2007 - 2020

Nanny of the Maroons

In Jamaica, the $500 note is colloquially known as the “Nanny”. Its namesake is Queen Nanny, an eighteenth-century West African woman who not only escaped slavery herself but raised a fearsome army known as the Maroons, freeing other enslaved Africans and waging a guerrilla war against British colonisers. Her story has become synonymous with freedom and anti-colonial resistance in Jamaica, the subject of legends and folklore; yet despite her entanglement with Scotland’s own past, her name remains largely unrecognised on these shores.

Nanny of the Maroons, created by local storyteller Mara Menzies and playwright Apphia Campbell and performing as part of this year Scottish International Storytelling Festival, is a move to fill this notable silence, tracing Nanny’s story from her childhood in West Africa to her enslavement and subsequent revolt. “The story of Nanny came about because Scotland was so heavily involved in Jamaica, so it made sense to tell a story from [there],” explains Menzies. “The number of Scottish people who were involved in the trans-Atlantic slave trade was huge […] even now, 70% of the Jamaican telephone directory is made up of Scottish names. I think people don’t realise, because it wasn’t happening on their shores.”

Responding to the Festival’s “In the Flow” theme, which sets out to explore Scotland’s relationship with its coastlines and waterways, Nanny of the Maroons flips the theme on its head, examining the legacy of these coastlines as sites of violence and exploitation. “By telling the story of Nanny, [we can] change people’s perspective on what actually happened to people who were on the other side,” Menzies demonstrates. “If we’re constantly just told one story, then we end up with a very limited imagination, and a very limited view of the possibility of what people can be.”

This contextualisation is key to Menzies’ and Campbell’s approach in Nanny of the Maroons, which works to emphasise Nanny’s agency and empowerment as much as it does the horrors of British colonial violence. “We’re familiar, or becoming increasingly familiar, with Scotland’s role in slavery, but there is this perception that white people stole Black people, and after a few hundred years granted them their freedom, which is not the story at all. There was a huge amount of resistance. [Nanny] had nothing, […] she had herself, and then she built this army, and freed enslaved people. There is such a force of strength, of spirit there.”

For Menzies, who is a professional story maker, the format that SISF celebrates is key to platforming these untold tales. “If you’re looking at the arts community of Scotland, they are probably the most open to and celebratory of different cultures,” Menzies insists, passionate about counteracting the perception of storytelling as a solely traditional and conservative medium. “I think that there is a role for, you know, grandparents entertaining young children, but it has also evolved in such a powerful way,” she continues. “Yes, it’s traditional in its ambition to keep traditional storytelling alive; however, it’s open in how inclusive it is, and in the different kinds of stories that people are able to tell”.

This openness makes it uniquely suited to working through complicated ideas of decolonisation. With colonialism itself a metanarrative structuring British society and collective thought, telling a story such as Nanny of the Maroons becomes an act of decolonisation that taps into the specific ways in which stories are told, mediated, and received. Unlike the voyeuristic, passive nature of traditional theatre, Menzies argues, storytelling allows the audience to “take ownership. It’s not just about the story, it’s about the storyteller, and it’s about your role as an audience member.” By fostering an atmosphere of mutual exchange and engagement, a storytelling performance such as Nanny of the Maroons has the power to reshape our relationship with history, and to create richer, more complex narratives.

For a work that deals with such heavy themes of colonialism, slavery, and violence, however, Nanny of the Maroons’ empowering, vital tone is deeply striking. For both Menzies and Campbell, it was deeply important not to exchange one flawed history for another. “I think it’s a dangerous narrative, when we are focused exclusively on trauma,” Menzies explains, pointing admiringly to the use of song and levity in Campbell’s previous projects Woke and Black Is the Colour of My Voice. “I think that there is real strength in showcasing the other side: this was a woman who experienced real horrific trauma, and yet […] she did all of these things. Whenever we’re telling a story, we need to have the shadows and the light.”

It is this duality that Menzies and Campbell are keen to evoke in Nanny of the Maroons, and to bring to conversations surrounding Scotland and colonialism. “The whole reason [I am] in Scotland is a direct result of British colonialism in East Africa. That is part of me, and part of my journey. Because my journey includes the journey of my parents and the journey of my grandparents; it is part of my journey and the journey of my children.” In finally bringing Nanny of the Maroons’ story to these shores, Menzies and Campbell demonstrate its place in Scotland’s own journey, giving voice to a legacy of oppression and resistance that has long been silenced.

Nanny of the Maroons is screening as part of the Scottish International Storytelling Festival on Thursday 22 October at 8pm until Friday 13 November. Tickets are by donation, more information can be found here.

Comments (40)

Join the Discussion

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

    It occurs to me that the Windward Maroons were colonists too, settling the land they occupied in the Blue Mountains, and transposing their various cultures to the settlements they established there. That these cultures evolved into modern Jamaican culture, which is in turn, through more recent migration and settlement, informing the ongoing historical development of Scottish culture, is also a legacy of our imperial past and, in particular, of the Atlantic slave trade; without the latter, the former wouldn’t exist.

    The present task of decolonisation cannot therefore be to ‘erase’ our imperial past, which is in any case impossible; it must rather be to ‘sublate’ it in a cosmopolitan future, in much the same sense that modern Jamaican culture is a ‘sublation’ of the early modern Caribbean plantocracy.

    In a globalised world, there is no longer any rational ground for curtailing the cultural freedoms (of language, religion, and customs) of particular communities in the name of a ‘nation’ or ‘a truth’ or a ‘party’.

    In this respect, the post-truth Internet provides a much more apposite political model than the nation-state. The very singularity of the nation-state makes it incompatible with the irreducible plurality of our globalised civil society.

    The blossoming of Scotland’s civil society requires the reorganisation of our political system along cosmopolitan lines, a Scotland organised in small autonomous but non-sovereign and overlapping associations of place and of interest, complemented by subsidiary intercommunal associations. A bit like the current hierarchy of state power, except stood on its head.

    THAT would be a decolonised Scotland; an inversion of the traditional Western unifying hierarchy of domination and control, in which we’d all enjoy independence, and not just our political mandarins.

    1. John Learmonth says:

      I think you’ll find that all human societies throughout history have had/have a ‘unifying hierarchy of domination and control’. Its not exclusive to the ‘West’ whatever is meant by that term.

      1. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

        Thanks, John. I didn’t mean to imply that the organisation of society according to rank, in imitation of the sacred order of the universe, is a peculiarly Western phenomenon; just that it’s a feature of the Western culture that, from the early modern period, colonised the globe.

        ‘The West’ is a fairly common geopolitical denominator. Culturally, it’s ‘a series of footnotes to Plato’, and is usually taken (or, at least, has been since the end of the Cold War – e.g. in Samuel P. Huntington’s book ‘The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order’) to cover Europe and cultures that are distinct from but intimately related to Europe; namely, North America, Latin America, the Orthodox World (Greece, the Balkans, and Russia), and Australasia.

      2. Wul says:

        Sadly, in Scotland we are still very much living within that “hierarchy of domination”.

        A country where 18% of our land is set aside for toffs to shoot wee birds driven towards them by plebs ( I nearly said “commoners” but of course The Commons was nicked by the toffs a while back).

        A country ruled by unelected, publicly subsidised “Sirs” and “Lords” and old lady in a golden hat. ‘Kin’ unbelievable.

        1. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

          I don’t mind shooting estates, but the owners should pay rent for their use of the commons.

  2. Ian Wight says:

    “The blossoming of Scotland’s civil society requires the reorganisation of our political system along cosmopolitan lines, a Scotland organised in small autonomous but non-sovereign and overlapping associations of place and of interest, complemented by subsidiary intercommunal associations”

    A rather appealing vision – a form of ‘internal’ federalism or confederalism? Grist for our constitutional mill? Telling a new we-story to our future?

    1. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

      Aye, I submitted a paper along those lines to the Smith Commission on Devolution, under the pseudonym of ‘Scallywag’, entitled ‘Devolution and the Constitution of a Free Country’, in which I advocated using the devolution process to empower ‘real’ communities at the expense of central government, maximise democracy, replace parliamentary sovereignty with popular sovereignty, and enhance individual autonomy at the expense of the so-called ‘nation’.

      I don’t think it was seriously considered, but I had fun writing it. I also stood on that manifesto in the last Scottish local elections but was slabbered by the ward’s Tory/Nationalist hegemony. Still, we had a laugh…

      1. Ian Wight says:

        Perhaps this would be a better time for a reprise of your earlier Smith Commission work – say as input into the recent/current (Local) Democracy Matters initiative. Angus Hardie at the Scottish Community Alliance might also be keen to direct attention to these ideas. Keep up the good work!

  3. SleepingDog says:

    Nanny of the Maroons would make a great computer game. More than one, in different genres. If the big studios won’t make one, you could always crowdfund it.

    The only historical-slavery strategy game of that kind I found was Banzo – Marks of Slavery, based on the Brazilian Quilombo resistance (maroon) settlements.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quilombo
    That may be where the capoeira dance/martial art was developed (I remember it featuring in one of the cultural programmes around Brazil’s most recent football World Cup). As I have probably also mentioned before, a game I have not played (too high a machine spec) but which specifically references the Maroons is Assassin’s Creed Freedom Cry, where you lead a band fighting against slavers (someone recommended the game to me).

    1. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

      Cultural appropriation? This can be controversial when members of a dominant culture appropriate from disadvantaged minority cultures.

      1. SleepingDog says:

        @Anndrais mac Chaluim, computer games are in that cultural respect no different from other artforms. The same pitfalls and opportunities apply. Their advantage is that they embody (sometimes moral) choice, which done with skill and care can be the opposite of a trivialisation (see Papers, Please for a topical example).

        The Brazilian game does not shy away from the historical possibility that someone turning up at a Quilombo may not in fact be an escaped enslaved person, but a disguised agent of the enslavers scouting its location for an attack. These nuances can be thought-provoking and deepen the players’ understandings of difficult choices historical people had to make. Playing as a Maroon faction returns and reflects agency to those actors.

        But sure, you’d want to involve local descendants and historians and activists, and ideally each game would be driven by a team like the one described in this article.

        1. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

          Yes, I know.

          I line-edited a translation of Tova Svensson’s Bachelor’s thesis, Cultural Appropriation in Games, a few years back, when I was earning a crust as a freelance editor. Tova’s a game design graduate from Upsalla Universitet. Her study unmasks how game developers appropriate minority cultures in character design and how this appropriation leads to stereotyping which can influence the way the audience regard and understand the real world. You can access her thesis through the DiVA Consortium’s portal (or, at least, you used to).

          I’ve nothing against computer games as digital art, but they stand in need of decolonisation as much as any other artform.

          1. SleepingDog says:

            @Anndrais mac Chaluim, OK, thanks for that resource, I skimmed the thesis (which has a useful academic overview) and guess I would probably agree with its analysis (I have not played the three games, though). I do agree with some of its assertions about why this is an important (perhaps vital) consideration.

            However, we are talking about somewhat different games here. The thesis covers blockbuster (fantasy/science fiction?) commercially-focused games where superficial elements are harvested from cultures outside of the makers’ to make characters seem cooler (or whatever).

            A major problem with the universe of historical games is erasure. And the story of the Maroons does appear to be being erased, rather than misrepresented. When people were unhappy with the portrayal of female characters in games, they did not accept that there were only two choices: erasure or misrepresentation. They pushed for more accurate, active and diverse female representation in games, and now ‘female protagonist’ is a popular game feature.

            The Banzo: Marks of Slavery game was funded by the Brazilian Ministry of Culture (I guess that sort of thing didn’t go down well with the new President). It isn’t borrowing culture, it is about culture. The game starts in St Bartolomeu Park with a grandmother telling the story of the Vulture Quilombo to her small granddaughter. This is a segment that could easily incorporate storytelling (as in this article) or other multimedia.

            Apparently the Jamaican Senior Director in the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport has recently noted that:
            “video games have become a popular way for young people in the diaspora to learn about the Jamaican culture”
            https://jis.gov.jm/more-inclusion-of-youth-and-technology-in-development-of-creative-industries/

            There should be no chance that Nanny becomes Tonto to a White Saviour in a historically-accurate game based on the Maroon resistance in Jamaica.

          2. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

            Yes, I agree that decolonised games are possible; that’s presumed in my contention that they are desirable.

            But don’t you find the Jamaican bureaucrat’s discourse to be thoroughly ‘colonised’? The whole narrative of ‘creative industries’, ‘purveyors of culture’, and the arts as ‘media’ through which we translate and transmit ‘cultural information’ is Eurocentric and, as such, an erasure of her specifically African heritage.

            This is a mark of the hegemony we exercise over the world.

          3. SleepingDog says:

            @Anndrais mac Chaluim, from that brief snippet, it sounded like a pitch to a specific, conference audience with soundbites for the media. I did not take it to demonstrate ‘colonised thinking’. I think you would have to look at policies and practice for that kind of analysis. Mind you, I recently had a chilling reminder that torture as part of state (imperial, coloniser) punitive regimes has been part of the Creative Industries for a long time.

          4. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

            Okay, I get it; Gillian didn’t really mean the narrative she delivered to the Jamaica Diaspora Conference back in June.

            The trouble is that the narrative she delivered is exactly the same as that of the Jamaican government’s revised national cultural policy, which, as the senior director of that government’s Ministry of Culture, she was promoting at that conference.

            The Jamaican government presented its revised National Culture Policy last year. The policy is almost a carbon copy of the Scottish government’s and reflects the same Western values.

            The value of culture, as far as the Jamaican government is concerned, lies primarily in its potential to drive economic growth; accordingly, the emphasis of national policy and practice is on training and human capital, investment, research and development, marketing, tourism, and the festival economy. The Jamaican government has even set up its own ‘Creative Scotland’, in the form of the National Culture and Creative Industries Council Secretariat, to implement its policy.

            In addition to its National Culture Policy, the Jamaican government also last year published Vision 2030, the Business Plan for the Creative and Cultural Industries. This plan was launched at an event called ‘Monetising the Orange Economy: The Future is Creative’. The ‘orange economy’ is how the Jamaican government refers to its cultural and creative communities. Need I say more?

            So, I repeat: don’t you find the Jamaican bureaucrat’s discourse to be thoroughly ‘colonised’?

            Gillian’s whole narrative of ‘creative industries’, ‘purveyors of culture’, and the arts as ‘media’ through which we translate and transmit ‘cultural information’ is thoroughly in keeping with her employer’s europhonic vision of an ‘orange economy’ and, as such, is an erasure of her own specifically African heritage.

          5. SleepingDog says:

            @Anndrais mac Chaluim, I know almost nothing about Jamaican government policy, so all I can say is “maybe!”. The proof is in the pudding, what artworks emerge from the process. Shakespeare produced and staged a great project of forensic monarchistic critique under the patronage of royals and the noses of state and religious censors. These things work at different levels. Which is presumably why today’s crusty reactionary culture-warriors are so jumpy about decolonising messages hidden in the (deeply royalist) BBC programming or children’s school lessons, whether those messages are really there or not. To use a well-known example, Fox produces The Simpsons, a popular USAmerican show more deeply satirical and socially-critical than any popular UK show that I’m aware of.

            So, I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what video games pop out from the Jamaican state cultural sausage machine/dream factory.

          6. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

            When we talk of ‘decolonisation’, we’re not talking about critique or satire of any other of those europhonic culture-specific forms of resistance.

            Rather, we’re talking of reversing the processes – in education, for example, of which I’ve spoken before in my expansion of the discussion around the parochial matter of the renaming of the David Hume Tower, or in the arts, of which we’re speaking here – by which indigenous ‘minds’ are settled by the ‘minds’ of an invasive class, a settlement which entails the erasure of those indigenous ‘minds’ themselves.

            (By ‘mind’ I here mean nothing more than a body’s behavioural predispositions, including those predispositions to cognitive and evaluative behaviours that we in Europe have traditionally called ‘metaphysics’ and ‘ethics’ respectively.)

            Now, it seems clear from its cultural policies and practices that the task of reversing the processes by which the ‘minds’ of African slaves and their descendants have over the centuries been settled by the ‘minds’ of their European enslavers isn’t even on the Jamaican government’s agenda.

            Indeed, by seeking to monetise culture as a commodity, the Jamaican government is perpetuating and further extending the European colonial hegemony over the Afro-Caribbean ‘mind’. And in so doing it’s participating in the globalisation of Western values and value-systems.

            Jamaicans might enjoy political independence, but they’re still enslaved.

          7. SleepingDog says:

            @Anndrais mac Chaluim, maybe you’re mistaking the wax for the gold? Perhaps you need to wade a little deeper, as Harriet Tubman might have sang?

            So few have the privilege in oppressive, hierarchical systems to really let ourselves shine. Wit-jousting academics of the right sort may, on the other hand, have little fear of showing just how intelligent they are.

            There’s nothing so reeking of a colonial mindset that I have read all week than to hear the population of Jamaica branded wholesale as mental slaves. Of course, racism is a mental prison of sorts, wherever you imagine yourself on that fantasy stepped pyramid. As for whether Africans are incapable of inventing critique and satire, I think I will just let that one lie in the long grass, unworthy of scrutiny.

          8. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

            So, Bob Marley’s clarion call to his fellow Jamaican’s, to emancipate themselves from mental slavery, his words a paraphrase of Marcus Garvey and the movement for African Redemption, reeks of a colonial mindset…? Don’t make me laugh!

            And to say that Africans were incapable of inventing critique or satire is no more ‘racist’ than saying that Africans weren’t Greek. Critique and satire are forms of life that arose from a specific moment in world history; namely, the birth of Europe in Athens in the 5th century BCE. Africans had their own forms of life, until these were largely erased by the European colonisation of the African ‘mind’ in the modern era, and could no more have invented critique and satire than they could the Greek gods.

          9. SleepingDog says:

            @Anndrais mac Chaluim, surely Bob Marley had better insight than either of us into Jamaican society at that time, but clearly these ideas were contested then as they are contested now, and a new generation challenges old orthodoxies (as I have heard some self-identified Jamaicans say this week), just as a new generation of Thais displays less deference towards its royals.

            Critique and satire are fundamentals, it is absurd to contend that they were only invented once in ancient Greece. Celtic bards managed to develop satire without waiting for the Renaissance, of course. You are confusing etymology with form.

            Your one glowing contribution to this article’s discussion is to hold than Nanny and her Maroons remained enslaved. Well done, I didn’t see that coming.

          10. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

            Yes, we can learn a great deal from Bob as a historical source. Marcus Garvey, whose 1937 speech in Nova Scotia Bob plagiarised in ‘Redemption Song’, was a key figure in the history of decolonisation. Understanding this history and the roots of decolonisation in the African Redemption movement is essential to understanding the phenomenon itself.

            How do you know that druidical bards developed satire independently of the Greeks? We’ve no access to the work of those bards prior to their colonisation by Christianity, which extended the hegemony of the Greek ‘mind’ over the ‘minds’ of the inhabitants of British Isles; so, we’ve no way of telling whether they had independently developed satire or not, any more than Sir Walter Scott did when he romanticised ‘the bardic tradition’ in his invention of ‘Scotland’ in the 19th century.

            The idea that certain forms of life, like critique and satire, are ‘fundamental’ or ‘a priori’ (i.e. prior to the historical fact) is just a mark of how successfully those forms have colonised our ‘minds’.

          11. SleepingDog says:

            @Anndrais mac Chaluim, when Bob Marley sang about Buffalo Soldiers, he was reworking language which had a racial history. Aren’t you a thesis-antithesis-synthesis kind of guy anyway? The adoption of terminology does not imply the adoption of original ideas. Otherwise we might come to the startling conclusion that modern marketing-speak demonstrated the ‘colonisation’ of profit-seekers by emancipation and communitarian ideologies.

            How do you know that the ancient Greeks did not inherit the idea of satire from an African exodus? Some things are older than we think, which is a deep mine over on TV Tropes. After all, Aristotle derives these art-forms from mimesis, performed on regular basis in any given playground. And many animals perform mimesis, which has a biological and therefore fundamental basis.

            As for the alleged colonial mindset of Jamaicans, it looks like there is a general preference to ditch that most totemic symbol of the British Empire:
            55% of respondents say The Queen must go
            http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/55-of-respondents-say-the-queen-must-go_200465?profile=1606

            And this is hearsay, but only this week one self-styled Jamaican offered the opinion that parental beating children, a hangover tradition from colonial days (not so much about cruelty as preservational conditioning), may be being phased out in the current generation of parents. As I say, hearsay, but clearly somebody thinks that the times are changing.

          12. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

            You’re right; I don’t know that satire didn’t come to Athens via an African exodus. But there’s no evidence that it did, and for an auld sceptic like me evidence is the thing. The currently available evidence is that satire originated in the Old Attic Comedy of Aristophanes; so, that satire is a Greek invention is the hypothesis I’ll currently assume until such evidence appears that renders that hypothesis untenable.

            And, yes, you’re right; the hypothesis that the human affinity for imitation is a cause of art is another Greek invention that subsequently took the world by storm. It’s a hypothesis that famously originated with Aristotle.

            And, yes, you’re right again; if by ‘a thesis-antithesis-synthesis kind of guy’ you mean someone who’s trained in dialectics, then I’m a thesis-antithesis-synthesis kind of guy. Dialectics is what led me to concludein my original post that: ‘The present task of decolonisation cannot therefore be to ‘erase’ our imperial past, which is in any case impossible; it must rather be to ‘sublate’ it in a cosmopolitan future, in much the same sense that modern Jamaican culture is a ‘sublation’ of the early modern Caribbean plantocracy.’

            (Don’t you just love the way our wee excursive dialogues spiral in these neat hermeneutischer Zirkeln? I find coming such full circles extremely satisfying from a dialectical point of view.

            Like they say: it’s the simple pleasures…)

          13. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

            Anyway, do you really think that the present world order didn’t spread from Europe by a process of colonisation but spontaneously arose as a force of nature among diverse peoples; that the call of the African Redemption movement to black people to emancipate themselves from the cultural hegemony which that movement describes as ‘mental slavery’ is both misguided and misguiding? Because this seems to be what you’ve been reduced to arguing.

          14. SleepingDog says:

            @Anndrais mac Chaluim, I do not think that the present world order has been created by a one-way process emanating from imperial metropoles, as cultural interactions are more complex than that (on Earth, anyway, we don’t have data on what happens when a cultural encounter is broadcast-only, although I guess an argument could be made about cargo cults).

            I cannot comment authoritatively on supposed conditions of mental slavery partly because of the problems of other minds, but if there are such societal conditionings, they may affect enslaver culture as much as enslaved culture. I have already described racism as such a mental prison for the racist. If a person is to thrive, assuming themselves already superior to others is a major stumbling block to self-improvement (and I mean that in a general sense, as well as in a particular ethical sense).

            I also dispute the contention that just because someone was enslaved, they had a slave mindset. This goes to the heart of terminology about called someone ‘a slave’ versus ‘an enslaved person’. The evidence suggests that rebellion was much upon the minds of enslaved and enslaver in the British Caribbean.

            I do agree that there have been negative practices and psychological aftereffects of the chattel slavery regime. Again, I cannot comment authoritatively, but I have mentioned hearsay on child-rearing criticism. A historically accurate picture of Nanny and her Maroons would also highlight some choices that echo those in warfare: the evils of slavery are similar to the evils of warfare in that they (generally) contribute to people doing bad things they would not otherwise do. Or to put it another way, there are fewer categories of harm that people can commit in a truly egalitarian society. However, there may also have been some positives, and Jamaicans may be freeing themselves of royalist rule long before their once-imperial overlords. As a principle of self-governance, and perhaps as a step towards #RoyalReparations

          15. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

            Okay, so you reject the narrative of globalisation, whereby European forms of life have colonised the ‘minds’ of virtually the entire planet. Fair enough.

            You also conflate ‘mental slavery’ with ‘having a slave mindset’. That’s not fair enough.

            The term ‘mental slavery’ was coined by the aforementioned activist Marcus Garvey. Knowing the conditions of mental slavery doesn’t require solving the artificial problem of other minds (that’s a bit of a lame excuse for not knowing what it is), but requires only an acquaintance with how that term has been subsequently used in the history of the Black liberation movement. Here are some quotes from Garvey’s 1937 speech, in which he set out its conditions:

            “We are going to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery because whilst others might free the body, none but ourselves can free the mind. Mind is your only ruler, sovereign. The man who is not able to develop and use his mind is bound to be the slave of the other man who uses his mind.”

            So, condition one: ignorance. Mental slavery involves an inability to develop and use one’s intellect and a corresponding reliance on the intellect of others.

            “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.”

            Condition two: disinheritance. Mental slavery also involves an inability to access and utilise the cultural capital of one’s own heritage but only that of the ‘master’ class.

            That’s mental slavery for you. And this is why the Black liberation movement has focused in its struggle on (among many other things) education and ‘redemption’, the latter being the recovery of the African ‘mind’ from erasure through its decolonisation.

            It is also something quite different from ‘having a slave mindset’. If anything, mental slavery is about having the mindset of enslavers’ culture rather than the mindset of one’s own; it’s not about having an attitude of servility but about, as Frantz Fanon had it, being a black skin in a white mask.

            Mental slavery does indeed, as you put it, ‘affect enslaver culture as much as enslaved culture’. That’s a Hegelian ‘thesis, antithesis, synthesis’ sort of thing.

            As a kind of postscript, here’s what Face2Face Africa says about mental slavery:

            “…[E]mancipating oneself from ‘mental slavery’ comes from knowing African history, having reverence for the sacrifices and achievements our ancestors made on our behalf, and consolidating the gains made in the fight for Black liberation and freedom by continuing the fight.”

          16. SleepingDog says:

            @Anndrais mac Chaluim, in one sense, globalisation has made nearly everyone the heirs of nearly everyone before. Perhaps we’re on the cusp of a world culture. At one point, say around 1450 CE, backward Europeans discovered they were well behind the cultures of ‘Middle East’, India and China. There was an undignified rush to catch up, followed by a fortunate break, in that Latinate texts were alphabetically suited to new movable type technologies, which kickstarted the book cultures eventually leading to mass education and fertile idea commons. Marx and Engels noted the appearance of the (bourgeois) idea commons of world literature. That is not a European world literature, as you seem to think.

            I think my point is that historically it was not possible to condition a people (the odd individual, perhaps) into a slave mindset, as a group they always wanted to be free, and always resisted. I think Silvia Federici makes the point elegantly in her discussion of Roman ergastula.

            I don’t have a problem with considering the development of persistent, negative psychological states as part of a social system of slavery. I though I had made that clear. But Jamaicans also have a heritage of resistance and rebellion.

            The problems of supremacist thinking tend to show up most clearly when playing fields are levelled. The academic downward trend amongst white English boys may have complex causes, or it may be largely due to a misogynistic and racist culture which fools them into thinking they are already better than others (with all the feedback loops and so on). It is not as if they would be walking into jobs for life. On a global stage, the Covid-19 pandemic has also been a rather objective test, and we see the failures in governance of enslaver-establishments like in the UK to handle problems that do not bow to a blustering pale or pink-faced man in a European business suit.

            For all your devotion to the ancient Greeks, they had some terrible ideas as well, or maybe you don’t Patriarchy is so bad, or the justification of a noble lie that divides people into castes and sets the Philosopher-King on top of the social pyramid?

            I may be unusual in this, but I don’t really care about my ancestry, and I don’t care to narrow my search for understanding to my personal biological descent or single culture. Perhaps that is my science-fiction future-bias. Jamaicans may find inspiration in the stories of Nanny and the Maroons (and so might others), or not. They don’t have to be shackled to the past, but they should have access to these histories and stories.

          17. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

            Yes, maybe we are on the cusp of a world culture. The trouble is that the ‘minds’ of ‘nearly everyone before’ have been erased by European colonialism, so that this world culture will most likely be hegemonic.

            I take your point that, during the course of the colonisation of other ‘minds’, Europe appropriated many of their texts and other artefacts to its own ‘mind’. But this just makes them European texts in virtue of their domestication to our understanding. Basically, our readings of those texts can’t be other than European, since we inevitably carry into those readings the ‘mind’ with which history has programmed us. In plain English, we can’t help but read those non-European texts from a pregiven European perspective because we can never escape the enculturation that makes us who we are. I can read and understand the Upanishads, for example, but I can never read and understand them as a Hindu can but only as ‘Plato’s children’.

            It may or may not be possible ‘to condition a people into a slave mindset’. But since I’ve been discoursing here on ‘mental slavery’ rather than on ‘a slave mindset’ or ‘persistent, negative psychological states’, the question isn’t pertinent.

            Nor is it a question of Jamaicans having access to histories and stories. If you watch the performance, you’ll learn that, as the storytellers Mara Menzies and Apphia Campbell relate, stories about Nanny and the Maroons pervade Jamaican culture; indeed, they almost collectively constitute the nation’s mythomoteur. It’s rather a question of decolonising our own thinking by hearing the voices of those Scots who are part of the Jamaican diaspora and for whom Nanny and the Maroons are at least as important to their Scottish identity as Robert the Bruce et al are to that of others.

          18. SleepingDog says:

            @Anndrais mac Chaluim, I have encountered two independent views in recent weeks, that in some way affirm some of the ideas raised by the old James Burke’s Connections television series. A recent BBC documentary on the Secret History of Writing presented evidence that the ancestor of the Latin alphabet was created by miners working on the borders between Egyptian and (I think) Syriac cultures. And secondly, a view that Korean philosophy both drew from and turned away from Chinese philosophy, in processes described as adaptive innovation, and disruptive innovation. All these point to cultural innovation accelerating at the boundaries between cultures, not from their centres, which makes sense to me. Either to become more like another culture, or to become more distinctive.

            It seem a commonplace now to recognise how enriched USAmerican culture is by African culture in areas such as music. In a recent episode of Enslaved, a musician traced the banjo back to an African instrument, through its later development and associations with blackface minstrels and rednecks.

            Applied to Jamaican culture (and subcultures, as in distinct subgroups with different worldviews) we might expect to find the same patterns of innovations. Some adaptive, some disruptive. We might even be able to offer an occasional objective measure on their benefits and harms. However, it would be unwise to see something in a foreign culture that resembles something in one’s own and think it merely a copy.

            And if human minds are social creations, as the philosopher AC Grayling argues, and folk wisdom supports (as in it takes a village to raise a child), a single human death is not an instance of erasure. That takes genocide. And for all the uncertainty of separating myths from history, the survival of the Maroons and their stories is testimony of a people who resisted genocide.

          19. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

            Yes, the business theory of adaptive and disruptive innovation offers a useful metaphor in the interpretation of cultural change. It’s become quite influential in Western historiography in the 21st century. So what?

            It’s also true that cultural innovation tends to flourish where different ‘minds’ meet. That’s because we steal from one another, transforming what we steal by combining it with other stolen goods. Everything is a remix, as they say. For example: Europeans stole the mbanza from Africans to produce ‘darkie’ music; Haitian Vodou contains elements of Christianity that Africans stole from Europeans; Glaswegians stole elements of South Asian cuisine to create chicken tikka masala… This is all just Hegel; change is an immanent dialectical process.

            Which again takes us back to the point of my original intervention: decolonisation is a necessary condition of Scottish culture becoming truly cosmopolitan (a place where different ‘minds’ can freely collide and sublate in a kind of creative flourishing) rather than exclusive or hegemonic (a place where immigrant ‘minds’ are either marginalised or erased, the latter through assimilation to the ‘mind’ of a privileged ‘host’ ethnicity).

            Do you disagree with this? Why?

          20. SleepingDog says:

            @Anndrais mac Chaluim, I think you are rather mixing up your own concepts. Are Jamaican ‘bureaucrats’ ‘stealing’ the terminology of modern Scottish government policies? Does it really help to put a label like “European” on ideas or ideologies that have globally mixed antecedents and global dissemination? Surely you are being incredibly Eurocentric if you think Christianity is European?

            Sure, I agree with those who say that decolonising various ideologies and practices, in for example Scottish academia, is a useful activity even if the term ‘decolonisation’ is often awkward to use in practice. We should try to avoid/minimise/eliminate/correct reflexive deference and supremacist biases alike. I don’t know where you get your ideas about the immigrant mind from. I understand that many people coming into Scotland are highly educated and/or previously held positions of responsibility. Also a lot of cultural products consumed in Scotland come from outside, even in sectors where Scottish producers are relatively strong, like the video games industry. Does that mean that Scotland is being colonised by the USA and Japan today? Surely soft power is the opposite of ‘stealing’ ideas (foisting perhaps)?

            My personal take on questions about the meaning life, the universe and everything is that it is about improving the pattern, but that’s more than a comment’s-worth and off-topic, and I am not going to pursue it further here.

          21. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

            ‘Are Jamaican ‘bureaucrats’ ‘stealing’ the terminology of modern Scottish government policies?’

            No. As I said on 24th October at 11:14, the Jamaican bureaucrat’s discourse, to which you linked your comment, is thoroughly ‘colonised’. I elaborated on that claim on 24th October at 22:25. Nowhere do I say that Jamaican bureaucrats are ‘stealing’ the terminology of modern Scottish government policies?

            ‘Does it really help to put a label like “European” on ideas or ideologies that have globally mixed antecedents and global dissemination?’
            It does when that global dissemination was effected by European colonialism.

            ‘Surely you are being incredibly Eurocentric if you think Christianity is European?’

            A minor tangential point, but… Christianity, as a coherent ideology, was invented by an ecumenical council of diverse religious affinities that was convened in 325 CE by the Latin Emperor, Constantine. It was invented for mainly administrative purposes and structured along the lines of Constantine’s imperial order.

            ‘I agree with those who say that decolonising various ideologies and practices, in for example Scottish academia, is a useful activity.’

            You still don’t quite get ‘decolonisation’ do you? It’s about liberating oneself from mental slavery, in a sense analogous to liberating oneself from physical slavery or occupation by a colonial power. It’s about finding and asserting one’s own voice in Scottish academia (say) instead of speaking in the voice of a privileged class of Scot (white, bourgeois, ‘indigenous’, male). Symbolically, it can be about questioning why we have statues of Davy Hume in Edinburgh’s High Street but not of Queen Nanny, when Nanny is of more significance to the ‘mind’ of Afro-Caribbean Scots than Davy will ever be.

            There’s a whole literature relating to ‘decolonisation’ out there, stretching back to the middle of the 19th century. If you want to get ‘decolonisation’, read it.

          22. SleepingDog says:

            @Anndrais mac Chaluim, when I criticised your characterisation of Christianity as a European ideology, you responded with “A minor tangential point, but… Christianity, as a coherent ideology, [blah, blah, blah] 325 CE by the Latin Emperor [blah, blah, blah]”. So you just erase all that Christianity which had already spread from the ‘middle east’ to Africa and Asia? Not to mention that some of the (what you might call normative) languages of the Christian bible are Hebrew and Aramaic, and the holy sites are in places like Palestine Israel, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. And all the things that happened after 325 CE which led to the concept of world religions.

            Far from being a “minor tangential point”, Christianity is at the crux of major contentions in decolonisation. On the one hand, undoubtedly Christian missionaries were used by European colonial powers as part of their softening-up process, overwriting local cultures and power bases (and traditions, role models and protections), and introducing patriarchal, hierarchical, remote-rule, subjugation (and tons of appalling abuses). On the other hand, some people including Africans and people of recent African descent may trace (or wish to trace) their Christian faiths back to African sources, or at least point out their early existence; and/or draw attention to the liberation theology promoted especially in South America with its anti-colonial stance, and the non-conformist (or dissenting, like Las Casas) Christians who opposed European imperial colonisation at the time, including enslaved people in the Caribbean. The evidence that the Christian diaspora went in significantly different directions, even in Europe, is clear from Papal crusades against Christians, and contemporary descriptions from travellers to places like Goa in India.

            Not only that, but Jesus figures in other culture, like Islamic productions (appearing as a notably character in non-European poetry, for example).

            Many people in the Caribbean practice eclectic or syncretic religions.
            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_syncretism#Caribbean_and_Afro-American
            Amongst these blends will be parts of colonial ideologies, and liberation ideologies, Christian, non-Christian, ideas that may have filtered through Europe and many other places, changed and built upon (which of course happened with Christianity in European countries too, as clear as Christmas). How do you decolonize that? Should you decolonize that?

            One of these ideas will be of the reigning monarch of the British Empire as head of church and state, an idea which, as I have already mentioned, seems to be highly contested in Jamaica.

            But for all your clinging to provenance and inheritable ownership of ideas, continental containers in the history of ideas are at best passing conveniences. They leak.

          23. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

            The language of the Christian bible isn’t Hebrew or Aramaic, but koiné Greek, which became the ‘lingua franca’ of the Middle East following its Hellenisation in the 4th century BCE. That bible was compiled from Greek texts by Athanasius, the overseer of a community in Alexandra, in 367 CE, just two years after the institution of Christianity by the Emperor Constantine’s ecumenical council at Nicaea in 365, where the creed was first defined.

            As I said in my last post: prior to the 4th century CE, Christianity as such didn’t exist. There was only an ill-defined affinity of diverse religious communities which in various ways took their inspiration from a gallimaufry of folk legends that had arisen following the destruction of Jerusalem in 70CE. Some of these materials were approved are included in the Christian canon; others, which contradicted the newly defined creed, were disapproved as heretical or ‘fake’ and excluded from the canon, and the institution did its level best to ‘erase’ them from subsequent Christian memory.

            Some of these legends also found their way into the Islamic canon, when the latter was compiled by Zayd ibn Thabit some three centuries later.

            And the rest, as they say, is history. Both Christianity and Islam have been tremendously successful in colonising the ‘minds’ of others, both through conquest and mission, throughout the world.

            But this, as I said, is by-the-by; a wee diversion. Marginalised groups in Scottish society today aren’t talking about liberating their ‘minds’ from Christianity or Islam (though perhaps they should be, as a phenomenological exercise in self-overcoming – jihād à la Nietzsche – which I’d recommend for everyone); rather, they’re talking about liberating themselves from the hegemony of today’s privileged voices, the pervasiveness of which fills our shared cultural space and leaves them mute. Indeed, many Christians and Muslims might justly consider themselves to now be the victims rather than the perpetrators of colonisation; victims of an enlightenment culture that has gone global.

            I think you must have missed the final paragraph in my last post; so, I’ll say it again:

            “[Decolonisation is] about liberating oneself from mental slavery, in a sense analogous to liberating oneself from physical slavery or occupation by a colonial power. It’s about finding and asserting one’s own voice in Scottish academia (say) instead of speaking in the voice of a privileged class of Scot (white, bourgeois, ‘indigenous’, male). Symbolically, it can be about questioning why we have statues of Davy Hume in Edinburgh’s High Street but not of Queen Nanny, when Nanny is of more significance to the ‘mind’ of Afro-Caribbean Scots than Davy will ever be.”

            What is it about this that you don’t get?

          24. SleepingDog says:

            @Anndrais mac Chaluim, the Old Testament of the Christian bible was originally Hebrew with some other source languages like Aramaic.
            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_Testament
            But it’s all European to you.

            Of course Christian ideology was used for colonising (and some liberation) purposes. Why should that count as a ‘wee diversion’? You stumble upon the obvious, then quickly ignore it again. You start defining ‘decolonisation’ broadly, then shift the goalposts to a narrow Scottish domain. Frankly, I tire of your Jesuit sophistry and false dealing on this site, your ineffectual cloaking of your reactionary elitist status-quo-defending views in occasionally progressive-sounding language, the poses and the film-flam (what audiences do you imagine that works on?!) of an intellectual charlatan.

            And as I have noted before, your Great-Man-Occasionally-Woman View of History blinds you to the question of why should we have public-space statues of dead (or living) people at all, not whether Nanny is a better choice for elevation to secular sainthood than David. Decolonise yersel’, pal.

          25. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

            The process by which Hebrew and Aramaic scriptures were appropriated to the Christian canon and acquired their colonial meaning as ‘Old Testament’ – a kind of backstory or preface to the fulfilment of history in Christianity itself – was a long one, and its complexities account for the many different ‘Old Testaments’ that exist today. But, as I say, this is all just by-the-by.

            All your ad hominem stuff is irrelevant to the substance of the debate, which is the narrative of colonisation as a kind of mental slavery and how that narrative applies to contemporary Scottish society. I know you don’t like me, which matters not a jot, but what is your specific objection to this narrative and its application in the form of the Many Voices programme?

  4. David Leslie says:

    Thanks for the article, I’ll log in to a screening. “Yes, it’s traditional in its ambition to keep traditional storytelling alive; however, it’s open in how inclusive it is, and in the different kinds of stories that people are able to tell”. I’d like to think that’s true of traditional arts in general – and a good model for us to aim for as an independent country

    1. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

      Yes, and it will be interesting to see how different it is from Western traditional storytelling; that is, what a decolonised ‘Nanny and the Maroons’ will sound and feel like.

      I’m registering for a performance and post-performance chat with trembling anticipation.

Help keep our journalism independent

We don’t take any advertising, we don’t hide behind a pay wall and we don’t keep harassing you for crowd-funding. We’re entirely dependent on our readers to support us.

Subscribe to regular bella in your inbox

Don’t miss a single article. Enter your email address on our subscribe page by clicking the button below. It is completely free and you can easily unsubscribe at any time.