On maroon communities in the Americas.
Source: David McFadden, Associated Press
Charles Town, Jamaica (AP) – In a backwoods town along a river cutting between green mountains, quick-footed men and women spin and stomp to the beat of drums. One dancer waving a knife is wrapped head-to-foot in leafy branches, his flashing eyes barely visible through the camouflage.
This traditional dance re-enacts the Jamaican Maroons’ specialty: the ambush. It was once a secret ritual of the fierce bands of escaped slaves who won freedom by launching raids on planters’ estates and repelling invasions of their forest havens with a mastery of guerrilla warfare.
But on this day, descendants of those 18th century fugitives are performing for tourists, academics, filmmakers and other curious outsiders in a fenced “Asafu” dancing yard in Charles Town, a once-moribund Maroon settlement in eastern Jamaica that seemed destined to lose its traditions until revivalists gradually brought it back.
Maroons in the Caribbean are increasingly showcasing their unique culture for visitors in hopes that heritage tourism will guarantee jobs for the young generation and preserve what remains of their centuries-old practices in mostly remote settlements. The basic idea has been tried around the world, from the Gusii people of Kenya to the artisans of the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.
“If we don’t follow in the footsteps of our foreparents we will find ourselves on the heap of history,” said Wallace Sterling, the “colonel” of the Windward Maroon community of Moore Town. It is 1 of Jamaica’s four semi-autonomous Maroon tracts, each governed by an elected colonel, a title bestowed on Maroon leaders since their battles with the British army, and a council appointed by the leader.
Trying to counter the endless tide of migration and assimilation, long secretive Maroons are more and more going public with the old ways – singing sacred songs, drumming, making herbal medicine, talking to ancestral spirits, woodcarving, hunting and “jerking” wild pigs. Maroons are credited with inventing Jamaica’s “jerk” style of cooking, in which aromatic spices are rubbed or stuffed into meat before it is roasted on an open fire.
The turn to small-scale tourism for income can safeguard the Maroons’ future and their cultural identity, leaders say. They say it has boosted pride among younger Maroons and encouraged some to stay in their rural hometowns. Other money-making opportunities are scarce in the communities of modest cement-block homes and tiny shops selling cold drinks and snacks.
“For a long time, it’s been very difficult to keep the young people because they tend to leave for the cities to seek work. But now we can train tour guides and our people can sell their crafts, their banana and coconuts,” said Fearon Williams, the colonel of Accompong. An annual Jan. 6 celebration draws thousands of visitors to the isolated town, which sits among rocky cliffs and limestone towers in northwestern Jamaica. “Tourism is making us stronger.”
A tour bus now comes weekly to Charles Town, a village whose colonel, Frank Lumsden, worked as a commodities trader in Chicago before returning to Jamaica in the late 1990s to focus on his ancestral roots.
There are also Maroons in Suriname, on the South American mainland, where escaped slaves over the centuries built their own African-centered societies in sparsely populated Amazonian forests.
Suriname’s Maroons also say a broadening emphasis on ecotourism is helping fight cultural disintegration… (continued)
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