NANNY of the Maroons - a real revolutionary sister!! March 12, 2005 10:45 AM
Nanny of the Maroons
Nanny of the Maroons stands out in history as the only female among Jamaica’s national heroes. She possessed that fierce fighting spirit generally associated with the courage of men.
In fact, Nanny is described as a fearless Asante warrior who used militarist techniques to fool and beguile the English. Nanny was a leader of the Maroons at the beginning of the 18th. Century. She was known by both the Maroons and the British settlers as an outstanding military leader who became, in her lifetime and after, a symbol of unity and strength for her people during times of crisis.
She was particularly important to them in the fierce fight with the British during the First Maroon War from 1720 to 1739. Although she has been immortalized in songs and legends, certain facts about Nanny (or "Granny Nanny", as she was affectionately known) have also been documented.
Both legends and documents refer to her as having exceptional leadership qualities. She was a small wiry woman with piercing eyes. Her influence over the Maroons was so strong that it seemed to be supernatural and was said to be connected to her powers of obeah. She was particularly skilled in organising the guerrilla warfare carried out by the Eastern Maroons to keep away the British troops who attempted to penetrate the mountains to overpower them.
Her cleverness in planning guerrilla warfare confused the British and their accounts of the fights reflect the surprise and fears which the Maroon traps caused among them. Beside inspiring her people to ward off troops, Nanny was also a type of chieftainess or wise woman of the village, who passed down legends and encouraged the continuation of customs, music and songs that had come with the people from Africa, and that instilled in them confidence and pride.
Her spirit of freedom was so great that in 1739, when Quao signed the second Treaty (The first was signed by Cudjoe for the Leeward Maroons a few months earlier) with the British, it is reported that Nanny was very angry and in disagreement with the principle of peace with the British which she knew meant another form of subjugation.
There are many legends about Nanny among the Maroons. Some even claim that there were several women who were leaders of the Maroons during this period of history. But all the legends and documents refer to Nanny of the First Maroon War as the most outstanding of them all, leading her people with courage and inspiring them to struggle to maintain that spirit of freedom, that life of independence, which was their rightful inheritance.
Like the heroes of the pre Independence era, Nanny too met her untimely death at the instigation of the English sometime around 1734. Yet, the spirit of Nanny of the Maroons remains today as a symbol of that indomitable desire that will never yield to captivity.
JAMAICAN MAROONS TODAY; HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVES, CURRENT ISSUES AND REALITIES
BY MOTHER FARIKA BIRHANin Paris, France.
Five hundred years after the first African in the West escaped slavery, and took to the hills of the island of Hispanola, (now Haiti and Dominican Republic) we hardly know anything about the Maroons. Most of us who know of the great deeds of our Maroons ancestors, do not place them in the contemporary arena. We say that the Maroons were, not that the Maroons are. Yet the man who was the last Maroon in the hills of Cuba, running away from slavery there, died within recent years. Maroon history is not only in the past but here with us today. The descendants of those Africans who fled slavery still live in communities in Suriname, French Guiana, Columbia, Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, the Bahamas and the Caribbean.
Most Maroons don't look any different from ordinary Africans in the West to the uninitiated. They blend in with Africans in the countries where they have survived as a people. You can talk to them and have no idea that you are talking to a Maroon unless he/she reveals his origins. If you walk into most surviving Maroon settlements (with the exception of those in Suriname and Guiana) they will resemble the villages of non-Maroon communities.
Maroons are some of the most elusive people on earth and the truth about their historic past and contemporary relevance is just as elusive. The fact that they are so hard to pin down ensured their success in gaining and retaining their freedom and preserving their culture until the present time. Secrecy defined the integrity of these communities in the past. Today they are not so much secret communities, as communities with secrets, that only those who have the correct key can unlock. They are communities that are hidden in plain view.
One of the lasting impacts that Maroons had on the world is how they changed the rules of fighting wars. They developed guerilla warfare to previously unknown heights. They vanished from plantations. They attacked enemies and melted into the jungle night. The element of surprise was key to their military success. They ambushed entire battalions without losing a man. They cut down trees and branches, using the art of camouflage to clothe themselves in, while they encircled the enemy, waiting patiently for the correct moment to pounce. While the enemy dressed in bright red coats and stomped through the jungle in heavy boots, they walked stealthily making only sounds that blended with the environment. They used knowledge of their surroundings as weapons against those wishing to steal their freedom and their land.
All of us who yearn for freedom, have the spirit of the Maroons within us. There are many definitions of who and what are Maroons. The most popular definition identifies as Maroons those Africans who fled from slavery to the hills, jungles, forests and swamps of the Americas, but in a broader sense, all refugees for freedom are technically Maroons. Africans fleeing slavery built their own communities in remote, inaccessible areas. The first Maroon arrived in the West on the very first slave ship to reach the Americas. His presence is recorded in 1502 - ten years after Christopher Columbus "discovered" the New World. He fled to the interior of Hispanola. Many Africans quickly followed his example. Soon settlements of Africans fleeing chattel slavery sprung up on Samara, an island off the coast of Hispanola during the early 1500's. Maroon communities quickly took root in the Caribbean islands owned by Spain and France, as well as in South and Central America.
For more than four hundred years, these communities of Africans who ran away from slavery mushroomed. England, a late player in the game of slavery and still later, the United States of America, received their full share of runaways. From the 16th through the 19th centuries Maroon communities abounded. These settlements ranged from small bands of African runaways whose communities were transitory, to communities of thousands that endured for centuries. Las Palmaras in Brazil lasted for almost a century and had an area of over 1,000 square miles. The Black Seminoles in Florida lived in free communities there for 126 years before the United States forced them to relocate to Oklahoma. They originated when Florida was under Spanish rule and provided a safe haven for Africans from South Carolina and Georgia in particular, who were fleeing slavery. No colony in the Western Hemisphere or slave holding area was immune to the growth of alternative Maroon settlements.
Wherever slavery existed, Africans resisted. Maroon communities sprang up on large expanses of inaccessible and uninhabited lands. The vast Guianese rain forests and the mountainous interior of Jamaica were fertile grounds for them. In Guiana and Suriname they lived in the Amazon basin in northeastern South America. Their descendants form the largest surviving Maroon communities. The remoteness of their communities allowed them to develop marvelous architectural structures and artwork as testimonies to the survival of their African concept of art. They have divided into tribal groups and live along rivers in the interior of the rain forest. Columbia is the home of the contemporary Maroon community of Palenque de San Basilo. The Maroons of Costa Chica are in Oaxaca and Guerero, Mexico. They are descendant of Africans who escaped in the 16th century from cattle ranches along the Pacific coast. In the United States more than 50 Maroon settlements that historians have been able to document were formed between 1672 and 1864. The Seminole Maroons originated when Florida was under Spanish rule. They now live in Oklahoma, Texas, the Bahamas and Northern Mexico.
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continued.... May 17, 2005 7:44 PM
Maroon is a nickname that became popular after treaties were signed between colonialists and those Africans who were determined to remain free. It is derived from cimarron, a Spanish word meaning "wild, unruly or untamed" or "the beast who can't be tamed." It was the name the Spanish ranchers gave to their stray cattle. Later on, they began calling runaway Africans Cimarrones. The British translated it as Maroon. They used to call rebel Africans names such as Wild Negroes, Bush Negroes, Breakaways, Runaways, Rebel Negroes, Koromanti (or Coromantee), and Koromantyn. Whereas the Africans called themselves empowering names like Nyankipong Pickibu, which they translate from the Twi language of Ghana, Africa, to mean "Children of the Almighty." They also refer to themselves in Jamaica as Koromanti, Kromanti and Yungkungkung. The name Koromanti and it's derivatives describes their songs, dances rituals and languages, too. When I was growing up, my grandmother spoke often of her Koromanti relatives. I did not know then that Koromanti and Maroons were alternative names. She never, ever used the word Maroon to describe her ancestry. It was not until I took a group of U.C. Berkley students to Moore Town in Portland, Jamaica, that my mother revealed to me that the descendants of the town that Grande Nanni founded are my own relatives!
Historians on the Maroons usually tell us that Koromanti is a coast that Africans had to pass by on their way to the slave ship and that is why Maroons call themselves Koromantis. This is only half the truth. The retention of Koromanti memory is a significant part of our history on the continent that Maroons keep in their stories and songs. The Koromanti were a sub-tribe of the Fanti of Ghana. The Ashanti, Fanti and Akim are Akan people. They speak the Twi language and their religion is known a the Akan rligion. The Koromani people rebelled against Ashanti rule and killed the famous Ashanti king, Osei Tutu. His body fell in the river and was never found. The Ashanti then took an oath, as the person of the king is sacred. So when the Ashanti defeated the Koromantis, they were banished and sold into slavery as punishment for their horrible crime. They were a fighting unit and fomented rebellions in the islands. Some islands banned them because of their love of freedom. Many Ashanti today, know of the story of the Koromantis and wonder what became of them. They cry when they hear of the great deeds their descendants did in the West.Akan rituals and language dominate the religious retention of the Maroons in Jamaica. Maroons sing Kromanti songs to bury their dead. They perform Kromanti rituals to heal the sick.
Although the Maroons are famous for their military prowess they are also a peace loving people. Contemporary Maroon communities are remarkably crime-free and murder is unknown. Their ancestors fought fiercely for the right to be left in peace to pursue their dreams without the interference of racists bent on enslaving them and stealing their lands. Most Maroons secured their freedom nonviolently. They ran away. When invaders violated their homes, they repelled them. They utilized knowledge of medicinal plants, the flora and fauna and the sounds of silence to win their battle to be free. Within their settlements, they evolved social systems that emphasized cooperation and honored diversity and the uniqueness of each individual to make his/her contribution. The communities became tight-knit and rose above tribal affiliations. Friendships were formalized and the communities bonded. Far away from the prying eyes of Europe, African ancestors forged communities and institutions with elements of the various societies they came from, and created Africa anew in their homes. They adapted African values and ideas to suit their new environment and used elements of Native Thought. Theirs is a story of free people of color throughout the period of chattel slavery. Their story is one of creatively integrating various African tribes and cultures into an overall memory and feel of Africa, while also adapting the best of Native American and European culture within the spectacle of Africa. They represent a new consciousness, forged out of the bitter experience of the horrific slave trade and the lessons of the resilience of the human spirit. They cherished the ancestral memories and re-created Africa in the West while also creating something new out of the diversity of their communities. Not only did they come from diverse civilizations in Africa but their experience of slavery were varied. Some Africans jumped ship to become Maroons. Some fled the slave plantations within hours after their arrival. There were those who had been house or body slaves as well as those who had toiled for years on slave plantations. They learned and taught lessons of the Will of the human spirit to be free. They accomplished amazing feats. Great leaders sprang up among them. Some of the most exceptional ones were Bayono of Panama, Yanga of Mexico, Ganga Zumbi of Brazil, Benkos Bioho of Columbia, Bondi of Suriname, Grande Nanni and Captain Kojo of Jamaica and John Horse of Southern United States and Mexico.
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May 17, 2005 7:45 PM
It is the Maroons' love of peace that allowed them in many countries to accept treaties from the colonialists, that while recognizing their right to be free, also cut them off from the cooperative spy unit they had built among plantation slaves. This has made it possible for Maroon contribution to this hemisphere to be marginalized and undervalued. The Maroon experience has helped to shape the Western Hemisphere. They have provided an alternative to the culture of the slave plantation and presereved our African heritage for us.The Maroons of Panama showed the famous English pirate, Sir Francis Drake, the Isthmus of Panama and enabled him to defeat the Spanish. Spanish Maroons cooperated with the English buccaneers, thus insuring their victories.The Maroon philosophy was the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Maroons were the force behind resistance against slavery and colonialism in the Americas. They inspired and began many freedom movements. In fact, they are the first transported people in the West to strike a blow for freedom and were among the first to explore and adapt to the interior of the Americas. They blew their horn of freedom (the abeng or aben, a Twi word for horn) across the Americas, awakening sleeping peoples . They launched the Haitian revolution and the struggle for independence in Columbia and Cuba. Their presence in Jamaica inspired that island to record the highest number of slave rebellions per capita in the West. The British spent million of pounds to suppress them and passed 44 acts against them. They placed a price on the head of every Maroon. The United States government spent over $40 million dollars to suppress them!
The Maroons of Jamaica are the most famous contemporary Maroon community. England sent some of their best soldiers and sailors to fight them and suffered humilating defeats. Jamaica was the crown colony of England and a great source of her wealth. There a famous quote by the English Captain Lord Nelson who when asked if he has to seend his best defence against those in America fighitng for independence or the French who wanted to capture Jamaica said: "Forget aobut America. Defend Jamaica." The Jamaican Maroons' struggles to retain indigenous elements in music, dance and song have long made them a driving force behind the Caribbean influence in the United States. Two of the most famous, internationally-known, Jamaican-Maroon descendants are Marcus Garvey and the poet, Claude McKay. Most prominent Jamaican scholars, artists, scientists, politicians and military leaders have some Maroon ancestry. The Maroons of Jamaica like to joke that if they called in all their members in the army, the police, the security guards, the prison warders, and of course, those Maroons in the field of education and politics, that the security of the island would be disrupted, there would be no government and the school system would shut down. Many of the pioneer Elders of Rastafari were Maroons. Today, a number of Reggae stars claim Maroon heritage. Notable among them is the popular dance hall singer Buju Banton. The boldness, creativity and resilience of Jamaicans are all Maroon characteristics.
email Mother Farika firstname.lastname@example.org
Write to the present Maroon Leaders:
Colonel Sydney Peddie | email: email@example.com
Chief of Accompong Maroons,
Accompong Maroon Council,
St. Elizabeth, Jamaica, West Indies.
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