The Triumph of Will – National Heroes
OUR HEROES were first named in the 1960s when Jamaica celebrated its independence and celebrated what can be termed a cultural renaissance. Committees were convened to establish national emblems such as our flag, our anthem, our symbols, our coat of arms and our heroes.Nanny and Sam Sharpe two of our seven National Heroes the only two from the nineteenth century and the last two to be named contributed significantly to Jamaica’s eventual emancipation. The story of any nation’s heroes is one of strength and sacrifice, bravery and courage, and the triumph of will.
The order of National Hero of Jamaica was created in 1965. The first heroes named were Alexander Bustamante and Norman Manley, the founders of the JLP and the PNP respectively, men who served as architects of independent Jamaica. Named concurrently were Paul Bogle, a preacher and farmer who led the 1865 Morant Bay Rebellion, George William Gordon, an ex-member of the House of Assembly, hung for his alleged role in the Morant Bay Rebellion, and Marcus Garvey, founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), a journalist and printer. In 1975 two more heroes were created: Sam Sharpe, who wound up leading the 1831 Christmas Rebellion and Nanny, leader of the Windward Maroons.
As recently as October 2000, a new committee for consideration of National Heroes, the Advisory Committee for the Purpose of the Order of National Hero, was established. It is chaired by the Rt. Rev. Dr. Neville De Souza, O.J. and its members include Members of Parliament from both the PNP and the JLP as well as a folklorist and an attorney-at-law. Yet the committee has yet to meet although there have been calls from the public for Jamaicans such as Mary Seacole, Michael Manley and Bob Marley to be considered for National Hero status.
According to historian Kamau Brathwaite a National Hero should be “a symbol of transformation, a participant in the struggle for freedom in a particular moment of crisis, an expression beyond this, of an entire movement of history; so that although anchored in a specific period, she/he illuminates the meaning of the whole, establishing correspondences with each step and stage of the past and linking these through her/his individual achievement with our sense of nationhood.” Nanny and Sam Sharpe fit this description admirably, she a crucial player in the Maroon Wars of the 1700s, and he a key figure in the abolition movement of the nineteenth century. They, like all seven of our heroes, are expressions of our collective memory and our collective self-esteem.
Article by Rebecca Tortello.
Sources: Gleaner. (1995). Geography and History of Jamaica. Brathwaite, E. K. (1976) Nanny and Sam Sharpe – Wars of Respect.
Sharpe (right), a Baptist preacher, was literate, a strong speaker and very religious. Sharpe had read many British anti-slavery bulletins and believed that Jamaica’s only chance for redemption was the total abolition of slavery.SHARPE, BORN in the parish of St. James, and named after his master, is also a folk figure. He is known for his pivotal role in the 1831 Christmas Rebellion on the Kensington Estate a rebellion credited as instrumental to full emancipation in 1838.
Sharpe came up with an idea of passive resistance and communicated this message to slaves after prayer meetings on different estates. He explained his belief that the slaves had been freed in England but kept enslaved by the planters in Jamaica, and described how they could conduct a peaceful strike a few days after Christmas by simply refusing to return to work in the fields unless their concerns were heard. Between 18,000-50,000 slaves joined in as news of the idea spread to Trelawny, Westmoreland, St. Elizabeth and Manchester. Daddy Sharpe’s peaceful protest was not to be however. It quickly turned into the largest slave rebellion in the island’s history.
On December 27, 1831, the Kensington Estate was set afire as a signal of the rebellion. Soon multiple fires broke out and all thoughts of non-violence fled. Great houses and cane fields in the west were burned and hundreds of lives were lost. By the first week in January the rebellion had been put down by the militia the dead included 14 whites and 500 slaves most slaves having died during the period of retribution that followed the rebellion. One such slave was Sam Sharpe who on May 28, 1832 was tried and hung for his part as organizer.
Sharpe’s last words stand as testimony to the type of man he was and the cause to which he was so deeply committed: “I would rather die in yonder gallows,” he declared, “than live for a minute more in slavery.”
This Christmas Rebellion or Sharpe’s Rebellion as it is also known, was pivotal to hastening the process of emancipation. Soon after, the British House of Commons adopted a motion calling for a Select Committee to be appointed to put an end to slavery throughout the British Empire. Sam Sharpe Square in Montego Bay is named after him and his picture appears on the fifty-dollar ($50) bill.
NANNY THE MAROON
NANNY IS a folk figure (see statute right) an individual who sparked numerous stories and legends. She nimbly straddles the realms of reality and myth. In 1517, when the Spanish ruled Jamaica, the first group of Africans arrived as slaves. When the British captured the island in 1655, many of the Spanish left, and their slaves became free. These ex-slaves fled to different hilly areas around the island. There they banded together to fight against the British and protect their freedom. They became known as Maroons.
Over three centuries of slavery on the island, some slaves, like Nanny, escaped from the plantations and joined them. Some believe the name Maroon comes from the Spanish word, ‘cimarron’ meaning ‘wild.’
Although there is some dispute as to whether Nanny actually existed or whether she stands as a composite of Maroon female leaders, references to a leader “Nanny” are recorded in contemporary eye-witness accounts of 18th century Jamaican history and in secondary material.
For example, the Treaty of 1739/40 mentions granting “Nanny and the people residing with her 500 acres of land in Portland.” In 1735 the slave, Cupid, reported seeing “three white men that were taken in some of these parties carried to Nanny Town and there put to death by Nanny.” Her name and influence are cornerstones of Maroon oral tradition.
Although said to be small and wiry she is recognized as a champion of freedom, a female warrior who promoted guerrilla warfare tactics against her British foes. She is recognized as a leader who symbolized hope in times of crisis and fostered respect for her own Ashanti traditions. She is also immortalized as a high priestess with great powers.
Numerous legends swirl about her. One credits her with creating a “nanny pot”, a cauldron of water that boiled without fire and trapped unsuspecting British soldiers enemies of her people the Maroons. Still others speak of deflecting fire by catching bullets and/or cannon balls in her buttocks. Some say she is sister to other great Maroon leaders Cudjoe, Accompong, Cuffy, Quao and Paro.
Nanny is said to have died in the 1750s and is buried at “Bump Grave” in what is now known as Moore Town in Portland, at the eastern end of Jamaica. Today Jamaicans honour Nanny as a National Hero out of respect for her wise, fighting spirit and her commitment to freedom and independence. An artist’s impression of her can be found on the five-hundred-dollar ($500) bill.
- Gordon House is named after the Rt. Excellent George William Gordon. He was born in the parish of St. Andrew and his picture appears on the ten-dollar coin.
- Edna Manley’s statue of the Rt. Excellent Paul Bogle stands in front of the Morant Bay Courthouse in St. Thomas. He was born in the parish of St. Thomas and his picture appears on the ten-cent coin.
- Marcus Garvey Drive is named after the Rt. Excellent Marcus Mosiah Garvey. He was born in the parish of St. Ann and his picture appears on the twenty-dollar and the twenty-five cent coins.
- Norman Manley International Airport and the Law School at the U.W.I are named after the Rt. Excellent Norman Manley. He was born in the parish of Manchester and his picture appears on the five-dollar coin. He is buried at National Heroes Park.
- Bustamante Highway and Port Bustamante are named after the Rt. Excellent Sir William Alexander Bustamante. He was born in the parish of Hanover and his picture appears on the one-dollar ($1) coin. He is buried at National Heroes Park.