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How the “Red Igbos” Bight of Biafra in Nigeria, West Africa Came to Jamaica

Originating primarily from the Bight of Biafra in West Africa, Igbo people were taken in relatively high numbers to Jamaica as slaves, arriving after 1750. Besides Virginia, Jamaica was the second most common disembarkation point for slave ships arriving from Biafra.

They were spread on plantations around Montego Bay and Savanna-la-Mar. Igbo slaves resorted to resistance rather than revolt. Many of them committed suicide because they believed after death, they would return to their homeland.

Igbo slaves were also distinguished physically by their “yellow” skin tones. Today, in Jamaica, “red eboe” is used to describe people with light skin tones and African features. Igbo women were paired with Coromantee (Akan) men to subdue the men because of the belief that the women were bound to their first-born sons’ birthplace.

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Jonkonnu, a parade held in Jamaica, is attributed to the Njoku Ji “yam-spirit cult”, Okonko and Ekpe of the Igbo. The Igbo also influenced language with actions such as “sucking-teeth” coming from the Igbo “ima osu” and “cutting-eye” from Igbo “iro anya”.

Words were added to Jamaican Patois when slaves were restricted from speaking their own languages. These Igbo words still exist in Jamaican vernacular, including words such as “unu” meaning “you (plural)”,”di” to be (in state of)”, which became “de”.

(Photo shows:an Igbo bride in Nigeria, with “red colouring similar to some Jamaicans)

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