Beginning in the early sixteenth century and continuing, officially, until the mid 1800’s millions of Africans were brought to the Americas to work as slaves on sugar, tobacco coffee, and rice and cotton plantations.
The African’s presence has left a vast and indelible imprint on the religious structure of the Americas. In many countries of the Americas enslaved Africans and their descendants “resurrected, applied and preserved” the sacred practices their African homeland. Much has been written about retention of African religious practices in Cuba, Haiti and Brazil, but much less about such practices in Jamaica. Religion is omnipresent in Jamaica.
The Guinness Book of records documents Jamaica as having the most churches per square mile of any country in the world. A predominantly Christian country, with large groups of Baptists, Anglicans and Roman Catholics, Islam, and Judaism and other religions are also represented on a smaller scale.
Some syncretic religious movements have also emerged, basing their beliefs on Christianity and West African traditions. In Jamaica, Revivalism is an authentic Afro-Christian religious folk forms that evolved during the eighteenth to nineteenth century. Among them is Pocomania, largely viewed in traditional religious circles as a vehicle of rebellion in colonial times.
Pocomania which sprung up during the 1860s are churches which exuberantly fused African and Protestant performance styles, images, and traditions. The ritual meetings involve prayers, dances, and rhythmic drumming. Participants often go into a trance.
Revivalism is characterized by major ritual forms, which can be classified into two groups: firstly, street and prayer meetings and secondly rituals for specific purposes. Prayer meetings are held for different purposes and usually take the form of bible reading, singing and discussion. Street meetings are held mainly to get new members, to preach biblical doctrine.
Rituals for specific purpose are “table” or “duties” held for various purposes such as thanks-giving for a particular events, prosperity, deliverance, memorial, death and judgement, mourning, consecration pole-planting, ordination, dedication, and baptism. In Pocomania the feasting table is usually held on Sunday nights.
The table is spread with fruits, drinks, bread, candles and vegetable. After bible reading and greetings of visitors, the table is “broken” at midnight, the food distributed among those present An essential part of Pocomania meetings is the tramping and the cymbals. This occurs after the singing and Bible reading section. The members move around the circle, counter clock-wise, each using forward stepping motions with a forward bend of the body.
The songs that are used in revival usually vary in tempo for example hymns and choruses. Revival also incorporates lively songs that are of a local derivation, classified as ‘warning’ songs or non-sense songs.
Singing usually takes place to the beat of the drums. These drums are the Kettle-drums or bass drums which are beaten with two sticks. Tambourines might also be shaken in the rhythm along with other instruments Revival Churches can be found all over Jamaica, particularly in the deep rural areas and in the inner-city sections of the corporate area. On specific dates, towards the end of each quarter within the year, revivalists may be seen journeying to Watt Town, St. Ann. This is one of the most popular revival meeting places.
Bernard Stanley Hoyes draws on this African-inspired religion for inspiration. According to Hoyes, “I have been a creator of art, symbols of ancestral echoes since a child in Jamaica… The images I convey symbolize a culmination of these ancestral echoes brought to classical form. They are contemporary, eternal in spirit and stand as praise to our existence –past, present and future”
Bernard Stanley Hoyes started his professional career at the early age of nine in Kingston. He moved to the US at age fifteen where he received formal art education and has built a solid career as a painter. Hoyes has “a majestic ability to mine the traditions of an old and complex culture and merge it with the new”. Born into a family rooted in Jamiaca’s revivalist church, his memories of religion and rituals have informed his artistic productivity throughout his life. His celebration of traditional African religion and spirituality continues to find universal appeal, stunning audiences worldwide.
Oprah Winfrey, Natalie Cole, Steve Harvey, Keenan Ivory Keenan Ivory Wayans and the National Urban League are among his collectors.
On the spiritual significance of his visually engrossing powerfully expressive works, Hoyes explains that he paints “from an intuitive point of view,” that during the process the “spirits take possession” and the ritual theme becomes dominant.
Hoyes work is praised for its masterful use of color and rhythm and its ability to move the spirit. In Hoyes’s paintings, “very little perspective is coupled with repetition and exaggeration to incorporate elements of African retention’s. Field of colors are infused with primaries in harmony. These works are intuitively inspired with no preliminary sketches.
Each completed painting suggest the composition and content for the next. Color becomes personified as symbolic as various combinations are used to express national as well as spiritual connotations. The movement of the dancers is captured with posing, profiling and the preservation of facial and body expression and full figured framed against each other in dramatic crescendo.