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Kennedy, Imogene Queenie

Kennedy, Imogene Queenie

February 8, 1928
March 10, 1998


Imogene Elizabeth Dixon (known familiarly as B and Beatrice) was born into a peasant family at Dalvey in Saint Thomas Parish, southeastern Jamaica. Her involvement in African culture was influenced by her maternal grandparents, with whom she grew until prepubescence and who were West Central Africans brought to work on sugar estates in the second half of the nineteenth century. Her experience of Kumina derived largely from ceremonies held by a neighbor, "Man" Parker. Her uncle, Clifford Flemming, was an adherent of Flenkey (or Bongo or Convince), a cult of ancestor communication. Kennedy, however, credited her vocation to mystical inspiration that began with her childhood inclination toward solitude and her eventual self-seclusion in the wall-like roots of a silk-cotton tree, believed to house spirits of the dead. Secreted here for twenty-one days, she saw visions of people and heard voices speaking in "the African language," teaching her words and songs. This language was the Kumina ritual code, consisting of Koongo, Mbundu, and Jamaican English words embedded in Jamaican English grammar and denuded Koongo syntax.

Imogene migrated to Two-Mile, off the Spanish Town Road in west Kingston, in the late 1940s. She initially practiced Kumina with Cyrus Wallace, a Kumina leader, but Kennedy's mother was a Revivalist and also associated with several Revival leaders, including Mallica "Kapo" Reynolds, a painter and sculptor of religious themes. Kennedy indicated that Kumina ceremonies occur within Revival when an "African messenger" (spirit) wishes to "complete its journey," just as Revival adherents rock their bodies in spiritual possession during Kumina. She acknowledged manifesting as a "dove" (peacemaker, conciliator) in the Revival mode of worship, and this accounted for her wearing of blue or blue and white and entering a pool of water during some ceremonies.

During the 1950s, Kennedy attracted the attention of Edward Seaga during his anthropological research into Jamaican religions. By 1963, when the first Jamaica Independence Festival was held, Seaga was the minister of development and welfare and he invited Kennedy to perform Kumina drumming, dances, and songs for secular Jamaican audiences. Her brother was the accomplished lead drummer in her "bands" (religious group), which appeared on television and at cultural events in Jamaica, England, the United States, and Germany.

By the 1960s, Imogene was called Queenie, a title indicating her status as leader of a Kumina group, a healer and counselor to a substantial clientele. Queenie was a graceful dancer, inching forward with mincing steps, her arms outspread, sometimes balancing a water-filled glass on her head. She exuded self-possession and authority in her voice and manner, despite her diminutive figure, and led the singing in a strident, rich contralto. Queenie married Clinton Kennedy on January 31, 1963, had one daughter, raised several other children, and moved from Trench Town, her second Kingston home, to Waterloo, in Saint Catherine parish, in 1975. She died in 1998.

Her accessibility to researchers and the use of her spiritual aura for healing rather than monetary reward have sealed her place in twentieth-century Jamaican cultural history. Among the institutions she assisted artistically are the Jamaican Folk Singers, the Jamaica Memory Bank, the National Dance Theatre Company, and the Jamaica Cultural and Development Commission. The government of Jamaica awarded her the Order of Distinction (Officer Class) in 1983 for "services in the development of African heritage."

See also Creole Languages of the Americas; Kumina; Revivalism

Bibliography

Brathwaite, Edward Kamau. "Kumina: The Spirit of African Survival." Jamaica Journal 42 (1978): 4463.

Carter, Hazel. "Annotated Kumina Lexicon." African-Caribbean Institute of Jamaica Research Review 3 (1996): 84129.

Lewin, Olive. "Rock It Come Over": The Folk Music of Jamaica. Kingston, Jamaica: University of the West Indies Press, 2000.

Seaga, Edward. "Revival Cults in Jamaica: Notes towards a Sociology of Religion." Jamaica Journal 3 (1969): 213.

Warner-Lewis, Maureen. The Nkuyu: Spirit Messengers of the Kumina. Mona, Jamaica: Savacou, 1977.

maureen warner-lewis (2005)

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