Editorial | Put away the matches, Mr Currie
Richard Currie, the colonel, or leader, of the Accompong Maroons, a village in the hilly western regions of Jamaica, may be so ensconced in the myths he has woven of himself that he now conflates them with reality. Or, Mr Currie is playing a dangerous game of chicken.
Either way, no good can become of it. For there is real danger of Mr Currie sleepwalking his, at best, few thousand villagers into a bloody confrontation with the Jamaican State, in which event the consequences all round would be nasty. More so for the Accompong Maroons. Hopefully, Mr Currie will quickly gain a grip of his senses, preferably on his own accord, but also with the force of logic of anyone who wishes him well and what is best for the Maroon communities and for the Jamaican nation.
Maroons are descendants of escaped slaves, beginning when Spain still controlled the island and later when English colonists wrested the island from them in the 1650s. For the next 90 years, the Maroon population was supplemented by runaways from English plantations.
Fundamentally, the Maroons never accepted slavery. Not only did they resist sporadic attempts to bring them to heel, but harassed and harried the British to protect their freedom – until under a 1739 treaty Britain formally ceded land to Maroon communities and afforded them significant autonomy within the colony.
In exchange for this devolved authority, the Maroons were expected to return, or help in the capture, of runaway slaves and to fight with the British in the event of rebellion or insurrection Although a second war between some Maroon communities and the British mid-1790s ended with deportations and the military weakening of the Maroons, their autonomy remained largely intact.
In post-colonial Jamaica, however, Maroons – there are now four recognised Maroon communities in the island, of which Accompong in the parish of St Elizabeth is perhaps the most active – have existed in a sort of cultural and political ambivalence. Although their communities retain traditional governance structures and observe special festivals, Maroons are largely assimilated into the culture of political structure of Jamaica.
NO SPECIAL STATUS
Significantly, too, the 1962 Independence Constitution, which established Jamaica as a unitary state, does not mention Maroons and, on the face of, provides no special status for the Maroons, although Maroon leaders, on the basis of the 1739 treaty, sporadically invoke their ‘sovereignty,’ mostly without clarity of what is meant by this. While the island’s political leaders often attempt to bask in romantic elements of Maroon history, they have done nothing legislatively to clarify these issues. They were invoked last week by Mr Currie in a fashion that, if not quickly tamped down, is potentially explosive.
Mr Currie is youngish (43), educated, muscled, physically attractive, articulate and seemingly charismatic – the antithesis of the older, more reserved images of his recent predecessors. In February, he was overwhelmingly elected colonel of the Accompong Maroons, promising to revitalise the community. We hope his display last week is not an example of what, or how he intends to achieve that goal.
Last week a video emerged on social media of men armed with rifles slowly retreating in the face of an advancing group of men with drums and an abeng (a traditional Maroon shell horn) complaining that the armed men, who were police officers, had trespassed on Maroon land to cut marijuana plants. The armed men were being told by someone to lower and to “exit”. One man with a weapon said he was afraid.
DID NOT NEED FIREARM LICENCE
In another viral video, Mr Currie is seen with a rifle slung across his shoulders. It is his response to questions of whether he had a licence for that firearm that is especially worrying. He did not need one, Mr Currie said.
He said: “It is my duty to defend my people, and it should be the duty of any leader to do the same. We are no longer in a time of bows and arrows and spears and slingshots, we’re in a time of modern warfare [with] guns, bombs and all manner of weaponry. I unequivocally reserve my right to defend my people using modern means, as this is my right.”
The members of the police force and the Firearm Licensing Authority, Mr Currie added, were not elected “by my people. In the Cockpit Country, we believe in democracy and the political freedom of the people”.
If, indeed, the men with the rifles were police officers on official duty, we applaud their restraint and retreat. If they were not law officers, or law officers on official duty, they were still sensible. That situation might have turned extremely nasty.
But worse, although (unlike the 2010 events in Tivoli Gardens in support of Christopher Coke) no shots were fired in St Elizabeth, Mr Currie has thrown down a gauntlet to the Jamaican State. He does not respect its authority and its constitutional monopoly on legal violence. Accompong, presumably, as Mr Coke, the mobster, attempted to make Tivoli Gardens, is a state within the Jamaican State. That is untenable. Having staked out his extreme position, a future confrontation could end with unintended consequences.
In his preening, Mr Currie may see himself as Cudjoe, the 18th-century Maroon warrior, and interpret events as they were then. We remind Mr Currie that pyrotechnics in unskilled hands can be dangerous and deadly. People close to him should ensure that he is awake and offer similar advice.