Monday, April 22, 2019

General Information About Jamaica's Revivalists Religious Denominations (with YouTube video: "Who are Zion Revival people ?")

African Caribbean Institute of Jamaica,  Nov 4, 2020

This is a short video produced by the African Caribbean Institute of Jamaica/Jamaica Memory Bank (ACIJ/JMB). It explains the tenets of the Revival Church in Jamaica as a Christian denomination - from its emergence in 1860 to present day

Edited by Azizi Powell

Latest revision:  March 30, 2024

This post is part of an ongoing pancocojams series on Afro-Caribbean religions.

This pancocojams post presents complete reprints of two online articles about Jamaica's Revivalist (Christian religious) denominations and one excerpt of an article about Jamaican Revivalism.

This post also showcases three YouTube videos about this Jamaican religious denomination.

The content of this post is presented for religious and cultural purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post. Thanks also for the producers and publishers of these embedded videos and thanks to all those who are featured in these videos.
Click the "Afro-Caribbean religions" tag for more posts in this series.



This video is found at the top of this post.

SHOWCASE VIDEO #2 - Who are Zion Revival people ? Jamaica

Selekta Steph Live Up, Published on May 26, 2015

Revival orders playing

Howard Howiebecks Beckford, May 4, 2019

ARTICLE #1 [Reprint]*
From Revival
From Sense, the Jamaican encyclopedia
"A distinctly Jamaican Religion created by a synthesis of European and African religious influences. Revival embraces two different branches: Revival Zion and Pukumina (also called Pocomania or Poco). Revivalists are noted for their colourful dress (robes and turbans in different colours depending on the ceremony), for their powerful drumming and singing, and their characteristic wheeling dance to induce spirit possession. In recent times the general public has been more exposed to Revival ceremonies such as their elaborate ‘Tables’ and to some of their imagery through art and Music. Once sidelined as small hands of deluded and derided cultists, Revival bands nowadays are organized as churches with pastors and bishops, conventions and communion services. These churches are increasingly associated with Pentecostalism. Possession by spirits is central to Revival worshippers and powerful rituals, Dance, and music induce the spirits to come. Power derived from the spirit world is used for both physical and spiritual healing and the enhancement of the worshipper’s life and well being.

Although its various elements existed long before in Myal and native Baptist movements, Revival as a distinct folk religion gained impetus and its name from the Great Revival of 1860-61 which started in Christian churches but was increasingly taken over by African elements. Revival groups dating their origin to that time refer to themselves as the ’60 Order’ (Revival Zion representing those at the more Christian end of the spectrum) or ’61 Order’ (Pukkumina or Poco, representing the more ‘African’ element in worship and practice). At the time of the Great Revival, the orthodox church leaders, alarmed by what they saw as over-emotionalism and ‘heathenism’, roundly denounced the Revivalists, and this attitude has influenced popular perception to this day of what are generally referred to as ‘Poco people’. Revivalists are usually poor, working class people and have always been frowned on or ridiculed by the rest of society, ‘Poco’ people especially being regarded as noisy, deluded and dangerous. ‘Pocomania’, many have been quick to point out, translates to ‘little madness’ though there is no evidence to suggest the slightest association with Spanish. Scholars nowadays believe the word is derived from Pu-Kumina. With the ongoing re-evaluation of Jamaican culture since Independence in the 1960s, there has been increasing recognition of the validity of such indigenous religions as Revival and their value in preserving the cultural traditions of Jamaica.

Their colourful ritual involving dance drumming-singing has inspired the National Dance Theatre Company to choreograph one of their more spectacular dances, ‘Pocomania’. One Revival Shepherd, Kapo (Mallica Reynolds) gained international recognition as an ‘intuitive’ artist and many of his works can be seen on permanent exhibition at the National Gallery of Jamaica (see Art); the art, like Revival music, is full of original symbolism and imagery. Indeed, Kenneth W Bilby claims that Revivalists ‘have invented an entirely new musical form’. They have done so ‘by blending Protestant devotional songs (many of them taken from nineteenth century British and American hymnals) with polyrhythmic clapping and, in the case of Revival Zionists, forceful drumming’. The language employed is sometimes rich in symbolism and imagery such as the song, ‘Parakeet in the Garden’ which likens Judas the betrayer of Jesus to a chattering and destructive parakeet.

Revival origins may be traced to Myal, which embodied traditional West African beliefs. With the introduction of the enslaved Africans to Christianity through non-conformist Missionary activity, the Baptist church became a powerful influence from the beginning of the 19th century. Over time, the native element in the Baptist church began to reinterpret Christianity in ways they believed were more appropriate to their lives and set up their own churches, becoming known as ‘Native Baptists’; by the 1860s they were stronger than the European organizations and fuelled the ‘Revival’ element. Early Revivalist leaders often came from the ranks of ‘daddies’ or Baptist church leaders. From the Baptists, Revivalists adopted certain practices such as baptism with which Africans, accustomed to water rites, could easily identify.

Like Kumina, Revival is based on the African belief that the spiritual and temporal worlds are not separate but form a unified whole, therefore the living can become possessed and influenced by the spirits of the dead. According to G.E. Simpson who was one of the first scholars to study this religious expression, Revivalists have adopted from Christianity the belief that God the father is the creator of the universe and Jesus Christ, his son. The former never comes to service; the latter comes but does not usually manifest himself. Most important is the Holy Spirit (sometimes called ‘Messenger’ or ‘Spirit’) who attends services and possesses followers. Revival spirits also include: Old Testament prophets, New Testament aposdes and evangelists, archangels, Satan and his chief assistants, beings from Hebrew magical tradition, other assorted mystical figures, and the dead: great Revival leaders - shepherds and shepherdesses.

Dreams and visions in which spirits appear are important. ‘Getting into the spirit* or possession, is brought about by the use of a specific ritual which involves singing, drumming, dancing, clapping, groaning, and prayers. Most followers ‘travel under’ (are possessed by) one spirit but some claim they receive messages from and are possessed by many spirits.

Poco and Zion are alike in many respects, their basic difference having to do with ritual and doctrine and with the types of spirits they invoke, Zion deals only with sky spirits, i.e. God, archangels, angels. Poco spirits are the ‘ground spirits’, i.e. human dead, or ‘earthbound spirits’, i.e. fallen angels. Zion is closer to Christianity and Poco to African traditions though sometimes the distinction is not so clearly observed. Unlike European beliefs that see ‘good’ and ‘evil’ as two separate and distinct forces, Revivalists are concerned with harnessing the unseen forces of the universe that are not good or bad in themselves but can be utilized by man for different purposes.

Revival groups or ‘bands’ are organized around a strong leader, Male leaders are called ‘Captain’ in Zion and ‘Shepherd’ in Poco, female leaders are called ‘Mother’. Each ‘bands’ has many titled officers with different duties including responsibility for the rituals and care of devotees who are possessed. The ‘mission ground’ where meetings are held is usually part of the leader’s Yard. The leader, outside of services, also serves as a temporal adviser and counsellor to his flock. A mission ground is usually marked by a tall pole or poles on which flags of a solid colour are flown. This is both to identify the ground and attract spirits. 

Revivalists usually hold three distinct types of meetings - prayer meetings (divine worship), rituals for special occasions, and street meetings - in addition to ‘baths’ for healing. The special services include baptismal rites, death rites, dedication of new church, installation of new officer. The rituals are usually elaborate ceremonies -each held for a specific purpose, and might last for days. ‘Tables’ are held for special events such as anniversaries or for specific purposes such as healing, mourning, etc. and can last for a week. A ‘feasting table’ is held as thanksgiving for deliverance from trouble. The Table is laid with spirit conductors such as rum, flowers, fruits, water and candles. These along with the colour theme will indicate to initiates the purpose of the ritual. Each spirit - like the orishas or deities in other African-Caribbean religions, such as Santerfa or Vodun - has a special colour, food preference, music, etc. which must be used if it is to respond to the summons. 

Revival for its adherents is a way of life. Leaders dress in long flowing robes and wear characteristically styled turbans. Members dress soberly with their heads tied turban-style. For meetings, leaders and members will wear clothing of specific colours, depending on the ceremony. Ivy Baxter has commented on the elegance of dress and regalia, and careful adornment of the table in pukumina that is ‘often in striking contrast to the stark appearance of poverty that exists in the surrounding area’.

A Revival ceremony will start with singing, preaching, Bible reading led by the Shepherd, and build up to a pitch where certain members will become possessed or get ‘into the spirit’. Practices called ‘trumping and labouring’ will help to induce such possession. 

In trumping (or tramping) and labouring, members led by the Shepherd dance counter-clockwise around the table, seal or altar in the process of which evil spirits are trampled or expelled, Zionists maintaining a circle, Poco adherents preferring a horseshoe shape to leave space for the spirits to enter. While moving their bodies forward, Revivalists bend, expelling the breath, and utter a groaning sound on the upswing, all in 2/4th rhythm, a movement that causes dizziness in some persons and facilitates the onset of spirit possession. The Shepherd orchestrates the proceedings by ‘cymballing’, i.e. chanting in ‘unknown tongues’. Trumping will continue till the drums are suddenly stopped and the only sounds heard are vocal - the gutteral sounds of the trumping and the Shepherd’s ‘cymballing’ chant. A wheeling stage will follow in which members turn around rapidly on the same spot, their gowns billowing. Members will become possessed and ‘travel’ to the spirit world. Each member imitates the particular spirit in movement or sound, e.g. ‘dove’, ‘bell ringer’ etc. The leader himself receives and interprets spirit messages. 

Outside of their regular services, Revivalists will sometimes hold street meetings that are usually brief affairs held to attract members. Revival music, dress, and behaviour have inspired novels, poems, plays, dance-theatre, and Reggae music. In recent rimes, numerous popular songs utilizing Revival rhythms and satirizing ‘Poco people’ have made the charts, such as ‘Revival Time’ by Chalice and ‘Pocomania Day’ by Lovindeer. [Baxter 1970, Bilby 1985a, Chevannes 1998, Lewin 2000, Ryman 1980, Seaga 1969, Simpson 1956, 1970, 1978]
This page was last edited on 1 October 2018, at 12:39.
I reformatted this reprint to enhance its readability.

ARTICLE #2 [complete reprint]
"REVIVALISM IN Jamaica evolved out of Myalism, another Afrocentric religion whose purpose was to rid the land of evil charms and to heal the spiritually and physically afflicted.

The emergence of Revivalism came in the 1860s with two different branches: 60 (1860) or Zion; and 61 (1861) or Pocomania.

Revivalists believe in the Holy Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), and they see no separation between the earthly and the spiritual realms.

As such, there is communion and communication between the living and the departed through the conduits of spiritual possessions, signs, dreams, and visions. Zion people call upon sky spirits such as archangels and angels, while Pocomania invokes earth spirits, such as fallen angels and water spirits.

Because of the spiritual nature of Revivalism, Revivalists use many artefactual symbols to represent elements of the religion. From their attention-grabbing attires, adorned with sundry paraphernalia, to the objects they use in their services and rituals, Revivalism is replete with symbols.

One of the symbols of Revival is the turban, wrapped, styled, and embellished in a variety of ways. It is one of the most recognisable symbols of Revivalism and has given use to the term 'wrap-head church'. The wrapping of the head and how it is wrapped has many symbolic reasons, likewise the things with which the turban is adorned.

Early this year, Family and Religion spoke with Pastor Henry Hunter of Morant Bay, St Thomas at the first 2015 quarterly conference held at the Zion Headquarters and Jerusalem Schoolroom in Watt Town, St Ann, about the Revival turban. He said the turban represents many things. For instance, Henry said his black turban, which he calls a diadem, represents power and authority.

Turban Colours And Style
The colours and styles of the turbans are based on how the wearers are instructed by angels and the angels with whom that they are working. It is also "a spiritual covering of the head", he said. "Because, you see, as servants of God, being faithful to God, we will come under spiritual attack. It's a war that we are in - a spiritual war going on between God Almighty and the devil," he said.

Family and Religion also spoke with Revivalism scholar and researcher at the University of the West Indies, Mona, Dr Clinton Hutton. He said the influence of the turban is to attract a particular type of spirit. In this case, Hutton said the turban is like an altar, a seal, as it is adorned with objects to induce spiritual possession. In this case, the spirit takes over the head of the wearer until the possession is over.

The Seal
"The seal, a consecrated space, is where Revivalists do their cleansing (cutting and clearing) and invoking of spirits. These seals, or sacred ports, or docks, or spirit-empowered devices, are an assemblage of a multiplicity of natural and/or manufactured ritualised objects abounding with movement (aliveness) from the interplay of shapes, colours, light, shade, and texture," Hutton writes in Jamaica Journal Vol. 32 Nos. 1-2.

The name of Hutton's article in the journal is 'The Revival Table - Feasting with the Ancestors and Spirits'. In it, Hutton writes about the symbolism of the Revival table, another important Revival symbol. It is an elaborately set table of cooked and baked food, fruits, citrus, liquor, candles, and other objects.

"The Revival table, which seems to combine the feeding of the ancestral spirits (ground spirits) ... with the feeding of the deifical spirits (heavenly spirits) is an artistically arranged display of traditional Jamaican dishes, which are ritually cooked, usually without salt, especially those which are prepared for the spirits," Hutton said.

Revival Table
In explaining the motivation for the setting up of the Revival table, Hutton writes, among other things, "The ritual feedings of the ancestors and ancestral gods is, in some respects, quite pervasive and central to the way that many people in the African diaspora make sense of their existential reality and sense of self." It is to communicate with and have communion with the ancestors.

Outsiders who do not understand Revival symbolism have come up with their own interpretations. This misunderstanding has led to much distrust of and disdain for Revivalism, which is often vilified as an evil cult. This attitude towards Revivalism is as old as the religion itself.

Yet, no other religion or movement in Jamaica has influenced popular culture and the arts more than Revivalism, the dramatic ritual that it can be. "Revival music, dress, and behaviour have inspired novels, poems, plays, dance theatre and reggae music ... ," Olive Senior writes in Encyclopaedia of Jamaica Heritage."

ARTICLE #3 [excerpt]
From Jamaican Religion
"Over 750,000 African captives came to Jamaica from the Bight of Biafra, the region of present-day Ghana, and west Central Africa. Beginning in the late eighteenth century, Jamaica saw the emergence of a variety of African and African-influenced religious traditions. The three major traditions that then reached the United States are called Obeah, Jamaican Revivalism or Pukumina, and Rastafarianism.


A Jamaican Revivalist tradition called Pukumina—more structured than Obeah in belief and practice, with numerous churches and congregations—is practiced in most major U.S. cities today. Like mainland black North American Christianity, Jamaican Revivalism is much more likely to be described as “African” by outsiders than by insiders, though there are many parallels between Jamaican Revivalist movements and West African cultures. Various Jamaican Revivalist practices recall West African and Haitian religions. For example, each of the various spirits venerated in Revivalism is said to prefer specific foods, colors, and music. Recalling Haitian Vodou, Pukumina ceremonial space includes the “ritual architecture” of a central pole, to which Jamaicans add a basin of water used for spirit-channelling. This apparatus stands at the center of the sacred space, whether it be in the backyard or in a special meeting hall. Drumming and dancing culminate in trances and contact between the worshippers and the spirits who bring about divine healing or divine inspiration. In the Revivalist traditions, however, it is often said to be the Holy Spirit who “possesses” the devotees, or the spirits of Biblical figures such as the prophet Jeremiah and the apostle Peter.”...

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  1. Here's some additional general information about Jamaican Revivalism from "The rise of Revivalism in Jamaica" by Shalman Scott, January 21, 2018
    "Revivalists are known widely as Revival Zion, Zionist, Revival and Pocomania — a blend of Baptist, Methodist, Roman Catholic, Anglican, Pentecostal beliefs and practices with modified African beliefs and practices added.

    Less diffused and in parallel tandem is the religious form called Myalism, the strongest neo-African cult in Jamaica, stemmed from ancient West African Ashanti ancestor possession cult and incorporates an African world view understanding of nature, deity and human relationships. Myalism is related to another religious formation called Pocomania, which is the union of Myalism and Protestant Christianity in Jamaica.

    This Neo-African religious movement promoted Christian revivalism plus oral confessions, trances, dreams, prophesies, spirit seizures, and frenzied dancing. It became the strongest of the native Jamaican religions until the emergence of Rastafarianism in the 1930s."...

  2. The reprint given above appears to suggest that the word "trumping" -in the context of Revivalism- is a folk processed form of the word "tramping".

    While that may be correct, a sentence in the book Reggae, Rasta, Revolution: Jamaican music from Ska to Dub edited by Chris Potash New York, 1997 indicates that "trumping is "the heavy rhythmic breathing associated with dancing and spiritual possession in the Revival religion".

    If that is the case, I've also seen "trumping" referred to as "overbreathing" or "groaning".

    I'm less sure about the meaning of "drilling", a term that is widely found in YouTube videos about Jamaican Revivalism and their discussion thread comments. Perhaps "drilling" is what is meant by the word "labouring" that is given in the article reprint that is given in this post.

    Here's a note that I wrote in a 2012 pancocojams post entitled Jamaican Revivalist Bands In Watts Town, Part I
    "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 services (for instance in Baptist churches in the United States).
    I still haven't found any online definition of the Revivalist term "drilling". To expand upon my earlier guess, I wonder if the movements of people in the Zionist videos mimics drilling for water (bringing forth the Holy Spirit, i.e. entering Zion- where the Holy Spirit/s? live[s])> I thought of this while reading this quote from Excerpt #2 below: "revivalist are of the view that God resides in Zion ...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.

    If you are knowledgeable about Jamaican Revivalism, please correct these guesses. Thanks.

  3. Here's an excerpt from "Insightful Information About Revivalism in Jamaica" by Wellesley [no date given]
    "...The Revival ritual involves singing, drumming, dancing, hand-clapping, foot-stomping, and groaning along with the use of prayers to invite possession.

    It also includes music and songs from orthodox religion'.

    There were two revival churches in my district. They had their official names but we referred to them as 'Mass Standford church' and 'Madda church' respectively, both representative of the name of the respective leader in the church.

    'Mass Stanford' was closest to my home and we relish the weekends to go there.

    There was always some activity around the church. Neither me (a boy then) nor any of my family members were members of that faith but as children we loved the experience - although sometimes chilling!


    The religious service are characterized by bible reading, the beating of African drums and cymbals (although more modern instruments are been used today), dancing, spirit possession, and the singing of hymns and choruses.


    The movements were quite entertaining. The spinning, rotating and whirling are appealing. The entire service is magnetic though-after a while you are virtually pulled into it.

    A key aspect of the faith is the warnings and predictions....

    Towards the end of each quarter in the year, revivalists journey to Watt Town in St. Ann (Ocho Rios area of Jamaica). This is the conference center or headquarters (if you wish) of the movement. There, all the elements of revivalism in Jamaica are displayed!

    I noticed then (and now) though that it is mainly the older folks who are usually involved in the revival church. Could this mean that revivalism in JA may be dying?

    Honestly, I can't say yeah or nay as I am not as close to the action as I was- when living back in my old district. I can say though that most of the churches are still concentrated in deep rural areas and those are quite steamy."

  4. As I noted in this pancocojams post, I recalled reading about Winnsboro [Louisiana]'s Easter Rock tradition after happening upon a YouTube video of Jamaica's Revivalist church "thanksgiving table" traditions.

    Here's a brief excerpt about Winnsboro Easter Rock from By Susan Roach
    "One of the most spectacular folk traditions documented for the Delta Folklife Project, Easter Rock, an Easter eve vigil ceremony, commemorates the death and resurrection of Christ.2 Easter Rock belongs to the category of traditional events called "rocks" associated with the old plantation churches (usually Baptist) in the Mississippi Delta floodplain of north Louisiana and has much in common with other African American religious ring shout traditions, according to Janet Sturman (1993: 24) and Joyce Jackson (2006).3 While the tradition is said to reach back to the antebellum period in Louisiana, today only one group appears to be continuing this Louisiana Delta tradition: the Winnsboro Easter Rock Ensemble, as the group named itself for performances of the tradition in state and national folklife festivals."...

    Both of these traditions are associated with Christianity and both have connections to Black African Diaspora "ring shout" traditions.

    1. Winnsboro Easter Rock is held to commemorate Easter. [Jamaica's Revivalist] "‘Tables’ are held for special events such as anniversaries or for specific purposes such as healing, mourning, etc. and can last for a week. A ‘feasting table’ is held as thanksgiving for deliverance from trouble. The Table is laid with spirit conductors such as rum, flowers, fruits, water and candles. These along with the colour theme will indicate to initiates the purpose of the ritual,"...

      Given their source in ring shouts, the purpose of each of these traditions is or was [perhaps in the case of Winnsboro Easter Rock] to induce a trance or a trance-like state so that participants can feel the Holy Spirit.

      It appears from the videos that I've watched of both traditions that females and males, young and old can participate together, although in both traditions it appears that most of the participants are middle or older age women.

      Participants in both traditions move around a table singing or chanting. In some Revivalist thanksgiving table videos that I've watched, at least one participants carries a live plant, which might be considered similar to the banner that a Winnsboro Easter Rock participant carries.

      There appears to be a set way that the Winnsboro Easter Rock participants move around the table while the movement of Jamaican Revivalist participants appears to be much more varied. Some of the Revivalist movements that I observed in YouTube videos are similar to the movements shown in videos of Winnsboro Easter Rock participants.

      The Winnsboro Rock tables are set in a specific manner while the way the Revivalist tables are set widely varies. Cakes, bottles of alcoholic liquids, and lit candles appear to be a part of each tradition.

      Given the number of YouTube videos about Jamaican Revivalism as well as comments in those videos' discussion threads indicating the presence of Revivalist churches outside of Jamaica (and outside of the Caribbean), it seems clear that Revivalist table traditions are much more widely known than Easter Rock traditions which appear to be limited to a small number of people in Winnsboro, Louisiana (USA).

      Click for a pancocojams post that showcases some YouTube videos of Winnsboro Easter Rock.