Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Queen Nanny conquers mountains

March 20, 2010

Women's History Month

While there is a mountain in your path, do not sit down at its foot and cry, get up and climb it. (Africa)

Nanny, Queen of the Maroons

When we talk bout Grandy Nanny it might sound like fairy tale, but is true. You will know is not a fairy tale because it is not about no blue-eyed blond girl who sleeping till a prince come and wake her. This story is bout a black woman who strong enough to wake up princes and the King of England himself. Even after she dead she still the power to wake up people.

Most of what we know come to us through what the elders tell us. It don’t generally write in book, so if you are one of those who think only what write in book is true, then you can stop listen. Those who know better will tell you that plenty things that write in book not true and some is outright malicious lie. But who want to know the truth will know it when them hear it.

Nanny born a free woman, and she decide to live and die same way. She never ever forget she is Ashanti and royal, not when them grab her and walk her down to the coast. Not when she waiting in the dungeon with some much mess that even rat and roach run away from it. Not when sailors throw Black men over board like them is garbage and try push seed into Black women like them is dirt in planting season.

So when Nanny reach Kingston harbor and the boat dock, she just walk to the mountains and never look back. The spirits call her to freedom and she answer and make the spirits show her the way. Is only fear stop everybody else from doing the same thing, but Nanny never know what fear was. She probably reach to Jamaica round 1700 or so, when the Maroons was already battering the British.

If the Maroon war was simmering before, Nanny take it to boiling point. In them times, Maroon women don’t just live to serve them men. Them help raid the white man plantation and fight right next to Maroon men. Them was warrior-queens. One white man say he see Nanny wearing anklet and bracelet made of teeth of white men she kill in battle.

So Nanny lead the men and women. She show them how to cover themselves with branch so them look like tree. When the white men come up, what them think is trees stand still until the Maroons surround the soldiers and in a short time the battle done. Plenty British troops come into the mountains and don’t leave there alive, or else have to leave behind them gun and bullet or them blood and bones. Along with them pride. For how could these few Black men (them wouldn't want to count the women) make thousands of white soldiers of the British empire beg for mercy?

It was strategy that beat the British, but them never think Black men and women could out-think white people. So them start to say Nanny is a witch. Them say is not a fair fight when Nanny can catch bullet in her arse and fart the bullets back at them. Them say Nanny have a magic pot that boil without fire, and if any white man look into the pot them will dead. Them say she feeding her people with magic pumpkin seed that grow big pumpkins in one week. Them say she have magic herbs that close up cuts and heal every sickness.

The British do them best to find Nanny. She live way up in the mountains in a spot where a lot of people cannot reach to this day. A place so high up that lookouts could see the British coming and blow the abeng as warning. A place where the Maroons could easily trap the British since the white men have to pick them way between rocks in passes holding only one or two man at a time. A place that Nanny help hundreds of slaves to reach if they wanted to be free. A place that the British reach one time but couldn’t manage to hold.

After eighty years of war, the British ask the Maroons to sign a peace treaty. Before Toussaint free Haiti from France, warrior-queen Nanny with her brothers force the British to free the Maroons.

For all those who think Nanny is Anancy story, check this out. Read all the book and newspapers you want, because this is what write down in black and white, Around the 1970s, some white soldiers decide to find Nanny Town. Well, when them get to a certain point, them hear like thunder, and part of a mountain fall down. The soldiers say at night time them hear voices and sometimes see faces. What seem to make the soldiers decide to turn back was one morning when a soldier couldn’t find him watch. Him know him have on him watch when him go to sleep zip up in him sleeping bag. But next morning him don’t see no watch. The soldiers search and search, and up to this day the watch don’t turn up.

Still, today if you want to go to Nanny Town, a Maroon will take you there. But you might want to ask Nanny first.

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When the occasion arises, there is a proverb to suit it. (Proverb from Rwanda and Burundi)

Welcome to this space where we can talk about proverbs that we can relate to (or not), and proverbs that make sense to us (or not). Most of all we can discuss how proverbs make us think about life and living. We can also share experiences of proverbs that have provided us with lifelines or just the chance to reflect.

Some of the proverbs here may also be found in "Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs", published by Random House and authored by Askhari Johnson Hodari and me. The foreword is written by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

One of the unique features of our book is that we arranged the proverbs according to life cycle, in sections including, Birth, Childhood, Love, Marriage, and Intimacy, Challenge, and Death.

For more proverbs and for information on Lifelines: the Black Book of Proverbs, please visit us at