Brothers and sisters I was with you in 2016 and at the time I believe I was sitting right at the front there and the sun was just about to set and it was hot and I was sweating and I was thinking to myself this is not what our forefathers went through, they went through much worse so if they went through that, then I can sit there and take in the program and enjoy the festivities and the fellowship.
I was a bit taken by surprise to see how cool the temperature is now because I came back expecting that it would be hot but then our friend the British High Commissioner was not here at the time, so thank you High Commissioner Ahmad, you carried some of the cool air with you.
Neither was the High Commissioner from Nigeria here and I want to welcome her to this event and neither was the Cuban Ambassador here at the time, but she is here with us today and I want to specially acknowledge her.
Allow me as well to give my commendations to your colonel, the chief, Colonel Williams for his leadership of the Maroon community in Accompong and let me also acknowledge the deputy Colonel
I want to acknowledge from the Maroon Town, Garman
I want to acknowledge Colonel Wallace from Charles Town
I want to acknowledge Colonel Pink from Scotts Hall and Colonel Sterling from Moore Town
I also want to acknowledge here, His Worship the Mayor, Councillor Derrick Sangster and I want to acknowledge as well, our own minister, Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sports, Olivia ‘Babsy’ Grange and your Member of Parliament Minister JC Hutchinson and of course my good friend Sydney Bartlett. I haven’t seen Sydney in a while, very good job as the master of ceremonies.
Now, having dispensed with the formalities let me make a few observations.
1. Nobody needs to tell me that the road from Cedar Spring to the town here needs to be repaired, so when I go back down there to sit down nobody should come to me to remind me, I have written it down and I’m going to ensure that it is done. Now, I don’t make any promises, I just make commitments.
My other observation is that the pull of the Maroon culture is still very strong. Jamaicans have the Maroons in a special place in their hearts. It is a unique and distinct culture and let me tell you this, culture is not just an intangible asset, culture is a real thing. Culture is what determines how we act and behave even without thinking about it, so I’ll give you a little example.
Within this town, you may have about two to three thousand people, but I looked at the murder statistics and I don’t see one murder in this town or in this area. In fact, the crime rate here is very, very, very low and it is not just today or last year or the year before, this has been the case from ever since and there’s a reason for that.
You hold on to a heritage, you know that your ancestors, your forefathers fought for your freedom, fought and earned the respect of their enemies, of people who would have otherwise enslaved them to the point where your tenacity, your relentless pursuit of your freedom lead to the signing of a peace treaty 281 years ago. It means something to each and every one of you who claim the Maroon heritage and so you are not about to allow that heritage to be disrespected by violence, by killing your one another.
You have used that heritage to live together under a particular system of governance which demonstrates respect for your chief, respect for your elders, respect for the culture and that has kept you apart from the chaos and violence that may exist in other parts of the country. Culture is not just something that we come and dance around, culture is livity; how we use our past experience to determine the quality of life that we lead today.
I will come back here again and again and again to take the heat of the setting sun because you are people who have preserved the culture and have used it to live in peace and harmony with each other.
You are a lesson to the rest of Jamaica but as I drove up, I noticed that the pull of the culture is so strong that your road, your little town area there is so overcrowded, vehicles can barely pass because you have the road and the parade ground and the market all in one. It says to me Minister Grange and I’m not making any promises here, I’m just making an observation.
It says to me that what you have is of such great importance that people will travel from all over because as I look in the audience and I survey the crowd I see people from all over. People will travel here to see what is the Maroon experience all about. Yes, we’re not saying that we want to build hotels and change the culture by changing the infrastructure, that’s not what we’re saying but people travel when it is easier and seamless so if we fix the road, more people will come and if we support you with a little museum so that the artefacts that you have can be properly displayed, more people will come and I can think of a number of other things and I hear somebody in the audience saying ” and di water”.
Now, I know that they have started on the water, I’m going to follow up to see where they are and how much more we can do but I also got a little lecture about the cannabis industry- no, the ganja industry because ganja is Jamaican, and I know that there are some programmes in place.
In fact, the Cabinet and even though you are Maroons you still vote for the government and so the government still acts in your favour. We have made a decision to allow for what is called the Alternative Development Programme for ganja because it is a real fear that as that industry emerges to become more corporatized that the original ganjaman, the original farmer could very well be left out of the gains and the benefits when you were the ones singing the praises and know the benefits from how long.
This programme is of significant importance to ensure that small farmers and in fact, in communities like Accompong where there is a certain discipline, a certain order, a certain social system that will ensure that it is not used in illicit ways because you have a certain order and organization that we can work with you in a cooperative way that that programme will help to assist and I know that you’ve actually started a part of the programme but you are now awaiting the government’s part of the programme to come in so just before I came up I made sure to call the minister of agriculture and I had a word with him and he gave me a commitment that within the first quarter of this year that the Alternative Development Programme for the small ganja farmers to produce for the licit trade, for the legal trade that will start in the first quarter of this year.
It should have started in December last year, but we couldn’t find the resources. I said to him let us have a little talk to make sure that we can find the money so that it can start. I know some of you have started to prepare your fields and you’re worried that grass will grow back on it, well I give you my commitment that it will start. Don’t worry, be patient with it.
All in all, I’m very happy to be here with you. I’m very very pleased to see the community stick together and preserve the culture. I believe quite a bit can happen and as I was talking to your chief and some of the other leadership, ideas just start to flow. I’m going to be engaging them because I think more can be done from the tourism side, more can be done from the agriculture side to improve the conditions here whilst at the same time preserving the culture.
I am here to join with you in celebrating Kojo’s birthday, great warrior, great leader and the signing of the peace treaty but I’m also here to say to you the government has not forgotten the Maroons and the government will place some resources to ensure that the culture that you have so well preserved is put in a position to be utilized for your own development and for national development.
Brothers and sisters, God bless you and enjoy the rest of the evening.