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From worker-brc-news@lists.tao.ca Fri Sep 29 23:20:19 2000
Date: Fri, 29 Sep 2000 19:44:15 -0400
From: Art McGee <amcgee@igc.org>
Reply-To: ljames@depauw.edu
Subject: [BRC-NEWS] BOOK: Black Rebels
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Review of Werner Zips, Black Rebels: African-Caribbean Freedom Fighters

Reviewed By Leslie R. James <ljames@depauw.edu>, DePauw University, The North Star, Vol.3 no.2, Spring 2000

Werner Zips, Black Rebels: African-Caribbean Freedom Fighters. Translated From German by Shelley L. Frisch. Princeton: Markus Wiener Publishers & Jamaica: Ian Randle Publishers, 1999.xii, pp.292.

Black Rebels, is a significant contribution to the literature on the Jamaican Maroons. Maroons are the book's protagonists; the plantocracy and its successors its antagonists. The work shows the fundamental continuity and interface between traditional African religion and cultural resistance in Maroon culture. Zips succeeds in his intention to write a "history of resistance" rather than a "history of domination" using the Maroons as prime examples.

The book's foreword and preface are followed by six chapters, including an introductory one, and concluding remarks. Notes, bibliography, glossary, and photo credits complete the book's content. Franklin W. Knight's foreword helps the reader to understand the role of "flight" in relationship to Jamaican slaves' attempt to subvert plantation slavery: "Maroon communities were designed to fulfill the slaves' inherent desires to be free, and to secure that freedom for their offspring" (viii). "Maroons were organized communities of escaped slaves and their descendants;" "the incessant flight of slaves from servitude -- marronage -- represented an intrinsic aspect of the American slave society" (vii). The book's five chapters, following the foreword, chronicle the emergence and historical formation of Maroon resistance in Jamaica.

A unique feature of Black Rebels is its portrait of the Jamaican Maroons as the primary inspirational figures to other emancipatory struggles in Jamaica and the African Diaspora. This historical process began in 1502 when the first slave ship to the "New World" landed on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola. Zips contends that the arrival of the first slave ship "also marked the arrival of the first Maroon, who jumped ship and fled to the interior of the island to join up with a First Nation" (8). Zips eulogizes the Maroons. He argues that by blending the various cultural experiences of Africa with the wealth of knowledge of First Nations and the zoological as well as the ecological knowledge acquired from exploration and intensive observation, the Maroon freedom fighters acquired a specific range of knowledge needed to tackle their economic and military problems (141). Traditional African religious beliefs and practices, such as ancestral veneration and spirit possession, also played a fundamental role in the Maroon resistance to planation society. According to Zips, Maroon concepts of religion centered mainly around reverence for the ancestors (181). The ancestors provided continuity with Africa, promoted collective consciousness, and empowered the Maroons in their struggle for cultural and political sovereignty.

Zips appropriately deals with the theme of Exodus in chapter six, "Chanting Down Babylon": Cultural Resistance in Jamaica Today." This chapter gives an apocalyptic and millennial note to Black Rebels. The cultural icons here are Grandy Nanny, Kojo, Marcus Garvey, Leonard Howell, and Bob Marley. Zips' work, which makes a series of connections between past and contemporary African Diasporic cultural expressions and political aspirations and Maroon history, exposes the inherent millennialism in his work. Marcus Garvey becomes the central apocalyptic prophet in the historical process and his vision of African redemption creates the apocalyptic/ millennial center to Black Rebels. Affirmation of Africa was essential in the construction of "new social systems" in the Americas in which "an orientation to African religious concepts and social practices provided the backbone of cultural identity" in the "difficult process of constructing new social systems" (222) in the Americas.

Zips' attempt to integrate so many dimensions of African Diasporic history resulted in certain areas being simply glossed over. His perspective, however, is a very interesting because of its attempt to give a synthetic view of Caribbean and African-American history. In the process regional differences are obscured. Those wanting more might seek direction from the endnotes, and bibliography. In some instances the book suffered in translation. Nevertheless, Black Rebels is a useful contribution to African American Religion, History, and Culture. Persons interested in Caribbean, Post-colonial, Caribbean and Women's Studies will also find the book helpful. Zips portrays the Maroons in mythological proportions. The Maroons were custodians of traditional African culture in the Americas. They are the progenitors in the struggle for African sovereignty in the New World; a struggle filled with feelings of security, insecurity, and contradictions. Maroon culture also provides a link to Garveyism and other African renaissance movements in the Americas. Zips' book, above all, reflects the fundamental role of African religion in the genesis of African-American religion and black resistance culture.

Copyright (c) 2000 The North Star. All Rights Reserved.

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