- The People Who Shaped Our History
Beautiful Jamaica Filled With Cultures of People
The Story of Grandy Nanny: The Maroon Woman who became one of Jamaica's founding "fathers"!
Nanny was a leader of the Maroons at the beginning of the 18th century. She was known by both the Maroons and British settlers as an outstanding military leader who became, in her lifetime and after, a symbol of unity and strength for her people during times of crisis.
Jamaica's Hero- Nanny
The Story of Grandy Nanny: The Maroon Woman who became one of Jamaica's founding "fathers"!
"The maroons are one of the many communities of people who had to fight to protect their identities and freedom in the New World. Because much of their history has been preserved in documents written and compiled by their principal oppressors, knowledge of their achievements has been largely limited to their activities as 'rebels,' 'rogues,' and 'fugitives.' "
Professor Dr. E. Kofi Agorsah, Portland State University
Societies of Maroons, or "runaways," make up the core of communities that have preserved their identities as the pioneer freedom fighters of the New World. The colonies of escaped slaves who inhabited Jamaica's interior 200-300 years ago (17th and 18th centuries) are for many Jamaicans a symbol of nationalism. In a new, harsh and mostly hostile environment, hunted own without mercy by colonial forces, these Maroons faced nothing less than a lifetime of fighting to retain freedom and a new society. Their experience is African as well as North American, and gives a good example for understanding New World history.
The Spanish were the first Europeans known to have settled Jamaica, following the arrival of Columbus in 1494. In 1655, England captured the island from Spain during a war. During the confusion, 1500 African slaves on the island escaped and hid out in the forests and mountains of the interior of Jamaica. For the next 150 years, according to an English officer, these ex-slave communities, "proved to a thorn in the side of the British".
The word "Maroon" comes from a Spanish word "cimarron," which means wild or savage. The Maroon villages were well organized military strongholds, sometimes having to fight off attacks by the British army, sometimes making up treaties with the colonial government. In exchange for peace, Maroon villages would promise to help defend Jamaica from attack and to help put down other slave rebellions.
Probably the most famous of the Maroon leaders was a woman, Grandy Nanny. She was both an effective political organizer and military leader, defeating the British in many battles. Despite repeated attacks from the British soldiers on Jamaica, Grandy Nanny's settlement, called Nanny Town, remained under Maroon control for many years. One of her borthers was Cudjoe, leader of a slave rebellion in 1738. Grandy Nanny's history is mostly known from folk stories or history books written by her enemies, but a recent archaeological dig at Nanny Town, is filling in some of the gaps of how she and her people survived day-to-day.
Nanny Town is located in one of the highest and most difficult to reach sites in the Blue Mountains of Jamaica. The town was more easily defended than most other Maroon settlements.
According to Dr. Agorsah, "Possibly the most exciting discovery during the 1993 expedition was that Nanny Town had pre-African habitation." Although the Spanish thought they had wiped out the native Arawak people, these findings of pots, beads and flint artifacts show at least some Arawaks escaped enslavement and death and set up new villages in the remote mountains. Escaped African slaves later arrived and joined the Arawak to make a new and unique Maroon community.
Maroon artifacts recovered from Nanny Town include both military items and things used in everyday life. A list of items found so far include: imported porcelain from Holland, wine bottles, glass medicine jars, gun barrels and musket balls, nails, knives, spearheads, door hinges, clay pipes, grinding stones, coins, and many different kinds of beads and buttons.
A VIEW: The Roaring Hills of the Cockpit Country
The Right Excellent Nanny of the Maroons
Nanny of the Maroons lived about 250 years ago. She died in the 1750s. Her ancestors were the Asante people of Africa. They lived in the country now called Ghana. When Nanny lived, most of the African people in Jamaica were slaves. They were brought to Jamaica to work on the sugar plantations.At the time Jamaica was captured by the English, a number of slaves were set free by the Spanish to prevent them falling into the hands of the English. They were the maroons. Nanny was not a slave, but she led many Maroons into the hills in Portland. They called the place where they lived Nanny Town. The owners of the plantations wanted to get the slaves back. The colonial forces came into the hills, and Nanny and her people had to fight these soldiers to stay free.
Nanny became the Queen Mother. In Asante Land the Queen Mother was the "Mother of the people". She was the political leader and a religious leader. Nanny was very powerful. Her people thought she could work magic.
The Maroons did not have many guns. They took some from dead soldiers. They stole some, and they traded for some. Mostly, they had to fight without guns. They were very good at living and fighting in the bush. They had to be, in order to survive. They hid in the bush, and they set traps for the colonial forces. They surprised them, and they frightened them. This way of fighting is called Guerilla warfare. While the Maroon men were fighting, the women planted and grew food. Everyone had a job to do. Nanny used an Abeng to call her people in the bush.
An abeng is a cow horn. And the Maroons still use them.
Nanny town was hidden in the hills, but in the end the colonial forces found it. They captured it and kept it for about a year. They built a small fort there. But Nanny took her people further into the hills. Later, they went back to Nanny town. They surprised the soldiers, and they took the town again. Maroons in eastern and Central Jamaica made peace with the English. Nanny did not want to, but the English persuaded her War-chief Quao to sign a peace-treaty. Nanny was one of the most important fighters for freedom and independence.
In the end, the English let Nanny have land at a place called New Nanny Town, which we call Moore Town. Nanny got this land for her people forever.
Situated high up in Portland at a very inaccessible 2,000 feet above sea level, Nanny Town, was the most famous settlement of the Maroons. In its heyday, the Maroon Citadel had over 140 houses. It was named after Queen Mother Nanny, the great Maroon leader who brought the Maroons many of their victories during the first Maroon war. Initially built around 1723, Nanny Town's precise location in the mountains of northeastern Jamaica was not discovered by the English until 1728 when Sambo, an African traitor, led them to it. Nanny Town was repeatedly attacked by British troops in 1730, 1731, 1732, and several times in 1734. Today, the original Nanny Town site remains one of the hidden mysteries of the Blue Mountains. Up until fairly recently, the history of Queen Mother Nanny, the great 18th century leader of the Windward or Eastern Jamaican Maroons and her heroic struggle against the British colonial empire and its institution of slavery in Jamaica had been largely ignored. Today however, Nanny of the Maroons stands out in Caribbean history as the only female among Jamaica's seven National Heroes. As a result, modern authors and historians are now analyzing the importance of Queen Nanny from cultural, military, historical and religious points of view, as they attempt to integrate this key female figure of 'New World' history into her rightful place as the leader of the most successful African resistance movement against British colonialism in Jamaica during the first part of the 18th century.
Besides being immortalized in songs and legends, certain facts about "Granny Nanny", as she was affectionately known, have also been documented. Both legends and documents refer to her as having exceptional leadership qualities. Nanny was Queen Mother of the Blue Mountains and a leader of the Maroons at the beginning of the 18th century. The Maroons themselves and the British settlers too, all recognized her as an outstanding military leader. Thus, she became a symbol of unity and strength for her people during times of crisis -both in her lifetime and even after. She possessed that fierce fighting spirit generally associated with the courage of men. In fact, Nanny is described as a fearless Asante warrior who used militarist techniques to fool and beguile the English.
She was said to be a small wiry woman with piercing eyes and her influence over the Maroons appears to have been strong. So strong indeed, that it bordered on the supernatural and was said to be derived from her powers of Myal (i.e. 'Good Obeah'). The Warrior Queen was particularly skilled in organizing the guerrilla warfare carried out by the Eastern Maroons to keep away the British troops who attempted to penetrate the mountains to overpower them. And, she was especially important to the free Africans in their fierce fight with the British during the First Maroon War from 1720 to 1739. Beside inspiring her people to ward off troops, Nanny was also the type of village wise woman who passed down legends that instilled confidence and pride in her people and encouraged the continuation of customs, music and songs that had been traditional in Africa.
Queen Mother Nanny was known as a great healer and extremely powerful Obeah/Myal woman (holder of secret/sacred African knowledge). As a result, most historians relish in describing Granny Nanny as an "Obeah Woman" and as a practitioner of 'witchcraft'. The term "Obeah" refers to a person who practices the traditional African religions in Jamaica, and is much akin to Voodou in Haiti. However, just as there is good Voodou and bad Voodou, likewise there is bad Obeah and good Obeah or Myal. There is no doubting the fact that Queen Nanny was a spiritual leader, a Priestess, for her people. Nor is there any doubt that she was a knowledgeable herbal healer. However, it is necessary to understand Queen Nanny as a complete personality, encompassing the roles of Queen Mother, Warrior-General, Priestess/Myal Woman, Chieftainess, Herbal Healer, and Mountain Revolutionary. Her multiple personas overlapped and intertwined, each one influencing the other. The Maroons conceive of her as a product of all of these aspects and thus she is seen as a supernatural Cheftainess, a Priestess, a Healer, and a Military Leader who was able to perform miracles. Whatever we may think today, Nanny's 'Herbal Science' served her well for a good season.
Maroons rightly believe that one's spiritual or supernatural abilities are a power inherited from the Ancestors.
Queen Nanny had a strong bond and was in close communicatioher African Ancestors, and this was the source from which her power as a Myal Woman was derived. As would be expected, Nanny and the Maroons of her day, retained aspects of traditional African culture and customs much more than did their counterparts who remained captive on the slave plantations. In fact, Queen Nanny and her people were far more African than they were 'Jamaican' or 'Creole'. The spiritual side of life was very important to the Maroons and it was incorporated into their military strategies, into the raising of children, and into the daily lives of the people.
n with So, operating from her base camp of Nanny Town in the rugged ridges high in the Blue Mountains of Eastern Jamaica, Nanny led the Maroons to repeated victories against the British at the height of their world domination and at a time when 'Britannia ruled the waves'.
Although the Maroons were vastly outgunned and outnumbered repeatedly, often with hundreds of half-starving Maroons fighting against thousands of the best-provisioned and best-armed soldiers of the British Empire, the mountain guerrillas came away with victories time and time again. The Maroons employed techniques of camouflage that have become legendary and their guerilla ambushes not only decimated British patrols, but drove fear into the hearts of the colonizers every time they entered the mountainous "land of look-behind".
Despite relentless pursuit by the British forces, the Windward Maroons continued raiding plantations for food and supplies; survived and thrived in the mountainous jungle terrain; communicated using the famous abeng (cow horn); and kept their mountain citadel's location secret for at least ten years.
After Cudjoe (Nanny's brother) and the Leeward Maroons signed a 'Peace Treaty' with the British,
Nanny was reportedly very angry and at first refused to sign any treaty with the British. She was in disagreement with the principle of making 'peace' with the British, which she knew meant only another form of subservience. But eventually, Nanny reluctantly agreed to a truce, after which Nanny's Windward Maroons divided themselves into two groups one of which went with her Brother Quao to Crawford Town. The other group followed Nanny to a new settlement in the hills of Portland, New Nanny Town.
Located alongside the Wild Cane tributary of the Rio Grande River, New Nanny Town is also known today as Moore Town and is governed by a Maroon called 'Colonel' -the honorary title earned by his ancestors.
There are still many legends about Queen Nanny among the Maroons. Some even claim that there were several women who were leaders of the Maroons during this period of history. But all the legends and documents refer to Nanny of the First Maroon War as the most outstanding of them all, leading her people with courage, vision and determination. And so the indelible spirit of Queen Mother Nanny of the Maroons, as a General and as a Myal Woman, remains to this day as a symbol of that indomitable African independence that will never yield to captivity.
ACCOMPONG - THE MAROON CAPITAL
' The Maroons were the freed or so-called ‘runaway Spanish Negro slaves’ who regained their independent status in Jamaica during the late 1520’s, after the Spanish conquistadors gave up on the “Land of Wood and Water” as a source for gold, and turned their bloodlust for treasure to Mexico and Peru instead.
By that time, the native Arawak Indians had already been exterminated by European diseases, forced labor and starvation.* In their place, the Maroons became Jamaica’s new indigenous people, and have been recognized as such.
(According to other history, the Arawaks Indians were believed to have all died out. However, the information's recorded by the British writers were false, and had been confirmed by more modern day facts. Other information showed that these "Maroon people" were never slaves in the first place. Captured by the Spaniards and brought to the Caribbean and especially Jamaica, where these people quickly excaped Christopher Columbus, and his crew. There they headed into the "unknown mountainous areas of Jamaica." There the 'Maroons caught up with Arawaks Villages, high up in the mountains)*. Facial features, hair texture, as well as other inherited make-up, showed that the Arawaks Indians and the Maroon would interbred, and become one people.
The Maroons remained free of external domination for over 100 years, until the British conquered Jamaica in 1655. A long period of sporadic warfare between the British and the Maroons ensued. The First Maroon War was terminated by a historic 1738 treaty between the British and the Maroons led by ‘Captain’ Cudjoe (Kojo).
The treaty gave the Maroons political independence (at a price of course) and made them the first nation/group in the New World to be granted their freedom by a colonizing European power. This is 38 years before the United States declared itself free of Britain and 62 years before Haiti freed itself of France. As a matter of historical record, the enslaved Africans in French Hispaniola/Saint Domingue (which would become Haiti) were inspired to mount their armed revolution against Napoleonic France by the success of the Maroons in Jamaica. In particular, the Africans in Haiti were inspired by a priest called Boukman, who was one of many Maroons who fled to Haiti to escape British persecution in Jamaica.
At the time of the Peace Treaty, Cudjoe was then based at Trelawny Town (later called Maroon Town and Flagstaff) on the perimeter of the Cockpit Country. The treaty was signed in Accompong under a big cotton tree -Cudjoe's/Kojo'sTree- and is celebrated in the town every year on Cudjoe’s birthday -January 6th- with a street festival involving up to 20-thousand people. Founded in 1739 just after the First Maroon War, Accompong was named after Cudjoe's more legendary brother and the name is said to derive from the Ashanti Nyamekopon meaning "the lone one, the warrior".
Accompong is located in the Cockpit Country in Jamaica, a name given to the area by the British in the 17th century because it reminded them of the then-popular cock-fighting arenas, which were hot, humid and dangerous places. There were other permanent Maroon settlements elsewhere in Jamaica too, including Quao Hill in St Thomas, Scott's Hall, Charles Town and Moore Town –which replaced Nanny Town as the spiritual capital of the Eastern Maroons high in the hills of Portland to the northeast.
Fittingly, Accompong is the only Maroon village that has retained its original name. This is significant because true African patriots in Jamaica actually regard Leeward Maroon leader Cudjoe as a sellout, who weakened the Maroon united front by abandoning the Windward Maroons. Cudjoe and the Leeward Maroons agreed to collaborate with the British in putting down slave rebellions, capturing runaway slaves and by serving in the British militia…. all in exchange for 1500 acres of land in the Cockpit Country and a degree of autonomy.
The Eastern Maroons, who were more militant than their Leeward brethren in their resistance to England, wisely distrusted the British and wanted to continue the guerrilla war.
Accordingly, the Rastafari still give especial honor to both Accompong and Nanny, as the Maroon leaders who upheld African independence and tradition and successfully resisted British incursions. The Rastafarians remember that Accompong and Nanny preferred death instead of collusion with the British, and that they had to be pressured and coerced by the Leeward Maroons into eventually accepting what soon proved to be a bad deal with the English imperialists/colonialists.
Cudjoe and Quao (the latter signed a 2nd Maroon Treaty with the British in 1739) didn’t realize what Queen Nanny and Captain Accompong had already figured out: that signing pieces of paper with the English was just another route to the same kind of colonial subjugation.
Even from way offshore, the world famous Blue Mountain Range is the first thing one sees when flying or sailing into Jamaica. In fact, the Blue Mountains dominate this Caribbean ‘Rock’ and are visible no matter which beach and whatever coast you are on. The Blue Mountain range provides a towering backdrop to metropolitan Kingston and its Corporate Area suburbs. The distant bright red roofs of the army camp up at Newcastle just below Catherine’s Peak, are visible from most places in the south coast capital. The Blue Mountains are their highest and greenest in the east (Portland), but are also very prominent throughout St. Ann on the north coast, St. Elizabeth in the south west and in the appropriately named Westmoreland at the island’s west end. There is no doubting that these heavily vegetated hills and the swirl of valleys and gorges they spawn, generate an intriguing multiplicity of natural habitats. These varied environments at various altitudes, all combine to help give Jamaica a special ‘universal’ ambiance that is unique to this mountainous island.
The Blue Mountains still hide many mysteries of its own, some historical and others of a more contemporary nature. These mountains once hid the Maroons and their free African villages from the prying eyes of British soldiers. Beneath the mist/haze induced bluish colorization that envelopes them, these hills, hides a multitude of cool, clear springs, water falls, lagoons, rivers, hot water mineral baths, every variation of mango conceivable, and a Noah’s ark collection of fruit, vegetation, animals and birds. In fact, the amount of fruit trees and vegetables to be found in the Jamaican bush is stunning, even though you would never believe it, judging from the wide range of food stuffs that the country imports from abroad.
The Blue Mountains are also world famous for the rich flavored coffee grown there. But how did world-class coffee come to be growing in the hills of Jamaica? That’s another Blue Mountain Mystery. And, how many people know that there are Ethiopian, Haitian and Maroon elements combined in the story of Jamaican coffee? Word is, that when the slave rebellion erupted in Haiti, the French coffee growing industry there was disrupted. At the time, the special Ethiopian coffee bean grown for French consumption in St. Domingue was regarded as the best in taste and quality in the Americas. (Coffee originated in Ethiopia.) This is where the ingenuity of Boukman and the Jamaican Maroons helping the slave uprising in St. Domingue, comes in. Three enemies -the French, the English and the Maroons- all collaborated in secretly transplanting that special strain of Ethiopian coffee bean and the associated French technology from St. Domingue to nearby Jamaica. This is the basis of the great reputation enjoyed today by Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee.
Due to their altitude, the eastern Blue Mountains in particular provide an ideal growing climate and terrain for high-grade coffee, so once firmly rooted in Jamaican soil in the early 1800’s, the premier Ethiopian/Caribbean coffee bean from Hispaniola was not only preserved, but also cultivated to perfection once more. (The island of
The hills of Jamaica are also a hikers and bikers paradise, as the Blue Mountain range runs east to west across virtually the entire length of the island. Listed at 7,280 feet (2,255.8 meters) above sea level, the Blue Mountain Peak is one of the highest peaks in the Caribbean and is higher than any American peak east of the Mississippi River.
There are five major peaks on the Grand Ridge of the Blue Mountains: John Crow overlooking Clydesdale at 5,750 feet; St. John’s Peak at 6,332 feet; Mossman’s Peak at 6,703; High Peak at 6,812 feet; and towering over them all, the misty, cloud covered Blue Mountain Peak at 7,280 feet. Here, on a clear day you can make out Cuba, some 90 miles to the north, otherwise, you’re surrounded by a bird’s-eye view of Jamaica that few tourists ever venture to see. The fresh air and general climate are enough to warrant the trek along the maze of narrow trails that criss-cross and wind their way through the Jamaican jungle highlands.
In 1993 the hilly, remote interior of the three Parishes of Portland, St. Thomas and St. Andrew, was officially designated as the Blue Mountain and John Crow National Park. This 300 square mile national park was established to help protect the unique tropical forest environment teeming with extravagant vegetation and hundreds of birds, which characterize the Blue Mountains. These same high hills encompass precisely the area where the Maroon Mountain Matriarch, Queen Nanny, once ruled her own domain in defiance of Colonial England. These same high hills are now home to countless nature-based Rastafarians and the peaks and valleys reverberate periodically to the chants and drums of the Nyahbinghi.
Today there are several routes to get up to the Blue Mountain Peak, depending where you’re coming from. One way is from the north through the original tourist capital of Port Antonio (which is now making a comeback as a tourist destination). Another route is via Mavis Bank in the south. This is the way most visitors go, and the scenic hike up and down can be made in two or three days. Usually, hikers walk seven miles the first day, before camping or sleeping in one of several lodgings en route. They then hike the remaining seven/eight miles to the summit before dawn the next day. One word of warning is necessary however. Periodically, even Jamaican city residents get lost –as in, go missing for days- when they leave the beaten track in the Blue Mountains. We therefore recommend that you definitely get a guide when you’re planning to take the invigorating walk up to the Peak.
In the meantime, back at sea level, for far too many visitors, Jah-Mek-Ya is still simply one enormous circular beach with a backdrop of palm trees. For the ordinary tourist lost in the hedonism of the moment, Jamaica is still a tantalizing touch of paradise, flavored by the taste of rum punch and the aroma of marijuana/ganja. For such ‘beach bums’ the island’s mountainous interior, where high peaks are covered with virtually virgin rainforest, occupies another distant and mysterious world. But indeed, although largely unrevealed to date, the real Jamaica lies way above sea level. So it is that the Blue Mountains still hide the heart and soul of Jamaica –hide an environment that has and continues to make the “Isle of Wood & Water” what it truly is.
Now, you too can become one of the really discerning visitors to Jamaica. You too can become one of those new-age, culturally-aware eco-travelers who reject the characterless, beach-resort-hotel, all-inclusive tour packages that are so popular these days. You too can get a Rootz View of the real Jah-Mek-Ya, but only if you leave the beach some of the time. Simply hightail it for where the real people, the real history and the real culture of Jamaica still lie hidden... in the lush and salubrious interior highlands of the world famous Blue Mountains. So get in the groove, move your dancing feet and we’ll see you at the top, o.k. man? Irie!
The Story of Grandy Nanny: The woman who became one of Jamaica's founding "fathers"!
by David Meyler BEd MA
(excerpted from "Jamaica's Freedom Fighters", by Earthwatch Project Results, at http://www.earthwatch.org/g/Gagorsah.html)
For a map and more information on the history, geography and biodiversity of the Cockpit Country visit www.cockpitcountry.com