Translate

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Akan Words And Other African Cultural Retentions In Jamaica's Maroon Communities


vagabrothers, March 26, 2017

We dive deeper into Jamaica's Blue Mountains and get welcomed into the Scotts Hall Maroon Community. Join us for an UNBELIEVABLE day in the Blue Mountains as we explore Maroon culture!
-snip-
Pancocojams Editor's Note:
I'm showcasing this YouTube video mostly because of its cinematography, its content, and  the comments in its discussion thread. However, I'd like to note that a number of Jamaican commenters disagreed with this video's title, and wrote that Maroons aren't forgotten people in Jamaica.

****
Edited by Azizi Powell

This pancocojams post showcase a YouTube video of the Scotts Hall Maroon community in Jamaica.

This post includes a definition of the term "cultural retentions", definitions of the word "Akan", and an excerpt from the Wikipedia page about Jamaica's Maroons.

This pancocojams post also includes some comments from that video's discussion thread that refer to Jamaica's Maroon communities' retention of Akan words from Ghana and The Ivory Coast's (west Africa) Akan language as well as some other African retentions.     

The content of this post is provided for linguistic, historical, and socio-cultural information.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to the Scotts Hall Maroon community and other Maroon communities in Jamaica and elsewhere. Thanks to the vagabrothers for the information included in this video and the high quality cinematography of this video. Thanks also to all those who are quoted in this post.
-snip-
This post is part of an ongoing pancocojams series about Maroons in Jamaica and in other nations of the Caribbean and South America.

****
A DEFINITION OF "AFRICAN CULTURAL RETENTION" 
The definition of "African cultural retention" that is used in this post is "the retention of African names and other terms, and the retentions of African cultural practices and aesthetics in the African Diaspora". 

****
A DEFINITION OF THE AFRICAN WORD "AKAN"
From https://www.yourdictionary.com/akan
"A Kwa language spoken in parts of Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire whose two main varieties are Fante and Twi. (
noun)

*
Of the Akan or their language or culture. (
adjective)

*
A member of a people of Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire, including the Fante and the Twi. (
noun)"

-snip-
I added the parts of speech in parenthesis. 
Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire are West African nations. The English translation of "Côte d'Ivoire" is "The Ivory Coast". 

Click https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Akan_people for information about Akan people. That page notes that "Akan" is an ethnic group which is found in present day Ghana and The Ivory Coast. There are a number of sub-groups of Akan people. Two sub-groups of Akan people are "Ashanti"* and "Fante".
-snip-
In the Akan language, the Ashanti are called "Asante" (ah SAHN tee" . The name for this West African ethnic group is  spelled the same but way but is pronounced differently and has a different meaning from the KiSwahili (East and Central African) language word that means "thank you".

Click https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VnnHQTytGHE&ab_channel=LearnTwiwithEfiaBAE for a YouTube vlog about how the word "Twi" is pronounced.


Here are a few comments from that video's discussion thread about how the word "Twi" is pronouned:
1. ebert beeman, 2019
" @Elroy Rigsby-Leday  Twi as in "she"?"

**
Reply
2. Elroy Rigsby-Leday, 2019
"@ebert beeman  more like ch - ee or ch - we.  The ch is meant to sound strong like chew and the ee is streched out. I find success when I say chwe it's not technically correct as the w sound should disappear because tw is supposed to translate into ch, but everyone says it sounds right."

**
Reply
3. Learn Twi with Efia BAE, 2019
"As the response before mine explains, no, it doesn't sound like the word "tree" or "she". But more like "tchwi" with a soft "t". It doesn't even sound like the sound an English native speaker would make when saying "chew" or "chewing gum" but it's the closest sound I could think of that expresses part of the sound made in pronouncing "Twi". I hope repeating the video several time and with practice it will get easier :). Good luck."


****
EXCERPT FROM THE WIKIPEDIA PAGE ABOUT "MAROON"
From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jamaican_Maroons
"Jamaican Maroons descend from maroons, Africans who escaped from slavery on the Colony of Jamaica and established free communities in the mountainous interior, primarily in the eastern parishes. Escaped Africans who were enslaved during Spanish rule over Jamaica (1493–1656) may have been the first to develop such refugee communities.

The English, who invaded the island in 1655, expanded the importation of slaves to support their extensive development of sugar-cane plantations. Africans in Jamaica continually fought and revolted, with many who escaped becoming maroons. 

[...]

Origins

The word "maroon" is derived via French from the Spanish word cimarrón, meaning "wild" or "untamed". This word usually referred to runaways, castaways, or the shipwrecked; those marooned probably would never return. The origin of the Spanish word cimarrón is unknown.[1]

When the English invaded Jamaica in 1655, most Spanish colonists fled. Many of their slaves escaped and, together with free blacks and mulattoes, former slaves, and some native Taíno,[2][3][4] coalesced into a number of ethnically diverse groups in the Jamaican interior.[5]"...

****
SELECTED COMMENTS FROM THIS VIDEO'S DISCUSSION THREAD

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LJfVfH09SK8&ab_channel=vagabrothers

Numbers are added for referencing purposes only.

1. konkonbishl, 2017
"These guys are Akans of Ghana abeng is horn in twi. Their ancestors may have been taken from kormanteng and Abanzi in the central region of Ghana. To be specific they are Fantis. Very stubborn people. The Akans lived under strict military structures. Read about the Akans of Ghana and you would know it. An Akan would never live under any oppressor they would rebel."

**
2. MissBabyloved, 2017
"My heart is filled with joy seeing my Akan people transformed as maroons but they didn't loose all the Twi language of the Akans. "Nyankonpo"= the almighty God, "Aben"= ivory horn specifically in Ghana 🇬🇭. 😅 would really like to visit them. ❤️❤️❤️🙏🏽🇬🇭"

**
3. Mahcyah S., 2017
"Awwwhs👣me video! L😍ve it! The history,culture,the tour of the interior of the Maroons territory!

🎵📽🎤🇯🇲🏞🗻🍠🍎🌽🍹🎵😀

 Am from the Parish of Portland. They have another Maroon🇯🇲🔆 community call Acompong! Courageous,amazing people! Thanxs for the tour guys, it really rocks! 🛤Am from there and never been personally went there but read and watch a lot of videos on the Maroons! So well done, am visiting very soon!

PS  breathtaking views from your environmental friendly  lodge? How refreshing that must be?😊😊😊"

**
4Friedrich, 2017
..."Well in current day Jamaican patoi language. There are many Akans Ghanaian language words fused into it. There also still exist Ghanaian culture, naming and languages maintained by descendants of escaped slaves sent to not only Jamaica but Guyana, Suriman, St Lucia, Aruba and even further to state of Lousiana in USA. I would love to invite you guys to Ghana to explore with me someday, whenever you are able to do so. "

**
5. 
Nana K.N. Owusu, 2018
"Ghana and Jamaica must establish an intercultural program.  The Jamaicans are Akans with names like Nanny(Nana), Cudjoe, Quao, Tacky etc.

Cola nuts are called Bese in both places, the staple cornmeal is called Dokunu, and the Akye tree is called Akee."

**
6. Laugh Jungle, 2018
"abeng-horn

nyankopong-God

 both Ghanaian Twi Language

Bless Up Africa"

**
Reply
7. Koku, 2021
"Akan, it  could be Fanti"

**
8. Yvonne Asare, 2018
"Truly Ghanaians. This fishing method plus the small rivers brings my childhood memories back. So innocence and loved the rural growing up in eastern region on the akuapem mountains."

**
9. Str88 Money Movement, 2018
"Most are akans but many came from Kongo too"

**
Reply
10. carsty, 2018
"@Str88 Money Movement  erm well from wat i was taught our ancestors  (slaves) were from West Africa...i thought Congo/Kongo was Central Africa or is it a different Country I dont know of?"

**
Reply
11. Str88 Money Movement, 2018
" @carsty   well you have to overstand the kingdom of Kongo was situaded in west central Afraka stretching from northern Angola, western Kongo Kinshasa aka DRC and Kongo Brazzaville aka ROC.

When people hear Kongo they think of the modern nation in central Afraka which was colonised by Belgium because its the biggest country in sub Sahara Afraka and have been through the worse genocide.

So when I said Kongo was talking about the kingdom of Kongo and not the current nations.

Lastly we have to remember Jamaica was not always controlled by the English but the Spanish too, these European nations brought enslaved Afrakans from the gold coast all the way down to west central Afraka.

**
Reply
12. Str88 Money Movement, 2018
"@carsty  Based on the phoenix ship records, enslaved Africans mostly came from the Akan people (Twi [Ashanti Akyem, etc.], Fante and Bono) followed by Igbo, Yoruba, Kongo, Fon people and Ibibio people. Akan (then called Coromantee) culture was the dominant African culture in Jamaica"

**
Reply
13. Str88 Money Movement, 2018
"@carsty  "It was pure Congo people who was living in here, straight from Africa, after slavery was up, real black African. My great-great-grandfather come from Africa. We all are from the African tribe," declared the 72-year-old grandfather, who has spent most of his life in Congo Town, Wakefield, Trelawny.

In an email response to a query about Guy's claim, Professor Verene Shepherd, social historian and lecturer in history at the Mona campus of the University of the West Indies, says: "There are several Bongo towns and Congo towns in Jamaica. That speaks to the presence of Jamaicans descended from people from the Congo/Angola area of Africa. Read Maureen Warner Lewis' book, Central Africa in the Caribbean. Also remember ... (the) victims of the last ship, Zong? Some of those on the Zong were from Angola/Congo area."

Congo Town, Wakefield, was indeed a big slave settlement and, after slavery, it was a vibrant place; even in the 1940s and '50s when Guy was growing up, decades after the abolition. And as he talked about his life and time in Congo Town, Wakefield, Trelawny, my mind strayed. I looked right through him, and was transported to a time when life was hard, but sacred, and so very different from what it is today. The greying man beside me was a link between now and then, when the hypnotic sounds of the Tambo drums in Congo Town echoed from the hills surrounding Wakefield.

There was a yard near where Guy now lives in Congo Town, where people from all over the parish would meet to play the drums and dance to their message-laden beats, carrying on what their forebears had brought from Africa. The drums were loud and could be heard miles away, and few could resist their calling, to go dance and sing, and be merry.

"We used to have the Congo people dem who come in. We have Congo people who come from up Duansvale, we have Congo people from Maroon Town, and same place here in Wakefield. We used to have the dance over there so, over there so used to be for my grandfather. That was actually the camp for Congo people," he recalled."

**
Reply
14. Str88 Money Movement, 2018
" @carsty  there's a lot more information available if you need it.

But my point is we brothers regardless. I'm from Kongo and I know my people were part of the maroons and the revolts in Jamaica and the rest of the Caribbeans even in mainland Brazil, Mexico and of course the USA.

G-d* willing one day I will visit the maroons in Jamaica and it will be emotional for me to say the least!

Peace love and light to you and yours."
-snip-
*This is the way this word is spelled in this comment.

**
15. Superblack, 2018
"The Maroons are a mixture of West African ethnicities.... Not just Ashanti, you will definitely find a big Igbo element as well as Yoruba

**
Reply
16. "SUNSHINE GIRL, 2019
"Incoginto One you are so right about this even the Igbo culture is so much in Jamaica but because of Nanny the Akan culture dominates. Emprezz Golding mother traces her roots back to the Igbo tribe in Nigeria. There a lot of things associated with the Nigerians. Calabar high name after a port in Nigeria and yam festival and jonkunu from there too. So they need to educate kids about their other tribes"

**
17. Ofori Amanfo, 2019
"Jamaicans are real asantes cos the sound of the abeng is used for communication even now when u visit the village and go the farm, the farmers  use it to communicate like telling each other when they are leaving their farms when is getting late"

**
18. DREAMER, 2019
"OMG 11:29 did I hear a word Nyankinpong,  it makes me cry.

Nyankopon is an akan or let me say Ashanti word meaning Almighty God.

The  Maroons are the direct descendants of the Asante ( Ashanti) people, who were taken away from modern day Ghana.

Maximum respect and love from Asante land."

**
19. Ruthy Ruth, 2019
"Was just about to state the same, Ghanaians say Nyakopong. Some Jamaicans also share some Ghanaian stories like ‘Anase the Spider’ and have Ghanaian names like Kofi and Kwame. This shows how the Maroons really tried to preserve as much of their West African culture as the could. 🇬🇭🇯🇲"

**
20. Atlas24gh, 2019
"They are AKan  but they are more Fanti than Ashanti They were mostly from Abanzi and Koromantee sectin f the central region"

**
Reply
21. Enoch Adjei, 2019
"They are not Asante because you hear a few akan words.They are from  all over West Africa.My 
research point to Fulani as Majority.Who can be found everywhere in West Africa even Northern Ghana.

**
Reply
22. kofi Sachey, 2019
"
 @Atlas24gh  Now that hit home! Because the rhythm from those drums are not typically Ashanti. And the dance moves further prove my point. Now I understand."

**
Reply
23. kofi Sachey, 2019
@Max A  The maroons were mostly Ghanaians, no doubt about that. However it's also obvious that the cultural influences aren't just Akan. It seems to me other tribes from other nations joined the Akan maroons on their rebellious flight into the blue mountains. Very fascinating piece of history."


****
Thanks for visiting pancocojams.

Visitor comments are welcome.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Jamaican traditional Dance: Dinki Mini (videos and comments)



Irie Camp Jamaica, August 11, 2018

****
VIDEO #2


Jamaican Matie, March 28, 2017


****
Edited by Azizi Powell

This is Part II of a pancocojams post about Jamaica's Dinki Mini dances.

Part II of this pancocojams series showcases two YouTube videos about Jamaica's traditional dance called "Dinki Mini". Selected comments from the discussion thread of one of these YouTube videos are also included in this post.

Click 
https://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2021/04/article-reprints-and-article-excerpts.html for Part I of this pancocojams series. That post showcases a YouTube video of two couples dancing dinki mini and provides information from several online sources about Jamaica's Dinki Mini. 

The content of this post is presented for cultural, entertainment, and aesthetic purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all those who are featured in this video and thanks to the publisher of this videos on YouTube. Thanks also to all those who are quoted in this post.
-snip-
Click http://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2012/08/jamaican-dinki-mini-dancing.html for a 2012 pancocojams post entitled "Jamaican Dinki Mini Dancing". That post is Part I of a three part pancocojams series about traditional Jamaican dances. The links to the other posts in that series are given in that post. That 2012 post features other videos than the ones that are embedded in this 2021 pancocojams post. 

****
SELECTED COMMENTS 
From https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rRFQbUxYWyM&ab_channel=JamaicanMatie [Video #2 in this post]

1. Konrad Wright, 2016
"Wheel and tun mi seh. Before there was dance hall there was dance yard. This yah one yah tun up til it buck."


**
2. 1garysgirl, 2016
"GREAT OLD DAYS👍🏾👍🏾👍🏾"

**
3. Lacey Wollo, 2016
"d man in d yellow thou lol"

**
Reply
4. Valena Thompson, 2021
"😂😂"

**
5. Casey Jeter, 2017
"What's this dance called"

**
Reply
6. Desrene Naturals, 2017
"Casey Jeter Dinki mini "

**
7. General C2, 2019
"Yea yea mi fadda teached mi dat dance mi weh bout 2 years old great dance fi jamaicans yea yea"

**
8. Kimmy Campbell, 2020
"Glad to see this still going 🙌 my people 🇯🇲"

**
9. Nina Nailed It, 2020
"Now THIS is the authenticity of our culture I LOVE to see 🇯🇲❤️✊🏾 we need to embrace it more, so beautiful"

****
This concludes Part II of this two part pancocojams series.

Thanks for visiting pancocojams.

Visitor comments are welcome.

Article Reprints And Article Excerpts About Jamaica's Dinki Mini Dance

JAFSProject, Apr 17, 2019

****
Edited by Azizi Powell

This is Part I of a pancocojams post about Jamaica's Dinki Mini dances.

This post showcases a YouTube video of two couples dancing dinki mini and provides information from several online sources about Jamaica's Dinki Mini. 

Click https://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2021/04/jamaican-traditional-dance-dinki-mini.html for Part II of this pancocojams series. Part II showcases two YouTube videos about Jamaica's traditional dance called "Dinki Mini". Selected comments from the discussion thread of one of these YouTube videos are also included in this post.

The content of this post is presented for cultural, entertainment, and aesthetic purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all those who are featured in this video and thanks to the publisher of this videos on YouTube. Thanks also to all those who are quoted in this post.
-snip-
Click http://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2012/08/jamaican-dinki-mini-dancing.html for a 2012 pancocojams post entitled "Jamaican Dinki Mini Dancing". That post is Part I of a three part pancocojams series about traditional Jamaican dances. The links to the other posts in that series are given in that post. That 2012 post features other videos than the ones that are embedded in this 2021 pancocojams post. 

****
ARTICLE REPRINTS AND ARTICLE EXCERPTS
These articles are given in no particular order. Numbers are added for referencing purposes only.

Article #1
FORMATION ABOUT DINKI MINI
From http://www.chat-bout.net/content/view/2758/1/ [The link to this article is no longer active. This article was quoted in the 2012 pancocojams post about Dinki Mini whose link is given above.
"What is Dinki Mini and Gerreh?

Both dances are of African origin of the wake tradition usually performed after the death of a person, and up until the ninth night after the death. These sessions are usually held to cheer the bereaved.

Dinki Mini originates from the Congolese word ‘ndingi’ which means lamentation or funeral song. Dinkies are celebratory occasions. Although associated with death, the music is lively, joyous, and exciting, intending to cheer the family and friends of the dear person. Dinki Mini was practised openly throughout slavery but is now done mainly during our annual Festival celebration.

However, it is still performed in the parishes of St. Mary, St Ann, St Andrew and Portland, while Gerreh is found in the parishes of Hanover, Westmoreland and St. James. Its popularity came about from the death of Tacky, a hero of the Maroons, as it was performed during his funeral celebrations.

Popular at set-ups or nine-nights, the first few nights consist of singing and dancing to Mento music. The sixth to the eighth night is dominated by ring games, role playing, riddles and Anancy stories. On the ninth night, a ritual to send off the ‘mature’ spirit to begin its journey ‘home’ is performed. The family of the deceased will ‘turn out’ the spirit by turning over mattresses and rearranging rooms.

The aim of the ritual is to properly send the spirit on its journey. Hymns such as “Rock of Ages” are sung.

Included in the activities, is the feeding of the dancers and singers who will not hesitate to remind the householders of this duty. This is done in song.

While refreshment is provided at the set-up, a mini feast is prepared for the Ninth Night. This consists of fried fish, coffee, or chocolate tea, crackers and bread. In some parishes curried goat and rice with mannish water (i.e. goat had soup) is served.

Instruments associated with Dinki Mini are shakas, katta sticks, condensed milk tins, grater, the tamboo (cylindrical shaped drum) and the benta. The benta is an accident stringed instrument – a fret board made of bamboo and a gourd resonator.

The Dinki Mini dance focuses in the pelvic region, as it is performed in defiance of the death that has occurred. The dancers, male and female together, make suggestive rotations with the pelvis in an attempt to prove that they are stronger than death, as they have the means to reproduce.

The lyrics of the songs associated with Gerreh are also suggestive. Gerreh however had another dimension – the bamboo dance – that is dancing on elevated bamboo poles and between four bamboo poles brought together and pulled back by four crouching players."

****
Article #2
From https://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120721/news/news3.html " Islington Culture Group preserving Dinki Mini"
Paul H. Williams, Published July 21, 2012
"JEFFREY TOWN, St Mary: THEY ARE young, energetic and talented, and they created a stir at the St Mary Breadfruit Festival held on Sunday, July 15. And they were not making boiled breadfruit punch. They were tossing the Dinki Mini into the mix.

In what was easily the high point of the day-time segment of the festival of breadfruits, the members of the Islington Culture Group from St Mary used their bodies and voices to say loud and clear that the Dinki Mini is alive and kicking - pun intended.

The Dinki Mini has its roots in the Congo region of Africa, and it comes from the Congolese word, 'ndingi', which is a song of lamentation played at funerals or during the periods leading up to them. Though associated with death, Dinki Mini rituals were celebratory occasions of merriment and joy. The original purpose was to cheer up the family and relatives of the deceased.

This particular ritual of singing, music, and dancing was carried out in Jamaica by Congo people who were enslaved on plantations. The focus of the dance movements is on the pelvis. The hips are suggestively rotated by both male and female dancers. That erotic rotation is a story told by the hips about the ability to reproduce, a victory over death.

Bent knees and heel-and-toe foot movements are other important element of the Dinki Mini dance. The drums and other instruments are played in peculiar ways, and the music is characteristically lively and hypnotic, and can hurl performers and onlookers into a frenzy. And on Sunday, while the artistry of the young dancers was to be commended, the passion of the lead singers and musicians exploded at Ben's World, where the breadfruit festival was held.

cultural form

Nowadays, Dinki Mini rituals are practised mainly in St Mary, St Ann, and Portland, a region in which enslaved Congolese were concentrated. Groups such as the Islington Culture Group are making sure that the Dinki Mini is kept alive, not only at funerals, but also at festive and cultural events.

All under the age of 30, and graduates of Islington High School, where they had been involved in this cultural form, the members seem to be really interested in preserving the Dinki Mini. "Culture is nice and it's good for every young person, it don't matter where they are from. Get involved, know your culture, and keep it alive," Ricardo Forsythe, the leader of the group, declared, "We are the younger ones, but we have to teach the smaller ones who will replace us."

And although there is the allure of dancehall popular culture, which some people say is pulling younger Jamaicans away from our indigenous cultural forms, interest in the Dinki Mini is still very strong among young people in St Mary. Forsythe believes the group is an inspiration to other young people in their communities, and said he would never turn away anyone who showed an interest in his group, which used to perform for tourists at Tacky's Falls in St Mary. They will be performing at the grand gala on Independence Day."...

****
Article #3
From https://jis.gov.jm/information/jamaicas-heritage-dance-music/jamaicas-heritage-dance/ 
Jamaica’s Heritage in Dance [no author or publishing date given]

" [...]

Dinki-mini
Dinki Mini is done on the Eastern end of the island in the parish of St. Mary. It is usually performed after the death of a person until the ninth night. These ‘Nine-Night’ sessions are lively and are held usually to cheer up the bereaved. During the performance the male dancer bends one leg at the knee and makes high leaps on the other foot. Both male and females dance together with very suggestive pelvic movements. An integral aspect of this dance is the use of the instrument called a benta.

[…]

Zella

This folk dance form is rarely heard of but is similar in form and structure to the Dinki Mini as it forms part of the death observances and rituals in Portland. The difference is in the main instruments which is a pair of Kumina drums.

****
Article #4
From https://dance.lovetoknow.com/traditional-dance-jamaica
" [...]

Dinki Mini

Dinki Mini (from Congolese "ndingi," and called Gerreh in some parts of Jamaica) is performed over the course of a ritual wake, along with the Kumina. The dance has the same purpose - to cheer the mourners and remind them of life. Dancers sway with suggestive hip rotations, heel-toe stepping and bent knees in a performance which has become a cultural artifact. The Congo-derived moves can still be found where Congolese slaves first lived in Jamaica - in the parishes of St. Ann, St. Mary and Portland on Jamaica's northeast coast."

****
This concludes Part I of this two part pancocojams series.

Thanks for visiting pancocojams.

Visitor comments are welcome.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

My Family's Experiences With "Aunties" And "Play Cousins"



Renee Powell, Sept. 25, 2016

This is a lip synch battle social event that was held at the home of Cousin Nay, one of my granddaughter Jaiya's "real cousins". One of Jaiya's "real" grandfathers, Wade H. Powell, Jaiya's mother Tazi, me, and three of her "real" Cousins on her father's side ("Cousin Stell", "Cousin Nay", and Cousin Mar") were at that event along with a number of younger cousins,  including one of her little cousins who wanted to dance with her.

Clickhttp://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2016/10/almost-three-year-old-jaiya-lip-syncing.html for a 2016 pancocojams post "Almost Three Year Old Jaiya Lip Syncing Two R&B Songs".

Also, click 
 https://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2021/04/2014-article-excerpt-about-play-cousins.html for the closely related pancocojams post entitled "2014 Article Excerpt About "Play Cousins" : Why Do Black People Have So Many Cousins?" 

****
Written by Azizi Powell

[Latest revision: April 21, 2021] 

I'm an African American women who was born in Atlantic City, New Jersey in 1947. I lived there until I went away to college in 1965. I then moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1969 and have lived there ever since.

I've never had any play cousins, play aunts, or play uncles. I had a number of "real" cousins, "real" Aunts, and "real" Uncles. My siblings and I (and our children) called our mother's only sister "Auntie" and her children (and their children) did the same thing. Other than my mother's sister, we've never called anyone else "Auntie". 

It often became confusing when my siblings and I used the term "Auntie" while talking to my cousins whose mother was "our" Auntie, or when they said "Auntie". 

My siblings and I called our mother's brothers' wives "Aunt" plus their first name. All of our cousins did the same thing, but they also used "Aunt plus the first names as references for my mother and my "Auntie". Their children do the same thing.

Although our Auntie lived in Philadelphia, and the other Aunts lived in Atlantic City, my siblings and I were closer to "Auntie" and her children who were near our ages, than we were to our other Aunts and their children who were around our same ages. 

My father had no siblings. He was adopted (or long term fostered) by a Black couple who lived in Michigan. I have vague memories of my sisters and I when we were little riding a train with my mother to visit these grandparents and the rest of their (my) Michigan family. I remember meeting one of my father's uncles (my uncle) whose name "Uncle Willie-Dillie". Unfortunately, my father had mental health problems and he was disowned by that Michigan family. My mother's family was therefore the only "real" family I knew. 

Later in my life when my mother got in touch with some of her family who lived in Barbados but had emigrated to England. I never kept in contact with that side of my family, although my sister has kept in touch with one British cousin.  

My siblings and I were taught to refer to adults we often came in contact with using the title "Mr". or "Mrs" and their last name if the men or women were married or "Miss" with their last name if the adult woman was unmarried. The only exceptions were "Reverend" for ministers and "Doctor" for medical doctors/dentists. 

I moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1969 and got married shortly thereafter. My husband and I both come from large families so my daughter has a number of "real" aunts and "real" uncles on both sides of her family. However, the only person she has ever called "Auntie" was the same Aunt that I used that referent for. That Aunt passed without my granddaughter ever knowing her, and my granddaughter doesn't refer to anyone as "Auntie".

My husband and I had a core group of friends when we were raising our daughter. I
n one way or another, all of us in this group of four couples were very active in Pittsburgh's Black arts communities. Consequently, our children were often together at public events and at private social gatherings. We also regularly babysat for each other, and our children would sometimes spend overnights in each other's homes. In this sense, we were a "family". For a long time our custom was that all of the children in this group of friends called the adults by their first names. (I think we were trying to be "new age", "hip" or something like that.). Here's my daughter's recollection of how she began referring to the adults in that core group as "Aunt" and "Uncle", and began referring to their children (who were her close friends) as "cousins":

My daughter attended Pittsburgh's Creative And Performing Arts High School and was in one class which was discussing famous Pittsburghers. One classmate read a poem about Bob Johnson who had just passed away. Bob was a well known dancer, choreographer, and founder of the Pittsburgh Black Theatre Dance Ensemble and was the father of two children who are part of our core group of family friends. While the student was reading that poem, my daughter began to cry and ran out of the classroom. When the teacher came out of the classroom to find out what was wrong, she told him that the poem was about her Uncle. Consequently, my daughter started referring to Bob's children as her "cousins", and his wife as "Aunt Stephanie". She also began using "Aunt", "Uncle" as referents for the other adult members of that core group and began calling all their children "cousins". These terms were reciprocated among that group except for three "children" (then high schoolers) who were members of that core group who perferred to call my daughter their "sister". Each of them  refer to me as their "Aunt" and my former husband as their "Uncle". My daughter's husband passed away when my granddaughter was one years old. When he was alive, the now grown children in that core playgroup who called my daughter "cousin" also considered him to be their cousin, and the ones who called my daughter sister, called him their brother.

After my daughter completed high school, other people were added to her family of "play cousins". Sometimes she iniiated the custom of calling someone "cousin" and sometimes it was initiated by the other person. Usually, she called the parents of these play cousins were called "Aunt" and "Uncle". 

Here's my daughter's answer to the question "Why do you call certain people cousins who aren't related to you"?  "The main reasons for me are 
"we've known each other since we were kids because our families are good friends", and/or "because we are close and supportive of each other-above and beyond what friends would do". 

That said, which family referents are used for people who are "play cousins" and "play sister", "play brother" can get complicated when these people have children. The "Aunt" and "Uncle" referents that the children of that core had begun to use for people in my generation have carried down to their children. All the other children who were born to those (now adult) cousins are also referred to as "cousins". In the case of members of this group who began referring to my daughter as their "sister", her daughter (my granddaughter) calls them "Uncle" (plus their first name). One of these "play Uncles" is married and his wife is also my daughter's sister and my granddaughter's Aunt. That Uncle and Aunt recently had a child, and that child is my granddaughter's cousin.

My granddaughter Jaiya has other "play Aunts" and "play Uncles" who weren't a part of that core group of friends that I (and her mother) had, but they were and are close friends of her mother. Two of those close friends are my granddaughter's 
Godmother and Godfather. My granddaughter calls her Godmother "Aunt" plus her first name ("Aunt Jen" and her Godfather "Uncle" plus his first name ("Uncle Alvin"). Aunt Jen's parents are my granddaughter's "God grandparents", and she calls them "Mr. and Mrs. Thomas". 

My granddaughter is seven years old now and has lots of real and play cousins. She uses the titles "Aunt"/"Uncle" (with their persons' first name) for her "real" Aunts and Uncles and she refers to their children as her cousins. However, those children aren't considered to be cousins to her "play cousins". Take for example, the case of her cousin Jamar Jr. . Jamar Jr's father is one of my daughter's "play cousins" who wasn't a part of that core group of friends which I referred to earlier, but he and Tazi "go way back". They can't remember which one initiated the custom of calling each other "cuz". 

It just so happens that Jamar, Jr. attends the same school as Jaiya and is in the same grade, but not the same classroom that she is in. Jaiya has a "real" cousin Jay who also attends that school and is in the same classroom as Jamar Jr. (Jay is the son of one of my daughter's "real" cousins from her grandfather's side of the family.) In addition, another boy named Abdul is also one of Jaiya's play cousins (since his father and the rest of his immediate family consider Tazi to be part an honorary member of their family.). Abdul is one year older than Jaiya, Jamar Jr, and Jay.  My daughter shared with me that one day after school, Cousin Jamar told his son Jamar Jr. "Come take a picture with your cousin, Jaiya". Abdul heard this and said to Jamar.Jr, "She's not your cousin. She's my cousin." and the two boys shouted back and forth to each other, each claiming Jaiya was their cousin and not the other boys's cousin. They went back and forth like this for a bit until my daughter and Jamar said "It's okay  Jaiya is both of your cousins. Jamar ended taking a separate photo of each boy with Jaiya. 

In spite of that incident, I don't know whether Jamar and Abdul consider each other cousins.  Jay knows that his classmate Jamar Jr. and Abdul call Jaiya "cousin", but none of these boys refers to each other as cousins. W
hether or not children who are those ages call any non-related people their "play cousins" largely depends on their parents.

This is complicated, isn't it? 

While these are just a few snapshots of my family's experiences with these titles, it helps to  document that there's more than one way that African Americans or any other population have used in the past and continue to use for who is a real or "play" "Aunt", "Auntie", "Uncle", and "cousin".

What experiences do you have with calling people who aren't really related to you "Aunt", "Auntie", Uncle, and/or "play cousin"? 

****
Thanks for visiting pancocojams.

Visitor comments are welcome.