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Hussay Festival, Westmoreland, Jamaica | by National Library of Jamaica
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Hussay Festival, Westmoreland, Jamaica


Hussay Festival, Westmoreland


Image from the National Library of Jamaica Photograph Collection. Permission to reproduce this image must be obtained from the National Library of Jamaica


Further Information - The Hussay Festival


The Hussay Festival is a traditional festival pronounced and sometimes spelt as in this image's title but actually called Hosay. Hosay was brought to the Caribbean by Indian indentured workers in the 1840s. It is the Caribbean version of Moharram, an annual festival observed by the Shi’a Muslims within the Islamic faith. Moharram is the Islamic month when followers mourn the memory of the Prophet Mohammed’s grandsons, Hosain and Hasan. Acts of piety include self-flagellation and prayer. The bamboo and paper replicas of the tomb of Hosain being carried through the procession of our chosen image form the focus of the ceremony. They are called Tazias or Tadjahs and are built over the nine days of mourning songs that take place in Hosay. On the tenth day of Hosay the Tazia is carried through the streets and thrown in the river or sea (or buried in a hole in the ground). Olive Senior also notes that in the Caribbean, Hosay has lost most of its religious significance as, in countries such as Jamaica, “Hosay features the active participation of many different religious and ethnic groups other than Muslims, especially non-Indian Creoles”. This can be seen in the image here, where the people captured are more likely to be “celebrating communal solidarity, proclaiming their ethnic identity in public, and affirming / remembering their ancestors’ sacrifices in coming to labour on the sugar estates.”

Senior’s Westmoreland witness to Hosay processions in the early twentieth century remembers that “Hosay represented mystery, beauty and violence. Non Indians, fascinated by the highly crafted Tazia, were often driven away forcefully by those in the procession. Looking or touching was forbidden, and dangerous. Fighting broke out…[chiefly] from each believer’s desire to be the first to launch his own shrine into the sea, an act which brings great blessing and good fortune…” She adds, more prosaically, that “the police were always on the alert during Hosay, and the Savanna-la-mar Hospital usually admitted a number of the wounded”


A minority faith in Jamaica, Islam has been dated back to the West African slaves captured by Arab Muslims, sold to traders, and brought to Jamaica on ships. Such Muslim practice would have been secret and have faded with the loss of Islamic identity due to forced mixing of ethnic groups and the success of a Christianity-based anti-slavery process. But the advent of East Indian indentured labourers from the late nineteenth century saw a public rekindling of Islam in Jamaica. Muhammad Khan, who came to Jamaica in 1915 at the age of 15, built Masjid Ar-Rahman in Spanish Town in 1957, while Westmoreland's Masjid Hussein was built by Muhammad Golaub, who immigrated with his father at the age of 7. The 2002 International Religious Freedom Report estimated 5000 Muslims in Jamaica




Afroz, Sultana, Jamaica - The Muslim Legacy

Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, International Religious Freedom Report 2002. US: Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, 2002

Senior, Olive, Encyclopedia of Jamaican Heritage. St. Andrew, Jamaica: Twin Guinep Publishers Ltd., 2003.

Tortello, Rebecca, Pieces of the Past: a Stroll Down Jamaica's Memory Lane. Kingston: Ian Randle, 2007

Wikipedia, Islam in Jamaica - http: //

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Taken on July 11, 2008