'Tek it off yuh mind'

Elder Maroon statesman persists in defence of Cockpit Country

Observer staff reporter

Monday, January 14, 2019

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ACCOMPONG TOWN, St Elizabeth — Now 86 years old, long-standing deputy colonel of the Accompong Maroons, Melville Currie told the gathering at the annual January 6 celebration in the community to mark the signing of the peace treaty between Maroons and the British, that he was weary, old and on his way out.

That declaration, however, did not prevent him from his usual strong defence of Maroon culture and land, particularly restating claim to the Cockpit Country.

“I have been hearing a whole heap of things about the Cockpit Country and a whole heap a owners about the Cockpit Country…the Cockpit Country is only owned by one people…the Maroons,” said Currie.

He continued: “The treaty that was signed by the British and the people who are now known as the Maroons was fought for by the Maroons. We did not fight the British on the plains of Jamaica because they would win us, so we took to the hills and the mountains of the Cockpit Country, and from these mountains we fought them tooth and nail. When they find that they could not have won, they asked for peace [and] we welcomed the argument. Today, you hear bauxite company want Cockpit Country [to] mine, this other one want it fi other project… The Maroon want it for their inheritance to come. I go further and I will say to you, the treaty that our forefathers signed with the British it gave us the right to do what we want in this Cockpit Country — that's why it name Country. We hear talking about protection and parish management, Maroon will manage the Cockpit Country… We are saying to everybody 'tek unuh mind off a di Cockpit Country'.”

Currie said the area rests in the middle of four parishes — St Elizabeth, Westmoreland, St James and Trelawny.

Maroons are the descendants of slaves owned by Spanish colonisers who fled Jamaica on the arrival of the British in 1655. Also, descendants of runaway slaves from British sugar plantations are called Maroons.

In addition to the Maroons, conservationists have publicly registered their discontent with plans for mining in the Cockpit Country.

In November 2017, Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced protection for the area in Parliament.

He said the protected area would include existing forest reserves, significant hydrological and ecological features, and cultural and heritage sites.

Holness also announced that no mining would be permitted in the Cockpit Country Protected Area, and as such, the Mining Act and any existing mining licences will be amended to close these areas to mining.

According to the Jamaica Observer report about the announcement, the Government's actions were prompted by a “Save the Cockpit Country” petition by Jamaica Environmental Trust (JET), on the Office of the Prime Minister website. It said the petition outlined that the area was Jamaica's largest remaining natural forest, which stores and releases fresh water via almost 40 rivers, streams, springs, and ponds, and supplies about 40 per cent of western Jamaica's water needs.

In late 2018 JET said that at a stakeholders' meeting with residents of several Cockpit Country communities and civil society representatives, there was dissatisfaction with the slow progress in the protection, a year following the announcement.

Speaking at the Accompong celebration in St Elizabeth, British High Commissioner to Jamaica Asif Ahmad, like Currie, felt that it was important to be aware of the sanctity of treaties between sovereign nations.

“We should never forget that when one country gives its bond to another, people are watching, history is watching…,” he said, adding that all aspects of the past should be remembered as efforts are made for a better future.

This year's event in Accompong was the 281st celebration of the signing of the peace treaty and as is customary it was also recognition of the birth of former Maroon leader, Captain Cudjoe.

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