Igbo people in Jamaica were shipped by Europeans onto the island between the 18th and 19th as forced labour on plantations. Igbo people constituted a large portion of the African population in slave-importing Jamaica. Some slave censuses detailed the large number of Igbo slaves on various plantations throughout the island on different dates throughout the 18th century. [1]

Their presence was a large part in forming Jamaican culture as their cultural influence remains in language, dance, music, folklore, cuisine, religion and mannerisms. Many words in Jamaican Patois have been traced to the Igbo language. In Jamaica the Igbo were referred to as either Eboe, or Ibo

Originating primarily from what was known as the Bight of Biafra on the West African coast, Igbo people were taken in relatively high numbers to Jamaica as slaves. The primary ports from which the majority of these enslaved people were taken from were Bonny and Calabar, two port towns that are now in south-eastern Nigeria. [3]

These ports were dominated by slave ships arriving from Bristol and Liverpool who delivered these slaves to British colonies including Jamaica. The bulk of Igbo slaves arrived relatively late after 1750. The 18th century in the Atlantic slave trade saw the number of enslaved Africans of Igbo descent rise by a large amount, the heaviest forced migrations were centred between 1790 and 1807. [4] Jamaica, after Virginia, was the second most common disembarkation point for slave ships arriving from the Bight of Biafra. Igbo slaves formed the majority of the people on the bight and became common among the slave population of Jamaica. [5]

Igbo people were spread on plantations on the island’s western side, specifically the areas around Montego Bay and Savanna-la-Mar. [6]

Consequently the amount of Igbo influence was concentrated in the two parishes to the west of the island. The region also witnessed a number of revolts that were attributed to people of Igbo origin. Slave owner Matthew Lewis spent time in Jamaica between 1815 and 1817 and studied the way his slaves organised themselves by ethnicity and he noted, for example, that at one time when he “went down to the negro-houses to hear the whole body of Eboes lodge a complaint against one of the book-keepers”. [7] Olaudah Equiano, a prominent member of the movement of the abolition for the slave trade, was an African-born Igbo ex-slave that on his life’s journey in the Americas as a slave and free man, documented in his 1789 journal, was hired by a Dr. Charles Irving and recruited slaves for his 1776 Mosquito Shore scheme in Jamaica for which Equiano hired Igbo slaves which he called “My own countrymen”. Equiano was especially useful to Irving for his knowledge of the Igbo language, using Equiano as a tool to maintain social order among his Igbo slaves in Jamaica. [8]

Most of the time Igbo slaves resorted to resistance rather than revolt and had maintained “unwritten rules of the plantation” of which plantation owners were forced to abide by. [9] Igbo culture influenced Jamaican spirituality with the introduction of Obeah folk magic; accounts of “Eboe” slaves being “obeahed” by each other have been documented by plantation owners. [7] However, it is more likely that the word “Obeah”, which is also used by Akan slaves, was being said before Igbos arrived in Jamaica. [10] Other Igbo cultural influences are the Jonkonnu festivals and in Igbo words in Jamaican patois. In Maroon music were songs derived from specific African ethnic groups, among these were songs called “Ibo” that had a distinct style. [11]

Igbo slaves were considered suicidal. Suicide was resorted to by Igbo slaves not only for rebellion, but in the belief that after their death they will return to their homeland. [3][12] In a publication of a 1791 issue of Massachusetts Magazine, an anti-slavery poem was published called Monimba, which depicted a fictional pregnant Igbo slave who committed suicide on a slave ship destined for Jamaica. The poem is an example of the stereotype of Igbo slaves in the Americas. [13][14] Igbo slaves were also distinguished physically by a prevalence of “yellowish” skin tones prompting the colloquialisms “red eboe” used to describe people with light skin tones and African features. [15] Igbo people were hardly reported to have been maroons, although Igbo women were paired with Coromantee (Akan) men so as to subdue the latter due to the idea that Igbo women were bound to their first-born sons’ birthplace. [16]

Archibald Monteith, born Aneaso, was an Igbo slave taken to Jamaica after being tricked by an African slaver. Anaeso wrote a journal about his life, from when he was kidnapped from Igboland to when he became a Christian convert. [17]

After the slavery era, Igbo people also arrived on the island as indentured servants between the years of 1840 and 1864 along with a majority Congo and “Nago” (Yoruba) servants. [18] Since the 19th century most of the citizens of Jamaica of African descent have been assimilated into the wider Jamaican society and have largely dropped ethnic associations from Africa.

Igbo slaves, along with “Angolas” and “Congoes” were most prone to be runaways. In slave runaway advertisements held in Jamaica workhouses in 1803, out of 1046 Africans, 284 were described as “Eboes and Mocoes”, 185 “Congoes”, 259 “Angolas”, 101 “Mandingoes”, 70 Coromantees, 60 “Chamba” of Sierra Leone, 57 “Nagoes and Pawpaws”, and 30 “scattering”. 187 were “unclassified” and 488 were “American born negroes and mulattoes”. [19]

Some popular slave rebellions involving Igbo people include:

The 1815 Igbo conspiracy in Jamaica’s Saint Elizabeth Parish, which involved around 250 Igbo slaves, [20] described as one of the revolts that contributed to a climate for abolition. [21] A letter by the Governor of Manchester to Bathurst on April 13, 1816, [22]

quoted the leaders of the rebellion on trial as saying “that ‘he had all the Eboes in his hand’, meaning to insinuate that all the Negroes from that Country were under his controul”. [23] The plot was thwarted and several slaves were executed. The 1816 Black River rebellion plot which according to Lewis (1834:227—28) only people of “Eboe” origin were involved. [24] This plot was uncovered on March 22, 1816, by a novelist and absentee planter named Matthew Gregory “Monk” Lewis, when he had recorded what Hayward (1985) calls a proto-Calypso revolutionary hymn, sung by a group of Igbo slaves led by the “King of the Eboes”.