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Accompong Maroons Celebrate 275 Years of Independence from Britain

Those of you who read my posts last year about Jamaica marking 50 years of independence from Britain might be a little confused by the title of this post.

If Jamaica celebrated only 50 years of independence in 2012, how can the Jamaican Maroons be celebrating 275 years?  And who are these Maroons?

Please read on and I’ll explain.

Accompong Maroon abeng

The Abeng

Who are the Maroons?

The Maroons are Africans who escaped into the interior of the island when the British grabbed Jamaica from the Spanish in 1655. Some found refuge in the Blue and John Crow Mountains in the eastern parishes of Portland, St. Thomas, St. Andrew and St. Mary. They became known as the Windward Maroons. Others took to the Cockpit Country, an area that covers parts of the parishes of St. Elizabeth, Manchester, St. James, Trelawny, St. Ann and St. Mary. They became known as the Leeward Maroons.

Both are difficult and sometimes inhospitable locations which the Maroons used to their advantage when the British, who didn’t take kindly to their slaves escaping plantation life, came hunting them. What the British didn’t count on, however, was the skill and tenacity of these slaves, whose name is derived from the Spanish word for untamed, cimarron, and their unquenchable desire for freedom.

Using the trees and vegetation as camouflage, the Maroons were able to beat back the invading British forces. Unable to defeat them after two Maroon Wars, the British decided to join them and signed treaties with both the Leeward (January 6, 1738), and Windward Maroons (1739).

Under the treaties, the Maroons were given several thousand acres of land and allowed to live in partial autonomy in communities such as Accompong Town, Trelawny Town, Moore Town, Scotts Hall and Nanny Town. In exchange, they had to turn over any new runaway slaves (eventually becoming slave hunters themselves), and fight alongside the British to defend the island from outside attack.

The treaties, which are in force to this day, in effect created autonomous states within the island. The Maroons govern themselves — the Jamaican government can intervene only in cases of capital crime, which is rare among them. All lands belong to the communities – there are no individual owners — and they pay no taxes.

Each year, on January 6th, Accompong Town celebrates the anniversary of the signing of the treaty, and the birthday of their founder, Kojo (and brother of Nanny, founder of the Windward Maroons and National Heroine), with a party that draws hundreds of Jamaicans and visitors to their community in the hills of the St. Elizabeth section of the Cockpit Country.

[Read more…]

Happy Emancipation Day Jamaica!

Emancipation Day, August 1st, marks the day slaves in Jamaica and the former British colonies in the Caribbean, were finally freed.

On July 31, 1834, the eve of the day they would taste freedom, many slaves traveled to the tops of the country’s mountains so they could greet the sunrise and the dawning of the new chapter in their lives. At daybreak, scores more crowded into churches across the island to give thanks.

But they weren’t truly free. The ending of slavery came with a condition that slaves serve a 6-year “apprenticeship.” It ended 2 years early on August 1, 1838. On that day, the slaves were said to have demonstrated peacefully and burned the shackles that were used to bind some of them. (Tortello, Jamaica Gleaner)

Like the slaves had done years earlier, a group of friends and I decided to watch the sun rise on Emancipation Day. We traveled to Seville Heritage Park in St. Ann for a full evening of cultural performances. On the way, we wondered how the slaves must have felt — a mixture of excitement and fear, we were sure. They were not free economically. Their former owners, on the other hand, were compensated handsomely by the British Government for their loss.

I’ve always been in awe of my slave ancestors and because of that I was excited to go to Seville to be part of their remembrance. I was excited to go to Seville for another reason.

In Jamaican history, Seville is important ground as it is the location where in 1492 Christopher Columbus first set foot on our soil. It is fitting then that Seville’s Emancipation Jubilee, the largest of the island-wide events, attracts up to 7,000 people.

Emancipation Day 2012

Emancipation Day 2012: Waiting for the bus

I was also looking forward to hearing the reading of the Emancipation Proclamation in Seville and greet August Morning, as some people call it, like my ancestors had done.

By the time we made our way into the park, around midnight, the parking lot was full and cars lined both sides of the street. Inside, the excitement was palpable. As we arrived, the crowd burst into applause as an energetic group of drummers finished their act with a flurry of acrobatic moves.

I walked around a bit trying to find a place where we could spread a blanket – the terrain in some spots was pretty rocky – but

Emancipation Day 2012

Emancipation Day 2012 – A taste of rum for the ancestors

eventually we did find a place that gave us a view of one of the monitors. We got food and someone passed around a bottle of rum. We had been told to bring mugs for hot chocolate tea but that line was so long, we would still have been waiting.

Sometime after midnight, we heard the sound of a helicopter above and someone said the prime minister, Portia Simpson-Miller, was arriving. She didn’t stay long after delivering her message.

Someone in our little group said they felt raindrops and before we knew it we were scrambling to find shelter.

The rain came in spurts and we took advantage of the lull to find our vehicle. I prayed that it would stop long enough for us to return to the park and see the end of this year’s observance. Unfortunately, it did not cooperate. We’re such wimps, I thought.

Would those hardy people from whom we spring let a little rain dampen their celebration, I wondered as we agreed to pack it up and leave. And during the 2 hour drive back, not a drop of rain was in sight.

Akwantu: the Journey, a New Film about the Maroons

Akwantu: the Journey, a new documentary film by writer/director, Roy T. Anderson, a Maroon, answers the question, Who were the Maroons?

Akwantu: the Journey

Akwantu: the Journey documents the struggle for freedom of the Maroons of Jamaica who were able to flee the plantations and slave ships to form communities in some of the most inhospitable regions of the island. Poorly armed and outgunned, the Maroons faced down the mighty British Empire led by such brave warriors as Cudjoe and Nanny. Cudjoe who has historically been described as a “short almost dwarf-like man” fought for years to maintain his people’s independence and freedom. However, Cudjoe also held the belief that the only way to secure a stable future for his people would be to negotiate a long-term peace with the British. This way of thinking, some would say eventually lead to the signing of a peace treaty with the British in 1739. Nanny, a spiritual leader skilled in the use of herbs not only managed to keep her people healthy, but safe as well by utilizing effective “guerilla warfare” tactics to defend against the vaunted British firepower. More about the Maroons.

Watch a preview here.

 

Happy Thanksgiving!

Food is an integral part of our lives. And on Thanksgiving, we give thanks with one of the biggest feasts of the year.

Thanksgiving isn’t an official holiday in Jamaica though some Jamaicans who’ve returned home have brought the tradition with them. What we have that’s similar is harvest. At the harvest, members bring produce to their church to receive a blessing from the priest.

Honey bananas

Honey bananas

These bananas are called honey, because they’re naturally sweet, sweeter than regular bananas. They are also smaller than average bananas, probably a half or two-thirds in size, and are quite popular in Jamaica. Honey bananas sell fast despite the fact that they’re usually more expensive than regular bananas.

Green bananas

Green bananas

These bananas are called green to differentiate them from the yellow ones, which most people are familiar with. Green bananas are boiled and often eaten with steamed fish, ackee and salt fish or other meats. It’s also used to make porridge, dumplings or put in mannish water soup, a soup that is made from the head and intestines and other parts of the goat. It is believed to be an aphrodisiac.

Avocados

Avocados

We picked these avocados at the home of one of my cousins. Since they weren’t quite rips, we wrapped them in newspaper to speed up the process.

Breadfruit

Breadfruit

The breadfruit was brought to Jamaica by Captain William Bligh between 1780 and 1786. Roasted, it is is the perfect accompaniment to ackee and salt fish, our national dish. It can also be eaten boiled, fried, used in soups, and made into chips. For roasting, I prefer them a little ripe or turned. They are a little sweeter and softer. In soups, I prefer them what we call, young, meaning not ripe. Breadfruit can also be referred to as full, ready.

Ackee

Ackee

The main ingredient in ackee and salt fish, our national dish, ackee was brought to Jamaica from West Africa. It’s ackee season now and the trees are laden with fruit. Ackees contain a poisonous gas and must be opened before they are picked.

Jamaican cooks and chefs have been experimenting with how they prepare ackee. Moving away from the traditional marriage with salt fish, ackees can be curried, or used in bruschetta and cheesecake.

A basket of food

A basket of food

A bountiful harvest of fruits, vegetables and produce. Happy Thanksgiving!