Sunday, March 25, 2007

Nanny of the Maroons

I rarely watch television, if there’s anything that’s guaranteed to addle the brain it’s the constant diet of soaps, docu-soaps and reality TV, every so often there’s an exception, Ms Dynamite’s programme on the Jamaican slave revolt leader Nanny of the Maroons was excellent.

A debate is opening up surrounding the two hundredth anniversary of the abolition of slavery, not to doubt William Wilberforce’s moral integrity, he had to battle against derision and abuse but the main determining factors were economic and the revolt by the slaves.

There are few actual details about Nanny’s life, we don’t even know for sure when she died. A mythology was attached to her – she could catch bullets in her buttocks, the British put it down to witchcraft.

From Britain’s invasion of Spanish held Jamaica in 1655 slaves fled to the hills. In the revolt 1730 – 1740 they established autonomous areas and inflicted military defeats on the British. They singled out the sugar plantations for attack and in 1734 twenty of them were abandoned.

A harrowing moment was when Ms Dynamite was shown some of the artefacts from a slavery museum - shackles for children and a gibbet that still contained human remains when it was found in the nineteenth century. There was an embarrassing interview with the Farquarsons whose descendants had been plantation owners, amidst the evasions and qualifications a ‘slavery was inhuman and cruel’ wasn’t really forthcoming.

In 1738 the British signed a treaty with the Maroons, but they agreed to return any runaways or slaves who had fled within the last two years. They were divided and significantly Nanny of the Maroons didn’t sign. That is another reason why her reputation has thrived and she is now an official ‘Jamaican Hero’.

A fantastic antidote to ‘Amazing Grace’.


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