HOW THE BRIGAND WARS OF THE 1790s WERE WON AND LOST BY DASHEEN
(OR WHY ST LUCIAN AGRICULTURE MUST KICK MORE ASS THAN EVER BEFORE: A brief meditation on, or rather oversimplification of history, power and agriculture among the Neg Marron of St Lucia, both past and present.)
TO KICK BUTT OR KICK ASS?
That was the question.
In the late 1780s, when America had proven that a colony could kick England’s ass…
When Palmares had proven that Neg Marron could kick Portuguese, Dutch and creole Brazilian ass at the same time for a long time….
But John Horse, Osceola and Gaspar Nyangha had yet to prove that no one could really beat Neg Marron and Native Americans combined…
In the late 1790s…
St Lucian Neg Marrons decided it was time to kick some slave owning ass themselves.
The gangs of wild Neg, who were a danger to each other as well as the plantations (remind you of anyone? 21st century thugs, maybe? Rednecks? Sudanese? Semites of both the Ishmaelite and Isaacite varieties?) somehow got their shit together enough to form an army.
They were low on weapons, women, war craft, women, white flour, weapons and women.
This, of course, made eating, fighting and living with a bunch of guys who all wanted to do it the same two women in the group somewhat uneasy. Peter Foster would have done well there, but most other men of the 21st century would not.
But they sharpened their cutlasses, hoes and sticks, made katapol, stole a few guns and gunpowder, much of that useless…and they went to war for freedom and progress.
And maybe a little bit of personal satisfaction. That Dessalinian revenge thing, you know what I’m saying, Mr. Frederick. The two of us would have been thick as thieves back in those days. Too bad. Times have changed.
Through basic common sense and interaction with the native Americans, the Neg figured out that all they had to do to gain some advantage is never face the stronger, more well-armed forces of slavery on any battlefield, ever.
So, they played an Anansi game.
ZEN AND THE ART OF NEG MARRON
A few of them would provoke some soldiers or militia men to follow them by, say, shooting one of them in the butt. This, of course, would lead to a chase, which, inevitably led to an ambush. Or even more cruelly, a slow picking off of the pro-slavery troops until those bastards turned tail back to their vermin infested camps, feeling like their once great phalli had grown unexpectedly underwhelming.
The Neg also had numbers on their side. Because slaves outnumbered freemen three to one, if the Neg lost two men while killing one Beche, that was more of a loss for the Beche than for them.
They were already dead men, you see. People who do not liberate themselves are not truly awake. And those who choose to be free must be willing to die for it. They must kill the slave in them before a free man is born.
Yeah. I know. That’s some heavy shit.
If you have Neg Marron blood, just know that your ancestors dealt with heavy shit while at the same time managing kick some British ass. Empirically.
Most slave people of the islands, were and still are feudal vassals, ronin who crave a master to tell them what to do.
But the Neg Marron were much more like Samurai than like ronin (i.e. wave people who just flow with the economy, the politics, the tide of the day). They were like Samurai who all rejected their Shoguns. And then kicked lots of ass at exactly the right moment in history, so that even if they seemed to lose their war for freedom, their grandchildren were born free. So, like, we don’t have any excuse for our bullshit.
If they were us, in this day and age, they would have taken over the Klingon Empire already. Their ass-kicking would happen on a global, if not interplanetary scale.
DASHEEN AND THE ART OF WAR
Several British governors and military commanders struggled with the Neg during the Dasheen Wars of the 1790s. They couldn’t figure out how a bunch of poorly armed illiterates had outwitted and frustrated them for so long.
Of course, they were the kind of people who discounted the intelligence of their own illiterate poor, who could have told them how to beat the Neg from the very beginning.
It was Colonel John Moore who finally figured it out. Or rather, listened to his poor and illiterate men enough to seize on the answer. Sir Ralph Abercrombie gets all the credit for putting down St Lucia’s great Neg Marron Revolution of the 1790s, but it was John Moore who realized what the secret power of the Neg was.
Yes. I said dasheen. I’ll wait until you stop laughing to explain…
The secret power of the warrior Neg Marron generation of St Lucia was dasheen. It was the one critical thing we had that the enemy did not take a proper account of. And it wasn’t just what it was. It was how we used it.
Moore had already figured out that the Neg were at a tremendous advantage in the climate (otherwise they wouldn’t have been imported as slaves in the first place). He couldn’t know that the mosquitoes were allies of the sickled celled Neg, but he figured out they were his enemies. They had taken his predecessor, Colonel James Stewart out of the game for some time.
What he couldn’t figure out was how they could move so fast over such long distances. Where did they get the food? Where were their heavier weapons? In the bush, they seemed to move with nothing and then, when they were at their target suddenly they were armed. And though he’d seen them run away without food, he would find evidence later that they had eaten quite well after entertaining themselves at his expense.
It’s enough to make a white man racist.
But Colonel John Moore was too smart to be a racist. He was warrior who had learnt to respect his enemy and knew that he was reduced to seeking any minute advantage to his cause.
He must have looked around the rainforest thinking, “What are they eating that I can’t see?”
He must have said it aloud because one of his underlings pointed to the answer right at his feet.
“That sir. The cocoyam, sir. The Africans, they call it dersheen, sir.”
“So they eat the leaves and the stalk…?” He couldn’t figure out how it would have a fruit.
“No, sir. They eat the roots.”
And with that, one poor, dumb, nameless white boy that history doesn’t even spit on betrayed our cause to a colonel who understood that the dasheen was the way God gave Neg strength.
“It’s everywhere,” the Colonel observed. “We have to carry our food but their food is everywhere waiting for them to come to it.”
Thus was our critical advantage exposed.
From that moment on, Colonel John Moore was not at war with the Neg.
He was at war with the Dasheen.
The damned Dasheen that had given all its strength to the Neg and made them so fast they might as well be invincible, that same damned dasheen was defenseless against him.
In the months that followed, starvation destroyed Neg communities in the hills. (Some, like Aux Leon, still exist today, because they could defend their dasheen, so to speak). Neg who had children had to seriously consider returning to the plantation. Neg who committed to the fight were often deliriously underfed.
THE REASON FOR KILLING AGRICULTURE
It still took four more years to stamp out the violence of the Neg. In the century that followed agricultural laws about who could grow what were very strict because of that first strategic connection the warrior Neg Marron of St Lucia made between food and freedom. Growing had given them disproportionate strength. It made them aware of their potential. That could never be allowed to happen again.
From then on, the colonies discouraged self-sufficiency with all their might. The records show laws against growing limes. Limes. I can’t even continue the rest of the list, because I can’t get over the fact that limes were once illegal in St Lucia. Just to keep some niggers down.
Gimme a moment to pick my the bits of my mind off the floor.
Their revolution was buried for a long time by colonial powers who would have been stupid to tell later generations of Lucians how the Neg Marron kicked their ass. Instead, the master race focused on creating a reality in which the phrase ‘Neg Marron’ was associated with ugliness, stupidity and barbarity.
It almost worked.
But by the time the Neg Marron Dasheen Wars were over at the turn of the 19th century, the slave trade was abolished. And by the time their children were middle aged, slavery itself was abolished. Some of the more troublesome Neg were actually employed by the British to fight against Ghezo of Dahomey and other African kings who insisted that human sacrifice and slave raiding and trading were their culture and their God-given right. Some of them are still doing it today, in Africa, without knowing that it is Lucian Neg Marron blood that runs in them, propelling them to violence against their oppressors.
As a Lucian Neg Marron, I’m from a generation that is not so much for violence against oppressors. After Ghandhi, Martin Luther King and Mandela, anybody of any race who doesn’t understand how to score major political points by turning the other cheek and then imprisoned, tortured, crucified and all that fun stuff…dread, anyone who doesn’t understand that smart non-violence always wins is smoking crack.
But as a 21st century Neg Marron strategist (I have a doctorate in Cyber-Neg Marrology from the University of Quilesse, the same university that Yasmine Walcott got her post grad qualifications from) I can’t transcend the strategic connection between food and freedom.
It’s like the speed of light. It’s an immutable law. Anyone who tells you otherwise (Allen Food Security Is Bullshit Chastanet) is either misleading you or misleading themselves.
The master race learnt their lesson from the War of the Dasheen. Colonel John Moore, on behalf slave owners and the Crown, figured out that he could beat us without fighting us or searching for our weapons. He could just destroy our independent food stocks and we’d be beaten.
The Neg forgot their lesson.
Fast forward 200 years from the Neg Marron’s greatest victories in 1792/3 and you find a crumbling banana industry. Self-sabotaged. We didn’t even need an enemy to destroy it.
Two decades later, every half decent tribe in the world grows their own food while St Lucia imports orange juice from Florida. Ancestors are hanging their heads in shame. John Compton is inventing new ways to roll over in his grave.
Both history and present circumstances lead to one inexorable conclusion:
The most revolutionary, profitable and liberating thing any St Lucian can do is to plant food.
We’ll talk about the rest of the problems we have over lunch. And this time, let’s make sure they put more dasheen, yam and plantain on the plate.
Because macaroni is for the weak.
And white flour is for people on the way to obesity or starvation.