A Jamaican Banjo

Made by Percy Barrett, the banjo below was collected in 1952


by Sidney Mintz and later donated to the University of Puerto Rico Museum, where it stored as part of the collections. As Mintz told me in a conversation at Duke University on April 3, 2013, he had met Barrett through his grandmother. Both of them lived in Sturge Town in St. Ann’s parish, a “freedom village” created by missionaries after emancipation in 1838 where ex-slaves were able to get access to small plots of land.



The banjo itself is quite unique in construction. The body of the instrument is created with some kind of plaster with cross-hatching. There is a metal ring outside the drum head, a kind of tone ring — but these are usually placed on the inside of the banjo. The metal ring doesn’t seem to be holding down the head — it is not tight enough for that — which is probably affixed with tacks. The neck of the banjo was hand-crafted as well, and Mintz told me that Percy had explained that he’d gotten the pieces for the frets by taking the brass face of a scale — one used for weighing vegetables at the market — and cutting it into the small pieces needed to fret the instrument.

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