Nine Night: The Age Old Ritual for Jamaica’s Dead Journeying to Africa before Burial

Stephen Nartey September 13, 2022
Sympathisers at nine night ritual in Jamaica/Photo credit: Loop news

There have been proposals calling for Afro-Jamaican funeral practices of nine nights rituals to  be considered as a tourism export.  

The nine night is the eve to the burial of a loved one. It’s a social gathering where friends make merry, eat and drink rum to bid farewell to the departed. 

It is literally a wake that’s kept by family and well-wishers who provide comfort and support to the relatives of the dead. Author, Ivy Baxter, who wrote on the Arts of an Island, said the nine nights is the ceremony organized on the ninth night after the burial of the deceased, thus the name nine night. 

Jamaican writers Nakatia Spence and Tavia Powis in the advocacy to commercialise the ritual also indicated that the nine night is the night before the period the deceased is buried.

Oral history has it that the enslaved of Jamaica held the belief that the dead visits their motherland in Africa before joining the ancestors, making the nine night ceremony essential. 

The occasion is usually heralded by singing of hymns, praying, playing of ring games, telling stories centered on the dead while they were alive among others. 

The nine night commence at eight or nine o’clock with prayers offered in the room where the dead once lived and hymns afterwards. 

Nakatia said there is no nine night without music saturating the atmosphere.

The role of a master of ceremony cannot be overruled in a successful nine night. 

The MC is expected to lead the singing and guide the band with an array of hymns. 

A good MC is one who is able to intertwine the words and music to the delight of the gathering. 

Nakatia said in their interactions with Jamaicans on the origin of mine night, they recalled the ceremony as one of the colorful moments where beautiful songs are sung and even heard from afar. 

She added that refreshment is one important aspect of the funeral rituals. 

According to her, there was a lot of food particularly yam, bananas and meat in abundance. 

Modernity has changed this characteristic culture with the gathering being served chocolate tea, friend fish and hard dough bread. 

The drinking of rum is also an important part of the ceremony. The type of rum usually served Is white and colour and has high percentage of alcohol.

It’s the rum that use to clean the house to part ways with the ghost of the dead and smooth the throat of the singers and get people in a merry mood. 

Nakatia noted that table setting is integral to the nine night function. She explained that there are several items that must be included and there are designated locations for these items on the table. 

The use of white table cloths, fluids and salt is used to purify the residence of the departed before the nine night ritual commence.

This is the period where the rum is sprinkled around the ceremony area to remove any bad spirits. Cream soda is also used on occasions in some ceremonies.

Sugar and a meal are used as food for the ancestors. Sugar is placed opposite the salt in front of the table.

Nakatia indicated that a lamp or bottle torch is used for light. In modern nine nights, candles are often substituted for lamps.

A Bible is also placed on top of a hymnal to the left of the lamp. The Bible is generally opened to the Book of Psalms. Psalm 23 is one of the chapters used in the ceremony.

Last Edited by:Sedem Ofori Updated: September 13, 2022


Must Read

Connect with us

Join our Mailing List to Receive Updates