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Tribute to the Late Bernice Henry – Kumina Queen

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The Board, Management and Staff of the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission pay homage to an extraordinary Jamaican, ‘Kumina Queen’, ‘Healer Lady’ and an enduring cultural practitioner- Bernice Henry. According to Delroy Gordon, Executive Director of the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission, “Henry has been associated with the JCDC for over 20 years and has participated in many national celebratory events. She entered the JCDC’s Traditional Folk Forms Competition for many years where her group (Port Morant Kumina Group) copped many national awards and represented Jamaica overseas.  Henry exhibited a strong sense of patriotism and passionately preserved her African heritage which has helped to delineate Jamaica’s nationhood and has enriched Jamaica’s cultural landscape. Indeed she was a repository of Kumina knowledge.”

Bernice Henry hails from the parish of St. Thomas and was the founder and leader of the Port Morant Kumina Group who extolled and contributed to the preservation of Jamaica’s medicinal heritage. Her grandmother an African woman who played a centric role in her life, imparted oral traditions on this form which helped to shape her ethos and way of life. This nurturing provided the foundation for the brewing of a Kumina Queen who spoke African languages and the renowned dancer who danced with a lit lamp on her head. Indeed she was a tour de force and authentic cultural practitioner.

Kumina is one of the most prolific examples of the retention of the cultures African retention which is predominantly in St. Thomas. It has been kept alive over the years through the Traditional Folk Forms Competition and national celebrations that are planned and staged by the Commission. Kumina ceremonies are usually associated with wakes, entombments or memorial services, parties, weddings, functions, the healing of sick people, births and thanksgiving, among others. To Henry, kumina is not just a dance but a religion that is not obeah.

Dr. Maria Smith former Dance Coordinator at the JCDC, now Programmes Manager at Jamaica National UNESCO opined that:   “Bernice was a mother, healer, griot and a rich source of traditional knowledge. She could be described as a cultural historian. The kumina rituals she recreated was not only representative of dance, music, and songs but was an embodiment of the African Jamaican world view. She was committed to the preservation and transmission of traditional knowledge.

Although her mode of transmission was oral she was respected. Regional scholars and beyond sought her cultural wisdom for cultural meaning.  She will be missed for her healing expertise and the execution of skills and demeanor that she brought to cultural performances.”

The country has lost a phenomenal woman who was loved by many people in her community. Described by many as a genuine person and ‘healer lady’ her heritage will forever be etched in the annals of Jamaica’s history and heritage.

The Funeral Service for the late Bernice Henry, Queen of Kumina will be held this Sunday, December 7, 2014 at Colonel Cove, Morant Bay, St. Thomas starting at 11:00 am.  Kumina sessions will be Friday and Saturday nights in Port Morant.

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