Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Jamaican Nine Nights Wakes (Music & Dance Traditions)

Edited by Azizi Powell

This is Part I of a three part series on Jamaican Night Nights music and dance. Part I provides information about Nine Nights and videos or sound files of actual Nine Nights wakes.

Part II of this series provides information and videos of dinki mini dancing. Click for Part II of this series.

Part III of this series provides videos of staged Nine Nights music & dance performances. Click for Part III of this series.

The content of this post is presented for cultural, folkloric, and aesthetic purposes. This series is not meant to be a comprehensive portrayal of Jamaican Nine Nights (Set Up) traditions.

From uploader summary given as Video Example #1 in this post:
"Nine-Nights also know as "Dead Yard" is a funerary tradition practiced in the Caribbean (primarily Jamaica, Guyana, and the Dominican Republic). It is an extended wake that lasts for several days, with roots in African tradition. During this time, friends and family come together to the home of the deceased. They share their condolences and memories while singing hymns and eating food together. In the old days, the nights were calm and reserved for the most part - but that tradition has changed with the times. Today, these gatherings resemble parties much more than they resemble wakes (though this is not true for all "nine-nights").

Nine-Nights are no longer a time to mourn but a time to celebrate since the loved one is no longer suffering in life. When friends come they do not come with just condolences they come with food, drink and music; this is after all a celebration. True to its name this celebration lasts nine nights and days with the ninth and final night being the night before the church service (Though some modern Islanders only celebrate for seven days and seven nights). On the ninth night the family prepares the food for all who come. As tradition has is on the ninth night it is believed that the spirit of the deceased passes through the party gathering food and saying goodbye before continuing on to its resting place. Out of all the nights this night is the most revered since it is the end of the celebration. Stories about the deceased and the fondest memories are shared, along with prayers. Games, such as Dominos, are played as well as singing hymns, which is also done on the other nights as well.

On the ninth night a table is set up under a tent with food for the loved one, though no one is allowed to eat from it before midnight because it is believed that this is the time that the spirit passes through. Along with the food are drinks, most often Jamaican rum with no less than 100 proof. The types of food on the table can vary from one celebration to the next, but typically fried fish and bammy are the main foods on the table. This time is very important to the family because it gives them time to celebrate the life of their loved one and to be able to say their goodbyes.

Traditionally on the ninth night of the deceased's death their bed and mattress are turned up against the wall, in order to encourage the spirit (Jamaican patois "duppy") to leave the house and enter the grave."
"One of the strongest Jamaican traditions concerning death, is that of a wake, also called Nine Night or Set Up. It was believed by African slaves that a person's spirit took nine days to travel home to Africa, and this is probably wherethe tradition started.

Family and friends gather at the dead person's home to comfort the bereaved, and to give the spirita good send off from this world. This may be done on one or many nights, with the ninth night or the night immediately preceding the funeral being of the most importance. It was an African belief that the person's duppy would live on and become a nuisance to the survivors if not treated with respect before burial.

Although the concept is African derived, the proceedings at a wake have a strong European Christian influence. Special hymns (sankeys) are sung emphasising the soul's journey to heaven. The singing is done in a style known as 'tracking', where someone will call out one line of the sankey at a time, and then the rest of the gathering will sing the line together.

The activities at a wake will vary according to place, class, and religious beliefs. Food and drink, including white rum,are a must at all wakes. The refreshments are usually provided by the family, often with the financial assistance of friends and well wishers. Nowadays in rural areas, it is not unusual for a sound system to be hired for the occasion. Food vendors may set up stalls on the roadside if it is expected that the Set Up is going to be a large one."
*Re-posted with formatting corrections.
Additional quotes about Nine Nights are included in Part II of this series.

Video examples of "tracking" (also known as "lining" a song) are included in Part III of this series.

(These videos are posted in no particular order)

Example #1: Trevor's 9-night (MOV078.MOD)

Uploaded by Errol Hamilton on Sep 21, 2010
Song – “Not One Of Them”

Example 2: Traditional Jamaican WAKE

Aston Cooke, Uploaded on Oct 1, 2009

Traditional Jamaican Wake for Trevor Rhone at Ranny WIlliams Entertainment Centre, Kingston on September 30, 2009
This brief video includes examples of dancing on poles and dinki mini dancing. Click Part II of this pancocojams series for videos of dinki mini.

Example #3: Traditional Jamaican WAKE

Aston Cooke, Uploaded on Nov 16, 2011

One of the strongest Jamaican traditions concerning death, is that of a wake, also called Nine Night or Set Up. Nine-Nights are no longer a time to mourn but a time to celebrate since the loved one is no longer suffering in life. When friends come they do not come with just condolences they come with food, drink and music; this is after all a celebration

Example #4: Jamaican Setup/Nine-Night

Uploaded by tantillnuh on Mar 14, 2009

Night of celebration and reflection for the Life of Mrs Kathleen Burrell of Thompson Town/Blackwoods, Clarendon Jamaica
Click for this video's comment thread. Here are several comments from that thread which were posted in 2009:
"Do people still sing a dead yard?
-hotnumber 24
"Its even bigger than it was in the olden days........... they got drums, sound systems and singers dedicated just to setups.
That's what I'm saying. The sound system is not traditional. The drum I can understand, but the sound system is for the dance hall really.

Example #5: Jamaican Mento at Gerreh

Uploaded by gwellesley on Aug 7, 2010

Tourists rarely, see this side of Jamaica.

This is a sneek peek of the good ole Jamaican Mento.
This one incorporates elements of Gerreh. It typically happens at wakes, nine nights, funerals, etc.

This was happening in my home community.

Example #6: Jamaica Nine Night / Liquid Edition 7.2

Jamaica Nine Night / Liquid Edition 7.2

fredmaxcaine, Uploaded on May 20, 2011

Uploaded by fredmaxcaine on May 20, 2011

Example #7: Jamaica Nine night 2

Uploaded by denneverthom on Apr 1, 2009

A comment from the viewer comment thread identified this Nine Night band as "Taws Pen in Spanish Town".

For more video examples of Caribbean folk dances, click this page of my cocojams website: A link on that page leads to a cocojams page on Caribbean folk songs.

Much respect to those whose Nine Night wakes were shown in this post. Thanks also to the musicians, singers, and dancers who are featured in this post. My thanks also to those who provided information about Nine Nights which is quoted here and thanks to the producers & uploaders of these featured videos.

Thank you for visiting pancocojams.

Viewer comments are welcome.

1 comment:

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