Having looked at the significance of the crocodile in West African beliefs, including voodoo, which is also widespread in the Caribbean, we now turn our attention to Caribbean drinking habits, Caribbean religious traditions and the importance of alcohol.
Let us now turn our attention to the Caribbean. Before we come back to the crocodile, let’s look at the importance of alcohol for the slaves abducted from Africa.
Frederick H. Smith summarises the situation of Caribbean slaves in his dissertation: “Alcohol was familiar to newly arrived Africans in the Caribbean and the symbolic meanings slaves attached to drinking reflect the continuity of African cultural beliefs. Despite occasional efforts by colonial officials to restrict slave drinking, slaves had easy access to rum and other alcoholic beverages. The ready availability of alcohol sparked the creation of new African-oriented drinking practices, which, at the level of the lowest common denominator, combined the social and sacred alcohol-based traditions of diverse African ethnic groups. As in Africa, alcohol helped foster slave spirituality and promote group identity. The construction of new drinking styles also strengthened resistance ideologies, which challenged European efforts to suppress African customs. Understanding slave alcohol use provides a prism through which to view underlying principles that helped shape slave life.” [4-240]
Palm wine and fermented sugar cane juice
It was apparently the enslaved Africans who carried out the first experiments on the fermentation of sugar cane juice in the Caribbean. [4-38] [4-39] The first reference to a drink produced in this way dates back to the 16th century, from Hispaniola and Puerto Rico. [3-1076] [4-38]
The Spanish Dominican monk Bartholomé de Las Casas reported from Santo Domingo that in the 1510s the enslaved Africans drank “drinks made from sugar cane” and died from it. [20-701] In 1596 or 1598, Dr Layfield, a chaplain on an English privateer voyage, came to Puerto Rico and reported that a fermented drink called guacapo was drunk on the island, made “of molasses (that is the coarsest of their sugar) and some spices”. The Spanish also called it guarapo or guarapa. For the Portuguese it was garapa, for the French grappe.  [19-36] [19-37] [20-701]
The slaves were most likely not only the main consumers, but also producers of these fermented drinks. [4-38] This allowed them to continue their African alcohol tradition in the Caribbean. [4-38] However, they did not only use sugar cane. The production of palm wine was also an option: Charles de Rochefort reported in his book “Histoire naturelle et morale des isles antilles de I’Amerique” (Natural and Moral History of the West Indies of America), published in 1658, that African slaves produced palm wine on the Caribbean island of St Kitts: [4-38] “Besides these two drinks, which are the most common in the Antilles, several other delicious wines are made there in various places. The negroes, who are slaves in these islands, make incisions in the spiny palms, from which a certain liquid resembling white wine is exuded, which they collect in several small calabashes, which they fasten to the openings of these trees, which yield two pints, and sometimes more, every day. The earliest authors tell us that palm wine was very common among the Orientals, as it still is today; it is also served in some places in Africa, such as Monomotapa.” [21-447]
– »Outre ces deus boissons qui sont les plus ordinaires dans les Antilles, on y fait encore en divers endroits, plusieurs vins delicieus. Les Négres, qui sont esclaves en ces Iles, font des incisions aus Palmistes épineus, d’où il distille une certaine liqueur semblable à du vin blanc, laquelle ils recueillent dans plusieurs petites Callebasses qu’ils attachêt aus ouvertures de ces arbres, qui en rendent chacun par jour deus pintes, & quelquesois davantage. Les plus anciens Auteurs nous apprennent, que parmy les Orientaus le vin de Palmes étoit fort en usage, comme il y est encore aujour d’huy: L’on s’en sert aussi en quelques endrois de l’Afrique, comme en Monomotapa.« [21-447]
As Frederick Smith aptly notes, European travellers to pre-colonial West Africa and West Central Africa reported that palm wine was also produced there. There is therefore much to suggest that African slaves in the Caribbean drew on their African traditions to produce palm wine. [4-38] [4-255] However, when the production of sugar and sugar cane distillates began in the Caribbean, traditional palm wine was replaced by alcohol made from sugar cane, especially rum, to maintain a connection to Africa and the spirit world. [4-255] [4-256]
It is possible that the Africans’ desire for alcohol was the reason for the planters to produce not only sugar but also alcohol and to consider it as a possible export commodity for the African market. [4-39] The use and production of fermented alcoholic beverages by slaves would then have been the first step towards a significant rum industry. [4-39]
Slaves were supplied with distilled alcohol at an early stage: in the years 1622-1623, it is reported that they were given “aguardiente” in Brazil. What exactly is meant by this is not entirely clear, and Frederick Smith notes in the Oxford Companion: “it is not impossible that that was a Portuguese wine-based product, although a local cane one is far more likely.” [20-121]
Caribbean and African drinking habits
Frederick Smith asks in his dissertation: “Do the drinking practices of Caribbean slaves reflect the direct transfer of particular African drinking customs or the construction of new drinking behaviors based on the shared beliefs of various African ethnic groups? Answering this question is difficult, because most of our information about both African and African slave drinking comes from Europeans who often failed to explore the nuances of complex drinking customs. Moreover, African and African slave drinking rituals were usually private events conducted away from the eyes of Europeans. Thus, we may simply lack the raw evidence that would allow us to make a strong correlation between the drinking practices of particular African nations with those observed among African slaves in the Caribbean. Yet, the evidence does show that, at the level of the lowest common denominator, African slaves in the Caribbean created drinking customs, which embraced their shared West and West Central African beliefs about the spiritual meaning of alcohol.” [4-250] [4-251]
Frederick Smith then refers to an analysis by John Thornton from his 1992 book ‘Africa and Africans in the making of the Atlantic world, 1400-1680’ and writes: “African priests, brought to the Americas as slaves, produced new revelations that helped build Afro-American cosmologies from the various African beliefs. Like a lingua franca language system, African Christianity functioned as the link that brought together slaves from various nations. One similarity that Thornton overlooked in his analysis of Afro-Atlantic religious systems was that most Africans shared similar beliefs about the spiritual importance of alcohol. West and West Central Africans, with the exception of those at the northern margins of the slave trade who closely followed the teachings of Islam, believed that alcohol facilitated communication with the spirit world. Through libations, offerings, and alcohol-induced spirit possessions, Africans opened lines of communication to the spirit world and showed reverence to ancestors, gods, and deities. Moreover, these practices were not entirely unfamiliar to Christian Europeans who used sacramental wine to strengthen their own sense of spiritual attachment. Common beliefs about the spiritual importance of alcohol merged in Africa and on the slave plantations in the Caribbean and helped unify Africans from various nations. The sacred uses of alcohol observed among African slaves in the Caribbean highlight the construction of new African-oriented drinking customs based on the lowest common denominator of those shared beliefs.” [4-252] [4-253]
Religious traditions in the Caribbean
As in Africa, alcohol played an important role in the daily lives of Africans in the Caribbean. The easy availability of alcohol made it possible to maintain traditional African drinking rituals. The Caribbean slave societies thus followed the common West and West-Central African beliefs. As in Africa, contact was made with the ancestors and the spirit world with the help of libations and offerings. [4-254] [4-264]
Secret places of refuge
Archaeological finds on Barbados suggest that the ceremonies also took place in secret. There, caves offered the slaves secret places of refuge where they could consume alcohol and maintain their religious practices. [3-1163]
As in Africa, alcohol was central to the birth, marriage and death of slaves in the British and French Caribbean.
As the birth ceremonies took place in secret to the exclusion of the planters, reports on them are rare; detailed reports on the use of alcohol in these ceremonies are even rarer. Jean-Baptiste Du Tertre reports in his ‘Histoire générale des Antilles habitées par les François’, published between 1667 and 1671, that the slaves celebrated the birth of their children with a big party, invited the other slaves from their country and sold “everything they owned” in order to have enough rum for the birth ceremony. [4-260]
Alcohol also played an important role at funerals.
In 1688, John Taylor, visiting Jamaica, recognised the central role of ancestors at funerals and noted that after offerings, including rum, were placed in the grave, slaves would raise the grave and eat and drink on it. [4-261]
In the book “A New History of Jamaica” published in 1740, Charles Leslie wrote about the slaves’ burial ceremony: [4-261] “After the Grave is filled up, they place the Soup which they had prepared at the Head, and a Bottle of Rum at the Feet.” [22-309]
In his ‘History of Jamaica’ from 1774, Edward Long reports on the organisation of funerals: “and the meeting concludes with eating their collation, drinking, dancing, and vociferation.” [1-422]
In 1791, Thomas Atwood reported in ‘History of the island of Domenica’ on the role that alcohol played at funerals there: “Their superstitious notions with respect to their dead are truly ridiculous, for they suppose that the deceased both eat and drink in their coffins: and for that purpose, they put therein articles for both.” [4-261] 
He also described the custom of making annual offerings to the deceased. [4-261]
In the French Caribbean it was similar: the successful return of the dead to the spirit world required the consumption of alcohol. [4-262]
Rum as a unifying element
Within the diverse African cultural context of the Caribbean slave plantation, alcohol was important for contact with the spiritual world. In particular, an alcohol-rich spirit such as rum was a powerful means of making contact with the spirit world. Since rum had also been shipped to West and Central Africa since the 17th century, it was already known there and used instead of traditional alcoholic drinks. New slaves arriving in the Caribbean were therefore already familiar with it and readily accepted it. [4-264] Frederick H. Smith also notes: “Like the rise of Afro-Atlantic Christianity, rum became the a unifying feature of the Afro-Atlantic world. Just as the consumption of slave-made Caribbean rum helped Africans in Africa make a symbolic connection to their brethren overseas, it also helped those Caribbean slaves form a link to their African homelands.” [4-264]
In his book published in 1707, Hans Sloane, for example, reports on the nature of this connection to the African homeland: “The Negroes from some Countries think they return to their own Country when they die in Jamaica, and therefore regard death but little, imagining they shall change their condition, by that means from servile to free, and so for this reason often cut their own Throats. Whether they die thus, or naturally, their Country people make great lamentations, mournings, and howlings about them expiring, and at their Funeral throw in Rum and Victuals into their Graves, to serve them in the other world. Sometimes they bury it in gourds, at other times spill it on the Graves.” [24-xlviii]
Yoruba and African-American religions
The Yoruba are a West African people who live mainly in south-western Nigeria, but also in the neighbouring states of Benin, Ghana and Togo. 
The Yoruba religion is also the basis for many African-American religions, including voodoo and Santería. The boundaries between them and Christianity are fluid.  For the Yoruba, there is a visible and an invisible realm in the cosmos, which must be kept in balance and interact with each other.  Ashé, a kind of universal life energy that is not only present in all living beings and objects, but is also present in spirit beings (the Orishas and the ancestors), in prayers, songs and gestures, works in both realms. This energy diminishes over time and must be recharged through religious rituals. 
The Yoruba gods are referred to as Orishas in the Yoruba religion, but also in African-American religions. There are hundreds of different Orishas. Their closeness and intimacy with humans is shown by the fact that they reveal themselves through trance states in the initiates. They are all connected to a force of nature, for example water, earth or air in all its various forms. There are specific drumbeats, chants and dances for each of them during the religious ceremonies. There are family relationships, love affairs and quarrels between the Orishas. They cross boundaries and break taboos, influencing not only the spirit world but also the world of the living. 
Oshun is an orisha, named after the river of the same name in Nigeria. It symbolises fertility. There is a grove in her honour in Oshogbo, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.   Other Yoruba deities are also worshipped there. 
Olorun stands above the Orishas. He is too powerful and it is dangerous to make direct contact with him. The Orishas therefore serve as intermediaries between the living and Olorun. Eshu is an Olorun who has a special role to play. He is regarded as the doorkeeper and messenger of the gods and must therefore be the first to be greeted at all rituals. He must also be the first to receive his offerings. 
In addition to the Orishas, there are also the N’kisi.  N’kisi are spirits or objects that are inhabited by a spirit. The belief in them was taken to the New World. The N’kisi are closely associated with communication with the ancestors.  One of the N’kisi is Bombo Njila, also called (male) Exú (Eshu ) or Bombojira. He is the door opener.  Vangira, also called Pombagira or Pomba Gira, is the female Exu. 
This reminds us that in West Africa the crocodile plays a similar role to Bombo Njila: as a door opener that connects the worlds and enables communication with the ancestors, or even ensures the transition between the worlds and brings the spirits of the dead across. The crocodile is called Bumbo – so is the name ‘Bombo Njila’ merely coincidental or does it indicate a closer relationship?
Religious traditions in the British Caribbean: Obeah
The connection with West African traditions was evident in the religious practices of slaves in the Caribbean, not only British but also French. In the British Caribbean, ‘Obeah’ was widespread. Obeah combines healing, spirituality and ancestor worship. [3-1163] [4-256] The rituals required the sacred use of alcohol. With its help, individuals and the community could be protected from harm and malevolent spirits could be appeased. Drink offerings were an important component. [3-1163] There are different views on the origin of obeah. Some believe that the term derives from Akan religious practices, others believe it comes from Igbo, where the word ‘dibia’ refers to a doctor or soothsayer with close contact to the spirit world. However, it is most likely that Obea is a mixture of various religious practices from West Africa and West Central Africa, with which the ancestors were worshipped and asked for assistance, integrated into the sacred use of alcohol. [4-256]
Religious traditions in the Caribbean: Voodoo
Alcohol also enabled communication with the spirit world in the French Caribbean. It was not obea that was practised there, but voodoo. Voodoo originated in West Africa; we have already mentioned this. Voodoo and the associated ancestor cult arrived in the Caribbean with the displaced Africans and still plays a major role there today, especially in Haiti. During voodoo ceremonies, drinks made from rum are consumed and offered as libations. [3-1163] [4-256]
Voodoo ceremonies involve dancing and possession by spirits. [4-257]
Religious traditions in the Caribbean: Santeria
Similarly, alcohol plays a central role in Cuban Santeria. There, offerings are made to the spirits. [3-1163]
Oshun – we have already mentioned her in connection with the West African Yoruba – protects pregnant women.  “She represents the intensity of feelings and human spirituality and sensuality, gentleness, refinement, love and everything that has to do with women. She protects pregnant women. She is represented by a beautiful woman who is cheerful and smiling, but inside she is very serious, suffering and sometimes sad. She represents religious austerity and symbolises relentless punishment.”  Oshun is the only one who can appear before Olofin to pray for people. She is symbolised by rivers, and she is also the goddess of the river of the same name in Nigeria. Her messenger is the crocodile, and her followers seek her favour by making offerings at rivers. 
Olofin is the third manifestation of Olodumare, who lives in heaven. The Orishas are subject to him and he is in contact with humans via the Orishas.  Olofin distributes ashé to every Orisha and knows the secrets of creation.  Do the three manifestations of Olodumare show a Christian influence, or is it just a coincidence that Christianity speaks of the Trinity of God: Father, Son and Spirit?
In any case, Oloddumare is the highest, almighty God. He is not in direct contact with humans, but through one of his manifestations, either directly via Olorún or indirectly via Olofin. 
Olorún is the second manifestation of Olofin. 
Candomblé is an Afro-American religion that is mainly practised in Brazil. It also has its roots in the Yoruba, which is why Orishas, N’kisi or Vodum are known. As Olorun cannot be approached directly, contact is made with them. They can take possession of a person who then moves differently from the other participants in the ritual: the possessed person dances like the being that has taken possession of him. 
In Candomblé, only 16 orishas were retained instead of hundreds. Among them is Exu (called Eshu in Africa). He is the messenger of the Orisha. He is associated with palm oil and spirits as food offerings, black goats and roosters, and his attributes are phallus and trident. We have already described him in connection with the West African Yoruba. 
Sugar cane distillates on the plantations
Having dealt with the religious traditions and the importance of alcohol in Caribbean slave societies, the question arises: how widespread and available was alcohol?
Alcohol was widely available on the Caribbean islands and in Caribbean slave societies. [4-241] This is why Richard Ligon wrote about Barbados in 1657: “We are seldome drye or thirsty, unlesse we overheat our bodyes with extraordinary labour, or drinking strong drinks; as of our English spirits, which we carry over, of french Brandy, or the drinke of the Iland, which is made of the skimmings of the Coppers, that boyle the Sugar, which they call kill-Divell.” [5-27]
Richard Ligon also describes how alcohol is distilled from the foam in the distillery to produce kill-devil, [5-92] [5-93] and notes: “Besides, comming home hot and sweating in the evening, sitting or lying down, must needs be the occasion of taking cold, and sometimes breeds sicknesses amongst them, which when they feel, they complain to the Apothecary of the Plantation, which we call Doctor, and he gives them everyone a dram cup of this Spirit, and that is a present cure. And as this drink is of great use, to cure and refresh the poor Negres, whom we ought to have a speciall care of, by the labour of whose hands, our profit is brought in: so is it helpfull to our Christian Servants too; for, when their spirits are exhausted, by their hard labour, and sweating in the Sun, ten hours every day, they find their stomacks debilitated, and much weakned in their vigour every way, a dram or two of this Spirit, is a great comfort and refreshing to them. This drink is also a commodity of good value in the Plantation; for we send it down to the Bridge, and there put it off to those that retail it. Some they sell to the Ships, and is transposted into forraign parts, and drunk by the way. Some they sell to such Planters, as have no Sugar works of their owne, yet drink excessively of it, for they buy it at easie rates; halfe a crown a gallon was the price, the time that I was there; but they were then purposing to raise the price to a deerer rate. They make weekly, as long as they work, of such a Plantation as this 30 l sterling, besides what is drunk by their servants and slaves.” [5-93]
In the times when rum was distilled, the slaves were either already familiar with it in Africa, or they became so during their ship passage or on arrival in the Caribbean. British sugar planters supplied their slaves with large quantities of rum. [4-242] The planters of the French Caribbean islands did the same. [4-242] [4-243]
Alcohol = power
In Africa, a small ruling class controlled the land and labour needed to produce alcohol. This gave them power. In the Caribbean, the planters took over this position because they owned the land and labour to produce rum and had alcohol largely under their control. Whereas before it was the African tribal chiefs and elders who possessed the alcohol needed to communicate with the spirit world, now it was the Caribbean planters. This made them powerful. The distribution of alcohol by the sugar planters at births, weddings, funerals and other important events also corresponded to the usual distribution patterns in Africa. Some infer that this hierarchical control of alcohol by the planters may have helped to legitimise their power over the slaves. [4-263]
The planters used these traditional African power structures, presumably without realising it. There was a reward and incentive system in which rum was given as a reward for good work. This improved discipline and created a favourable atmosphere among the slaves. They were given rum and other alcoholic drinks, especially for strenuous, particularly difficult or unpleasant tasks. [4-243] [4-244] On some plantations, they were given rum three times a day during the planting season. It is known from Domenica that the rum for the field labourers was diluted with water and sweetened with molasses. [4-244]
Restrictions and drinking bans
Although planters tried to maintain control over access to alcohol, they did not succeed. [4-245] Slaves took the initiative in procuring rum for religious rites [4-245] [4-263] and found clandestine ways to obtain alcohol. [4-245]
A text from 1797 writes about the slaves that they procured “the best victuals and some liquors are procured in great plenty”. [4-263]
As early as the 17th century, slaves often visited taverns to drink rum. In Barbados, several laws prohibited the sale of rum to slaves or to persons selling rum to slaves, [4-247] because the whites were afraid of drunken slaves, which is why they passed laws to prevent slaves from drinking to excess. In Barbados, for example, “An Act for prohibiting the selling of Rum or other Strong Liquors to any Negro or other Slave” was passed. This was also prompted by the fact that a slave conspiracy was uncovered and foiled that year. They were planning an uprising. [3-1163] Presumably, however, these laws were rarely obeyed and were difficult to enforce. [4-247]
Similar laws were enacted throughout the Caribbean, but since rum was plentiful, there was always a way for slaves to obtain it, especially since it was also an important part of their social and spiritual life. Nevertheless, alcohol consumption among slaves does not appear to have been higher than among other social groups.[3-1163]
In the next part of this series, we will discuss the new etymology of the terms ‘rum’ and ‘kill devil’. What we have said so far forms the basis for this.
- https://archive.org/details/historyjamaicao01longgoog/page/n456/mode/2up?q=bumbo Anonymus (Edward Long): The history of Jamaica or, general survey of the antient and modern state of the island: with reflections on its situation, settlements, inhabitants, climate, products, commerce, laws, and government. In three volumes. Vol. 2. London, 1774.
- https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yoruba_(Ethnie) Yoruba (Ethnie).
- https://books.google.de/books?id=ANm5BgAAQBAJ&pg=PA1163&lpg=PA1163&dq=what+did+barbadian+slaves+drink&source=bl&ots=–BgFcp98B&sig=ACfU3U3b8qNTQeK8fVHSyKfR7ti-bOHhtA&hl=de&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwj8zqHXm7jqAhXN2KQKHWkACBgQ6AEwDXoECAkQAQ#v=onepage&q=what%20did%20barbadian%20slaves%20drink&f=false Scott C. Martin (Hrsg.): The SAGE Encyclopedia of Alcohol: Social, Cultural and Historical Perspectives. SAGE Publications, 2014.
- https://archive.org/details/volatilespiritsh00smit/page/n35/mode/2up?q=%22Negroes+are+in+general+much+addicted+to+drunkenness%22 and https://ufdcimages.uflib.ufl.edu/AA/00/02/65/65/00001/volatilespiritsh00smit.pdf Frederick H. Smith: Volatile Spirits: The historical archaeology of alcohol and drinking in the Caribbean. A dissertation presented to the graduate school of the university of Florida in partial fulfillment of requirements for the degree of doctor of philosophy. University of Florida, 2001.
- https://archive.org/details/trueexacthistory00ligo Richard Ligon: A trve & exact history of the island of Barbados. London, 1657.
- https://www.amazon.de/-/en/Tristan-Stephenson/dp/1849758239#reader_B07FG7QBTH Vorschau von Tristan Stephenson: The Curious Bartender’s Rum Revolution. ISBN 978-1-84975-823-9. 2017. Therein chapter: Kill Devil.
- https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oshun Oshun.
- https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heiliger_Hain_der_G%C3%B6ttin_Osun Heiliger Hain der Göttin Osun.
- https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_der_Yoruba Religion der Yoruba.
- https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ash%C3%A9 Ashé.
- https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orisha Orisha.
- https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eshu Eshu.
- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nkisi Nkisi.
- https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Candombl%C3%A9 Candomblé.
- https://cubanyoruba.blogspot.com/2007/04/oshun.html Yoruba religion. The Santeria or Lucumi Religion. Afrocuban Religion: Oshun.
- https://cubanyoruba.blogspot.com/2007/04/olofi.html Yoruba religion. The Santeria or Lucumi Religion. Afrocuban Religion: Olofin
- https://cubanyoruba.blogspot.com/2007/04/oloddumare.html Yoruba religion. The Santeria or Lucumi Religion. Afrocuban Religion: Oldumare.
- https://cubanyoruba.blogspot.com/2007/04/olorun.html Yoruba religion. The Santeria or Lucumi Religion. Afrocuban Religion: Olorun.
- https://archive.org/details/learnedmen00pain/page/36/mode/2up?q=%22that+is%2C+the+coarsest+of+their+Sugar%22 Gustavus S. Paine: The learned men. New York, 1959.
- David Wondrich & Noah Rothbaum (Hrsg.): The Oxford Companion to Spirits & Cocktails. ISBN 9780199311132. 2022.
- https://archive.org/details/histoirenaturell02roch/page/446/mode/2up Anonymus (Charles de Rochefort): Histoire naturelle et morale des iles Antilles de l’Amerique. Enrichie de plusieurs belles figures des raretez les plus considerables qui y sont d’écrites. Avec vn vocabulaire Caraïbe. Roterdam, 1658.
- https://archive.org/details/bim_eighteenth-century_a-new-history-of-jamaica_leslie-charles_1740 Charles Leslie: A new history of Jamaica, from the earliest accounts, to the taking of Porto Bello by Vice-Admiral Vernon. In Thirteen letters from a gentleman to his friend. London, 1740.
- https://www.gutenberg.org/files/48847/48847-h/48847-h.htm Thomas Atwood: The history of the Island of Dominica. London, 1791.
- https://archive.org/details/mobot31753000820123/page/xxx/mode/2up?q=rum Hans Sloane: A voyage to the islands Madera, Barbados, Nieves, S. Christophers and Jamaica, with the natural history of the herbs and trees, four-footed beasts, fishes, birds, insects, reptiles, &c. of the last of those islands. Vol. 1. London, 1707.