Jamaican Pantomime

‘Christmas breeze’, Jonkunnu and Christmas fruit cake are Christmas traditions that are uniquely Jamaican and diGJamaica.com is highlighting one a day in the Jamaican Christmas blog series. Each day we will highlight a historical fact, food or tradition that are related to the special season.  We would also like to hear from you, so send your comments or tell us your favourite Christmas memory in the comments section.

A scene from the pantomime, Zu-Zu Macca in 2005/2006.
A scene from the pantomime, Zu-Zu Macca in 2005/2006.

Every year thousands of Jamaicans make the trek from near and far to the Little Theatre on Arnold Road in St. Andrew to watch the annual Pantomime. The stage performance is another holiday treat that Jamaicans look forward to along with Christmas pudding and homemade candy canes.

Pantomime, which is a British tradition, was brought to Jamaica in 1941 by Henry Fowler and Greta Bourke who used the play to raise funds for the building of the Little Theatre. Although early pantomime followed the British tradition of opening on Boxing Day (December 26) and retained the elements of the fairytale genre, today’s version is flavoured with Jamaican patois. This is due to the influence of two stalwarts of the stage, Louise Bennett-Coverely and Randolph “Ranny” Williams.  Miss Lou and Mas Ran added Jamaican culture, folklore and historical references that have led to the elaborate display that we see today.

But what draws Jamaicans to the fantasy of pantomime every year? Some pantomime faithful will tell you it’s the skillful integration of acting, dance and music; the reasonable cost of the ticket or the mere fact that it is good, clean, family fun.

Pantomime which draws on common cultural knowledge like Anancy stories, tales of Rolling Calf, the triumph of good over evil and other caricatures and folklore, also deals with current issues like the socio-economic gap and social complexities in a way that enables both the young and the old to have a laugh. Every aspect of pantomime from titles like ‘Zu-Zu Macca’, ‘If Anno So, Ah So’ and ‘Moonshine Anancy’ to the elaborate costumes and settings like Yam Hill, Coco Bump and Slippas Hutel, are engineered to tickle your funny bone.

So this year, if you have not added the pantomime to your list of family traditions consider making the Jamaicanized drama a part of your list of activities.