By Devon Dick
Recently, Dr Orville Taylor, Gleaner columnist, made a case for Tacky to be made a national hero, claiming that he is better or more deserving than some existing ones. I would offer the same advice that the late Hector Wynter, former Rhodes scholar and Gleaner editor, gave me after he read my manuscript on William Knibb, English Baptist missionary, and who, after 1831, was in the forefront in the fight against British slavery. In advancing the claims of Knibb to be declared a national hero, I had made some critical remarks about National Hero George William Gordon. Wynter told me that I did not have to tear down the achievements of others to make the claim for Knibb.
This counsel I give to Taylor, as I would to Leader of the Opposition Andrew Holness and Deputy Leader of the Jamaica Labour Party Audley Shaw. Politicians need to understand that often it is not necessary to denigrate someone in order elevate our preferred choice. The point can be made convincingly without name-calling, innuendoes or half truths.
Tacky has a special place in our history. The aim of Tacky's rebellion of 1860 was the destruction of the Europeans and the establishment of Akan-controlled states, in which Akan leaders and supporters would enslave their defeated opponents and continue in the production of sugar and rum as well as foodstuffs [Douglas Hall, In Miserable Slavery, 93.] This is a paradigm later to be followed by the Haitians in their successful revolt against France. Beginning in St Mary in the early morning of Easter Monday, Tacky and a group of supporters took over plantations, but Tacky was killed by a Maroon sharpshooter and the resistance ended (Alvin Thompson, Flight to Freedom, 308).
Gordon risked his life on behalf of the downtrodden. In the House of Assembly, he was a sterling advocate on behalf of persons who were poor. He visited gaols and was critical of the conditions. He bought lands and formed settlements so that persons of African origin could purchase land on a lease basis without attracting high interest rate. This allowed the masses to be able to vote, have security of tenure, build houses, engage in farming and raise families. He built churches for the people to worship and for persons of African descent to be pastors and manage their worship and funds. He was a founding director of Jamaica Mutual Life, which was a reaction to usury. When I was putting down the value of Gordon's contribution, I did not know most of these facts. Gordon deserves to be a national hero.
NANNY'S BRILLIANT SKILLS
There are some who would question Nanny as a national heroine, not being conscious of her contribution. The two main Maroon groups in the 18th century were the Leeward Maroons (Cockpit Country) and the Windward Maroons (Blue Mountains), the former led by Cudjoe and the latter led by his sister, Queen Nanny. Nanny is the only female among Jamaica's national heroes. She was known for her brilliant leadership skills. She led the Maroons fight against slavery and maintained their independence from the British.
In 1738, the British governor in Jamaica signed a treaty with Nanny, and the Maroons were granted lands and lived under their own chief with a British supervisor. The Maroons were semi-autonomous, had recognition, and exemption from taxation. There was nobility in the struggle led by Nanny and it showed that they could not be conquered by force. The treaty also showed that they could move from armed struggle to peaceful discourse. Nanny and her followers were willing to compromise. Nanny accomplished this as a woman in a patriarchal slave society.
Let's respect our national heroes.
The Rev Devon Dick is pastor of the Boulevard Baptist Church in St Andrew. He is author of 'The Cross and the Machete', and 'Rebellion to Riot'. Send feedback to columns@ gleanerjm.com.