America. LSU Press. p. 40.  
  11. ^ Lewin, Olive (2000). "Rock it come over": the folk music of Jamaica, with special reference to Kumina and the work of Mrs. Imogene "Queenie" Kennedy. University of the West Indies Press. p. 156.  
  12. ^ M'Baye, Babacar (2009). The trickster comes west: Pan-African influence in early Black diasporan narratives. University Press of Mississippi. p. 214.  
  13. ^ Cavitch, Max (2007). American elegy: the poetry of mourning from the Puritans to Whitman. University of Minnesota Press. p. 215.  
  14. ^ Bruce, Dickson D. (2001). The origins of African American literature, 1680-1865. University of Virginia Press. p. 67.  
  15. ^ a b Cassidy, Frederic Gomes; Robert Brock Le Page (2002). A Dictionary of Jamaican English (2nd ed.). University of the West Indies Press. p. 457.  
  16. ^ Mullin, Michael (1995). Africa in America: slave acculturation and resistance in the American South and the British Caribbean, 1736-1831. University of Illinois Press. p. 26.  
  17. ^ a b Warner Lewis, Maureen (2007). Archibald Monteath: Igbo, Jamaican, Moravian.  
  18. ^ Monteith, Kathleen E. A.; Richards, Glen (2002). Jamaica in slavery and freedom: history, heritage and culture. University of the West Indies Press. p. 90.  
  19. ^ Phillips, Ulrich Bonnell (2010). American Negro Slavery - A Survey of the Supply, Employment and Control of Negro Labor as Determined by the Plantation Regime. Read Books. p. 44.  
  20. ^ Korieh, Chima Jacob (2009). Olaudah Equiano and the Igbo world: history, society and Atlantic diaspora connections. Africa World Press. p. 364.  
  21. ^ Bailey, Anne Caroline (2005). African voices of the Atlantic slave trade: beyond the silence and the shame. Beacon Press. p. 98.  
  22. ^ Documents on British West Indian history, 1807-1833. Trinidad Pub. Co. 1952. 
  23. ^ Hart, Richard (2002). Slaves who Abolished Slavery: Blacks in rebellion. University of the West Indies Press. p. 226.  
  24. ^ Burton, Richard D. E. (1997). Afro-Creole: power, opposition, and play in the Caribbean. Cornell University Press. p. 84.  
  25. ^ Hayward, Jack Ernest Shalom (1985). Out of slavery: abolition and after. Routledge. p. 110.  
  26. ^ Opie, Frederick Douglass (2008). Hog & hominy: soul food from Africa to America. Columbia University Press. p. 17.  
  27. ^ Wilson, Amber (2004). Jamaica the Culture. Crabtree Publishing Company. p. 22.  
  28. ^ Graddol, David; Leith, Dick; Swann, Joan (1996). English: history, diversity, and change. Routledge. p. 210.  
  29. ^ Lewis, Maureen Warner (1996). African continuities in the linguistic heritage of Jamaica. African Caribbean Institute of Jamaica. p. 24. 
  30. ^ Garine, I. de; Garine, Valérie de (2001). Drinking: anthropological approaches. Berghahn Books. pp. 221–222.  
  31. ^ Chambers, Douglas B. Murder at Montpelier: Igbo Africans in Virginia. University Press of Mississippi, 2005. p. 182.  
  32. ^ Monteith, Kathleen E. A.; Richards, Glen (2002). Jamaica in slavery and freedom: history, heritage and culture. University of the West Indies Press. p. 114.  
  33. ^ McWhorter, John H. (2000). The Missing Spanish Creoles: Recovering the Birth of Plantation Contact Languages. University of California Press. p. 128.  
  34. ^ Matzke, Christine (2006). Of minstrelsy and masks: the legacy of Ezenwa-Ohaeto in Nigerian writing. Rodopi. p. 147.  
  35. ^ Monteith, Kathleen E. A.; Richards, Glen (2002). Jamaica in slavery and freedom: history, heritage and culture. University of the West Indies Press. pp. 95, 111.  
  36. ^ Obeah.  
  37. ^ Chambers, Douglas B. (2009). Murder at Montpelier: Igbo Africans in Virginia. Univ. Press of Mississippi. pp. 14, 36.  
  38. ^ Eltis, David; Richardson, David (1997). Routes to slavery: direction, ethnicity, and mortality in the transatlantic slave trade. Routledge. p. 88.  
  39. ^ Desch-Obi, J. (2008). Fighting for honor: the history of African martial art traditions in the Atlantic world. Univ of South Carolina Press. p. 58.  
  40. ^ Higgs, Catherine; Moss, Barbara A.; Ferguson, Earline Rae (2002). Stepping forward: Black women in Africa and the Americas. Ohio University Press. p. 102.  
  41. ^ Archer, Jermaine O. (2009). Antebellum slave narratives: cultural and political expressions of Africa. Taylor & Francis. p. 67.  
  42. ^ Eltis, David; Richardson, David (1997). Routes to slavery: direction, ethnicity, and mortality in the transatlantic slave trade. Routledge. p. 73.  
  43. ^ Gates, Henry (2010). Faces of America: How 12 Extraordinary People Discovered Their Pasts. NYU Press. p. 178.  
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