Play held in 2016 to commemorate Maroon ancestors

Today is the 12th of July.

Today we remember the Maroons and pay tribute to their contribution to our history.

We have chosen the anniversary of the death in battle of Chief Jacko, most respected and long-lived leader of the Maroons (Neg Mawon) of Dominica to symbolize the whole Maroon presence in our history.

The Maroons were the Africans who, since 1761 at least, refused to accept the system of slavery and took up arms against it. At their height, they were probably around 3000 men, women and children. They organized themselves in military camps that later developed into strong social communities. Some of the most developed camps resembled the kinds of villages that would emerge among the freed slaves after emancipation more than half a century later.

It is truly remarkable that in the very difficult circumstances that they found themselves, fighting for their lives in dense mountain jungles thousands of miles from their native lands, these Africans were still able to survive and create sufficiently stable communities to raise children and cultivate. A significant proportion of Maroon society were women. At the time of Jacko’s death, there were thirteen such Maroon Communities (camps), scattered in the forested mountains. Their military campaigns were coordinated by the Grand Camp which both Bala and Jacko seemed to have controlled at various times and which was probably located in the area of Morne Neg Mawon in the Belles Area.

They had an economy also with a well-developed trade in agricultural products which were traded not only with the plantation slave/labourers, but free people in Roseau also. They could be very productive farmers, said, in one case to have more than 4 acres extensively cultivated with a diversity of crops. Wah-wah was a staple item of exchange, but all sorts of forest produce were involved.

By the time of the second and last Maroon Wars, 1814/1815, Maroon numbers had dwindled and marroonage had lost much of its appeal among the plantation slaves from which they recruited, but they never lost the boldness in action that made them famous in the region. When Governor Ainslie sent captured Maroons to Chief Quashie in 1814 with an ultimatum to surrender or face death, and a bounty of £2000 put on his head, the Great Chief immediately proclaimed a similar bounty back on Ainslie’s head.

The Maroons are hugely important to our self-identity as a society and nation. Their story says loudly to us that our past is not defined just by slavery; but also resistance to slavery also. It shows us that wired in our cultural DNA is an attitude not just to power and governance, but the limits of power of governance; and that it is always open to the body of ordinary citizens to take action to end tyranny and abuse of power by those who govern.

This cultural trait has surfaced over and over in our relatively short history – in what was called the Negro Riots of 1844; the LaPlain insurrection of 1891; the Kalinago Revolt of 1932, the “Back to the Land” Dred Movement of the early 70s, the Castle Bruce Cooperative Revolt in 1972, the Geneva Uprising of 1974 and of course the Great Political Uprising which toppled the elected Government of Patrick John in 1979. This same cultural trait may yet accomplish even greater feats in the future! Its roots go right back to the Maron Resistance and to the Resistance of our Kalinago ancestors which had been crushed a century earlier in the 1720s, but which may also have inspired Maroon resistance.

And yet the story of the Maroons remains largely unknown, in spite of Dr. Honychurch’s recent book, “Neg Mawon”. This is the worst of ironies considering that it is no longer the white slave master, but the descendants of those same suffering slaves, who now rule the land. We are nowhere close to being truly free. We are still constrained by the dead hand of the past. Either by design or ignorance, we are ourselves the agents of a system made to keep us down. The education system is an effective tool for misrepresenting or deliberately ignoring the significance of our Maroon past.

The 12th of July Movement is a movement for cultural transformation; a movement aimed at tackling our longest and most persistent foe – slavery of the mind, Bob Marley’s “mental slavery”, the biggest obstacle to our progress and the greatest threat to our survival as a people.

But we can take small steps to begin to bring forward the message and raise the consciousness of our people: We call on the government to officially declare the 12th July as National Maroon Day; transform the old market from a private to a public space as a national monument of remembrance of the Maroon legacy in our history; that we burn a flame eternally, to forever mark the time of the Maroons and what they stood for, the most precious things for humans apart from their basic needs – liberty, human dignity, community.

Will not the younger generation help make the change? Young Dominicans, this is a message to you. Let us locate and reconstruct those 13 Maroon camps in tribute to the memories of such an illustrious ancestry for the education and enjoyment of our people and our visitors.