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Source: Jamaica Gleaner
Some 300 years ago, the Junitavan Lagoon, nestled in the hills and valleys of the Cockpit Country, was an inviting and central feature of the community of braves known as the Accompong Maroons. The lagoon was used for recreational swimming, baptismal ceremonies, and other water-related activities. It also has been a reserve for the indigenous mountain mullet, a fish that was one of the main staples of the Accompong Maroons.
This ecological treasure and unique feature of the Maroon community, like many natural resources has, over time, deteriorated. Its survival is threatened by a combination of severe weather, changing cultural trends and poor farming practices.
lagoon’s integral role
However, in recognition of the lagoon’s integral role in environ-mental sustainability and in the interest of preserving the culture of the Accompong Maroons, efforts are now under way to restore the silt-clogged lagoon to its former glory.
“Junitavan’s preservation is integral to the continuity of social traditions started by the Maroon forefathers,” says Robert Cawley, general operations manager of the Original Trails of the Maroons, a community-based organisation of the Accompong Maroon Council. Cawley adds that “the repopulating of its naturally occurring embank-ment will facilitate the reintro-duction of a long-standing custom of subsistence fishing”.
The first phase of the restoration project is being sponsored by the Jamaica National Building Society (JNBS) Foundation and will be implemented by the Original Trails of the Maroons. The $871,000- excavation exercise will also include the replanting of vegetation around the 50-foot by 70-foot lagoon to stem further soil erosion of the surrounding hillside. The JNBS Foundation handed over the funds in a small ceremony in Accompong last Monday.
The restoration project is a continuation of earlier work carried out by the Tourism Product Development Company (TPDCo), the Environmental Foundation of Jamaica (EFJ) and other entities, to advance the community socially and economically. The investment by these entities were designed to preserve the historic town and create heightened self-sufficiency through the development of a sustainable community-tourism product.
Leader of the Maroons Colonel Sydney Peddie maintains that in addition to the excavation of the lagoon, the renovation of the trails and plans to build shopping facilities around Junitavan should increase visits to Accompong by local and overseas tourists, researchers and environmentalists.
“The tourists who visit Accompong constantly ask to swim in the lagoon and view Maroon monuments, therefore, we are working to meet these visitor needs,” Peddie explains.
He discloses that two huts will be set up in Old Town where the late Maroon leader Cudjoe lived. “We are restoring two slaves’ tombs and placing story boards to tell their history, as we know them. Both residents and visitors will benefit and we are all enthusiastic about the completion of the lagoon, which is expected in October,” Peddie further reveals.
At present, local guides lead visitors on hikes into the famous Cockpit Country along trails- created by their Maroon ancestors almost three centuries ago – used during battles with the British. In addition to the experience of local food, folklore, craft and music, visitors to the district also participate in bird watching, caving and swimming activities.
The Original Trails of the Maroons wants to employ more tour guides, administrators, and maintenance personnel to create employment opportunities for residents, local service providers, and artisans, and increase its tourism revenue.
Saffrey Brown, general manager of the JNBS Foundation, is optimistic that the restoration of the lagoon will help the group to realise the economic and social goals being pursued by the Accompong Maroon Council. She said that JNBS’ involvement in the Junitavan project was a natural fit with the organisation’s focus on rural regeneration, the environ-ment, community, history and culture.
Currently, the majority of Accompong Maroons, a community of approximately 500 persons, has to seek work outside of the mountainous community and travel far distances. The community expects that the development of a full-scale tourism product will improve this situation.
The Accompong Maroons are the historic descendants of runaway slaves, who waged successful wars against the British and gained quasi self-governance through a treaty negotiated by their leader Cudjoe in 1738. Every year on January 6, the community hosts peace treaty celebrations. This year marked their 270th anniversary.