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Honoring Women of Jamaican Heritage

Nanny of the Maroons aka Granny Nanny
c. 1600s – 1740s Born in Ghana

Nanny was a leader of the Maroons at the beginning of the 18th century. She was known by both the Maroons and the British settlers as an outstanding military leader who became, in her lifetime and after, a symbol of unity and strength for her people during times of crisis.

She was particularly important to them in the fierce fight with the British, during the First Maroon War from 1720 to 1739. Although she has been immortalized in songs and legends, certain facts about Nanny (or “Granny Nanny”, as she was affectionately known) have also been documented.

Both legends and documents refer to her as having exceptional leadership qualities. She was a small, wiry woman with piercing eyes. Her influence over the Maroons was so strong, that it seemed to be supernatural and was said to be connected to her powers of obeah. She was particularly skilled in organising the guerilla warfare carried out by the Eastern Maroons to keep away the British troops who attempted to penetrate the mountains to overpower them.

Her cleverness in planning guerilla warfare confused the British and their accounts of the fights reflect the surprise and fear which the Maroon traps caused among them.

Besides inspiring her people to ward off the troops, Nanny was also a type of chieftainess or wise woman of the village, who passed down legends and encouraged the continuation of customs, music and songs, that had come with the people from Africa, and which instilled in them confidence and pride.

Her spirit of freedom was so great that in 1739, when Quao signed the second Treaty (the first was signed bv Cudjoe for the Leeward Maroons a few months earlier) with the British, it is reported that Nanny was very angry and in disagreement with the principle of peace with the British, which she knew meant another form of subjugation.

There are many legends about Nanny among the Maroons. Some even claim that there were several women who were leaders of the Maroons during this period of history. But all the legends and documents refer to Nanny of the First Maroon War, as the most outstanding of them all, leading her people with courage and inspiring them to struggle to maintain that spirit of freedom, and life of independence, which was their rightful inheritance.


On March 31, 1982 the Right Excellent Nanny of the Maroons was conferred the Order of the National Hero as Government Notice 23 Jamaica Gazette along with Sam Sharpe..

Edna Manley
1900 – 1987 Born in Yorkshire, England

Edna Manley was born in Yorkshire, England in 1900 to a Jamaican mother and an English father and died February 2, 1987. She studied at various art schools in England including St. Michael’s School of Art, London and privately with Maurice Harding, the animal sculptor. She married Norman Manley in 1921 and in 1922 moved to Jamaica with him. Art as it existed in Jamaica then could not have interested Edna. Sculpture was almost non-existent, and painting was limited to a conservative watercolour landscape tradition, practiced essentially by amateurs. Yet, her own work changed dramatically after her arrival in Jamaica. There was a tremendous leap from the ‘romantic realist’ studies done up to the time of her departure from England to her first Jamaica work, the Beadseller. Shortly after, the Beadseller was to have a male counterpart, the Listener, after which Edna went to England in 1923 with her two plasters. The visit proved fruitful. She had the plasters cast into bronze and she was accepted into the Society of Women’s Artists and had Beadseller displayed in their 1924 Exhibition.

Back in Jamaica in early 1924, she quickly set to work with new carving tools and produced Wisdom and then the Ape. At that time, too, she began to model realistic portraits in clay first of Norman and the two-year-old Douglas and then of a friend, Esther Chapman. Then, testing the possibilities of her new medium, she did a head of another friend, Leslie Clerk in wood.

The artist’s various submissions to the exhibitions of the Society of Women Artists began to be noticed and in 1927 two French Journals – Les Artistes D’Aujourd‘Hui and La Revue Moderne- singled out her work for praise. In England the interest in her work began to grow and in 1929, Edna returned there with a group of recently completed sculpture including Eve, the Torso of Woman, Boy with Reed and the Ape to exhibit in the Goupil Summer Exhibition.

In London on her 1929 visit, she discovered a new medium. She wrote to Norman, “I’m going eventually to carve stone”. This was the preferred medium of the direct carvers whom she would have been observing at that time, and on her return to Jamaica later that year she began to carve in imported materials – Hopeton-wood stone, Caen-stone, Portland stone and Sandstone.

Throughout her career the artist passed through a series of phases, each representing Edna’ stages in the development of her life and that of Jamaica:

Negro Aroused (1935 – 1940): This represented a search for a new order, a vision of a people being awakened to a new consciousness. Chief among her works at this time were Mountain Girl, Negro Aroused, The Prophet, Pocomania

The Dying God Series (1941 – 1948): Works including Before Thought, the Forerunner, Before Truth, Into the Mist. These are at one and the same time her most private yet universal works. In them are elements of a personal symbolism based on her own intimate relationships with her husband and family.

The Public Year and Public Commissions (1949 – 1969): At this time there is intense pressure on family and political life. Works at this time are isolated pieces, usually commissions. these include The Hills of
Papine, The Mountains and all the All Saints Crucifix.

A Period of Mourning (1969-1974): This is the period of illness and death of Norman Manley. She does Angel, the Grief of Mary, Journey among others.

Mrs. Manley has played a major pioneering role in the history of 20th century Jamaican art. Her works are in private collections, galleries and public buildings worldwide. Since 1924 she exhibited in many
one woman and group exhibitions mainly in London, the United States, the Caribbean and in Jamaica. In 1929 she was awarded the Institute of Jamaica’s Silver Musgrave Medal. In 1943 she became the first
recipient of the gold Musgrave Medal for her outstanding contribution and leadership in the arts in Jamaica.

Edna was co-founder of the Jamaica School of Art in 1950. She stopped carving in wood in 1974 with ‘Journey’ and all her subsequent works were carved in clay and cast. Later in 1977 she received the
Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters from the University of West Indies, Kingston. In 1980 at the National Gallery Retrospective Exhibition “Edna Manley the Seventies,” she was awarded the Order of
Merit.

There is a specialized gallery devoted to her life and work at the National Gallery of Jamaica.

Louise Bennett-Coverley aka Miss Lou
1919 – 2006 Born in Kingston, Jamaica

Louise Bennett was born on September 7, 1919. She was a Jamaican poet and activist. From Kingston, Jamaica, Louise bennett remains a household name in Jamaica, a “Living Legend” and a cultural icon. She
received her education from Ebenezer and Calabar Elementary Schools, St. Simon’s College, Excelsior College, Friends College (Highgate).

Although she lived in Toronto, Canada for the last decade she still receives the homage of the expatriate West Indian community in the north as well as a large Canadian following.

She was described as Jamaica’s leading comedienne, as the “only poet who has really hit the truth about her society through its own Language”, and as an important contributor to her country of “valid social documents reflecting the way Jamaicans think and feel and live.” Through her poems in Jamaican patois, she raised the dialect of the Jamaican folk to an art level which is acceptable to and appreciated by all in Jamaica.

In her poems she was able to capture all the spontaneity of the expression of Jamaicans’ joys and sorrows, their ready, poignant and even wicked wit, their religion and their philosophy of life. Her first dialect poem was written when she was fourteen years old. A British Council Scholarship took her to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art where she studied in the late 1940’s.

Bennett not only had a scholarship to attend the academy but she auditioned and won a scholarship. After graduation she worked with repertory companies in Coventry, Huddersfield and Amersham as well as in intimate revues all over England.

On her return to Jamaica she taught drama to youth and adult groups both in social welfare agencies and for the University of the West Indies Extra Mural Department.

She lectured extensively in the United States and the United Kingdom on Jamaican folklore and music and represented Jamaica all over the world. She married Eric Winston Coverley in 1954 (who died in 2002) and has one stepson and several adopted children. She enjoys Theatre, Movies and Auction sales.

Her contribution to Jamaican cultural life was such that she was honored with the M.B.E., the Norman Manley Award for Excellence (in the field of Arts), the Order of Jamaica (1974) the Institute of Jamaica’s Musgrave Silver and Gold Medals for distinguished eminence in the field of Arts and Culture, and in 1983 the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters from the University of the West Indies. In September 1988 her composition “You’re going home now”, won a nomination from the Academy of Canadian Cinema ad Television, for the best original song in the movie “Milk and Honey.”

In 1998 she received the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters from York University, Toronto, Canada. The Jamaica Government also appointed her Cultural Ambassador at Large for Jamaica. On Jamaica’s independence day 2001, Bennett-Coverley was appointed as a Member of the Order of Merit for her distinguished contribution to the development of the Arts and Culture.

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