RECENTLY, KEVIN O'BRIEN Chang selected his 10 greatest Jamaicans and provided inspirational information. His list included five national heroes, namely Marcus Garvey Paul Bogle Sam Sharpe, Norman Manley and Alexander Bustamante, plus Louise Bennett, Bob Marley, Mary Seacole, William Knibb, and Michael Manley. However, there is a case that can be made for Nanny of the Maroons.
There are some who would claim that we do not know enough about Nanny of the Maroons, with some even wondering if she really existed. The most popular remembrance of Nanny is the myth that she used her posterior to catch bullets, obviously an attempt to caricature her as an obeah woman. However, Edward Kamau Brathwaite has outlined the historical references to Nanny (See Nanny, Sam Sharpe and the Struggle for People's Liberation (Kingston: API, 1977) 4. In Vic Reid's novel Nanny Town, Reid portrays Nanny as leading the Jamaican Maroons to independence from the British.
There are books celebrating the Maroons and their history. There are the standard histories of the Jamaican Maroons to the end of the First Maroon War from the perspective of the planter class written from the eighteenth century. Then there are recent works such as Richard Price's Maroon Societies, and Bev Carey's, The Maroon Story and Kenneth Bilby's, True-Born Maroons. Some authors have been critical of the Maroon Treaty including Orlando Patterson and Mavis C. Campbell. There is a very good essay by Joy Lumsden, titled A Brave and Noble People' Therefore, there is no need to be ignorant about the role of the Maroons and what Nanny did.
Two main Maroon groups
The two main Maroon groups in the 18th century were the Leeward Maroons led by Cudjoe and the Windward Maroons led by Nanny. Nanny was known for her exceptional leadership skills. Jamaican Maroons fought against slavery and maintained their independence from the British.
In 1738, the British governor in Jamaica signed a treaty with two major Maroon communities, promising them 2,500 acres of land in two locations. They were to remain in their five main towns: Accompong, Trelawny Town, Mountain Top, Scotts Hall, and Nanny Town, living under their own chief with a British supervisor. The Maroons were semi-autonomous, had formal recognition and exemption from taxation. However, the Maroons did not have power over external relations or trials of capital punishment. While Cudjoe signed the treaty, Nanny was hesitant and signed the treaty after Cudjoe. This treaty was a significant achievement.
Nanny and the Maroons showed that there was nobility in the struggle for freedom. They could not be conquered by force. The treaty showed that they could move from armed rebellion to peaceful dialogue. They also were willing to compromise and make concessions.
There were clauses within the treaty that made too many compromises. The Maroons, in exchange for being semi-autonomous, formally agreed not to harbour the enslaved persons who ran away, but rather to help catch them, and were paid a bounty for each returned slave. In addition, they pledged not to attempt to overthrow the slavery system. Additionally, they were also paid to fight for the British in the case of an attack from the French or Spanish. These clauses in the treaty naturally caused tension between the Maroons and the enslaved black population, although from time to time runaways from the plantations still found their way into Maroon settlements.
The Maroons were an inspiration to National Hero George William Gordon and should be to Jamaica as we celebrate our Jubilee, and Nanny should be in any list of top-10 Jamaicans.
Devon Dick is pastor of the Boulevard Baptist Church in St Andrew. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org