Internal dissent affects the political climate in Jamaica and it is no different in Accompong Town. The community is deeply divided concerning two major issues. First, the possibility of gambling coming to the community in the form of a 400 room casino/hotel and secondly the spending of community owned finances. But all this gets swept aside during the Celebration of Kojo’s Birthday on January 6th of each year.
As early as January 2nd the chopping of stakes for the scores of vendor stalls can be heard coming from the forested Cockpits. Normally jobs are extremely scarce during the year but the community hires youths and idlers alike to cut and carry the stakes for the final assembly along the main street in Accompong Town. Each booth is available for rental during the celebration to townspeople and higglers at a reasonable rate. A small carnival is set up at the old Parade Grounds which doubles as a play yard for the school that occupies that hilltop. A Ferris wheel, Bounce-A-Bout and a roller coaster tower above the major venue for a stage show that is also constructed on the site. A large tent filled with folding chairs has been set up for locals and visitors to enjoy the planned cultural activities.
The normally small and quiet town begins to swell in size and volume, as the population of about 500 people will ultimately surpass the 8,000 mark. Money has been scarce and the influx of people and the stall construction jobs providing income and the nearly perfect weather does much to bolster the festive mood of the people.
On the evening of January 4th drumming can be heard coming from the small downtown area as dancers and celebrants gather to sing traditional Maroon songs in the old language from Africa. This impressive group of revelers begins to snake through the village visiting the verandahs of all the residents to share a drink of white rum and to entertain them with their songs. This is repeated again on January 5th and the route is expanded to include the village of Whitehall a few miles down the road from the hilltop dwelling Accompong Town.
Finally, January 6th and the Celebration begins with the staccato trumpeting of the Abeng Horn calling the Maroon to assembly in the Old Town just like they did nearly 300 years ago! The Abeng Horn is and old powder horn adapted from its use for carrying musket powder to a horn to communicate over many miles in the tangled Cockpits. Many times cow horns were used in place of the metal horn that is used today. Residents, returning Maroons and Maroons who live elsewhere in Jamaica begin filing down the old trail carrying food and drink for their ancestors who are buried there.
After the private ceremony and paying homage to their ancestors, the Maroons climb back up to the Kindah “One Family” Tree where the residents and warriors used to assemble to hear Captain Kujo and his lieutenants map out strategy to engage the approaching English Troops. Today the “One Family” of Maroons gathers to celebrate by eating the black male pig (unseasoned), male yams, and male roosters and of course the ever-present White Rum. The tempo of the singing, dancing and the beating of the drums builds and builds until the group followed by a large group of visitors makes its way back to the village covered in carcoon bush and trumpeting the Abeng.
The real festivities have begun! Sound Systems and DJs vie for the revelers as hastily built pens charge a small price to get so close to a massive speaker system that one could hear in the next village! Sound Trooper, Killamanjaro and several other setups are scattered around the tightly packed semi-circular shaped town. The sweet smells of jerk foods and burning pimento wood waft through the air trying to entice visitors and residents alike to sample the myriad of delicacies offered for sale. Accompong youth scurry around the revelers snatching empty beer bottles to exchange for pocket change to enjoy the amusement rides.
The vibes in Accompong Town are finely tuned from the tight knit local community that have lived for 268 years in this peaceful community with but one case of capital crime and from the respectfulness that foreign and Jamaican visitors bring forth. It is unlike any community function I have ever experienced anywhere in Jamaica. The streets are full of revelers who magically open their ranks to allow the occasional vehicle to pass through their midst. Slowly the people begin ascending the hill to the parade ground at the school where the ceremonies, amusement rides and stage shows are assembled.
Night is beginning to fall and the cultural ceremonies are winding down. It is time for a Stage Show! Fantan Mojah kicks off the jams and has the attendees rocking. One act after another takes the stage and casts their particular spell over the people. Hours go by like minutes and even the youth of the village are still in attendance as tonight there is no curfew hours being enforced by their parents. The town’s altitude makes for fast cool down and a chilling breeze begins to blow. Along with the breeze comes some rain. Only a drizzle at first and the crowd is excited to see the headliner, Beenie Man who will take the stage at 4:00am.
Both Beenie Man and the rain hit the stage at the same time and, of the two, Beenie Man was the more inebriated rambling on and on about batty man and declaring himself the King of the Dance Hall but the Accompong residents and assembled revelers were not that impressed. First slowly, and then more and more people turned around and walked from the stage show area until Beenie Man’s audience was a scant few who just seemed to want to stay in place rather than negotiate the dark night and the slick paths. Somewhere around 5:00am the sound locked down and Accompong went back to a sleepy village.
Another year and another celebration has come and gone. The residents reap varying degrees of benefit and the discussions over where the gate money went and who will get money from the now swollen town treasury take center stage. Those lucky enough to have property along the main reap the most while residents on the far side of the town get little to no benefit from the festivities except some general town improvements like a light pole here or there or a pot hole filled. There was even a dozen protesters carrying placards about the lack of sanitary facilities for the visitors and a few other complaints.
Even with any minor problems or concerns taken into account, this celebration was the best ever! I can’t wait for next year!
If you would like more information on how to attend next year’s celebration, feel free to email Bill Evans at [email protected] and put “Accompong” in the subject line. Answers as time permits. Rooms still available!