My Big Fat Jamaican Wedding

Counting down to the big day

Cultural traditions and ties: Black, white, and in between

on June 23, 2012

As I am working on wedding plans, it has become very clear to me how important culture is to Adam and me.  We very much wish to ensure that our wedding, our marriage is a reflection of not only the cultures from which we originate but also those which we have adopted.

For example, neither Adam nor I are Brazilian, yet Brazil is a place both of us would very much love to visit.  Adam also plays maracatu, samba, bossa nova, xote, and forro which are all types of Brazilian music.  Also, Adam sings in Brazilian Portuguese and is now getting mistaken for being Brazilian himself.  We wished to have Brazil represented and so we included it in the theme of our stag and doe party.  We considered doing a Brazilian dance as our first dance (which would have be have looked f&*!+n’ awesome but due to time restraints, decided against it.

It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that Adam and I are both very different, ethnically, racially, geographically, etc.  Not only are we from different cultures but we also value our respective cultures very much.  As long as I could remember, I have always been fascinated with world cultures and geographies and languages.  I used to read books about so many countries when I was a child and then created my own picture books featuring characters from around the world.  I think I was about eight or nine years old when I began to read about my own culture.  I tried to learn as much as I could about Jamaica, Jamaican culture, and music.  As I got a little older, I began to delve into the culture of the African diaspora as well as Africa.  There is still so much that I don’t know but I am learning everyday.

Adam on the other hand has always loved different cultures of the world.  He fell in love with Jamaican music as a teen and can hold down a lengthy discussion of Jamaican music origins with my father.  After the passing of his grandfather years ago, Adam began to wonder about his own origins and there began his interest in all-things Celtic.  Over the last few years, Adam has shared with me his findings– loads of documentaries on the internet about Scotland and Ireland, folktales and ancient histories, characters and battles, as well as some of the music.  In fact, Adam taught himself to play the bodhran, an Irish frame drum, by watching videos on the internet and practice.

Bodhran, an Irish frame drum

Also, Adam has shared with me some ways in which African culture is present in Celtic culture.  For example, the bodhran resembles North African/Middle Eastern percussion.  Irish and Scottish mythology has it that the name Scotland originated from an ancient Egyptian princess named Scota from whom the Gaels are said to have descended.  Then there is this bit of Gaelic history– Dub mac Maíl Coluim (Modern GaelicDubh mac Mhaoil Chaluim),[1] sometimes anglicised as Duff MacMalcolm,[2] called Dén, “the Vehement”[3] and Niger, “the Black”[4](died 967) was king of Alba.  He was son of Malcolm I (Máel Coluim mac Domnaill) and succeeded to the throne when Indulf (Ildulb mac Causantín) was killed in 962.

In addition, there are tons of connections between our Celtic, Gaelic, and Jamaican cultures.  First of all, my great grandmother Leonora Hawthorne (nee Lamey) has always been described to me as being half-Irish.

Leonora Hawthorne (nee Lamey)

I wondered about her last name and if this was really true.  This past week, Adam and I went to look at Celtic wedding bands at Claddagh House, I noticed a poster on the wall that showed all of the Irish family names and coats of arms.  I could not find my great grandmother’s maiden name.  When I asked the shopkeeper but he did not recognize the name Lamey.  So I went home and searched the internet instead was Leamy.  I remembered that on my great grandmother’s gravestone, the spelling of her name differed then in another place I saw it.  Leamy is in fact a Gaelic family name.  The coat of arms and the description can be found right here.  Here mother was described to me by mom as a woman with long hair who was Irish.  It is so hard to know or imagine what these members of my family looked like without photographs.  I would love to see what they looked like.

Then, when I posted this, my cousin Pauline just sent me more information about my Irish/Scottish roots:

Your great great grandmother was Susan Thomas (nee Rattray). She was mother to your great grandma Leanora. Susan was a daughter or grand daughter to one of the original Rattary brothers direct from Ireland via Scotland. From what I was told, there were three brothers. These are the same Rattrays whom many have resided in Retirement where great great came from and many others are scattered all over Jamaica including Honover. As a matter of fact, the former Minister of Justice, The Late Carl Rattray was a close relation to your grands. Our cousin Courtenay is the present Ambassador to Beijing. 

There are also more Campbells in Jamaica than there are in Scotland.  Campbell is a Scottish name and there are many family members with this as their last name.  Plus, there are tons of Scottish and Irish place names in Jamaica– like Gordon Town, Belfast, Dublin Castle, Irish Town, Glasgow, and Dundee.

Also, Jamaica’s flag is similar to Scotland’s flag in that they both contain the St. Andrew’s cross.

Jamaica’s flag

Scotland’s flag

Jamaica even has its own 50th anniversary tartan.

Jamaican tartan to celebrate the 50th anniversary of independence

Adam has Welsh ancestry which he shares with Bob Marley.  He also has a bit of Spanish as well.  Jamaica was first a Spanish colony before the British conquered it .

I also recognize that the Scottish and Irish names in Jamaica originated for a number of reasons.  The Irish were first brought to Jamaica in the mid-1600s as slaves and indentured servants by the English.  They were preceded by African slaves who were brought via the Iberian Peninsula in 1513.  The Irish are the second largest ethnic group in Jamaica after Africans since most Jamaicans claim some Irish ancestry.  Scots came first in the 1650s as prisoners of war who were deported by Oliver Cromwell.  There were also later migrations in the 1700s and 1800s.  There were also Scottish slaveowners who made fortunes while in Jamaica.  Some of them returned home to Scotland to transform the economy and helped to develop some of this country’s cities.  On the Official Gateway to Scotland site, there is an excellent essay about the Scottish-Jamaican relationship called The Forgotten Diaspora.  There were also Scots involved in the abolition movement in Jamaica.  The beloved Scottish poet, Robert Burns, was having financial difficulty and accepted a job offer– a bookkeeper for a slave plantation in Jamaica.  To ensure his financial stability in Jamaica, he began to write and publish his poetry to sell.  When he published his work, he received acclaim and success and well… the rest is history.

Robert Burns, Scottish poet. He was contracted to work as a bookkeeper in a Jamaican slave plantation but after the success of his poetry, he decided to stay in Scotland. Years later, he wrote a number of abolitionist-type poems including the Slave’s Lament. I guess he had a change of heart.

So centuries later, Adam and I are getting married.  At times, I wonder about history and at one point, it would have been illegal for Adam and I to get married as white-Black interracial couple.  Imagine, it was the late 1960s when there were still 17 states in the United States that outlawed interracial marriage.  It was called the anti-miscegenation law.

Sometimes I think of this couple, rightfully called The Lovings, who were involved in a famous 1967 court case called Loving v. Viriginia.  This couple was legally married in Washington D.C. but when they returned to Virginia where they lived, their union was forbidden.  The police invaded their home where they hoped that they would find the couple engaged in “marital relations”, which were also illegal, but instead they were asleep.  When the couple showed police their marriage certificate, it was confiscated as evidence of evading Virginia law by going somewhere else to get married.  They pleaded guilty and were sentenced to one year in prison or told to leave the state.  They moved out of the state.

Mildred and Richard Loving, a freedom fighting couple

This is simply crazy especially since there has been so much race mixing during slavery and love unions especially in the Caribbean and Brazil.  These days, we hardly bat an eye at interracial couples.  (Okay, this really depends on where you live.)  If you live in Toronto, my city, for example, it is crawling with interracial couples.  Interracial couples are everywhere.  It is becoming a lot like London, England or Hollywood for that matter.

Rockstar David Bowie with supermodel and businesswoman Iman

Film critic and thyroid cancer survivor Roger Ebert and his lawyer wife Chaz

Actor Robert De Niro and his wife Grace Hightower

Film mogul George Lucas and his wife businesswoman Mellodie Hobson

Her Excellency the Right Honourable Michaelle, her husband Jean-Daniel Lafond, and their daughter

Actress Paula Patton with husband singer Robin Thicke

Prince Naveen and Princess Tiana from the Princess and the Frog. I never figured out what race he was supposed to be. He come from the mythical kingdom of Maldonia, he has a Sikh/Punjabi first name, and he is voiced by a Brazilian actor. When I screened the movie for my Grade One students, they said he is “light-skinned”. I guess I could go with that.

Characters Alisha (played by Antonia Thomas) and Simon (played by Iwan Rheon) are an interracial couple with super powers on one of Adam and my favourite British shows, Misfits. Misfits is about young adult offenders who have superpowers that originated after an electrical storm.

There are also a few of my cousins are in interracial marriages.

Cousin Marsha and her husband Rob

Cousin Melonie and her hubbie

Wow! I went off on a huge tangent there.

Interracial couples are cool.  (Don’t get me started on talking about interracial marriages, relationships, and children unless you wish to be listening for hours.)

So as the wedding begins to approach, we have found a few ways to let our cultures shine through.  It is important for me to acknowledge by ancestors and my elders as well.

It might be a bit of a tease but I can’t write about what exactly Adam and I will be doing to honour our roots since I wish for it to be a surprise for our guests and you my blog readers.  Plus, we may make little additions or eliminations along the way.

But here are some beautiful traditions from our respective cultures that I have learned about:

Celtic handfasting

Jumping the broom is practiced in countries in which there was the enslavement of Africans, including the United States and Jamaica

Jamaican cake parade is done in “old time country weddings”. The wedding cake is typically black/fruit cake served to guests and sometimes is frozen and eaten on the one year anniversary by the married couple.

The money dance is practiced in many West African countries including Nigeria and Ghana where my African ancestors are believed to have originated

So many traditions and customs, so many to choose from.  What do we incorporate in this modern era?  Adam and I were both born and live in Canada so in many ways, we are far removed from our places of origin.  The other thing is that although Adam is white and I am Black, there is still so much variation within those identities.  (The reason I capitalize Black is because Black, in our present day context, is defined as an adjective, a skin colour, but also a culture as in Black culture.  The reason why I did not capitalize white is because it is also an adjective and a skin colour, but not defined as a “culture” in our present day context but more differentiated as English, Italian, German, for example.  Black culture is often lumped together.  Maybe these restrictive defintions will change in time.)  In addition, we still do not know what a “Canadian wedding” is since Canada is such a young country in itself.  (Unless, we were to have Native Canadian/First Nations elements at our wedding instead.) We could try to have a Canadian/Irish/Scottish/Welsh/Spanish/Jamaican/West African/English/German (oh yes, I forgot to mention that I also have German ancestry and I presumably have English ancestry with the English last names in my family too) wedding too if we wish to honour all the parts of our genetic code.  Or, we could opt for elements in our celebration that are resonate with us and touch our souls.  I choose the latter.


One response to “Cultural traditions and ties: Black, white, and in between

  1. Bodhran says:

    A great post without doubt. The information shared is of top quality which has to get appreciated at all levels. Well done keep up the good work.

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