John Canoe in Jamaica

Did you know that the John Canoe (correctly spelled as “Kenu” an Akan name) festival, a non-maroon tradition in Jamaica(and some of the english speaking caribbean) is celebrating a 300 year old victory over German troops in Axim, Ghana lead by an Akan man by the name of John Canoe (of the Ahanta nation)?

The victory happened on Dec 25th, 1708.

20 years later, this Ahanta and Ashanti controlled area was taken by the Fante (another Akan people but they were controlled by the British) and Ahantas, Nzima and Ashanti troops were taken prisoners to Jamaica.

The popular figures in John Canoe are in fact Ashanti warrior positions and motifs.

  

The cow head is the Ashanti swordsman in the Twi language, the “Mponsoponsohene”, which he wears a horned helmet; the pregnant woman with the big bottom is a gesture borrowed from Ashanti Adowa female dancers that stuff their clothes to give the appearance of a ‘bigger bottom’; and the ‘pitchy-patchy’ is the general of the Ashanti called an Asafohene’, he wears a battle suit with charms that look like patches called a “Batakari”.

The Asafohene would have lead John Canoe’s Ashanti mercenary troops.

To this day this masquerade is celebrated under another name amongst the Fante, Nzima and Ahanta peoples as “Fancy Dress Festival”.

From Dec 25th to Jan 1, exactly like in the Caribbean. This is often confused with other African festivals by others that aren’t aware of this history.

"An example of an Asafohene, compare with pitchy-patchy"
“An example of an Asafohene, compare with pitchy-patchy”

Source: History of Jamaica, Long 1774

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