The Ettu Practicing People of Hanover

The existence of people claiming direct Yoruba ancestry gained public recognition in the 1966 when the Ettu dance made its public debut at the Jamaica Festival Dance Competition. The dance was performed by a group from the district of Kendal, in the parish of Hanover.[1] Their entry into the dance competition for the first time took Ettu out of the cultural space where it served specific ritual functions and onto the stage as performance. For their dance, the group won £15[2], but they also attracted the attention of media houses and researchers. Notwithstanding the curiosities that abounded regarding the group, it was through the initiative of Olive Lewin, Director of the Jamaica Memory Bank[3] that documentation truly began of Ettu as a cultural form with roots in both Hanover and Westmoreland (Ettu is also practiced by the a sub group of Yoruba descended people called the Nago in this parish).

The name and customs associated with Ettu bears much similarity to the etutu tradition of the Yoruba people of Nigeria that was documented by Margaret Thompson Drewal in the 1980s when she did field work in Nigeria. Amongst the Yoruba people of Nigeria, etutu was the name for seven days of rituals to successfully send the spirit of a deceased person who died of old age (considered an honour) to the ancestral realm. Given the great expense associated with ritual, the etutu ritual was carried out a month or even a year after the burial of a loved one.[4] In Hanover, there are two types of Ettu ceremonies, (1) the Dinner Play – which is performed on special occasions such as weddings, anniversaries, birthdays, for healings or as a response to a request made by an ancestral spirit through a dream; and (2) the Forty-Night – which is performed 39 days after the death of a member of the community, ending the morning of the 40th day. Ettu ceremonies are meant to placate the spirit realm (spirits are called oku or duppy) which is considered to be a part of the community, providing guidance and protection to the living. The ceremonies principally include sacrificial killing of young male goat, feeding of the spirits, partaking of the meals by the living, singing songs in the Yoruba tongue and performing family dances. These “plays” are costly affairs as they are meant to impress both the corporate and spirit worlds. Traditional meals include fufu (roasted breadfruit and yam pounded together and formed in balls), oka (aged grated cassava prepared in the same fashion as tun cornmeal), callaloo (okra boiled with goat’s meat, rice and annatto seeds for colouring). Beverages are served throughout the entire evening – from the ceremony officially begins at 6pm until it ends before daybreak the following day.

It is believed by researchers that the Ettu practicing people are largely the descendants of indentured Africans who came to Jamaica in the 1840s and settled for the most part in the parish of Hanover. Today, communities of Ettu practicing people are found in the districts of Kendal, Pell River, Cauldwell, Dean’s Town, Francis Town, Spragg Hill, Friendship, Grange and Kingsvale. These communities are served by an Ettu King and Ettu Queen who initiate at all the Ettu ceremonies. The current King and Queen are Mr. William Thompson and Miss Donnette Williams. As vanguards of their cultural heritage Mr. Thompson and Miss Williams take time away from their busy schedules whenever they are called upon to organize Ettu plays to ensure that the tradition continues.

1336 - Ettu play

1335 - Ettu

[1] The Daily Gleaner, “All Island Dance Finals”, Thursday July 1, 1966, 30.

[2] The Daily Gleaner, “All Island Dance Finals”, Thursday July 1, 1966, 30.

[3] The Jamaica Memory Bank was established in 1981 as the Jamaica Memory Bank Project ‘to identify, contact and interview senior citizens about all aspects of life and customs which have a bearing on our cultural heritage and our history’. “Report of Research on Oral Tradition in the Caribbean”, the Jamaica Memory Bank, n.d.

[4] Margaret Thompson Drewal. Yoruba Ritual: Performers , Play, Agency, Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1992.