The Jamaican cultural manifestation known as a “Tea Meeting” is a hybrid of a convention and a tea party of the English variety. It emerged, like so many other traditions, as a parody of the ways of the colonisers by the enslaved Africans. The latter would imitate the modes of dress and speech of the former. As it evolved “Tea Meetings” became a huge community affair in rural communities designed to entertain as well as to raise funds for a variety of community affairs.
“Tea Meetings” would typically take place “under a booth”, a specially constructed venue made from coconut palms, dressed with shrubs and flowering plants, off-setting the centre table with beautiful tablecloth. At some point tea and edibles would be served. These, however, were but the side-show to the real attraction, a concert of speechifying, traditional dances and songs in which adults as well as children were only too eager to display their talents. Holding these together was a carefully selected chairman or toastmaster with the gift of gab and a penchant for malapropisms.
If we believe Catherine M. Cole, author of Ghana’s Concert Party, the form closely resembles a practice in Ghana, intended for the enjoyment of ordinary people and incorporating their concerns on a range of social issues. The Tea Meetings provide us with one avenue through which to examine cultural continuities and the convergence of tradition and modernity.
You are encouraged, if you so desire, you may bring along your own fife and fiddle, favourite song, proverb or riddle. Be prepared to bid “to put up” or “take down” this or that performer and participate actively in the merry-making. Just in case you are missing the appropriate accessories those will be provided on site at an affordable cost.