Tue | Jan 19, 2021

Meeting ground: National Heroes’ Day Edition

Published:Sunday | October 18, 2020 | 12:10 AM
An illustration depicting the 1848 protest against slavery in St Martin.
An illustration depicting the 1848 protest against slavery in St Martin.
Statue of Paul Bogle, erected in front of the Morant Bay Courthouse.
Statue of Paul Bogle, erected in front of the Morant Bay Courthouse.

Nanny of the Maroons.
Nanny of the Maroons.
Norman Washington Manley.
Norman Washington Manley.

October 19 is National Heroes’ Day in Jamaica, and as the poems below remind us of people in the past who fought for freedom, whether from all forms of slavery, or colonialism, they also remind us that there are heroes today still fighting for the same things.

While Mervyn Morris encourages us to ‘mine history for the energy it frees’ and eulogises the Guyanese political historian and activist, Walter Rodney; Allen and Baugh celebrate Jamaica’s freedom fighters and honour the dead from the Middle Passage; Rachel Manley gives us a glimpse of her nation-building grandfather, Norman, and mourns Marley’s passing.

We, also, through Lasana M. Sekou, from St Martin, are reminded that even Caribbean neighbours are still on that journey to independence.

Let’s honour our heroes in their many manifestations.

Mine history

for the energy it frees.

Do not spend precious time

hanging from family trees.

Mervyn Morris (Jamaica)

Peelin Orange: Carcanet Press: 2017

Sometimes in the middle of the story

(for the drowned Africans of the Middle Passage)

Sometimes in the middle of the story something

move outside the house, like

it could be the wind, but is not the wind

and the story-teller hesitate so slight

you hardly notice it, and the children

hold their breath and look at one another.

The old people say is Toussaint passing

on his grey horse Bel Argent, moving

faster than backra-massa timepiece

know to measure, briefing the captains

setting science and strategy to trap the emperor.

But also the sound had something in it

of deep water, salt water, had ocean,

the sleep-sigh of a drowned African

turning on his sleep on the ocean floor,

and Toussaint’s horse was coming from far

his tail trailing the swish of the sea

from secret rendezvous, from councils of war

with those who never completed the journey,

and we below deck heard only the muffled

thud of scuffling feet, could only

guess the quick, fierce tussle, the

stifled gasp, the barrel-chests bursting

the bubbles rising and breaking, the blue

closing over. But their souls shuttle

still the forest paths of ocean

connecting us still the current unbroken

the circuits kept open, the tireless messengers,

the ebony princes of your lost Atlantis,

a power of black men rising from the sea.

Edward Baugh (Jamaica)

Black Sand: Peepal Tree Press:2013

Nanny knew

her terracotta

skin knew mountain dirt,

knew hurt

from slavers

who traded guns

for bruised black bodies

Nanny knew

sweltering slave ships

Akan women groaning,

summoning ancestors, and their

mba marimma, their mba mmaa

across the Atlantic Sea,

sons and daughters yet to be born

women daring to dream still-

born dreams

Nanny knew

blood-shed cloths

of blooded history, marooned

she knew branding, knew

sun-hot shackle,

knew knees on her neck

But Nanny, she made the red jackets

squeal in fear of Blue Mountain bush,

and guerilla tactics,

led the way women lead,

her indomitable

spirit, an abeng



Tricia Allen (Jamaica)


The afternoon belongs to my grandfather.

You cannot take it away

though the mind darkens

and the children’s laughter

has strayed like messages.

I am near the verandah,

lost in my nets of thought

which I brought from age six,

a very long way.

You cannot sentence memory to death,

it returns through the years

lulled into hymns.

If I close my eyes

Time will forget me;

I hear an old lady reading from Rilke,

she finds the best line

and explains

that poets don’t have to rhyme anymore.

If I close my eyes

my hands will forget me,

I’m up in the plum tree

near to the sky;

if I leave, I’ll never come back.

Here in this distance, birds fly,

they fly, but they do not sing.

The night waits in the house

safe and peaceful as candles

or carts pulled by trusty mules;

My grandfather waits in the house.

You know, the moon is just a violin

that longs to be repaired.

Rachel Manley (Jamaican in Canada)

A Light Left On: Peepal Tree Press: 1992

Bob Marley’s dead (for drum)

The moon is full

heavy yellow

Marley’s dead

and there is prophecy


Jah is singing on the moon

and all our pain

is like the shadow of a branch

across its face:

it’s not the King who lives

long live the King

it is the Kingdom lives

My island is a mother

burying wombs

I rise, at my beginning

the squalor

the flower

The moon is dread

she bleeds

Marley’s dead

and there is prophecy

The Kingdom lives

a heart of drums

a small town throbs,

we have begun

the phoenix

from a mulch of bones

I rise beyond

a fantasy

I wake

I break faith

with the white dream

The moon is black

my mother sings with me

Oh Marley’s dead

and there is prophecy.

Rachel Manley

A Light Left On: Peepal Tree Press: 1992

My Rodney poem

for Eddie Baugh

& in memory of Walter


He lived

a simple life

He was a man

who cared

when anybody hurt

not just the wretched

of the earth

He dared to be involved

in nurturing upheavals


Frustrated by

the host of evils

he seemed to me a good

man reaching for the moon

He died

too soon

Mervyn Morris (Jamaica)

Peelin Orange: Carcanet Press: 2017


once cheated of just a few centuries of days

(from may to july it might have been, but who knows)

forebears got on like somebody stole them from the world

(there were people then too asking them:

‘buh woi ah yu’goin’ on so fuh?’)

but standing their moment, claimed for us all,

some small momentous claim for humanity,

they sang to what they had known:

ah we been a hearum

buh massa been a hidum

now we hear dis here today

where it appears in this guise

to be or to be a wandering waste of wondering:

serve the satan of colonialism—

all unto ceasar, all breathlessly shameless?

serve the god of independence—

all unto the land of the lord and be his one people?

here still the mimic so many ah we still do well

the fashion ho hum of the fe, fi, fo, fum.

here again comes and goes time rushing by/

some will hide in church to pray. some will plan a runaway

from estate to state. from terrortory to our story/

who not yet heard from will sing in love with me this time

to dream and reason in the nation/

who else is there to mix the mortar of mind and matter

sprinkle with the pick of flamboyant victories

rear and raise more manmaking histories?

become known.

Lasana M. Sekou (St. Martin)

37 Poems: House of Nehesi Publishers:2005