Ja Memory Bank Owes Much To Lewin


Research into Jamaican culture by the late Dr Olive Lewin, OJ, is well known, but her role in the formation of the Jamaica Memory Bank maybe less so by the general public, as Mel Cooke writes in this article for Jamaica’s Gleaner.

Bernard Jankee, director, Jamaica Memory Bank/African Caribbean Institute of Jamaica (ACIJ), told The Sunday Gleaner that “the project was established under her directorship”.

“It (the Jamaica Memory Bank) is an oral history project which sought, and still does, to document an oral history through eyes of people who lived that history,” Jankee said.

In her work, Lewin was collecting personal histories from persons “from all walks of life, the length and breadth of Jamaica. A social history, so to speak”.

According to Jankee, “this database led to the Jamaica Memory Bank? and still continues”.

In the 1980s, Lewin was a member of Council of the Institute of Jamaica, the government organisation responsible for culture in Jamaica and under which the ACIJ/Jamaica Memory Bank falls.

The council performs the duties of a board of directors for the Institute of Jamaica.

Jankee said “her contribution had to do with the research and documentation she did with the extensive collection of folk music, starting from the 1960s when she was appointed as a research officer by the Government and continued to the 1990s. For 30-odd years, she was involved in critical work”.


Jankee pointed out that at the time Lewin started her research, such work was sporadic and often conducted by foreigners into their specific areas of interest. So “this type of extensive documentation of our culture did not start until she started doing it. And that set the stage. She was operating in virgin territory, so to speak. She had to literally scour the island to find out where these cultural treasures existed”.

However, Jankee pointed out that there are persons like Marjorie Whylie who have done this type of documentation as well.

“In all fairness, she (Lewin) was not the only person doing this work,” Jankee said, although adding that “she certainly was a pioneer and set the stage for this type of work to continue”.

And continuing Lewin’s work is a way of honouring her.

“Perhaps the greatest honour we can pay her is to continue the work she started and keep doing it,” Jankee said, emphasising “the importance of this (research) to our own national psyche, continuing the work for current and future generations”.

“We will miss her for the tremendous contribution she has made,” Jankee said.

For the original report go to http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130415/ent/ent2.html

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