As a native of this beautiful island of Jamaica, I believe that the Maroons existing in Jamaica today are under-appreciated. This is because they are not widely celebrated in society regularly, and the younger generations of the population are not well educated on the impact they have had on our freedom struggles. It is only twice a year the most emphasis is placed on this sect of our society, which is during the Emancipation to Independence period as well as on National Heroes Day. Nonetheless, my first in-depth introduction to the maroons was during high school while taking Caribbean History; I was exposed to the sheer resilience of the Africans. A trait I believe is past down from our forefathers to us, which makes us so determined to be successful in all we do. Hence this piece illuminates aspects of Maroonage in Jamaica with the hope of increasing awareness of our rich, diversified culture as Jamaicans.
Maroonage started because of runaway slaves; they would take refuge in the mountainous areas of the island, creating communities that would prove to be a threat to the Spanish and later to the British planters who settled on the island. The high mountains gave them an advantage because they could see their enemies approaching, giving them the chance to defend themselves adequately. It has been argued that there were different groupings of the Maroons on the island the Leeward and Windward Maroons, said to be so named because of where they were located (Campbell:page:44 in Finkenauer). These communities became a refuge for runaway slaves, while on the other hand, they were like thorns in the sides of the European settlers. They would also attack the plantations at intervals to capture slaves as well as ammunition. Therefore I believe that these occurrences served as a source of inspiration to the slave on the island.
Similarly, it has been noted that initially, maroon societies mostly consisted of males, but they eventually saw the usefulness of the females in the areas of procreation and domestic life. Therefore they sought to balance this with the capturing of female slaves (Campbell:page:5 in Finkenauer). The maroon communities cultivated the soil and hunted wild hogs, which it is said that they jerked, and it is widely believed this is where the practice of jerking originated in Jamaica.
The maroons also practiced their African Tradition of obeah, ancestor worshipping, and spiritual medicine. These practices made the Europeans very uncomfortable and afraid.
One of the most widely esteemed leaders of the maroons was Nanny, and she was said to have had great spiritual powers and a great tactician. Also, she has become Jamaica’s only female National Heroine.
Due to the pressure that the maroons placed on the Europeans, as well as the losses they incurred because of their actions, they tried to eradicate the maroon societies. Therefore the British sent out a team of soldiers to do just this. However, the maroons were once African warriors who were taken into captivity, and they made good use of their African training in their fight against the settlers. They employed guerilla-style warfare, where they would hide in the bushes and attacked the British by surprise. They used the abeng made from cured cow horns as well as drums to communicate with each other. They were also more adapted to the mountainous areas than the soldiers; therefore, they were able to kill a significant number of them. It was apparent to the British that they would not win the fight against the maroons; thus, they conceded and decided to draw up a peace treaty between themselves and the maroons. Subsequently, there was a treaty signed in 1739 by Cudjoe, the leader of the Leeward Maroons and the British. Under the terms of this agreement, the maroons would no longer attack the plantations, they would return runaway slaves, and the maroons would, in turn, receive land and freedom from harassment by the British (Finkenauer). I must note, though, that I do like the fact that he signed the treaty because, to me, that is like selling out your own. However, I did not live in that era, so I do not know the definite reason behind signing the treaty; maybe they were tired of the constant fighting.
Nevertheless, maroons still live in Jamaica today, practicing the beliefs of their ancestors, including spiritual medicine. Their society is always well organized, and according to Reidell (page: 50), they still elect their Colonels, Majors, and Captain. Thus when maroons have any disputes with each other instead of going through the regular court system, they settle it internally within their society. Sometimes also, when conventional medicine fails, people go to the maroons to try herbs that they have prepared to cure various ailments. There is also a festival that they celebrate every year on the 6th of January called Maroon Celebration Day, where maroons from all across the island gather at Accompong Town in St Elizabeth to celebrate. This event is used to commemorate the birth date of Cudjoe, as well as the peace signing treaty with the British. They celebrate by dancing, by the beating of the drum, by the blowing of the abeng and the feeding of ancestral spirits. This is also a tourist attraction as people from all across the world come to view this spectacle as well as to part take in the authentic Jamaican foods prepared.
I think that the maroons are not celebrated enough in our society, and they have played a significant role in our fight for freedom. Therefore more should be done to educate the general public about this aspect of our history because in the wise words of our first national hero Marcus Garvey a nation who does not know where they are coming from does not know where they are going. Thus in this our 50th year of independence, I would like to pay homage to the maroons