Vincent Atherton (1924-2007) and Errol Lloyd “Powah” Atherton (1961-2012) were father and son. They lived in the same world of spirits, yet there was a generation between them and they had two very different ways of approaching that spirit world. Their commonalities were as significant as their differences. The core belief of the Atherton’s is Kumina, a spiritual path whose adherents call themselves not Jamaicans, but Africans. We must understand that in looking at their carvings that there is no hagiography or history of icons for how the Kumina spirits look. Like Haitian Georges Liautaud’s powerful sculptures, there are manifestations of energies and beings that have never been created before, made by iconoclastic artists.
Kumina believers are descendants of Kongo people brought to the Caribbean to sell, but sent to Jamaica as indentured servants when Britain banned the slave trade. Kumina is derived from Africa and was developed further post-emancipation. Vincent and Lloyd Atherton took it somewhere else as well. More personal. More private. More idiosyncratic. According to Wayne Cox, Vincent Atherton made his pieces for himself, in part for protection during dangerous passages of time, such as the millennial change. However, his amulets, as he told Cox, were also made to attract spirits. The spirit world is morally neutral. The person who uses their power determines the grey areas between good and evil. The same person can manipulate both. Vincent Atherton invented his own sculpting techniques, such as sometimes using gasoline and fire to hollow out larger pieces of wood. When questioned about this practice he replied that “we all have fire within”, a theme that runs through Jamaican spirituality.
Errol Lloyd “Powah’” Atherton, unlike his father, had a yard show or as I call them, spirit yards. He was more aligned with Bongo beliefs connected to Convince, an offshoot of Kumina. But he felt the old powers were dissipating, not raw and strong enough in the current world. To remedy this, he built his yard to attempt to attract the real spirits back again. He had healing herbs and old pieces of iron and stone from his ancestor’s placed around his dwelling. He had ‘seals’ set up around the secluded property, some with his father’s sculptures placed on them. He had imagery from other spiritual and occult sources as well. He had disconnected fans whose shapes imitated the Kongo Cosmogram and the cycle of life. It was not a public yard. It was his personal dialog with the ancestors; both the old ones left in Africa and the more recent ones who left their essences in the Jamaican home ground.