- Jun 2017
Music was a multi-dimensional type of expression and entertainment that involved body movement, spirituality, and often, political organizing
I agree, there is much more that we could say here, and indeed much more that we could ask. Notably: were these categories that were meaningful to Africans and their descendants in seventeenth-century Jamaica and elsewhere? Paul Landau has made the case, I think quite effectively, that there's no such thing as "African religion."
In other words, that ontology comes from a particular history of Europe and isn't universal. What other sources could we use to think more creatively about the different ways these folks would have understood the relationship of music making to their world?
On the most basic level, we know that movement was so often part of the music, whether from beaded/shelled bracelets/anklets that dancers wore, or from dancers dictating the percussion, as in bomba.
I'm not suggesting that we ask why people were playing music, but rather what it meant to them.
Koromanti was a term commonly used to describe enslaved people from the Akan ethnic group from West Africa, one of the largest group among the enslaved in Jamaica at the time.
Kromanti is perhaps the most laden term in African Diaspora history in a Jamaican or Anglophone context and, as I've written elsewhere (my Slavery and Abolition article from 2014), I think that parsing Kromanti -- or really any of these terms -- as primarily geographic misses so much of what they connoted.
Before 1688, according to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, only 7% of the Africans arriving in Jamaica came from the Gold Coast, and most of these between 1676-1680. So there's no real demographic reason for this centrality of Kromanti identity, if we assume Kromanti is a gloss for people of Gold Coast origins.
Even for those who were placed in chains on slave ships from ports in the Gold Coast, there is no reason to believe that most were Akan speakers, and in fact Apter's work would convey how deeply those on the coast associated enslavement with people from the north, who certainly did not speak Akan, even to the extent that Akan was a meaningful linguistic category in the seventeenth century.
More importantly, however, why "Kromanti"? Kromanti is a tiny fishing village. I argue that it gained a particular kind of salience after 1717, when the Asantehene (the king of Asante) was betrayed and murdered there, and his body could not be recovered popularly memorialized. In the wake of this, the people of Asante developed an oath, Memenada Akromanti, and that oath was used by maroons and revolutionaries in seventeenth-, eighteenth-, and even nineteenth-century Jamaica of diverse origins, from Madagascar to Kongo to Biafra.
This, of course, is early for that, and so begs the question: why Kromanti?
Was Kromanti important earlier, as Agorsah's archeological work suggests, because of iron working? Could that reputation have resonated with ideologies about blacksmithing and political legitimacy from the Kongo?
The plurality of musical forms here, however, if nothing else, should push us beyond thinking of Kromanti as a simple or straightforward gloss for a region cum ethnicity cum linguistic group, and try to think, again, of what these terms meant for those using them in the seventeenth century.