BY GARFIELD MYERS Editor-at-large, South/central Bureau firstname.lastname@example.org
SANTA CRUZ, St Elizabeth — Youth and Culture Minister Lisa Hanna wants to "engage" the assistance of Maroon communities in a "transformation" of Jamaica, particularly in relation to the treatment of children.
Speaking at the annual January Sixth celebrations in Accompong Town, northern St Elizabeth on Sunday, Hanna claimed there is need for a "cultural revolution" of mind, spirit and teaching.
To that end, she said, Jamaica's Maroons should be an example to the rest of society because of traditional values inherited from the Ashanti people of West Africa which had helped to foster stability and tranquility in Accompong and other Maroon villages.
"These values include pride in self, communal responsibility, respect for others and commitment to the cause of their nationhood," she told a large audience at a civic ceremony, which followed a morning of centuries-old Maroon rituals.
Hanna, who has been under pressure in recent months to improve the condition of Children's Homes and Places of Safety, said Jamaica could learn much from the Maroons in respect to the treatment of children.
"In many respects, we have to return to our roots to move forward. We can learn a lot from the Ashanti governance structure that sought to ensure that every member of the community was cared for. We can be guided by the Ashanti land rights based on communal ownership that provided respect, stability and assurance of inheritance to the youth population. Additionally, young people were initiated in a programme that allowed them to understand such Ashanti values as respect for their elders, self respect, and the transfer of power for the continuation of the struggle," Hanna said.
She credited the Maroons for having "taught us the Ashanti values of responsibility for children by all adults in the community".
Said Hanna: "It was the right and responsibility of all adults to engage in the proper upbringing of the children of the community. The adults ensured that children were free from abuse and that they understood themselves as heirs to the gains of struggle.
"It is my firm belief that part of the problem of our modern Jamaican society is that we have abandoned these historical and traditional values that were the bedrock of our ancestors. Today, many parents leave their children to fend for themselves, abuse them, or simply turn them over to government. Many have abandoned their children to modern day alien values. Many label them uncontrollable and retreat from their responsibility as parents and as a community to care for them. We have abandoned the Ashanti principle that it takes a village to raise a child."
She pledged to "reach out and to ask the Maroons to come to the table, to sit with us and to give us a template of what they have practised for so many years".
"So that when we go into the classrooms and talk to the children as to who is a maroon, what is a maroon, what do they know about the culture, they don't tell you is because Nanny (National Hero) got shot in her bottom," Hanna said.
"It's not right; it is so far from the truth, and we must begin to tell our people about our history and about who we are as a people. It is time to start speaking our own history," Hanna said.
To that end, she said, she would be striving to secure the "cooperation of the Maroons in the fight to take back our children... for the future and progress of our country".
As part of the desired cultural "revolution" and "transformation", Hanna said there was also need to address the loss of positive values in much of contemporary Jamaican music.
"The retreat from our authentic cultural roots is also seen in our music," Hanna said. "Music is one of the foundations on which we build a positive society. The colonial powers understood this and sought to kill the drums. Our ancestors understood that they would have to create their own songs as part of the process of owning this new land. For years the colonial authorities outlawed the drum because they saw it as a revolutionary signal and symbol of our cultural survival.
"But our forebears resisted and today the drums are still with us. Our musicians must again understand as Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff, Peter Tosh, and so many others did, that the music must edify, solidify and defy alien cultures. The bleaching must stop, the beating up of our women in our music must stop, the (attitude) that as you see a woman, you must hold down and take whatever she have, must stop," said Hanna.
"Our music must not devalue and the Government will continue to work closely with the Music Industry and the wider Jamaican population to promote a dialogue that focuses on content for national development. This must be part of our Mission of the Nation," the youth and culture minister added.
Hanna also pledged the support of her ministry for the maroons "in the discussions regarding their rights to their space and governance".
She pledged to "engage" with the Ministry of Tourism for greater support for the maroons in the building of heritage tourism and also to lobby for improved access roads to Accompong.
Sunday's celebration in Accompong, situated in the rugged Cockpit Country of northern St Elizabeth, close to the south Trelawny border marked the 275th anniversary of the signing of a peace treaty between the Trelawny Maroons, sometimes called the Leeward Maroons of western Jamaica in 1738.
The Maroons, a mix of ex-slaves of Spanish colonisers who were ousted by the British in 1655 and runaway slaves from British sugar plantations, had fought the British from their mountain enclaves for decades prior to the signing of the treaty.
Before Sunday's civic ceremony, hundreds gathered at the Kindah Tree to witness and participate in age-old rituals, including hypnotic drumming, chanting and the consumption of unsalted pork and local produce, which some believe will bring good luck for the rest of the year. The Kindah Tree is an ancient mango tree, under which, Maroons claim, Captain Kojo (Cudjoe) and other leaders of the Trelawny Maroons met with their people from as far back as before the signing of the Treaty.