Mante!* Over the weekend, I had the pleasure of visiting one of Jamaica’s five Maroon villages. Like many Jamaicans, I thought I knew all about the Maroons until I visited Charles Town, Portland.
The Maroons are often described as enslaved Africans or people from African descent who ran away or escaped from their masters to acquire their freedom. The first Maroons can be traced back to 1655 when the Tainos and Africans, who were freed by the Spanish, relocated to the mountainous regions to avoid being recaptured by the British.
There were two categories of Maroons: The Leeward Maroons led by Cudjoe and The Windward Maroons led by Quao. The Leeward Maroons settled in Trelawny Town, St. James and Accompong in St. Elizabeth. The Windward Maroons, on the other hand, settled in Moore and Charles Town in Portland, Nanny Town in St. Thomas and Scotts Hall in St. Mary.
For over a century, the Maroons fought with the British until they signed the peace treaties in 1739. The first peace treaty was signed by the Leeward Maroons on March 1, 1739, while the second was signed by the Windward Maroons on June 23, 1739. During the war, the abeng was used to convey messages across the mountains. The abeng is still being used to signify the start of an event or ritual:
To maintain and preserve the teachings and traditions of their forefathers, the Maroons constructed a council. A Gaa’maa is the advisor of the Maroon Council. The advisor for the Charles Town Maroons is Gaa’maa Gloria ‘Mau Mau G’ Simms. Mau Mau G, as she is affectionately known is also the Gaa’maa for all Maroons within the Western Hemisphere. She is the only ‘Jamaican’ to have been bestowed with this honour.
Followed by the Gaa’maa are the Colonel, Captain and Majors. After the death of Colonel Frank Lumsden in 2015; Marcia ‘Kim’ Douglas now serves as the Acting Colonel. Listen to the audio below to learn what duties the Colonel rank include.
Being the peaceful people they are, the Maroons only have a few rules. Non-violent crimes and offences are dealt with by the council; however, if a violent crime occurs then the Maroons work closely with the Jamaica Constabulary Force:
The Maroons are known to be both traditional and spiritual people. One of the most important traditions that the Maroons carry out is the libation. A libation is a drink poured out as an offering to the ancestors. The ordinary maroon does this every day but depending on their status, it is done more than once per day.
Another important tradition is the bonfire ritual. During this ritual maroons offer a libation to the ancestors and sing and dance around a fire. The fire is important because it is considered to be one of the four elements given to them by the spirits:
In the maroon village, when someone gets sick, they are taken to a herbalist or bush doctor. Herbalists make medicines from native herbs, plants, and fruits using the indigenous knowledge handed down by the ancestors. Herbal medicines are only mixed with an odd number of medicinal plants as the odd plant is needed to balance the medicine.
If the illness is severe, the Maroons consult the ancestors for healing. This healing process consists of three stages. The first stage is inquiring about the sickness from the ancestors. After inquiry, the sick maroon is taken to ‘Kromanti Play Hut’ where drummers beat the kromanti drums and songs are sung and danced to. The Obi then perform the healing ritual on the patient. The third stage is Thanksgiving. After the person recovers, they are expected to make sacrifices to the ancestors for their healing.
The Maroons are peaceful and welcoming people. They are confident and proud of where they are coming from as a nation. Anyone can be a maroon, in fact, many people are unaware that they are maroons. Do you know your roots?
For more information about the Maroons, visit the Charles Town Maroon Museum, Portland.
*Mante is the Maroon word for welcome