There is a meeting here tonight:

A glimpse of revivalism in Jamaica


Revivalists in Jamaica today are not as large in numbers, as they used to be.  In the past, it was very common to see, women especially, adorned in full white from head to toe, knocking their tambourines and drums, seeking to attract members and to get contribution in furtherance of their cause. People will see less of them on the streets as many of the groups have built churches and are now conducting more indoor services. Many people however do not understand these Revivalists and do not give them more than a passing glance. But how did this movement start and what is it all about?

The roots of Revivalism as we know it today began during 1860 to 1861 when Jamaica experienced a religious movement called the "Great Revival."  The impetus for this movement is believed to have been given by missionary Christians, especially the Baptists and the Moravians.  According to Edward Seaga in his book "Revival Cults in Jamaica," this movement, although influenced by European missionaries, had a lot of other input and was greatly aided by Myalism.

Revivalism is a cult form and the two major groups that exist are Pukkumina and Zion. Despite their fundamental agreement on doctrine and ritual forms Zion and Pukkumina exist almost independently of each other. The main areas in which they associate are matters of healing and obeah. Zionists believe Pukkuminas are better obeah practitioners and Pukkuminas regard Zionists as more experienced in matters of healing. In spiritual meetings there is singing, dancing, playing of percussion instruments, healing, divination and spirit possession. Revivalist services differ according to each band (group), each consisting of a shepherd, mother or leader who has specific tasks, for example reading Bible lessons, preparing vessels and religious paraphernalia.  Members of religious bands are held together by devotion to their beliefs and their leaders, not by family or ancestral links as a Maroon or Kumina cult.

Cult groups exist throughout Jamaica.  In Pukkumina, urban and particularly Kingston groups are more active than groups in the rural areas.   Rural groups are generally much smaller and they tend to meet infrequently and sometimes only once a year.  Kingston groups on the other hand are much larger bands and have up to sixty members in each band.  Zion bands are more evenly dispersed throughout the island. They are generally larger in number and have larger memberships.  The concentration of cult activities in Kingston is in the western and southwestern section of the city, where most folk life has survived.

Revival meetings are usually open to the public but not all members of the public are usually welcomed.  However, with permission from the leader, visitors will be allowed.  Certain ceremonies are private and only those in high confidence in the group are admitted. Meetings are held at the "Seal Ground" or "Mission Ground". The most sacred area of the ground is known as the "seal."  The "seal" is the center for the most important ritual activity.

Although these cults have moved from street side worship into tents and church buildings, many people still shun the churches and some do not want to admit that they are associated with them. This is chiefly because Revivalist beliefs differ sharply from Christian religious thinking.

They believe in spirits, especially their dead ancestors, and free intercourse with the spirit world. Revivalism will continue to survive in Jamaica because it satisfies the needs of a good portion of society.  Like all other religious movements, it provides guidance and assists people in religious as well as secular matters.

Source:  Revival Cults in Jamaica by Edward Seaga