restricted access 8. Jamaica: Spanish Town Yabbas and the Kingston Walkaround Style

From: Creole Clay

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173 8 Jamaica Spanish Town Yabbas and the Kingston Walkaround Style This is part of our heritage, residue of the African technique of pottery brought to Jamaica by our forefathers. Let us not despise the root from which comes the tree where so many young Jamaicans now shelter. —Cecil Baugh, potter, Jamaica Jamaica is geographically the largest of the English-speaking island countries of the Caribbean, and holds an equally substantial position in the colonial history of the British West Indies. Following Christopher Columbus’s first landing in 1494, the Spanish held the island as the colony of Santiago from 1509 to 1655, when the English seized this valuable possession and called it Jamaica after the name used by the original Arawak inhabitants. The legacy of the Spanish occupation is easily recognized in the colonial capital of Spanish Town (once Villa de la Vega), and in the classical ceramic form of the large water storage vessel still called a Spanish jar. Archaeological evidence indicates that functional clay pottery was produced locally during the Spanish period, apparently by the native Amerindian workforce, and that the handbuilt forms made in Jamaica mimicked the shapes of imported European ceramics.1 By the early 1600s, nearly the entire indigenous Arawak population had perished from the fatal effects of European brutality and infectious disease, and in the early seventeenth century domestic ceramics may have been produced by the hundreds of African slaves owned by the Spanish. Under British rule, three-quarters of a million African slaves were forcibly brought to Jamaica to labor on the rural plantations and staff the urban centers and military installations . It is through the work of their hands that ceramic traditions were established Figure 8.1. Jamaican potter Merline Roden uses the earthenware clays of the Liguanea Plain and a burnished red bauxite slip to craft cooking yabbas and coalpots in the tradition of her famous mother, Louisa (Ma Lou) Jones. Roden is the last female potter in the SpanishTown ceramics community that once supplied much of Jamaica with cooking pots. 174 Creole Clay that demonstrate the adaptive strategies of local potters in the post-emancipation era, and continue to illustrate multiple aspects of the range of African clay methods transplanted to the Caribbean. Jamaica’s rich and complex ceramic history is evident today not in the countryside but in its major urban areas. On the outskirts of the former colonial capital of Spanish Town, Merline Roden continues to shape the iconic Jamaican form of the cooking yabba using methods inherited from her mother and from many generations of women potters of African descent. Less than fifteen miles away in the midst of congested Kingston, the official capital of Jamaica since 1872, there is a large community of male potters who annually produce many thousands of garden pots using a distinctly different set of West African skills known locally as the “walkaround” style. From these dual traditional roots emerged the extraordinary figure of Cecil Baugh, Jamaica’s most celebrated potter and founder of the ceramics department at the former Jamaica School of Art, now the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts. With strong educational programs, an expansive cultural network of national museums and galleries, and well-established markets for tourist, collector, and corporate customers, clay is accepted as an essential medium in the vibrant Jamaican arts scene. The question remains, however, whether the production of traditional ceramics can be maintained in this contemporary art community. The answer, in typical Caribbean fashion, is both yes and no. The People’s Museum The documentation, collection, analysis, and display of historical ceramics have been pursued thoroughly and systematically in Jamaica. With the establishment Map 6. Jamaica. Created by William L. Nelson. Jamaica: Spanish Town Yabbas and the Kingston Walkaround Style 175 of the Institute of Jamaica in 1879 a series of national museums were built that began with natural history collections but increasingly focused on the preservation of Jamaica’s tangible and intangible cultural heritage. Of particular importance to the study of ceramics are the archaeological collections of the Jamaica National Heritage Trust, and the archives of the African Caribbean Institute of Jamaica, founded in 1972 to enhance public awareness of African contributions to Jamaican culture and society. The first campus of what became the University of the West Indies was established at Mona in 1948, just a few miles north of downtown Kingston. With the resources available through Jamaican libraries, collections, and study centers a substantial body of literature...


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