JAMAICA - UP CLOSE
THE ACCOMPONG MAROON TOUR: Retracing the Steps of Legends
Bellowing from deep inside the mountains, across cane fields and through the halls of the great house, there was no more dreaded a sound in colonial Jamaica than the horn of the wild men. The abeng, a punctured animal horn blown by a skillful messenger, spoke a language only the rebels in the hills understood. The horn was effective telecommunication for Maroons, a mysterious community of blacks that refused to be enslaved. Centuries later, the abeng has become a symbol of freedom and still calls out from the last maroon settlements on the island.
Two-hour’s drive south of Montego Bay, amidst the sudden slopes and jagged limestone rock face of the Cockpit Country, you find the town of Accompong. A Maroon stronghold since the turn of the 18th century, today it is a popular destination for visitors interested in learning about the island’s first freedom fighters. The settlement was named in honour of Accompong, one of three brothers who led the Maroons of western Jamaica. Another brother, Cudjoe, was among the era’s most effective strategists. Based at Accompong, he united several Maroon bands into the strong Leeward Maroon community.
The British seized Jamaica from the Spanish in 1655, but for decades Maroons threatened their colonial ambitions. Experts in guerilla warfare, the Maroons controlled large swaths of land and frequently raided plantations for supplies and women. The British government brought Miskito Indians from Central America to the island to help track the Maroons and launched several unsuccessful military expeditions into the island’s interior. Desperate for a resolution, they approached Cudjoe to negotiate a treaty. In 1738, under the majestic Kindah Tree, still standing in Accompong today, the British Crown signed its first agreement with free blacks in the West Indies; granting them land and internal autonomy.
A monument to Cudjoe and his burial mound are two sites visitors can explore in Accompong. Like his contemporary, Nanny of the eastern Maroons, Cudjoe’s legend is filled with supernatural feats. He could convince animals to surrender their lives and received his battle strategies from the spirits. At every turn, Accompong Maroons will be happy to share tales of his exploits. His life is commemorated with the annual Accompong Maroon Festival on Cudjoe’s Day, January 6. Summoned by the sound of the abeng, the festival attracts thousands and keeps patrons well entertained with spirited drumming and dance.
A visit to Accompong offers visitors a chance to taste Jerk the way the Maroons invented it. Enduring in the wilderness, the Maroons improved upon the Taino technique of curing meat for the smoky, flavourful charcuterie Jamaica is world famous for. Maroons have always revered nature and Accompong continues this tradition through farming and the use of herbal medicine. A walk through the town will introduce you to a number of plants with amazing curative attributes.
Geography and mutual suspicion kept Maroons isolated from mainstream society for centuries. Their separation made them a time capsule of African traditions that date back to the 16th century. While the locals welcome the opportunity to share their heritage, Accompong remains sacred ground. Like in West Africa, the Maroons believe that the spirits of the dead continue to interact with the living. Your guided tour of the town will be punctuated by prayers and libations to appease the spirits.
In an age of violent oppression, the Maroons stirred hopes of self-determination among shackled Africans on the sugar plantations. Spend some time, listening to the oral history of the Maroons as you explore Accompong and you will come to understand why Maroons are one of Jamaica’s greatest national treasures.