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Source: Garfield Myers , Jamaica Observer
Accompong Town, St Elizabeth – Maroons from across Jamaica came together in Accompong Town for the annual January 6 celebration on Saturday, insisting they would not allow bauxite mining or any other form of “environmental destruction” in the Cockpit Country.
They also assertively called for reparations to Africans who have suffered from the effects of slavery for close to 500 years.
Accompong Maroon elder Melville Currie led the charge in defence of the Cockpit Country, insisting that the “the Cockpit Country is our country” and “we are prepared to live and fight for the Cockpit Country” so that “as our forefathers’s children passed it unto us we want to pass it on to our children’s children.”
Similar sentiments came from Accompong chief Colonel Sidney Peddie, and the chiefs of the Windward Maroons, Colonel Wallace Sterling of the Moore Town Maroons in Portland, Colonel Frank Lumsden of Charles Town in Portland and Colonel Noel Prehay of Scotts Hall in St Mary.
While there was much emphasis on preservation of the Cockpits in the face of moves to prospect for bauxite there, Maroon chiefs also took note of the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the British Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade this year and called for “reparations” from the former slave holders.
The Maroon gathering, or ‘Quanza’, was part of the 269th celebration at Accompong Town located in the southern region of the Cockpit Country in northern St Elizabeth to mark the signing of a peace treaty between the British and the Leeward Maroons in the late 1730s.
The Windward Maroons made peace with the British some time later. The Maroons are the descendants of slaves from West Africa freed by the Spaniards when they were ousted by the British in 1655, as well as those who escaped from British slave owners. Using Jamaica’s ruggedly mountainous interior as cover, the Maroons fought the British colonisers for decades.
As usual with the January 6th celebrations, thousands of people, Maroons as well as outsiders, converged on Accompong Town on Saturday to witness ancient Maroon rituals and to experience what has become, over the years, a massive party complete with popular music and vending of goods of every description.
Arguing that “The Maroons are not leaving the Cockpits because our forefathers fought for it”, Currie suggested that the British had a responsibility to inform the Jamaican Government that the treaty signed back in the 1730s was between “sovereign” peoples and should be respected.
He insisted that contrary to the long-held public view that Accompong Town was a part of St Elizabeth, the Maroon village and the surrounding Cockpits were a “sovereign” and separate area surrounded by the parishes of St Elizabeth, Trelawny and St James and should be treated as such.
Currie and other Maroon leaders spoke to the economic benefits from sustainable development of the Cockpits, including its potential for eco-tourism, organic farming and the pharmaceutical industry.
“The Cockpit produces any medical herb that you can think of. it is in these woods,” said Currie. “I never go to doctor, my mother used to send and bruk some bush and boil some medicine and we drink it and we better. Ancient medicine rest in this land.”
Lumsden said the Cockpit Country was central to the drive to build Maroon unity for economic development. He noted that in the past, the Maroons had always acted together in pursuit of “one common goal”, as was the case when they fought the British.
“The Cockpit Country is of vital interest, because of all the medicinal and pharmaceutical possibilities,” said Lumsden. “We saw where two herbs from Jamaica can cure cancers, so just think about what is possible in the Cockpit Country.”
To this end, he said, a conference of Maroons in the Americas, including representatives from Suriname and Brazil, was being planned for June 20-23 to mark the last battle at the Spanish River in Portland before the end of the first Maroon War. “The conference we are planning will zero in on the possibilities for development of this (pharmaceutical) industry,” Lumsden said.
As was the case last year, director of culture in the Jamaican Government, Sydney Bartley, closed the show with an enthralling main address that more resembled a rock/folk/gospel concert than a speech.
Backed by the hypnotically rhythmic renditions of the Mighty Beeston Mento Band, a dancing Bartley spoke and sang of the achievements of Jamaicans at home and abroad.
With the large crowd abuzz, Bartley insisted that Jamaicans were “a great people” who were the envy of the world and who could achieve much more with hard work and dedication.
He urged overseas Jamaicans in the audience to use the power of the vote in their respective countries to influence policy, ultimately for the greater good of their native country.