The Maroons of Jamaica

The word “Maroon” is derived from the Spanish term Cimarròn, which was used initially to refer to domesticated cattle that had escaped to the hills of Hispaniola and then later applied to runaway slaves in the Americas, since the latter half of the 17th century. Hence the term came to connote wild, untamed and escaped slaves. Maroon communities were established and some have survived to date throughout the Americas, including the Maroon Towns of Jamaica, the Quilombos of Palmares and Bahia in Brazil, El Palenque de San Basilio in Colombia, the Cumbe of Venezuela, and the Cottica Djuka and Saramakka of Surinam.


The Maroon nation of Jamaica was born out of their struggle for freedom in the crucible of slavery, rebellion and political reconciliation. When the British attacked the Spanish colony of Jamaica in 1655, many slaves were able to flee the plantations to form communities in some of the most inhospitable regions of the island. Poorly armed and outgunned, the Maroons faced down the mighty British Redcoats and their allies, which included local white planter militia groups, Miskito Indians from Central America, and local slave-soldiers known as Black Shots, for more than eighty years, led by such warriors as Captain Cudjoe (also spelled Kojo), Captain Quao and Granny Nanny (also known as Grandy Nanny, Grande Nanny, Nanny, and Queen Nanny). Nanny, skilled in the use of herbs and a spiritual leader, not only managed to keep her people healthy, but by utilizing the island’s steep terrain in its mountainous regions, mastered the art of guerilla warfare, inhabiting caves and deep ravines that were easily defended even against superior British firepower.


As a result of The First Maroon War, generally regarded as having occurred between 1720 – 1739, two peace treaties were signed with the British in 1739 – establishing Maroon self-government and territorial sovereignty on the Leeward and Windward parts of the island. Only in a few other cases in the New World had Africans attained such a degree of autonomy, coming almost 60 years before the Haitian Revolution (1791), having occurred before the American, French, and Spanish-American Revolutions, and almost 100 years before the abolition of the slave trade (1834) in the former British colonies. Nanny of the Maroons became a Jamaican National Heroine in October 1975, the only female member of Jamaica’s seven National Heroes. Moreover, an artistic likeness of her appears on the Jamaican $500 bill.