Every year, on January 6th, the Accompong Town Maroons of St Elizabeth, Jamaica celebrate the birthday of Captain Cudjoe and their victory over the British. As part of the celebrations, ancestral spirits are appeased with offerings of rum and food, and humans willingly allow themselves to be possessed by these spirits. Although outsiders are generally not permitted to witness these rituals, this article offers an inside look at the festivities.
Honoring Captain Cudjoe
Captain Cudjoe (who was named either Kojo or Kwadwo) was a Jamaican Maroon leader who is best known for his role in leading the Maroons to victory over the British in the First Maroon War. The Maroons were runaway slaves who had formed independent communities in the mountains of Jamaica. They were skilled warriors and fierce fighters, and they were able to repel the British forces who tried to recapture them.
In 1739, the British offered a treaty to the Maroons, promising them their freedom and land in exchange for their help in capturing runaway slaves. Cudjoe was one of the leaders who signed the treaty on behalf of the Maroons, and he played a key role in ensuring that the Maroons were able to hold on to their freedom and their land.
Cudjoe’s victory over the British was an important moment in Jamaican history, and it is celebrated every year on January 6th by the Accompong Town Maroons of St Elizabeth. The Maroons continue to hold their land and maintain their independence to this day, thanks in large part to the leadership of Captain Cudjoe.
A Young Child is Possessed
A few years back while the feeding of the ancestral spirits was going on in the Peace Cave, some outsiders gathered just beyond the entrance to enjoy unsalted food amid spirited drumming, dancing and singing under the Kinda Tree.
Suddenly, an alarm was raised which results in people running over to a spot above the Kinda Tree where a little girl had collapsed and was lying motionless.
As the crowd gathered, she laid motionless. Anxious shouts and exclamations were made, as she was said to be in a myal, a trance-like state in which the subjects are unresponsive to stimuli around them and are not aware of their actions. The drum and rum were summoned. People shouted, asking onlookers to clear the spot.
Women knelt beside her, fanning and shaking her, but she would not budge. Confusion reigned as everyone, including police officers, were shouting instructions. There was the flashing of rum. the child stirred, and listless and dazed. A woman, appearing to be her mother, took her up and whisked her away with the police as some onlookers trailed them. On the woman’s shoulder, the child raised her head, and opened her eyes. They were glazed.
And, as if nothing had just happened, it was immediately back to the singing and drumming. Soon, the procession from the Peace Cave was back. But just when people were joining it to the parade ground, it made a U-turn back towards the Kinda Tree. Then, unannounced, the sounds of gunfire rang out.
It was actually a gun salute from the JCF.
Spirits in Rhythm
As the procession at Accompong Town prepared to make its way to the parade ground, the energy among the participants heightened…
A male Maroon dancer and drummer began to move vigorously, with the dancer basically performing acrobatics, furthermore dancing on his head, while being in a trance-like state. The drummer lost control of his drum as his body convulsed, but eventually regained possession of it and played with another drummer. The dancer calmed down, but the drummer was appeared dazed.
As the procession was about to move again, a Revivalist man fell into a gully and had to be rescued. Another woman who became possessed had to be brought back to reality. Eventually, the procession continued, with the participants singing “clear road, oh” as they made their way toward lunch.