As I looked outside at the rainbow yesterday I smiled; a begrudging smile. Yes, the rainbow was lovely but it came at the expense of my not being able to have drinks outdoors in Bryant Park because of the downpour of rain. Now here I was stuck indoors nibbling on jerked pork while getting ready to go see Batman vs. Superman instead…..Batman obviously cannot beat Superman so why were we going to spend 2 hours of our lives to ‘discover’ something we already know? Hmmm.
We planned to go out to dinner later on so I really shouldn’t have been eating prior to the movie but the pork was exceptional (kudos to Golden Krust and I’m not usually a chain-food person) and I picked up another chunk from the bag. As I savored the moment I thought ‘This isn’t as good as the pork at home in Jamaica….but man….it’s close….really close.’
Like the rainbow, jerked pork (and jerk anything for that matter) is also the silver lining on a cloud. The Maroons in Jamaica were slaves who escaped from their British masters in the late 1600s and set up hidden villages to live in freedom and control their own destiny. Of course, the British were not going to sit around and have their slaves run off to live in paradise (yes….these were the days of slavery…but we are talking about Jamaica here!) Every leader knows that a rebellion must be quashed before it turns into a coup d’etat – quashed with force. This is why heads of traitors are often publicly displayed on spikes in colonized areas to warn would-be dissidents of their likely fate. This is why the British didn’t simply kill William Wallace when he opposed them in Scotland….no…in 1305 he was hanged, drawn and quartered to send a crystal clear message: you don’t mess with England. 400 years later the English who were by now Master Conquerors of the World were no less violent; special forces were dispatched to crush these Maroons and instill terror in the hearts of remaining slaves on plantations who even considered joining the dissidents.
Did these poor Maroons stand a chance against the lauded British? There were several Maroon settlements sprinkled across the island but two general groups emerged as distinct counterpoints to the British. One was located in the area of the Blue Mountains on the eastern end of the island and the other was on the western end. Both were managed by former slaves who ran way together and agreed to split up to fight the British. The history of the Western Maroons is well documented and their leader “Cudjoe” is often assigned the social significance of America’s Harriet Tubman. The Eastern Maroons, however, are somewhat shrouded in mystery but their accomplishments were so great that their oral history has been passed down for generations. There are no images of their leader and only sparsely written reports from the time period but this leader’s accomplishments speak for themselves. Their leader was “Keyser Soze”.
Keyser was a military strategist who used spies and disinformation to keep the enemy at bay, mastered the art of camouflage to stand unseen directly in front of the British, lured soldiers to strategically selected single-entry battlefields that they fatally entered without recognizing the retreat disadvantage and who helped over 1,000 slaves to escape from plantations. Keyser was however also a civil leader and while managing an ongoing war also oversaw agriculture, trade, healthcare and social institutions among the villagers. Keyser successfully battled the British for over 30 years and in frustration, many ran home to England in shame. Those who stayed recognized that Keyser was a formidable force and this was no ordinary leader: desperate times called for desperate measures. They seduced a fellow slave into betraying Keyser’s location and they were finally able to destroy the hidden settlement in 1734.
The Maroons may have lost that portion of the battle in 1734 but they ultimately won the war. During all those years of battles the British realized these people were not going to simply give in and with great reluctance, the British entered into peace treaty discussions with the Maroons. The last such discussion in 1739 awarded 2500 acres of land across 5 towns on the island to the Maroons. The Maroons and their descendants were to own these lands tax-free provided they agreed to no longer take in new runaway slaves: an uncomfortable but lasting détente was born. Maroon towns still exist in Jamaica today.
As I mentioned, there were several peace talks. Imagine one of those earlier talks. Imagine yourself as a British Soldier angry that 400 of your men have just been killed by these bush people and even more upset that your boss has now told you to go and talk to the enemy. You are far away from ‘tea and biscuits’ in London and instead, you are sweltering in the torrid heat of the Caribbean sun, swatting flies while sitting under the fleeting shade of a mango tree waiting for this mastermind Keyser Soze to show up. ‘Who do they think they are? Why can’t they get to the negotiating table on time?’ you ask yourself. Then you hear it….the music….the sounds of the abeng and the drum as a procession of these natives approach you with their attempt at a royal cavalcade. This Keyser is a criminal and yet they act is if the King of England is in their midst! You walk over to them and push some aside to get to their leader and you say “Enough already let’s get this over with”. The Maroon troops part and a clear gentle voice says “Indeed Let’s”. And that’s the first time this British Soldier realizes that he has been defeated in war on multiple occasions by a woman – Nanny of the Maroons.
Women today are still fighting to be embraced as leaders so I can’t imagine the disdain Nanny endured in the 1700s when faced with an enemy who likely did not consider her worthy of surrender. I am sure just the new knowledge that they were fighting a woman had them redouble their efforts to bring her down. Is it any wonder we hear less about her leadership skill and more about allegations of her being a practitioner of the dark arts – ‘obeah’ – as surely magic and not talent is the only way a woman can win? I am happy to see that despite such relative anonymity in written history she ultimate became a National Heroine of Jamaica.
As we celebrate Women’s History Month I wanted to put a lesser known woman in the spotlight. There are many other leaders just like Nanny of the Maroons who may not achieve global fame but whose works make a significant impact on business, culture and society at large. I was, in fact, benefitting from such an impact yesterday as I swallowed that last bite of pork and ran out of my apartment. You see, the Maroons invented the concept of jerking! While in hiding they could not risk cooking on large open fires that might attract the enemy so they developed this slow roast method that has now become synonymous with Jamaican cuisine. For our food, our freedom, and daily inspiration to give my best to my clients and to society, I say thanks to all our female leaders who stories remain untold.