How This Maroon Leader Poisoned His Way Toward Liberation

francois makandal
Briona Lamback
August 29, 2023

“Dammit!” he wailed as blood dripped from his hand like a leaky faucet. François Makanda injured himself before working the sugar mill, but this was excruciatingly different. 

His hand was hanging on by a thread, and so was his patience.

It was the 1700s when slavery was rampant. So he escaped, for the umpteenth time, to the Limbé mountains of Saint-Domingue. But this time, Makandal planned to use his most potent skills to wreak havoc on the oppressors and their allies.

Makandal shared his ideas with the community, building collective consciousness and solidarity. Many considered him a prophet who once, during a secret night meeting, used different colored scarves to demonstrate how the island would soon be under the control of Black people. 

Hunched over his workspace, he concocted a poisonous potion and packaged it as a ‘gris-gris,’ a symbol of spiritual protection that was made up of a leather pouch full of prayed-over bones, nails, roots, and a holy-water-soaked cloth.

Makandal formed an underground network of comrades who transported the pouches to plantations across the island tucked underneath headwraps and disguised as necklaces. 

Their poisonous packets killed dozens of enslavers. Although a spontaneous confession exposed the network, Makandal’s legacy teaches us something crucial.

We all have the power to effect change. We can rely on each other and our skills to ‘Makandal’ our way out of the poisonous, anti-Black systems around us.