Beverly Carey, Guest Columnist
In his article 'Chronic squatting', published in The Sunday Gleaner of September 9, 2012, Garth Taylor wrote the following: "In fact, even the runaway slaves who escaped the plantation into the hills were squatters on Crown lands until they acquired ownership rights in the form of modern Maroons. It is, therefore, not alarming that the average man frequently associates squatting with the need for immediate attention and solution."
Mr Taylor is on uncertain ground. The Maroon movement to gain freedom in the forested mountains and valleys of the interior was begun by the indigenous Amerindians of Jamaica, who owned land by right of more than 1,000 years of occupation. When the Spanish arrived with their advanced firepower, the natives escaped, leaving their cultivations behind, and took shelter in the Blue Mountains/John Crow Mountain Range and in the Carpenter Mountains where they rebuilt their lives as free Maroons
Also, Mr Taylor cannot be speaking of the Amerindian Maroons or the early Spanish-African Maroons, for they were, indubitably, owners of land with rights far surpassing those of the newly arrived English who, in 1655, drove out the Spanish.
He could not be speaking of the newly arrived self-freed Africans who became Maroons in the English period. You could not tell any Maroon in 1675 that he did not own his land and that he did not have the right to live freely on that land in the mountains of Jamaica. They were not squatters, were never squatters, and do not look at themselves as squatters. Their situation cannot be equated with the need to correct social situations in an informal squatter settlement in an urban area.
ETHICAL AND MORAL RIGHT
It is true that after 10 years of the most intense attacks upon the Maroons (but the Maroons had been fighting since 1655), unjust treaties were signed in 1739 and 1740 which gave the Maroons a certain relief from a continuing state of warfare with the English, some specific lands, and freedom to move around in their accustomed areas without fear from attack.
However, it is doubtful that one Windward (eastern) Maroon felt then that he was not entitled to continued possession of his black African homeland. These early Maroons, after the patent system had been developed, looked at the English as the temporary occupiers and at himself as the party with the true ethical and moral rights.
And the 18th- and 19th-century colonial government has been called upon time and again to ratify extra lands for our Maroon communities. The post-Independence government of Jamaica has also been pleased to do the same. Remember also that in giving lands to the Maroons, the nation also provides itself with a means for the land's protection since the Maroons carefully and thoughtfully protect what they have. For, criticise as you may, the Maroon villages are a socially stable corner of Jamaica.
While we are still being criticised for 'catching slaves' far beyond the reality, we the Maroons are totally ignoring the reality that our own African people in a country where they had no control were used capriciously by Britain to comprise up to 80 per cent of the armed parties sent against us.
We are instead looking at the lives of Africans who, at treaty time, were not formally part of the Maroon structure. What we are finding in Portland and St Thomas is a large number of communities that could themselves rightly claim to be informal villages of the Windward Maroons and where their influence has been to provide stability for the people.
Investigations show that Maroons have contributed to the stability of rural Jamaica, and our Maroon people are spread everywhere in small groups all over Jamaica.
We black people were not born to occupy crowded districts built on gully banks and riversides. It is not for such a lowly, unsafe and ignominious inheritance that our foreparents had their blood shed under slavery. It is not our fault that in desperation, we build in such places. It is all the fault of Britain that we were left with such a mess in our towns and cities.
It is time to develop a land policy and to right ancestral wrongs. The British may feel comfortable that they are legally relieved of the responsibility of Jamaica, but ethically and morally, they still owe us.
Beverly Carey is author of 'The Maroon Story'. Email feedback to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.