On January 6, hundreds of Jamaicans and overseas visitors will once again travel to Accompong, St. Elizabeth, to experience a taste of the Maroon culture. There, they will spend significant sums of money in the community as they learn more about its people and their rich heritage.
It is experiences such as this that has given hope to the younger generation of Maroons in the community, who are now beginning to believe that their culture can be harnessed into a viable heritage tourism product from which they can benefit economically.
In addition, one among them is now able to earn a scholarship to the Bethlehem Moravian College, in the parish, which has introduced a course in Maroon history as part of a four year degree programme in History and Social Studies.
In recent times, the leadership of the Maroons has been putting together aspects of their experience into marketable forms. This includes producing a film and publication titled “My Father Said,” written by Deputy Colonel Norma Rowe-Edwards. This has served to generate greater awareness in the culture.
It is a move that the youngsters support and which has received strong commendation from persons such as Professor of Social History and Director of the Institute for Gender and Development Studies at the University of the West Indies, Mona Campus, Verene Shepherd.
Addressing the recent 2012 Conference of the Accompong Maroons that examined the theme, 'The African in Jamaica – Safeguarding Intangible Cultural Heritage of the Maroons for Democracy, Governance & Development', Professor Shepherd called for the history and legacy of the Maroons to be more widely disseminated in schools and for the Maroons to tell their own stories.
“Myths and stereotypes need to be crippled and destabilised, and the current Maroon communities must build on the legacies left by Kojo, Nanny, and the other Captains and fighters,” she said.
She also posited that the annual January 6 event should be used as a means of showcasing the group’s history.
“The 6th of January function must be used as a means of showcasing the intangible cultural heritage of the Maroons, but not only in terms of rituals and dance and speeches. You must search out your past and ensure that it is Maroon cuisine, Maroon art and craft, and Maroon literature that are on sale. I don’t want to come here in January, and see any more plastic goods from the East.
“I would like to see on the annual programme more opportunities for young people to learn that history is critical to our intangible heritage. Part of what they learn must be written by the Maroons, you must tell your own story,” Professor Shepherd said.
In the meantime, Director of UNESCO Kingston Cluster Office, Dr. Kwame Boafo, is encouraging the Maroon leadership to tap into provisions at his organisation, that can support and build their culture for prosperity, and posterity.
Speaking at the Accompong Conference, Dr. Boafo noted that, “the year 2013 will mark the beginning of a whole decade devoted to people of African descent, and I hope that during that decade you will use the opportunities that will come your way to further your interactions with other Maroons communities here, and elsewhere in the Caribbean, for the good of the peoples of African descent.
“You may wish to document, make an inventory of the aspects of your intangible cultural heritage which enhance democratic governance in the Maroon communities in Jamaica, and elsewhere. Share what is it that has made Accompong Town, one of the most peaceful and secured communities in Jamaica. What is it that you are doing right that you may wish to share with other communities, not only in Jamaica, but elsewhere in the Caribbean. Document this and use it on every opportunity, and every occasion,” Dr. Boafo said.
His message resonated with the young people of the community. Resident Ann-Marie Hutchinson, told JIS News, that she is seeing an increase in the number of persons who are taking a closer look at the Maroon culture. She is particularly proud of her community and the fact that crime is relatively low in the community.
“I am looking forward to the years ahead, and participating in the uplifting of this community,” she said.
She pointed to the fact that the community is crime free as a positive. “One of the reasons why we are crime free is because we have the same focus. We are a family, we operate like a family. We are united in that capacity and everyone knows each other. So the crime of taking a man’s life and stealing has no part here,” Ms. Hutchinson said.
Another youth, Sheldon Wallace, who is a Scout leader, supported her position. He informed that Accompong has a tradition whereby criminals are quickly turned over to the authorities for prosecution and punishment.
“We have never had any rape, all of our young ladies grow from a tender age until they find themselves a boyfriend or husband. It is the best place to live. The literacy rate is not where we want it, however, with leadership we are hoping to get the literacy rate change around the minimum of fifty percent,” he said.
Principal Director for Culture, in the Ministry of Youth and Culture, Sydney Bartley, says Accompong is inspirational in the way that it has maintained order and has met its challenges over the year and other communities could learn from it.
“Right now in our history, we need to dip back into our past and see the things that made us strong. The things that allowed us to survive and triumph, and the Maroons are the best demonstration of that. They still have a community that has no violence. They still have a governance structure that works. I don’t believe that we realize how interesting and amazing that is. There is a lot to learn for our country,” Mr. Bartley shared with JIS News.
The Maroons signed a peace-treaty with Britain on January 6, 1738, after some 50 years of warfare. The treaty which gave them sovereignty and the milestone is celebrated annually.