“But You’re Jamaican!”
By Djamil Ninsoo
Growing up I was made aware of just how special my family is. After all we’re a bunch of Indo-Jamaicans, Afro-Jamaicans and their Dougla babies (no matter how mixed up).
It’s become even more clear to me over the last five years as I’ve been learning more about my family history and building my family’s tree.
While I unfortunately never had the chance to meet them, I've always been told how my Indian great grandmother along with her sisters observed hijab as they wore their orni faithfully.
In fact I have in my possession a photo of my great grandmother, Alice, laying in her casket orni still on her head.
For myself and the generations that followed, if the modesty of our foremothers failed to remind us of the beauty, generosity, and mercy of God then surely our names would.
Names like Djamil or Jahmal which in Arabic mean beauty, Kareem and Raheem whose names not only translate to generous and merciful respectively but are also just two of Allah’s names.
But there’s more to being a Muslim Indo-Caribbean than dutifully wearing scarves or names with religious conotations, although they do play their part.
I can honestly say without a shadow of a doubt that as a Jamaican Muslim Dougla a week doesn’t go by when I’m not stepping into the role of historian and educator where I break down the systems and structures behind how it is I have roots in a heavily practicing Christian country that boasts the most churches, yet I myself practice Islam.
It’s the look on the faces of those who previously thought Trinidad and Guyana cornered the market on Indo-Caribbeans, as they come to the understanding that our motto “Out Of Many, One People” means Jamaica’s population isn’t 100% African.
Honestly I don’t mind, it gives me even just a few minutes to brag and boast about my family, culture, and heritage. A heritage that equal parts Muslim, Indian, and Caribbean.
On the odd occasion it leaves me struggling to explain to my American muslim friends the meaning and sentimental value behind our annual Hosay holiday, however the shared understanding that there will be good and tasty halal curries of all kinds with white rice and roti on the side is universal.
My friends now can’t wait for my wedding, not just because they’re looking forward to the 3-5 day celebration of me being off the market but because they’re anticipating seeing me leading the baraat on a snow white stallion while they dance along.
I am a proud Muslim. I am a proud Jamaican. I am the proud child of Indian Indenture in the Caribbean. While these identities can be viewed as isolated, for me they’re as entwined and intermingled as the rhythmic beats of the tassa drums during Hosay.
A proud son of Jamaica, Djamil is a 22 year old Jamaican Dougla student and wordsmith who uses his art to share his culture with a wider audience. His works centred around family, faith, and history include poems and prose written in English, Jamaican Patois, and Caribbean Hindustani.
I never went to a shop and bought my heritage, so I feel no shame in saying I am a proud Jamaican descended from survivors of Slavery and Indentureship.
The views in this article reflect the lived experiences and positionality of this author based on the intersections of what being both Muslim and Indo-Caribbean means to them.
[Reprinted with permission of the author and The Muslim Indo-Caribbean Collective (MICC) where this article was originally published]