R.I.P Bernice (dem call har Bernicey) Henry, popular Kumia Queen from St. Thomas Jamaica. I had heard of her passing some days ago and I was surprised to hear of her sudden death. While I never met her I knew of her, and had heard many things about her and her Kumina’s that she kept, she was one who kept and held the tradition of Kumina and for that she ought to be thanked, respected and remembered.
I had done a blog on Kumina sometime ago, read here to familiarize yourselves with Kumia and its origins and background and place among Jamaicans coming from the transatlantic slave trade, which is the African Holocaust. Although I knew about it while lived in Jamaica, it was not until I had embraced my spirituality and became exposed to all things Spiritual that I experienced it for my self. As I had traveled to Jamaica and had gone to a Kumina. By this I was leadress in a revival church and very strong in my role as such. I knew much about Spirituality and metaphysics, so I understood a lot of what was happening there and I could teach it if placed in a school of willing students.
What I did not like however was that the authentic Kumina, such as our parents or their parents may have known it seemed to have been lost and replaced with foolishness. Songs which were sang at some Kuminas were titled “Weed and grabba, good sensimina”, or “When yuh si mi and Cock”, Modern day non spiritual twists, made up to invite the women/mostly young girls there and men (some big grey tone) to wine, jook and Jam on each other mimicking the sex act…O MA Se OOO….I was saddened by this.
My introduction to some kumina people in Jamaica upon my visit there at the time I attended several Kuminas, allowed me to hear of Bernicey. Some people spoke good and some spoke bad as to be expected by human beings. At the time when I was in St. Thomas several of the Kumina people would come daily to speak with me on Kumina and matters of spirituality on a whole. I was shocked at the level of ignorance pertaining to spiritual work “Obeah” as same Workers of this wonderful and artful craft sat with me, a practitioner as well and shared Obeah secrets with me. Many of them told me things which made no sense what so ever, but as a wise person I kept silent, not daring to dispute their arguments as they were well proud of their works and its effectiveness.
Let me be clear, I may say that what they told me made no sense, but it may very well work for them, it really has to do with the spirits or entities they work with and what is conducive to that spirit, and the intent behind their actions, but most of the work had a beginning and no end, no base or foundation, and most were destructive, and many were animal cruelty.
One man told me that he got off a court case by pushing something (I cannot say what) up a donkey’s ass. Bloggers now oonuh tell me, nuh wickedness dat? But he said he got off, so I guess the end justifies the means. Another told me that he went to the grave yard with some onions and his phone number written on parchment paper, he was naked and it was late at night. He went with these items in order to call, invite, wake the dead give him his phone number and tell him to “call me”. Oonuh eva see mi dine trial?
I think they wanted to impress me, they had all heard of me (I was de foreign madda, de African Spiritual woman, lol), and also I had fallen into trance while I was there and many things happened which they all witnessed with me, so all wanted to get close to me,brag of their own skills.
There was one madda woman a long time ago who told me that she went into her back yawd and dug up dead husband, took the bone from his dead leg (nuh laugh aldoe mi ah type it suh,lol) and greata it and drink so him can guard har from de odda Obeah people dem inna her community whey ah Obeah har, den ah yasso all of we ave to hask puppa Jesus fi tek de case and gi we de pillow.
As I sat there and listened to all these supposed Obeah men and Women, I was saddened at the state of Jamaica’s Obeah society, Yes you read correctly, I said saddened by the state of Jamaica’s Obeah society. Where was de Madda Penny dem I grew up hearing old people talk about about. Where was Bredda Roy? Where was Bishop Anderson who commanded some police men who came to arrest him one day at his home to kneel in the boiling hot Jamaican sun in his yard, on his seal ground while he went to the station to see the superintendent and ask why he sent his men to arrest him. The Police men all knelt at his command and were released upon his return, none of them could get up on their own, ah hear sey dem bawl de living yeye wata.
Bredda Roy, who knocked the back of a dead child three times and the child wake up coughing and Madda Penny who dem sey bad nuh brute foot. Gone is the woman who when dem Obeah mi madda fi mad har becausen sey she cuss de ooman an tell har more wud den de ooman tell she, de ooman mek mi madda stawt fi si some lickle green man fava Alien ah run roun har. She tell mi Grand madda, and Granny “Carry har out” as we Jamaicans say. De ooman cure mi madda and guard had wid ashs and some mix up, mix up. Where are dose people?
The elders have died and are dying out and not passing the training/teaching along to worthy students. Where is Sheppie? Bong dis and Bongo dat, Bongo horse dead and cow fat?
Jamaica,in the time of my parents and grandparents was where celebrities used to go (if not Africa) fi dem Obeah cuhcuments, yes mi dears, oonuh nevea know? well me ah tell oonuhs. Mi naw bawl out no name, but yes sir rie!
Eddie Seaga neva win 1980 election so so suh, him have Queenie and Cappo Reynolds fi thank fi dat, allegedly, plus de millions ah gun man dem, De Azahan dem famous pon top de hill, is not lie, nuff people spot dem and come talk allegedly, ha certain ooman whey famous choo marriage, di husban cute but not so fi she, was a regula ah de people dem compound, so where are those elders who put Obeah pon de map, therefore putting Jamaica pon de map, famous fi it suh till al Haitian fraid ah we caws we eat susumba and dem tek it wuk de science?
They said Bernicey knew a thing or two. Some people had that to say, some said she played guess and spell. In light of her death I will not go into all that was said, because Jamaica people sey ole naagah nuh good, and at times ah true.
When I heard of her passing, and seeing that she was not an old woman and a spiritualist, I wondered about the fight in St Thomas of Power and who should be kumina this or Kumina that. There have been many untimely death amongst Kumina people, and here in Africa where we practice our tradition, it is definitely a cause for concern if an Awo (priest) or a spiritual practitioner dies early. A thorough investigation is done, to make sure that it was not “Hands” which touched the person. The reason for this is that a spiritual practitioner is supposed to have long life, unless they have chosen other wise. If someone has touched a practitioner within our traditional practice and caused their demise, we will wake the dead person and they will explain to us what happened, from there a decision will be made on how to handle the situation.
This may not be the way how things are done in Jamaica, but we have or had similar knowledge, but the older ones refused to pass on the knowledge and the younger ones refused to learn what is their legacy opting to dance to Vybz Kartel instead.
RURAL EXPRESS – Kumina Queen Bernice Henry Passes; ‘Mother Of All’ To Be Interred Tomorrow
Paul H. Williams, Gleaner Writer
PORT MORANT, St Thomas:
THE HYPNOTIC sounds of Kumina drums and spirited singing were wafting all over the place on Wednesday. The place? The yard of the late ‘Kumina Queen of St Thomas’ Bernice ‘Sister Bernice’ Henry.
There were almost 200 people there, and it was only minutes after 1 p.m. Men were at work. Others were working and dancing at the same time. Dominoes clashed against one another. Yellow-heart breadfruits were in the fire. Rice, fish and curried chicken, too, were bearing the heat. And the scent of white rum faintly circulated in the breeze from the sea.
Many people sat or stood in silence, looking on, absorbing the poignancy of the moment and moving to the rhythms of Kumina, Kumina to which Sister Bernice herself had moved, sometimes with a candle balanced on her head. She was no longer moving with the living, but her repute as a kind, selfless, hard-working Kumina Queen had moved people to go see her grave being built.
Bernice Henry died on Monday, November 24, at the Princess Margaret Hospital in St Thomas as a result of hypertension complications. She had 14 children (four had predeceased her), 24 grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren, and she was ‘mother’ to many more, it is widely said.
Her youngest daughter and last child, Taforah Henry, told Rural Xpressthat when she was young, she didn’t know that some of the children that Sister Bernice cared for were not her own children. She was beside herself with grief. Her face said it all. She said she was trying to cope, but it was very hard.
“At this point, my mind is almost blank,” she said. She had lost the woman who “was a mother to the motherless”.
In an article published in The Gleaner on April 17, 2006, Frederica Bates, a member of her all-women Kumina group said, “Miss Bernice is a mother to us all. She knows everything about us. Even sometimes when we have boyfriend problems, she knows. Even in the community, she is mother to us.”
This ‘super-mother’ repute that Bernice Henry had seems to be challenging her other status as a Kumina icon. It was the general feeling among her family and those who were present on Wednesday that Sister Bernice was an extraordinary matriarch, who was affectionately called ‘Grandma’.
Her cousin, Henry Cargill, who said Henry was “a beacon in disguise”, told Rural Xpress that he and the rest of the community were distraught when they learned of Sister Bernice’s transition. It was a sad day, he said, because she was a mother to many, to the community, mother of Kumina, mother of the people and mother of the culture.
The culture of which Cargill spoke is the culture of herbal and spiritual healing, singing, dancing, and drumming. Sister Henry, a woman knowledgeable of her black African history, customs and rituals, was well known nationally and internationally as a leading activist in the Jamaican Kumina movement.
Kumina is a religion/lifestyle that is said to have been brought over from Congo in Africa to Jamaica. Its retentions are strong in St Thomas, where Sister Bernice was born. The singing, dancing and drumming styles of Kumina are distinctly riveting. It also involves herbal healing and myals (possessions).
Sister Bernice was groomed by her mother and grandmother, and would eventually become a Kumina Queen herself, leading the Port Morant National and International Mumbakka Group of Kumina Practitioners. And now the queen has gone to be with her ancestors perhaps, leaving a void, a gap in the Kumina movement that is going to be hard to be filled, her children said.
Henry Cargill believes “her death has left a gap in the sense wherein that, up to now, a lot of the people have been concerned about her replacement”.
Man bawn fi dorwn cyaan heng…Jamaican Proverb!
All religions are valid as long as it teaches peace and love…..Obara Meji!
There are no disappointments in life, only lessons learned…..Obara Meji!
Obara Meji is a spiritualist, Ifa-Orisa practitioner, and teacher of metaphysics. Since 2011 she has used her online platform to share her personal experiences to those seeking answers about spirituality. Her teachings will expand into short stories, novels, and public speaking to continue her mission of bringing enlightenment to the world.