Cultural Survivals and Changes in the Ettu Community

1336 - Ettu play

Ms. Kesia Weise’s lecture presentation on the Cultural Survivals and Changes in the Ettu Community was primarily an examination of the continuity of the Ettu cultural practice in Hanover, where the tradition is known only to have been practiced in Jamaica, with the exception being the similar practice of Nago, which is associated with Nago people of Westmoreland.

Research conducted by Margaret Thompson-Drewal informs that the etymology of the word Ettu is from the word Etutu, which is a Yoruba-based ritual, the essence of which is to “send off” the spirit of an old person (deceased) to the ancestral realm.  The ritual itself lasts for seven days, but due to the high costs associated with the staging of the ceremony, it is not unusual for the Etutu ritual to be held anywhere from one month to an entire year after the death of the individual so as to adequately prepare for the ceremony.  It is important to note, also, that the word Ettu does not denote an ethnic group.  In its simplest definition, Ettu means atonement.

According to Ms. Weise, there are two forms of Ettu ceremonies observed in Hanover: the Dinner Play and the 40 Night Ceremony.  While both ceremonies serve to placate the spirit realm, the dinner play is held primarily as a result of dream involving an ancestor’s wish for a feast to be held, and the 40 night ceremony is a traditional African marker for the observation of the death of an individual.  The ceremony may be held 39 or 40 days after the individual’s death.  However, the Ettu ceremony is traditionally never held on the weekend, which, in Christianity, are the days observed for attending church, which most of the Ettu practitioners do.

Ms. Weise’s examination of the continuity and/or changes in the Ettu practice in Jamaica relied heavily on the field research done in the 1980s by the late Olive Lewin, and her own field research done in 2013 and 2014.  The results of her research showed that the Ettu practice was very much still alive, the complete opposite of what Dr. Lewin had feared would be the case when she asserted in the 1980s that the practice was dying and that she was seeing the last of Ettu in Jamaica.  Ms. Weise’s field work involved oral history research and the audio-visual documenting of two Dinner Plays which, for the most part, were consistent with the documentary evidence collated by Dr. Lewin in the 1980s.  The Ettu ceremony began with an opening song and ended with a closing song.  It was preceded by the sacrificial killing of a young male goat, the head of which was severed and cooked, unsalted, with rice in a separate pot (known as the Stranger Pot, or the Oku pot – meaning Duppy).  During the actual ceremony, the meal prepared for the Oku was eaten only by the relatives of the person hosting the feast.  The ceremony entailed singing, performing family dances, and the eating of the meals consistent with the desires of the ancestors, i.e., traditional African food such as fufu, callaloo (actually an okra dish), cassava, etc.  Significantly, beverage would be served from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., or until dawn.  Consistent with the family dances is the practice of shawling, which is the throwing of a shawl on a dancer, while dancing, to show admiration and appreciation of the adherence of a particular family dance.

According to Ms. Weise, an important factor in the continuity of the Ettu tradition is respect…respect for the traditions of the elders and the instruction of the leaders in the community – the Ettu King and Ettu Queen.  While she is concerned about the age of the current practitioners as being a potential factor in the waning of the Ettu tradition (much like Dr. Olive Lewin was), Ms. Weise believes that ultimately, the high esteem of the Ettu King and Queen, the tradition of obeying their instructions unequivocally, as the well as the role of dreams (which may arguably be used as a means of social control and the perpetuating of traditions) may help to the spiritual practice alive for years.

By: Marcella Phillips-Grizzle