Accompong Maroons reaffirm claim to Cockpit Country

BY GARFIELD MYERS Editor-at-Large South Central Bureau

Thursday, January 07, 2016

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ACCOMPONG TOWN, St Elizabeth — Maroons have vowed to protect the Cockpit Country as their ancestral home and they heard promises of improved access roads to their remote village at the 278th celebration of a peace treaty with British colonisers on Wednesday.

Against a backdrop of constant rumblings about the rich bauxite deposits said to exist in the Cockpit Country, Maroon elder and celebrated storyteller Melville Currie told his listeners that the Maroon homeland would not be violated.

Maroons, said Currie, would continue to insist on their right to the mountainous, heavily forested area, which includes sections of northern St Elizabeth and southern Trelawny along Jamaica’s west-central spine.

"Nobody else owns the Cockpit Country but the Maroons," declared Currie.

He also drew attention to the rich flora and fauna in the Cockpit Country, as well as its value as a watershed and the source of rivers flowing north and south.

"There is more riches here than any bauxite can value," said Currie.

Earlier in the lengthy civic ceremony which climaxed the annual, highly ritualistic celebrations, head of the Accompong Maroons, Colonel Ferron Williams, also insisted that Maroons would "protect the lands we own".

Maroons are the descendants of slaves owned by Spanish colonisers who fled Jamaica on the arrival of the British in 1655. Armed by their former owners, the ex-slaves fled to mountainous terrain extending from the Blue Mountain in the east to the Cockpit Country in the west.

Reinforced by runaway slaves from British sugar plantations, the Maroons fought the British using guerrilla-style tactics for more than 80 years, until peace was agreed and a treaty signed in the late 1730s. The Leeward (western) Maroons were the first to agree to peace with the British, followed by the Windward (eastern) Maroons.

The annual January 6 celebration in Accompong Town is an important event on Jamaica’s heritage calendar, and the Maroon village is routinely recognised for its rich tourism potential. On Wednesday, Tourism Minister Wykeham McNeill; Opposition Leader Andrew Holness; and Political Ombudsman Donna Parchment Brown, who delivered the main address; US Ambassador to Jamaica Luis Moreno; and Opposition Members of Parliament Mike Henry and Olivia Grange were among a host of officials in Accompong.

The narrow, badly potholed access roads provided constant headaches for visitors and McNeill pledged to utilise the Tourism Enhancement Fund to alleviate the conditions.

"When I come and visit you again next year, you will not be as marooned as you are now," said McNeill to applause and laughter. He emphasised that his ministry was committed to ensuring that the "reach of tourism extends across the length and breadth of Jamaica".

Holness also triggered mirth when, in obvious reference to parliamentary elections due this year, he pledged that whoever forms the next Government will improve the roads.

Holness, McNeill, Parchment Brown and others hailed the Maroons for their example to the rest of Jamaica, in terms of maintaining peace and harmony in their community, and also for holding on to their traditions and protecting their physical environment.

"When the rest of Jamaica looks on, we look on with great joy even as we seek to learn from you both about our heritage and the pride you take in its preservation, but we become inspired by the story of how all this came to be. We note that while the rest of Jamaica is engulfed in waves of crime and oftentimes mayhem, Maroon communities remain an example, indeed a beacon of peace, togetherness and stability," said Holness.

Parchment Brown, who used the opportunity to reiterate the importance of adherence to Jamaica’s political code of conduct ahead of approaching elections, hailed the Maroons for their way of life.

She emphasised the value of maintaining the Cockpit Country in its pristine state, noting that it "accounts for some 40 per cent of the island’s freshwater resources [and] is pertinent to them (Maroons) and us (other Jamaicans) in safeguarding our own livelihoods and quality of life across Jamaica.

"The need to protect nature and live harmoniously with the environment has always been a strong part of Accompong’s domestic cultural heritage, and it has become the defining economic characteristic today…," she added.

Grange, meanwhile, urged the intervention of Government to improve infrastructure within the Maroon village itself to accommodate the January 6 celebrations, including modern washroom facilities.

And Henry repeated his message of the need for reparations from British and European colonisers for the enslavement of Africans in Jamaica and elsewhere.

Wednesday’s celebrations included the launch of a radio station,
Radio Abeng 88.7 FM, which Maroon leaders say will help to expand knowledge of Maroon culture.

As always, cultural and heritage activities attracted great interest at the January 6 event – not least rituals involving dance to the beat of drums and other traditional instruments, as well as the eating of unsalted pork and ground provisions in the shade of the Kindah Tree.

According to Maroon tradition a taste of the unsalted meal will bring good luck for the New Year. The Kindah (one family) is represented by an ancient mango tree said to have shaded Maroons as they plotted strategies and resolved differences up to 300 years ago.


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