Fri | Jun 22, 2018

Paul H. Williams | Another Maroon war looming?

Published:Sunday | May 27, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Paul Williams
Senior deputy governor of the Bank of Jamaica, John Robinson.
Maroon women sing spiritedly during a ritual in Accompong Town, St Elizabeth. The nascent Bank of Accompong and Bank of Jamaica are at loggerhead's over the legitimacy of the Maroon financial institution.
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On Friday, May 4, the Financial Gleaner published an article under the headline 'Job ad triggers BOJ probe - Bank of Accompong name breaches the law'.

John Robinson, senior deputy governor of the Bank of Jamaica (BOJ), is quoted as saying, "By way of general information, the Banking Services Act (BSA) prohibits persons from engaging in activities involving the taking of deposits or in any other banking business without a licence being issued."

Robinson was obviously responding to Financial Gleaner queries about an ad that appeared on April 1 in which the Central Solar Reserve Bank of Accompong (CSRBOA) was seeking a general manager, general clerk, accountant, and executive broker.

The BOJ is saying that BOA is unknown to it and that the use of the word 'bank' was restricted to licensed deposit-takers, which the BOJ supervises. The Bank of Accompong is not among BOJ-regulated banks, nor is it known to regulators of cooperatives and the credit union movement, Robinson said.

In a quick response, by way of the Letter of the Day in The Gleaner of Monday, May 7, Timothy E. McPherson, the Accompong Maroons minister of finance and founding governor of the bank, is making it abundantly clear that "financial institutions in Accompong are regulated by the Bank Act of Accompong, and not the BOJ".

He is challenging Robinson's claim that the BOJ does not know about the CSROA since he had spoken with Robinson about it in 2014. "It would seem that not only did Mr Robinson forget about our conversation altogether, but more regrettably, he has also forgotten the great history of the island and the sovereignty of our Maroon communities," McPherson says.

 

Defiant tone

 

And in a tone of defiance, he also writes, "As a sovereign African people, the Accompong Maroons are free to pursue a condition of economic well-being and will establish all necessary institutions, including our own financial authority, to fulfil these ends."

This sovereignty of which McPherson writes is a contentious claim that has been swirling in the Maroon communities since the treaty of peace and friendship signed between the Trelawny Town Maroons of St James and the British. The Articles of Pacification was concluded on March 1, 1738.

The third article says, "That they (the Maroons) shall enjoy and possess, for themselves and posterity forever, all the lands situate (sic) and lying between Trelawny Town and the Cockpits, to the amount of fifteen hundred acres, bearing northwest from the said Trelawny Town."

And the fifth article says, "That Captain Cudjoe and all the Captain's adherents, and people now in subjection to him, shall all live together within the bounds of Trelawny Town," not Accompong Town.

As it relates to the element of succession, Article Eight says Captain Cudjoe shall be the "chief in command in Trelawny Town". He was to be succeeded by his brother Accompong, his brother Captain Johnny, Captain Cuffee, and Captain Quaco, in that particular order. When they were all dead, "the governor, or commander in chief for the time being, shall appoint from time to time who he thinks fit for that command".

Some significant issues are coming out of these articles. The treaty was not signed between the British and the Accompong Town Maroons in St Elizabeth, but between the British and the Trelawny Town Maroons of St James. Most of the Maroons from Trelawny Town were exiled to Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, and the town is now known as Maroon Town.

Not one of the articles declared Accompong Town a sovereign state within a state, and do the 1,500 acres given to the Trelawny Town Maroons in St James extend all the way to Accompong Town in St Elizabeth? How exactly did Accompong become a sovereign state?

And there was another treaty, signed in June 1739 between the British and the Leeward Maroons of eastern Jamaica, led by Nanny and Captain Quao. On April 20, 1741, George II granted Nanny, "the people residing with her, and other heirs" 500 acres of land in Portland.

Yet, six years after the abolition of slavery, an 1842 act "to repeal the several laws of this island relating to Maroons, and to appoint commissioners to allot the lands belonging to the several Maroon townships and settlements, and for other purposes", was enacted. Does it mean that the lands were rescinded to the Crown?

 

Maroon laws

 

Then, in 1856, the Maroon Townships Land Allotment Law extended the period for lands to be allotted to the Maroons. There are no records of the Maroons challenging these laws, but in 1956, when the Government arrested and charged an Accompong Maroon, Mann O. Rowe, for possession of ganja, cultivated on Maroon lands, Rowe argued that he reserved the right under the 1738 treaty to be tried by Maroons under Maroon laws.

But, Chief Justice McGregor ruled, "There is today no difference or distinction whatever in the rights and obligations as defined by the law of this island between the persons residing in the former Maroon settlements and those of any other British subjects in Jamaica."

And, over the years, many debates have been waged over this issue of Maroon autonomy. It was not a consideration in the 1962 Jamaican Constitution, nor was it when the Charter of Rights, replacing the old Chapter Three of that Constitution, became effective in April 2011.

However, it has been the subject of journal and newspaper articles, book chapters and academic papers, and has been moot whenever the issues of bauxite mining in the Cockpit Country and ganja farming on Maroon lands come up. Now, the BOJ and Timothy McPherson have tossed the issue back into the limelight.

While the light glows, the Government of Jamaica and the Maroon Secretariat, for whom McPherson is the media liaison person, need to sit down around the same table and finally make a decision as to whether the Maroon communities in Jamaica are sovereign territories or not.

This constitutional mess must be cleared up once and for all. There should be no doubt about what Maroons can and cannot do in their own spaces. They are here and going nowhere. The story of the Jamaican people is intertwined with the narratives of the Maroons, known as the first anti-colonial freedom fighters in the Western Hemisphere. Where is their hegemony and what is their legacy?

They, too, have questions to answer. If the Maroon towns are sovereign territories, why do they vote in Jamaica's parochial and general elections? Why do they use Jamaican Government resources - schools, hospitals, police services, etc?

And talking about policing, why was the current leader of Accompong, Colonel Ferron Williams, a Jamaican policeman and a Maroon chief at the same time? Where are the lines of demarcation between Jamaica and the Maroon states? As it relates to passage, should not the Maroons require visas and passports to travel to and from Jamaica?

In all of this, it seems like Timothy Elisha McPherson and the Government of Jamaica are on the cusp of locking horns. A third Maroon war, perhaps? And, another treaty?

- Paul Williams is a freelance journalist.

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