By Bumpy Walker
Jamaica’s first internationally famous sensation was not Bob, Bolt or Bob-Sledgers. Jack Mansong, an African-Jamaican had his narrative fictionalised on stage in London, two centuries or more before Marcus or Marley. It was a sensational stage production which ran for eight years.
There seems to be a surprising lack of awareness of this hero in modern Jamaica. His story is known, the self-liberating giant, an African who survived as an outlaw by out Robin Hooding Robin Hood. As a proto Marxist he redistributed wealth to “sufferas” from the materially well endowed. Legend has him never robbing or harming women or children. Another example of Ubuntu in a Jamaican context! The country’s overlords were so overawed by him they sent their allies, the Treaty Maroons, to capture or kill.
Jamaica, as always, led the world in this case by staging not one but two “Rumble in The Jungle’ duels. The first encounter, depending on who tells the story, was between the greatest living Maroon warrior, Quao, and Jack. Granted, rather than gloves, they went at it with machetes. Jack won on points but with loss of three fingers, while Quao, with life ebbing from him, escaped by jumping over a water fall and fleeing with the help of his apprentice, little Quashi. Mansong gained the nickname Three Finger Jack as a result.
The return bout came after a few years when Quao did a Rocky II, went back in training and won the encounter easily. Quao was rewarded for his performance. Little Quashi grew into a leader of the Maroons, no doubt profiting mightily by hunting down other absconding self –liberating Africans, or maybe engaging in liberating through kidnapping of enslaved female Africans from plantations. One version I heard was that Quao deliberately violated Mansong’s woman and children while Mansong was out on a raid.
Treaty and Non Treaty Maroons
Tainos and Africans have been self-liberating since the first Spaniard came to establish Hatos (Fortified farmsteads) in Jamaica. Yes, the Taino Maroons did make Jamaica a hostile environment for the occupying Spaniards, to the extent that most of their homes had to be fortified.
There seems to be reluctance on the part of even the revisionist historians to acknowledge that the “Treaty Maroons” were not the only Maroons. “Three Finger” Jack Mansong was a Maroon. As a community leader he lead a posse of 18th century “Shottas” to acquire materials for his “Garrison”, village of self-liberated Africans. Unlike the treaty Maroons he reputedly developed a network of cooperation with the enslaved plantation population. As Mao would put it “a guerrilla swims among the people like a fish swims in the sea”. This non–treaty group and others were actively hunted by the treaty Maroons as well as their British allies but managed to hang onto their hard won freedom until legal emancipation.
Trawl back earlier, to the first legal emancipation. Yes there were two legal emancipation events in Jamaica, the first one was ignored by the colonial authorities, and rarely ever raised by the current African focused historians. When the British replaced the Spanish as colonial overlords, the former Governor, Yassi, formed a resistance, a “Marquis” against the now new overlords centuries before the French did that during the German colonisation of the 1940s. Like the French in the 20th century, inducements were offered for cooperation and accepted by their rivals, the enslaved as well as the existing Maroon villages.
I am aware of two prominent bands, one led by Juan Du Bolas, another by Serrano. Given the size of Jamaica, it seems unlikely that there were only two such groups. Both of these groups fought the British occupiers. Eventually, like Cudjoe a century or more in the future, Du Bolas signed a treaty with the British. Then, like Cudjoe, began hunting other maroons, including Serrano. Du Bolas was killed in ambush, reputedly by Serrano’s crew. Interestingly, both Serrano’s non-treaty Maroons and Du Bolas Treaty maroons are missing from the pages of history after the death of Du Bolas.
Min Nu Sen, U Nuh Come
After the Second Maroon war when the Western Maroons failed to actively aid the Eastern Maroons in their fight against the British (over some jerk pork), there was a rush to Maroonage as more and more Africans self-liberated. The most well know of this non-treaty Maroon villages was in St Elizabeth the poetically named “Mi Nuh Sen You Nuh Cum”. On at least two occasions, the Accongpong Treaty Maroons attacked, burnt and” liberated” females from the village. Heroically, the village was rebuilt by survivors, including eastern treaty Maroon war refugees who avoided deportation to Canada.
One characteristic of Caribbean slavery was a high mortality rate as most Africans were worked to death within ten years of arrival (Non Africans lasted 4 years). In 1834 there was a free African population. This included “Freed Blacks”, Non Treaty Maroons and Treaty Maroons. These groups of free Africans would have been relatively healthier, wealthier, better prepared for capitalism than the newly legally emancipated Africans. Thus I contend statistically that there was a greater chance that we all have a shared ancestry of Africans who were “free” prior to Emancipation
The Accompong Maroon treaty stipulates 1500 acres was ceded to the Maroons in perpetuity. It is impossible to speculate with certainty whether the treaties actually granted sovereignty, but what is certain is that the police have historically avoided impinging on their sacred land. In the 1950's Peter Abrahams discussed this issue (and ganja growing) in his book, Jamaica, an Island Mosaic, after a visit to Accongpong, a tacit acknowledgement that there has existed a one state two systems in Jamaica for centuries.
The Maroon treaties are celebrated as African victories; think of them as mutual accommodation, militarily, The British then “Three Finger Jacked” them with legalese. In fact, what the British did was exactly what the Apartheid authorities would do in South Africa in the 20th century and create Bantustans. Unlike the South Africans who ran Ciskei, Transkei etc., the Maroons failed to tear up the treaty and fold their pseudo states into independent Jamaica. It seems they have been intent on seeing themselves as “other” but superior to the rest of Jamaica who lacked a treaty with the British.
I recognise the holes in my knowledge but feel there is a glaring need to make the narrative less Disney-like in its simplicity. History is not, in my opinion, simply facts, but how the facts are framed to support a social / ideological position. Treaty maroons were not always heroic; neither were the rest of our African ancestors. As unpalatable as it is to acknowledge at times they all had to compromise and collaborate with our oppressors to survive. Therein lies our heroic narrative.
To the ancestors go all honour!
PS : I confess that my father who proudly claimed to be of Accongpong Maroon ancestry. His pet name for me was once Man Son so I always been team “Three Finger Jack”
ABOUT THE WRITER: Bumpy Walker is a Jamaican based in Scotland