Back To Roots

So you remember back in February I was wondering what Ms. Dynamite was up to? I found out, thanks to one of my new favorite sites — Racialicious.

Turns out she’s been in Jamaica working on a BBC documentary about the Maroons, which aired last Sunday on BBC 2. I’d love to see this documentary.

I’ve always been fascinated by the history of the Jamaican Maroons, a group of rebel slaves who, rather than be subjugated into slavery by the British, fled to the Blue Mountains and joined forces with other slaves who had escaped the Spanish and lived with the remaining Taino Indians.

The Maroons would raid the plantations at dawn, taking food and sometimes their fellow slaves back with them. Their ferocity and knowledge of the back country made them formidable opponents to the British plantocracy, and in 1739 the British ended their ongoing and impossible war with the Maroons, and signed a treaty with them, recognizing them as a free people.

Forgive my Wikipediaesque truncation of history, here. I was a creative writing, not a history major.

Of course, Ms. Dynamite’s documentary explores the importance of Queen Nanny of the Maroons, a strong woman celebrated today as one of Jamaica’s national heroes, who was known as a fearless warrior who planned guerilla warfare against the occupiers.

In this BBC News interview, Ms. Dynamite discusses the impact Queen Nanny made on her:

A lot of the people I’ve learnt about in black history are African-Americans, like Harriet Tubman and Rosa Parks, whereas with Nanny, she was straight from Africa to the West Indies. What I learnt in Jamaica made me feel really empowered as a woman. You can put the blackness aside – I think it is important for any woman to read or learn the story of this woman and leader.

If you go just a few years back, a woman’s role in the war was to be a nurse or something nurturing as opposed to being on the front line and firing at people. That’s something that Nanny took on herself and actually led men. I find that really, really overwhelming and empowering as a woman.

Big respect to Ms. Dynamite for shining a light on a forgotten corner of history, and for taking the time to actually go and explore and discover the truth about these brave people.

Her documentary was aired as part of a series of tributes and memoriams worldwide, commemorating the 200th anniversary of the UK slave trade on March 25.

Symbolic events were held worldwide, to remember and confront the history of our people. I think the gesture of apology and the outpouring of grief is important. It’s certainly better than whitewashing the past and pretending that slavery didn’t forever shape the course of the world. Which quite a few other people are doing.

I found myself annoyed, but not surprised by this opinion piece in the Guardian Unlimited, where the writer facetiously compares slavery to the Irish potato famine.

The notion that I might be shaped and directed by a famine from the 1800s is stark raving mad. And yet today, serious commentators claim that black people in modern Britain are disadvantaged, dejected and “scarred” as a result of the slave trade, which was abolished 200 years ago. Of course, there is no real comparison between the Irish famine (a four-year-long hunger) and the slave trade (a gross historic injustice), yet the idea that any of us is directly made and moulded by an historical event is absurd.

It is narrow-minded and fatalistic, even borderline racist. In the past, some people said blacks were driven by their biology; today, so-called progressives claim blacks are driven by history. Is there really a great difference between biological determinism and historical determinism? Both view black people as wide-eyed children, moved and motivated by forces beyond their control.

After reading that article, I was left with a feeling of utter frustration. I don’t even know where to begin disseminating his argument. This is why people wind up using dismissive cliches like “it’s a black thing, you wouldn’t understand.” The African slave trade can’t really be compared to any historic tragedy. All anyone needs to do is look at Africa to see the undeniable effects of that horrific era. I agree that amazing strides have been made worldwide — we have so much to celebrate today about where we are, but there is still so much further for us to go. The shadows of slavery are still here, standing over all of us. And to not take the time to look back, to show solidarity and respect to the people who brought us here, whose blood and sweat built nations — to deny the weight of the day — would be so wrong on so many levels.

Trinidadian activist (and my high school friend) Attilah Springer wrote a beautiful post about the Trinidadian celebration in Woodford Square. Even in Trinidad, there were the anti-apologists who didn’t see the big fuss about remembering the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade, who downcried it as being “too Afrocentric.” As if such a thing exists.

Attilah responded by looking back to her own family history:

The story of my family up to one generation ago is full of boats. One generation. I guess that’s why immigration laws don’t make sense to me.”

And her conclusion says it better than I could:

Rather than forget, we should try to remember, to wring every ancestral memory from our consciousness. To recognize the elephant in the room. To begin to engage in conversations where we can say, hey listen I feel like I need to say this to you about something that happened a century ago. That’s where the revolution needs to happen.”

I’m with her, and with Ms. Dynamite. Luciano’s song, “I Remember When,” adds musical perspective to that view. This recent anniversary made me want to learn more about my ancestors, and to explore the dark chapters of history that I’ve chosen to look away from. Perhaps now that I’m older, I can face the relics I remember seeing in the museum as a teenager, the rusting thumb and tongue screws I didn’t want to see or understand back then.

I think we all need to look back, learn, and talk about the painful past. By doing that, we can face our future with renewed strength and resolve.

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Comments

  1. I live in Uk so we had a chance to see it. It was really good! Well done Ms Dynamite!

  2. Neosoulbeauty says:

    Hey Bella, thanks for sharing. I learned about the Maroons a few years ago and try to share my knowledge about it along with others. The Maroons can be found in the Carribean, North and South America. I wish that I was able to see this documentary.

  3. In the UK can u believe that some ppl are so stupid they believe racism does not exist? They think that there are no differences if you are black or white. In fact, when I tell most my white friends that I have experienced racism they look so shocked.

    Slavery still has it’s effects because ppl look down on u because of your colour, i.e you are not seen as an equal. However, black ppl do not have racism as an excuse as to why they do not succed. This is because there have been many strong black ppl, such as Madame CJ Walker, who despite being black in a period when racism was rife still made it to the top. We should use the things are forefathers over came as a spring board to reach the top. We should have the same determination and resiliance.

  4. Izzy I definitely feel what you are saying. To add to that though, I say a lot of the success our ancestors reveled in was due to the support they gave one another. The Black Community was so strong back then. I know some will say it’s because they HAD to be supportive of each other because they didn’t have a choice since there weren’t any other options available. That’s one of the downfalls I see with us today. We are not as supportive of each other as we can (and should) be, most notably when it comes to recycling the “Black Dollar”.

  5. I learned about the Maroons in Zora Neale Hurston’s book “Go tell my horse.” Their story reminds me of the Black Seminoles of Florida. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Seminoles As an African-American person I have always wondered about slavery in the West Indies. I don’t remember it ever beening mentioned in school, ever. The Haitian revolution may have been mentioned once, but that’s all.

    I’m happy about the documentary and I hope one day soon it comes on BBC America.

  6. I would have loved to have seen this documentary. Being a young woman from Trinidad i’m glad that people are being educated about slaves that settled in the west indies. We should never forget the past but continue to learn from it and draw motivation and inspiration from it.

  7. Neosoulbeauty,

    Don’t forget Central america and Mexico as well

  8. byrdparker says:

    Nice Post Bella .

    I wonder why we can’t have just one whole month dedicated to black history , there is really no difference from carribean slavery to usa slavery, except for the actual geographical space so to say .

    While i love Ms D’s music , i am not in love with this quote

    ” lot of the people I’ve learnt about in black history are African-Americans, like Harriet Tubman and Rosa Parks, whereas with Nanny, she was straight from Africa to the West Indies”

    It makes me feel she is trying to seperate carribean slaves for afro american slaves. There is no seperation …

    Most of us at some point in our life try to search for our own identity , where we fit in this world . Of course hearing about our past history , is one way to restore what slavery had taken away from us.

    Did any of you know that if Toussaint L’Ouverture had not won the hatian revolution , that louisana purchase might have never happened . Basically history as we know it has been falsified depending upon who writes the story . Two of my favorite historical writers although white , are Chomsky and Zinn although most historical societies do not consider them historians. I wonder why that is ?

  9. It’s always good to be exposed to history that you don’t get to hear about often–even during Black History Month.
    I am a fan of the Racialicious site too–I have been ever since it was Mixed Media Watch back in the day–it is good to get so many perspectives on the surprising commonalities and differences among racial minorities. The positive thing about the availability of so much information these days is that we can really educate ourselves about so much. Thanks, Bella!

  10. Posts like these always keep me coming back to Afrobella. I think it’s so important for folks to know about the rich history of Africans in the US, UK, Caribbean and across the world. We are such a diverse people and I think sometimes that gets lost when we’re limited to, for instance in the States, Black History Month. While I think the celebration is positive and necessary, it’s scope should be expanded to include more than just slavery and the Civil Rights Movement. But we should all be responsible for investigating our own history in order to develop a better understanding of who we are. Thanks for sharing this article! I really hope to see this documentary some day

  11. I don’t know anything about the Maroons, so I will learn about them.

  12. Delma,

    that brings a good point…when my grandmother left trinidad, she taught in yucatan pennisula area of mexico for awhile, before coming to the states. she said mexico and central america have a history of slavery no one knows about. the slaves ancestors are called the guarifuna. they still live in the area today and are fighting to be recognized.

  13. Did you know they also have maroons in Surinam ( A Country in Sout America that was once a dutch colonie and it boarders with Brazil )

    Anyways its kind of the same with the maroons from Jaimaca they were slaves that would run away in to the jungle and start there one villages, they still speak african they still have there own culture .

    At afrobella , kind of missed about what happend around the post “Not Today’ But you need to remember that there are always gonna be haters especially on the internet, were no one can see who you are . Anyways just keep doing what you do. You have a great site and dont let nothing stop you not even the haters just Brush them off girl !!

  14. Artist Renée Cox also did a series on Queen Nanny of the Maroons:

    http://www.reneecox.net/series10/series10_1.html

  15. Byrdparker, I feel ya. I think Black history should be celebrated every day, and I try to celebrate the elders whenever I can. I think what Ms. Dynamite meant is that we always hear about the same handful of pioneers, and most of those people are African-American.

    I’m not sure how much is taught about slavery in the schools here in America, but it’s definitely a big component of the Caribbean history I learned in high school in Trinidad. But as a consequence, many people might not know as much about other groups of maroons or heroes of slavery, or freedom fighters in other cultures. Like even now, I learned from Delma and Nikki J and Lalita about the history of slavery in Central and Latin America, which I am completely ignorant about. There’s so much of our shared history that we don’t know yet.

  16. Neosoulbeauty says:

    Delma,
    You are absolutely right. I did research and I was not aware of the Maroons in Mexico and Central America, just to think that it’s not what I was taught or learned. You gain an education through research. In school, they mostly associate Indigenous Americans to Central America, Mexico and some parts of Asia. Thanks!

  17. Hey bella thanks for the big up. that piece in the guardian got me kind of pissed too but there’s so much of that out there, that to begin to counteract it is pointless. there are enough little black children out there who can benefit from what we have to say!
    re the garifuna, they’re also known as black caribs in st vincent and were originally settled there before they were deported to an island off central america by the british. they are communities that formed from the integration of Africans with the indigenous population, according to some historians, before Columbus.
    also there are maroons in other parts of the region, even in Trinidad, in Paramin there are caves where runaway slaves hid and lived, and I believe there is another known maroon type settlement in central trinidad.
    plenty stories of this region to tell!

  18. I love afrobella and everything it represents how it educates as well as entertains.As an afromerican (that’s right not mispelled) I am the living proof that your history is as important to you as the very air you breath and the water you drink for without your ancestry you would cease to exists as you are today. My parents arrived in the US in the 70′s and raised their children to understand that yes “This land is your land” But you always had a home far beyond this American horizon and I do now as I did then cling to that when it seems that America or the rest of the world for that matter doesn’t love me I know somewhere there is love for my spirit, there is a place where I am celebrated. But I am the first generation of my blood in this land and my connection is strong but what about the MANY MANY MANY GENERATIONS REMOVED from this connection I tell you it is hard to remember what you came from after so long to the point where you would rather forget it because it is so painful to think you can not remember from where you came! I have heard it said that “The blood that anoints the soul and the body never never forgets” We are not at the mercy of strictly history or genetics but we are a product. And I for one am glad that there is celebration of ALL that we are!!! March marks the 50th anniversary of the independance of my mother country Ghana!! and I hope everyone celebrates their history for it is in your blood and it never forgets.

  19. IslandBaby says:

    Just wanted to say I did actually watch that program and my great grandmother was Maroon! I never really knew much about them or what they did so I was glad to get a taster, it never occured to me that that was the reason the Jamaican 500 dollar bill is referred to as a ‘nanny’.

    One criticism to the show was that Ms Dynamite was probably the wrong person to present it- her interviewing skills were wack to be honest, and when she didn’t get the answer she was expecting/hoping for whilst interviewing a descendant of a slave owner she just rambled on making irrelevent points, but other than that it was good.

  20. Just to add to your post re:Nanny, do you know there’s a school of thought in Jamaica that believes Nanny never really existed. That she was a created in the 60′s to appease a growing feminist movement in Jamaica who wanted a heroine to be added to the list of Jamaica’s heroes. True story! Me, I have no evidence to say she wasn’t real (although stories we learnt in primary school of her catching British soldiers bullets and shooting them back out her rear, were funny as hell, now that I look back at it) nor is there concrete proof that she lived as well. Either way, she reminds me of the strength of the black woman, something I can tend to forget myself when life gets a bit overwhelming.
    Anyway, Bella, talk about 6 degrees of seperation, I went to CARIMAC at UWI with Atillah.
    And as per the Guardian article, isn’t it ironic that Jews can still bring up the Holocaust and revere it and say it was a life altering force for them, yet black people can’t say the same about slavery or the slave trade without being accused of looking for crutches? And some people believe racism is dead? Imagine racism is dead, yet America has to mention Barack Obama’s race at every turn. When it does die, I’d love to be invited to the funeral.
    One Love!

  21. Bella, I just ADORE your site!
    The amount of information, from tiny glitter to put on your lids to historical info that needs further digging of our own, it’s ABSOLUTELY grandiose!
    I’ve been kinky all my life (yup, that’s 35 yrs now, hel-lo!) in France and in Canada and never have I found a publication so inspiring. I am from relatively mixed heritage, atheist, feminist and a hard working gal who likes to keep informed.
    Keep it up!

  22. Thank you Afrobella for this post!Racialicious is a daily read for me, as well as your blog. I’m from Haiti and I learned everything about Haitian and french history in school. Our histories are so intertwined, but I wish that they had done more on Caribbean and African history. I mean I did not even know about the Maroons, or the Negritude movement started by Aime cesaire, Leopold Senghor and Leon Damas or the Pan-African movement or African-American Histor. I ‘m history buff so I’m always doing research, and I know how miss Dynamite felt when she learned about Nanny. That how I felt when I learned about the Ancient African queens. A great link http://www.royalty.nu/Africa/. History is a must if we need to move into the future.

  23. Usually I just read your posts because I like them. They are informative and intellgent and i like the piece about Ms. Dynamite. But I feel like I have to speak. That guy that wrote that post is so not in tune to black people and the problems that we are still faceing today. To compare the Irish potato faminie with slavery is just wrong on so many levels. It is one thing to have to leave you home because of a faminie, but it is quite another to be kidnapped from the only place you know, packed into a ship like sardines, and then sold off like cattle. Just writing this makes me upset because of the nerve for a white man to tell me how I feel and think and about what I go through just really gets under my skin. Even though slavery ended a long time ago black people are still being affected by the things that happened after slavery; the lynchings, the kkk, jim crow laws, all those things came into play during reconstruction to “tame” the black man. I’m out of words for now, i just don’t know what else to say plus this comment is way to long. I’ve said what i have to say

  24. I absolutely LOVE learning new things in regards to black history.

    Ever since I was young, I have devoured any information I could obtain (on my own and in the classroom).

    However, the Maroons is a story new to me.

    Thanks for the great article!

    http://www.blackinthecity.net

    http://www.raceandpolitics.com

  25. Re “The African slave trade can’t really be compared to any historic tragedy”: Not even the genocidal destruction of Native Americans and Jews? Hmm…that’s debatable.

  26. Sorry Rob — not even those two historic tragedies truly compare, in my opinion. I’m not trying to rank horrible historic incidents, and Lord knows the Native Americans have suffered and continue to suffer. But the trans-Saharan and trans-Atlantic slave trade involved estimates of over 12 million people, and lasted from the mid-fourteenth century to 1867. So in terms of duration and numbers, there you go. (I got my stats from here: http://www.answers.com/topic/slave-trade).

  27. Afrobella, thanks for writing this great post. This is a very important discussion.

    Personally I wouldn’t compare any acts of genocide in terms of which was worse. The genocides against Africans, Native Americans and Jews all wreaked devastating effects on humanity which still exist to this day. The only difference, if any, is that many Jews are white and benefit from white privilege. Other than that, I don’t find the “which was worse” argument very enlightening or helpful.

  28. Interestingly, it says on the Wikipedia article for abolitionism (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abolitionism) that Ethiopia didn’t give up slavery until 1936 and that was only because the Italian Fascists forced them to do it. I imagine they don’t teach that too often in history classes.

  29. i think every afro-carribean person should know about the maroons and there history, a good film if you don’t mind subtitles is “Quilombo”(u can buy in on dvd in my dvd shop http://www.reggaefilms.co.uk), this film is based on fact and tells the story of the brasilian slaves of the 17th Century, they revolted and headed for the mountains to form there own communities, where i think they can still be found today, same as in JA there are still maroons in some areas.
    They screened lots of different shows on slavery in the UK last month, they also did a documentary on Mary Secole – Angel of the Crimea, i managed to tape most of them if you need any info on jamaican/black films or want to request a film then please visit http://www.reggaefilms.co.uk and post up your questions or requests in the forum.
    A great film on the slavery story is Roots, a 9 or 6 part drama i think which took the US by storm when it first aired in the late 70′s, is a great series if you haven’t seen this then u should get a copy, it tell the story of kunta kinte and follows his life+his childrens life to present day…..

  30. bebedee says:

    Hey Lady Bella…this is such an awesome article. We know so little truths about slavery inthe US, much less across the diaspora. I recently went with a friend to see the movie Amazing Grace, which centered on 19-century Parliament member William Wilberforce (yes, who the HBCU is named after!), who spent his entire political career trying to abolish the slave trade in England. These are the kind of history lessons we should have gotten in school. Please keep sharing these historical gems with us. Thanks!

  31. Really Good Work…! You Helping People A lot The first 10 amendments were written with the common man in mind!

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