A few hundred years ago, a group of ex-slaves challenged slavery, reinforced their own power, embraced autonomy, and made a mark on history with their will and tactical approach against external forces that were far more resourceful and powerful than them. They left the world with lifelong lessons on perseverance, bravery, and fighting for one’s rights and beliefs.

Meet the Maroons.

By the 1500s, slave revolts took place across much of the Caribbean and the Americas. They were known as “Maroons,” derived from a Spanish word that means “fierce” or “unruly.” One group in particular settled in Jamaica and is heralded as “the forerunners of Jamaican independence and the independence of spirit.” This isn’t surprising. They hold the distinction of waging the most slave rebellions in the west per capita. It was with that spirit that enabled them to bring revolution to their island.

After the British drove the Spanish invaders from their land in the 1600s, the Maroon’s built an alliance with the new (albeit misplaced) “rulers,” with some even serving the British governor. However, enslaved people continued to be imported from Africa, and enslaved groups periodically rose up to join in the fight for freedom.

Maroons would rather die than live in bondage.

It wasn’t until the end of the Maroon Wars (1720-1739 and 1795-1796) that the British signed official peace treaties with them, allowing them to remain free and self-governing until slavery was abolished in 1834 in the British Commonwealth. Two particular heroes in these stories worth noting are Captain Kojo and Queen Nanni – whose leadership and courage led their people to victory. In history books full of men, these two women left their marks in a way that lives on to this very day.

Through it all, Maroons held onto their culture. Their roots and belief in who they were and where they came from gave them the strength to stand up in the face of tyranny. They were among the first to successfully challenge colonial domination and enslavement – their insatiable desire for freedom was the propelling force to do what so many of their enslaved brothers and sisters could not or would not. 

If there is a key takeaway from the Maroon’s history, it is the act of standing up for our rights and beliefs – even when we are outnumbered; to believe in ourselves even when it comes with harsh blows. They have shown us the importance of holding onto one’s roots even when the global landscape changes. They have shown us what the true faces of bravery and courage look like.