Updated: Feb 22, 2021
I am Black-Indigenous (Yamaye Taino) and Jamaican-Canadian. My experience of identity has always been one of liminality.
I was born in Montreal but my parents returned to Jamaica (where my maternal side is from) when I was three, for work purposes and so that they could raise their children with my mother’s very close-knit family.
My mother’s family identity is fairly rare in Jamaica as we are traceably indigenous Jamaican (Yukayeke Yamaye Kokuio - Jamaican Firefly Tribe), Scottish and black (of African slave descent). My father is Black-Scottish from Grenada and Trinidad and his family are a mix of Shango practitioners and Catholic.
When I moved back to Canada in my teens I had the experience of being black but not identifying with the African-American or indigenous experience since Jamaica is made up of a black majority and neither my blackness nor indigenous identity was ever positioned as an obstacle. I was indigenous but now also a settler since I was not Indigenous Canadian. I have a Scottish background but am not white presenting.
My journey of self-discovery and self-decolonization started in childhood when I noticed that our family’s traditions and practices often conflicted with what I was being taught in church and I realized that Christianity (the largely dominant religion in Jamaica) had been forced on my ancestors by colonization and slavery. This led me (at the tender age of 11) on a spiritual quest that resulted in me leaving Christianity and converting to Wicca.
Wicca works for me because it provides a stable container where I can blend my mixed spiritual heritage harmoniously. The Shamanic Witchcraft tradition that I founded, the Rose and Thorn tradition, seeks to provide a tradition that centers a decolonial, multi-ethnic perspective.
Our family still had many of the traditions of our indigenous and maroon ancestors but had lost much of the context around those traditions.
I wanted to decolonize my identity, my spirituality, and my sense of worth and beauty. I wanted to parse our traditions and understand the original contexts of those traditions. This is where my passion for studying and attempting to understand culture started.
This mission recently led to me doing the work of reestablishing our tribe's status and training with Kasike Robert Kalaan Pairman (the first legally recognized kasike/chief in Jamaica in over 500 years, instated in 2019) of the Yukayeke Yamaye Guani (Hummingbird Tribe of Jamaica) and joining the Jamaican Taino resurgence movement.
The Taino were the 1st tribe of contact. The Taino of Jamaica are not extinct, despite claims to the contrary. My family and tribe is matriarchal. My family is a boitiu (shaman) lineage. At the advice of our medicine woman, our tribe fled to the Patty Hills of Hanover where we eventually intermarried with the Harvey Scottish clan and the maroons that settled there.
Our family is still on our land. The women in my family passed our traditions down from mother to daughter so we are blessed to still have some of our teachings and traditions, even though we lost some of the context around those teachings and traditions. My mother is now our kasike and last year I took on the mantle of knowledge keeper, of boitiu and beike (shaman & ceremonial leader).
After my work in resurgence brought my work and family identity into the public eye, my mother and aunties decided that I was best suited to represent us and have started the process of passing leadership of our tribe to me. Kasike Kalaan is overseeing my training in Taino tribal and spiritual leadership. So I am now a Jamaican Taino hereditary chief-in-training.
My ancestors are strong and I am honoured to work with them and my family to reestablish our tribe and traditions. I am so proud of my mother and Aunties for also taking on this work and for trusting me with this responsibility. I am so grateful for Kasike Kalaan for his guidance and support.
The indigenous resurgence movement is quite new to Jamaica and the Taino population is grappling with the issues surrounding inheriting a flash-frozen culture.
Jamaican Tainos are reestablishing their identities and redesigning their cultures through a process of decolonization and resurgence that is centered around decolonizing and re-indigenizing their spirituality.
I am participating in this movement not only through my leadership but also through my research as an anthropologist, archaeologist and religious studies scholar. I am dedicated to applying a decolonial, anti-racist, inclusive, diverse perspective to my work, in my community, in my spiritual leadership, in academia and in the world.
Check out my blog post Decolonization as a Spiritual Path for specific ways that I weave decolonization into my practice. Decolonization Resources gives you a starting point to research decolonization.
Arcane Shaman Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/arcaneshaman
Kasike Kalaan & Yukayeke Yamaye Guani: https://www.instagram.com/kalaankaiman/