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Ancestral spirits energise Maroon celebrations

Published:Saturday | January 12, 2013 | 12:00 AM
Vivienne Cornish, a native of Accompong Town, St Elizabeth, gets down with these young fellows from Westmoreland during the official ceremony. -PHOTOS BY PAUL WILLIAMS
Some members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force give a gun salute as a procession prepares to march through the village of Accompong Town.
Colonel Ferron Williams of the Accompong Town Maroons holds a platter of unsalted food.
Drumming, singing and dancing under the Kinda Tree are part of the rituals at the Accompong Town Maroon celebrations.

Paul H. Williams, Gleaner Writer

ACCOMPONG, St Elizabeth:IT IS a given. Every January 6 when the Accompong Town Maroons of St Elizabeth celebrate Captain Cudjoe's birthday and the victory of the Maroons over the British, there is a stand-off, and it's invariably because non-Maroons are excluded from the part of rituals in which ancestral spirits are appeased with unsalted food and rum in the Peace Cave.

It's a practice shrouded in mystery and which outsiders always attempt to witness. Sunday was no different, and not even the extraordinary presence of members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) could prevent some people from going halfway to the cave.

At a certain spot, the non-Maroons were definitely blocked from going farther and a heated verbal confrontation ensued, with a few people vowing never to return to Accompong Town. Some Maroons were overheard saying it was trouble they were stirring up.

While the feeding of the ancestral spirits was going on in the Peace Cave, some patrons partook of some of the unsalted food amid spirited drumming, dancing and singing under the Kinda Tree. Then, suddenly, an alarm was raised. People ran to a spot above the Kinda Tree. There, a little girl had collapsed and was lying prostate.

As the crowd gathered, she laid motionless. Anxious shouts and exclamations were made, as she was said to be in a myal, a trance-like state in which the subjects are unresponsive to stimuli around them and are not aware of their actions. The drum and rum were summoned. People shouted, asking onlookers to clear the spot.

Women knelt beside her, fanning and shaking her, but she would not budge. Confusion reigned as everyone, including police officers, were shouting instructions. There was the flashing of rum. Eventually, the child stirred, but seemed to be listless and dazed. A woman, appearing to be her mother, took her up and whisked her away with the police as some onlookers trailed them. On the woman's shoulder, the child raised her head, and opened her eyes. They were glazed.


And, as if nothing had just happened, it was immediately back to the singing and drumming. Soon, the procession from the Peace Cave was back. But just when people were joining it to the parade ground, it made a U-turn back towards the Kinda Tree. Then, unannounced, the sounds of gunfire rang out. It was actually a gun salute from the JCF. And there was another.

The singing and the dancing heightened. When the procession was getting ready to finally go to the parade ground, a male Maroon dancer and a male drummer had started to move vigorously. The agile-looking dancer was now performing all sorts of acrobatics, including dancing on his head. Obviously, he was in a different realm.

On his backside, the drummer, beating the drum between his legs, moved down the syncline. He eventually lost possession of the drum as his body convulsed and contorted. On his belly, on his side, on his back with his legs flailing in the air, he was. Then he, too, was on his head. For quite a while, he was in this way, being guided by his colleagues from hurting himself. Back up the syncline, on his knee, he found the rum-drenched gumbay drum being knocked by another drummer. The two of them played it until he stood up and cried out several times as some women held him. By now, the male dancer had become calm.

The rhythm and pace of the drum changed as voices dropped. The drummer was now subdued, but he stood in the midst looking dazed. A white woman clapped as he appeared to have come back to Earth. With this lull, the procession was ready to move, but the energy was strong. And it found itself in a Revivalist man, and down into a gully he was now going. People struggled to contain him.

They brought him up and back under the Kinda Tree, but yet a young woman found herself out of this world. The leaders of the procession were getting impatient, but they would have to wait. A stout man held the young woman by the shoulders, put his forehead on to hers and utter unintelligible words.

Groans and screams disturbed that 'intervention'. Another woman was spinning and twirling down the syncline towards the gully. She, too, had to be rescued. When everybody was 'roadworthy' the procession, singing, "clear road, oh", was once again on its way. The trouble was over.