Nanny, Rebel Queen of the Maroons

“Some mon just deal wit’ information. An some mon, him just deal wit’ the concept of truth. An den some mon deal wit’ magic. Information flow aroun’ ya, an truth flow right at ya. But magic, it flow t’rough ya.” — Nernelly 1982 Jamaican Bush Doctor

Queen Nanny — preeminent spiritual, cultural and military leader of the 18th century Jamaican Maroons, and also seer, Obeah woman and healer. With Nanny as their leader, the Maroons freed over 800 slaves, men, women, boys and girls. Masters of the art of decoy, camouflage and ambush, the Maroons vanquished virtually all militia detachments sent against them. They repelled the British army for more than eighty years (longer than any force in world history). Even fierce native tribes shipped in from the mosquito coast of Central America with the specific intent of conquering them were neatly and efficiently disposed of. Nobody stood a chance. In fact, two fully armed regiments of British redcoats marched confidently into the Blue Mountains, and then vanished… without a trace. Word spread that Queen Nanny and the Maroons could hide and strike by melting in and out of solid rock, and that the trees themselves would bend and twist their branches to conceal them. And she, Queen Nanny was at the helm, strong and omnipresent, their singular spiritual leader.

Nanny led the Maroons successfully through 1725 to 1740, the most intense period of British colonial aggression. Due to her ineffable strength, Queen Nanny was actually able to achieve a peace treaty with the British and she and her community were given a special parcel of land in the Blue Mountains. She is one of the rare female heroes in Jamaican national history and adorns the country’s $500 note, known locally as a “Queenie”.

Despite the national recognition and general adoration enjoyed throughout most of Jamaica, and little knowledge elsewhere, I couldn’t help but feel let down every time I looked her up and saw the likeness of her being so… well, regular and uninspiring. There’s really only one widely circulated image of her, and a select few other artistic interpretations of the same mold. Just one likeness, and it feels so oversimplified and unloved. It’s as though one person, with amateur tendencies, drew her a long time ago, and for some odd reason, it was never improved upon.The depiction being so angular, so harsh and so typical, I couldn’t accept it. So I took it upon myself to feel for her in the dark, to trace her with the outline of my own heart, to sit with her for days and to then bring her back to life — as best I could.

My design being to arouse feelings of her; her life, her magic and her special ability to stir one back from the edge of the abyss. And then, to forever ink it. Hence, never having to deal with that once singular image of her — now having my own. To me, she deserved so much more. So I took this practice on, and thankfully so, because by trying to breathe her in and exhale her onto the page I found so much out about myself and even found myself shifting into another place & time. I slid into a diffusion of eras, free falling from 21st century America into 18th century Jamaica, tracing my fingers over ancient materials & garb on the way down, feeling the hot & sticky Caribbean air on my skin, thinking back on the hair challenges of living in such an environment, walking softly into Arawak & Taino life & culture, examining the rich & proud history of the African Gold Coast, taking a detour into Western African female art & ornamentation, and then finally exploring the potential influences on Queen Nanny’s early life back in Africa — in what would now be present day Ghana.

This whole experience has been an illuminating one, and I pray that in my own imperfect way, I was able to show her, her history and her mix of cultures the respect and honor they truly deserve. To the very best of my ability I tried to subtly bring out her qualities that I think best distinguish her in my heart, which I believe to be a gentle hardness, an infinitely expansive humility, calm at the center, a high sense of perception, a certain kind of stillness, divine femininity, two firmly planted feet, an unreachably mystic nature and above all else, a fierce warrior spirit unassumingly held within. She’s a hero and I admire so much about her.

I’m so crazy thankful to have had the opportunity to draw her and to then share her. If there’s ever a spare chance to do a bit of research on her, do it, she’s infinitely amazing. Queen Nanny, Star Mama — this one’s for you.

#QueensArise #AncientCromantyCurseoftheOppressed #BlueMountainMama #LionsTail #JamaicanHistory #NannyForever #ItsaWomansWorld

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Drew Abeyta

Drew Abeyta

The writer, Drew R. Abeyta studied Environmental Science at Columbia University. Neurobehavioral specialist and freelance writer. Educator and artist.