In 1672 a Jamaican land survey recorded sixty indigo plantations with many concentrated in the parish of Clarendon along the Rio Minho River. Under British rule, these plantations were cultivated by enslaved Africans from ethnic groups including Igbo Akan, Fon, Yoruba, Efik, Bantu and Moko people. Many arrived with indigo cultivation skills coming from cultures with rich traditions of indigo dyed textiles, traditionally woven and patterned to reflect African identity. Within slavery, Africans were forced to grow indigo commercially and were denied their cultural and creative connection with the dye.
As the enslaved outnumbered their owners the plantation system was dependent on suppressing, erasing and subjugating the African identity to avoid and minimise the risk of resistance. Plantation owners prevented their enslaved building family links with bonds of kinship, especially to Africa and other Africans, disconnecting them from their culture and history and denying African spirituality and heritage. The process could last up to three years and was called ‘seasoning’.
My research explores this lost African heritage through natural indigo dyed cotton paper and fabric and embroidery, drawing inspiration from Yoruba Indigo dyed starch resist textiles known as àdìrẹ ẹlẹ́ko.