Kramanti, the African dialect that outlived slavery to become Jamaica’s identity

June 18, 2019 at 05:00 pm | Diaspora Connect

Etsey Atisu

Etsey Atisu | Staff Writer

June 18, 2019 at 05:00 pm | Diaspora Connect

Photo Credit: Continental Currency Exchange

The era of slavery is one of the cruelest times in human existence mainly because it was an atrocity committed by humans on other humans regarded as inferior. The effects and fallouts of the many centuries of the commoditization of human beings on the market, are still very fresh on the minds of many.

By and by, new discoveries, researches and stories emerge around the era, helping current generations appreciate the practice, reasons, motivations and destructions that Africans, who formed the majority of people who were enslaved, underwent.

There’s one other evidence of somewhat good that slavery brought to the world and that should not be overlooked.

For instance, when the Europeans came to Africa to take slaves and bring them to the Americas, they did not simply come ashore and start raiding to capture as many slaves as they could. They came to exploit these countries and territories, long before and during the period of their trade of human beings.

But while people were forcibly relocated from their homes to other locations in the world to work and help build other economies, one other thing that they carried along with them was their cultural blueprints which includes their language.

And as a way of preserving their identities, we are aware of the immense role folklore played in slave communities.

The Jamaican Maroon people/My Island Jamaica

That takes us to Jamaica. In Jamaica today, the Maroons, believed to be escaped slaves who ran away from their Spanish-owned plantation when the British took the Caribbean island in 1655, reflect the linguistic effect of one of the most predominant languages of West Africa learned from slaves who connected from Ghana to the Caribbean.

Kramanti. This Akan-inspired language from Ghana, derived its name from the major coastal slavery town of Kormantse. Kormantse, in colonial history, is very important in Ghana as it serves as a historic site for the slave trade.

Historically, it is called Cromantin (Kromantine or Coromantyn), as that was how the British used to call it while referring to slaves taken from this port as the Cromantin slaves. And for Jamaicans, this place in Ghana is where they refer to “their natural home.”

Fort Amsterdam located in Kormantse, Ghana/whc.unesco.org

According to history, the slaves from Kormantse were notorious for causing most of the slave uprisings in the Caribbean, South and North America, making them one of the few groups of slaves that their masters feared the most.

It was so intense that an edict was eventually issued in the Caribbean to halt the importation of slaves from that port. But before all of that stopped, the Cromantin slaves were able to establish their language in their new land.

In many parts of the Americas, including Suriname, Guyana and Carriacou, Coromantee and similar labels have been used for ethnic, linguistic and cultural groups with what appear to be Akan origins.

In a research sponsored by UNESCO in collaboration with the Jamaican Language Unit, Department of Language, Linguistic and Philosophy at the University of West Indies, it has been established that Kramanti was still spoken ‘freely’ in Moore Town till the early 1930s.

C.L.G Harris, in his 1994 work titled, ‘The true traditions of my ancestors,’ claims that the language was used alongside an archaic variety of English lexicon Creole styled in the literature as ‘Maroon Spirit Language’ (MSL). However, the language is referred to by its speakers as Deep Patwa.

Even though, in the 1930s, an English Creole vernacular was the most common means of communication within the community, Kramanti was used in preference to Creole at certain times. These included at Christmas time, which was a prolonged period of merriment, and during the frequent stagings of the Kramanti Play.

The Play was a ceremony that involved the process of summoning of ancestors, which involves the use of Deep Patwa (Maroon Spirit Language) for communicating with the more recently dead, Jamaica-born ancestors. Kramanti is employed for communication with the earliest Maroon ancestors, many of whom were born in Africa.

However, there are many who have argued on whether or not Kramanti should be viewed or not as a dead language. In one sense actually, it is because it is a language used for communicating with the spirits of the dead. However, this is in a culture in which the dead, though absent in material form, are always present in spirit. Speaking of them is regarded as invoking their presence.

This is a language used by the living as part of their normal daily communication acts. It is simply that, within the culture, normal communication networks include the dead. In this latter sense, Kramanti is a living language.

M. Alleyne (1988) in his research, takes only a marginally more optimistic view. He comments that though Kramanti is dying, it is not dead. He notes that the language is hardly ever used in ordinary everyday contexts, but that ‘Scott’s Hall and Moore Town Maroons can carry on conversations in the old language on request, but that they use fixed and stylized expressions, and all creativity is lost’ (Alleyne 1988, pp. 126-7).  

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