Nanny of the Maroons – Part 2
In looking at how Nanny became a Jamaican hero and possibly the most ideal female role model that a child could have, I’ve just finished the book ‘The Mother of Us All: A History of Queen Nanny’ by Karla Gottlieb. Gottlieb covers all aspects of Nanny in her research from her significance as a fierce military leader of the Windward Maroons to the mystical Obeah woman of folklore.
Picking through this at first to find references to children’s stories for Scratchy and Zoomer, I became caught up in the whole history and read it cover to cover. Gottlieb explores the theory that Nanny was never enslaved and that she was a princess of the Akan people in Africa who upon hearing of the plight of her people came to Jamaica aboard a slave ship with her sister Sekesu in a quest to free them. On arrival Sekesu was taken to a plantation to work as a slave whilst Nanny escaped to form the Windward Maroons. It is said therefore that all Maroons are the metaphorical children of Nanny and that all Jamaican non maroons are the children of Sekesu.
The first tale of Nanny’s Obeah powers emerge when the Maroons are initially struggling in their fight against the British. Outnumbered and half starving, the Maroons need a miracle and Nanny delivers this in the form of supernatural pumpkins. Nanny is chosen by her ancestor spirits to be a leader and protector of her people. When they speak to her, the ancestors encourage Nanny not to give in to the British and to keep fighting. When Nanny awoke there were a handful of pumpkin seeds in her pocket which she planted on a nearby hill. The pumpkins grew incredible in size and quantity to save the whole community from starvation, giving them new strength to fight. From this point on the Maroons became a powerful force in their use of guerrilla warfare and tactics.
(these were quick illustrations I did for Zoomer and Scratchy as I couldnt find any childrens books as yet on the stories)
Nanny is viewed as the strategic leader behind both Maroon attacks and defence. She is often pictured with an Abeng which has become symbolic of the Maroons resistance and revered for its ability to defeat the British. The Abeng is a hollowed out cow horn, used in much the same way as an African talking drum. Its call informed other Maroons of the location of the British troops giving them ample warning of their approach. It was also used to give the illusion that there were many more Maroons than there really were.
Nanny Town was well fortified and did not allow anyone to approach it other than in single file. This enabled the Maroons to engage in one on one battle. Nanny Town had the additional advantage of ‘The Pot’. In Phyllis Cousins account of this story in ‘Queen of the Mountain’ Nanny says:
“You all know the power of my magic, and that I have used it to protect you from the English. Now, more than ever, I will keep you from harm up here. I have called the spirits to aid me, and they have given me the Pot. Follow me!” p23
This boiling pot existed at the fork of two rivers, a place where mystified British soldiers were overcome by its fumes and fell in.
The most popular of all Nanny stories though is her ability to catch bullets and return them.
'Then the British shot at the Maroons until they didn't have any more bullets, and Nanny would just catch them in her hands and when she throw them back just with her hands, they were deadly, but the British shot all their bullets and they couldn't hit a single Maroon' A Maroon account p 52 (Gottleib)
Surely there are children’s books that look at each Nanny story individually and tell the stories in a kid friendly way; Nannys supernatural pumpkins, Nannys hot pot and Nanny catches bullets? I will keep searching.
These stories do not exist solely in the past and many people believe that the spirit of Nanny is still amongst them. Her legend lives on as does her legacy of struggle and resistance.