(AP) -- They were the terror of Jamaica once
-- fierce bands of escaped slaves who plundered estates, murdered white
planters and repelled invasions of their mountain retreats with a terrifying
mastery of camouflage.
``We used to
fight, once upon a time,'' says Sydney Peddie, the latest
Maroon ``Colonel'' to lead this autonomous community. ``We used to do
marvelous things that baffled the white man! We were the first guerrillas
... But now we are law-abiding, and quite peaceful.''
the community's leader late last year, is leading an effort
to reverse migration to the cities and restore some of the old African
ways -- herbal medicine, tribal dances, talking to ancestral spirits.
``We want to
remain as the Maroons forever. We don't want to be
integrated (into Jamaica) at all, and we want to bring back some of the
old traditions,'' said Peddie, 65. ``In Jamaica, the inventions have
destroyed certain values and brought on crime.''
So far the effort
has amounted to lobbying fellow Maroons, working on a
one-room museum, asking the Jamaican government for a little more
money and publicizing a Jan. 6 celebration in which they play out mock
ambushes and ``talk to our ancestors'' by blowing the traditional cow's
horn, the ``abeng.''
Peddie said he
had heard of the Smithsonian Institution's new traveling
show celebrating the legacy of Maroons in Jamaica, Suriname and other
countries in the region. It opened in March at the National Civil Rights
Museum in Memphis, Tenn., and will travel around the United States for
get their names from the Spanish ``cimarrones,''
which means runaway slave or savage.
``the court of the island complained in 1546 that (because
of) the Maroons, the planters dared not give orders to their slaves except
in the gentlest terms,'' former Trinidadian leader Eric Williams wrote in his
history of the region.
But the Maroons'
biggest success came in Jamaica, where they helped
the British expel the Spanish and then turned on the new rulers, wreaking
havoc across an island that was then one of the world's largest sugar
producers and a considerable source of imperial wealth.
The Maroons avoided
open warfare, relying on their knowledge of the
terrain, camouflaging themselves with leaves and communicating via the
abeng, whose call could carry for miles.
The British finally
granted them formal freedom in a 1739 treaty, signed in
a cave a few miles outside Accompong, between legendary Maroon
leader Cudjoe and British Col. John Guthrie. That moment -- the first
successful opposition to slavery and British colonialism -- is recalled here
with deeply personal pride.
was black man. Guthrie, he was a white. Both of them was
brave man, and both knew how to fight,'' Raymond Marshall, a
32-year-old banana farmer, stoically recited.
In return for
their freedom, the Maroons agreed to help the British hunt
down future runaway slaves. That arrangement may be at the root of the
sense of isolation many Maroons feel from other Jamaicans, even with
the island independent and democratic with a huge black majority.
One rocky road,
clinging perilously to the edge of the Cockpit Country
hills, leads into Accompong. The five-mile drive to the market where the
Maroons sell their bananas and yams can take an hour.
The roughly 2,000
Maroons of Accompong -- and several thousand
others in a few isolated communities -- still pay no taxes, dispense with
land titles and ``are self-governing in a way,'' Peddie said.
The treaty says
the Maroons can try their own cases, except murders,
but this has not actually been done since the 1980s. ``We want to bring it
back, too,'' Peddie said.
That's not likely, said K.D. Knight, Jamaica's justice minister.
people deal with certain disputes themselves -- land
disputes and certain claims such as debt,'' he said. ``But all persons are
subject to the laws of the land.''
Lately, a rumor
that Jamaica might impose an income tax on the Maroons
has caused some agitation.
``That we will
not tolerate!'' declared Joshua Anderson, 52. ``I myself
would go back to the bush to fight the Jamaicans, like we fought the
Jamaica's minister of local government, said he couldn't
confirm whether there were plans to make Maroons pay taxes.
Peddie contends ordinary Jamaicans are on their side.
think we are a great people, especially those who read
our history,'' he said. ``When we meet them, we tell them we're
Maroons. Then they see they're not talking to such an ordinary person.
to someone very important.''
Copyright 1999 The New York Times Company