Maroon heritage resurrected in Flagstaff, St James

Published: Sunday | November 1, 2009

Paul H. Williams, Gleaner Writer

Chairman of the Local Forest Management Committee in Flagstaff, St James, Michael Grizzle (left), has the attention of dignitaries as he briefs them on the newly opened Flagstaff Visitors Centre, which was handed over to the community on Thursday, October 15. Looking on from right (back row) are Isaiah Parnell, chargé d'affaires at the US Embassy; his wife, Tammie, and Derrick Kellier, member of Parliament for South St James. From right (front row) are Carrole Guntley, director general in the Ministry of Tourism; Edmund Bartlett, tourism minister; Charles Sinclair, Montego Bay's mayor and Karen Hillard, mission director of USAID.

High in the hills of the St James section of the Cockpit Country, at the end of the long, winding mountain road, there is a district called Flagstaff. It is part of a region extending all the way to north St Elizabeth that used to be called Trelawney Town. Many decades ago, the residents were all Maroons, who valiantly defied British colonisers, and were subsequently left alone to carry on their lives in that rocky place.

As time passed, other people moved in, the culture and population became diverse, some descendants and offspring moved out of the region and the Maroon culture became diluted. This is basically the story of all the Maroon villages in Jamaica. But while districts such as Accompong Town in St Elizabeth, Charles Town and Moore Town in Portland and Scotts Hall in St Mary have got much local and international publicity, St James' Maroon Town and Flagstaff seem to be forgotten places in the annals of Maroon history.

official opening

Yet, that might not be so anymore, as on Thursday, October 15, the Flagstaff Maroon Village Heritage Tour and Trail was officially opened to reignite interest in a place that once embodied the struggle for freedom from slavery. Under the rich loamy soil and luxuriant vegetation are vestiges of Maroon heritage. But, also deeply embedded in one man's heart was the desire to unearth and showcase the remnants of our challenging past, lest we forget.

This dream is now a reality for Michael Grizzle, chairman of the Cockpit Country Local Forest Management Committee, and the residents of Flagstaff. Conceived as an eco-tourism project which also exposes visitors and locals to Maroon history and heritage, it was spearheaded by The Nature Conservancy, The United States Agency for International Development through its Protected Areas and Rural Enterprise Project and The Forestry Department.

Born in St Ann, Grizzle grew up in Ocho Rios, attended Ocho Rios Primary and York Castle High schools. After school, he preoccupied himself with various endeavours, including working with special services for five years in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. After that, he worked in the construction industry, started a music company in 1993, and then went to live permanently in Flagstaff from where his parents originated.

Grizzle took an interest in the region because of its rich Maroon heritage. Flagstaff is where the treaty negotiations with the British took place, and where parts of The Second Trelawney Maroon War was fought.

"The need to preserve the Maroon heritage in Flagstaff arose from the community, who saw the need to rekindle the historical factors of the area as Flagstaff was little known to readers of history," Grizzle told The Sunday Gleaner.

Also, "with the inception of the Cockpit Country Local Forest Management Committee in March 2007, the vision of establishing an anchor heritage tourism project in the community of Flagstaff, as an example of how natural resources in an area can be used for community development, came about."

It took much work to get the project off the ground, but with great contribution from other partners such as the Jamaica Business Development Centre, HEART Trust, Institute of Jamaica, Tourism Product Development Company and the Jamaican National Heritage Trust, the Cockpit Country Local Forest Management Committee: Flagtsaff Heritage Tours and Trails are now up and running.

the trails

"Three trails, an interpretive centre, gift shop, local food and craft. Persons will see a panoramic view of the Cockpit Country, its flora and fauna and learn about the Maroon and British occupations of the area," was how Grizzle described what is on offer so far.

The second phase will see the construction of a museum to display the many Maroon and British artefacts that people are unearthing in the region. On October 15, at the official opening of phase one, the minister of tourism pledged his support for the building of the museum, which should be an exciting part of the project.

But Grizzle is not alone in the thrust to revive an interest in the area. The residents are 100 per cent behind him and many are involved in various aspects of the project. Other key participants are Michael Shaw, Rose McGhie, Point Benevolent Society, Delsha Peterkin, Floyd Palmer and the executives of the Local Forest Management Committee.

residents involvement

"They (the residents) are involved from the donation of the facilities and land where the interpretive centre is offered, to providing craft items and services to the gift shop, as well as serving as tour guides. The community appreciates the transformation that has taken place and are committed to its success in all ways," Grizzle said. "It is worth it to see the smiles on the faces of the residents of Flagstaff and the Local Forest Management members, I would say every minute of it!"

Flagstaff is now on the front burner of heritage tourism and is determined to maintain its place in the Maroon's colourful history of resistance and the fight for freedom. And that's why Michael Grizzle, the residents of Flagstaff and all the partners in the project are this week's Keepers of the Heritage.

Javian 'Jay' Headley, a resident of Flagstaff in upper St James, holds Maroon artefacts found in the community. - Photos by Noel Thompson

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