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Source: Mark Beckford, Jamaica Gleaner
As Jamaica grapples with the debilitating effects of crime and violence, the indigenous community of Accompong in St. Elizabeth stands out like an 18th-century Englishman in the hills of the village.
This is because the community, which is famous for its people and its exploits, has not seen a murder over the last 20 years. In fact, the last murder there was committed in the ’80s according to leader of the Maroons, Colonel Sydney Peddie.
Accompong is a Maroon settlement perched in the mountains of St. Elizabeth, sandwiched between the parishes of Trelawny and St. James. What makes the Accompong town a phenomenon is that it has had a relatively violent history, with its well-documented battle with the British. However, today, it is one of the few places in Jamaica which has not been besmirched by crime and violence.
The residents of the community are descendants of enslaved Africans who ran away from British plantations and who waged war on their former captors. The war, which, from some historical accounts, lasted for over 80 years, finally ended in 1738, after the signing of a peace treaty, by their famous leader Cudjoe, with the British.
value of the life
This treaty seemed to have filtered down to the present generation of Maroons, who strongly believe in the value of the life of another.
The road to the village is narrow, winding and rocky in some instances. At the entrance atop a hillock, are two concrete columns topped by two abengs – the symbolic instruments used by the Maroons. The village, which sits on 1,500 acres of land, is a large one. Most of the houses are within a one-mile radius and the residents are friendly, though guarded.
This guarded outlook, which they say is their “protection of each other”, is one of the reasons given by one Maroon for the low crime rate.
“The Maroons have always been protective of each other, that’s why we don’t have crime. Put it this way, you touch one Maroon and everyone stand up against you,” an elderly Maroon told The Sunday Gleaner.
Sitting in a shop, he spoke of life growing up in the village before he migrated to England 47 years ago.
“As a boy growing up, I know as a fact that I got to live within the law, not only the Maroon law, but within the wider Jamaican law, because in my childhood days, they would give you the thing called the cat-o’-nine, and nobody wanted the cat-o’-nine, nobody wanted to be flogged in public, so discipline was very easy to maintain. That’s how it was in my childhood days,” he related.
This strong respect for leadership clearly runs through the community.
Junior Reid, a much younger Maroon, underscores this point. Reid, who is in his 30s and resides in Montego Bay, says respect for leadership is central to discipline in the community. Not because one has to respect the colonel and the other leaders, but because the leaders had to earn this respect. “The respect for Maroon leadership is a big thing.”
With a slight lilt in his voice, his tone rises as he makes his next point.
“With the Maroon leadership, from you wrong, you are wrong. Money don’t make you above any one of the individuals. So that is the respect; you have to set respect to get respect.”
Family life is at the centre of Maroon culture. The breakdown in family life in the wider Jamaican society has been given as one of the reasons for the rise in delinquency and crime. Not so in Accompong, says one Maroon, because family life and communal living have created a bond within the community.
“Each family respects the other family. If my children go on the road and do something, you, as another parent, don’t like it, you can flog him, and if him complain, he will get more. That (is the) kind of discipline up here,” Lenius Wright, a member of the community for 62 years, tells The Sunday Gleaner.
Colonel Sydney Peddie supports Wright’s views. He says that family life is a continuation of a tradition handed down to them by their forefathers.
“Family is very close here and you will find the son who is 40 years old still living in the same building with his mother. The family is close and each one defends the next one, and I don’t mean the physical fight and thing like that; but they work together,” he says.
The transition of the male in the society is also important in Maroon culture.
Male participation in the tertiary-education sector is low, with statistics revealed by the University of the West Indies showing enrolment of 82 per cent females to 18 per cent males.
With males making up 70 per cent of the total population of Accompong, which is at 1,000, Peddie says that the future of their young males is not left to chance, as they are taught how to become a man.
not a bed of roses
“We teach them that it is wrong to interfere with girls too early or to start out by having children before you can even afford a house; or you should be financially adequate before you try to make a family – not that everyone listens, but the majority listens.”
Everything, however, is not a bed of roses in Accompong. There is a high level of unemployment and the infrastructure in and around the community is still not first-rate. Crime, while at a low level, is not absent, and according to the Maggotty police, there have been two incidents of shooting in the community in recent weeks. According to residents, there are fewer incidents of petty crime in the community.
The colonel acknowledges this and says that the community has employed a proactive approach to crime.
“We are not complacent, because we know that it could come in anytime from outside because some Maroons have friends outside in Kingston and Montego Bay, so we are mindful of that, so we nip it in the bud before it gets out of hand.”