General Travel

Maroon Fest 2003

The Accompong Town community was getting ready for the onslaught of thousands of tourists, returning Maroons and Jamaicans who live around the Island for the three-day fest that would begin on Saturday the 4th of January, continuing through January 6th, the actual day of the celebration. Wooden pole constructed stalls, some with canvas coverings were neatly arranged all along the main, up past Bickle Village and onto the school grounds where the soccer field would double for a parking lot during the festivities. The Bickle Village was named from the Maroon word “Bickle” that translates best as the English word “Food”. Marshall’s uncle, Deputy Colonel Rupert Robinson would be my host and his Guest House right on the parade route would also the Official Home of www.jamaicans.com for the fete.

Saturday started out as a nice sunny, if a little breezy day. The ominous storm clouds that formed over Balaclava were making their way slowly towards this hilltop community. Warning drops sent the higglers scampering trying to keep their wares from becoming soaked and unsellable. Soon the smattering of droplets formed a crescendo of pelting rain that would last most of the afternoon and into the early evening. The Kingstonians and other city dwellers were noticeably out of place as they came dressed for a ‘session’ and not for a festival in a muddy country town. Soon many of those finely dressed people and their expensive vehicles beat a hasty retreat back to their homes. The crowd had thinned but those that stayed were having a real party. Ferdie, a Maroon friend, had a DJ show called Scorpio in his yard and their big sound started the town pulsating. The smell of Jerk dis and dat was wafting through the air mixed with the sweet aroma of burning pimento wood. The Celebration had begun and we danced, ate and drank until 3:00am when we headed back to Deputy Colonel Robinson’s home to greet the morning sun!

The pounding of the Riddim had given way to the peacefulness of Sunday and the church. Throughout the community, residents and some visitors gathered at assorted places of worship. Accompong had taken on the look of most any small town in Jamaica but this small town was on a short fuse ready to explode in a festival of sights and sounds. The respect in the form of muted silence shown the church from earlier in the day was gradually being replaced with the pulsating beat of Reggae music. Sound systems were starting to crank up and the late-sleeping residents and visitors began to shuffle their way into the fray. Crowds were swelling from the new influx of visitors who rode the local taxi’s through the throngs of revelers who parted like the Red Sea amidst the honks of taxi horns. Early evening and the town was packed and ready for action.

This night seemed more like a carnival with games of chance and ‘barkers’ lining the route trying to get new suckers into their game. Many more food stands had been added in anticipation of the larger crowds that had assembled. People seemed to be congregating in smaller circles of friends and acquaintances unlike the larger gatherings the night before. One might think there was not another level to achieve, but they would be wrong. The amount of energy expended by those in attendance and those who were putting on the celebration seemed boundless but there was still another, more important day to come, January 6th and the reason for all these festivities.

Monday, January 6th…..CELEBRATION! This is the day the Maroons point to on the calendar for the next year as soon as the current one has concluded. The early morning saw people strolling around the community and taking in the sights like the Kindah Tree where the official celebration would begin only a few hours later. ‘Kindah’ is the name for ‘family’ and that is where the Maroon family has always congregated, either to plan for warfare or to celebrate. This spot is one of the “seals” in the community. The “seal” is a spot that the Maroons held and continue to hold, sacred meetings and ceremonies and there are three such “seals” in the Accompong village.

rom Bickle Village a rhythmic drumming began to fill the quiet air, which had previously been dominated by an occasional barking dog or a crowing cock. Brightly dressed Maroons from the community and those living around Jamaica and “afarrin” started to make their way along the tour route. Representatives from the Scott’s Hall Maroons led by their Colonel Noel Prehay, held an honored place in the procession along with the elders and governing council of the Accompong Maroons. Many of the participants were adorned with the cacoon plant used as camouflage in the war with the British army as well as a food to feed their warriors.

On the hillside above the Kindah Tree, the crowd was gathering as the residents began the celebration below. Drumming and singing of traditional Maroon songs began to echo across the surrounding cockpits as the ceremonial meal of unsalted and unseasoned pork along with roosters, male plantains (horse plantains) and male yams was prepared by boiling or roasting. The hog used for the pork is specifically selected and raised for that purpose. It also must be pure black and the good luck throughout the year one receives begins after consuming the offered feast. The crowd continued to swell as school children in their brightly colored school uniforms and groups of Jamaicans and tourists added to the revelers. An Herbal Village, which had been constructed just below the Kindah Tree, was also getting its share of visitors. The trained student guides instructed the interested about the medicinal plants and potions that the Maroons brought from their African homeland or discovered within the mystical Karst Cockpits.

The drumming and singing had reached its crescendo and the blowing of the Abeng Horn alternated between sharp punctuating and stuttering-like sounds that were regulated by rapid covering and uncovering the ends of the cow-horn shaped instrument. The Abeng was the Maroon “telephone” for centuries alerting the scattered Cockpit residents as to upcoming battles and births or deaths within their community. During the celebration, the Abeng is used a little differently. Over Proof Rum is liberally poured into the large end while capping off the smaller end to form a chalice of sorts to hold the ceremonial liquid. Sloshing around with a few shakes, the rum is tossed over the shoulder to cover like rain the mesmerized dancers. Bottles of rum are passed around to take a long swig before spraying the liquid over the undulating crowd. The smell of rum is everywhere and the revelers are in a drunken trance without actually consuming that much liquid. Now, it is time.

The Abeng blower sounds a series of long, deep and resonating trumpeting retorts as he walks from the Kindah Tree back towards the town. Residents fall into line along a pre-determined order with drummers and dancers preceding the assemblage. More rum, more spraying, more singing and more dancing as the remaining crowd of onlookers brings up the rear, snaking their way along the route back to town.

Traditional drumming takes over the Bickle Village stage as the assemblage fans out around the venues for food, music and merriment with the beat of the drums echoing in their ears. It is only late afternoon and the evening’s festivities are still a few hours away. Utilities in Accompong Town are limited as this is a small community. For instance, there are no ground-based telephones so cell phones are essential. Water comes to town in one, small PVC pipe, so storing water for later use by such a large crowd is essential. Most importantly, current come to town on one medium-sized main line and tonight would feature musical groups like; “Killamanjaro”, “Ricky Trooper” and “True Love” in a Sound Clash. “Fabulous Five” (FAB5) and headliners “Fire Links”. ‘Bridges’ are wires that are thrown across live wires to draw the illegal current to the venues and I counted 14 ‘bridges’ around the crescent shaped village!

Traditional drumming takes over the Bickle Village stage as the assemblage fans out around the venues for food, music and merriment with the beat of the drums echoing in their ears. It is only late afternoon and the evening’s festivities are still a few hours away. Utilities in Accompong Town are limited as this is a small community. For instance, there are no ground-based telephones so cell phones are essential. Water comes to town in one, small PVC pipe so storing water for later use by such a large crowd is essential. Most importantly, current come to town on one medium-sized main line and tonight would feature musical groups like; “Killamanjaro”, “Ricky Trooper” and “True Love” in a Sound Clash!, “Fabulous Five” (FAB5) and headliners “Fire Links”. “Bridges” are wires that are thrown across live wires to draw the illegal current to the venues and I counted 14 ‘bridges’ around the crescent shaped village!

Reggae music is notoriously late in getting underway. Tonight, however, all the groups and sound systems were cranking up early so there were many to choose from like, “Fabulous Five” who were belting out the classic reggae numbers to an enthusiastic audience. Killamanjaro began a session with reggae classics as well sensing that the older Maroons may want to wait until later to rattle the town’s windows. The fever of the music fueled by the spiritual feeling that the day’s ceremonies had evoked was rising ever higher until around 11:00pm when the streetlights were dimmed below usefulness and Fire Links took the stage. Even with the decrease in current demand at such a late hour, the overloaded line could hold no more. Current was cut throughout the village until a brave citizen removed a couple of bridges, then pushed the breaker bar on a central pole back into place. Voila! Back in business and cranking until 5:30am when the sun began to back light the Cockpits signifying the end of one day and the beginning of another.

Another year had passed and another year has begun….until January 6th, 2004!

If you would like to make a trip to “Celebration” as a part of your visit to Jamaica, contact Bill Evans at: [email protected] or [email protected] Some guest rooms are still available and transportation can be arranged from around the Island.

About the author

Bill Evans