MYSTERIES OF THE MAROON EXPLORED (PT II)
‘Our people believe in reincarnation – the spirit of someone who has passed can come back as a newborn baby, who might walk and talk the same way. When you’re possessed, you become the horse, and the spirit that possesses you is the rider.’
SPIRIT POSSESSION was one of the fascinating topics discussed by Moore Town Maroon chief Colonel Wallace Sterling and David Brown, policy and research director at the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport. They were speaking at a recent seminar at the Edna Manley College of Visual and Performing Arts called ‘Maroon Inna All a We’.
He explained, “Our people believe in reincarnation – the spirit of someone who has passed can come back as a newborn baby, who might walk and talk the same way. When you’re possessed, you become the horse, and the spirit that possesses you is the rider.” Sterling explained that Maroon men and women are treated equally, and both can be “priests” and possessed by spirits, “who tell you what you want to know”. However, he said women are discouraged from playing drums, which are placed between the thighs.
Brown told an anecdote supporting this, saying that years ago, on the day of the funeral of a community’s official abeng blower, another Maroon was inspired to blow the abeng exactly like the deceased. He revealed that at every Maroon ceremony he attended, someone got possessed. He pointed out, “The ancestors are not only revered, they are summoned, and they come.” He added, “There’s always a way of preserving heritage that defies the knowledge of researchers.”
Sterling, who peppered his talk with dozens of non-English words and phrases, explained that in a bid to preserve the Maroon language and culture, traditionally – parents passed on their knowledge to their children, and nowadays, elders are interviewed and recordings made.
Explaining the origins of the internationally famous Boston jerked pork, Sterling said that pork was jerked across the entire John Crow Mountains right into Boston, and eventually, Bostonians claimed the process. He said the practice of jerking pork began in the early days when the Maroons had to hide the smoke from their fires from their enemies. The solution was underground cooking. Jerked pork was also lighter, and therefore easier to carry back home after a long hunting expedition.
MUSIC AND CULTURE
Of the music of the Moore Town Maroons, which has been officially recognised by UNESCO as “a masterpiece of oral and intangible heritage”, Sterling said that both Reggae’s one drop and the slow Rastafarian rhythm originated in the Coromantee drumming practised by the Maroons. “If it wasn’t for the Maroons, I’m not sure how many African retentions we’d have.” He went on to list the examples of the Maroons giving Jamaica the goombay and prentin drums and scientist Dr Henry Lowe using Maroon herbs to develop medicines. He said that chaney root is used as an aphrodisiac, and guinea hen weed derivatives are used to treat certain types of cancer, especially prostate cancer.
Concluding his presentation, he said that Maroons should write their own stories and not leave the writing to foreigners. At the same time, he was hesitant when a suggestion was made that a Maroon cookbook should be written and that it would be a bestseller. He reiterated the Maroons’ tendency towards secrecy of certain Maroon practices and customs.
This year is the 288th anniversary of the signing of the 1739 Maroon Treaty to end the guerrilla warfare that the Maroons waged against the British. The event will be marked with celebrations in Moore Town on October 21.