|Maroons hold 'mother of
all celebrations' at 268th annual festival
|BY GARFIELD MYERS Editor-at-Large South/Central
Sunday, January 08, 2006
SANTA CRUZ, St
Elizabeth - Thousands of people celebrated Jamaica's culture
and history at the 268th annual Maroon Festival at the
historic Maroon village of Accompong in the Cockpit Country
in northern St Elizabeth on Friday.
Guest speaker at a
late-afternoon ceremony, Sydney Bartley, Jamaica's Director
of Culture, spiced his message of national, cultural and
racial pride with a heady mix of song and dance to mesmerise
a huge crowd and cap a day described by Accompong leader,
Sidney Peddie, as "the mother of all celebrations".
|A Maroon blows the abeng,
a traditional part of the ceremony, during the 268th
annual Accompong Maroon festival in St Elizabeth, Friday
January 6. The abeng was once the Maroons' chief means
of long-distance communication in the rugged hills of
Jamaica where they made their homes. (Photos: Garfield
As has become customary
for the annual celebrations which mark the signing of a
peace treaty between Maroon hero Cudjoe and British colonial
representatives in 1738, there was also a strong commercial
aspect with scores of vendors lining the narrow roads
offering food, craft and other wares.
And as usual, hundreds
journeyed to the Kindah Tree - an ancient, wide-spanned
mango tree under which Cudjoe and other Maroon leaders are
said to have cajoled their people into united action - to
witness and participate in age-old Maroon rituals.
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.
|A banner and art work of
the Maroons welcome visitors to the 268th annual
Accompong Festival, St Elizabeth Friday, January 6.
The Maroons settled in
Jamaica's mountainous interior from whence they fought
sporadic guerilla battles with the British for more than 70
years. In the case of some Maroons, sporadic hostilities
with the British lasted for over 130 years.
Charles Town and Moore Town in Portland and Scott's Hall in
St Mary are the surviving, fully recognised Maroon
Easily the high point of Friday's activities was the
afternoon civic ceremony.
Bartley who is the
director of culture in the Ministry of Education, Culture
and Youth, used speech, song and dance to remind his
audience of their "rich culture and history" and their
responsibility to honour the 'sacrifices' of their ancestors.
". When we see the
problems we face, too many times we feel that it is
impossible to overcome .but what greater problem could any
man face than to be in total subjugation, to be visited with
the greatest inhumanity (slavery) that man could ever visit
If such a people could
come out of it and not abandon their humanity, their dignity,
their hope .why should we in 2006 believe . that we are not
able to overcome the problems that face us.," said Bartley
to loud applause.
To give up, he
suggested was to 'insult' the ancestors who had sacrificed
much, in some cases their lives, to achieve freedom and
Calling on the
award-winning Hartford Culture Group of Westmoreland - which
had earlier performed folk song and dances - to back him up,
Bartley punctuated his speech by lead-singing and dancing
traditional folk songs as well as popular cultural hits by
the likes of Bob Marley, Tony Rebel and Buju Banton.
For well over an hour,
the scene took on the look of a stage show with the audience
joining in song and dance, then hanging on to Bartley's
every word during the breaks from music.
Before that, Peddie
told of plans to improve the lot of the Accompong Maroons
through a range of projects including the development of a
sports complex , the redevelopment of early maroon trails as
tourist attractions, upgrade of a trade centre for
information and technology, development of a history club
and documentation unit, culture club and film unit, and the
improvement of educational opportunities.
Help was being sought
and in some cases had already been received from local and
overseas agencies, he said.
The overall aim he said was to build on the foundation laid
by the "blood, sweat and tears" of Maroon ancestors.
Peddie also updated his
audience on the progress of the Accompong Foundation, formed
over a year ago and is now being incorporated as a
non-profit limited liability company.
The foundation which
includes representatives from Jamaica government agencies,
has 11 different areas of responsibility, such as the
coordination of the annual festival as well as a 20-year
plan of action for the protection and preservation of maroon
Shepherd of the Jamaica National Heritage Trust spoke of
plans for Jamaica's participation in Ghana's Joseph project
which in 2007 will commemorate the 200th anniversary of the
abolition of the slave trade.
The project is intended
to establish links with the descendants of African slaves
worldwide, acclaim African excellence and work towards
healing "the wounds of slavery and establish a culture of
pilgrimage to Africa..."
Shepherd argued that in
honour of their ancestors, Jamaicans and others in the
African diaspora had a responsibility to agitate for air
links to Ghana and West Africa and the abolition of visa
requirements for travel to Africa.
Ghana, from whence many
Jamaicans descended, was a focal point of this year's Maroon
celebrations - the theme being 'Celebrating our African
Ancestry - the Ghana connection'.
other Maroon communities, Colonel Frank Lumsden of Charles
Town and Noel Prehay of Scotts Hall called for greater unity
and more effort to preserve Maroon culture and traditions.
Lumsden warned of the
dangers posed by environmental damage and called for Maroons
to rediscover their links with their ancestors.
Claiming that the
Cockpit mountains contained flora and fauna to be found
nowhere else, Accompong historian and executive council
member Melville Currie told his audience that as far as
maroons were concerned "we own the Cockpit Country . it is
His comments came
against the backdrop of long-standing claims by the Maroons
that land guaranteed to them under the 268 year-old treaty
with the British, have been steadily infringed by outsiders.
Maroon, Kenrick Cairo urged Jamaican Maroons to be proud of
their heritage and ancestral customs and to do all in their
power to preserve it.