Carriacou Temne Culture

When Martin, Opala, and Schmidt visited Carriacou in 2011, Winston Fleary, the noted Big Drum Dance organizer, took them into the interior of the island where the Temne descendants live today. The researchers were astounded when they realized that Carriacouans still pronounce the name Temne as Themne or Themene, the ancient names for that tribe that are still remembered in Sierra Leone but no longer used. One can see just from this old-fashioned pronunciation that the Carriacou Temnes have been separated from Sierra Leone for centuries. The researchers were also surprised when they heard a local woman greet her neighbor with the phrase “How de body?” (How is the body?), the standard greeting in Sierra Leone’s Krio language. They were surprised again when an elderly man, hearing that they were there to learn about local history, rushed forward and asked if they wanted to see “the swamp where my great-grandfather planted rice.” The visitors had not mentioned that the Temnes are rice farmers, but the old man clearly associated rice farming with his own heritage as well.

Cynthia Schmidt, the ethnomusicologist on the research team, observed the Temne song, dance, and drumming routine. She noted that the men drum, while the women sing and dance. The lyrics of the song are in Carriacou’s English-based patois, or creole language, and not in Temne; but they contain the repeating phrase: Themene uman, Themene dansa – oh (“Temne woman, Temne dancer – oh”). Schmidt noted that this type of ensemble is characteristic of West African music and dance, but she could not make a specific link to Temne music at that time. Later, though, Isatu Smith, now Chairwoman of Sierra Leone’s Monuments and Relics Commission showed a video of the Carriacou Temne performance to elders in several Temne towns in Sierra Leone, and everyone remarked that it was similar to a performance of the women’s Bondo Society in both the rhythm and the dance.