Queen Nanny of the Maroons, a strong and determined military leader descended from a small tribal group in Ghana called the Ashanti, became a very prominent and historical figure in Jamaica, as she was responsible for freeing the slaves that British soldiers kept on plantations.
Nanny was a sign of hope and power among the slaves of Jamaica. They were being mistreated and oppressed by the British but hoped that the powerful “Queen of the Mountain” would free and protect them.
Nanny’s story becomes a little bit mixed up in the beginning, she was born around 1686 and is said that perhaps she came from “royal blood” and traveled to East Jamaica with 3 “brothers” who could have been slaves of her own, to rebel against the British. It is also said that she and her 3 “brothers” were captured from their tribe in central Ghana, and shipped off to Jamaica where they were able to escape into the Eastern Mountains (Blue Mountains) and start their plans to rebel against the British.
Despite some confusion on her arrival to Jamaica, she created a “safe place” in the Eastern “Blue” Mountains, which came to be called Nanny Town. There, she would train freed slaves how to fight and outsmart the British. Nanny was an expert in guerrilla warfare and focused on camouflage tactics to be carried out by her people so that they could keep the British out from invading the mountains where they hid in.
Because of her expert skills, she was able to confuse the British soldiers when they were in battle. Several accounts of battle between the Maroons and British show how fearful and surprised the British were when they faced Nanny’s tactics. One account is from a British soldier who claimed to have seen 10ft tall trees moving around and “swallowing men up whole.” Another story tells of a boiling cauldron in the middle of the jungle with no fire underneath, and when soldiers would look into it, they would fall in and die. There was even an “impossible” story of how her people in the mountain were almost near to starvation, but she had found pumpkin seeds in her pocket, planted them, and they grew within weeks, therefore saving her people. The last two accounts describe a kind of “magic”. Nanny was widely known among her people as a “witch”. She passed down stories that promoted the continuation of certain customs, music, and songs that her people carried with them from Africa and other places they were taken from; these things boosted her people’s confidence and they felt stronger and enlightened by Nanny’s ways. This magic and “witchcraft” was known as Obeah. Obeah is a mix of religions from Trinidad, Tobago, Guyana, Barbados, and Belize. It it similar to the voodoo and hoodoo from Haiti where it is referred to as “good and bad magic”. Obeah is also known as Dibia or Obia which is loosely rooted from Igbo traditions.
The end of Nanny’s life also becomes a bit blurry in that there is no definite account of her death. Some say that she died around 1730 by murder, others say she grew to be old and died around 1740 or 1750. After the first Maroon War, Nanny town was destroyed but was later built again and came to be known as Moore Town, there, a “bump grave” was made in her honor and she also earned the title “right excellent” which only 7 national figures hold. This is particularly special because she happens to be the only woman on that list. She was also put on the $500 Jamaican bill, which is the most largely circulated currency in Jamaica, is the logo for the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition at Yale University, and has a residential community in Kingston, Jamaica named after her, called Nannyville gardens.
Featured Photo – Queen Nanny
Boley, Oklahoma (1903- ) | The Black Past: Remembered and Reclaimed, blackpast.org/gah/queen-nanny-maroons-1733.
“Queen Nanny of the Winward Maroons: Mother to All Jamaicans.” Black Then, 30 June 2017, blackthen.com/queen-nanny-of-the-winward-maroons-mother-to-all-jamaicans/.
“Nanny of the Maroons – Jamaican National Hero.” Jamaica Information Service, jis.gov.jm/information/heroes/nanny-of-the-maroons/.
“Black History Month – Jamaica’s Queen Nanny Of The Maroons.” Fun Times Magazine, 8 Mar. 2018, funtimesmagazine.com/black-history-month-jamaicas-queen-nanny-maroons/.
“Queen Nanny of the Windward Maroons Has Largely Been Ignored by Historians Who Have Restricted Their Focus to Male Figures in Maroon History. Learn More about Jamaica Only Female National Hero.” Jamaicans.com, 8 Aug. 2004, jamaicans.com/queennanny/.