Orville Taylor | Indigen-who? Not my Maroons
So, the same set of people who are saying that Prime Minister Andrew Holness is not to be taken at his word are also jumping on a past address to the Accompong Maroons, when he used the word sovereign to describe their ancestors.
In any event, the use of a term in a generic fashion in a political speech is not the same as doing so in a legal setting. For example, saying that my mentees in the academy are my ‘sons’ give them no claim for maintenance.
Nowhere in any speech or document by any government, whether since Universal Adult Suffrage in 1944 or since the original Maroon treaties of the 1730s, has there been any express or implicit ‘intention to create legal relations’ regarding recognition of the Jamaican Maroons as a sovereign people.
In the same breath with which I dismiss my ‘back to Africa’ Rastafari, who keep telling us that this is not our land, let me make it clear that I say Jamaica and Jamaica first. Out of many is one people and no group, however special, must be unequally privileged.
Everyone in this country knows that as repositories of the little of what remains of our African ancestry, the Jamaican Maroons are custodians and they must be appreciated. Despite my deep discomfort with the role they played in returning their fellow escaped Africans, the death of Chief Tacky, still not a hero, and the capture of Paul Bogle, I have long forgiven their ancestors for these acts of betrayal. Indeed, as painful as the clause in the treaties, to return their escaped kinfolk is, we are hypocrites if we hold it against them while forgiving the descendants of the British who had enslaved us.
True, some of the reparations argument points to shared liability, but lest we forget, at least a third of all slave drivers on the plantations in Jamaica were themselves enslaved Africans. These slave drivers were among the most vicious of abusers. Historical accounts of cruel and corrupt slave-on-slave practices would make one shudder today. We should not forget that many of the uprisings on the plantations were themselves quelled because of enslaved traitors within their ranks.
Even more deeply the intrigue goes. A few years ago, a guest researcher of the plantation on which I work, in the same tradition, tried to ride a wave at my expense by misrepresenting my historically accurate information that continental Africans were themselves also involved in the enslavement and trade of our ancestors. So, it is really not as simple as one pretends. Therefore, if the animosity anyone feels towards the Maroons, anchored in the residual sentiments over their being turncoats, is a basis for rejecting their case for sovereignty, I am totally in disagreement.
However, senior lawyers have spoken. Nonpareil Dr Lloyd Barnett has more than once debunked any notion of our Maroons being an independent state. This is a similar view of Justice David Batts and no lesser than Ambassador Professor Stephen Vasciannie.
Having myself read the documents signed by Cudjoe and other Maroon Chiefs, nothing therein, except in the catacombs of one’s very generous imagination, suggests that they are independent states. Autonomous and sovereign are not synonyms.
Still, another view is that these wonderful kinfolk of ours are ‘indigenous’ people. In layperson terms, it simply means that they are descendants of the ‘first set of settlers’ on the land they, and others who came afterwards, now occupy.
In the case of the Australian Aborigines, who were long there from the ‘dream time’ when England was not a country, there is no issue. Similarly, Native Alaskans, First Nations such as the Cherokee, and other North Americans, who were decimated by the Europeans are beyond doubt.
According the UN’s 1981 Martinez Cobo study, “Indigenous communities, peoples and nations are those which, having a historical continuity with pre-invasion and pre-colonial societies that developed on their territories, consider themselves distinct from other sectors of the societies now prevailing on those territories, or parts of them.”
One simple question: are Maroons direct descendants of the Tainos? Is their argument that escaped Africans mixed with these Amerindians and became akin to Black Caribs? In St Vincent, this is precisely what happened, when shipwrecked Africans, escaping slavery from other Windward Islands, landed and eventually created a new ethnicity.
Are the Maroons arguing that their culture is partially Taino? And finally, is there any DNA evidence that other non-Maroon Jamaicans carry the Taino gene, too? After all, assimilation is assimilation.
Nevertheless, the stand-off must end. I am not sure what Accompong Chief Richard Currie’s end game is but he cannot win a war with any Jamaican government.
Having last visited Moore Town, with which I feel a strange connection, I agree with Colonel Wallace Sterling that the grandstanding must stop and private and respectful dialogue prevail.
Whatever makes Currie go at the Government, he must still try to rise in peace.
Dr Orville Taylor is head of the Department of Sociology at the UWI, a radio talk-show host, and author of ‘Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets’. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.