It was 6.30 am. The moon looked fresh in the morning sky although it had been out for over 12 hours. A deep breath of the unfiltered air and I was ready for my unexpected journey to a place I have heard so much about and longed to embrace, the Maroons celebrations at Accompong.
A trip to Accompong on January 6 is a bucket list worth adding or if added worth accomplishing. The experience is not only a physical journey through time, but also a spiritual connection with the souls of our forefathers from Africa. I was walking on hallowed ground, ground stained with the blood of principled warriors, that refused to submit to a system that dehumanized their humanity and uprooted their cultural and societal harmony.
The history is compelling and is itself a provocative story and editing this history to 200 characters is committing editorial sacrilege, but it is important to remember: the Spanish were embattled in a war with the British and after years of battle they lost the war. The Spaniards fled Jamaica to Cuba and Santo Domingo leaving only the freed Africans. The British, flexing its new power, commanded the freed Africans back to slavery. The Africans refused. War erupted between the 2 sides for over 80 years. The freed slaves, led by their captain Cudjoe, using unmatched skills and ingenuity to baffle the British army won the battle. The King saw it was hopeless to keep fighting after spending enormous human, and financial resources. He ordered a cease fire and declared a peace treaty to be created with the freed Africans.
On January 6, 1739 at a cave in their domiciled home now called the Peace Cave, the Africans and the British agreed to a Peace Treaty, their right to be free and 1500 acres of land now called Accompong as well as the Cockpit Country, a mountainous terrain resembling the flip side of an egg holder. In that cave was created the first African State in Jamaica.
For 277 years the Maroons, as they were called by the British, had autonomous rights in Jamaica operating a State within a State. It is this Treaty that is celebrated every year, steeped with traditions of the forefathers and wrapped with the intense African culture of the Abeng, the Drums, The feeding of the Dead Spirits, the Chanting and spiritual trance of Speaking with the Dead, the Pocomania,The Myal, the Gherre and the reminder that this service of rituals is incensed by the potent alcohol of OverProof Rum. It was a party of human curiosity for the visitors but for the Maroons, this was no party, this was their life exposed for 24 hours.
I was there not to condemn but to feed my head, feed it with the history that was taught as a collective but never separated as importantly singular to who we are as Jamaicans. I was there to immerse my total being into my history so Accompong was my Basilica of Religion, even for the fleeting hours of my visit.
Under the Kinteh Tree, a huge ancient mango tree where all the souls gather as One Family, the Abeng drew the colorful collage of believers and nonbelievers waiting for the Maroons to begin their ritual. There was silence. The Rum brought to the altar, the service began. The drums were rhythmic with souls chanting and dancing, nearby the men prepared the sacrificial wild hog for the tribute to the fore-fathers.
After an hour of liturgical praise and worship it was time for the procession to visit the burial ground of their ancestors. The women were now dancing but not on their feet but on their buttocks as if to walk to this ancestral memorial was a sacrilege in itself. The curious visitors persisted on venturing into this hallowed place and was reminded this was not a party for the unbelievers. No one, not of Maroon blood, could visit this sacred place.
And so with a pot filled with pork done in the traditional way the Maroons visited their ancestors to give thanks. The visitors had the opportunity to taste this sacrificial pork and I was told to eat it in the leaf of a tree, called the Mackerel tree by an elder. It was shaped like a herring but as to why, I did not question. I took it and I ate. An hour later a volley of gun shots were heard in the direction of the grave site. It was time. The Maroons were returning as the gun salute was the symbol of respect. We heard the drums in the distance and soon every Maroon was seen covered with a green twine sending a strong visual message to the visitors of who they were as a people- strong men and women who used their culture and their lifestyle to defeat a foreign suppressor.
They were called the Maroons but marooned they were not. They were dehumanized, brought from their land and subjected to slavery for hundreds of years and they refused to submit to the British for one more day, one more hour, one more minute, one more second. They reminded us that is was through their sacrifice and determination we as visitors could stand and observe their tradition, which in essence is Our tradition. We were in truth watching Ourselves.
I could not help but leave that place thinking of what I had just witnessed. I had witnessed who broke the chains to my existence in Jamaica. I also could not help but ask the question who was really independent, was it us or them?
The Town of Accompong is bordered by St. James to the north, Trelawny to the east, Westmoreland to the west and St. Elizabeth to the south hence the term “Marooned”. They have also been autonomous enjoying their right to own land for their people, education, health and creating a living for the community. They have witnessed only 3 murders in their over 300 years of living as Maroons. They continue to benefit by collective partnerships and agreements from other Maroons in other countries namely Suriname. There are no taxes there. The Maroons have also cemented with the Bethlehem University scholarships as well as offering B.A in Maroon history. It was announced that the University is increasing their scholarships this year. The Minister of Information also announced the creation of Abeng 77 the new radio station for the Maroons.
The land is bountiful, gungo peas line the roadways, pimento trees are everywhere, breadfruit, fruit trees, rivers, ground provisions a plenty, cows, goats, pigs, chicken, fish. Craft is original and hand made from leather, jewelry made from twisted metals, fabric for clothing, dyes, potions and lotions; all there.
Accompong was an independent country within a country and the difference was only too clear. On one hand you had a people that remained true to their traditions, that embraced their ancestors and believed and kept their instructions that no one must take this land, no one must rule this land and no one must ever enforce them to succumb to traditions and lifestyles that was not inherently African.
On the other hand you have a country that is affected and shaped by the constant force of imperialist powers, its people brainwashed into believing that all things foreign are superior to their labor and hard work. A nation that takes land hard fought for from the imperialist and in turn sells at enormous profit to its people; a nation that has been corrupted by the greed of power and with it comes crime and degradation; a nation that cannot feed its own people and has to import the fetishes and lifestyle of foreign nations, a nation that is still not organized to respect its own traditions and culture and has adopted and sold their culture to foreign entities, reaping very little or none at all.
A case of two nations, the question is who is really independent from foreign imperialism, who has remained true to their history, culture and traditions and who is in fact, really Jamaican?
Paul Tomlinson – (C) 2015
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