Alex Wheatle talks writing Jamaican dialect and teenager’s perspective in Cane Warriors

"One of the things a conquered people lose first is their language, so keeping a hint of that language in the narrative is very important to me."


Based on the true story of an eighteenth-century slave uprising, Cane Warriors follows teenage Moa and the challenging decisions he must make as a ‘cane warrior’ fighting for freedom from the Jamaican plantations.

Moa is fourteen. The only life he has ever known is toiling on the Frontier sugar cane plantation for endless hot days, fearing the vicious whips of the overseers. Then one night he learns of an uprising, led by the charismatic Tacky.

Moa is to be a cane warrior, and fight for the freedom of all the enslaved people in the nearby plantations. But before they can escape, Moa and his friend Keverton must face their first great task: to kill their overseer, Misser Donaldson. Time is ticking, and the day of the uprising approaches …

We had the honour of chatting with Alex Wheatle on bringing the true story of Tacky’s War in Jamaica to Cane Warriors.

Congratulations on being shortlisted for the Carnegie Awards! And thank you for introducing this important part of history to readers. Can you recommend one piece of documentary/news story that is related to Cane Warriors so readers can know more about the backstory/the inspiration behind the story?

The inspiration behind CANE WARRIORS is two different sources.

I read CLR JAMES’ The Black Jacobins, an account of the 1791 Haitian revolution, while serving time in prison following the 1981 Brixton uprising.

Also, my mother was raised on the lands where the uprising took place on the Trinity & Frontier plantations in the parish of St Mary. As a young girl, she heard her elders mention the legendary Chief Tacky and his fellow Cane Warriors.

Why is it important to have the story following Moa’s perspective instead of the leader Tacky’s perspective?

My first intention was to write the story from Chief Tacky’s perspective but the further I delved into my research and discovered children as young as eleven were ordered to carry out the same work as the men, I felt the narrative would be much more compelling if it was from a teenager’s perspective.

In Cane Warriors the characters often speak in a dialect, which makes the story more compelling. Is there a specific way to spell the dialect or did you come up with the system yourself?

There is no formal way that I know of to write Jamaican dialect/patois so I relied on how it sounds to me. One of the things a conquered people lose first is their language, so keeping a hint of that language in the narrative is very important to me.

Cane Warriors told the story about the sufferings of slaves at cane plantations. Nowadays, however, many people decide to have their weddings on plantation sites. How do you feel when you see the trend and how can we change it?

It dismays me when I hear of people getting married at plantation sites and have other happy events. Plantations were sites full of misery so I cannot understand why someone would want to have a happy day there.

You mentioned some Akan gods and goddesses in the novel, which I’m sure readers would love more? Can we one day get some retellings like Percy Jackson but for Akan culture?

Akan folklore and belief systems is a subject I’m very interested in. I’ll have to undertake more research to enable it.

Cane Warriors by Alex Wheatle (Anderson Press) has been shortlisted for the 2022 Yoto Carnegie Medal. The winners of the Yoto Carnegie Greenaway Awards 2022 will be announced on 16 June. For more information visit

Grab your copy of Cane Warriors here.

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