She Little but she Tallawa

She Little But She Tallawa is a poem about an Eighteenth century Jamaican heroine, Nanny, small and wiry. ‘Tallawa’ means strong. She was trafficked from Ghana to Jamaica to become a slave. But once there, fought her way free and using guerrilla tactics successfully fought the British over many years whilst setting up Maroon communities and armies in the Blue Mountains. The Maroons were a formidable army who defeated the British over decades, attacked plantations and freed slaves. This led to a treaty with the British, who granted them 5 hundred acres and their freedom but at a cost; against her wishes, her siblings agreed to help track and return runaway slaves. Rebel groups from the Asante tribe were common throughout the Caribbean and South America.

She grabs the cudgel
Armed and ready
Looks to the hills
Where she will plough her own furrow

Desperation bleeds hope
Steals the lock
Door opens
Smells freedom

Though hell will run her down
She not looking back
Run, run,
Through river
Down gully
Dash way the scent of blood-thirsty
Bloodhounds and bloodier men

Up, up the mountain
Deep into the impenetrable forest
Scrabble, slither and slide
Gather herbs
Plait branches
Lay traps
‘Come if you bad.’

‘Is war you waant
Is war you gwine get.’

Higher she climbs
Scaling the ridge
To a world where she makes the rules
Where she will decide what to plant
When to harvest
When to sleep
When to wake
Free from whip-laced exhaustion
And scars that will not heal

Elephantine leaves quiver
Birds of prey swoop
Fly, fly high into the sky
Smelling blood
But no match
For Nanny

Yes man
She little but she Tallawa

Myrna Moore

Back to the International Women’s Day 2023 collection

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