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Quotes

Resistance history, and particularly marronage, in many parts of the New World appears to suggest that religious connection with Kormantse heritage empowered the enslaved, who passed through Kormantse, as they fought to define their power relations, restore justice and their traditional values and consolidate their achievements, successes and survival. The presence and participation of Kormantse descendants or the spirits of their ancestors in events are always recognized in colonial or modern areas of the African Diaspora. Mention of Kormantse would spark fear, pride and empowerment. Without anything else, the spiritual connection alone would drive many, including even those, who were not necessarily ‘Kormantse’, to survive centuries of wars.

E. Kofi Agorsah, 2009,

 

A description of a grand festival celebrated in colonial and modern Grenadines introduces an example of one of the most significant impacts of the Kormantse connection as follows:

At the Nation dance festival… the head nation to be greeted and pacified is the Cromanti people… During the Nation Dance opening ceremony at which all Kromanti ancestors are invited, the circle of devotees is opened and two towels are laid crossed on the ground – an opening is left in the circle so that the old people (ancestors) may enter as the music is played. This music is made by a single drum, a used weeding iron hoe struck like a bell. It is said that those who have second sight can see the old warrior ancestors as they enter the free ring. This ceremony is repeated at midnight and is called Cromanti cut neck.

J.D. Elder, 1988:33,

 

“Play” among the Maroons of Jamaica described by Colonel C. L. G Harris, a most recent paramount chief of Moore Town Maroons in Jamaica, as follows:

Play is a ritual ceremony …The drummers are seated but most of the other participants must stand. The drums (Kramanti drums) are made from hollow portions of tree trunks covered at one end with a tightly drawn goat skin… and the songs (Kramanti songs) are sung to the music of the drums and the dance (Kramanti dance) is done by top-rated performers. The “Kramanti” dancer is supposed to be performing a serious dance that enables him or her “to glide from purely a physical plane on to the metaphysical.

C.L.G. Harris in Agorsah 1994:49 & 59,

 

Kenneth Bilby, a foremost authority on Jamaican Maroon music and oral traditions, points out that: 

the Maroons seldom reveal to outsiders the meaning of more than a word or two of their secret African-derived language, called Kromanti

Kenneth Bilby 1995: 31-2,

 

Edward Long (1774) with all his racist views about Africans very openly considered or credited the Kormantse with intelligence, stamina, and bodily perfection and agility, adding that: 

their dances serve to keep alive that military spirit, for which they are so distinguished

Edward Long 1774:474,

 

In the case of the Maroons of Jamaica and the Nation dancers of Grenadines the power of Kormantse could be also felt in both physical and spiritual healing. With the conviction of their powers, the “Koromantins” according to Dallas (1803), led the first major slave uprising in 1690 in Jamaica and instigated the subsequent one in 1760 as well as the 1765-6 leading the decision of the Jamaica Assembly’s imposition of heavy taxes on the “Coromantins” to make it difficult for planters to purchase them. Dallas calls them:

a people inured to war on the coast of Africa

Dallas 1803, I: 29-30,

 

Linebaugh and Rediker (2000) clearly explain that: 

The cultures and memories of West Africa figured centrally in the planning for the 1741 New York insurrection…the leading cell was made up of …Coromantee (or in Fante, Kromantse)

Linebaugh and Rediker, 2000:184-6,

 

Linebaugh and Rediker note the use of such oaths by rebels in Antigua and by Nanny, the Queen and leader of the Jamaican Maroons in the 1730s, to spiritually establish continuity of the solidarity, power and support from their Kormantse past. They state that:

The most frequent of these involved swearing by thunder and lightning…Many of the slaves swore by this oath to support the revolt and never to reveal the common secret. Military oaths invoking the primal powers of thunder and lightning were in use in the gold Coast of Africa in the middle of the eighteenth century, suggesting both the origin and efficacy of the practice…These oaths, like African traditions of resistance more generally, were not new… for they had been used generations earlier in 1712 in one of the bloodiest revolts ever to hit the North American mainland when a coalition of slaves of Coromantee and Papa background …

Linebaugh and Rediker 2000:184-6,

 

Bryan Edwards in his writing, which first appeared in 1793, has observed, and rightly so, that what made the Kormantse outstanding was:

their firmness both of body and mind; a ferociousness of disposition; but withal, activity, courage, and stubbornness, or what an ancient Roman would have deemed an elevation, of soul, which prompts them to enterprises of difficulty and danger; and enables them to meet death, in its most horrible shape, with fortitude and indifference

Bryan Edwards 1801, II: 74,

 

Philip Dark writes:

Particularly evil and wild is the Cromanti spirit. It may take the form of the tiger-jaguar or the buzzard…Thus a person, when possessed by it, is a danger to those around save to those of the Cromanti group, for he will lay around him any weapon that comes to hand. When men are dancing to the Cromanti spirit the village elders are careful to keep objects that might cause harm out of the way. Those of the Cromanti group are not harmed…for the group is protected by the wearing of a Cromanti obia or charm… Cromantispirits live in Silk cotton trees. Silk cotton trees are present in both West Africa and South America. They are sacred to inhabitants of West Africa and to both Bush and Town Negroes and to the Indians in Suriname.

Dark 1970:16-17,

 

One popular reference is by Carey Robinson, a Jamaican journalist, who writes that: 

Many of the captives came from war-like tribes, which were called ‘Coromantins’ by Europeans. They were described as fierce, bold, proud and courageous; possessing ‘an elevation of soul, which prompts them to enterprises of difficulty and danger, and enables them to meet death, in its most horrid shape, without flinching;’ despite their dangerous reputation, the British planters preferred Coromantins because of their strength and ability to work hard.

Carey Robinson in Agorsah 1994:89,

 

Thoden van Velzen and W. Wetering in their most detailed exposition of the religion and culture of Maroons in French Guiana, South America describe:

Kumanti deity or spirits associated with the sky… Kumanti medicine men said to have formed the backbone of resistance against planters – among the Aluku – Kumanti spiritual medium.

Thoden van Velzen and W. Wetering, 1988,

 

 

References

Agorsah, E. Kofi (1994). Maroon Heritage: Archaeological, Ethnographic and Historical Perspectives, Kingston, and Canoe Press.

Agorsah, E. Kofi and Childs, G. Tucker (2005). Africa and the African Diaspora: Cultural Adaptation and Resistance, Bloomington, Authorhouse.

Bilby, Kenneth (1994). Maroon culture as a distinct variant of Jamaican Culture, Maroon Heritage: Archaeological, Ethnographic, and Historical Perspectives, Ed. E. Kofi Agorsah, Kingston, Canoe Press: 72-85

Dallas, R. Charles (1803). History of the Maroons, London.

Dark, P. J. C. (1970). Bush Negro Art: African Art in the Americas, London, A. Teranti.

Edwards, Bryan (1801). History of the British Colonies in the West Indies, Vol. II, London.

Elder, J. D. (1988). African Survivals in Trinidad and Tobago, London, Karia Press.

Harris, C. L. G. (Colonel) (1994). The true traditions of my Ancestors, Maroon Heritage: Archaeological, Ethnographic and Historical Perspectives, Ed. E. Kofi Agorsah, Kingston, Canoe Press: 36-63.

Linebaugh, P. and Rediker, M. (2000). The Many-headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commons and the Hidden history of Revolution Atlantic, Boston, Beacon Press.

Long, E. (1774). History of Jamaica, London, II

Robinson, Carey (1994). Maroons and Rebels (a Dilemma), Maroon Heritage: Archaeological, Ethnographic and Historical Perspectives, Ed. E. Kofi Agorsah, Kingston, and Canoe Press: 86-93.

Thornton, John (1998). The Coromantees: An African Cultural Group in Colonial North America and the Caribbean, The Journal of Caribbean History 32 (1-2):161-178.