Ma. Roon / Ma’ roon / – Noun. Escaped slave, or descendant of escaped slaves
January 30th, 2015: The power to truly affirm ones roots is a life anchored in completeness. And yet so many of us remain untethered to the ancestral estate that provides the greatest wealth of connective tissue. The ability to reclaim our identity goes a long way in demystifying the many questions that will serve as verifiable prose for the genealogical pronouncements of who we are and how we go here. In some cases, centuries of social engineering garnered through transatlantic journeys of hope, enslavement or conquest became overriding factors in the traits, values and beliefs systems that we espouse today. This is the wisdom that we all seek from the back pages of our roots.
It has been said, “You don’t know where you’re going until you know where you’ve been”. The careful act of mining ones history can reveal both the spoils of identity and tragic tales of loss. For Filmmaker Roy T. Anderson, his very personal journey unearths a transcontinental narrative both bloody and bright. A little known group of West African descendants who survived the ravages of the middle passage only to fight for their freedom in the New World serves as a testament to the independent spirit that coursed through veins of his ancestors – the Jamaican Maroons. AKWANTU: The Journey educates its viewers like a Howard University dissertation on the New World’s first successful freedom fighters and the ingenuity and tactics they employed to defeat the mighty British Empire.
Xaymaca (Zye – my – ca)
Noun. Land of wood and water (the name given to Jamaica by its original settlers the Taino Indians)
The great American scholar W.E.B Du Bois called it “the most magnificent drama over the last 300 years – The Transatlantic Slave Trade”. A simple journey that began with oral histories from key family members then researched through archival records quickly transformed this documentary into a Haley-ian style pilgrimage replete with tragedies, treaties, traditions and the slave trade. America’s unquenching demand for slave labour presented a profitable venture for traders and merchants on both sides of the Atlantic. The indentured servitude of West African slaves from Ghana became the valued currency for Spanish and British empire-builders hungry to facilitate the flow of slaves to the New World through the Asiento contract.
Anderson framed part of his historical sojourn through the creative wizardry of Vineet Verma’s animated war re-enactments, Maroon heroes and heroines and the music, language and dance of a people. Discerning commentary from Harvard History Professor Dr. Emmanuel K. Akyeampong on the decoding of Maroon Baptismal documents to Colonel Sidney Peddie’s more recent parallel observations to the Vietnam conflict helped to backfill an exhausting array of research while illuminating multiple plot point. The most poignant passage in AKWANTU highlights the juxtaposition of the colonizing Anglican church as its parishioners lifted every voice amongst the pews while echoes of futility and death through human bondage struggles in squalor just below their feet. This visual disparity resonates in mind numbing proportions. But from these diverse West African tribes emerged one of the most powerful freedom fighters known for their Guerilla war strategies and ubiquitous resistance . . . The Asante.
Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman and Josiah Henson were famous slaves and resistors in the American slavery movement but whom if any knows the stories of Captain Cudjoe, Queen Nanny or Captain Quaco, key figures in the Maroon resistance. The effective use of Jamaica’s unruly terrain together with camouflage tactics constituted a protracted battle against the British lasting almost 2 decades. In the end the victorious Maroons won their freedom which resulted in the signing of the Maroon Peace Treaty on January 6th 1739. This hard fought victory insured self-governance on the Leeward and Windward parts of the island. To put this in context, it came almost sixty years before the Haitian Revolution (1791), and almost one hundred years before the abolition of the slave trade (1834) in the former British colonies. And still this epic resistance ekes out a mere footnote in the pages of most Caribbean history books with even less ink being spilled by the colonizers. AKWANTU comes full circle by exposing the cultural significance of the Maroon identity as it continues to imprints on Jamaica and the modern world.
VERDICT: 3.5 / 5: Winston S. Churchill said it best, “History is written by the victors.” But in this case the mighty British Empire was toppled by a freedom fighting band of Jamaican Maroons and still history did not write about them. Written in a style evocative of the struggle and with measured delivery, Director, Roy T Anderson incorporates back into this seldom heard story a level of historical balance and detail sorely missing in the New World’s first successful freedom fighters. The cultural significance of this victory cannot be understated as it represents the inspirational tipping point for the growing voices of future freedom fighters. AKWANTU: The Journey is more than a history lesson or heritage moment, it represents the ground swell of freedom, culture and tradition out of bondage.
FINAL THOUGHT: The first successful freedom fighters.
Genre: Documentary, Drama, History
Writer / Director: Roy T. Anderson
Producer(s): Roy T. Anderson, Alison G. Anderson
Associate Producer: Edward Washington
Editor: Mike Alston-Nero
Composer: Rolando Gori
Stills + Photography: MACPRI
Animations Creative Director: Vineet Verma
Production Co: Action 4 Reel Filmworks, LLC.
Runtime: 87 minutes
Cast: Geraldine Scarlett, Miss Daisy, Adisa Sadiki Oji, Dr. Emmanuel K Akyeampong, Dr. Marcus Rediker, Wallace Sterling, Dr. Roger N. Buckley, Sidney Peddie, Noel Prehay, Frank Lumsden, Laurence Rowe, Dr. Verene A. Shepard, Laurence Broderick, Marcia Douglas, George Chin, Hansley Reid, Ray Morgan, Jack Rowe, Gary Williams, Clifton Rowe, Dr. Kenneth L. Bilby, Lewis Rowe, Dinah James, Alfred Rowe, Nana Afua Tweneboaa, Brandis J. Allman, Steve Rookwood, Pauline Binns