[Blackstudies-l] A valuable history of Dominica’s Maroons- Lennox Honychurch’s In the Forests of Freedom reviewed
lima at geneseo.edu
Thu Sep 14 09:04:00 EDT 2017
lisaparavisini posted: " Lennox Honychurch sets the record straight on the
wild separatists--Ian Thomson writes in The Spectator. In the Forests of
Freedom: The Fighting Maroons of Dominica Lennox Honychurch Papillote Press
Much romantic nonsense has been written about the run"
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<http://repeatingislands.com/author/lisaparavisini/> A lively and valuable
history of Dominica’s Maroons: Lennox Honychurch’s In the Forests of
[image: Screen Shot 2017-09-14 at 7.44.22 AM.png] Lennox Honychurch sets
the record straight on the wild separatists--Ian Thomson writes in *The
*In the Forests of Freedom: The Fighting Maroons of Dominica*
Much romantic nonsense has been written about the runaway slaves or Maroons
of the West Indies. In 1970s Jamaica, during President Michael Manley’s
socialist experiment, Maroons were hailed as forerunners of Black Power.
Rastafari militants and back-to-Africa ideologues saw a nobility in Maroon
descent. The Jamaican black nationalist Marcus Garvey had claimed Maroon
ancestry for himself; as has, more recently, the British Jamaican hip-hop
singer Ms Dynamite (whose debut album, *A Little Deeper
remains a UK drum and bass masterwork).
In Jamaica, at any rate, Maroons fought exclusively for their own liberty,
not for the overall liberty of the island’s enslaved Africans. As a
condition of their freedom (and in return for land and other privileges),
they were obliged to return other fugitive slaves to the imperial British
and even help put down slave revolts. The Maroons of Jamaica thus inherited
an ambivalent legacy: they are both heroes of, and traitors to, black
freedom. Their most famous leader, an African tribeswoman known as Nanny,
was said to have been able to fend off British Redcoats by catching bullets
in the cleft of her buttocks. (It is more likely that Nanny simply lifted
her skirts to moon at the troops — a gesture of extreme contempt signifying
‘batty man’ or homosexual.)
The word ‘Maroon’ probably derives from the Spanish *cimarrón*, meaning
‘wild’, originally applied to the interior of Hispaniola — present-day
Haiti. Maroons have long existed throughout the Caribbean. The mountains
and waterfalls of British Dominica provided them with an ideal refuge; in
their geographic isolation they were able to conserve a unique subculture
of African slave language, music, divination and spirit animism.
According to the Dominica-born historian and anthropologist Lennox
Hony-church, the Maroons’ African lore was fortified by exposure to the
island’s pre-Columbian Kalinago Amerindian peoples, who had used their
knowledge of the volcanic massifs and wild jungle to wage guerrilla sorties
on the Spanish, French and British in the 16th and 17th centuries.
In his lively history of Dominica Marronage, Honychurch chronicles the
island’s Maroon Wars of 1785 to 1814. Runaway slave chiefs such as Jacko,
Balla, Elephant and the Nanny-esque Angelique and Calypso significantly
menaced the British plantation system. They laid pit-traps concealed by
branches and hid out in ‘back-o-water’ caves alongside Kalinago
co-conspirators. The eerie wail of the conch shell, used by the Maroons to
communicate over distances, warned the British that a marauding party was
on its way to harry the sugar plantations and their owners.
During Dominica’s first Maroon War of 1785–1786 the runaways were easily
outnumbered as the Redcoats infiltrated their scout networks and used
Kalinago double agents.
Some 150 Maroons were killed in the course of the short-lived conflict and
their chief, Balla, was captured and hanged in Dominica’s capital of
Roseau. Betrayal was a constant danger and even today in Dominica the few
surviving Maroon communities remain suspicious of outsiders. Only with
emancipation in 1838 were they able finally to glimpse their own freedom.
As well as a valuable history of Afro-Atlantic slave custom and revolt, *In
the Forests of Freedom* celebrates the beauty of rural Dominica, with its
glittering palm groves and rivers dashing white over rocks. In Honychurch’s
estimation, the ‘spirit of the Maroons’ continues today in Rastafari and
other pan-African religions, which display a Maroon-like cussedness and
defiant New World blackness. Privately published by the author in 2014 (and
reissued now by Polly Patullo of the excellent Papillote Press), *In the
Forests of Freedom*opens a window onto a little-known West Indian history.
*lisaparavisini <http://repeatingislands.com/author/lisaparavisini/>* |
September 14, 2017 at 7:47 am | Categories: News
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