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MAROONS IN JAMAICA

Historical overview

The original Jamaican Maroons are the ex-slaves or descendants of enslaved Africans brought by the Spaniards and who had fled to the hilly regions of the island. It is held in some accounts that they also intermixed with members of the Taino population still existing in these regions, who had themselves fled the oppression of Spanish occupation. This has been one of the bases on which the Maroons have been declared and recognized as indigenous people. Their existence as indigenous people therefore goes back as far as the 15th century

In establishing and maintaining their liberation, the Maroons developed appropriate military strategies for the mountainous terrain they inhabited. The use of musical instruments to send messages to each other was a part of their fighting technique. They would often avoid open battle, opting instead for ambush and relying heavily on the use of camouflage, often completely disguising their bodies with shrubbery and other plant life. Their success in thwarting attempts to defeat them led the British to eventually sue for peace.

Two peace treaties were signed between the British and the Maroons, in 1739 and 1740 respectively. The first was signed by Cudjoe (Kojo) on behalf of the Leeward Maroons and by Colonel John Guthrie and Captain Sadler on behalf of the British Government. A second treaty was signed by Colonel Robert Bennet on behalf of the British Government with the Windward Maroons. The peace treaties consist of fourteen amendments each, and these were mere sanctions of how the Maroons were to behave during daily activities on lands that were given to them, as well as an outline of their responsibilities to the British authorities.

Contemporary Maroon Settlement and Governance in Jamaica

There currently exist four major settlements in Jamaica :

  • Scott’s Hall in St. Mary
  • Moore Town in Portland
  • Charles Town in Portland
  • Accompong in St. Elizabeth

Maroon settlements are generally located in the hilly interior of the country. While the original choice of location was a deliberate strategy during the period of plantation slavery, these communities now face problems of accessibility as they are far removed from urban locales. Maroon communities in Jamaica are for the most part considered low income areas. Residents engage in subsistence farming and the rearing of livestock as well as cottage and craft production. However, these activities do not generate the level of income that would facilitate appreciable levels of infrastructural development or employment. Consequently, relatively large numbers of the youth population have left these communities in search of employment and educational opportunities. This migration has posed a challenge to the sustainability of the traditional way of life of the Maroons, as seen in the gaps in transmission of traditional knowledge from the elders to the younger generation.

The leader of each of the Maroon communities is given the title of Colonel. The Colonel is assisted by a group of citizens known as the Council. The Colonel and Council have traditionally been responsible for the day-to-day affairs of the respective communities. This practice has evolved over the hundreds of years following the signing of the treaties of 1739 and 1740. In practice, this has entailed oversight and arbitration of matters pertaining to the allocation of Maroon lands and the settlement of disputes related to this. At one time, the Maroon Councils were also responsible for the administration of corporal justice within their communities. However, over the years, and in particular following Jamaica ’s independence in 1962, the administration of community affairs has become a grey area in terms of oversight. Nevertheless, in practice the Colonels and Councils have continued in many instances to arbitrate minor disputes within the Maroon settlements and the Colonels continue to hold considerable status as leaders of their communities. They are still to an extent involved in the management of local affairs and often act as a point of reference to/liaison with, regional and national government agencies

The selection of the Colonel comes through periodic elections. In all but one of these communities, however, the election of the Colonel is for life although mechanisms exist for the replacement of an incumbent. In Accompong, elections are held at five year intervals for the post of Colonel. Councils in all communities are appointed.

 

Some Important Dates

The Scott’s Hall Maroons celebrate August 1, as the day when their peace treaty was signed with the British. 

The Accompong Maroons celebrates January 6, as Kojo Day, when the peace treaty signed with the British.

The Moore Town Maroons celebrate National Heroes Day (in October) as Nanny Day.

The Charles Town Maroons celebrate June 23 as their special day with activities taking place at their Safu Yard.

Symbols
The Abeng is a symbol of freedom. Today it is used to summon the village on ceremonial occasions.

The black boar was abundant in the maroon settlements and formed a major part of their diet. Special care was taken during preparation of the meat where no salt is added. The boar is also used for medicinal purposes and the making of weapons, but due to the scarcity of the black boar the local Jamaican black pig is use in its place.

 

Musical Instruments

The Abeng is made from the horn of a cow and is blown from a square hole positioned at the side. It is used to convey secret messages, announcements and warnings.

The Gumbeh is a square drum with a flat, single one side head. Many people at first glance mistake it for a small stool. The Gumbeh, however, belongs to the family of talking drums.

References

Black, V. Clinton . The History of Jamaica . Collins Publishers, 1955, pp.83-87

Carey, Bev. The Maroon Story. Agouti Press, 1977, pp. 62-63

Jamaica Journal No.10, Volume 1, p. 3

Jamaica Journal No. 4, Volume 4, 1970, pp. 19-22

Senior, Olive ‘A-Z of Jamaican Heritage’ The Gleaner Company Limited, 1983, pp. 103-105

The Daily Gleaner ‘Scotts Hall Maroons Mark 250th anniversary’ Aug. 2, 1989

The Daily Gleaner ‘Look and learn from Maroons’ January 12, 1986


 


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