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Nanny of the Maroons

Nanny of the Maroons

c. 1700
c. 1750

Nanny, a national heroine of Jamaica, was the leader of the Windward Maroons, ex-slaves living in interior communities in the eastern or windward area of Jamaica during colonial times. As such, her history is integrated with that of the Maroons, warriors fundamental to the history of resistance in the Caribbean. Next to the Guianas, Jamaica had the largest Maroon community in the British-colonized Caribbean, with Portland, St. Thomas-in-the-East, St. Mary, Trelawny, and St. Elizabeth being the parishes with the largest centers of Maroon settlement. Marronage, derived from Maroons, signifies flight to the forest or mountains (or by sea to other territories) and the formation of Maroon communities. The height of marronage activity came after 1655, when the English captured Jamaica from the Spaniards. Between 1655 and 1739, when the first Maroon War ended, Maroon Towns had been established firmly at Accompong (St. Elizabeth), Trelawny Town (the Leeward Maroons in the Cockpit country), Scott's Hall (St. Mary), and at Crawford Town, Nanny Town, and Moore Town in the Blue Mountain range of eastern Jamaica (the Windward Maroons).

Nanny has emerged as the most important female figure in the history of the liberation struggles in Jamaica. Her name (properly Nanani ) was derived from the Akan (Ghanaian) word meaning "ancestress" and "mother," and this establishes her ethnic origin. It is widely believed that she was born in Africa in the late seventeenth century and was transported to Jamaica with captives via the transatlantic trade. There are differing views about whether or not she arrived in Jamaica as an enslaved woman or as a free black woman with enslaved people of her own. Some say she was married to Cudjoe, a Maroon leader, others to a man named Adou. Nanny's exploits in eastern Jamaica in the eighteenth century are both real and legendary, although, as a historical figure, she has more visibility than the majority of black women in pre-emancipation Jamaica. For some, she exists as a shadowy, mythical figure with supernatural powers; an Obeah woman (meaning she would have been a practitioner of the religious belief of African origin involving folk magic practiced in some parts of the Caribbean) whose pumpkin seeds, after only a few days of being planted, sprouted miraculously to feed her starving people, and whom bullets from British muskets could not harm, for she had the power to catch them in a certain part of her anatomy (following that genre of writing that represents female resisters as unsexed amazons).

But Maroon historiography details her real existence and contribution to Jamaican resistance history. She is credited, both in the oral and written history, with employing guerilla tacticsespecially between 1724 and 1739to help her people to defeat the British, uniting the Maroon communities in Jamaica, and negotiating land for her people as part of the 1739 treaty with the British. Her original base, Nanny Town, was destroyed by the British in 1734. Moore Town (or New Nanny Town) then became the primary town of the Windward Maroons. As a military leader, her historical presence predictably diminished in the post-treaty period. She is believed to have died around 1750.

See also Folklore: Latin American and Caribbean Culture Heroes and Characters; Maroon Wars; Runaway Slaves in Latin America and the Caribbean; Women and Politics in Latin America and the Caribbean


Brathwaite, Kamau. Wars of Respect: Nanny, Sam Sharpe, and the Struggle for People's Liberation. Kingston, Jamaica: Agency for Public Information, 1977.

Carey, Beverley. Maroon Story: The Authentic and Original History of the Maroons in the History of Jamaica, 14901880. Gordon Town, Jamaica: Agouti Press, 1997.

Gottleib, Karla. The Mother of Us All: A History of Queen Nanny, Leader of the Windward Jamaican Maroons. London: Africa World Press, 2000.

Mathurin Mair, Lucille. The Rebel Woman in the British West Indies during Slavery. Kingston, Jamaica: Institute of Jamaica, 1975.

Sharpe, Jenny. Ghosts of Slavery: A Literary Archaeology of Black Women's Lives Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003.

verene a. shepherd (2005)

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