Prime Minister Andrew Holness and members of his Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Government did not show at the 285th annual Accompong Maroon celebration in St Elizabeth on Friday, January 6. But that did not stop the Accompong chief, Colonel Richard Currie, and a small team from staging a successful event, the first major one since the COVID-19 pandemic.
There has been tension between the Currie Administration and the Holness-led Government for more than one reason.
Early last year the Maroon leader filed a lawsuit against the Government for allegedly violating the constitutionally protected right to private property, that property being the Cockpit Country.
Currie is seeking to have the court order that lands in the Cockpit Country be given to the Maroons and not be mined by private companies for minerals.
In January last year Holness asserted that there is no other independent State in the island other than that which is led by the Jamaican Government, rebutting repeated claims by Currie that the Maroons of Accompong are a sovereign people. Currie’s basis for making such a claim was the 1738 peace treaty signed between the British and the Maroons.
Addressing thousands of people who attended the festivities on Friday in Accompong, Currie said he was looking forward to making amends with the Government, but basically indicated that a good relationship will not come about if Government insists only on what it wants.
“It is my intention and hope that we will be able to fix this relationship with the Government and fix it quickly, but the thing is that we Maroons are not going to wait. We know who we are. We know what we possess. It cannot be alienated and it cannot be taken away. Only if you choose to give it away, then shall it go. Please tell me when you are ready to give it away, but please, don’t try to kill me, not that I am afraid to die. Maroon is not no soft heart thing. It is no pussy cat business. Maroons are lions, and when we roar, we roar. We have venom, but we have love too,” he said.
“Love is our answer. Don’t make us have to go back to war. The ‘dunce bat’ game done. We are dealing with educated minds now. Let us talk about elevating our people. Let us talk about food security. Let us talk about collective efforts and initiatives to benefit yourselves and your posterity,” he added.
Mark Golding, leader of the Opposition People’s National Party, who accepted Currie’s invitation and showed up at the event, called for a respectful dialogue between the Government and the Maroons.
“Respectful dialogue through an institutionalised mechanism for inclusive and constructive engagement with the Maroons would go a long way to achieving the harmony of relations which would benefit both the Maroons and Jamaica as a whole. Regrettably, my people, we have seen an unfortunate reluctance on the part of the State to put such a mechanism in place despite a manifest willingness among the Accompong Maroon leadership to engage on mutually respectful terms,” Golding said.
“I urge the Government to initiate and embrace a permanent structure of engagement that will allow robust and respectful participation among all interested parties on important issues of concern, and we know that those issues exist. I urge the leadership across all communities of Maroons to be united in solidarity with each other when it comes to engaging the State on matters of concerns to Maroon communities. Do not allow yourselves to be set against each other by politricks, petty egoism, or other personal consideration,” said Golding.
“History will not be kind to those who fail to stand together in unity, especially at a time when there are clear and present dangers to your historic right of autonomy and your way of life. The sad fact is that the Maroons have been encountering threats to environmental safety and ecological sanctity of land in areas recently designated as part of the Cockpit Country by the Jamaican Government. There are particular threats from mining interests. These are lands that the Maroons have occupied for centuries, which hold great cultural and spiritual significance to the community of Maroons,” Golding added.
Many among the thousands of patrons gave Friday’s event a nod of approval, seeing that the organisers had risen above last year’s tragedy in which 53-year-old farmer Lloyd Davis was shot dead by an off-duty member of the security forces during an altercation. At least six other people, including a child, were shot and injured in the incident.
Scores of vendors with jerk chicken and pork, soup, corn, and a wider variety of foods lined the roads in Accompong as they beckoned to the patrons streaming past their stalls.
Several children attended the event with their parents and moved to the rhythm of drums as the Maroons appeased their ancestors.