My Jamaican Black History
There are so many narratives that exist in Black history. Some are of pain and suffering, others are of royalty and strength. In the spirit of Black History Month, I’m sharing a glimpse into what I know about my Jamaican history, specifically that of my maternal great grandmother. It’s so important to truly know our own heritage, which is a blessing to know and have access to, especially as a descendent of slaves. We’re aware that most Jamaicans are of Africa diaspora, brought to the Caribbean by the English. There is beauty in the fact that my ancestors survived a long period of hatred and exploitation (although it’s horrifying that they had to go through it at all). What is next for my people is even more beautiful because of the faith and strength we have developed. What I love most about being Jamaican is that we have developed a rich culture that is recognized all over the world. When I visit, I’m reminded of how unique and beautiful my people are. Despite living in Canada for most of my life, I will always identify with my roots and I know that’s what my ancestors would have wanted.
My maternal great grandmother, Eglantine “Mama” Cummings (pictured above), was an orphan. There are speculations as to where her parents were from, one being that her mother became pregnant while she was working in Panama on the Panama Canal. After returning to Jamaica, she died in childbirth so was unable to tell Mama about her father. Mama’s aunt took her in but migrated to England, leaving her with a family friend. Unfortunately, her aunt passed away before being able to send for her. Mama ended up living her entire life in the parish of Hanover, on Jamaica’s west coast. There she had 13 children. This is a common occurrence in 20th century Jamaica, before modern medicine. The strength of these women to be able to bare that many children alone is just, wow!
My mother lived most of her childhood with her grandmother. She remembers her as a quiet, hardworking and generous woman. Their house was home to many other grandchildren at different times in their lives as their parents would migrate or go away to work. Whenever it was time to eat, although she had many mouths to feed, Mama would make sure that even visitors had something to eat. Her last job was washing clothes for the local police men, who apparently wore all white in those days. When she got old, her daughters would eventually pitch in to make sure she got the work done. As the family grew older, they went their separate ways, to Kingston, Jamaica (the capital), Canada, USA or the UK, while many still live in that little town in Hanover where our huge family began. By this time, Mama’s children would sent her all she needed so that she did not have to work. Even in old age, Mama did anything she could to help others and always kept herself looking the best, especially on Sundays. She would put her long hair in a net and wear her finest hats.
Although Mama did not have riches to pass onto her children, she placed the love of God in all their hearts. She was very involved in her church. My mother has shared many stories of going to church with her grandmother every week. Her favourite memory is participating in all the church events and riding in the back of the yam truck (this was before buses were regular) in early mornings to make it to Kingston for All-island New Testament Church of God Conventions.
My mother is the only daughter my grandmother had (she had three sons) & I am my mother’s only child. However, I have more cousins and second cousins than I can count! The mere fact that an orphan has birthed a family this large, despite the pain her parents and grandparents potentially endored as slaves and not even knowing them, is beautiful. If she were alive today, I know she would attribute all these blessings to the grace of God. Above all things, my grandmother (before her passing), my mother and I, honour her memory by keeping God in our hearts. My Black history is how God has blessed my family despite its sad beginnings. We’re far from perfect. Like most Black families we’re still learning (and unlearning) but with God, we know all things are possible. The affects of slavery are the last things on our minds when we think of our history and that’s a blessing.
I hope my story is an inspiration for you to share your Black history, inquire about it and share with the next generation. Our narratives are important and need to be told. Comment below your favourite story your family has shared with you about your ancestors, do we share similarities? I’d love to read about it.