Alex Wheatle's Cane Warriors

Deborah's pic
Alex Wheatle's Cane Warriors
Alex Wheatle’s latest novel was published 1 October 2020. He held an Eventbrite Zoom talk on the eve of Black History Month with Lambeth Libraries. SACCO's Deborah attended to find out all about the new book

Alex wrote the book to “assert our own narrative and to give praise to our own heroes.”  The book centres on the 1760 slave rebellion in Jamaica and in this work of fiction based on extensive research, he names his protagonist Moa Mombassa after a sound system!

Cane Warriors is a novel for Young Adults (14 plus) and pays homage to Tacky, the African Maroon warrior who led the revolt.  Alex stressed that “death was a core part of an evil regime” and that he wept as he wrote the book.  However, he decided to give the book and readers a hopeful ending to enable the African- Jamaican population to achieve  ‘some sense of empowerment and control.’ This is in direct contrast to adaptations of Solomon Northup’s autobiography, 12 Years A Slave.

He reveals that revolts in the Caribbean were an everyday occurrence and that contrary to popular story, one of the pressing reasons why slavery ended was in order to stop other nations profiting from the cash crop, sugar. Alex also touched on the African belief systems of the Akan of Ghana which early Jamaicans held and which helped in their fight against enslavement – Christianity did not happen overnight.

Alex was inspired to write this book by reading non-fiction.  He was always interested in history, but not in the form it was presented to him at school. Whist in Jamaica, he did much research on the food eaten, the tools used, agricultural methods and the role of the young children within plantation life. But there was very little text about Tacky’s rebellion in the various archives. He answered the following questions at the meeting:

How did you find lockdown?

It was difficult to create but I was also tormented by what was happening in the USA - my sisters and mum live there.  I’m yearning for a time when I can return to visiting schools and interact with them again.

What is the impact of BLM?

Recent events (e.g. the murder of George Floyd, public demonstrations, racial profiling by police in the UK, public statues questioned) can be empowering - especially for young people.  We need balance, we need joy too.

Legacy

I’m really impressed by Germany where EVERYONE learns about the Holocaust at school.  This is in contrast to our education system which denies British enslavement's impact on modern day Britain.   My books sell well internationally and now I’m thinking of setting something up in Jamaica to serve children there.  If my books lead to someone picking up a book to read that they wouldn’t otherwise, then I’ve done well.

When Alex met Steve McQueen (film director)

This led to a short film about the young Alex being filmed in November 2019.  This is due to be aired this year.

Last words:

If you ever go to Jamaica, Alex urges us to visit the area overlooking St. Mary harbour where the Firefly Estate is located (Noel Coward's former home) - visit there to pay homage to Tacky, Coromantee leader of the most famous of Jamaican slave revolts.