Sitting on one of the steep hillocks that make up outer Cockpit Country, ACCOMPONG , the last remaining Maroon settlement in western Jamaica, boasts breathtaking views, and is still ruled by a colonel, elected every five years – the current incumbent is police inspector Ferron Williams (it’s considered proper protocol to call on him when you arrive). Accompong colonels still hold real power; they ensure citizens abide by the town’s constitution, and mete out justice for petty crimes. Though most Maroons value their level of autonomy (they pay no taxes or rates), independence has ensured years of state neglect. A new-ish access road and coverage by mobile phone networks are exceptions to the norm.
Though Accompong is making a determined effort to retain its heritage, there’s a sense that it’s a losing battle. Though older residents claim direct descent from Maroon leaders Nanny and Cudjoe, there are relatively few “real” Maroons left. During the last thirty years two-thirds of the population have left for jobs elsewhere, the secret “Coromantee” language has vanished, resurfacing only in traditional songs and ceremonies, and Maroon culture has become less important to a younger generation more interested in dancehall and hip-hop than goombay drums or Akan chants. The most interesting time to visit is the annual Accompong Maroon Festival, held on January 6, with day-and-night celebrations.
Named after the brother of Maroon hero Cudjoe, Accompong came into being in 1739, when, as part of the peace treaty that ended the first Maroon War, the British granted the Maroon people 15,000 acres of land to create a semi-sovereign community; a missing zero in fact meant that only 1500 acres were made available, a matter of continuing contention. Several such communities, including Trelawney Town in St James, were also given land, and the Maroons set about a peaceful farming life. In 1795, however, a Trelawney Town Maroon caught stealing a pig in downtown Montego Bay was publicly flogged, ironically by one of the runaway slaves the Maroons had captured and returned to the plantations in accordance with the peace treaty. His kinsmen rebelled once again and the second Maroon War flared up. Though the Trelawney Town Maroons could muster only three hundred fighters, the British took no risks and sent in fifteen hundred soldiers and hunting dogs to track them down and wreck their villages. Accompong, the only Maroon village that chose to remain neutral, was allowed to stand.