[Many thanks to Peter Jordens for bringing this item to our attention.] Daphne Ewing-Chow (Forbes) features Chief Richard Currie, the youngest leader ever of Jamaica’s Accompong Maroons in Cockpit Country and the Leeward Maroons’ quest for sustainability and survival.
“It’s a bold and ambitious journey that I am about to embark upon,” says Chief Richard Currie as he pauses pensively to take a sip of coffee.
It has been less than 72-hours since his oath of office was taken as the youngest leader ever of Jamaica’s Accompong Maroons and the new colonel, age 40, enthusiastically shares his thoughts on the land, water, farming and the birthright of his people.
Outside the window, banana trees wave a warm Accompong welcome while flora bask in the cool mountain breeze. And somewhere, on a segment of this compound that I haven’t seen, is a tank filled with rainwater and secondary catchment that the Chief employs for domestic use.
Chief Currie presides over 74,726 hectares of Cockpit Country— the largest remaining natural forest in Jamaica. This land is home to the Leeward Maroons, descendants of the West African slaves who fled harsh plantation conditions and the indigenous Amerindians who they banded with, fighting colonists with guerrilla tactics, such as camouflage created with the tint of the heart-shaped cocoon bead that the Chief is currently wearing around his neck, and the secret language of the abeng, a type of bugle made out of a cow horn, used to blow coded messages. It was these tactics that eventually won the Maroons their freedom and their own sovereign lands.
The Sovereign State of Accompong is home to lush green hills, rivers, springs, streams and other natural water sources, unique biodiversity and crops that do not grow elsewhere in Jamaica.
But despite being the source of 40 per cent of Jamaica’s fresh water supply, Cockpit Country itself has no running water.
The irony is mind-boggling.
“Our community is at least fifty-years behind,” says Currie of the monumental task of implementing the infrastructure to alleviate the water stress faced by the strong farming community and its citizens.
Seventy per cent of Accompong’s residents are subsistence farmers who grow crops such as yams, bananas, breadfruit, potatoes, ginger, turmeric, tomatoes, cabbage, callaloo and peppers, using traditional African farming techniques.
Each household farms for itself and the extras are sold, but if there was a major crisis they would be in trouble. “We are at risk because our systems haven’t enabled us to have the infrastructure behind the agriculture,” Currie explains. “This is the only thing between us and total food security.”
Well, that and water.
While the clay soil in Accompong is not ideal for many farmers, it effectively retains water during dry periods, and traditional techniques for digging and water storage have proven effective in the absence of infrastructure in the area. “As a last resort, we literally haul water from water holes that are nearby, but with the proper planning and resources, all of this can be resolved,” says Currie.
The last estimate to run water into the community, received from the National Water Commission in Jamaica, was $1.2 million US dollars. “I have so much work to do but so little to do it with,” says Currie of the cost to provide what the United Nations has deemed a basic human right— that elsewhere in Jamaica would be provided by the government as a public service.
But Cockpit Country is considered by the Maroons and by many of those in the wider community to be a sovereign nation within the nation of Jamaica.
In 1739, a treaty that was signed by Maroon leader Cudjoe, under the leadership of British governor Edward Trelawny, granted the Maroons land between Trelawny Town and Accompong in addition to political autonomy and economic freedoms, making the Maroons the first free black people in the Western Hemisphere.
Maroons do not rely on the Jamaican government for food security, social welfare or infrastructure and so the onus is on the new Chief to develop his economy and build out systems and safety nets that had not been put in place by the previous administration.
“The Maroons were the catalysts of emancipation; we were the leaders of liberation. That’s what we stand for,” he says. “Our treaty is built on sustainability and perpetuity and our only path to development is through economics and commerce built on those same principles.”
Currie, who holds a degree in Banking and Finance from the Mona School of Business at the University of the West Indies and has 15-years of corporate experience, sees commerce rooted in the bounties of Accompong’s God-given resources as the primary route to the economic advancement of his people. [. . .]
While the word Maroon originates from the Spanish cimarrón, meaning wild, and despite Jamaica’s well-documented issues with violence, Accompong has had only three murders in the past five years.
The only untamed thing about the Maroons is their connection to the land.
“We have arguments today, but then we are sitting at the same bonfire tonight and we are eating from the same pot tomorrow,” says Currie with a laugh as he finishes his cup of coffee.
“If we live in balance with nature and each other than nature will provide for us in a similar balance. This is the true meaning of freedom.”
[Photo above: Chief Richard Currie holds up a Cocoon bead that he typically wears around his neck. It is a symbol of the freedom that his Maroon ancestors fought and died for.]