|Regions with significant populations|
Jamaican English, Jamaican Patois, Maroon Spirit language
|(originally) Kumfu, Obeah; (presently) Christianity and Revivalism|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Akan, Fanti, Ashanti, Jamaicans of African descent|
Coromantee, Coromantins, Coromanti or Kormantine (derived from the name of the Ghanaian slave fort of Fort Kormantine in Koromanti, Ghana) was the colonial name for enslaved people from Akan ethnic groups from the Gold Coast in modern-day Ghana. The term was primarily used in the Caribbean and is now considered archaic.
- 1 Origin of the name
- 2 The identity of the Coromantee in Jamaica
- 3 Historical culture
- 4 Coromantee-led rebellions
- 4.1 1690 Rebellion
- 4.2 First Maroon War
- 4.3 1736 Antigua slave rebellion
- 4.4 New York Conspiracy of 1741
- 4.5 Tacky’s War
- 4.6 Berbice Slave Uprising
- 4.7 1765 Conspiracy
- 4.8 1766 Rebellion
- 4.9 Second Maroon War
- 4.10 1816 Barbados "Bussa" Rebellion
- 4.11 1822 Denmark Vesey conspiracy
- 4.12 1823 Demerara Rebellion
- 5 Fictional accounts
- 6 Bill to ban importation to Jamaica
- 7 Assimilation
- 8 Notes
- 9 References
Origin of the name
The name Coromantee, Kromantyn or Kromanti, in both Jamaica and Suriname, is derived from the Fanti settlement known as Kormantse. Due to their militaristic background, Coromantins organized dozens of slave rebellions in Jamaica and elsewhere in the Caribbean. Including colonies in South and North America. Their fierce, rebellious nature became so notorious among white slave owners in the 18th century that an Act was proposed to ban the importation of people from the Gold Coast, despite their reputation as strong workers.
The identity of the Coromantee in Jamaica
Jamaicans such as the Maroons of Moore Town and Charles Town, and even non-Maroons such as Amy Ashwood Garvey and others, all attest to an Ashanti descent. The only known aboriginal African state in Jamaica's mainstream are the Ashanti people (properly: Asante).
Providing that the British were among the major super powers during the colonial era and dealers in the slave trade, Asantes were often captured as slaves and sent to Jamaica, one example being the testimony of Oliver, written by Edwards. Here is an excerpt of his words:
"Oliver, an Asante - his country name of Sang - a young man, as I guess of about twenty-two or twenty-three years of age. His father was a free man - a carpenter - lived far away from the sea. The village was attacked by a party of Fantes, who came in the night and set fire to the houses, and killed most of the old. The young people however they took as captives and afterwards sold him for a piece of gold locally known as 'sika', to a black merchant who carried them to Fante country along the coast. He was afterwards sold or transferred over to six different Black purchasers (all of whom were of Fante descent); the last of them whom carried him to the coast and finally on to a ship. Oliver was horrified by the sight of white men, to which he feared were cannibals."
According to Randy Sparks, author of Where the Negroes are Masters: An African Port in the Era of the Slave Trade, "many of the slaves shipped out from Annamaboe [proper: Anomabu] were Asante captured in warfare."
Akans also shared the concept of soul or day names. Much of the enslaved population had Akan day names, and the name "Quashee" (a distortion of "Kwasi") was the British planters' way of implying an Ashanti link. Evidence of this is seen in the names of several rebellion organizers such as Cuffy (Kofi), Cudjoe (Kojo), or Nanny (Nana) Bump. Names of some notable Coromantee leaders — such as Cudjoe, Cuffy, and Quamina — correspond to Akan day names Kojo, Kwame, Kofi, and Kwamena, respectively. The word became the Jamaican British term to mean "black person"; similarly, a white individual was called "obroni" (Twi: white person) by the enslaved populace.
Prior to becoming enslaved, Coromantins were usually part of highly organized and stratified Akan groups such as the Asante Empire. Akan states were not all the same, but the 40 different groups in the mid-17th century did share a common political language. These groups also had shared mythology — and a single, supreme God, Nyame — and Anansi stories. These stories spread to the New World and became Anancy, Anansi Drew, or Br'er Rabbit stories in Jamaica, The Bahamas, and the Southern United States respectively.
According to Long, Akan or "Coromantee" culture obliterated any other African customs and incoming non-Akan Africans had to submit to the culture of the dominant Akan population in Jamaica. Akan deities referred to as Abosom in the Twi language were documented, and enslaved Akans would praise Nyankopong (erroneously written by the British as Accompong); libations would be poured to Asase Yaa (erroneously written as "Assarci") and Epo the sea god. Bonsam was referred to as the god of evil. The John Canoe festival was created in Jamaica and the Caribbean by enslaved Akans that sided with the man known as John Canoe. John Canoe was a man from Axim, Ghana he was an Akan from the Ahanta. He was a soldier for the Germans, until one day he turned his back on them for his Ahanta people and sided with Nzima and Asante troops, in order to take the area from the Germans and other Europeans. The news of his victory reached Jamaica and he was celebrated ever since that Christmas of 1708 he had first defeated German forces for Axim. Twenty years later his stronghold was broken by neighbouring Fante forces aided by the military might of the British. This resulted in the Ahanta, Nzima and Asante warriors becoming captives and being taken to Jamaica as prisoners of war, numbering some 20,000 men.
From Kumfu or Myal to Revival
Several rebellions in the 1700s were attributed to Coromantees. According to slave owner and colonial adminstrator Edward Long, the first rebellion occurred in 1690 between three or four hundred enslaved people in Clarendon Parish, Jamaica who, after killing a white owner, seized firearms and provisions and killed an overseer at the neighbouring plantation. A militia formed and eventually suppressed the rebellion, hanging the leader. Several rebels fled and joined the Maroons. Long also describes the incident where a slave-owner was overpowered by a group of Coromantees who after killing him, cut off his head, and turned his skull into a drinking bowl. However, the "drinking of blood" is more than likely anti-African propaganda, though Coromantee and especially Asante war tactics were known to use fear in their opponents. In 1739, the leader of the Coromantee Maroons named Cudjoe (Kojo) signed a treaty with the British ensuring the Maroons would be left alone provided they did not help other slave rebellions.
First Maroon War
Led by Cudjoe and Queen Nanny (Kojo and Nana), the First Maroon War was a conflict between Maroons in Jamaica and the colonial British authorities that reached a climax in 1731. In 1739–40, the British government in Jamaica recognized that it could not defeat the Maroons, so they came to an agreement with them instead. The Maroons were to remain in their five main towns: Accompong, Trelawny Town, Moore Town (formerly New Nanny Town), Scott's Hall and Charles Town, living under their own rulers and a British supervisor.
1736 Antigua slave rebellion
In 1736 on the island of Antigua, an enslaved African known as Prince Klaas (whose real name was thought to be Court or Kwaku Takyi) planned an uprising in which whites would be massacred. Court was crowned "King of the Coromantees" in a pasture outside the capital of St. John's, in what white observers thought was a colourful spectacle, but was for the Africans a ritual declaration of war on the white enslavers. Due to information obtained from other slaves, colonists discovered the plot and suppressed it. Prince Klaas and four accomplices were caught and executed by the breaking wheel. Six Africans were hanged in chains and starved to death, and another 58 were burned at the stake. The site of these executions is now the Antigua Recreation Ground.
New York Conspiracy of 1741
In 1741, a supposed plot of arson in the Province of New York was allegedly conducted by three enslaved men, Cuffee, Prince, and Caesar. These three men were alleged to have burned several buildings including the home of Lieutenant Governor George Clarke. The leaders Cuffee and Quack (Kwaku), were tried for arson, found guilty, and burned at the stake. In total 13 black men were burned at the stake, 17 were hanged along with four whites. Among those arrested when the plot was discovered were at least 12 men and women of Akan origin. 70 people were deported from New York. There is considerable historical debate as to how these fires were actually started.
In 1760, another conspiracy known as Tacky's War was hatched. Long claims that almost all enslaved Coromantin on the island were involved without any suspicion from the whites. They planned to overthrow British rule and establish an African kingdom in Jamaica. Tacky and his forces were able to take over several plantations and kill the white plantation owners. However, they were ultimately betrayed by an enslaved man named Yankee, whom Long describes as wanting to defend his master's house and "assist the white men". Yankee ran to the neighbouring estate and with the help of another enslaved man alerted the rest of the plantation owners. The British enlisted the help of Jamaican Maroons, who were themselves descendants of the Akan ethnic group, to defeat the Coromantins. Long describes a British man and a Mulatto man as each having killed three Coromantins.
Eventually, Tacky was killed by a sharpshooter.
Berbice Slave Uprising
In 1763, a slave rebellion in Berbice, in present-day Guyana, was led by a Coromantin man named Cuffy or Kofi and his deputy Akra or Akara. The slave rebellion lasted from February 1763 into 1764. Cuffy, like Tacky, was born in West Africa before becoming enslaved. He led a revolt of more than 2,500 against the colony's regime. After acquiring firearms, the rebels attacked plantations. They gained an advantage after taking the house of Peerboom. They told the whites inside that they could leave, but the rebels killed many as they did and took several prisoners, including the wife of a plantation owner, whom Cuffy kept as his wife.
After several months, dispute between Cuffy and Akra led to a war between the two. On 2 April 1763 Cuffy wrote to Governor Van Hoogenheim[who?] saying that he did not want a war against the whites and proposed a partition of Berbice with the whites occupying the coastal areas and the blacks the interior. Akara’s faction won and Cuffy killed himself. The anniversary of Cuffy’s slave rebellion, 23 February, is Republic Day in Guyana, and Cuffy is a national hero commemorated in a large monument in the capital, Georgetown.
Coromantee slaves were also behind a conspiracy in 1765 to revolt. The leaders of the rebellion sealed their pact with an oath. Coromantee leaders Blackwell and Quamin (Kwame) ambushed and killed soldiers at a fort near Port Maria, Jamaica as well as other whites in the area. They intended on allying with the Maroons to split up the island. The Coromantins were to give the Maroons the forests while the Coromantins would control the cultivated land. The Maroons did not agree because of their treaty and existing agreement with British.
Thirty-three newly arrived Coromantins killed at least 19 whites in Westmoreland Parish, Jamaica. It was discovered when a young enslaved girl gave up the plans. All of the conspirators were either executed or sold.
Second Maroon War
The Second Maroon War of 1795-1796 was an eight-month conflict between the Maroons of Trelawney Town, a maroon settlement created at the end of First Maroon War, located in Trelawny Parish, Jamaica, and the British colonials who controlled the island. The other Jamaican Maroon communities did not take part in this rebellion and their treaty with the British still remained in place.
1816 Barbados "Bussa" Rebellion
Barbados was also a major commercial point to which enslaved people from the Gold Coast were imported before further dispersal to other British colonies such as Jamaica and British Guiana. Importation of slaves from the Gold Coast to Barbados existed from the 17th century onward to about the early 19th century. The slave revolt on 14 April 1816 in Barbados, also known as the Bussa's Rebellion, was led by an enslaved man by the name of Bussa. Not much is known about his life prior to the revolt; scholars today are currently in dispute over his possible origins. It is highly likely that Bussa was a Coromantee, yet there is also reasonable speculation that he may have descended from the Igbo peoples of modern-day south-eastern Nigeria. It is also possible that Bussa had both ancestries, since slaves imported prior to the rebellion (mid- to late 16th-century shift in colonial demand for enslaved Africans from the Slave Coast) came primarily from the Gold Coast and underwent subsequent creolization of the island's enslaved African population. The Bussa's Rebellion, along with other persistent slave rebellions throughout the Caribbean, had given the British Colonial government a further incentive to pass and enact the Slavery Abolition Act 1833, officially abolishing slavery as an institution in all of its Caribbean territories.
1822 Denmark Vesey conspiracy
In 1822, an alleged conspiracy by enslaved Africans in the United States brought from the Caribbean was organized by an enslaved man named Denmark Vesey or Telemaque. Historian Douglas Egerton suggested that Vesey could be of Coromantee (an Akan-speaking people) origin, based on a remembrance by a free black carpenter who knew Vesey toward the end of his life. Inspired by the revolutionary spirit and actions of enslaved Africans during the 1791 Haitian Revolution, and furious at the closing of the African Church, Vesey began to plan a slave rebellion.
His insurrection, which was to take place on Bastille Day, 14 July 1822, became known to thousands of blacks throughout Charleston, South Carolina, and along the Carolina coast. The plot called for Vesey and his group of slaves and free blacks to execute their enslavers and temporarily liberate the city of Charleston. Vesey and his followers planned to sail to Haiti to escape retaliation. Two enslaved men opposed to Vesey's scheme leaked the plot. Charleston authorities charged 131 men with conspiracy. In total, 67 men were convicted and 35 hanged, including Denmark Vesey.
1823 Demerara Rebellion
Quamina (Kwamina) Gladstone, a Coromantee enslaved man in British Guiana (now Guyana), and his son Jack Gladstone led the Demerara rebellion of 1823, one of the largest slave revolts in the British colonies before slavery was abolished. He was a carpenter by trade, and worked on an estate owned by Sir John Gladstone. He was implicated in the revolt by the colonial authorities, apprehended and executed on 16 September 1823. He is considered a national hero in Guyana, and there are streets named after him in Georgetown and the village of Beterverwagting on the East Coast Demerara.
On Monday, 18 August 1823, Quamina and Jack Gladstone, both enslaved on Success plantation — who had adopted the surname of their master by convention — led their peers to revolt against the harsh conditions and maltreatment. Those on Le Resouvenir, where Smith's chapel was situated, also rebelled. Quamina Gladstone was a member of Smith's church, and the population there included: 2,500 whites, 2,500 freed blacks, and 77,000 enslaved people; Quamina had been one of five chosen to become deacons by the congregation soon after Smith's arrival. Following the arrival of news from Britain that measures aimed at improving the treatment of slaves in the colonies had been passed, Jack had heard a rumour that their masters had received instructions to set them free but were refusing to do so. In the weeks prior to the revolt, he sought confirmation of the veracity of the rumours from other slaves, particularly those who worked for those in a position to know: he thus obtained information from Susanna, housekeeper/mistress of John Hamilton of Le Resouvenir; from Daniel, the Governor's servant; Joe Simpson from Le Reduit, and others. Specifically, Joe Simpson had written a letter which said that their freedom was imminent but which heeded them to be patient. Jack wrote a letter (signing his father's name) to the members of the chapel informing them of the "new law".
Being very close to Jack, he supported his son's aspirations to be free, by supporting the fight for the rights of slaves. But being a rational man, and heeding the advice of Rev. Smith, he urged him to tell the other slaves, particularly the Christians, not to rebel. He sent Manuel and Seaton on this mission. When he knew the rebellion was imminent, he urged restraint, and made the fellow slaves promise a peaceful strike. Jack led tens of thousands of slaves to rise up against their masters. After the slaves' defeat in a major battle at Bachelor's Adventure, Jack fled into the woods. A "handsome reward" of one thousand guilders was offered for the capture of Jack, Quamina and about twenty other "fugitives". Jack and his wife were captured by Capt. McTurk at Chateau Margo on 6 September after a three-hour standoff. Quamina remained at large until he was captured on 16 September in the fields of Chateau Margo. He was executed, and his body was hung up in chains by the side of a public road in front of Success.
Oroonoko: or, the Royal Slave is a relatively short work of prose fiction by Aphra Behn (1640–1689), published in 1688, concerning the love of its hero, an enslaved African in Surinam in the 1660s, and the author's own experiences in the new South American colony. Oroonoko is the grandson of a Coromantin African king, Prince Oroonoko, who falls in love with Imoinda, the daughter of that king's top general.
The king, too, falls in love with Imoinda. He gives her the sacred veil, thus commanding her to become one of his wives, even though she has already married Oroonoko. After unwillingly spending time in the king's harem (the Otan), Imoinda and Oroonoko plan a tryst with the help of the sympathetic Onahal and Aboan. They are eventually discovered, and because she has lost her virginity, Imoinda is sold as a slave. The king’s guilt, however, leads him to falsely inform Oroonoko that she has been executed, since death was thought to be better than slavery. Later, after winning another tribal war, Oroonoko is betrayed and captured by an English captain, who plans to sell him and his men as slaves. Both Imoinda and Oroonoko are carried to Surinam, at that time an English colony based on sugarcane plantation in the West Indies. The two lovers are reunited there, under the new Christian names of Caesar and Clemene, even though Imoinda's beauty has attracted the unwanted desires of other slaves and of the Cornish gentleman, Trefry.
Upon Imoinda’s pregnancy, Oroonoko petitions for their return to the homeland. But after being continuously ignored, he organizes a slave revolt. The slaves are hunted down by the military forces and compelled to surrender on deputy governor Byam's promise of amnesty. Yet, when the slaves surrender, Oroonoko and the others are punished and whipped. To avenge his honour, and to express his natural worth, Oroonoko decides to kill Byam. But to protect Imoinda from violation and subjugation after his death, he decides to kill her. The two lovers discuss the plan, and with a smile on her face, Imoinda willingly dies by his hand. A few days later, Oroonoko is found mourning by her decapitated body and is kept from killing himself, only to be publicly executed. During his death by dismemberment, Oroonoko calmly smokes a pipe and stoically withstands all the pain without crying out.
Bill to ban importation to Jamaica
In 1765 a bill was proposed to prevent the importation of Coromantees but was not passed. Edward Long, an anti-Coromantee writer, states:
Such a bill, if passed into law would have struck at very root of evil. No more Coromantins would have been brought to infest this country, but instead of their savage race, the island would have been supplied with Blacks of a more docile tractable disposition and better inclined to peace and agriculture.
Colonists later devised ways of separating Coromantins from each other, by housing them separately, placing them with other slaves, and stricter monitoring of activities. Since groups such as the Igbos were hardly reported to have been maroons, Igbo women were paired with Coromantee men so as to subdue the latter due to the idea that Igbo women were bound to their first-born sons' birthplace.
Other Coromantee revolts followed, but these were all quickly suppressed. Coromantees (enslaved and runaway Maroons) and their Akan imported from Ghana (the Gold Coast), ultimately influenced most of black Jamaican culture: language, architecture and food. After British abolition of slavery in 1833, their influence and reputation began to wane as Coromantins were fully integrated into the larger British-influenced Jamaican society.
However, Twi loanwords make up the largest part of the African influence in Jamaican patois. Also, Patois has Twi arrangement and grammar. The Twi language has also influenced the Jamaican Maroon population with their Maroon Spirit language.
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