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.

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The Best of Umbria

Umbria is a landlocked region of central Italy that is known for rolling hills dotted with castles and fortresses interrupted by lush valleys, and medieval towns that have remained largely unchanged for centuries.

The mighty Tiber River flows through Umbria, and Lake Trasimeno, one of Italy’s largest can be found there. Rich agricultural lands yield black truffles, tobacco and olives, and its vineyards produce fine wines. These make Umbria an ideal destination for anyone interested in eco-tourism.

Basilica of San Francesco d'Assisi
The Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi, Umbria

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photo by:

Jim Linwood

Why Verona?

Romantic, and beautifully preserved, Verona is a UNESCO World Heritage City and one of the most sought-after destinations in Italy.

It was once a Roman colony, was conquered by the Goths, and was the site of several battles. The French, under Napoleon, occupied the city, as did the Austrians.

Verona Arena

Verano has also been featured in literature. It was the setting for three of Shakespeare’s plays – Romeo & JulietThe Two Gentlemen of Verona, and The Taming of the Shrew, and was also mentioned by Goethe and Stendhal.

All this has given Verona a colorful history, making this city of just under 80 square miles, a walking museum of cathedrals, monuments, and architectural gems from Ancient Rome, the Middle Age, Scaliger and Austrian periods.

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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.

China’s Terracotta Warriors Visit New York City #TPThursday

China’s Terracotta Warriors have been dazzling the world since they were discovered accidentally by a farmer in 1974. Now several of them, along with artifacts and treasures dating to 221 B.C.E., are on view at Discovery Times Square until August 26, 2012.

Terracotta Warriors - Pottery
Terracotta Warriors – Pottery

Standing more than 6 feet and weighing 600 pounds each, the soldiers were created 2,000 years ago to protect Qin Shi Huangdi, China’s First Emperor, in the afterlife. Qin, who proclaimed himself emperor in 221 B.C.E., is responsible for unifying warring factions into the country we now know as China. He built the first Great Wall and China’s canal systems, standardized weights and measures and introduced a uniform writing script. Qin died in 210 B.C.E.

Terracotta Warriors
Terracotta Warriors – Replica of Burial Site

So far, about 8,000 uniquely crafted terracotta soldiers have been excavated. In addition, horses, helmets — though no terracotta warrior wore a helmet, pottery, cooking utensils, and ornaments have been discovered in vaults across an area of 22 square miles.

Terracotta Warriors
Terracotta Warriors

The exhibition at Discovery Times Square begins with a look back at the Qin Dynasty and continues to the Han Dynasty. It features at least 5 life-sized terracotta warriors, pottery, cooking utensils, armor and two short films – one featuring the farmer, Zhifa Zang, who found the site and another showing a simulation of the army preparing to attack with bows and arrows.

Terracotta Warriors
Terracotta Warriors
Terracotta Warriors
Terracotta Warriors – Still from documentary. Diagram of the vaults the warriors were found in.

Terracotta Warriors – Defenders of China’s First Emperor is on view until August 26 at Discovery Times Square, 226 W 44th Street, between 7th & 8th Avenues. Hours: Sunday-Thurs 10:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m., Friday/Saturday until 9:00 p.m. Tickets: Children $20.50, Adults $28.00, Seniors $24.50. Audio Tour: $6.43. AmEx cardholders can get a complimentary audio tour. Flash photography not allowed. Allow 60-90 minutes for this exhibition.

Note: Groupon’s half-off ticket deal has expired (I was lucky!) but you can still get discounted tickets from,, etc.

This is my submission to this week’s Budget Travelers Sandbox Travel Photo Thursday series. Be sure to check out other photo and story entries on their website.



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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.


Calabash International Literary Festival Returns this Weekend

This weekend, an estimated 5,000 lovers of literature and poetry will descend on the community of Treasure Beach on Jamaica’s south coast to listen to 30 authors read from their works at the Calabash International Literary Festival. The theme of this year’s festival, which starts this Friday, May 25th and ends on Sunday, is Jubilation! 50.

Started 11 years ago, Calabash was shelved last year because of lack of funding. At the time of the announcement, the organizers, poet Kwame Dawes and novelist Colin Channer, and hotelier Justine Henzell, promised that the festival would be back this year for Jamaica’s 50th anniversary celebration of its independence from Britain.

With a lineup of international and local authors, poets and musicians, from Nigeria, South Africa, Ethiopia, the U.S. and the U.K., this year’s Calabash International Literary Festival resumes its proven format. Gathered under a huge tent that is pitched just steps from the Caribbean Sea, attendees will hear the sound of waves crashing (or rolling) to the shore as they listen to readings interspersed with interviews and open mic performances. Each day’s session ends with music.

The following authors will be heard at the Calabash International Literature Festival this weekend:

Chimamanda Adichie        The Admiral                   Wayne Armond     Jacqueline Bishop    Loretta Collins
Carolyn Cooper                   Michael “Ibo” Cooper   Christine Craig     Fred D’Aguilar           Marcia Douglas
Garfield Ellis                       Carolyn Forche               Steve Golding       Vivien Goldman        Colin Grant
Laura Henzell                     Paul Holdengraber        Melissa Jones        Sadie Jones                Ronnie Kasrils
Victor Lavalle                     Shara McCallum             Alecia McKenzie    Maaza Mengiste        Anis Moigani
Orlando Patterson            Patricia Powell                Claudia Rankine     Olive Senior               Seretse Small
Sonjah Stanley Niaah      Ian Thomson                   Kerry Young             Kevin Young

Despite its funding problems, the Calabash International Literary Festival remains free and open to the public. Donations are welcomed and can be made at their website.

Other literature festivals that take place in the Caribbean:

* Anguilla Literary Festival, May
* BIM Literary Festival & Bookfair (Barbados), May
* Bocas Literary Festival (Trinidad & Tobago), April
* Havana International Book Fair, February
* Nature Island Literary Festival (Dominica), August
* St. Martin Bookfair, May


Bacchanal 2012 – Jamaica Carnival

Approximately 30 minutes before Bacchanal 2012, Jamaica’s Carnival, which had as its theme, Future Shock, made its way to where I was standing near Devon House, the skies opened up. Despite the fact that it had looked ominous all morning, I had left without an umbrella or rain slick.

At first, I tried to stare it back  — how could there be rain on carnival day? But as the drops got fatter and began pelting my head and shoulders, with some insistence, I reluctantly admitted defeat — my willpower was no match for a tropical shower — and shamefacedly begged a woman nearby, who had found some thick cardboard, for a piece to cover my head. Then I waited. I didn’t know how long the rain would last, or how soon the parade would appear, but I’d been standing too long to give up and go home. Sometimes, I surprise myself at how pig headed I can be!

Unlike many other Caribbean islands, Jamaica does not have a carnival tradition. However, students from islands where carnival is an annual event who attend the local campus of the University of the West Indies, began staging their own version of carnival long before Byron Lee started it in the island. That carnival, I’m told was bigger and even made it beyond Kingston to Montego Bay. Unfortunately, the music and the revelry stopped after Lee passed away. The current event has been around for 24 years and is now the only vehicle for anyone who wants to jump carnival in Jamaica.

Bacchanal 2012, Jamaica Carnival
Bacchanal 2012, Jamaica Carnival - Putting up the barricades on Old Hope Road

After maybe 15 long minutes, the rain let up. A truck appeared and men began unloading barricades. (Roads are blocked long enough to let the parade through.) I was relieved. The party, though wet, wet, wet (instead of hot, hot, hot) was still on.

Bacchanal 2012, Jamaica Carnival
Bacchanal 2012, Jamaica Carnival - Getting ready, Old Hope Road

Then this SUV arrived and the driver, who was wearing a T-shirt that read ‘Field Crew,’ got out very official-like. He walked to the rear of the vehicle, looked at something, walked back to the front, got into the driver’s seat and drove off.

Bacchanal 2012, Jamaica Carnival
Bacchanal 2012, Jamaica Carnival

Another long 15 or so minutes passed before we heard music in the distance. Then I saw the crowd.

Maybe because of the rain, things had become a free for all. Folks in costume who were playing mass, as well as members of the public, a few people on bicycle, and street vendors, some with push carts, were all now part of the road march.

Bacchanal 2012, Jamaica Carnival
Bacchanal 2012, Jamaica Carnival

Isn’t he just so regal?

When the last float inched past me I checked my watch. Less than 30 minutes had passed. I was surprised. Surely, this couldn’t be the end? Maybe the rain sent some people home.

I felt cheated. I discarded my makeshift rain hat and decided to follow. I walked for about 10-15 minutes when I felt raindrops again. This time, I had nothing to protect me. I dropped my camera in my bag and headed towards Devon House.

I was soaked by the time I got there. More than getting wet, I was disappointed with Bacchanal 2012. It was smaller that I anticipated and looked disorganized. In fairness, that could have been because of the rain. So next year, I’ll go early and I’ll go to mass camp.

Bacchanal, Jamaica’s carnival parade, takes place the weekend following Easter.

Jamaica’s National Heroes: Sir Alexander Bustamante

Sir Alexander Bustamante was born William Alexander Clarke on February 24, 1884 in Blenheim, Hanover. Along with his cousin, Norman Washington Manley, he is considered one of the founding fathers of modern Jamaica.

Sir Alexander Bustamante, circa 1960
Sir Alexander Bustamante, circa 1960

As a young man, Bustamante was restless and traveled extensively between 1905 and 1934, going from Panama to Cuba and the U.S. He tried his hand at a variety of jobs, including hospital attendant, police, beekeeper, and dairy farmer.

It is well known that Bustamante created stories about his background to suit his own purposes, including one that a Spanish sailor adopted him and brought him up. The truth is that he was a part of the privileged planter class. When he returned to Jamaica, he established himself as a money-lender.

The Jamaica that Bustamante returned to was still a crown colony. Under this system, the governor had the right of veto and often exercised it against the wishes of the majority.

Pay and working conditions were poor. Falling harvests and the lay-off of workers resulted in an influx of the unemployed into the city. This mass migration did little to alleviate the unemployment situation.

Bustamante realized the social and economic ills that the crown colony system engendered and began mobilizing the working-class. He started a letter writing campaign to the local newspaper, The Daily Gleaner, and occasionally to British newspapers, calling attention to the social and economic problems of the poor and underprivileged.

In time, Bustamante became a well-known advocate of the cause of the masses. Soon, he started traveling around the country, making speeches and getting to know the people.

By 1938, there was much labor unrest and protest by the people against the poverty and degradation that they faced. At a rally in Kingston, when the army threatened to open fire on the crowd, Bustamante is said to have opened his shirt, bared his chest to the soldiers and told them to shoot him and leave the innocent people. He was arrested later that day and was bailed by his cousin, Norman Manley, an attorney. The charges were subsequently dropped.

On September 8, 1940, Bustamante was detained at Up Park Camp, for alleged violation of the Defence of the Realm Act. He was released seventeen months later.

In 1943 he founded the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), with himself as head. The first general election under Universal Adult Suffrage came in 1944 and the JLP won 22 of the 32 seats.

Bustamante was knighted by the Queen in 1955. In 1962, became the first prime minister of independent Jamaica. He retired from active politics in 1967 and was named a national hero in 1969. He is the only national hero to receive the honor while still alive. Bustamante died on August 6,1977, at the age of 93.

The Bustamante backbone or Busta is a hard candy that was named for Bustamante as he was considered by many to be like the candy, of “firm character.”

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.


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.


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.


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!