Legacies Of Jamaica: A Not So Elegant Priest!

Presented by Mama D Ujuaje & Rhian Rowson, Bristol Museums, Galleries & Archives.


This presentation discusses a previous successfully curated public event, The Food Journey, held in the summer of 2019, forming part of a long term international project linked to our Jamaican botanical collection.

Addressing many of the contentions of Jamaican history, this presentation evokes a feel of mid-eighteenth century Jamaica by describing how making use of dramatic narrative, a soundscape, food tasting, aromas and textures of the time and geography, allow the context of the collection to come alive and to, as it were, ‘answer back’ to the authority of the author’s claims. We use costumed dialogue to help re-enact the immersive feel of the original production.

We include in our presentation a discussion of how the collection came about and its use over the years and how that might be critiqued in the context of slavery analyses over time and current notions concerning the erasure of traditional knowledge forms.

To have Jamaican natural history recorded by a non-Jamaican and subsequently interrogated from a Jamaican perspective is relatively novel. This opens the possibility for other such archives to be subject to similar pluralistic interpretations of histories. Encouraging localised communities to explore their past and present natural environment from their unique perspectives is particularly both valuable and relevant. Current biodiversity loss and environmental degradation relates to the historic imperial quest for variety and the exotic. Transplantations of now naturalised species may well have impacted the centres of diversity of endemic species. Our troubling colonial histories interface with current conversations concerning food distribution, social justice and climate crisis today. Engaging with the history of these collections can help us and others begin to recognise damage and measure changes in biota today as well as inform scientists and the public alike as to the opportunities for corrective and reparative action.

NB: the above abstract refers to the original live presentation which featured food tasting. Conference delegates online are invited to bring along any of the following food items whilst watching the presentation – pineapple, chilli pepper, papaya – to participate in a fully sensory experience.

About the authors

Mama D Ujuaje is a great grand-daughter of Africa and the Caribbean and a student of agriculture, horticulture, and their lived practice in East and West Africa, the Caribbean, as well as in the UK. She now works on cultivating the minds and hearts of people to grow agency, affirm life and support community by weaving stories at intersections of justice, power and resilience. communitycentredknowledge@gmail.com

Rhian Rowson has been the Natural History Curator for 15 years at Bristol Museums, Galleries and Archives and worked previously at National Museum Wales. She is passionate and knowledgeable about British solitary wasps and bees, and has worked on Bristol Museum’s early Jamaican herbaria. rhian.rowson@bristol.gov.uk

Presented in the fourth session of the ‘Decolonising Natural Science Collections’ NatSCA online conference, 19 November 2020.

2 thoughts on “Legacies Of Jamaica: A Not So Elegant Priest!

  1. Pingback: NatSCA Digital Digest – February | NatSCA

  2. Pingback: Review: Decolonising Natural Science Collections Conference 2020 | NatSCA

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