One of the things I most enjoy about any Outlander book, is how Diana so artfully melds well researched historical facts with her imagination, to create the most riveting fiction. Case in point, my favorite volume from the series of novels, Voyager, and the maroon's ritual, and uprising.
I can't claim for a fact that those scenes are loosely based on actual events that occurred in Jamaica, in the eighteenth century, but I can tell you about several similar events that really did happen during that time. Hopefully this true story, in relation to our favorite fictional story, will help relieve the doldrums of droughtlander. So, let's begin with a brief history on the people known as maroons, and their role in the Tacky War (May - July 1760).
The term "maroon" is believed to have originated from the Spanish word, cimarrón, meaning wild and/or untamed, and was commonly used in reference to runaways, or castaways. When the British ousted the Spanish, and took control of Jamaica in 1655 the term "maroon" was used for the African slaves abandoned by their former Spanish masters who joined with other freed blacks, and indigenous islanders to create sustainable agricultural communities. These maroons also conducted raids on local sugar plantations, similar to the raiding parties of Native American tribes. (Seminole is also thought to have derived from cimarrón, which I find rather interesting.) As the British increased their slave population to increase their sugar production, maroon populations grew, the raids became more frequent, evolving into outright revolts, eventually leading to treaties, and ultimately the abolition of slavery in the British Empire.
The Tacky War is not a trailer park Christmas lighting competition, nor is it a fashion show for hookers, but it was the Caribbean's most significant slave rebellion, led by an escaped Fante slave named Takyi, aka Tacky. Tacky was very cunning, and fluent in English, which, surprisingly, was not uncommon among the tribal ruling classes of his Central African region ( modern day Ghana). He was king of his village, and sold many of his rivals defeated in battle into slavery. We all know, what goes around, will come back around, and sure enough, King Tacky ended up on the losing end, and was sold to the slave trade by his victorious enemy.
Unable to find any recorded information regarding Tacky's escape, and position in the communities formed by escaped slaves (Maroons) on Jamaica, I assume he was a leader among the maroons, hence his ability to lead his people to revolt. There is mention that one year prior to his uprising, Tacky holed up in a cave, with several others, to plot the insurgence he hoped would result in an all black, freed slave nation he would rule, restoring his rightful place among his people.
In the predawn hours of that first May morning of Tacky's War, Tacky led his fighters in raids on two properties, easily killing the owners, and over taking both Frontier, and Trinity plantations. Excited by their easy success, the growing band of warriors continued towards bigger targets, such as Fort Haldane. There they murdered the fort storekeeper, and stole away with four barrels of gun powder, forty firearms, and ammunition. This new notch in his belt, further inspired Tacky, and two more plantations, Heywood, and Esher, were added to his growing war chest.
Sunrise found Tacky briefly halted at Ballard's Valley, where his ranks now numbered in the hundreds, as more and more slaves joined his troop. While celebrating the morning's victories, one remorseful slave from Esher plantation, was able to sneak away, and inform local authorities. Continuing their revelry unaware, Obeahmen, circulated among the newly victorious, dispersing protective powders they claimed would keep the fighters from death, or injury, proclaiming for all to hear that Obeahmen could not be killed, further raising confidence in their endeavor.
Once the Jamaican government learned of the violent events, a mounted militia of less than 100 men, along with several Maroons who were bound by a previous peace treaty with the British, were sent to suppress the rebellion. Hearing of the Obeahmen's boast of immortality, this militia captured, and killed, one of them. His corpse was left to hang like a ornament, ceremonial mask of bones, feathers, and teeth left on, in a prominent spot, highly visible by the rebel camp. As intended, this site rattled rebel confidence, inspiring quite a large number to drop their weapons and return to their former plantations. With less than fifty men left, Tacky, and his followers fought on.
Outnumbered, Tacky and his crew were now hunted through the woods, chased by militia, and maroons. Among the maroons was a marksman known only as Davy. In a rare feat of speed and agility, running at full speed, Davy shot Tacky, then decapitated him, as proof he had indeed killed the rebel leader. Davy reaped a rich reward, and Tacky's head was mounted on a pole at Spanish Town, for all to see what happens to those who go up against the crown. A follower, friend, or perhaps family member, later removed the rebel leader's head in the middle of the night. The remnants of Tacky's army were discovered dead in a cave near Tacky Falls, having preferred suicide to returning to slavery.
Although the Fante king's coup failed, it did inspire several more uprisings in the months following Tacky's defeat. By the time peace was finally fully restored to the island, at least 60 whites, and over 400 slaves lost their lives. Ringleaders were caught and punished by death, two recorded as being burned alive, two others, caged like animals at Kingston Parade, died of starvation. According to one historian, Professor Trevor Burnard, "Tacky's War was only surpassed by the American Revolution in terms of detriment to the Imperial system."
The final straw that broke the British Crown's system of slavery occurred in 1831. What began as a peaceful work strike led by a Jamaican native, and Baptist preacher, named Samuel Sharpe, quickly swelled into what became known as the Baptist War. This time, missionary educated slaves keenly aware of the growing abolitionist movement in the United Kingdom, joined ranks across the island, swelling their ranks to nearly 60,000 rebels. This event is fodder for a future droughtlander blog post, but it did eventually result in the abolition of slavery in the British Empire, three years later in 1834.
Albeit fictional, rather than historical, Jamie and Claire Fraser do get to play somewhat significant roles in historically based events, thanks to the imagination of a marvelous writer. Even though it's only intimated in Diana's story, I like to think that Claire witnessed the personal history of her very dear friend Joe Abernathy that fated night in the tropics. What do you think?
During season 3, Outlander devotees were introduced to the feisty character of Marsali McKimmie. Daughter of Laoghaire, step-daughter to Jamie, handfast (and later wed) to Fergus, Marsali knows her own mind and isn’t afraid to speak it. (In fact, she rather reminds us of everyone’s favourite Sassenach!) But what is it like to portray this independent Scottish lass? Luckily for Outlander Homepage, Lauren Lyle agreed to tell us!
Interestingly, becoming an actress wasn’t necessarily fulfilling a childhood dream for Lauren.
“I lived abroad throughout my life,” she explained, “and it wasn’t until I left school that I decided I wanted to pursue acting as a career. I realised I could really do it when I moved to London. So I began working really hard, trying to meet as many like-minded people as possible. My background is in theatre and my first job was in ‘The Crucible’ at The Old Vic. Having not been to drama school, I decided to train with the National Youth Theatre Rep Company.”
But once her decision was made, the jobs started arrived - and not one at a time, either!
“When I landed ‘Outlander’, I also landed a BBC Drama called ‘Broken’ within the same three weeks,” Lauren said. “It all kicked off from there!”
So how does a typical day on the Outlander set begin?
“With coffee!” Lauren answered. “Then I’m normally first in hair and make up as I’ve got so much hair and we don’t use a wig for me. After that, I’m corseted up and taken down to rehearsals for whatever the scene is that day.”
As fans of the show know, there are no shortage of dramatic scenes to film, but Lauren told us that there is always plenty of fun as well - even with the early starts.
“We normally have a bleary-eyed giggle through and discuss what we want from the scene,” Lauren said. “Then we work fairly non stop until the evening. I love it when there are a group of us in a scene together. Sam and I normally crack up constantly and Cait is such a powerhouse.”
And how would Lauren describe her alter ego?
“Loyal, determined and brave,” she replied.
Since many of Marsali’s scenes take place on board, we asked Lauren what it was like working on the ships - did she find her sea legs, or did she suffer Jamie’s fate?
“The ships were really special,” Lauren said. “It was impossible not to feel a part of the world we were creating when the details of the ships were so intricate. The fact that they functioned with a working crew was incredible too. The crew were so generous at teaching us how to work all the elements on board. As for being seasick, I was initially a bit nauseous but quickly got used to it!”
Shortly after Lauren was cast and photos with her on-screen mother, Nell Hudson, began appearing on social media, many fans commented on the strong physical resemblance between the two women. But did they create a mother-daughter bond as well?
“Nell was the first person from the cast that I met,” Lauren told us. “At the first read through, she was so welcoming and she gave me the whole Outlander lowdown. We immediately got on and we’ve become great friends since. It’s very helpful living down the road from each other as well!”
Lauren enjoys a similarly close relationship with her on-screen husband, Cesar Domboy.
“Cesar and I have a great bond,” Lauren said. “We work very naturally in tune together. It’s important - and amazing - to have evolved to that point already. We really care how the other one feels about the way the whole Marsali/Fergus relationship is forming. We will always be in discussion about their life. Being good friends and always laughing makes working together the best!”
Finally, we asked Lauren where she would choose to travel to if she could go through the stones herself.
“Probably the end of the 1960s, heading into the start of the 70s,” she answered. “The boom in arts culture and music looked wild. Or then again, perhaps the very beginning of time? I’d take a camera to discover how it all actually began!”
We’d like to thank Lauren for giving up her time to chat with us and wish her lots more laughs and fun times as filming continues!
This interview was conducted by Susie Brown, a teacher librarian and writer who lives in Australia. She can’t wait to see more of Marsali in season 4 and beyond!
Only one nation in the world can celebrate the New Year or Hogmanay with such revelry and passion – the Scots! But what are the actual origins of Hogmanay, and why should a tall dark stranger be a welcome visitor after midnight?
It is believed that many of the traditional Hogmanay celebrations were originally brought to Scotland by the invading Vikings in the early 8th and 9th centuries. These Norsemen, or men from an even more northerly latitude than Scotland, paid particular attention to the arrival of the Winter Solstice or the shortest day, and fully intended to celebrate its passing with some serious partying.
In Shetland, where the Viking influence remains strongest, New Year is still called Yules, deriving from the Scandinavian word for the midwinter festival of Yule.
It may surprise many people to note that Christmas was not celebrated as a festival and virtually banned in Scotland for around 400 years, from the end of the 17th century to the 1950s. The reason for this dates back to the years of Protestant Reformation, when the straight-laced Kirk proclaimed Christmas as a Popish or Catholic feast, and as such needed banning.
And so it was, right up until the 1950s that many Scots worked over Christmas and celebrated their winter solstice holiday at New Year when family and friends would gather for a party and to exchange presents which came to be known as hogmanays.
There are several traditions and superstitions that should be taken care of before midnight on the 31st December: these include cleaning the house and taking out the ashes from the fire, there is also the requirement to clear all your debts before “the bells” sound midnight, the underlying message being to clear out the remains of the old year, have a clean break and welcome in a young, New Year on a happy note.
Immediately after midnight it is traditional to sing Robert Burns‘ “Auld Lang Syne”. Burns published his version of this popular little ditty in 1788, although the tune was in print over 80 years before this.
“Should auld acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot and auld lang syne
For auld lang syne, my dear, for auld lang syne,
We’ll take a cup o kindness yet, for auld lang syne.”
An integral part of the Hogmanay party, which is continued with equal enthusiasm today, is to welcome friends and strangers with warm hospitality and of course lots of enforced kissing for all.
“First footing” (or the “first foot” in the house after midnight) is still common across Scotland. To ensure good luck for the house the first foot should be a dark male, and he should bring with him symbolic pieces of coal, shortbread, salt, black bun and a wee dram of whisky. The dark male bit is believed to be a throwback to the Viking days, when a big blonde stranger arriving on your door step with a big axe meant big trouble, and probably not a very happy New Year!
The firework displays and torchlight processions now enjoyed throughout many cities in Scotland are reminders of the ancient pagan parties from those Viking days of long ago.
The traditional New Year ceremony would involve people dressing up in the hides of cattle and running around the village whilst being hit by sticks. The festivities would also include the lighting of bonfires and tossing torches. Animal hide wrapped around sticks and ignited produced a smoke that was believed to be very effective in warding off evil spirits: this smoking stick was also known as a Hogmanay.
Many of these customs continue today, especially in the older communities of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. On the Isle of Lewis, in the Outer Hebrides, the young men and boys form themselves into opposing bands; the leader of each wears a sheep skin, while another member carries a sack. The bands move through the village from house to house reciting a Gaelic rhyme. The boys are given bannocks (fruit buns) for their sack before moving on to the next house.
One of the most spectacular fire ceremonies takes place in Stonehaven, south of Aberdeen on the north east coast. Giant fireballs are swung around on long metal poles each requiring many men to carry them as they are paraded up and down the High Street. Again the origin is believed to be linked to the Winter Solstice with the swinging fireballs signifying the power of the sun, purifying the world by consuming evil spirits.
For visitors to Scotland it is worth remembering that January 2nd is also a national holiday in Scotland, this extra day being barely enough time to recover from a week of intense revelry and merry-making. All of which helps to form part of Scotland’s cultural legacy of ancient customs and traditions that surround the pagan festival of Hogmanay.