Today there is a lot of advocates for equal rights for women and for women to break the proverbial glass ceiling. The political correct term in the “feminist movement.” I am here to introduce you to a woman that was all for women’s empowerment and equality long before the term was even coined. I take this time to introduce you to Granny Nanny.
Don’t be fooled by the affectionate term Granny Nanny. Nanny was not your sweet little old lady who sat in a rocking chair with her shawl and bed slippers knitting sweaters, Granny Nanny is Jamaica’s only national heroine; her face graces the Jamaican $500.00 note. Nanny was about feminism long before it became mainstream. While other black women of that era was busy making babies Nanny was busy being a distinguished military leader.
Nanny was a maroon of Ashanti origin; thus her moniker Nanny of the Maroons. She was sold as a slave in the early 18th century; but managed to escape with other slaves to the mountainous region of Jamaica.
She eventually settled in the eastern section of the island and became the leader of the legendary Maroon stronghold, Nanny Town, which was located in the Blue Mountains in Portland. The village contained an estimated 140 houses. She was skilled in organizing the guerilla warfare carried out by the Eastern Maroons to keep away the British troops who attempted to penetrate the mountains to overpower them. This is known as the Maroon War and occurred during the period of 1720 to 1739.
Today we talk about woman power, but nothing we had today compares to the power that Nanny had. She was so strongly oppose to any form of bondage, that in 1739, when Quao (a male maroon leader) signed the second Treaty with the British, it is reported that Nanny was very angry and in disagreement with the principle of peace with the British, which in her view was just another form of enslavement.
This 18th century leader of the feminist movement was not all about being skilled in guerilla warfare. She exhibited a strong maternal side as she was also a very wise woman, who passed down legends and encouraged the continuation of customs, music and songs, that had come with the people from Africa, and which instilled in them confidence and pride.
There are many legends that have been circulating about Nanny over the years. One legend has it that during 1737, at the height of the Maroon resistance against the British, Nanny and her people were near starvation. She was about to surrender when, one night, voices from her ancestors told her not to give up.
When she awoke, she found pumpkin seeds in her pocket which she planted on the hillside. Within a week the seeds grew into large plants laden with pumpkins that provided much-needed food for the starving community. In recognition of this, one of the hills near Nanny Town is still known as 'Pumpkin Hill'.
There are two versions of the story of Nanny catching bullets. The first is that Nanny was able to catch bullets with her hands, which, it is said, was a highly developed art form in some parts of Africa. The other account is that Nanny was able to catch bullets with her buttocks and shoot them out again.
Today’s women have a challenge juggling a career and a family; Nanny mastered it from the 18th century being a leader of a village, being a mother to many and also being a military leader. From any angle you take her tale from it is a fascinating mixture of facts and myths. Where one ends and the other starts will forever be a mystery. I encourage you to visit Nanny Town in Portland to walk the trails she has walked, hear the tales about her and then decide what the facts are and what the myths are and learn what true woman power is all about.