The Coromantees, as they were referred to by the British, came from the Kromantse (pronounced Kromanti) region on the Gold Coast in today's Ghana, where the British built their first slave trading fort in 1631.
They spoke Akan and within their ranks, the Asantes and Fantes were reputed to be the most fiercely independent and who most visibly resisted enslavement. It is believed that these groups, incidentally, formed the core of what later came to be known as the Maroons of Jamaica.
The Maroons of the Leeward group in western Jamaica (originally found in the mountains of Clarendon, Trelawny, and St Ann), and the Windward group (originally found in the eastern mountainous regions of Portland and St Thomas), are considered the new world's first successful freedom fighters.
The Maroons settled in largely inaccessible, usually mountainous regions of the island. They launched periodic raids on plantations for food and weapons and also welcomed or encouraged enslaved Africans to join their numbers.
In so doing, the Maroons inflicted a form of economic sabotage to the plantation system. Combined with their skill of guerilla warfare that they practised with a fair measure of success against better-armed British troops, the Maroons maintained a sustained anti-slavery, anti-plantation campaign that became a serious source of concern to the British occupiers of the island.
In recognition of the facts that successive military campaigns could not eradicate the Maroon threat and that by the 1730s, the Maroons controlled significant portions of land and jeopardised the expansion of the plantation system, the British sought to negotiate peace.
In 1738 and 1739, the Leeward and Windward groups signed identical peace agreements with the British, who ceded some 15,000 acres of land to them. Today, Maroon settlements can be found in Accompong Town in St Elizabeth, Scott's Hall in St Mary, and Charles Town and Moore Town in Portland.
The Maroons are also a critical exponent of African cultural retention in Jamaica. They are recognised for the retention of cultural knowledge relating to healing, divination, bush/herbal medicine and the Kromanti language.
Traditional Maroon culture was, however, determined to be in need of safeguarding and protection because of several factors. Chief among these was the fact that transmission of traditional knowledge from elders to younger generations was not taking place on the scale it was used to and the fact that migration patterns saw large numbers of Maroon youth leaving the traditional sites of settlements. In response, UNESCO was petitioned to assist in safeguarding traditional Maroon culture in Jamaica, in particular, that of the Maroons of Moore Town, who were deemed to be the most remote.
In November 2003, UNESCO declared the Maroon Heritage of Moore Town as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. This action facilitated the implementation of measures geared toward documenting, for posterity, traditional Maroon cuisine, language, the Kromanti play and the craftsmanship associated with the creation of tools and implements such as their unique Prentin drum, fishpots, spears and the abeng.
The African Caribbean Institute of Jamaica/Jamaica Memory Bank, was charged with implementing action geared toward encouraging the documentation of traditional Maroon culture and the facilitating of transmission of knowledge from Maroon elders to younger generations. This is an ongoing process and complements the UNESCO Convention on Intangible Cultural Heritage (2003) which seeks to safeguard traditional cultural elements, particularly those that are deemed to be endangered.
An eight-day workshop on the inventorying of traditional forms of intangible cultural heritage in Jamaica, funded by the Government of Japan, and organised with the assistance of the UNESCO Kingston Cluster Office and the National Commission for UNESCO, will be held in September. This represents the continued work of agencies to protect local elements of intangible cultural heritage in Jamaica.
Article courtesy of the Institute of Jamaica. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.