Table Of Content
- About the author
- About the book
- Praise for From the Middle Passage to Black Lives Matter
- This eBook can be cited
- Part I: Reading the Curriculum Through a Post-Colonial Lens
- Preamble to Part I: Reading the Curriculum Through a Post-Colonial Lens
- Chapter 1. Rooting Identity: Individual Memory and the Collective Narrative
- Chapter 2. Fostering the Indigenous Spirit
- Chapter 3. Gazing Inward: The Efficacy of Communal Research
- Part II: Reading the Curriculum Through Global Inquiry
- Preamble to Part II: Reading the Curriculum Through Global Inquiry
- Chapter 4. Narratives From the Classroom
- Chapter 5. Creating Cultural Spaces in the Classroom
- Chapter 6. Reading the World: A Praxis of Global Citizenship
- Chapter 7. From the Field to the Classroom: Celebrating the Heroes of the Black Atlantic
- Chapter 8. Correcting History: Indigenous Children Writing Their Cultural Narratives
- Part III: Viewing the Curriculum Through an Anti-Colonial Lens
- Preamble to Part III: Viewing the Curriculum Through an Anti-Colonial Lens
- Chapter 9. From Africa to the New World: The Sustainable Maroon Communities of Jamaica
- Chapter 10. African Cultural Retentions
- Postscript: Writing Truth into History
If there is a book you want to read that hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.
Preparation for the writing of this book has been taking shape for decades, going as far back as my school days at Excelsior High School in Kingston, Jamaica, where I was nurtured to be a critical thinker who appreciated the roots of her heritage and the wisdom of her ancestors. Throughout my early schooling, our teachers worked to build our historical consciousness about our colonial background, emphasizing the power of our Indigenous heritage; a majority people of African heritage brought from the Motherland through captivity who resisted and rose above colonialism. Our education, they told us, was a tool to read the world, break boundaries, and dare to achieve. I am therefore grateful to my teachers who introduced me to West Indian history and sparked my interest in slavery and emancipation and Nanny of the Maroons in particular. Deep gratitude goes to my sister Charmaine Wade Perry for the engaged discourses she has facilitated on Nanny of the Maroons, offering me guidance and perspective. Dr. Rovan Locke prodded and provoked political interrogation of key ideological standpoints, pushing me to think critically and to examine Nanny through multiple lenses. In more recent ← vii | viii → times, my colleague Marcus Waters, whom I met at the 2014 Annual Maroon Conference in Jamaica, directed my attention to the ways in which the culture and history of Indigenous people are entangled across the globe and to the continuing disenfranchisement of Aboriginals in their own country in Australia. Our collaborative inquiry has pushed me to expand my worldview on Indigeneity and the innovative ways in which the resistance movement persists across the globe, standing up to the might of neo-colonialism. I owe him a wealth of gratitude.
I am most grateful to my children who have kept me on my toes with an enlightened perspective of the need to be vigilant and safeguard our heritage and ensure that it is passed down through the generations. The hundreds of children I have taught over the years have pushed me to keep in the forefront the need to disrupt the prevailing hegemonic discourses that propel the mega-narrative of European superiority and ignore the magnificent accomplishments of Black and Indigenous people across the globe. These students have remained a stark reminder of the scholar’s responsibility to tell the truth; to counter the marginalization of our history and write our story into living history. They reminded me of the need to write this book so that they can read it and be inspired to take action. I am grateful to them.
The Maroons today exert control over their past, including the history of slavery and emancipation in Jamaica and the New World. I am deeply grateful to the conference committee who organized the 2014 Annual Maroon conference and made the meeting of minds possible. It continues to be a most fascinating and inspiring experience to stand on Maroon land, and I am inspired by this legacy and the warrior woman who led them through the most turbulent warfare with the Imperialists in such a manner that harkened the ending of slavery. And so, I seek to tell the story of the resolute, brave, and committed Nanny of the Maroons, 18th-century freedom fighter; a feminist icon for all generations, and write this narrative with deep gratitude.
From their survival of the horrific Middle Passage, through to riots, rebellions, and revolutions on slave plantations, and in more recent times, the courageous resistance against neo-colonialism as expressed through movements such as Black Lives Matter, I am motivated to bring stories of disenfranchised people into the curriculum and incorporate diverse cultures and students’ funds of knowledge as material that speaks to how we can engage in protest, resistance, and enduring change.
Born in Jamaica out of the legacy of British colonialism rooted in the Transatlantic slave trade, I self-identify as an Indigenous scholar and question the pervasive failure of Black children, whom I also identify as Indigenous, in schools across the globe. As I examine this historical background with an ethnographic attentiveness to education and its cultural practices, the story of Nanny of the Maroons becomes increasingly important to my identity. It provides a blueprint to guide my path, connecting me to stories of historical empowerment within the African Diaspora.
I first heard the story of Nanny of the Maroons as a child in Jamaica, told to me, my siblings, and cousins by our grandmother as we gathered to tell stories at evening time. This story pointed to the possibilities that can emerge from courageous action. My grandmother told us that almost three centuries ← 1 | 2 → ago, Nanny, leader of the Windward Maroons, escaped from slavery and along with her four brothers established a community that today is firmly rooted in our ancestral heritage. Under the leadership of Nanny and her brothers, the Maroons fought a valiant guerilla warfare with such fortitude that the British were forced to sign peace treaties with them, resulting in their sovereign ownership of the land to this day. These warriors challenged the institution of slavery and helped to bring it to an end. Of all the stories she told, this stood out for me as the mighty accomplishments of an ordinary woman who dared. Since then, this story has remained central to my identity. While I cannot claim to be a Maroon, I identify (Gee, 2001) with the fighting spirit of Nanny, whom Jamaicans readily liken to the biblical David. A small, wiry woman who amassed the meagre resources of her community to thwart the Goliath of Imperialism. I have carried this story around with me, plucking courage from the metaphor, applying the message it upholds as a blueprint for my professional development.
While colonial narratives portrayed and simplified Nanny as a flat figure by calling her “obeah woman” and “old hag” in the few places she is mentioned, the oral history carried over the ages and post-colonial texts by Caribbean scholars reveal Nanny as complex and multi-faceted with contradictory subjectivities and desires. It is this perspective that I convey in my scholarship. The story of Nanny’s indomitable will, her efforts and success in carving out an alternative society in Nanny Town, and her perseverance in fighting the British to earn the identity of a thorn in their side, all speak to the will of any marginalized or disenfranchised people who are determined to confront adversity and assert their rights. Based on the relevance of Nanny of the Maroons in my personal story and cultural heritage, I am committed to taking agentive action to assert her biography, and in so doing, directly address the paucity of the stories of rebel leaders such as her in the historiography of slavery and resistance movements. I ask myself, if her story has had such an impact on my life, how might children be affected when they are denied the opportunity to experience similar stories from their cultural heritage in their academic lives?
The writing, sharing, and asserting of these stories must be a deliberate act of conscientization to confront and disrupt the Western world’s attempt to effect the erasure of Indigenous people and their cultures from contemporary history. The legitimation of cultural capital of marginalized groups is essential to the conscientization of the curriculum that social justice educators seek. According to Freire (1970), conscientization is an act of understanding that ← 2 | 3 → allows the oppressed to identify the unequal power and resource distribution that exist and to devise the means by which to transform an oppressive reality into an empowering experience. Freire’s (1998) work calls attention to the potential of educators to create and nurture transformative educational experiences that resist the confines of dominant paradigms. This is a channel to assist children to share and bring alive their own cultural stories as a method of pushing against pedagogical limitations in the classroom, pointing educators to ways in which to answer the question: How are the children doing? This popular greeting from the peoples of the African continent pushes me into a stance of criticality as I ponder this persistent failure of our children in school.
I have long been concerned with the deficit framings of stories and the history of Indigenous people in classroom texts which do not address the larger systemic issues that shape the contemporary lives of children. It is important to examine those situations where the texts that include stories of people of color utilize a deficit frame, and more often than not, present them in roles such as laborers, victims, criminals, and maids. I have borne witness to the debilitating impact on children of color in classrooms where their background is presented in this one-dimensional way; where race and ethnicity are constructed along lines of superiority and inferiority. In contexts where the emotional dimensions of literacy are ignored, I have seen children cringe and diminish. In contrast, where I have utilized the critical tradition to engage children as curriculum collaborators, I have observed that storytelling provides strength for Indigenous children in classrooms, as it did for me. I remember the fragility of my own position in Western classrooms extending all the way to the academy, and I offer my experiences as guiding principles to validate the cultural life of our offspring, engage their stories as cultural spaces, and lift up their voices in acknowledgment that they have a historical and cultural background that is valid, substantial, and of great merit.
It is empowering for both student and teacher when these stories are relocated within contemporary experiences taking place in local communities and classrooms. These stories have the potential to become significant guideposts for ways in which the fight and resistance against slavery may parallel the experiences that youth face with discrimination and police brutality in our time today. In particular, they highlight that disenfranchisement is not a permanent state; it can be confronted and overcome in creative ways. Scholars exploring the artistry of storytelling emphasize the power of ← 3 | 4 → story in addressing the fragility of the human psyche; its power to explore that tender space within that can lead to transforming the lives of children (Estes, 1992; Whyte, 1994). Knowing as I do that literacy practices promote worldviews and political ideologies, I come face to face with the question: How do we disrupt the pervasive narrative of oppression and tell the world and our children the truth?
Storytelling then becomes one of the most significant tools I use to translate my ideology into practice. And it is the story of Nanny of the Maroons that I share with the world. In this narrative, rooted in auto-ethnography, I emphasize how the story of Nanny of the Maroons has influenced my life and assisted me in crafting an ideological perspective in facing the inequity that typifies the world in which I live. I make connections to the colonial past world of Indigenous people traumatized by oppression, to our contemporary world where people of color continue to be traumatized by new forms of oppression. And I emphasize the imaginative and radical forms of our enduring resistance going back to the era of slavery through to the Civil Rights Movement and Black Lives Matter.
Based on my understanding and relationship to my heritage I know that these stories and the memories and mythologies of archetypes such as Nanny can contribute to embracing our children into the classrooms in schools and in their communities. This is an important step to internationalize the curriculum, investigate the world, and recognize and honor the perspectives of others. This, I believe, will honor our common humanity and improve the education of Indigenous children across the globe. The United Nation 2009 State of the World’s Indigenous Peoples Address (p.6) asserts that “indigenous people continue to suffer discrimination, marginalization, extreme poverty and conflict.” The forum confirms that worldwide, Indigenous peoples suffer from lower levels of education than their non-Indigenous counterparts. This contemporary situation can be directly traced back to the ideology asserted during the so-called Age of Discovery, whereby the Catholic Church assumed the right to claim the land and resources of people they considered to be inferior. Slavery, colonization, and the seizure of ancestral land resulted from this ideology, the residual effects of which continue to oppress Indigenous people, often depriving them of their land, languages, practices, and worldviews.
This hegemonic perspective has prevailed and remains deeply entrenched in the policies and culture of most post-colonial and neo-colonial societies. It is an ideology that seeks to negate the validity of our story; historical truths ← 4 | 5 → that are left out of the mega-narratives written from a Eurocentric worldview vested in this falsely constructed intellectual perspective. In the USA, this perspective has led to the dislocation of Native Americans from their sacred land, resulting in poverty and social ills on reservations in the 21st century. Across the globe, in Australia, Aboriginal people have been forcibly removed from their ancestral land as large mining companies seek to expand their profits. In the United States, African Americans routinely experience brutality due to racial profiling and police aggression, and many of the children are failing in school. Stories of the historical empowerment of Indigenous people are powerful tools to disrupt this hegemonic stance. I hold myself accountable to do so.
I accept that of necessity, I must expose my inner self in order to share with the world and position the value of Indigenous heritage as classroom pedagogy. How I define and understand myself is inextricably tied to how I conduct my professional work and navigate myself through the world. While I recognize that some readers may feel uncomfortable with the critical perspective and the anti-colonial ideology expressed in this text (Ellis & Flaherty, 1992, p. 3), I am deliberate in revealing my subjectivities and assert that research is subjective and contextual as well as it may be empirical, that people who have suffered are often in a unique position to give voice to the suffering of others. Through my personal story, I assert that Indigenous Knowledge Production (Waters, 2012) provides a broad landscape for educators to investigate and access material that will extend their capacity to address the needs of the diverse student population that inhabits their classrooms, extending from grade school through to higher education. Indigenous Knowledge Production offers a narrative that opens up a portal into the investigation of the gifts that Indigenous people bring to the classroom and to the academy: a history of colonization and a concern with telling the truth from our perspective outside of/and in addition to the canons of Eurocentric literature.
In utilizing the analytical and investigative lens of social justice I assert stories/narratives from Indigenous cultures that center on the cultural retentions and the heroism of ordinary people to stand up to injustice and change the conditions of their lives and their people. I wish to contribute to the global discourse on how historical, local, and social political processes influence the lives of children of color, often depriving them of an equitable education and a fair chance of success in the society. Through examples of my lived experience in practice, I assert specific strategies to disrupt this and replace it with ← 5 | 6 → socially just pedagogy. In keeping with the radical imaginary of Indigenous resistance, I write to insist that the world takes the history of disenfranchised people and their interconnectedness as seriously as I do.
Intrigued by Nanny’s achievements as a resistance leader and rebel who refused to give in to the forces of oppression, I have claimed her as essential to my cultural identity and seek to critically examine the empowering impact her story has had on the historical and political consciousness that has shaped my path as a social-justice educator. In response to the exclusion of warriors of justice such as Nanny from mainstream curriculum across the globe, I confront and work to intentionally disrupt the meta-narrative written from the Eurocentric perspective where Black people were brought to the new world as slaves who succumbed to servitude and later were emancipated through the benevolence of the White man. Not only has this process been interesting, it has also been liberating and empowering.
This book is an act of telling the children the truth, of seeking a place in the curriculum which highlights and honors the courage and achievements of Indigenous warriors and asserts storytelling as pedagogy that builds students’ capacity to interpret, synthesize, and apply their learning in school to real-life situations. Working in both formal and informal educational settings and community spaces, I have engaged in a collaborative process with my students towards establishing a community grounded in the tenets of socio-cultural theory (Gee, 2001; Gonzalez, Moll, & Amanti, 2005). In this space I enact the fragile positioning of the researcher—exploring one’s subjectivities in an effort to build trust and understanding between my students and me to ensure their access to a space in which to articulate and write their own cultural narratives. This continuous self-study has enabled me to utilize my life story as texts incorporated into my practice as I engage in live research and interactive process in middle school classrooms in south Florida. Here, my students experience first-hand my professional development as an educator and my evolving research on Maroonage and Indigeniety. Asserting education as a continuous, pervasive experience, I share field notes with them and involve them in the process of securing and utilizing primary source data that accesses the imaginative rendering of the critical tradition focused on Indigenous perspectives. Collaboratively, we expand the curriculum to include students’ cultural background, their life stories, and themes such as the Civil Rights Movement, International Women’s History, Black Lives Matter, and global cultures, incorporating the Web as tools of inquiry. Within this context, the students see me as a learner engaged in teaching, learning, and discovery; a ← 6 | 7 → context which positions them as experts and producers of texts, elevating them above the traditional identity of student (learner), eschewing the notion of tabula rasa.
The cultural storylines that have played a pivotal role in framing my identity are privileged in this text as I assert my interpretation of the struggles and adversities that challenged my ancestors and the creativity with which they tackled adversity (Holman Jones, 2004). As Jenny Sharpe (2003) articulated, “Slavery continues to haunt the present because its stories have been improperly buried” (xi). Storytelling is a route to survival. The rich legacy of Nanny, African freedom fighter, should be brought to the awareness of children and educators worldwide as an example of the possibilities that life has to offer when one perseveres and fights against injustice. As I retrieve Nanny’s story from the annals of history, I am particularly interested in bringing to the academic community alternative ways of crafting pedagogy, and bringing student voices, their background and cultural heritage, into the curriculum. Not only will this add to the discourse on social justice and equity, it will also bring critical considerations to preparing educators to achieve educational justice through innovative experiences such as fieldwork in post-colonial nations and underserved school communities, engaging students as knowledge producers and critics in the classroom.
To fail to teach the meaning of stories such as Nanny’s to students of color is to deny them access to their cultural heritage, to deprive them of a significant portion of the legacy that binds them together and makes them part of a cultural identity rather than alienated individuals scattered in classrooms across the USA and the globe.
I believe that we can use stories to offer hope when cases rooted in racial prejudice and discrimination such as those of Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, and Tamir Rice arise. I am interested in the inclusion of Nanny of the Maroons in the textbooks and literature of the Caribbean and North America, where a large percentage of children of African descent reside. Storytelling draws on a broad range of human activity that addresses issues of survival, creativity, and perseverance. It is particularly important to Indigenous people because of its orality and the central role it has played in the survival of their heritage despite imperialism and the continued onslaught of neo-colonialism. Scholars working in the fields of storytelling (Estes, 1992) and rites of passage theory have articulated the significant ways in which cultural narratives have worked to support and uplift children who have experienced alienation and dislocation. ← 7 | 8 →
Organization of the Book
The book is organized in three parts with 10 chapters. There are three chapters in Part I, five in Part II and two in Part III.
I apply a qualitative theoretical approach, drawing on critical literacy frames including socio-cultural theory, auto-ethnography, and third space theories to examine the specific conceptual notion of Nanny of the Maroons as a warrior of justice aligned with the 21st-century critical perspective as articulated by scholars such as Peter McLaren, Gloria Ladson-Billings, Ira Bogotch, Henry Giroux, and Geneva Gay. In presenting this experiential understanding of history fostered by colonialism/neo-colonialism, I utilize the story as the framework to investigate the globalization of education and to assert the cultural capital of Indigenous people coming from a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds including Africa, the Caribbean, North America, and Australia and argue that stories from these regions can be used as curriculum resource.
Part I: Reading the Curriculum Through a Post-Colonial Lens
This section examines how an educator’s biography may influence her practice and the implications for culturally relevant pedagogy in schools across the globe. Peering through the lens of auto-ethnicity, I investigate the way Nanny of the Maroons shaped my identity as a young child in Jamaica and discuss in general the value of having heroes from one’s culture as role models to guide one’s development.
Part II: Reading the Curriculum Through Global Inquiry
In asserting Kessler’s (2000) view that the classroom should be a “place where the heart is safe and the soul welcomed” (p. 16), I share specific methods I have used to build students’ academic identity, engaging them as knowledge producers and cultural critics in the classroom. In this section of the book, written in five chapters, I examine how I have privileged the story of Nanny of the Maroons in my classroom as pivotal to the thrust to create a shared space that leads to the fostering of meaningful relationships that acknowledge and honor diversity. It demonstrates how I have taken the developing research on Maroon communities in Jamaica to middle school classrooms in the United States, engaging students as active participants in a program of global awareness. Further, the investigation into the role of culture in education is ← 8 | 9 → extended to the Aboriginal First Nation culture of Australia, drawing parallels not only with Maroon culture, but also with other cultures such as Native Americans and Jewish Americans: groups that have historically experienced disenfranchisement. Students’ writing samples are privileged as authentic and valid texts asserting their role as knowledge producers and critics of literature.
Part III: Viewing the Curriculum Through an Anti-Colonial Lens
In this section of the book I support the scholarship that building a community of practice uproots the notion of the erasure of Indigenous people as it investigates the way Nanny and the Maroons of Jamaica courageously forged a community of practice harkening back hundreds of years to the people’s African roots. The role of the land in rooting Maroon culture is examined in a society that remains self-governing, sustainable, and politically autonomous. This section also draws comparison with other Indigenous cultures such as the Aboriginals of Australia, the Native Americans of the United States and Canada, and African American children in the United States. This book recommends the Maroon community as an example for other Indigenous cultures struggling for survival.
At the end of each chapter there is a set of synthesis questions which are designed to provoke a reflection of key concepts explored in the chapter and invite a conversation with others, especially conversations between intergenerational groups. They are especially intended to spark conversations with youth, and are envisioned as possible writing prompts or a way to kick off research in school and community programs. Youth may be guided to make generalizations about the meaning, significance, or value of the material and then apply what has been gleaned to the larger social, cultural, ethical, or political context in which they are located. For example, reference is made to the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States and the plight of the Aboriginals of Australia, providing an opportunity for an investigation into the socio-political context of each group.
All three sections include chapters which investigate how Nanny’s extraordinary pattern of behavior became the impetus for a people to be resistant to boundaries and subjugation and persevere to overcome and thrive. Nanny has provided me with an opportunity to explore and critique creative and culturally relevant practices in schools. In this book I emphasize the importance of encouraging children and providing them with the space to talk about their ← 9 | 10 → culture, to attain visibility and have their voices heard. Within this context, the classroom becomes a space for cultural validation, identity formation, and academic achievement. The samples of narrative products created by students and the elevation of their voices in classroom discourse emphasize the value of placing them at the center of classroom pedagogy where they become expert knowledge producers (Saavedra, 2011).
My motivation in writing this text is shaped by the need to move beyond the notion of a post-colonial world and bring to life the complexities inherent in the thrust for the civil rights of people of color within the neo-colonialist state of the 21st century. This book is neither a historical account nor an empirical study; rather, it is a theoretical/autobiographical text concerned with the socio-cultural dynamics of Maroonage and its enduring influence upon present-day Jamaica and individuals such as me.
This book will provide readers with an opportunity to extend their global perspectives about characters and people beyond their own communities and articulate the role of culture in their own everyday lives. It affirms the central role of storytelling in academic life and community building.
I hope that through the writing of these chapters I am making a vital contribution to the planting of truthful seeds about the people of African descent in the Americas; about Indigenous people across the globe. It is my hope that as they are planted, these seeds will take root, flourish, and blossom into wonderful fruits that will nourish our intellect as much as they will our soul.
Ellis, C., & Flaherty, M. G. (1992). Investigating subjectivities. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
Estes, C. P. (1992). Women who run with the wolves: Myths & legends of the wild woman archetype. New York, NY: Ballantine Books.
Freire, P. (1970/2007). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York, NY: Continuum.
Freire, P. (1998). Pedagogy of freedom: Ethics, democracy & civic courage. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
Gee, P. A. (2001). Identity as an analytic lens for research in education. Review of Research in Education, 25, 99–125.
Gonzalez, N., Moll, L. C., & Amanti, C. (2005). Funds of knowledge: Theorizing practices in households and classrooms. Newark, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Holman Jones, S. (2004). Building connections in qualitative research. Carolyn Ellis and Art Bochner in conversation with Stacy Holman Jones. Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 5(3). Retrieved from http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/552/1194 ← 10 | 11 →
Kessler, R. (2000). The soul of education. Helping students find connection, compassion, and character at school. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Saavedra, M. (2011). Language & literacy in the borderlands: Acting upon the world through testimonies. Language Arts, 88(4), 261–269.
Sharpe, J. (2003). The ghosts of slavery: A literary archeology of black women’s lives. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
United Nations State of Indigenous People Address. (2009). https:www.un.org/esa/spcdev/unpfii/documents/SOWIP/en/SOWIP_web.pdf
Waters, M. (2012). Contemporary urban indigenous “dreamings”: Interaction, engagement and creative practice (PhD thesis). Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia. Retrieved from https://www120.secure.griffith.edu.au/rch/file/e2e82d05-3f75-bd70-8602-89f06b4e6e9b/1/Waters_2012_02Thesis.pdf
Shadows of the Past (Exploring Subjectivities)
Columbus’ arrival in Xyamaca opened up Jamaica—once a country peacefully occupied by the Tainos, a tribe of the Arawak Indians—as part of the New World, changing not only the geography but also the social and political landscape. In keeping with the philosophy expressed in the Age of Discovery, Columbus claimed this New World for Spain, even as the people welcomed him, offering their generosity. He commented that the Indians were so gracious and trusting that he could easily capture them with 50 of his men. He observed their gentle nature, characterized by friendliness, and their lifestyle, governed by a strong connection to the land and water within an organized community centered around the cacique. Historical records from conquistadores, professional Spanish warriors, reveal that the native people traded with them: “they gave us everything they had. They are very gentle and without knowledge of evil” (The Tainos, 2014). Columbus seized the land in the name of Spain, and by the 16th century the institution of slavery, initiated in the region earlier by the Portuguese, was developing into an enterprise that would soon dominate the political, cultural, and ecological landscape of the region. ← 15 | 16 →
Michael Dorris’ book Morning Girl (1994/1999) brings alive the eco-Indigenous lifestyle of the Arawaks in Hispaniola prior to the arrival of Columbus. It is a story I have integrated into the curriculum I use with middle school students as a conscious attempt to confront and disrupt the perspective of Native people being deficient and to emphasize the rich content of their culture and its enduring legacy. I find it particularly useful to explore concepts of identity engendered through one’s racial and cultural heritage. The protagonist, Morning Girl, whose society has no mirrors, sees her reflection in the river that runs through her village. When she questions her parents about her appearance, they guide her to see the beauty of her features by making comparisons with the natural environment around her, noting the similarity of her face to the roundness of the yams they eat and the brown hue of her complexion to the shades of the sand bed. It is Morning Girl who witnesses the arrival of Columbus’ ships along the seascape moving towards her village, and the reader experiences a sharp anticipation as to the impending consequences of this development when two different worlds collide, two different perspectives clash, and hegemonic power seeks to acquire material resources at all cost over the cultural richness of a people and their sovereign rights to their ethnic and geo-political identity. Thus, the Spanish intrusion on the native land precipitated a system of exploitation of the land and human resources. The Spanish ruled Jamaica from 1494–1655, resulting in a near genocide of the Tainos/Arawaks (Jamaica National Heritage Trust, 2014).
The history that developed from this interaction has been recorded by the White settlers who wrote in a manner to advance their perspective. Beginning with the Spanish conquistadores and extending to the British colonialists, supporters of the inhumane slavery society sought to justify their commodification of human beings. Consequently, these records are written from the perspective of the settler colonialist with little or no acknowledgment of the culture and the contributions of the Indigenous people, including those forcibly brought onto the plantocracy and those native to the lands now identified as the New World. This was in fact a world new to Europeans, who had no knowledge of its prior history, as is evidenced by Columbus’ assumption that he had landed somewhere in Asia. ← 16 | 17 →
The First Colonial Empire in the New World
The Spaniards in Hispaniola imported slaves as early as 1510, and by the middle of the 16th century, Spain had founded the first colonial empire in the Americas and Black people were being imported as slaves from the African continent as labor for the estates in substitute for the Native people who were being decimated by the diseases the Europeans brought and the cruel inhumane treatment at their hands. At first the number of enslaved Africans taken was small. In about 1650, however, with the development of plantations on the newly colonized Caribbean islands and American mainland, the trade grew. Old World diseases such as smallpox, flu, and typhus decimated much of the native population. Augier, Gordon, Hall, & Reckord (1960) emphasized that while there were free people on the island, they shunned wage labor, and it was cheaper to acquire an African slave than a European laborer (p. 46).
As the islands developed into sites of economic power, so did enmity and war over them. Britain set its eyes on Jamaica and war ensued with the Spanish. In 1655 the British finally overpowered the Spanish at Rio Nuevo in St. Mary, Jamaica, a site that sits in the neighborhood where my family resides. As the Spanish fled, they freed the slaves so that the British would not have them. These slaves escaped into the mountains along with the remaining Native Americans, setting in motion the forging of Maroon societies.
A Terrible Trade: The Development of the Slave Trade and Slavery
On the continent of Africa, Africans were collected by small coastal tribes carrying out raids against the people. They captured men, women, and children and then sold them into slavery where they were transported to the Americas via the Middle Passage.
The journey between Africa and the Americas, The Middle Passage, could take four to six weeks, but the average lasted between two and three months. Chained and crowded with no room to move, Africans were forced to make the journey under terrible conditions, naked and lying in filth.
In the 360 years between 1500 and the end of the slave trade in the 1860s, at least 12 million Africans were forcibly taken to the Americas—then known as the New World to European settlers. This largest forced migration in human history relocated some 50 ethnic and linguistic groups (Gates, 2015). ← 17 | 18 →
It is estimated that 1.5 to 2 million men, women, and children died en route on the Middle Passage. While it is a fact that many African tribes captured and sold their enemies into the Atlantic slave trade, it is also a fact that many African leaders, including Abd al Qadir of Senegal and King Afonso of Kongo, resisted the slave trade and engaged in many strategies to protect their communities and deter Western imposition on the continent.
According to reports, slavery began in what is now the United States of America (USA) when a ship brought 20 Africans, including three women, initiating the brutal system of human bondage. It is stated that around 1619 a slave ship entered the USA through the Atlantic Ocean and across the James River into Virginia (Keenan, 2002). Over 40% of Africans entered the US through the port city of Charleston, South Carolina, the center of the US slave trade. By the middle of the 19th century, the southern states were providing two thirds of the world’s supply of cotton. While cotton cultivation developed in North America, sugar became the most profitable cultivation in the Caribbean region during the 18th century.
Life on the Sugar Plantation
“The struggle to dominate others is as old as society” (Gonzalez, Houston, & Chen, 2000, p. xxii). Britain’s trading of Black people from Africa developed and expanded in tandem with the country’s thrust to become a global entity, an economic super power, and an empire where the sun never set. The Whites brought with them the barbaric and savage methods of leadership, underlined by a philosophy of racial and social superiority, started centuries before under King Alfred the Great. In 16th-century Britain, society was organized along strong social stratification of superiority and inferiority. Punishment was harsh and savage, as exemplified by the systems of torture, quartering, and execution that governed the social and political organization of Britain during this time. The presiding leaders, including governors and superintendents in the island of Jamaica during slavery, operated with harshness and inhumanity in keeping with this background. On the plantations, the planters also practiced savage barbarism that reflected this kind of orientation. As sugar production developed in Jamaica, slavery was established as the dominant economic organization and racism was created through forced immigration of the African people and the movement to subjugate them by taking away their identity, their culture, and their rituals. And alongside that, resistance was initiated and enacted and maintained. ← 18 | 19 →
The Development of Maroon Communities
Descendants of runaway slaves who first fled to the interior mountains of Jamaica after the Spanish abdicated to the British in 1655, the Maroons gathered strength throughout the years and organized into a political and military force with the subsequent leadership of Nanny in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, along with her brothers, who were equally stalwart in guerilla warfare and political organization. Jamaican folklore states that Nanny and her brothers were captured together and brought to Jamaica, their father being a military leader of Koromantyn heritage, an Ashante from the Gold Coast (Ghana). This ties in with the story that asserts her royal lineage as a source which ignited and nurtured her agency for freedom.
Nanny and her brothers established villages which remain today in the almost inaccessible interior of the island; autonomous communities which breathe with the life of the indomitable will of a people who continue to honor their African ancestral roots. Nanny’s history becomes an exploration into freedom, integrity, and perseverance and speaks to the influence of historical processes on the lives of women and the communities to which they belong. In the early 18th century, Nanny settled in the Cockpit of the Blue Mountain terrain and set about becoming a troubling force to the British Empire. Through her inspiring leadership she attracted freedom fighters to the hills of Jamaica at a site later named Nanny Town, and built up a fierce guerilla army, schooled in the intimate terrains of the land, and subverted and thwarted the colonial forces of the British army. At the same time, her brothers established communities throughout the western and northern interior of the island to enact subterfuge against the British in defiance of slavery.
Mapping the dense forests and mountainous terrains, the Maroons utilized spatial schemas, landmarks, and pathways, tapping into the spiritual terrains of non-linear time, to access the liminal world of their ancient heritage and succor the strength to feed and sustain them in battle against the colonial forces. For over 30 years Nanny freed more than 800 slaves and helped them to resettle in the Maroon community. As stories of her courageous feats traveled throughout the land the oppressed were inspired and Nanny’s reputation elevated her to the standing of a folk hero. There were stories of British attacks on Nanny Town, but thanks to the strategic location and her idea of having only one entrance/exit to the town, they were able to fight off the British soldiers even though they were severely outnumbered. In staying the course, in continuing in the journey of the heroine, her actions resulted ← 19 | 20 → in the weakening of the force of Imperialism. Robinson (1993) cited a report of the 1733 legislature that said that the Maroons
plundered all around them, and caused several plantations to be thrown up and abandoned, and prevented many valuable tracts of land from being cultivated, to the great prejudice and diminution of His Majesty’s revenue, as well as trade, navigation and consumption of British manufacturers; and to the manifest weakening and preventing the further increase of the strength and inhabitants in the island. (p. 48)
The British were so flummoxed by the relentless assault of the Maroons that they negotiated a peace treaty with Cudjoe in 1739. It is well noted that Nanny was against the signing of peace treaties because she felt it compromised the Maroons’ stance against Imperialism. However, she went along with the consensus of her brothers, the other Maroon leaders. Today, Maroon identity is rooted in the assurance of their warrior spirit and the knowledge that they fought valiantly for their freedom and inspired others to stand up to the giant of Imperialism. I believe that enriching the curriculum with heroes from the culture of people of color such as Nanny of the Maroons will serve as an effective educational tool that encourages participants to imagine new perspectives and provide students with alternative visions of possibilities, and to:
• enrich the academic experience of children of color and white children alike.
• confirm our common humanity.
Like any community of practice, the Maroon communities of Jamaica are not without conflict and problems, and I wish to assert that I am not essentializing them as a romantic pastoral community that is conflict free. However, they are a distinct contrast to the harsh, oppressive landscape that many diverse people inhabit in the concrete jungles of the developing world and in places such as urban centers occupied by Aboriginals in Australia, for example. In addition, in asserting the Maroon community as an example of Indigenous people thriving in the ancestral wisdom of their Afrocentric heritage, I share the ways in which they have maintained centuries-old rituals within a contemporary society and I evaluate their social organization on their own terms, careful to not use measurement of, or standards such as, per capita income or those that are used in developed countries such as the USA where I reside. And as I give consideration to the turbulence that exists in communities across the globe, there are certain defining features that stand out. The Maroon communities of Jamaica provide examples of Indigenous people maintaining a ← 20 | 21 → creative relationship with the local environments, demonstrating diversity and multilayered thinking. This relationship also enables intergenerational teaching practices between elders and youth, facilitating the survival of age-old traditions. The continued survival of these communities references the historical, political, and cultural forces that inform and shape Indigeneity and makes a significant contribution to Indigenous Knowledge Production.
From my locally rooted understanding of the global impact of colonization and slavery, I trace and connect Indigenous Knowledge back to the roots of African ancestry, connecting it to the Kamilaroi Aboriginal Dreaming of Australia, Maroon society in Suriname, for example, and the diverse children of various global ethnicities whom I have taught over the years and continue to interact with today. Central to Indigenous Knowledge Production is the philosophy that communal living and intellectual and spiritual leadership by elders were, and remain, a pivotal force in the fostering of communities of practice. In subsequent chapters I share how storytelling has energized my classrooms. Students bring their cultural stories into the classroom and together we explore how heroes and heroines from all over the globe utilized strategies buoyed by their character traits to face injustice and prevail. As our common human heritage emerges it soon becomes clear how we are all connected across the globe. It emerges as an excellent tool to create historical awareness and emphasize to students the role they must play as agents of change in this chaotic world.
I believe that incorporating pedagogy rooted in Indigenous Knowledge Production will help to ground Indigenous children in the classroom environment and promote their academic achievement. This will directly address social injustice and inequity in schools across the globe. And, as Freire (1970/1990) asserted, it will provide the opportunity to honor the voice of the powerless with a pedagogy of hope.
In chapters 1–3 I reflect on how my identity has been shaped by the conceptualization of Nanny of the Maroons as a heroine who speaks from the past to the fragile and developing persona of the Jamaican girl whose emerging identity is shaped by the colorful and powerful stories passed down through the oral tradition of her family and her community. I explore how orality works to influence the shaping of identity—or self—in response to personal and physical changes that are connected to historical events. I then trace the subjective process experienced in a lived event influenced by the cultural and geographic environment of the Maroon communities in Jamaica. I emphasize how the powerful histories of Indigenous peoples explored through ← 21 | 22 → storytelling and memory-making reveal the complex interactions between the multiple, and often divergent, perspectives of the tellers of that story. This text asserts the significant role that culture plays in shaping memory as it explores the interface between memory and history, cultural identity and race.
Augier, F. R., Gordon, S. C., Hall, D. G., & Reckord, M. (1960). The making of the West Indies. London, England: Longmans, Green & Company.
Dorris, M. (1994/1999). Morning girl. New York, NY: Hyperion.
Freire, P. (1970/2007). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York, NY: Continuum.
Gates, H. L. Jr. (2015). The African American migration story: Many rivers to cross. PBS. http://.pbs.org/wnet/african-americans-many-rivers-to-cross/history/on-african-american-migrations/
Gonzalez, A., Houston, M., & Chen, V. (2000). Our voices: Essays in culture, ethnicity, and communication. Los Angeles, CA: Roxbury.
Jamaica National Heritage Trust. (2014). Retrieved from www.jnht.com/index.php
Keenan, S. (2002). Scholastic encyclopedia of women in the United States. New York, NY. Scholastic.
Robinson, C. (1993). The iron thorn: The defeat of the British by the Jamaican Maroons. Kingston, Jamaica: LMH.
The Tainos. Retrieved from https://www.tumblr.com/search/native%20
Who we are is mirrored back to us and announced to the world by the symbols we surround ourselves with.
—Dr. Alberto Villoldo, Courageous Dreaming
As descendants of African heritage, oral history is vital to our very existence. We know that not all history is written in books. Much of our history has been stored in the minds of our people who lived it and passed it down throughout the generations by word of mouth and symbolic artifacts. For thousands of years people have passed on their memories by telling and retelling them. As a young girl growing up in Jamaica, my mother, aunts, and grandmother in particular shaped my upbringing through the stories they told us. My fragile emerging identity was buttressed by the examples of perseverance and heroism in the stories they told, and in particular, that of Nanny of the Maroons. These stories not only recalled our history and family life but they also presented us with guidelines for existing in the world. This storytelling was centrally rooted within a radical imaginary that nurtured a disenfranchised community to use cultural production to overcome oppression and inequity.
The memory rises in my mind as if it were yesterday. I was the 8-year-old narrator of the play on the Morant Bay rebellion put on at Oracabessa ← 23 | 24 → Primary School. Along with my peers, I dramatized Paul Bogle’s (one of Jamaica’s national heroes, killed by Governor Eyre in 1865) militant march into Morant Bay where he stood up to the governor and demanded that the rights of his people be recognized, etching into the national identity one of the most significant rebellions in the island’s history. While this dramatic story about Paul Bogle captured my attention as a significant one among the collections within our archival memory, it was the other hero(ine), the female one, who caught my attention and held me spellbound. This annual performance paved the road to my discovery of, and relationship with, Nanny of the Maroons, who soon became a focal point in my emerging identity.
The Terror of the Maroons
During my youth in school in Jamaica, Nanny and our cultural warriors such as Bogle and Marcus Garvey were a staple in our classroom pedagogy, presented to us by our parents and teachers as examples of our country’s fighting spirit and perseverance worthy of emulation. For a young developing country, it was important that we identified with heroes who provided us with a blueprint for productive living. Nanny was special as a female warrior who led the freedom movement in the Blue Mountains of Jamaica in such a manner that she became known as the thorn in the side of the British. For an impressionable child like me, in love with the beauty of language, this metaphor resonated. In time, this fearsome, Black Ashante warrior, female epitome of power, became for me the archetype of the Jamaican personae, and a mythic representation of myself.
A member of the Ashanti Tribe, Queen Nanny is presumed to have been born around the 1680s in Africa’s Gold Coast (now known as Ghana) and to have arrived in Jamaica around the 1700s. Her time of death is estimated to have been 1755. The Maroon community esteemed Nanny and bestowed upon her the identity of Queen Mother, a translation of the Koromante, Hni. This title has maintained its cultural significance and political agency throughout the years, and within this era, it is symbolic of agency and transformation within Jamaica and throughout the African Diaspora. Shepherd, Bereton, and Bailey (1995) referred to her as a historical woman who could not be ignored. Jamaica’s past and only female prime minister, Portia Simpson, often spoke of the spirit of Nanny when addressing the people of Jamaica (Simpson, 2014). ← 24 | 25 →
The rebel fighters acquired the name Maroon within a system whose vocabulary sought to inflict on them an identity that their very resistance rejected. The word maroon is said to have been derived from the Spanish cimarron, meaning wild and untamed, which was originally used as a descriptor for wild or runaway animals and on plantations where African/Black people were inventoried as part of the livestock. Sharpe (2003) noted that this was deliberate, part of the methodology of attempting to dehumanize Black people in the New World. It is one that bears connection to the historically heinous word, nigger, as used in the United States to denigrate African Americans.
The steep inclines and curvaceous landscape of the Blue Mountain territory welcomed the determined warriors and seemed to shield them within the deep folds of its thickly forested slopes. Nanny’s brother Cudjoe found solace and protection in the rugged limestone plateau of the Cockpit Country, where he established Cudjoe Town; nearby, another brother, Accompong, set up Accompong Town in the interior folds of St. Elizabeth. In keeping with the creative agency of Black people, the rebels did not succumb to the bureaucratic identity or use of pejorative terminology, but went on to assert their right to freedom and gave the Empire such a fight as to reduce the authority of slavery in the island. “Existing as autonomous pockets of resistance, the Maroons conducted raids on the surrounding plantations, ever increasing their numbers with new runaways” (Sharpe, 2003, p. 5).
Rucker (2015) emphasized that “Nothing is further from the truth than the popular belief that the African in the New World was in love with slavery and succumbed calmly to it. The fact is that he rebelled against it from the United States to Argentina without number” (p. 222). Robinson (1993) noted, “A disheartened Governor Hunter wrote home to say that: The terror of them spreads itself everywhere” (pp. 48–49).
A Thorn in Their Side
Folklore suggests that Nanny was descended from royal blood and possessed a demeanor of self-assurance and leadership. Instead of settling into a life of servitude when she arrived aboard a slaver in Jamaica, she set her sights on the mountainous terrain and escaped into the interior to become a fierce freedom fighter intent on pushing back against the tyranny of slavery.
As the legend goes, Nanny marched deep into the heart of Jamaican Blue Mountain territory and immediately began to establish a community of ← 25 | 26 → practice centered on freedom and resistance to tyranny. She garnered weapons from the objects around until she and her people were eventually able to confiscate weapons from the enemy when they dared to venture into the interior. Rebel ex-slaves who escaped into the mountains joined Nanny’s band to become members of the Windward Maroons. Empowered and determined, she confronted limitations that socially organized women into stereotypical categories, leading and fighting alongside her brothers. Her four brothers assembled similar groups along the island’s interior to form the Leeward Maroons, and the groups courageously engaged the British in warfare which led to the signing of peace treaties in 1739. This resulted in the Maroons gaining sovereignty over the land, which remains in their possession to this day. At the time, the Maroons negotiated for conditions that would enable them to maintain a livelihood. For example, the Articles of Pacification signed by both Leeward and Windward Maroons state that Maroon women could apply for licenses in order to sell their hogs, fowls, and any other kind of stock or provisions in public markets.
These stories, which acknowledge and celebrate the fighting spirit of our African ancestors, were the substance of my classroom experience. Miss Parker, my elementary school teacher at Oracabessa Primary, Jamaica, guarded education with the utmost care. The desire to impart knowledge and prepare her students for the world seemed to burn like a flame within her breast. And she was determined to make us understand the value of an education in a country where only the privileged few got an opportunity to move onto higher education. In retrospect, Miss Parker exemplified the empowered spirit of Nanny of the Maroons. She did all she could to bring the community into the school via authentic experiences. Spelling bees, pageants, essay contests, sports day were all communal affairs and her students were the key players, with unencumbered space to demonstrate our abilities. It seemed that anyone, from the town’s only physician to the market woman, would stop us at any given time while we were walking home from school to challenge us to an on-the-spot spelling test or quiz us to name the parishes of Jamaica, the names of the political leaders, or the location of rivers, for example. Miss Parker was instrumental in fostering in me an awareness of the power of education and community as well as an enduring love of learning. One of my strongest memories is the preparation for and participation in the national hero’s pageant on the life and contribution of Paul Bogle, the event that sparked my interest in Nanny of the Maroons. Perhaps it was then that the seed was sown; this desire to continue the storytelling and etch our history into the annals of ← 26 | 27 → written literature to endure from generation to generation, pushing its way into the official discourse.
Oracabessa Primary School sits across the street from Oracabessa Wharf, now owned by Chris Blackwell and renamed James Bond Beach. Growing up in the seaside town of Oracabessa, my heart pulsed in rhythm with the excitement of my connection to Nanny of the Maroons, a Black woman of African heritage who lived and fought in my homeland, Jamaica. She planted seeds for me to reap and nourish my life. I felt joyous that a woman had the courage and the strength to consistently defy a mighty army to earn the metaphor of a thorn in their side. Her story opened up a world of possibilities for me; she presented the other side of the mirror of what it meant to be a woman, the otherness of the female who was the nurturing care-giver whose central role was to take care of the family at home. Within the context of the plantation hierarchy, as a Black woman, she would have been regulated to a nonhuman status. Within the context of freedom, she demonstrated her humanity and her ingenuity as a warrior and community leader. Multifaceted, this dynamic character was majestic, militant, and Black. A warrior in the field, she pushed the boundaries of the female stereotype to etch an identity of female empowerment disrupting oppression.
Challenging Empirical Data: African Diaspora Women and the Assertion of Agency
Nanny’s agency is similar to that of historical women who asserted themselves and intentionally engaged in nontraditional roles within the societies wherever they were located. In acknowledging the privileging of the story of Nanny of the Maroons in this text, I must also acknowledge the heroism and agency of many other Black women of courage across the New World landscape who fought courageously against slavery and the injustice it wrought, though very little is written about them within textbooks and other forms of recorded literature. Less than 100 miles away from Jamaica, within the Spanish colony of Cuba, in 1843 the Lukimi/Yoruba freedom fighter Carlota, along with three male counterparts, organized an uprising on the Triunvirato plantation, which spread to include several others. Like Nanny, she is revered within anti-slavery folklore as a warrior and a martyr who died in 1844 fighting for an end to slavery. She is memorialized in Cuba as an agent of change and a precursor to the 1959 revolution. The storyline etching together the heroism ← 27 | 28 → of warriors such as Queen Nzinga of Angola (1581–1663), who courageously battled the Portuguese for decades, and Mary Prince, who exposed the horrors of the Caribbean slave trade in her book The History of Mary Prince: A West Indian Slave (1831), is an important thread that connects the diverse communities of African descendants across the globe. This is a storyline that tells the story of how disenfranchised people find opportunities for creative resistance in marginalized spaces.
It is important that steps be taken to use innovative sources, including oral history, to fill the gaps in the empirical data which do not acknowledge the significance of these women’s contributions. As Terborg-Penn (1995) stated, finding paths for recreating women’s views about their experiences is essential. In using the frame of the African Feminist theory, she emphasized the value of challenging the empirical data and revising the secondary sources in ways that highlight the agency asserted by Black women throughout the Diaspora. She shared that from her research she has discovered that throughout various regions of the African continent, common values in women’s experiences provided a synthesis that can be used to establish a model to view women of the Diaspora. She has discerned that the very ideology asserted by Nanny of the Maroons is re-conceptualized by African-descended women who stand up with great resistance to social, economic, and political threats to their communities. “Among the unifying themes I identified were the leadership of older women, several of whom were revered because of their spiritual powers and contributions to community survival” (p.14), she stated, emphasizing that like Queen Ann Nzinga (Angola), Grandy Nanny (Jamaica), and Harriet “Moses” Tubman (United States), these women sustained the community.
The story of Nanny can be one important way for “reconstructing the history of black people and other women of colour, whether their lives are lived in the Caribbean or other areas of the diaspora” (Terborg-Penn, 1995, p. 17). My work as an educator is self-consciously infused with the agency to emphasize the need to alter historical epistemologies in presenting Nanny of the Maroons’ contribution to political struggles in the Diaspora. This story is instructive in bringing the world to disenfranchised children, especially as it shows how an ordinary person can muster the courage and the tools to become a human being of heroic stature.
Interestingly, this history of the fighting spirit of Black women during colonial and post-colonial times is not referenced in the history books used in schools. There is nothing that speaks of the innovative ways in which they ← 28 | 29 → tackled the inequities they faced and the creative ways in which they prevailed as leading figures in sustaining their communities. Colonial discourse on slavery and post-colonial societies has traditionally been told through colonial diaries and travelogues of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. One has to read between the lines of such documents to get at the truth, for it was not in the disposition of the enslaver to highlight the bravery or valor of their victims. Told from the perspective of the colonist, the plantation world of the slaves and their colonizers was one of European civility and African savagery. It is one that portrays the planters’ stereotypical reflections of what they considered the slaves to be, typically speaking/writing from an assumption of superiority in a manner which missed the resistance stance of the slaves and the authority of their cultural practices. “Those written in the 18th and early 19th centuries were couched in the language of pro-slavery ideology and were aimed at impeding the emancipation struggles on both sides of the Atlantic,” Stolzoff (2000, p. xiii) affirmed, reminding us of the need to re-problematize existing theory and critique the dominant system of knowledge. Stolzoff continued that most of these chroniclers were supporters of—or at least apologists for—slavery. They were usually unable to detect distinct cultural patterns in what they were watching, as their prejudice clouded their ability to notice anything more than “impromptu” activities born of the “caprice of the moment” (Stolzoff, 2000, p. 29). Blinded by their notion of their racial superiority, they missed the nuances of the cultural creativity, practiced skill, and artistic imagination of Africans enacted in the daily rituals of plantation life. These were the very sources that nourished and replenished the African’s capacity to stand up and prevail.
“In refusing to let the slave masters dictate their every move, the slaves advanced their own cultural agenda and political autonomy, gaining a sense of freedom and spiritual transcendence” (Stolzoff, 2000, p. 30). Quoting James Scott (1990), Stolzoff (2000) noted that slaves practiced everyday forms of resistance such as mocking, ridiculing, and generally avoiding work. In particular, he emphasized, the dance was used as an oppositional practice and rallying point for forms of political resistance and outright rebellion.
Nanny’s Spiritual Transcendence
From the wellspring of memory, I pull the legends of Nanny, an inspired warrior and reflective leader charged with the agency for freedom. Her community respected her military prowess as well as her spiritual leadership and healing ← 29 | 30 → abilities. She was highly regarded for her connection to the land, especially with the daily evidence of her skills in utilizing its resources to assist in the fight against the Imperialists. Her commitment to guerilla warriorship was so inspiring to her community members that it became part of the vernacular that she was even more man than her husband Adu (Campbell, 1988). Folklore speaks of the science as well as the spirituality of Nanny with stories of how she used the land as a tangible force in her fight against the British. These tales reveal a symbiotic relationship with the land which directed, guided, and protected her and her people. She used the ravines, caves, and rivers as tools of empowerment, cunningly harnessing these natural properties to nurture her people and support them in battle.
One tale has Nanny deploying the rising steam from the river to stop the British soldiers in their tracks as they sought to attack the guerilla warriors in the interior of the island. Seeing steam apparently rising from a pot with no fire under it, the soldiers were overcome with fear, being reminded of the lore that Nanny possessed powers of witchcraft (obeah). Even as I tackled the emotional aspect of learning about the slave trade, these stories excited and emboldened me, for Nanny represented a fighting spirit that inspired me in its declaration that justice was always attainable; albeit not without struggle. She declared to me that I could pursue alternative paths in my own life. I simply claimed her!
Reflective Conversations: Question! Reflect! Write!
1. What important information about history does the author convey in this chapter?
2. What opportunities are there in your life in school to use the knowledge that you have gained from reading this chapter?
3. The author states that Nanny of the Maroons has played a significant role in the shaping of her identity. Write a summary of the author’s discussion of the ways in which this historical figure has influenced her life. ← 30 | 31 →
Campbell, Mavis. (1988). The Maroons of Jamaica 1655–1796: A history of, resistance, collaboration and betrayal. South Hadley, Mass.: Bergin and Garvey.
Robinson, C. (1993). The iron thorn: The defeat of the British by the Jamaicans. Kingston, Jamaica: LMH Publishing.
Rucker, W. (2015). Gold coast diasporas: Identity, culture and power. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.
Sharpe, J. (2003). The ghosts of slavery: A literary archeology of black women’s lives. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
Shepherd, V., Bereton, B., & Bailey, B. (1995). Engendering history: Caribbean women in historical perspective. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press.
Simpson, P. (2014). New Year’s Day speech. Retrieved from Jis.gov.jm
Stolzoff, N. (2000). Wake the town and tell the people: Dancehall culture in Jamaica. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Terborg-Penn, R. (1995). Through an African feminist theoretical lens: Viewing Caribbean women’s history cross-culturally. In V. Shepherd, B. Brereton, & B. Bailey (Eds.), Engendering history: Caribbean women in historical perspective. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press. ← 31 | 32 →
When you follow the path of your mother, you learn to walk like her.
Tek Yo Han Mek Fashion
Identity theorists note the value of role models from one’s cultural background. They state how important it is for young people to see heroes and heroines reflected in their own image. Such images become symbolic of the possibilities for children to attain highly. Nanny, in particular, stood large as a remarkable symbol of liberation rooted within a history of colonialization, power struggle, emancipation, and eventual independence. Her story has had a profound impact on my identity and the practice I have selected to pursue. It is a story that admits to the vagaries of life and the vulnerabilities that impact us. Yet it is a story about the human capacity to acknowledge one’s frailty and, with dogged determination, gather the resources at hand and move on. From the bowels of our storytelling, my teachers and family inscribed in our consciousness the Jamaican saying, “Tek yo han mek fashion.” Translated, this means use any available resources at hand and fashion ← 33 | 34 → something creative from the diverse possibilities that life presents to tackle the challenges that confront you. Implicit in this worldview is the notion that failure is not an option.
In my West Indian History class in Jamaica I learned that this was the prevailing sentiment that characterized the Jamaican spirit following Emancipation, where many ex-slaves, making the transition from slavery to freedom, avowed, “me no ka fe hire out meself again.” They chose to struggle to etch out a path of independence after hundreds of years of servitude. In this way, the ex-slaves asserted their autonomy by declaring that they would engage in creative endeavors to utilize the resources at hand to make something worthwhile. This ideology is reflected in the stance and economic viability of Jamaica’s Informal Commercial Importers (locally known as “higglers”), who became an active and prominent force from the 1990s to the 2000s, and the Dancehall Queens of the same time period. These women’s endeavors within the international marketplace, traveling overseas to purchase goods and resell them at a profit, demonstrate their ingenuity within a capitalist marketplace that would erroneously label them as simple market women. They represent the fighting spirit of women of the Diaspora, using every opportunity to tek dem han mek fashion and situate themselves without apology within the economy as breadwinners for their families. Similarly, the Dancehall Queens of Jamaica have forcibly entered a male-dominated marketplace to assert themselves as both a creative bloc and viable income earners (Stolzoff, 2000). These African Caribbean women positioned themselves as strategists rather than victims, gathering the resources at hand into economic and social strengths. This is the very spirit of survival and perseverance that Nanny and other women of the African Diaspora exhibited centuries ago.
Shepherd, Brereton, and Bailey (1995) emphasized the pivotal role women played during and after slavery, navigating themselves within the capitalist plantation complex to acquire their own economic viability. My investigation of colonial documents reveals both the outright and subtle ways women pushed back against injustice and asserted themselves. Bell & Morrell (1968) commented on women in Whitehall, St. Elizabeth, during the Apprenticeship period (a set of years earmarked for the gradual transfer of slavery into freedom), “Women and young people being particular aggressors; loose themselves of their former restraints, they set their unruly tongues also at liberty” (p. 395). Shepherd, Brereton, and Bailey reminded us that women were ← 34 | 35 → indeed not peripheral during the colonial and post-colonial period. Ex-slaves’ resistance strategies frustrated and threatened to defeat the objectives of the Apprenticeship period as was stated by W. Williams, Chairman-Resolutions of the Parish of Portland, Jamaica.
These intentions, as declared in the preamble to their Bill, were to promote industry and secure the good conduct of the persons to be manumitted. But these persons, instead of pursuing industrious habits, are not performing even half a day’s work, while they are demanding a rate of wages far too exorbitant for any proprietor to afford, and at the same time are refusing to pay a fair rent for their houses and grounds. (Bell & Morrell, 1968, p. 409).
Storytelling and the Forging of a Radical Caribbean Imaginary
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