Queen Nanny of the Maroons

Artist Rendering of Nanny of the Maroons, on Jamaica’s Five Hundred Bill, first circulated around 1976 when Jamaica declared her a National Heroine.

Artist Rendering of Queen Nanny of the Maroons, on Jamaica’s Five Hundred Bill, first circulated around 1976 when Jamaica declared her a National Heroine.

As a child, I remember visiting my mother in Jamaica and receiving a $500 Jamaican banknote. I was mesmerized by the elderly woman that exuded strength on the bill. I asked my mother about who she was and learned that Queen Nanny is a national heroine that fiercely fought against British slave owners to free more than 800 enslaved people and helped them relocate to the Maroon communities in the mountains throughout Jamaica. Queen Nanny was an Ashanti woman from Ghana who was captured and brought to Jamaica as a child. She escaped slavery with four men and formed a Maroon community in the Blue Mountains with one of them. These communities led various raids on plantations for weapons and food–often burning the plantations–and freeing the slaves. The geographic location of the Maroon settlements were strategic and deliberate: the rugged hills made it difficult for the British to attack the communities with any success. In 1733, the British government granted Queen Nanny and her community the land where they had settled. The 500 acres of land officially became Nanny Town, located high into the Blue Mountains of Portland. Although it is unclear when or how she died, Queen Nanny’s legacy still lives through Jamaican folklore and storytelling traditions.

This Women’s History month, we encourage you to think about how the abolitionist mindset of Queen Nanny lives on. The prison abolition movement is one example. The Prison-Industrial Complex—the financial and social institutionalization of prisons within our society—have led to issues of mass-incarceration, extreme poverty and police misconduct. Prison abolition rethinks our justice system–and the state’s role in doling out harsh and extreme punishment–focusing instead on building healthy communities and relationships with each other. In particular, prison abolitionists advocate for community-based justice (restorative justice). Like Queen Nanny, this abolitionist movement seeks a world in which those in power do not oppress anyone through physical, economic or social constraints. To get involved in prison abolitionist movements that are already happening, check out the work of organizations like Critical Resistance, The Center for Community Alternatives and the Bronx Defenders.

by Sade Stephenson

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1 Comment

  1. Lauren Silver

     /  March 14, 2013

    The fact that the legacy of Queen Nanny has remained popular in Jamaican folklore is profound. More heroines, like Queen Nanny, need to be celebrated, remembered, and acknowledged. Women’s History Month is an excellent time to learn about lesser-known historical female activists.

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