This guide explores how British colonialism affected the creation of Caribbean culture in Jamaica through beauty pageants starting in the 1930’s and performance shown in Una Marson’s play, London Calling. In this play, a group of international students from the fictional Caribbean island, Novoka, are asked to perform a native dance or skit for an International Social. The problem being that Novoka was colonized so early that there are no native customs. The Novokians borrow from African traditional dance and dress for the performance and therefore give a false representation of themselves and their country.
In the 1930’s, beauty pageants offered a way to give a face to the nation of Jamaica, but they became a kind of performance that perpetrated a false image of Jamaican women and invited the exoticism of black bodies and cultures. Una Marson’s play, London Calling, underscores how false cultural performance perpetuates ignorance within white colonial cultures and invites the racialization and exoticization of Caribbean people and cultures.
“The ‘Miss Jamaica’ beauty contest developed in the 1930s, a decade that witness a surge in anticolonial activity: popular uprisings, feminist development, the formation of political parties, and an artistic and literary cultural awakening. However, the ‘Miss Jamaica’ beauty competition did not emerge as part of the cultural revolution, but in resistance to it.” (Rowe, 15)
This era was an awakening for Jamaica as the lower classes urged for the image of a national identity that included more than just the white colonial elite. This competition promoted ideas that white was more beautiful. It was all about advancing the colonial point of view, the idea of civilizing black women. The competition was telling women of color that they did not represent Jamaica.
“Ten Types, 1955.” Stationary Office, London
“Miss Ebony—A Jamaican girl of black complexion.
Miss Mahogany—A Jamaican Girl of Cocoa-brown Complexion.
Miss Satinwood—A Jamaican Girl of Coffee-and-Milk Complexion.
Miss Golden Apple—A Jamaican Girl of Peaches-and-Cream Complexion.
Miss Apple Blossom—A Jamaican Girl of European Parentage.
Miss Pomegranate—A Jamaican girl of White-Mediterranean Parentage.
Miss Sandalwood—A Jamaican Girl of Pure Indian Parentage.
Miss Lotus—A Jamaican Girl of Pure Chinese Parentage.
Miss Jasmine—A Jamaican Girl of Part Chinese Parentage.
Miss Allspice—A Jamaican Girl of Part Indian Parentage.” (Rowe, 44)
The categories of the “Ten Types-One People” competition were created in an attempt to unify the country through the images of diverse women, but they still perpetrated the idea that being white is more desirable, is a symbol of higher social status, and is a marker of intelligence. It was radically progressive but the competition still confined Jamaican women to racialized categories.
“Watch Hello! West Indies.” BFI Player, https://player.bfi.org.uk/free/film/watch-hello-west-indies-1943-online.
Gentles-Peart, Kamille. Romance with Voluptuousness : Caribbean Women and Thick Bodies in the United States. University of Nebraska Press, 2016. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=1336515&site=eds-live&scope=site.
Romance with Voluptuousness talks about Caribbean women who have migrated to the United States and are combating opposing beauty standards, black should be thick, white should be thin. It focuses on how both the African diaspora and the Caribbean diaspora have spread beauty standards around the world.
Rowe, Rochelle. Imagining Caribbean Womanhood : Race, Nation and Beauty Competitions, 1929-70. Manchester University Press, 2013. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=1455491&site=eds-live&scope=site.
This book explores the link between Carribean beauty contests and politics. Starting with the ‘Miss Jamaica’ competition in the 1930’s all the way through the 1970’s, Rowe explores how femininity has been used to create a national identity as well as ideas of a modern Carribean world.
Rowe, Rochelle. “‘Glorifying the Jamaican Girl’: The ‘Ten Types -- One People’ Beauty Contest, Racialized Femininities, and Jamaican Nationalism.” Radical History Review, no. 103, Winter 2009, pp. 36–58. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1215/01636545-2008-039.
In this paper, Rowe discusses how the Jamaican beauty competition, “Ten Types- One People” was meant to showcase the diversity population of Jamaica but instead opened the door to racialization and exoticism of these women and Jamaican culture.
“‘Some amount of expense and disappointment could be saved numbers of dusky ladies who year after year enter the beauty competition if the promoters of the contest would announce in the daily press that very dark or black beauties would not be considered.’” (Rowe, 41)
In this quote, Una Marson is pointing out that only the white daughters of the white elite class won the “Miss Jamaica” competition. Women of color would enter every year and have their dreams dashed when they were not chosen. The “Miss Jamaica” competition does not reflect the full image of Jamaican women and is catering to the descendents of the colonizers.
Marson, Una. Pocomania and London Calling. Blouse & Skirt Books, 2016.
London Calling follows a portion of the lives of several international students from the fictional Caribean island of Novoka, who perform an African cultural sketch at an international night. The play discusses the complex relationships between England, Africa, and the Caribbean brought about by British colonization of the Caribbean and enslavement of African people.
“During the colonial period (between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries), European travelers writing about Africa drew on and contributed to a European discourse on black womanhood that ascribed a big body to all black women and used it as a signifier of otherness and lesser culture and intelligence.” (Gentles-Peart, 8)
Ally Collins is a theatre and dance major, class of 2020. Though primarily an actor, she has published a two poems and a short story. After Wells, she hopes to go on to graduate school for stage performance and has thought about becoming an artistic director in the future.