From the Crucible of Our Indigenous Heritage: Transform an Oppressive Reality into an Empowering Experience

Dr. Marva McClean, Teacher- researcher from Florida, USA, Jamaican Heritage

The rope tightens around her neck threatening to choke the very life breath from her body. Her eyes close and the slave ship rocks. The movement jostles her back to the present and resolve rises up from within the deep recesses of her womb. She feels the tingling of her hands tightly chained to another and sweat from her brows falls gently on the cuffs that have entwined them. She reminds herself to keep breathing. Breathe and dream of land. For the memory of the land and her people brings her hope.

She stands still…..breathless, the leaves of the Kindeh tree enshrouding her body, embracing her form as one with them. Her bare feet are firmly rooted in the soft red dirt, right hand tightly grasping the machete. The Redcoat approaches and she raises her hand ready to strike.

She sits under the Kindeh tree staring out above the mountain range, breathing in the magnificent beauty of the land. Her gaze follows the clouds drifting across the evening sky and a soft moan escapes her body. She begins to chant; the sound rumbling from within and she rocks with the movement, to and fro, calling on the ancestors for guidance for at the break of dawn she must be ready to lead her people in what she knows to be a necessary bloodshed.

Known as the most rebellious of the Maroons, Queen Nanny, Jamaica’s national heroine, used guerilla tactics she learned in her native Ghana to confront and disrupt slavery in eighteenth century Jamaica. She established a Maroon community that challenged the institution of slavery and helped to bring it to its ignoble end. The British were so challenged by the fortitude of this Ashante warrior and her four brothers that they offered a peace treaty in 1739 in which the Maroons negotiated ownership of land which remains sovereign to this day. This story carried over the ages is at the heart of Indigenous heritage. It is a monument to our people’s  indomitable will to face oppression and thrive. It stands in defiance of the Eurocentric notion that Black slaves settled into servitude and lived at the mercy or benevolence of the White man.

It is a story that must be told.

This story creates a chord of continuity beyond the ruptures of slavery and hegemony to connect the lives of Indigenous people across the globe in the struggle for social justice and equity. It is a story we must tell for “until the philosophy that holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently abolished, we will continue to have war” (Bob Marley, Redemption Song, 1980).

My friend Woolombi, a First Nation Kamilaroi man, whom I met at the Annual Maroon Conference in Jamaica 2014 shared with me similar stories of his Aboriginal people of Australia. He pointed out that dating back to the Age of Discovery, the commonality of the colonial experience rests on the White man’s exploitation of our labor and commodification of the land to build vast sources of material wealth for themselves and their generations to come. Woolombi noted that the resulting impact of persistent poverty, forced removal from their ancestral land and the disruption of their cultural practices is seen in the escalating suicide rate of adolescent youth.

We have a responsibility to stop this travesty.

Marley’s Redemption Song asserts the ideology that resisting Imperialism is an ongoing war; we must tackle this monolith which like a hydra keeps rebirthing itself in different forms as evidenced by the US presidential election of Donald Trump on a platform of White supremacy and racist ideology. Like Nanny of the Maroons, not only must we devise creative strategies like the guerilla tactics she used, but we must be forever reminded to succor strength from the crucible of our heritage and the wisdom of the Ancestors to teach and empower our youth for they are our tomorrow that must decolonize the existing social (dis) order.

It stares us in the face. Each of us has to take responsibility to engage in agentive action as we acknowledge our common humanity and the ways in which our history and our story-making are entangled. We must engage with critical friends across the globe to break down barriers and cross borders. We must embrace our youth in the conversation and in particular, share the valiant spirit of Indigenous Warriors as a blueprint for them to face the insidious racism that persists in our society with courage and ingenuity.

The ideology of the Age of Discovery continues to oppress Indigenous people with enduring forms of systemic and economic oppression. We see this in the disproportionate number of our youth labeled as failing in schools while others are placed in prisons and their life chances of success eclipsed. As we exchange in a discourse across borders, we recognize the artistry of our storytelling and its power to explore that tender space within that can lead to transforming the lives of our children.


We must tell our children of the glory of their ancestors.

I first heard the story of Nanny of the Maroons from my grandmother as we gathered to tell stories at evening time in Jamaica.  Since then, I have carried this story around with me, plucking courage from the metaphor, applying the message it upholds as a blueprint for my professional and personal development.

It is a political act to exclude these stories from the curriculum and we know that we cannot wait on the so-called benevolence of public educators to teach our children. We must uproot the lies of Terra Nullius and assert the rich legacy and traditions of Aboriginal people that were present at the time of contact and persist today despite attempts at silencing or erasing them.

We must provide our youth with a pedagogy of courage and hold ourselves accountable to seek out opportunities to tell our stories, write them into both traditional and digital texts and exploit every opportunity to have our voice heard.

We must show up and speak up!

World developments including our brown brothers and sisters dispossessed and wandering across the borders in Europe and the Middle East, the removal of Aboriginal people from their sacred lands and the murder of Black youth in the United States at the hands of White police  remind us that we cannot be lulled into complacency that we are in a post-colonial or post -apartheid era. No, we remain in the middle of a war and our weapons must be our cultural heritage.

Radicalized action such as the establishment of Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance is needed across the globe to disrupt the social injustice that persists in our communities. In this initiative rooted in thousands of years of Aboriginal heritage youth are empowered through rites of passage initiation to stand up to the forces of oppression with creative resolve and tackle the institutionalization of racism which perpetuates the intergenerational poverty line of Indigenous people.  Black Lives Matter in the United States demonstrates how Black people have responded to tragic circumstances initiated by oppressive forces with creativity that harkens back to hundreds of years of the fortitude of their ancestors.

In our stories we find our worlds.

The rich legacy of freedom fighters like Nanny of the Maroons and Dundalli of Australia who like Nanny led strategic guerilla warfare against the colonial invaders over a decade should be brought to the awareness of children and educators worldwide as an example of the possibilities that life has to offer when one perseveres and fights against injustice. They remind us that we have a power that cannot be trifled with.

We must remind ourselves that old age is a triumph and that we have a responsibility to connect youth to the elders in order that they may be nourished from the wisdom of their experience for they provide us with the spiritual fortitude to stand up to oppression.  

As our youth journey through this age of turmoil we must confront with them the question from their raging hearts: To what will I devote this precious human life? We have to teach them how to face the onslaught of news media, the allure of materialism, and the urge to respond to injustice with the quickness of physical fight which typically leads to incarceration and often death.  We must direct them to tap into the liminal spaces of our ancestry to be nurtured by thousands of years of collective wisdom. We are the culture bearers participating in the circle of life and we are nourished from the wisdom that comes with the passage of time. Like Nanny of the Maroons we must be resolute, committed and resourceful. We must grasp history in our hands and shape it for the children who stand ready to give light to our tomorrow.

We will breathe and sing of a new day!


Image credit: Supplied by author – photo of Marva McLean


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s