When it comes to Maroons in the Caribbean, Jamaica immediately comes to mind. Stories of resilient and rebellious Africans, such as Nanny fleeing and fighting against the brutality of enslavement for freedom, has long defined the Jamaican spirit.
Maroons, however, were not unique to Jamaica. In fact, all over the Caribbean, there were enslaved Africans who fled plantations and fought for the freedom of their people. There were also those who fled plantations in the United States and settled in the West Indies as free people.
Awareness of Maroon history across the region is one of the aims of a Maroon Gathering taking place in Dominica from Friday, November 12 to 14.
The conference, hoped to be the first in an annual calendar of events, will see participants from Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Suriname, Belize, Saint Lucia, St Vincent, Grenada, Martinique, Guadeloupe, Sierra Leone, and North America.
Akilah Jaramogi, chief executive officer of the Merikin Heritage Foundation in Trinidad and Tobago, is one of the women behind the movement.
“The gathering is all about uniting Maroons of the diaspora. The gathering is one that will bring 13 countries together and with that we have partners and collaborators onboard outside of the Maroon circle, but they are all coming together to continue the work that was started in 2014, the work of signing a Memorandum of Understanding to bring Maroon communities together and to seek indigenous people status for all people of Maroon status of the diaspora,” she explained.
“The Memorandum of Understanding was signed between Trinidad, Jamaica and Suriname in 2014. Following the signing of that Memorandum of Understanding with the Maroon Women’s Chambers of Cooperation, we continue to work together to spread information about the work Maroons are doing and a way forward for Maroons…it is also to talk about pressing issues, challenges as it relates to climate change, spiritual needs, education, food security, how states are looking at us as Maroons and African people in general, and how we are treated around certain situations,” she added.
Jaramogi is a descendant of Maroons known as the Merikins who settled in Trinidad.
The Merikins were those formerly enslaved Africans who escaped from plantations in the US, in places like Georgia, Florida, Virginia, New Orleans, and the Carolinas. They ran away and hid in the forests, and near sea and river shorelines.
In 1811/12, they volunteered to fight on the side of the British as marines in the American Revolution in exchange for their freedom. Though the British lost the war, they kept their promise and settled the free Africans in Bermuda along with family members they retrieved from the plantations. From Bermuda, they were moved to Halifax, Canada, and then to Trinidad.
In Trinidad, each of the former soldiers was granted 16 acres of land to farm in parts of South Trinidad.
Jaramogi said knowing her lineage and history gives her strength.
“It gave me the strength as a child to know that I am a child of ancestors who fought for their freedom and I must not fail them. I must not create mental shackles, psychological shackles, or physical shackles on myself and my family and those who I can empower to throw off shackles off of themselves,” she said.
Jaramogi was chatting with Loop News in her garden, a nook in the expansive property in the village of Fondes Amandes, where she sells accessories fashioned from natural material and engages the community in reforestation projects. Next to the benches where we are chatting is a fountain with molten candles where she prays.
Jaramogi’s knowledge of her ancestors, their resilience in surviving and living off the land, also informs her lifestyle as she maintains a connection to nature.
“Being connected to the earth is truly rewarding, it gives a sense of comfort. Flood down the road, sugar price gone up, oil gone up as long as you are connected to the earth you get satisfaction, reassurance that things will go well. As long as you care for the earth you will survive,” she said.
Jaramogi is advocating for books, documentaries, monuments, inclusion of the Merikins in the school curriculum and scholarships for Merikin children to address the lack of public information and awareness of the group.
She acknowledged that awareness is a major challenge across the region when it comes to the Maroons. Even in Dominica, the site of the gathering, the Maroons are not as popularised as the indigenous Kalinago community.
“Dominica is second to Jamaica in terms of that sustained resistance to being enslaved. They deliberately suppressed that history in Dominica, they deliberately have us not seeing the work of Bella, Phecell, Congo Ray, Cicero, Jacko, Quashie, Juba, Zombie, Marie Rose, Angelique and Agatha,” she said, stating that libations will be poured at the marketplace in Roseau in honour of those ancestors.
She said the aim in Dominica is to encourage the descendants of those maroons to speak out and share their stories and by so doing, motivate descendants of maroons around the Caribbean to do the same.
“Now is the time to tell our stories and to empower all of those wallowing in self-pity, those who lost their way, the children who feel there is nothing to live for, the children who look to North America and the videos and feel there is no royalty in their existence, time for them to hold their heads up in pride because we are proud descendants of maroons.”
The Maroon Gathering will take place at Jungle Bay Resort in Dominica.
Join the gathering via Zoom here:
https://us02web.zoom.us/j/82730173492 or tune in via Facebook or Youtube at Maroon Gathering.