Orville Taylor | Give the Maroons a break: Black betrayal has a longer history
As guardians of our African retentions, the descendants of the escaped former slaves, who bravely fought the British to a standstill, the Jamaican Maroon communities have inspired both pride and bitterness, with a significant minority of Jamaicans considering the 1738 treaty to be worth 30 pieces of silver. It is not as simple as one thinks. Black-on-black betrayal is a big part of our history, before, during and after slavery, and it continues today.
The task before us is to call spades, acknowledge the wrongs we have done and are doing to ourselves and move forward. Conditionalities of the peace treaty with the British was for the Maroons to return all escaped slaves to bondage. Indeed, their scarlet letter includes their role in the defeat of Chief Tacky in 1760, the failure of Sam Sharpe’s rebellion, and the capture of Paul Bogle (Thomas Jennings … sneer!) after the 1865 Morant Bay Uprising.
The young newly minted Colonel of the Accompong Maroons, who hybridises T’Challa and Killmonger from Black Panther, has started a lust fest among my Afrocentric female friends. Well, inasmuch as that is the first Maroon community which I visited, my heart is in Moore Town and ‘gimme’ me Nanny any day. Perhaps, because the Taylor clan might have come from Portland, but my next trip will likely be in the Buff Bay Valley en route to Charles Town.
PORTRAYALS OF NANNY
Interestingly, there are no photographs of Nanny, and I doubt that she looked like the drawings and sculptures of her. Moreover, the ‘tiehead’ in the portrayals might very well be historically inaccurate, because the more common style was something more like a cloth helmet with two ears sticking out. Furthermore, the woman whose image has been used to representing Nanny’s visage is actually a St Elizabeth resident, living around 25 minutes from Accompong. A quietly unsung hero, as teachers are, she helped, guided and mentored scores of people, who have made a mark on the parish, nation, region and the world during the years she taught there.
In case you missed, Flora McLean then Olive Bowen, student of the Jamaica School of Art (now Edna Manley College), was the model chosen by her fellow undergraduate as they competed to produce the best image to capture Queen Nanny’s essence. While there might be division regarding who Nanny was and her contribution, I can assure you that there is no divide regarding the impact of a real-life person who looks like and acts like an African empress. Just imagine, the mid-1970s, the Rely on Ourselves to Survive (ROOTS) campaign, despite our undeclared civil war, it became fashionable from little black children to love Africa.
BLACK ROLE MODELS
And this is the essence of what we need in this struggle for the uplift of the Black race; black role models who walk the walk, who are worth emulating and who inspire the next generation. One expectation I have of the new colonel is an acknowledgement of the wrongs under the treaty as a way of healing the opposites.
Nonetheless, let us not forget that continental Africans actively participated in selling other Africans into slavery. Moreover, on the plantations, a significant number of slave drivers were Africans themselves. These drivers were exceptionally cruel and inhumane. One historical account has a driver beating his peers for the better part of a day, wearing out three whips and ripping the face and breasts of young enslaved girls.
In the post-slavery era, as it was among the drivers, many of those who moved into leadership have been no better than the white slave masters. Garvey failed because of black false conscious ‘Bag O’ Wires.’ Indeed, as Barbados Prime Mia Mottley notes, a big part of what we have always been is self-hating. Thus, the Afro Saxons, Black Skin; White Mask, according to Frantz Fanon, even when they profess Africa and black consciousness, are hard to believe, because with the exception of the pigment and some token Africanisms, such as a dashiki or Nehru-type shirt, they don’t even talk ‘black.’
There are Haitians who only speak Kweyol but do so in a condescending accent. These ‘arrivistes’ suffer from the same ‘double consciousness’ which W.E.B. Du Bois describes, as cited in my commentary last week. Among the Anglophone we have this cultural and identify schizophrenia as well. Up to today, I cannot understand how a rural-born Dominican or St Lucian, who has never touched any other plane than a carpenter’s tool, can pretend to not understand when I talk their native language, which I learned to speak just by associating with St Lucians in Barbados for two months.
Curse Carolyn Cooper, if you wish, but one day, we will truly understand the value of simply recognising our own Jamaican language as a badge of identity and an important part of pedagogy rather than a sort of curiosity, parodied in our ‘dialect recitations’ when Miss Lou is remembered twice yearly.
Finally, just recognise that black people are the main killers/abusers of black people globally. Let us confront the history and fix the sociology.
- Dr Orville Taylor is head of the Department of Sociology at The University of the West Indies, a radio talk-show host, and author of ‘Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets’. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.