ACCOMPONG TOWN, St Elizabeth — Colonel Fearon Williams of the Accompong maroons last week renewed calls for the autonomy of Jamaica's Maroons to be recognised under the Jamaican Constitution.
"Our greatest challenge that we are now facing to our autonomy came with Jamaica's political independence in 1962," said Williams during Accompong Town's celebrations of the 273rd anniversary of the signing of a Maroon Peace Treaty with British colonisers.
"The country's new constitution (1962) did not address the question of the political and legal status of the maroon communities in the post- independence Jamaica. Although we have a good relationship with the Jamaican government, we want to be recognised in the Jamaican constitution," Williams said.
Claiming that over the years numerous community members accused of breaking the law had been taken out of the Maroon village for trial, Williams said the time had come when "we are going to take them back and try them in our local court as stipulated by our peace treaty".
The Maroon gathering, or Kwanzaa — similar to the week-long celebration of African-Amerian heritage in the US — is held annually on January 6 at Accompong Town in the southern section of the Cockpit County in northern St Elizabeth. The ceremony marks the signing of a treaty in the late 1730s between the British and the Leeward Maroons including ancestors of Accompong Town's residents. The treaty is said to have brought an end to decades of irregular warfare.
The Windward Maroons in eastern Jamaica made peace with the British some time later. The Maroons are the descendants of slaves from West Africa freed by the Spaniards when they were ousted by the British in 1655, as well as those who escaped from British slave owners. They fought the British using Jamaica's ruggedly mountainous interior as cover.
US Ambassador to Jamaica Pamela Bridgewater who was among the hundreds that streamed into Accompong Town to participate in the celebrations, underlined the desire for governments worldwide to respect the human rights of all citizens, including historic groups such as the Maroons.
"Communities that preserve traditions often face challenges in the form of outside pressure to change. I know you are debating these issues today as you balance your need to adapt to the outside world with a desire to preserve your rich cultural heritage. Finding that balance is something only you and your leaders can do, but as you chart your path, know that the United States underscores the need for all governments to respect the human rights of all citizens, including indigenous and minority populations and others with diverse lifestyles," the US emissary noted in her keynote address.
She challenged the Maroons to liberate themselves from mental bondage.
"Your proud ancestors fought for much more than just emancipation from physical slavery. As you celebrate their accomplishments today, I hope you will remember that full freedom includes freedom from physical, emotional and economic slavery. Robert Nesta Marley exhorted us long ago to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery, as none but ourselves can free our minds," she said.
Minister of Youth, Sport and Culture Olivia Grange, British High Commissioner Howard Drake, Senator Basil Waite, attorney-at-law Tom Tavares Finson and leaders of Maroon communities were among those who made presentations during the official ceremony.
In line with age-old customs and rituals, the celebrations included a team of Maroon elders taking food prepared at the Kindah (mango) Tree — said to be the site of community meetings in the 1700s — to the 'old town' where ancestors including Maroon hero Cudjoe are buried.