The New York Times
April 28, 1999
Past Glories Still Drive Maroons

          ACCOMPONG, Jamaica (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.''

          Peddie, elected 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
          three years.

          Maroons probably get their names from the Spanish ``cimarrones,''
          which means runaway slave or savage.

          In Hispaniola, ``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.

          ``Cudjoe, he 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.

          ``In Accompong, 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
          white man!''

          Arnold Bertram, 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.

          ``The Jamaicans 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.

          ``They're talking to someone very important.''

                     Copyright 1999 The New York Times Company