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ShortKnee: Jinn of Maran is influenced by El genio del ingenio, a small oil on canvas (14.5 by 12 inches) in the collection of the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico, San Juan created in 1910 by Puerto Rican artist, Julio Tomás Martínez, considered the pioneer of Surrealism in America, long before it was published in André Breton 1924 Manifesto 1924. I first saw a copy of this painting in the Library of the University of Puerto Rico at Arecibo in March this year, and saw the original soon after at the Museo de Arte. Roughly translated, El genio del ingenio, means the genie of industry. Martinez, critical of the sociopolitical issues of Puerto Rico, captures the horrors of plantation life, reflecting his background as an engineer and architect.

Detail Maran Estate (left); El Genio by Martinez (right)
I sketched a similar piece, using the Grenada ShortKnee for my genie or jinn, and a detail from an 1822 watercolour of Maran Estate, a sugar plantation in the parish of Saint Mark, titled ‘The Buildings of Maran Estate in the Island of Grenada. The Property of Thomas Duncan Esqr. Novr. 1822’. This watercolour and pencil on paper artwork is in the JCB collection at Brown University, acquired before 1871and is described as ‘View of the Maran plantation in Grenada. Built environment includes dwellings, [sugar] mill, and stables. Includes two black [slave] figures and domestic animals.’ As with the majority of my ShortKnee translations, it is the spirit of a particular work which inspires a reinterpretation. Background on the artist and/or the work itself somehow leads me to uncover ties and links between the original work, my translation and my ShortKnee research. This new image brings together a supernatural world of Islamic and West African folklore, Maran Estate and its owners and the ShortKnee.

I discovered several instances of references from North Africa to sub-Saharan Africa and beyond, where genie, jinn and other names have been given over the ages to shape-shifting figures that have a long history of contact with humankind. Jinn is derived from the Arabic root ǧ-n-n meaning ‘to hide, conceal’ or ‘be hidden’. In many cultures, a jinn or genie is portrayed as a magical being that grants wishes, the earliest of which originate in the book of the 1001 Nights of which Alladdin and his lamp form part. Another supernatural creature in Arabic and Islamic cultures is called an ifrit, a class of jinn noted for their strength and cunning. In medieval Iranian literature, this word ifrit often denoted an African.

Jinn of Maran
Several references speak to West African contact with genies as a rare but not unnatural occurrence – 12 genie families, and a genie chief who holds powdered medicines – red for cleaning and white for healing and naming rituals for newborns in sub-Saharan Africa, separating the child from the world of ancestor and the genies, and connecting the child to the community and to his mother.

(The painting of) Maran Estate is linked to a 1792 letter where ‘a Mr James Campbell who sold an estate in Grenada of the name of Maran in the month of June last to a young man… Alexander Campbell. This letter is one of 82, addressed by Benjamin Bell to his parents that extend over quarter of a century from 1767 to the last in 1793. This is the same Alexander Campbell, of the 1774 Campbell v Hallfame, where he argued and effectively ended the right of imperial government to arbitrarily raise taxes on the Windwards without the consent of the local population. The same Alexander Campbell who was murdered alongside his friend governor Ninian Home in 1795 during the Fédon Insurrection/ Rebellion.

Who then is Thomas Duncan Esq listed as the owner of Maran Estate in 1822? He may well have been Thomas Duncan, surgeon and plantation doctor (1804-1818), who in November 1827 in Leith, Scotland (listed as) of Gouyave, Grenada married Jane Helen eldest daughter of the Hon James Kerr Judge of the Courts of King’s Bench and Vice Admiralty Quebec. 

Maran Estate is listed in the Laws of Grenada Public Road Act of 1791 – a main road traversing various towns and several estates… beginning at the east end of Upper Monsterrat (near government house) in the Town of Saint George and continuing up the east coast on to the southern part of the Parish of Saint Andrew …through the town of Saint Patrick… through the town of Saint Mark’s across the River Saint Mark, until it ‘reaches the north gate on Maran estate then to pas through the land of that estate in the best possible direction to the great river of Gouyave to enter Charlotte Town’ and on to and across the bridge over the River Saint John to the north end of the town of Saint George.

In this one image, the Jinn of Maran, essentially a carnival character on a Grenada sugar estate, connects religious and cultural folklore, a public road with political and legal entanglements.