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Revivalism in Jamaica

Figure 1:  A Revival yard with a pool contains water, this represent the healing waters.

Revivalism is an authentic Afro-Christian religious folk form that evolved during the eighteenth to nineteenth century. Initially, it was the native Baptist Christians who joined forces with the Moravians, and other non-conformist churches to become the forerunners of the movement. However, Jamaica was said to have experienced a religious movement called the Great Revival in 1861, which saw the incorporation of much more African retention in the movement. Revivalism is divided into two groups, Zion and Pocomania. Pocomania is more African in form while Zion is more Christian oriented. These two groups have very clear differences, particularly with their functionaries and the role that they play. In Pocomania for example, the leader is always a man knows as the Shepherd while in Zion, the leader can be either a man or a woman. The Man is referred to as “Captain” while the woman is called the “Mother/Madda”. There is also a difference in their music and the form of spiritual possession.

In revivalism those possessed with the spirits are generally linked with a personal spirit. In most case, if not all, it is the spirit who selects the individual and becomes personally attached as a personal guardian and adviser to the possessed. The revivalist spiritual world is categorized into three realms:
• Heavenly spirits
• Earth - bound spirits
• Ground spirits

Figure 2:   A ground table, the candles and flowers were taken from the thanks giving or uplifting table and placed on   the ground.

The Earth-bound spirits are the “Fallen Angels” (satanic powers). The Heavenly spirits consists of the triune; God, archangels, saints and angels. The Ground spirits are those of the human dead that are not biblically mentioned. Revival deals mainly with Heavenly spirits and also with Apostles and prophets of the Earth-bound group.

Some Revival Churches and practically all healing centers and balm yards are decorated with high poles with flags, which are used to attract passing spirits. Sometimes, the pole is planted in the “Seal” or mission ground. The seal is the center for most of their important ritual activity and is deemed sacred. It is said that all the spirit of the dead, that work with the revival ‘bands’ actually lives at these spots.

Figure 3:  A thanks giving or uplifting table with fruits, drinks, bread, candles and cakes. 

A revival yard has numerous features. An alter is sometimes erected which is covered with a white cloth on which flowers, fruits, bibles, hymnals and candles are placed, arranged in a step format. Around the “mission,” holy pictures or signs with biblical inscriptions are usually hung. Most revival yards also contain a water pool or a large earthenware jug with water. It is said that this is the source of the water used in the rituals. In Pocomania, the water is deemed “home” of all functionaries who perform with water, for example the River Maid and Diver. On journeys, whenever the group encounters a river, the River Maid would dance in a manner simulating the motions of a swimmer to take the “bands” across the river. The Diver, would also imitating a dance, performing some action like diving.

Other than the normal church service and balm yard activities, revivalism is characterized by major ritual forms, which can be classified into two groups:
• Street Meeting and Prayer Meeting
• Rituals for specific purposes Feasting Tables or Duties etc.
Prayer meetings are held for different purposes and usually take the form of bible reading, singing and discussion. Street meetings are held mainly to get new members, to preach biblical doctrine. Rituals for specific purpose are “table” or “duties” held for various purposes such as thanks-giving for a particular events, prosperity, deliverance, memorial, death and judgement, mourning, consecration pole-planting, ordination, dedication, and baptism. In Pocomania the feasting table is usually held on Sunday nights. The table is spread with fruits, drinks, bread, candles and vegetable. After bible reading and greetings of visitors, the table is “broken” at midnight, the food distributed among those present. On the other hand in Zion their feasting table is never held on Sundays. Both groups combine Bible reading, preaching, singing and movement in these rituals, invoking the spirits to enter the ceremony.

Figure 4: A Madda or Lead Rest woman with her bands in Watt Town St. Ann moving around the seal.

An essential part of Pocomania meetings is the tramping and the cymbals. This occurs after the singing and Bible reading section. The members move around the circle, counter clock-wise, each using forward stepping motions with a forward bend of the body. The songs that are used in revival usually vary in tempo for example hymns and choruses. Revival also incorporates lively songs that are of a local derivation, classified as ‘warning’ songs or non-sense songs. Singing usually takes place to the beat of the drums. These drums are the Kettle-drums or bass drums which are beaten with two sticks. Tambourines might also be shaken in the rhythm along with other instruments. Some revival songs are:
• Madda de great stone got to move.
• Daniel saw de stone, rolling into Babylon,
• My young companion fare the well,
• Rock oh! Rock holy, rock oh! Rock holy,
• No stone in the de valley, no stone,
• For me eye nuh blin, an mi ears no deaf.

Revival Churches can be found all over Jamaica, particularly in the deep rural areas and in the inner-city sections of the corporate area. On specific dates, towards the end of each quarter within the year, revivalists may be seen journeying to Watt Town, St. Ann. This is one of the most popular revival meeting places. At Watt Town, all aspects of the religion are usually on display: there is the church service, which entails bible reading, singing of hymns and choruses, trumping and the cymbals, dancing, spiritual possessions, healing and sometimes warning.


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