The Beautiful and the Melancholy 2016
Jamaica became a British colony in 1655 and for the next two hundred years over a million Africans were transported to work as slaves on Jamaican plantations (Wiley and Eshun, 2013). Most came from the region of modern-day Nigeria, Central Africa and Ghana, and included Akan, Efik, Ibo, Fon, Moko and Yorùbá people (Gardner, 1971). In 1670 British planters established a mixed economy including indigo cacao, pimento, cattle and sugar (Long, 2002). Knight (2010) argues that Africans were captured not only for their labour but also for their knowledge in growing and processing specialised crops such as indigo.
In 1671, 19 indigo plantations were recorded in the Parish of Vere, now a small town within the Parish of Clarendon, most were located along the Rio Minho River (Bloome, 1671). A few years later over 70 indigo plantations were recorded (Bowen, 1747). Between 1680 and 1780 Jamaica exported 0.13 million pounds of indigo to mainly British textile manufactures (Shepherd, 2002). High export duties caused planters to replace indigo with sugar and coffee, (Balfour Paul, 2011) but Jamaica did not abandon its indigo plantation economy completely. Export records from 1820 – 1821 from the ports of Kingston in the south of the island and Port Maria in the North included indigo (Hakewell, 1825) and in 1836, 37,555 pounds were exported from Kingston. (Martin, 1843).
As enslaved people outnumbered their owners the plantation system relied on suppressing, and erasing the African identity, forbidding family connections and kinship, especially to Africa and other Africans to minimise resistance. The process included attempts to disconnect enslaved people from their culture and history, denying their African religion and spirituality, imposing a new language, living conditions, work and customs. The process could last up to three years and was called ‘seasoning’ (International Slavery Museum, 2016).
Clarendon Blues includes 30 works on fabric and paper exploring the loss of the African connection through indigo and embroidery.