On Sunday, Arnold Bertram, historian and former politician, in an interview with veteran journalist Earl Moxam, posited that the Maroons demonstrated that the British colonial power and army could be defeated. The contribution of Maroons to Jamaica’s emancipation should be respected. Unfortunately, it is becoming fashionable to belittle the contribution of the Maroons and ridicule their positions and policies. Furthermore, the mistakes of the Maroons are highlighted while their major achievements are minimised.
The Maroons were runaways from slavery. The Jamaican Maroons are descendants from runaways who were formerly enslaved and who established free communities in the mountainous interior of Jamaica during the period of British slavery. The two main Maroon groups in the 18th century were the Leeward Maroons (Cockpit Country) and the Windward Maroons (Blue Mountains); the former led by Cudjoe, and the latter led by his sister, Queen Nanny
NANNY’S LEADERSHIP Queen Nanny is the only national heroine. She was known for her exceptional leadership skills. Nanny showed that a woman leader could outfox, out-think and out-strategise the military might of the British. This was a major victory for people of colour. Nanny and the Maroons were not seen as being humans: they had no political, economic, social or spiritual rights. Nevertheless, the Maroons outsmarted those who claimed they were superior based on colour, creed, civilisation and character. The myth of white supremacists was exploded and the world was never the same again
In 1738, the British governor in Jamaica signed a treaty with two major Maroon communities, promising them 2,500 acres of land and them living under their own chief. The Maroons were semi-autonomous; they had formal recognition and exemption from taxation and had agreed not to harbour the other enslaved persons who ran away. In addition, they pledged not to attempt to overthrow the slavery system
The Maroons have been rightly criticised for not supporting the liberation of others from chattel slavery or working for the overthrow of the slavery system. It is a weakness of human nature. Many immigrants do not want to see other immigrants enter their country and enjoy greener pastures. We all have an Achilles heel
Some are even claiming that Maroons are not patriotic because they are holding on to the tenets of the 18th century treaty, thereby creating a state within a state. However, present political garrisons create a state within a state. Also, foreign embassies create a state within a state and are not subject to the laws of Jamaica. The United States, England and others have treaties of old which benefit them even now as part of their realm and their dependences. So ‘llow the Maroons dem
WISE PEOPLE There was nobility in the Maroon struggle. They could not be conquered by violence. The treaty showed that Maroons could also engage in discussion, dialogue and decision-making. The Maroons were wise and flexible
George William Gordon, now national hero, at the January 19, 1863 sitting in the House of Assembly said, “There was no class of people to whom the country was more indebted than the Maroons . . . They had distinguished themselves as faithful subjects of the King or Queen, as the case might be; they had distinguished themselves for their intelligence … they were always jealous of encroachments on their rights and privileges, considering themselves a superior class of people.” [Parliamentary Debates of Jamaica, Commencing From the Fourth Session of the First General Assembly, Under the New Constitution Vol X. (Sinclair, Kingston, 1864) 45.] The Maroons were respected by Gordon
Jamaicans should respect the Maroons because they have left a template for sustained subversion of imperialism and colonialism through astute raiding of plantations as well as through negotiations and compromise
Rev Devon Dick is pastor of the Boulevard Baptist Church in St Andrew. He is author of ‘The Cross and the Machete’, and ‘Rebellion to Riot’. Send feedback to [email protected] .