Monarchies and our Jamaican connectionsSunday, April 18, 2021
Dudley C McLean II
THE death of 99-year-old Prince Philip, the duke of Edinburgh, devoted husband of Jamaica's Queen Elizabeth II, will be remembered amongst his legacy for his Duke of Edinburgh's Awards Programme, which was launched in 1958 and became the Duke of Edinburgh's International Award in 1988, touching the lives of young people in 144 countries of the world (Jamaica Observer, April 13, 2021). Truly, many Jamaicans have benefited from this award, which brings together practical experiences and life skills to create committed global citizens.
To Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and members of the House of Windsor we tender our condolence and respectfully pray for the repose of the soul of Prince Philip.
#BlackLivesMatter has renewed interest in our colonial past and, in some instances, a call to reject any semblance of British/European monarchy. Based on the results of a June 2011 poll commissioned by The Gleaner, it was a shocker to discover that 60 per cent of those who were surveyed supported British rule. However, by 2020, more than half of respondents in a Bill Johnson poll published in the Jamaica Observer said that, “Jamaica should not continue to have The Queen as head of State” (August 10, 2020).
What has not been discussed, however, is that black Jamaicans are also ethnically connected to descendants of both European and African royalty. As early as the 16th to 18th centuries descendants of European royal houses cohabited with our African enslaved ancestors. A majority of Jamaicans, along with their surnames, are associated with royal houses such as: The Royal House of Stewart (Scotland); The Royal House of Tudor (England); The Royal House of Valois (France); Woodville; House of Wittelsbach (Germany). Other houses included The Royal House of Bavaria, The Royal House of Brandenburg; The Royal House of Sousa (Portugal).
One of the underlying motivations in the 1760 Tacky's War was that Tacky was himself a royal prince who used to capture fellow Africans from different tribes/ethnic groups and sell them to the European enslavers — until one day he found himself a victim of the very acts he committed. Thousands of other Africans of royal descent, including members of the Kassena ethnic group, who spoke Kasem, whose villages had been raided, were transported during the transatlantic slave trade. The continent of Africa has the largest percentage of the world's royal families.
Monarchies in Africa
Royal descent plays an important role in many African societies as authority and property tend to be lineally derived. Among tribes which recognise a single ruler, the hereditary bloodline of the rulers (who early European travellers described as kings, queens, princes, etc, using the terminology of European monarchy) is akin to a dynasty.
Rastafarians have given prominence to the former emperor of Ethiopia, perhaps because of the influence of biblical connections to King Solomon. At the birth of the movement — as it sought to reaffirm African/black identity in a world of alienation called Babylon, and in objections to a white king as head of State while “living in exile” in a Crown colony called Jamaica — Rastas saw in Emperor Haile Selassie I a black king.
The Rastafari movement began in Jamaica during the 1930s following a prophecy by Marcus Garvey, a political leader. Garvey led an organisation known as the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), whose intention was to unify blacks with their land of origin. He preached, “Look to Africa, where a black king shall be crowned; he shall be your redeemer.” This statement became the foundation of the Rastafari movement. The prophecy was rapidly followed by the crowning of Emperor Selassie I in Ethiopia on November 2, 1930. Together with his wife, Ras Tafari was crowned the king of kings, lord of lords and conquering lion in St George's Cathedral, Abyssinia (Addis Ababa). Rastafarians saw this as the fulfilment of Garvey's prophecy. The religion takes its name from Haile Selassie's original name.
Yet most people of African descent in the Americas are not descendants from Ethiopia. As Emperor Haile Selassie I ascended the throne in the east of Africa, over in the west of Africa another King, Nana Osei Agyeman Prempeh II, succeeded his uncle as occupant of the Golden Stool or Sika Dwa, who died in 1931. He is the king of the Ashanti Kingdom, whose people make up a large percentage of the Africans in the Diaspora who were transported to the Americas during the slave trade.
In 1970 he was succeeded by his nephew, Nana Opoku Ware II. The present king, Osei Tutu II, is the nineteenth Asantehene. In Asante the family line is matrilineal, so inheritance passes from the mother to her children. The Golden Stool is also passed down matrilineally to one of the king's maternal nephews.
There are several other monarchies in Africa defined as either actually or nominally self-governing states, territories, or nations on the continent of Africa, where supreme power resides with an individual who is recognised as the head of State. The country of Nigeria is divided strictly by ethnic/tribal territories into 36 states, all headed by a royal family and united in governance by an elected head of State called the president, who resides at the Federal Capital Territory.
One of the kings in Nigeria is His Majesty Eze A E Chukwuemeka-Eri (Ezeora 34th ans Aka Ji Ofor Igbo), the custodian of the Ofor-Eri and the sole custodian of the custom, culture, and tradition of Aguleri Clan. The Ofo-Eri is the oldest symbol of authority in Igbo-land — the kingdom has had 34 kings. In December 2020 a member of the Yoruba community, Prince Tiamiyu Abiola Olojo Kosoko, was elected to the prestigious Stool of Olga situated in Lagos Island, Nigeria.
Africa has two countries governed by constitutional monarchies (Lesotho and Morocco), in which the sovereign is bound by laws and customs in the exercise of his/her powers, and one is an absolute monarchy (Eswatini), in which the sovereign rules without bounds.
The subnational monarchies are not sovereign and exist within larger political associations. In addition to these there are also three dependencies of two European monarchies. Another subnational monarchy in Africa is Buganda Kingdom of Uganda, which was formed in early 14th century with a highly decentralised system. It is now a constitutional monarchy with its king titled Kabaka and elected prime minister (Katikkiro). The kingdom has a Parliament called Lukiiko. It's highly remembered for having the Kasubi Tombs, the world heritage site in east Africa.
For us in the Caribbean community, with our peculiar experience of enslavement by and emancipation from British, French, Dutch, and Spanish powers, we at this time of #BlackLivesMatter ask: Which narrative of our Emancipation will we identify?
There are some among us who would have preferred for us to forget the events of our past that led to our Emancipation, while the rest of us believe that its recognition, and even celebration, can enable and empower us to seek to create a better world. The great Marcus Mosiah Garvey urged that we learn and remember our history. It is by exploring this history that we can discover famous ancestors and learn from their experiences, so as to uplift our quest for self-determination, identity, and purpose.
Dudley Chinweuba McLean II hails from Mandeville, Manchester, and is executive director of Associación de Debate Bilingüe Xaymaca (Adebatex), promoting debating in Spanish in high schools. He is also a graduate of Codrington College, The University of the West Indies, Cave Hill. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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