Saturday, June 9, 2012

Jamaican Revivalist Bands In Watts Town, Part I

Edited by Azizi Powell

This is Part I of a two part post on the Revivalist religion in Jamaica, West Indies. Part I presents information & commentary about Jamaican Revivalism.

Click for Part II of this post. Part II features eight videos of Jamaica Revivalist Bands at Watts Town.

The content of this post is presented for historical, folkloric, spiritual, and aesthetic purposes. The copyrights remain with their owners.

My thanks to all those whose articles & comments are quoted.

I'm an African American woman who has no personal knowledge of the Jamaican Revivalist church or any other Revivalist church. The little knowledge that I have about these topics is gleaned from online reading. I was prompted to do that reading as a result of watching the videos featured in Part II of this post. In particular, I was interested in learning the meaning of the term "drilling" that is included in several of the titles for Jamaica Revivalist Band videos. "Drilling" is also included in several viewer comments such as this one:
"Nothing like the revival Churches. I miss home. Can't wait to go back to Jamaica and do some drilling like this. I miss it all. This is the real deal. I can feel them."
Jamaican180,, 2010
Although at least one commenter on another YouTube video thread asked for a definition of "drilling" as it pertains to Jamaican Revivalist churches, no definition was given. And, to date, I've not been able to find any definition online for the term "drilling" as it pertains to Jamaican Revivalist churches.

Here's my guess about the meaning of that term: From what I've read, I think that Revivalist "drilling" means to bring out the Holy Spirit/s (or bring forth the Holy Spirit/s) - that is, to engage in repetitive actions such as "tramping" (foot stomping), chanting, and drum playing that help/s the Holy Spirit/s become manifest and flow outward (or "inward").

I'm hoping that persons knowledgeable about Jamaican Revivalism will confirm or correct my guess about the meaning of "drilling" by posting in the comment section. Thanks in advance!

Note: The "Revivalist church" or "Revivalism" does not mean the same thing as a church revival service.


"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...

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.

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...

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."
*Editor: I think "trumping" is probably a typo for "tramping."

From Revivalism Written by Michele Anderson
University of the West Indies
Lecturer: Orville Beckford
Course: Caribbean Culture (SY36C)
2009 July 10
"Revivalism has its genesis in both Christian and African traditions. According to Seaga (1982), Revivalism is a cult which began in Jamaica between 1860 and 1861 as part for a religious movement called the great revival. This period saw the restoration of suppressed and discriminated against religious practices during slavery. According to Murphy (1994), the experience of the masses of Jamaicans resulted in a Christian spirituality, expressed in African ritual forms, which became a permanent part of the Afro-Jamaican Spiritual world. Most revival groups were located in the Western and South-Western parts of Kingston with small groups in the rural areas such as St. Thomas. Water plays a critical role in the rituals
of revivalism; they believe that water has healing properties...

Revivalism uses various symbols; some of these are used to welcome both the spirit and human. The seal is the focal point of the church; this is where the angels are believed to manifest themselves. This is the most sacred area of the ground and is a welcoming tool. The seal is a dominant feature in all revivalist churches because the seal encourages spirits which come and possess the members, enabling them to carry out their works of healing and worship. According to Murphy (1944), it is advised that one should walk around the seal three times to pay respect to the Tribune God. Some seals can be seen with silver coins in them, this is payment to the spirits for their help.

Entertaining symbols

These symbols are used to invite and entertain the spirits and humans. They may be symbols such as dance, music and drums, revivalist are of the view that God resides in Zion, where singers and musicians play. They are of the opinion that Zion is the place of the spirits “the spring from which they pour into the church when drawn by the praise of songs, dances and righteousness.” (Pslam 87 v 7). One of the reasons why revivalist utilize music and dancing is the belief that the dance of the bands opens their eyes to the presence of the spirits and their ears to their messages (Seaga, 1982). Drums are generally used to call out people in the area where the service will be kept. The drums used are a large, shallow bass drum and a smaller kettle drum, each played with a stick."
[Italics added to highlight those statements.]

Thanks for visiting pancocojams.

Viewer comments are welcome.


  1. write more, that's all i have to say. you obviously know what you're talking about. keep it going.

  2. Thanks for your comment, denise.

    However, I know very little about this subject and that is from the internet.

  3. what about the basic beliefs of revivalism?

    1. Thanks for your comment, Shauna-kay Picart.

      Pancocojams focuses on music and other cultural aspects, and not on religious doctrines. I know nothing about Revivalism other than what I've read online.