Sovereignty and the Maroons
Maroons participate in a ritual.

On Sunday Prime Minister Andrew Holness declared that, “There is no other sovereign authority in Jamaica other than the Government of Jamaica. Under my leadership, not one inch of Jamaica will come under any other sovereign authority,” thus confirming that no State funding will be given to the Maroon community.

It is clear that the prime minister is not very knowledgeable of the history of the Maroons, the administrative history of Jamaica, and the ever-evolving concept of sovereignty.

Over the last 10 years I have been studying the administrative history of British West Indian territories. I have placed special focus on the connections between the Cayman Islands and Jamaica. It is behind this research interest that I will offer my views on the administrative connections between colonial/independent Jamaica and the Jamaican Maroon communities.

A detailed survey of the historical documents has revealed that the British Colonial Office, which was responsible for administrating British colonies in the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia was not very thorough. This created much frustration and confusion within the administrative structures in many British colonies. For example, since 1662 colonial Jamaica included mainland Jamaica, the Cayman Islands, Pedro Keys, and Morant Keys. Although colonial Jamaica included the Cayman Islands, the British did not put much effort into governing the Cayman Islands and other dependencies attached to colonial Jamaica. Thus, no serious attempt was made to solve the administrative anomalies between these territories. After much complaint, in 1865 the British passed the Imperial Act, which clearly outlined colonial Jamaica's relationship with her dependency the Cayman Islands.

Later, Tobago was joined to Trinidad and Turks and Caicos was also joined to Jamaica. Thus, until 1962, colonial Jamaica had several dependencies such as Cayman, Turks, Morant Keys, and Pedro Keys. Only Cayman and Turks were autonomous dependencies. In 1962, Jamaica opted for Independence, and Britain tried to force Cayman and Turks into independence along with Jamaica. This did not happen. However, the process of Jamaica's Independence and its connections to her autonomous dependencies created much confusion. The British hansard reported a Member of Parliament calling the situation a “constitutional novelty”.

Another vexing issue that remains unclear from the colonial period and the Independence of Jamaica is the connection of the Maroon settlements to the independent State of Jamaica. The 1739 treaty established the Maroons as an autonomous state/territory within colonial Jamaica. The Maroon chief represented his autonomous community and a white captain was appointed by colonial Jamaica as its representative within the Maroon village.

During the period, there were many interactions between the appointed British governor and the Maroon chief. Even after slavery ended, the Jamaica colonial Government and the British Colonial Office relied on Maroons to sabotage the Morant Bay uprising in 1865.

In 1962, the Maroon community raised the issue when Jamaica opted for Independence. The Maroon chief wrote to the British Government asking it to clearly state the connection between the newly independent Jamaican State and the autonomous community of the Maroons.

To date no attempt has been made to solve the crisis. Despite this, Michael Manley's Government made attempts to integrate the Maroon community through frequent visits to the area, meetings, and giving State funding to schools, which were established in Accompong by the Presbyterian missionaries.

It must be noted that the Maroon 1739 treaty has outlived its purpose in a newly independent Jamaica. We are no longer a slave society. However, one principle that should be adopted by independent Jamaica is to continue to recognise the Maroons as an autonomous community. This can be done through a new treaty or appointing a Cabinet minister with responsibility for Maroon affairs, thereby enabling regular and formal dialogue between the Maroon community and the Government of Jamaica. Dominica has a minister of Kalinago Affairs.

The prime minister should note that the Maroons, being an autonomous territory/State within independent Jamaica, does not mean that the Jamaican State should not fund social programmes or projects within the Maroon territory. Although Maroons are autonomous, based on the 1739 treaty, they are still Jamaican citizens. Maroons are deeply assimilated within the Jamaican State through history, culture, and family connections. And, of greater importance, is the fact that we are all people of African descent who have been oppressed by Europeans.

There are many examples throughout the world, for example Canada, United States, Australia, Brazil, Dominica, Suriname, and French Guiana, where indigenous communities enjoy autonomy, but are well integrated in the various nation-states and enjoy overall benefits through State funding and citizenship.

By funding Maroon/indigenous communities and recognising the long-established autonomy that they have, we are reasserting our empathy for these communities that have borne the brunt of European colonisation. We should not adopt the approach of our former colonial masters by raging a war with the Maroons. The Maroons' autonomy represents liberation for all Jamaicans.

Finally, I want to address the issue of Maroon sovereignty. When Maroons claim that their territory is a sovereign State, they are simply asserting their internal sovereignty/rights to manage their own domestic affairs. This has nothing to do with the unitary State asserted by the prime minister.

By asserting autonomy, the legal perimetres of the Jamaica security forces in the community must be established.

The concept of Westphalia sovereignty has evolved over the years. The prime minister should understand that the concept of sovereignty has been widely contested over many centuries. The accepted meaning of Westphalia sovereignty is that the nation-state should control both its domestic and external affairs, thus no external force is above or beyond the nation-state.

With the new wave of globalisation, foreign State bullying, and dictating to smaller states, it is clear that the concept of sovereignty is being redefined or, as others have argued, the traditional Westphalia concept of sovereignty is under threat. Thus, the assertion of Maroon ​sovereignty should not be misinterpreted with Westphalia sovereignty.

Oneil Hall is an administrative history researcher in the Department of History and Philosophy, The University of the West Indies, Cave Hill, Barbados. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or

Maroons engaged in an enstoolment ceremony.

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