She was a queen captured in her homeland, and forcibly transported across the Atlantic Ocean in the belly of a slave ship. In the New World, she would eventually rise up to become the leader of a new nation – of free Africans. However, not many people outside of Jamaica know of the legendary ‘Nanny’, warrior chieftainess of the Jamaican Maroons, one of the most celebrated, but least recognized heroines in the resistance history of the New World.
Queen Nanny is the only female among Jamaica’s seven national heroes. Her likeness appears on the country’s $500 bill. Yet, not much is known about this mystical person, who led a band of former enslaved Africans in the rugged and remote interiors of Jamaica in their victory over the mighty British army during the early to mid-eighteenth century.
Most of what we know about Queen Nanny comes through Maroon oral history and folklore, and very little is written about her in historical texts. So, who was this herbal healer, prophetess, and African warrior queen? Conceived by award-winning Jamaican-born, American filmmaker, Roy T. Anderson, and history professor, Harcourt T. Fuller, this landmark one-hour documentary film, Queen Nanny: Legendary Maroon Chieftainess unearths and examines this mysterious figure that is Queen Nanny of the Maroons.
About the middle of the 18th century, runaway enslaved Africans in the Americas and the Caribbean were generally referred to as Cimarrones or Maroons. In Jamaica, this group waged an 80-year military campaign that resulted in the defeat of the formidable British army. As a result, two peace treaties were signed in 1738/39 granting the Maroons territorial sovereignty in their remote mountainous strongholds, including what is now the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park.
Queen Nanny: Legendary Maroon Chieftainess documents the struggle for freedom by the Jamaican Maroons, led by the indomitable military genius, ‘Grandy’ Nanny. A spiritual leader, skilled in the use of herbs and ‘guerilla warfare’ tactics, from her mountain stronghold at the source of the Stony River in the Blue Mountains, she directed the warfare that effectively neutralized the vaunted British firepower.
Nanny symbolizes the pride of today’s Caribbean women. In fact, Jamaica’s first female and former Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, paid homage to Queen Nanny in her January 2012 inauguration speech, and continues to do so at every opportunity. And although Maroons, who all proudly proclaim to be Grandy Nanny’s ‘pickibo’ (children), are appreciative that she was named National Hero in 1976, to them her historical importance is such that she is seen as a powerful, living, breathing presence for almost three centuries.
Shot in Jamaica, Ghana, Canada, and the United States over the course of two years, the film features interviews and conversations with world-renowned scholars and present-day Maroons. We also engage a select group of women, to explore Queen Nanny’s impact on their lives, and how she has influenced them in their own pioneering work.
One of the highlights of the film is a historic 35-person expedition to the rugged hills of Old Nanny Town in the Blue Mountains of Jamaica. Legend has it that only the bravest Maroons or those “free of bad deeds” can safely venture up to this sacred spot where Nanny’s powerful spirit still inhabits. As we seek to uncover the history and legacy of Queen Nanny, her intriguing story is also told through songs, performances, poetry, narration, and a series of re-enactments.
Following on the heels of Akwantu: the Journey (2012), Anderson’s award-winning film on the history of the Jamaican Maroons, Queen Nanny: Legendary Maroon Chieftainess expands on the story of the New World’s first successful freedom-fighters by shedding light on to one of the leading figures in that struggle. This documentary also serves as a prelude to the dramatic telling of the epic story of this larger-than-life iconic persona.