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Culture exhibition to revive interest in Jonkunnu’s Set Girls

Published:Thursday | December 22, 2022 | 12:59 AMAinsworth Morris/Staff Reporter
A display that reflects on Jamaica’s culture icon, Louise Bennett-Coverley - Miss Lou.
A display that reflects on Jamaica’s culture icon, Louise Bennett-Coverley - Miss Lou.
 An exhibit of dolls representing the Set Girls.
An exhibit of dolls representing the Set Girls.

The African Caribbean Institute of Jamaica/Jamaica Memory Bank (ACIJ/JMB) has launched an exhibition to inform persons of and revive interest in The Set Girls – at one time a very active and colourful feature of the island’s Jonkunnu culture, holiday public parades, and Afrocentrism among the black population.

The Set Girls consisted of groups of enslaved and free Afro-Jamaican women, who, by 1775, sang and danced in bands during the Christmas season, the holiday period and would also gather during carnivals.

They would design matching costumes meant to awe their spectators and build group cohesion. Each group, like their predecessors, would proclaim that there is “none so fine” as their Set.

The Sets also provided a powerful example of the dynamic, creative, and distinctively Jamaican culture that continues to influence Jamaica’s globally recognised music, dance, and fashion today.

The Set Girls free exhibition is now on at the ACIJ/JMB gallery in downtown Kingston.


Kesia Weise, acting director, ACIJ/JMB, has issued an invitation to all Jamaicans, especially parents of girls, to visit.

“Some of the musicians were from the Jonkonnu bands and the exhibition shows how these women edged out a space for themselves in our society that was male dominated and masquerade traditions that was also (male) dominated. The women ... inserted themselves and made their own contributions,” Weise said.

She told The Gleaner on Thursday that the exhibition will celebrate the ways that women have shaped the history and culture of the island in their imaginative endeavours, noting that it is a historical culture that is worth keeping alive.

This exhibition also forms part Jamaica’s 60th anniversary of Independence celebrations.

“This is a capstone event for Jamaica 60 and it is going to run until August of next year. We hope to have different programmes associated with this, for example, workshops and university lectures,” she said.

Weise hopes to see the values of the Set Girls, with their emphasis on women’s self-determination and positive self-presentation, continue. She notes that over the decades, Afro-Jamaican women have become leaders of community and religious organisations, and stars in fashion and entertainment, but their influence with Jamaican public parades has changed with the times.

The exhibition has already received special funding from the GraceKennedy Foundation.