Montserratians - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs and Practices . Christian denominations have deep roots in postaboriginal Montserratian history, and most Montserratians claim some Christian identity. The Catholic church has been present since the first Europeans arrived, although its adherents suffered legal discrimination until the early nineteenth century. The Anglican church was the favored and established church of the English colonizers. Toward the end of the eighteenth century, Methodist missionaries began to work assiduously in Montserrat, as they did elsewhere in the Caribbean. For a century they taught Christianity, literacy, and English middle-class morality, first to slaves and then to freed people and their descendants, wherever they were able to establish schools and congregations. These three denominations, along with the Pentecostal sects that began to penetrate Montserrat in the 1940s, are still strong.

Alongside and underneath Christianity, however, a strain of folk religion persists. The local variant on Afro-Caribbean obeah and possession religion is the Jombee or Jumbie religion, although this is said to be disappearing. Jumbies are spirits of the dead that influence and can help living persons. Montserrat's Jombee dance is (or was) the feast of food, music, and dance that reinforces bonds with living and ancestral kin, sets the scene for spirit possession, and often functions as a healing ritual. Folk spirit healers continue to practice, even without an institutionalized Jombee dance, and the practice of obeah today is an important research question. Another folk-religious movement that may be gaining in Montserrat is Rastafarianism.

Arts. The decline of folk music and dance forms and traditional festival arts parallels the decline of the Jombee religion. Most music and dance in Montserrat today are commoditized products, and indeed a major commercial recording studio is located on the island. There is a small but active cadre of poetry and fiction writers.

Medicine. Montserratians have access to national health care, a central hospital, contraceptive and family-planning services, village nursing services, and folk herbalists and healing practitioners.

Death and Afterlife. Conventional Christian beliefs coexist with folk beliefs in jumbies, or ancestral spirits, although not all individuals or classes hold either or both sets of beliefs.

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