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Maroon elders wary of ‘bling’ culture

Published:Tuesday | June 16, 2015 | 12:00 AMPaul Clarke
These youngsters from Accompony Town, In St Elizabeth, are the ones being faced with the choice of either holding on to traditional maroon values or embracing the new 'bling' culture.
Melville Gurrie

There is now a growing concern among some residents of the Accompong Town maroon village in St Elizabeth, that their traditional lifestyle and much revered culture is being undermined by outside influence, especially the so-called 'bling' culture - Americanisation.

In a recent interview with The Western Focus, Harris Cawley, the recently elected deputy colonel of the Accompong Town maroons, says interest in maroons' indigenous customs among the youth, which was prominent in former times, is now waning.

"We are concerned that among our sizable youth population, there isn't as much interest in our culture as we as elders would like to see," Cawley said. "This is a worrying concern, especially among those of us who are concerned about the preservation of our heritage."

outside influences

Cawley cited outside influences as a major worry, but indicated that he and Colonel Ferron Williams had started crafting a plan to build up maroon awareness among the youth. He added that they have already started a programme to teach young children maroon culture and history in the hope of reinvigorating interest in local customs.

In speaking to the various alien influences, which include criminality, Colonel Williams said it will be a difficult task to totally block outside influences, but was quick to point out that it is not true that the renowned maroon enclave was fast becoming a haven for the illicit 'lotto scam,' which has invaded other parts of the parish.

social-media craze

"Like any other community, Accompong is hit by the social-media craze, but we have put in place things from an early age to teach Maroon culture," said Williams. "We have started in the basic schools. We have a Junior Culture Group to keep that aspect of life going. We are intolerant to the lotto scam, which has hit Jamaica hard. In addition, we pride ourselves as the safest place, and I am confident our culture will survive many more hundreds of years."

Despite their efforts to preserve the maroons way of the life, both leaders readily agree that, because they have no choice but to interact with non-maroon communities, it is going to be extremely difficult to keep their culture untainted.

"The "bling" culture that has permeated the rest of Jamaica is difficult to keep out as many of our children attend schools outside the community and are being exposed daily to sub-cultures, which really are alien to maroons," said Cawley, who like his late father is a former colonel.

When Western Focus visited Accompong Town recently, the flashy lifestyle of which Cawley spoke was evident among some of the youngsters, albeit not on the scale seen in other communities. However, the common practice of young men wearing their pants below their waistline, was quite evident.

However, with an increasing number of heritage-conscious maroons returning to the community after living overseas for many years, Cawley they will join in to help keep the maroon tradition intact.

"These people (returning residents) are coming back. There is a sizeable number of people in the diaspora, who can trace their heritage right back here in Accompong and other areas where Maroons are found," Cawley said. "Hope is not lost at all, because we are building on the foundation of the forefathers and the return of our people is making it that much easier to bring along the youths."

native population

With a native population of 25,000, Accompong Town has survived for almost three hundred years since the signing the peace treaty with the British in 1739. Having proudly held on to their way of life through the emancipation of slavery in 1838 and Jamaica's independence in 1962, they are determined to survive the 'bling' culture and other alien values.

"A low crime rate, relative to what obtained nationally, a stable democratic political system and a stable social system are the things that will help us to keep Maroon culture and heritage in its rightful place," said Robert "Bobby" Cawley, the son of the deputy maroon colonel.