This Spring 2015, a member of MPCPMP‘s Executive Board traveled to Jamaica and visited several sites that relate to this Project and the remembrance of our ancestors, those Africans who survived the Middle Passage and forged a new life in the “New World.”
Minutes from Duncans Bay, Jamaica, in a small fishing town about halfway between Montego Bay and Ocho Rios, is a cave (believed to be Arawak) where escaped Africans hid, lived, and died. One of the locals called it the Cave of Refuge, and it served as a place of protection for those Africans who fled their enslavers.
Approximately a half hour from Duncans Bay is Falmouth. In the 1800s, Falmouth, we were told, was known as one of the “wealthiest New World ports south of Charleston” and the most important city on the northern shore of Jamaica. Enslaved Africans were brought in to sustain the colonial life of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. It was a rich town in a wealthy parish where nearly one hundred plantations were actively manufacturing sugar and rum for export. Dependent upon forced labor to work these plantations, Falmouth became a central hub of the triangular human trade.
The Georgian-style government house in Falmouth where, on its steps Africans were sold, punished, or killed, still functions today, and it is not too far from there to a beach where African bodies were unceremoniously dumped. There is no marker that identifies this solemn place at the water’s edge, even though there is a centuries old Jewish cemetery in the town, the final resting place of those Jews who immigrated to Jamaica beginning around 1530 to escape the Spanish Inquisition. They were merchants and traders, dependent upon the vitality of the sugar plantations surrounding Falmouth and upon international trade. It was the Africans who made all this possible. After Britain abolished slavery, Falmouth’s fortunes quickly declined.
One last trip was through difficult terrain in the parish of St. Elizabeth to Accompong, where escaped Africans, called Maroons, established a refuge. To get there meant a long, steep, hairpin-turn, 3 hour drive up a narrow road that
runs north-south through what is called “Cockpit Country” or “Me No Sen You No Come.” This road, called the “backbone of Jamaica,” runs high along the side of a deep, fault-based valley in the east. Cockpit Country is pockmarked with steep-sided hollows, as much as 120 meters (390 feet) deep in places, which are separated by conical hills and ridges.” These hills are “covered with dense, scrubby trees, rising hundreds of feet above depressions and sinkholes with sharp, precipitous sides – the cockpits” and provided a natural defensive area used by the Maroons to wage guerilla warfare against their enslavers and establish communities outside the control of Spanish or British colonialists. Once their communities were formed at the top of these hills throughout this inhospitable terrain, the Maroons could see and prepare to combat any one approaching who might threaten their freedom; they could attack from all sides. From this area, led by Cudjoe (Captain Cudjoe), an African of Akan heritage (according to Maroon oral tradition), these Maroons also raided farms and plantations, burning sugar cane fields, houses and barns, defending and freeing the enslaved. In 1738, a peace treaty was signed with the British that granted the Maroons significant land holdings and guaranteed their independence, creating a nation within a nation. Today, the descendants of these Africans, who intermarried with freed Africans and Arawak Indians, still live in Cockpit Country where they maintain their autonomy from the Jamaican government. MPCPMP was warmly welcomed by the people of Accompong and shown, with great pride, the huge, ancient Kindah Tree (mango) under which Cudjoe strategized against the British (and where the presence of the ancestors is unmistakable), the cemetery where the ancestors were laid to rest, the school, sports field, and brand new library for the descendant children, the museum that documents this important history, and much more.
MPCPMP encourages those who travel to Jamaica to consider visiting some of these important sites that are evidence of the presence of our African ancestors, the hardships they faced, and the struggles they overcame, many times giving their lives, in order to assure a future for us, their descendants. We must remember them.