We, Jamaicans, watch our resources being gobbled up and remain deafeningly silent. On this another Emancipation Day, we find ourselves with no Blueprint as to where we intend to be in 20-50 years. Nation building as long taken a backseat to individual political greed and our culture and sustenance are ignored. National resources like water, have been a talking point every summer when our dams are exhausted but when the rains come we bury our heads in the sands. We look back at our history every Emancipation celebration but remain ignorant of it. Take the Cockpit Country as example, it should be on every school child’s lips because of its secrets. But unlike mainland America, which makes icons of historic characters in cartoons, comics and movies, here in the Caribbean, we are yet to thrust our heroes to pop consumption.
Let us take a long look at the Cockpit Country and why it, a little Jamaican monkey and the Maroons are of such importance. This monkey is called the Xenothrix Mcgregoria. It was discovered in Long Mile Cave by Harold Anthony in 1919 in the Cockpit Country. It is Jamaican and it descended from the African ‘owl monkey’ but evolved new features to survive living in its new environment -the Americas. It was brought from Africa prior to European discovery of the New World. But our scientists and historians are yet to examine if Africans traveled much further than Mexico, to as far as the Caribbean seas; for by 1492 when Columbus got to the Caribbean, the Xenothrix Mcgregoria had become extinct. Someone must have brought it to these shores prior to the Europeans coming here and it ended up right in the Cockpit Country.
The Cockpit Country is not the relaxing sea and sand resort like Jamaica’s popular northern strips of white sand. The conditions make it a wilderness almost impossible to endure or even to explore. It has seasons when swarms of mosquitoes spread like a sheet across the air. Modern insect repellents do not stop these swarms piercing their stinging needles into the traveler’s eyelids, ears, neck, fingertips or any other exposed inch of flesh because the bloodsuckers spread across the air like a black net. Mosquitoes are just one of the predators that this wetland breeds. Wet! That is the operative word. Rain seems to materialize from nothing and sprinkle on top of the pools of water on the saturated ground. Journeying inwards becomes even more hazardous because of the undiscovered caves and possible soil slippages. This is land of the Cockpit Maroons -sacred unpatented ground. As unpatented land, this land is one of the few free spaces in the whole Earth and it is home to Maroons, the most mystical people in Jamaica. We know of Nanny, who was impenetrable by bullets and Quao who was invissible. We joke about it but it is certain that the Spaniards and the British found the Maroon’s science superior.
The Cocpit Country has no titled. It is one of the only free spaces on the planet. A Peace Treaty agreement in 1738 between Britain and the Maroons following an 83 year war, which began in 1655, from a treaty between the Spaniards and the Maroons to prevent British invasion of the island and guaranteeing Maroon’s continued freedom attest to the freedom of the space. In the Maroon/English war the Spaniards recruited Maroon assistance because they had found the Maroons impossible to defeat and thought the British would have the same difficulty. Maroon has come to mean wild and untameable but it may have meant lost at sea. These may be descendants of 400 ships that Abu Bakr sent from Mali in the 1300s and if so the black people Vespucci in 1501 saw living with the Native American Indians that later fought throughout the Americas as Maroons.
When the Spaniards accepted defeat 10 years after the war commenced with the British, the Maroons kept fighting. Eventually, the British acceded to the freedom of the Maroons by signing its own Peace Treaty of 1738, guaranteeing thay the Maroons the free in the Americas. Guerrilla war tactics and higher science were employed to attack the numerically greater British force. By attacking when the British troops least expected it and in terrains the British were incapable of defending themselves, the Maroons slowly wounded the British until they caved from the blows. The British soldiers could not track the Maroons, who they said were invisible to them during most gun fights. Their soldiers thought the Maroons disappeared in the trees and rocks as ghosts and in 1737, the Assembly brought the Mosquito Indians into Jamaica to track the Maroons but the Indians had little success.
Instead of being revered as national heroes, the Maroons have been mistrusted by Jamaicans, especially since they hunted and returned runaway slaves. At one point in history, the planters were even complaining that the Maroons were returning more dead than living runaways and increased in the Jamaican Assembly the incentive for the slaves returned alive. For these and more reasons the Jamaican Assembly, thought the Maroons a problem they needed to disappear.
The Maroons raided the plantations and took slaves. Most important, their presence was a constant reminder of freedom to the slaves and many slaves ran away to form their own communities or to join the Maroons. But the Treaty allowed for British superintendents to live in the Maroon camp as spies. By gathering intelligence the Jamaican Assembly was able to stop the Maroons instigating a similar revolution to what was happening in France, Haiti, and the American mainlands to eradicate slavery. In 1795 the Jamaican Assembly restricted movement in an out of Jamaica and began shadowing foreigners because of rumors of a Maroon revolt. They collected testimonies from Jean Folef Moranfon, an embassy official in New York that free coloreds had left New York on a vessel loaded with corn for Jamaica and that another 150 French men were in the island to help the Maroons fight. Moranfon also said 10,000 blacks would land in Kingston Harbour to join the Maroon’s to free all the slaves.
Instead of sending the soldiers destined to quell the French revolution, The Jamaican Assembly sent a thousand soldiers from Montego Bay into the Cockpit. In response, the Maroons sent a delegation to inquire into the declaration of war. That delegation of 39 was captured and put on a ship to be deported from Jamaica. The Maroons then burnt their communities and retreated into the Cockpit Mountains. Like the wars of 1655, the British soldiers could not see the Maroons but were counting losses, which included a governor and two captains. The British were forced to negotiate a second Peace Treaty of 1795 but it was not to be honored; for, when the Maroons seized fighting the British broke the treaty and deported the entire Trelawny Town Maroons to Nova Scotia. From Nova Scotia they were taken to Sierra Leone. These Maroons were Cudjoes descendants. and the first rebels to extradited from Jamaica’s shores
By the first Peace Treaty of 1738, the Jamaican Assembly, the then government, declared themselves foreigners to Maroon territory. It is Maroons who dictate the governance of Maroon lands, the rights of possession, and the rights of occupation. It was also agreed that Maroons would benefit from Crown lands. Maroons are free to go everywhere in Jamaica, except private property. However, the Jamaican Assembly sought to curtail Maroon rights. In 1864, by the Act 2 Wm. 4, Cap. 24 the privileges of free persons were conferred on the Maroons and by an Act, 5 Victoria Chap 49 all privileges and disabilities were removed from the Maroons to merge them into the population breaking the Treaty of 1738. It became an ethical and a legal contention, which was addressed to the Privy Council, but the Privy Council legally cannot rule against decisions of its own British Parliament and did not. Maroons still contest these rulings which sought to make free people governed.
Maroon lands protect the last wilderness in Jamaica and 40 % of the sustainable water supply to a large section of the country. The Cockpit country is a 22,327 hectares watershed created by rain soaking through calcium carbonate (limestone) rocks to form natural tunnels and caves which are what store and transport water to three of the island’s 14 parishes. The aquifers of four major rivers: Black River in the parish of St. Elizabeth, Martha Brae in the parish of Trelawny and Great River and Montego River in the parish of St. James get water from the Cockpits. St. James has a population of 183,811, St. Elizabeth a population of 150,205 and Trelawny a population of 75,164 and everybody needs water. Disturbing the natural water channel cannot be validated by harboring unrealistic dreams of rehabilitating the watershed. The waterways once excavated, or disturbed will collapse or change and cause drought in some areas and flooding in others. Reforestation will not be a fix of what took centuries to be created by acts of God.
As self-elected keepers of one of the world’s forests, residents of the Cockpit Country and conservationists find themselves fighting ‘Money’ to protect the flora and fauna protecting our water and storing our medicine. But industry and commerce, two great engines of economic and social change are dynasties that erode everything with time. In these financially burdened times world economies are grappling with budgetary cuts and debt payments that could see their nations catapulting. Jamaica is no different. It is a small nation that can barely meet interest payments on its $2 trillion dollars debt. And at the start of the 2015-2016 fiscal year, the Jamaican Minister of Finance, Dr. Peter Phillips, reported the debt to GDP ratio at a projected 130.7 per cent. This means for every Jamaican cent earned, Jamaica owes $130.7 to its debtors.
The Minister of Science, Technology, Energy & Mining, in his Sectoral Presentation 2015-2016 stating that 4.8 million tonnes of bauxite valued at US$672.3 was exported in 2014 and that Jamaica mined and quarried approximately 12.3 million tonnes of limestone, efforts to protect 40% of Jamaica’s underwater resources in the Cockpit Country are at a critical stage. Jamaicans must convince their elected officials that the ever present foreign debt, national bills, individual greed and their political futures are priced cheaply to its valued resources.
Despite the financial struggles of the Jamaican government to eek its way to sustainable development, residents, stakeholders and conservationists are reporting the mining companies when they are spotted in the Cockpit Country. With hindsight these residents view other areas mined for bauxite and quarried for limestone in the parishes of St. Catherine, Clarendon and St. Ann, as precursors to their beloved terrain. In those parishes the few feet of soil dumped to fill the excavated lands have not replace missing mountain ranges. Also, news of farmers frustration with the man-made topography, which farmers have found incapable of supporting the regrowth of trees but able to grow vegetables and weeds, makes mining a valid concern to their extensive farming communities. Endemic flora and fauna used as medicine by medicine men and herbalists to treat the ill are yet to be discovered and will be forever gone. For all these reasons Jamaica’s God given resources are more valuable than money. But think of the Maroons and why they fought. They were building a nation and a nation cannot exists without resources to sustain its people.