Marshall had left the house before dawn to walk out into the bush, while I remained awake, lying on the bed trying to discern the various noises I heard outside the house. The incessant croaking of the gecko and the whistling and snoring of the tree frogs punctuated the intermittent sounds of roosters crowing, and dogs barking, throughout the rugged landscape. I heard Marshall return to the front porch so I thought I would go out and get to know him better. He had returned with a wide variety of fruits gathered while out in the bush that he was now going to prepare for a breakfast treat. He had positioned a large JackFruit between his boots and he was peeling back its protective outer husk to reveal the pineapple-like interior. A stalk of fingerling red banana was on the floor of the porch so I grabbed one and peeled it, then took a bite. It was the sweetest banana I had ever eaten. He had gathered nearly 25 pounds of fruit for our breakfast feast! There were sweet and sour sops, Bombay mangoes, guavas, two small pineapples, ugli fruit and pawpaws (papayas) in a burlap sack. Marshall asked if this would be enough food for breakfast or did we want fried eggs or something. I laughed and told him that this was more than plenty – that made him smile in satisfaction of a job well done. I took a pan full of various fruits and my Swiss Army knife down to the standpipe to clean and prepare them for eating. The sun was just starting to illuminate the valley down below the town and I began to hear the voices of the residents. While I was washing and cutting the fruit, I heard Sergio talking to Marshall about the hike we would take after we ate.
Sergio, being a conditioned dancer, wanted to hike to German Town in the middle of the Cockpits where a group of white Germans reside in virtual isolation. Marshall said it was about 15 miles from here if we wanted to give it a try. I winced at the thought as I turned around and suggested we hike to the Peace Cave that was about 5 miles inland and they could go on from there. I would merely take my time coming back to town by retracing my steps. Sergio and Marshall agreed, much to my relief, so we began our breakfast feast determined to still get an early start. After eating, I pulled out my daypack, packed two small bottles of water I purchased in Treasure Beach, gathered a couple of mangoes and a small pawpaw for later, and off we went.
When you hike in the Cockpits you must snake in and out of the limestone hills that remind one of an inverted egg carton. You must always be careful to stay on the barely visible footpaths where others have safely passed before. Marshall would stop and show us the various plants along the trail and describe what they were used for in Maroon herbal medicine. It seemed as if we were lost amid the countless limestone boulders that were covered in dense vegetation that did not allow one to see more than 25 feet to either side of the trail. Suddenly, we emerged from the dense vegetation amid a pasture-like landscape between the numerous surrounding hills. A Rasta was grazing his two Brahma bulls in the meadow while fashioning hand-made brooms to take to the craft market in Montego Bay. Marshall hailed him from a distance to get permission to pass through his territory as people who live out in the bush often become very territorial about their surroundings. The Rasta signaled his consent as we passed silently though the pasture down into a tree lined creek bed where the Rasta had two ganja plants growing. Marshall brought us to a halt and pointed to the bushy plants. He explained that a true Rasta must ensure that the ganja he smoked in his Holy Chalice and the foods he ate while practicing his religion were “Ital”. Ital meaning clean, pure and not adulterated.
Sergio suddenly turned around and asked me what I heard. I look quizzically at him as I listened intently. It was “nothing”! There was a silence in this area that I have not experienced many times in my life. No birds, no animals…. Nothing! Marshall told us how the Maroons communicated with the Abeng Horn that could be heard for up to 10 miles in this still air! They would blow the horn from under the Kindah Tree in Accompong to signal those living in the Cockpits of approaching British soldiers or the death or birth of a citizen. We continued on for about an hour more going up and down over the rolling landscape as we neared a tree-covered hill in the distance. When we were about 100 yards away, Marshall stopped and pointed to a dark feature near the base of that hill. It was the opening to the Peace Cave. The sun was getting quite hot as we entered the small cave where Capt. Guthrie representing the King of England signed the Treaty with Cudjoe, in the presence of his brothers: Accompong and Johnny.
This treaty ended the Maroon Wars in 1739. We sat in a small circle within the cave and ate the mangoes and pawpaw I was carrying. Marshall solemnly told of the pride he felt for Cudjoe and his followers who risked everything they had to gain their freedom from slavery. I knew right then that I could never again turn my back to human struggle. I had often noticed how Jamaicans rarely touch you physically, such as slapping you on the back or shoulder, as friends often do where I live. I was deeply touched when Marshall reached out and rested his hand on my shoulder and said, “Well, my friend, Sergio and I must go.”. “Are you sure you can find your way back?”. I assured him I could and bid them goodbye as they got up and left me in the Peace Cave alone with my thoughts.
I took my time walking back to Accompong. I had my travel book open to pictures of plants and herbs and was trying to identify the myriad varieties of flora that bloom in the Cockpits when the Rasta we had passed on our hike in shouted and waved me to approach. “Mikey Dread”, as he was called in the Maroon community, was an infrequent resident of Accompong as he has chosen to live out here in the bush with nature and his herb. At least once a month, he would take the long and exhaustive bus ride to Montego Bay to visit his friend who operated a stall at the Montego Bay craft market. He would deliver a new bundle of brooms and pick up the few J’s that the previous bundles had fetched. Mikey invited me to sit next to his cook fire as he was preparing a vegetarian stew of sorts in his yabba pot consisting of callaloo, yellow yams and Scotch Bonnets. I tried a taste but the peppers burned and seared my mouth and tongue. Mikey quickly grabbed his water jug, which was fashioned from the gourd of the callabash tree, and offered it as an extinguisher. Mikey said he was sorry for making it so hot. After nearly two jugs full of the soothing water, I was finally able to speak and weakly replied, “No Problem, mon!” To that he laughed and started eating the stew in large portions using the half shell of a coconut he kept for just that purpose. I had always wanted to sit and talk to a Rasta to find out the real story behind their beliefs and how they lived their daily lives. We shared stories and laughed together for the next hour when I told Mikey that I should head back. He got to his feet and shook my hand as he blessed my trip and me in the name of JAH.
After leaving Mikey’s line of sight, I entered the dense foliage where I had walked earlier in the day. I suddenly felt very alone and a chill shuddered through my body. I started to imagine how the British soldiers must have felt as they marched in a tight formation through this desolate land, being killed by random fire and slowly dying from tropical diseases. It seemed that the trail that was so easy to follow when walking behind Marshall was now barely discernible in places. I walked in a state of confusion for about half and hour when I noticed a small shack that I saw earlier in the day. Now I felt confident again and strode up the winding hillside and back to Marshall’s porch. Tired from the walk and all the activity, I decided to relax in the sofa chair and closed my eyes.
Sometime later I saw Marshall and then Sergio emerge from the valley below. Marshall was bouncing on the balls of his feet while Sergio’s gait could best be described as “plodding”! Sergio passed by without even speaking as he went into the bedroom and crashed on his bed. I asked Marshall how the trip went and he said that Sergio loved the German village but the walk back was a little much for him. Marshall said he was going down to town to purchase some food. I quickly pulled out $400 Jamaican for his guide service and $400 more for buying dinner and some cold Red Stripes to celebrate our last night in Accompong. After Marshall went bounding down the road to town, I went into the bedroom to check on Sergio. His legs were visibly shaking and the reference to Marshall as a “mountain goat” caused me to laugh loudly, and he weakly joined my mirth. He said that the trip was beautiful and he was glad he went but he needed to relax for a bit. I told him Marshall went to town to get some food and beer for dinner and that I would rouse him in a couple of hours. He agreed and closed his eyes.
I grabbed a cassette tape from my bag, turned on Marshall’s boombox, and placed “Natural Mystic” into the player. I pushed “play” and went back to my sofa chair to relax and enjoy. About an hour later, I heard voices from down the trail and saw Marshall with a small box on his head along with Rubber, who had a case of Red Stripe similarly balanced. They were accompanied by two residents we had previously met, George and Rasta Bill, carrying gombe drums. The gombe drums made in Accompong are square in shape unlike many round gombes I had seen before. George sells many of the gombe drums he makes to gombe enthusiasts all over the world. I rose to greet my new friends when Rasta Bill chimed, “JAH be praised!” “Tonight we have a groundation in His honor!” I exited the porch to meet them in the yard where Rasta Bill had set down the gombe he was carrying. He then began gathering twigs and larger pieces of wood from around the property so I began to assist him. Before long we had enough wood to build a Groundation fire as well as a cook fire in the 55-gallon drum cut open lengthwise for that purpose.
Marshall had brought fresh killed chicken to jerk and some rice and peas to serve with the yellow yam he had hanging on the porch. He went inside to prepare the jerk seasoning and cut the yam while handing two cast iron pots to Rubber who was to prepare the rice and peas and boil the yellow yam. George and I each sat down with a gombe held firmly between our knees as George began to pound out a primal beat. I tried to match his rhythmically syncopated beat but passed my gombe to Rasta Bill so the proper mood could be established. I saw the bedroom light where Sergio was resting flash on so I knew he would be emerging soon to join the party. I grabbed three Red Stripes and put one in front of both George and Rasta Bill who were somewhere deep within the grasp of the gombe’s spell. Sergio came out limping a little but grinning from ear to ear as he grabbed two Stripes and took one to his guide and friend, Marshall. We became as “One” that evening and the Rasta “I and I” never had more meaning as we ate talked and drummed long into the night.
Respect Bill Evans