Fri | Dec 3, 2021

Tacky above some heroes

Published:Sunday | October 13, 2013 | 12:00 AM
Cpl Andrew Philp and Cpl Jayce Roberts, cadets at St Mary High School, at attention during the playing of the national anthem at the wreath-laying segment at the Eight Annual Day in Honour of Tacky on May 8, 2012 at Claude Stuart Park, Port Maria, St Mary. -Photo by Paul H .Williams

Orville Taylor

At least, the one thing that gives me satisfaction is that none of the current crop of politicians is going to find a way into the national heroes' pantheon. Well, then again, if there is a process and a cut-off date, there is at least one member of parliament who might just accept a nomination long afterwards, and find means of making an unqualified candidate become the preferred nominee. Indeed, the processes are so transparent that the contractor general will find nothing untoward.

Still, this is National Heritage Week, and once again, we dust off the archives and open the catacombs of oblivion to remind ourselves why the six men and one woman are entitled to the highest accolade the nation can give to its citizens.

For me, a national hero must be a person whose life had a profound impact on the history of the nation, and who, acting selflessly, put himself or herself at risk, for the benefit of the larger entity. A hero must be a courageous person who, recognising the overwhelming odds against him or her, still stuck his or her neck out. Persons, who suffered social or physical harm because of the stance they took for their fellows make a persuasive case for hero status.

It is totally befuddling that Chief Tacky is not listed, despite the imposing evidence that he is at least on par with Paul Bogle, Sam Sharpe and Queen Nanny. Tacky, in name and treatment by respective governments, was a native African, described as a Koromantse, or Coromantee. There is some dispute about whether he was from Guinea or present-day Ghana, but for the purposes of this discourse, what is important was that he was domiciled in Jamaica, and based on a plantation in St Mary.

Tacky was not a 'kabba kabba'; he was a black overseer on the white man's Frontier plantation. Thus, he occupied a privileged position in the race/class hierarchy. Unlike plantations in the United States, the relatively small number of Europeans forced them to give prestigious status to their mixed-race offspring, and even those were not large enough in numbers.

Slave drivers were recruited from the body of the enslaved Africans, and these were effective agents of social control. Black overseers were, however, much more uncommon, as they were in positions of great influence within specific plantations, but more important, they were able to create and use interfaces with other plantations via their counterparts.

As is sadly still the case today, slave drivers misused their status and visited major cruelty on their peers. Not only would they divert the official labour to do their private work, such as cultivating their own corner lots that 'Busha' gave them, but they would mercilessly flog their fellows, causing severe lacerations and other trauma. One episode of whipping brought tears to my eyes when I read the historical record. In that particular session, the driver wore out three different leather thongs and ripped up the legs, arms, breasts and face of a young girl, as he administered his brand of sadistic punishment.

Unlike these, Tacky used his awesome powers to mobilise the Africans. On Easter Monday, in 1760, he organised an uprising with the manifest intention of overthrowing and driving out the whites. He acted swiftly and combed through Frontier in the middle of dawn, killed the white slave masters and other overseers, quickly overpowered Trinity and completed the trifecta by commandeering the armoury at Fort Haldane.


Armed to the teeth with more than 40 firearms and four kegs of gunpowder, Tacky and crew overran Heywood Hall and Esher. Ballards Valley followed suit, and with obeah men joining the throng, which had swelled to hundreds, and sprinkling copious doses of 'can't shot me' power, Tacky was as confident as a Labourite before the 2011 election, or the 'Man a Yard' in the upcoming fowl-fight finals.

With the uprising spreading across plantations and scores of white overseers killed, it became an all-out assault, with islandwide implications. As is consistent with the many stories of heroes and would-be revolutionaries, Tacky was betrayed by an informer, whom he trusted, and the British organised its militia. It was a brutal and valiant battle, lasting from May to July.

Tacky had everything to lose, but being a free-born African, he must have felt the need to procure full freedom for all the Africans on the island, instead of the compromise that the Maroons, led by Queen Nanny's brother, Cudjoe, had wrought with the British.

In 1739, British Colonel John Guthrie, with the smell of defeat as rank as a ram goat, bowed and offered a truce to his Maroon adversaries, who were as difficult to subdue as the truth in Parliament. A red stain on the treaty was that the Africans were to betray their kinfolk, who managed to escape the treachery of slavery, and return them to their 'owners' for punishment and even death to be meted out to them.

What Tacky wanted was to create the first modern black nation, peopled by the freed slaves, and not simply to be given concessions to live on reservations as the American First Nations (Native Americans), or in enclaves such as the Maroon Towns in Accompong and Moore Town. In the end, he was vindicated, because the Maroons worked along with the British and pursued the Tackeyites with a speed that matches the fall of the Jamaican dollar in 2013. Maroons from Scott's Hall worked with the militia and caught, tortured and killed an obeah man. They displayed him and his 'guzum' paraphernalia with the predictable effect of it scaring many of the combatants to return to the plantations.


A core group of about 30 diehard fighters fought bravely until a marksman, a Maroon named Davy, running at full canter, shot Tacky, fatally wounding him. The remaining revolutionaries, rather than suffer the indignity of recapture and torture, performed suicide. Those unfortunate enough to have been apprehended were tortured and mounted like trophies. Tacky himself was decapitated, with his head perched on a pole.

Tacky's war did not lead to the fugue of the British or self-rule for the Africans here. However, what did Nanny do that was different, except that she did not lose her life fighting for her freedom? Indeed, her brother signed a treaty, which is the one thing the Maroons can feel some remorse for.

Sam Sharpe led a similar rebellion and was also killed later in 1830. George William Gordon took on the House of Assembly and entire plantocracy with diatribe which, even today, I would be afraid to use. For that he was murdered after a kangaroo trial.

The world knows how I feel about Garvey and his status as a national hero. But, as for Norman Manley and Alexander Bustamante ... let the Comrades and Labourites continue to overinflate their image and defend it.

However, until they give this St Mary hero his just due, "Mi nah stop attacky!"

Dr Orville Taylor is senior lecturer in sociology at the University of the West Indies and a radio talk-show host. Email feedback to and