A Preliminary Study of Immigrant Mongolian
Transhumance Patterns in Western Jamaica
Research Assistant in Anthropology, Ravi Turbopropwala
Institute for Transhimalayan Studies, Balrampur, Uttar Pradesh, India
The immigrant Mongolian communities of the New World are relatively little-known among anthropologists. While the Kalmyk communities of New Jersey and Philadelphia have received some scholarly notice, the immigrant Mongolian community of western Jamaica has heretofore been entirely ignored by the western scholarly community. Like the Kalmyks of the United States, the Mongolians of western Jamaica emigrated to the New World after displacement during World War II. Settled in Jamaica in 1947 under a special Commonwealth act, the community of about 575 Mongols managed to save enough money for many of their members to buy sufficient livestock to return to their traditional livelihood of semi-nomadic pastoralism. For the past five decades, they and their descendants have nomadized seasonally in broadly typical Mongolian fashion. Winter camps are generally located in the higher regions of southwestern St. James Parish near Montpellier; in mid-February the various households then move to lower lands near Maryland in south-central Hanover Parish, and in May they move southeast to the uplands of Westmoreland Parish north of Whitland. Some households have autumn camps south of Maroon Town, St. James Parish, but the majority move to winter camping grounds in September and frequently take group vacations at Montego Bay, where they stay in little-publicized ger camps operated by Mongols who have left pastoral nomadism for trade. All Jamaican Mongols live in Cornwall County and neither travel to nor know much about the rest of Jamaica.
One of the Mongols of Jamaica at Montego Beach during the vacation from winter camp (author’s collection).
The change of climate and environment has had numerous effects upon traditional steppe herding customs. Most important, the fact that a significant portion of the region of Jamaica that they inhabit is divided into farms has largely put an end to herding their flocks on horseback, and of the five stock animals of Mongolian pastoralism (cows, horses, camels, sheep, and goats), only cows and a few goats are herded today. On the other hand, many households have arranged to graze their herds on nearby farmers’ fields after the harvest has been collected or when lying fallow. This can cause conflicts when some of the animals graze in the wrong fields or outside the agreed periods, though a number of customs have arisen over the past five decades for adjudicating claims and paying recompense in cases of harm to agricultural lands so as to minimize outside interference by state authorities. Similarly, the basic features of the Mongolian steppe diet remain: A heavy emphasis upon meat and dairy products, though with Jamaican agricultural products commonly eaten; coffee has largely replaced tea as the staple of the morning meal, rice is commonly eaten, and bananas and plantains are frequent additions to the dinner table. Indeed, in a number of households the common modern Mongolian dessert berees (a rice pudding with raisins, butter, and sugar) has been modified to use banana or plantain pieces in place of raisins. Other households consider this dish unfit for human consumption, however. Some of the native foodstuffs are collected in the wild, but most are obtained in trade for animal products.
A Jamaican Mongolian household in the middle of nomadizing from spring to summer camps (author’s collection).
There is much still to be learned about the fascinating adaptations of these recent immigrants. In addition to the modifications of Mongolian custom, there are numerous similarities in vocabulary that are probably due to Mongolian influence on the speech of their neighbors: ganja ‘marijuana’ ~ gaans ‘tobacco pipe’, magadog ‘mongrel’ ~ magadgüy ‘uncertain’, dally ‘zig-zag on a bicycle’ ~ dalii- ‘to get twisted’, tallowah ‘sturdy, fearless’ ~ taliwuun ‘broad, wide’, sheg(-up) ‘ruined, spoiled’ ~ šeeg ‘urea, excreta’, notch ‘high-ranking badman’ ~ način ‘falcon; high-ranked wrestler’, nyam ‘to eat’ ~ nom-nom ‘gluttonous’ (from Tibetan), myal ‘form of benign magic’ ~ myalaa- ‘to anoint, bless’, ilie ‘valuable, exalted’ ~ ilüü ‘more’, bambu ‘paper’ ~ bambay- ‘to be thick and soft’. As the reader can clearly see, there are exciting possibilities for further research. Unfortunately, in this time of straitened resources, funding for such important research as this is hard to come by, even among funding agencies with a more open-minded view of things. Thus, it is necessary to bring this fascinating topic to the attention of a wider audience in a variety of forums and journals, for it is only when it has passed from rumor to urban legend that the typical research project is funded these days.