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Source: Julian ‘Jingles’ Reynolds, Jamaica Gleaner
Travelling up the Buff Bay River Valley to Charles Town in Portland recently, a friend, visiting from the United States, commented on how peaceful and beautiful the place is, but he also saw the idleness, the forlorn look of wonderment as to what tomorrow holds, and of hope, especially on the faces of the children.
On June 23 each year, the Charles Town Maroons honour Captain Quao, the Maroon leader who, with Nanny, one of the National Heroes of Jamaica, led the Windward Maroons of eastern Jamaica to victory over the British troops on the Spanish River. This culminated in the signing of the peace treaty between the Maroons and the British on June 23, 1739, which awarded the Maroons their freedom and land for which they were to pay no taxes.
It also extracted from the Maroons their pledge to not rage war against the British, and the controversial pact for them to hunt and return other runaway slaves.
This year’s Quao Day celebration theme is ‘Strengthening African Ties with Maroons’.
Colonel Frank ‘Buck’ Lumsden heads the Charles Town Maroon Council (CTMC).
The council oversees the affairs of the Maroons in the community and is working to improve conditions there under the stewardship of Colonel Lumsden, an artist, supported by his captains, and Ken Douglas and Keith Lumsden, both of whom sit on the Maroon Council of Elders, comprising the Maroon families of Charles Town and adjoining communities.
Mr. Douglas, the operator of the family-run lumberyard is alsoa master drummer, and Mr. Lumsden, an architect/planner, chairs the Council of Elders.
Other prominent Maroon families in the community are the Charles, Dean, Duncan, Irving, Hartley, Henry, and Shackleford families.
Distribution of land
The Maroons of Charles Town received from the 1739 treaty approximately 1,000 acres of land that is communally owned. A few families hold property rights to individual plots. The community has a population of about 1,200 people, most with Maroon ties, and like many rural Jamaican communities, they struggle with high unemployment and impoverishment.
Subsistence farming remains the main source of income, with cash crops planted on small acreages. There are also a block-making establishment, furniture-making shop, a basic school, and many rum bars.
Several new projects have been introduced to stimulate economic growth for the community of Charles Town for Maroons and non-Maroons alike. Colonel Lumsden fully backs this point and in fact has said: “All we ask for are persons to come with a serious and willing attitude to learn and to earn.”
Three of the projects that are under way with funding from aid agencies are wicker-making, bee- keeping, the growing and processing of herbal plants for medicinal purposes, and a bammy-making factory is to start soon.
The wicker programme is sponsored by People’s Action for Community Transformation and funded by the Caribbean Development Bank. Instructor Fitz Neal, a wicker entrepreneur with over 15 years experience in the industry, trained 20 community people last year in two three-week training courses, preparing them for producing wicker products. Wicker grows abundantly in the region.
The bee-keeping project is sponsored by the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) and the Caribbean Food and Nutrition Institute, with $300,000 initial funding. Cecil Willis and Philbert McLeary, bee farmers in west Portland, are the resource persons. Six community residents were the initial participants in this programme intended to promote honey production as an economic option for the community.
The IICA, with funding from USAID, sponsors the herbal medical plant project headed by Dr. Sylvia Mitchell of the Medicinal Plant Research Group, a unit of the Biotechnology Centre at the University of the West Indies.
The initial funding of $600,000 was to carry out a feasibility study and produce a business plan with the objective of having farmers cultivate, gather and process herbal plants that are traditionally used and promoted for their medicinal values. These herbal medicinal plants will be sold to local manufacturers and exported. Some 24 plants are identified for the programme, including, search-me-heart, king of the forest, poor man’s strength and leaf of life.
Eco-heritage tourism is also high on the agenda of the Charles Town Maroon Council (CTMC). Portland is considered the ecological capital of Jamaica, and the Maroon community, with its bucolic backdrop of hills, river and dense forestry is on the main road from the small seaside town of Buff Bay up to Hardware Gap and Newcastle in the Blue Mountains.
Scores of tourists drive by weekly without being informed that they are passing through a historically important community with several heritage attractions. To address this, Quao’s Village, a travellers’ halt in Plum Valley adjoining Charles Town, is being readied to accommodate visitors. It will offer indigenous foods and drinks; Maroon history; entertain-ment; tours to Safu Yard and the Maroon museum in Charles Town, caves and trails once used by the Maroons, and the ruins of an 18th-century coffee plantation.
The Charles Town Maroon Drummers and Dancers – who have been acclaimed for their performances – are another feature of the community. Colonel Lumsden and two members of the group, Cashaine Richards and Rodney Rose, earlier this year journeyed to Ghana as guests of the Ghanaian government, which was celebrating 50 years of independence.
Community tourism is being encouraged in Charles Town by having local residents make accommodations in their homes available for visitors, and by constructing Maroon huts on Maroon lands to accommodate visitors. The Charles Town Maroons have also spawned two companies that now operate a few miles away in Spring Garden – Anything From Jamaica Limited, a farming, agro-processing business; and Mekyah Spring Water Ltd. Both com-panies began as cottage industries and employ people from Charles Town and sur-rounding communities.
The Social Development Commission has taken an interest in the development of Charles Town and in 2005 opened a multi-purpose sports field – a long-term vision of outgoing Member of Parliament for West Portland, Errol Ennis. Further discussions between the SDC and the CTMC are envisaged to explore implementing projects that will assist the community in building a better future.