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Queen Nanny of the Maroons

When I first started researching women in history, who would wear headwrap, I remember finding Queen Nanny of the Maroons in a headwrap on a 500 dollars note from Jamaica. She is the only recognized national hero in Jamaica, born in Ghana. The most notable rebel woman in Jamaica's history has an intriguing yet shadowed in mystery history. She was a powerful military leader and strategist who transcended gender stereotypes to lead her people.

I´ve summarized her story in based on Lauren Eberle´s paper Nanny of the Maroons. Lauren Eberle is a junior sociology major from Crystal Lake, Illinois. She wrote this paper for Dr. Rosemary Onyango's.

Renee Cox - Nanny of the Maroons

"Nanny was not born into the Maroons, rather she came from Ghana. Information about how Nanny integrated herself into the Maroon communities is non-existent. She is only mentioned in text four times: all by British individuals who she encountered. Despite there being little written information about her, Nanny is considered to be "the personified symbol of black resistance against white oppression by the Maroons and others." According to Mozambican historian and novelist Mario Azevedo, Nanny was known by both her own people and the British as an incredible political and military leader. (...) She did not engage in the fighting herself, although she did kill and have put to death many British soldiers. She is credited with teaching her soldiers, some 3,000 by one count, how to use a cow horn for long distance communication by blowing into it. A British junior officer described her as "[having] a girdle around her waist, with nine or ten different knives hanging in sheaths to it, many of which I doubt not had been plunged into human flesh and blood. Karla Gottlieb, (in The Mother of Us All: A History of Queen Nanny, Leader of the Windward Jamaican Maroons) estimates that throughout the fighting, only 100 Maroons were killed in comparison to the thousands of British. Nanny clearly was a formidable foe, but that was not all for which she was known."

Statue of Queen Nanny in Saint Andrew, Jamaica

"Before we can discuss Nanny in much detail, we must first understand the social setting in which she lived. The Maroons of Jamaica were communities of escaped slaves who lived in the more treacherous, mountainous areas of the island. According to historian Karla Gottlieb, there were two main groups: the Windward Maroons (inhabiting the eastern part of Jamaica) and the Leeward Maroons (from the western section of the island). The Spanish ruled in Jamaica for around 150 years, killing off the native population. African slaves were often sent into the mountains to herd cattle and hunt, so many became familiar with the terrain. When the British took control of Jamaica in 1655, the Spanish fled, but most of the slaves remained. They fled into the hills and formed their own community. This group was the foundation of what would become the Maroons. The people of the Maroons would raid plantations and steal guns, ammunition, food, and would free slaves to join them."

“She was particularly important to them in the fierce fight with the British, during the First Maroon War from 1720 to 1739. Although she has been immortalized in songs and legends, certain facts about Nanny (or "Granny Nanny", as she was affectionately known) have also been documented.”

"Dependence on oral tradition does make fact checking difficult—yet these oral sources are all we have. We know for sure that the reason Nanny did not sign the treaty was not because of her death: she did sign a land agreement in 1740. Whatever the case, Nanny was no longer active after 1740, or so we can assume, because oral history does not tell us any more about her after that year. Nanny transcends gender stereotypes because of her powerful leadership. While she was married to a man named Adou, she did not have any children of her own, defying gender stereotypes of the time. In 1976, Nanny was named National Hero of Jamaica, and she is now on the Jamaican $500 bill. Women do not end up honored on currency often. The honor is thus significant. Nanny of the Maroons was a powerful, black, female historical figure. While she is left out of most history books, she is no less valuable. The people of the Maroons still honor her to this day, claiming her spirit lives on. Nanny's story is unique and deserves to be heard. To use Karla Gottlieb's words, "Nanny was the Queen mother of her people, the most brilliant strategist and general the British were ever going to encounter (either before or since), and a spiritual guide for her people." Nanny was all this, and a woman, something that we do not see often in history. She was a woman and a spiritual leader, a woman and a politician, a woman and military strategist. She should not be forgotten."

Based on the paper Nanny of the Maroons by Lauren Eberle


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