Maroon ‘Abeng blower’ perish in fire
Hansel 'Rupie' Reid, the much-revered Abeng blower of the Accompong maroons, in St Elizabeth, is dead. The 71-year-old community elder died in a fire that gutted his two-bedroom house early last Friday morning.
While many residents believe that the fire might have been an accident, owing to the fact that the elderly man had a penchant for using candles, others are speculating that it could be an act of arson, based on recent happenings in the community.
"The recent maroon elections were somewhat contentious and there was at least one fire that was attributed to arson," a resident told The Sunday Gleaner. "While we know of no bad blood between Rupie and anyone, you never know. We are living in dangerous times."
community in mourning
The death of such an important figure in the daily lives of the Maroons of Accompong has naturally thrown the community into mourning as despite their differences at times, the majority of the maroons see themselves as one family.
J.C. Hutchinson, member of parliament for North West St Elizabeth, the constituency in which Accompong Town is located, said the death of his close friend Reid was a blow to the history of Accompong, especially based on the significant role he played as the Abeng blower.
"He was personally known to me for many years. He worked as a supervisor for me in the political process," said Hutchinson. "Rupie was a decent human being, who loved his people and was a hard worker politically. It is just a tragic situation and I will miss him greatly."
In seeking to dismiss the speculation that the fire could be as a result of arson, Harris Cawley, the deputy Colonel of Accompong Maroons, said he believes the fire was an accident caused by candles the elderly Reid often use while at home.
"This is such a peaceful community; there is no war among the people ... the election is over and we are back to being one big family.," said Cawley. "In fact, I believe, based on what we know of Rupie, that it may be that candles he uses may have sparked the fire."
"He uses a lot of candles in his house, so maybe that was the cause. I would be very surprised if I was to find out he was actually murdered like this. But the investigations are ongoing by the police, so when that is done, we will know what really happened," added Cawley.
Rupie's cousin Rosemarie Morris also dismissed the murder speculation.
She said even at the height of the recent election that brought heated exchanges between rivals, Reid was never targeted, as he was respected by all.
"He styled himself the only intelligent man in Accompong and everybody would have a laugh. He will be greatly missed. He was disciplined and reasonable also," said Morris.
As the Abeng blower, Reid played an important role in the community as the instrument, which is made from an animal's horn and is trumpet-like, is traditionally used by the maroons to communicate messages, as well as in all major ceremonies.