Damon James




“The Maroons of the Americas have long proffered rich resources for historians, anthropologists, and sociologists interested in understanding the violence and creativity that accompanied forced exile to the Americas, the duplicitous nature of colonial power, and the liberatory potential of resistance to both. But the Jamaican Maroons were not merely sociological types or Utopian symbols; they were distinctive cultural and political actors within a Jamaican and transatlantic social order uniquely configured by African, Amerindian, European, and Caribbean elements.” - (Wilson 2009, p. 48)⁠


            Deep in the remote impenetrable karst of Jamaica's Cockpit Country, “where deep canyons and limestone sinkholes abound but where water and good soil are scarce”, exists the town of Accompong, the oldest continuous free community of Africans in the New World(Price, Maroons). In and around the town of Accompong, more than 500 “maroons”[1], the descendants of a class of escaped slaves turned guerilla warriors, have enjoyed limited self-autonomy for over a quarter millennium.[2] 

            The Accompong Maroon legal system, is created by and subject to both traditional African socio-legal  institutions as well as the Jamaican common law.  Although the post-independence Jamaican state has failed to recognized their distinct character, the Maroons still live under their own legal system, included elected government and court system.  Every 5 years, maroons throughtout Jamaica vote for the Colonel, who is the head of the Accompong government.  The residents claim to have no crime in over 250 year, rather enforecement is done by traditonal African folk religious pracitces, which are the foundation of and thus undistinguishable from the Maroon legal system

            Marronage typcally describes the historical practice of African slaves escaping colonial plantations to form outlaw communities in the New World's harsh, unfamiliar environments.[3]  Over time most maroon communities were either destroyed by colonists or assimilated into post-colonial states through creolization.  But today the largest and oldest communities, those of Suriname and Jamaica respectively, offer the best documented examples of  historical maroons culture and their own disticnt legal systems which operated withing the confines of colonial law. (Price, Maroons)  The Suriname Maroons have, for the most part, become assimilated into the cultural melange that is modern day Suriname, having lost their autonomy.  Conversely the Jamaican Maroons, notably those of Accompong Town, resisted the advances of the England (and later) to scrap their legal syste Accompong's relative isolation has better protected it's culture and institutions than other Maroon polities from increasing encroachment and the effects of globalization.


  1. Treaty = LP
  2. Relation = LP
  3. Land Dispute = LP


 In 1509, Spanish colonists arrived in Jamaica, commencing the process of marronage by killing off the indigenous Arawak and replacing them with African slaves to work the plantations.  The Spanish developed little of the island, and many of the slaves, predominantly from Akan tribes in West Africa, escaped into the hills and mountains – an environment very similar to their homeland.  When the British captured Jamaica in 1655, over half of the island's 3,000 inhabitants were slaves, including several thriving Maroon communities in the interior. 

            Guerilla bands of maroons often descended to raid the plantations for weapons and new recruits, culminating in the First Maroon War (1655-1740).  The most of feared of which was a band lead by the maroon chief Kojo.  By 1660 the British secured enough control of the island to form a government based on English common law.  This legal system was adapted to serve the island's unique needs, and was later adopted by the post-independence Jamaican state.[4]

            Two main maroon polities coalesced on the island, and 1739 the British negotiated two separate treaties with the two communities to allow them limited autonomy.  In the central hills of the Cockpits, the Leeward Maroons were the most successful in their external relations with the Jamaican government, to this day retaining self-government and a legal system founded on a strong internal political structure and social control mechanisms.   The other tribe, the Windward Maroons lacked internal order, often in conflict with the colonies, and over time lost their autonomy over time through assimilation in to the greater Jamaican state..[5]

            Even Trewlawny, the other Leeward Maroon settlement besides Accompong, resumed conflict with the British, resulting in a Second Maroon War (1795-1796).  The Trelawny Maroons were grossly outnumbered but used guerilla fighting skill to force the British to sign another Treaty.  This time, however, the British betrayed the Trelawny Maroons and  deported them to Nova Scotia and then to back to Africa.  (Benson 1999) Thus of the few current “maroon” communities in Jamaica, only Accompong has not become part of the greater Jamaican state, still retaining its own government and legal system. 

            The multiplicity of independently developing maroon polities make it difficult to outline a  uniform system of “maroon law,” however the maroons descended from a similar part of Africa, during a similar time period and faced a similar experience of community building after slavery.  Thus there are many similarities stemming from their shared origin, which make  Accompong the best model of the maroon legal system.. Not only is the Accompong's legal system still in existence, it is also Jamaica best documented maroon community.  Moreover, the isolation of maroon communities was one of their key shared characteristics, and Accompong, which is in St. Elizabeth

 parish - the heart of Jamaica's slavery and plantations - is the most remote in Jamaica.  Geographic distances between the Leeward and Windward Maroons, aided by an increasing number of colonists between the two, promoted their independent development.  While other maroon communities increasingly came into contact with, and were thus heavily influence by, outside Jamaican communities, Accompong resisted this practice and thus retains post-treaty maroon law in its most pure form in.[6]

II. THE PEACE TREATY: Foundation of Maroon Autonomy

            Accompong's autonomy began with the Peace Treaty, whose provisions define the contours of their current legal system.  The terms reveal the contrasting understandings each party held as to the treaty's effect, and thus their different intents in concluding the treaty.[7]   The provisions demonstrate the British and the Maroons disagreed as the new polities future social status, land rights, political power, and economy. These differences frame the trajectory  of future conflict between the two parties' legal systems and the the changing powers and shape of the maroon legal system.

            In 1739, the British negotiated with the Jamaican Maroons to reach a Peace Treaty, which guaranteed them limited territorial autonomy in return for service to the Crown as escaped slave trackers.[8] Kojo signed on behalf of the Leewards, performing a traditional Akan ritual “blood oath”:

“"[The Englishmen] came out and shook hands with Kojo, and offered the peace terms. And as a token of peace, they used white rum. [The Maroons] had a thing they called 'calabash'- or otherwise, 'gourdie.' That's what those people used to use. So they both cut their arms now, and drained the blood into the calabash, and threw white rum onto it and mixed it up. And both of them drank it. So they said that from that time on there would be a link between the Maroons and the white men."”

(Bilby 1997)⁠ 

             The treaty made the maroons the first free black polities in the New World.  Naturally, the maroons view the treaty as providing them with freedom from the control of an exterior sovereign.[9] But to the British this made the maroons “special subjects” of the Crown. Socially, the Peace Treaty elevated the maroons above the slaves by forming them into a military force to both protect the island, as well as hunt down and return newly escaped slaves.  The treaties froze their membership, ending their potential for growth and causing the communities to become a more insular social world.

            The Treaty also granted the Leeward Maroons the 1,500 acres of land they were residing on in the Cockpits.[10] To the Maroons, this established their communal ownership of that land, which is the foundation of their identity as an independent people.[11]  For the British, however,  the land grant confined the maroons to a reservation, limiting the expansion of marronage. Through time, the Maroons property rights came to conflict with the State as the Maroons not confine themselves entirely to this area, while often battling against encroachment by the increasing number of colonists.  But most importantly, driven by increased interaction with the outside world, the maroons communal land ownership, which shields them from taxation, is under heavy pressured to be changed to the Jamaican common law concept of individual land ownership.

            The Treaty also defined the Maroon Political structures, by mandating life tenure for the Colonel as well as removing capital punishment from the jurisdiction of the Maroon judicial system administrator.  This made the colonial courts, as court of appeal for all maroon murder trials.  To this day, the Maroons have their own elections and courts, but both are overseen by the Jamaican government.  This was accomplished by placing white superintendents in the maroon communities, which the British saw as a way to control the maroons, but the maroons simply viewed as a “liaison” to the outside community.  When the superintendents were permanently removed from the maroon community, the Accompong Maroons felt they had lost an ambassador for their interactions with the Jamaican state. 

             Finally the Treaty also made limited the maroons economy, which came to depend on the colonists because they were prevented from establishing their own market[12] (they still do not have one to this day) and from growing sugar cane, at the time the Jamaica's largest exports.  This limited the potential financial growth of Accompong, as the maroons because dependent on interaction with the colonial government for wages (ex. Slave-tracking).  With emancipation of the slaves, which effectively ended marronnage, the maroons limited economy put them at a comparative disadvantage to the rest of Jamaica.


              The Peace Treaty's legal authority to create obligation also differed between the two parties.  For the Maroons, the Peace Treaty's authority rested in its character as a “sacred charter”, because it was a blood oath, a traditional Akan socio-legal practice. The treaty gained transcendental binding force on all future maroons the second the blood was transferred by the two equal parties. The treaty could only be changed by Kojo, or through the resumption of war.[13]  (Zips 1996, 285)  The signing of the treaty that were merely a declarative act, it was the blood oath that was the constitutive act which made the Peace Treaty binding.[14]

            ¶ For the British however, the treaty was no more than a simple legal instrument, subject to British approval and amendable by one-sided legislation.  This treaty created obligation only through the signature and then subsequent ratification by the Jamaican colonial government.  The successor Jamaican state has reinforced this view, addressing the treaties as “anachronistic colonial documents” with no current binding force.  At independence, the Jamaican state failed to officially recognize the Peace Treaty, however the fact that maroons are still allowed limited autonomy belies the differing intents and bargaining positions of both parties in signing the treaty.


             As noted above the two parties differed as to the maroons post-treaty status, which reveals the two parties differing bargaining position, and thus intents to conclude the treaty.  The maroons believed the treaty made them Equals,[15] not the Crown's “special subjects.” (Zips 1996, 285).  They did not feel, as the British did, that they were subjugated to the Crown.  This dichotomy in status manifests itself in the subsequent attempts by the Colonial government to negate the treaty, which the Accompong maroons viewed as mute because they  not reciprocal agreements by the equals who signed the treaty.[16]

            The bargaining positions of each party reveal the intent behind   the Maroons and the British coming to peace.   The Maroons clearly had the upper hand, as the British, who had commenced negotiations were revolted to perform a “savage” blood oath with a sub-human species:[17]  “[The willingness of Europeans to submit to such blood oaths, which they viewed as repugnant, is tantamount to an admission, if only a temporary one, that they did not necessarily have the upper hand in the negotiations taking place...”(Bilby 1997) Unable to defeat the Maroons through might, the British resorted to a “cleverly wielded quill“ to leave ample to room to regain both cultural and legal control over the Maroons in the future.  (Zips 2011)

             The subsequent behavior of the colonial government confirms their intent to regain control over the maroons by undermining their authority, both legal and cultural.  Shortly after the Treaty, the British unilaterally amended its terms with two 1744 Acts to introduce a stronger Crown civil and military bureaucracy within Accompong.  The first act for “better order and government” created a maroon court, run by maroons but with a white superintendent[18].  The second act organized the maroon communities into military companies, under the command of Maroon officers, but reporting to a white superintendent.  The internal conflicts were unexpected by the British who treated to acquire the services of the strict disciplined fighting Maroon regiments  who had fended off British advances since pre-treaty time. (Kopytoff, 1976)  Thus the amending acts, were passed quickly and unilateral to keep get their special subjects back in line.[19]

            A near century later, they tried again with the 1842 Maroon Lands Allotment Act, when the Jamaican government tried to individualize communal maroon communal land in order to be able to subject them to property taxation.  While this Act failed, The Jamaican government has continuous attempted to erode the maroon legal system,

            The overall effect of the Peace Treaty, 1744 Acts, and subsequent legislation to limit the powers of the maroon legally system have slowly altered their sociopolitical status.(Kopytoff 1976) . The treaty alienated the maroons apart from the community of non-maroon blacks, limited in their  growth potential and ability to self govern, whilst made them dependent on the outside world for their economy.  With increasing globalization  contact with the world, the legal framework the maroons have fought valiantly to protect, has faced immense pressure to change from exterior legal and religious institutions.


         Maroon law is inseparable from their culture, which they define as Kromanti, a socio-legal “blueprint” for all Maroons – past, present and future. The Peace Treaty merged the maroons traditional African socio-legal institutions, already creolized by the plantation experience, with those of the colonial Jamaica state, creating a legal system where the two authorities were in competition. This created an environment of legal pluralism, “two or more distinct legal systems exist within the same political community.”(Letsas) This legal pluralism “owes its modern tension to the historical unequal clash of African and European traditions,”(Zips, 1998),  formed of a  “dynamic process of domination, contention, re-creation and empowerment through the articulation.  Yet the Accompong Maroons' legal pluralism was not just competition between two sets of laws, but rather two sets of authorities. (Zips 1996) ⁠[20]

            Jamaican Maroons descended predominantly, but not exclusively, from West-African Akan culture.  Thus a cultural and linguistic divide between maroons created the potential for internal conflict, which given the fragile political infrastructure of the post-treaty maroon polities such as Accompong, posed a threat to their continued free existence.  Using an origin myth founded on the  communities shared descent from the Akan creator god, Nyankipong, the maroons blended  “different socio-legal African traditions as well as the common experiences of the original enslavement, the transatlantic middle passage, and their commitment to resistance and the freedom struggle (citing Zips, 1993)”.  This created solidarity as Jamaican Maroons united behind a “new ethnicity previously non-existent on the African continent” (Zips 1996)⁠  - Kromanti.[21]  But Kromanti encompasses much more than simply a shared language and culture, it is a "complex and more or less coherent system of interconnected beliefs about the nature of the spiritual world' through which the Maroons, their ancestors, and their descendants interact.” (Bilby 1997) 

            The Maroons communicate with their ancestors from the Treaty times, or “First-Time”,  for guidance on “legal, political and social matters.”(Zips, 1996) This occurs through a ritual ceremony called Kromanti Play, in which only true born Maroons may participate. Using musical instrument to communicate with and libations to “feed” the “First Time” spirits who govern the community by declaring how it should functions.)[22]  Kromanti Play serves to enforce continuity by setting limits to the scope of permissible change to the Maroon way off life, including their legal system. For example, no maroons may alienate their communal property, because this would be a relinquishment of  territorial sovereignty incompatible with the continued existence of the Maroon community, and thus incompatible with Kromanti. (Zips)

            The Maroons living relationship with the ancestors through Kromanti Play is a retention of traditional African socio-legal spiritual practices.   It's foundation is the “shared, general concepts that underlie such widespread traditions – for instance, the understanding that social relationships, political alliances included, ultimately derived their moral legitimacy from a higher spiritual plane—that provided the Maroons' ancestors with common ground on which to build their societies.” (Bilby 1997) Thus Kromanti  describes the Maroons folk religion of ancestor worship which ultimately legitimizes the maroon legal system, and their claim to autonomy.

Traditional African Socio-Legal Instituions

             The modern Accompong Maroons' religious belief system is two-tiered, and as the result of their culture's creolization, incorporates both traditional African folk religious and Christian elements.  A supreme being, removed from the Maroons' daily affairs, occupies the top tier.  For Christian Maroons this is God, but for non-Christians it is Nyankipong.  .[23]

             The second tier, a pantheon of spirits predominantly composed of Maroon ancestors, provides a source of “purely traditional authority”[24] for those Maroons not too devoutly Christian to shun “heathenish” traditional spiritual rituals – such as Kromanti Play.  A reason for the compatibility of the m,maroons spirits  with Christian belief is out of a necessity for the day-to-day guidance and social control the spirits provide Accompong. The tier in hierarchical, and varying powers allow different spirits to roles in Accompong's social control system, with each carrying varying risks in consultations which often require the use of spiritual practitioners to communicate with the spirits.. (Kopytoff 1987)

              The two top levels of this tier's hierarchical pantheon consists of “First-Time” spirits who perform social control functions for the collective Maroon community.  Alone at the apex is Accompong, Kojo's brother and founder of the community, whose spirit is called the “Town Master”[25] Maroon's believe that, the Town Master rides in full battle dress and atop a white steed, through the community to ensure that everything is to his liking, i.e. compatible with Kromanti.  If displeased with the communities state of affairs, such as cleanliness, failure to keep proper rituals, or poor behavior, the Town Master communicates to the Maroons through Kromanti Play.  Thus, the Town Master's outlines the contour of Accompong's legal system.”[26] (Kopytoff 1987)

            The next level, composed of other First Time Maroons, including Kojo and Nanny, are consulted in a similar fashion.  This may be done collectively through Kromanti Play, by individuals[27], or with the help of ritual practitioners.  For problems befalling the community, the First Time Maroons could be consulted to bring punishment to a wrongdoer, including sickness, death, or lost property.  In this sense, the First-Time Maroons could be used to enforce quick punishment against wrongdoers in Accompong, but typically required a spirit practitioner to interpret the spirits' guidance.

            Next come the spirits of great spiritual practitioners,[28]particularly obeah sorcerers, whose elevated their status  was due to their close contact with First-Time spirits.  Then followed by the spirits of lesser important maroons, and finally the various other spirits, including natural, animal, and those of the recent dead, usually close friends and relatives called “duppies.”[29] Each of theses spirits could be manipulated though ritual practitioners for individual use.   As Accompong was a zero-sum peasant society,  one stood to gain at another's loss, so the spirits could be used for both ill gotten gain, but also as a tort system to make the complainant whole. 


            For Maroons there is “no boundary between religion, magic, witchcraft, and healing.”   Accompong's spiritual practitioners play several important roles within their society.  The work  sell their services as healers, mediators, legal experts/interpreters and enforcers. They accomplish the client's will through communication with the spirits, and thus places the based on the practitioners spiritual knowledge which had been passed on through their family.[30]

            The key to the spiritual practitioners power is their knowledge of “First Time” - a powerful legal tool which provides the practitioner with the symbolic capital necessary solve Acccompong's internal conflicts.  Their power is not restrained on the Accompong government and thus act as a system of checks and balances.  Using their familiarity traditional law, they are qualified interpreters of the law through communication with the ancestors. In this way they counterbalance the power of the of the government. Can also serve as mediators in the communication with Ancestors, in order to satisfy spirit and Maroon desires (Kopytoff 1987)

            For the most part, the spiritual practitioners are experts in one of related traditional African spiritual practices, Obeah or Myal.  The two overlap in many respects, as their Jamaican variants developed in interaction with one another.  While both are forms of witchcraft, there is a fundamental difference in their social control function.  Obeah is viewed as black magic, because of its use of supernatural powers to harm others, either for personal gain or retribution.  Conversely, Myal is considered white magic because it is used to heal, at times times the effects of an obeah spell.  In this sense the two may counterbalance each other's effects, although obeah is generally practiced individually, while Myal is performed collectively.[31]          


            Beyond simply witchcraft, obeah is a “complex system of beliefs that sought to involve spirits in the events of the everyday and relay the messages of the dead to the living.”  Obeah has evolved over the years, especially in contact with other influences such as Myal, however it retains many-non African influences, such as European Christian, magic and occultism, which is understandable given Jamaica multiple cultural influences[32] Obeah practitioners are usually elders who serve as “public oracles and counselors”[33] (Kopytoff 1978)⁠  It is a kinship based occupation, as young maroons learn the “science” from their parents and pass it on to their children.

            Obeah practitioners are usually employed to accomplish a client's specific goal, and as such can be both a form of social control and social mayhem.  This is accomplished by the obeah bring supernatural threats, including spirits, to bear to control people's behavior.  The obeah man accomplishes a client's goal by by using a combination to of “technological, botanical, and abject substances - blood, manure, bits of dead animals, herbs, gunpowder.“ (Wilson 2009)  Obeah utilizes both good and bad magical properties, and as such both the God and Devil play diverse enforcement roles.  To put a lesser spirit to work the obeah man could go the the ancestor’s grave and make offerings, usually rum, food or money, and the ghost could not refuse to do the obeah-man's bidding. Each obeah had special ghosts, usually relatives,  duppies and past obeah-men.  Part of the reason obeah was used mainly for personal use, rather than collective, was that the practitioners had no power to manipulate First-Time spirits because the acted on their own volition.

            Myal, as a related healing practice, could be employed by Maroons as a counter force to the negative application of obeah.[34] Rather than through potion or spell, the Myal practitioner would communicate with ancestors through a dance ritual and communal meal resembling Kromanti Play. Thus Myal can be seen as a form of social control, in that its practice may be used collectively to weaken the negative impact of individual obeah practices which are socially disapproved.  In many ways, this is the Accompong's legal system form of class action suit.


              The Accompong Maroons increasing interaction with outside Jamaican culture steadily diminished the social control power of the Obeah and Myal practitioners.  Starting with the arrival Christian missionaries to Accompong in the1800s, a subsequent increase in Christian Maroons drove Obeah and Myal underground.  Obeah had long been under attack since  obeah men aided the Maroons in the First Maroon War, causing the British to ban the practice out of fear.[35]

            There are many reasons why it took so long for Christianity to replace Nyankipong at the top of the tier for most Maroons, which it ultimately accomplished in the 1930s.  Christianity took far longer to pervade Accompong because of the settlement's incredibly remote location.[36]  Christianity also failed to fulfill the daily social control functions of the spirits, as the threat of spending eternity in a Hell one did not believe in  carried with it no immediate possibility of justice.  Yet Maroon Cosmology allowed for the compatibility of Christianity and Kromanti, manifested by  the First-Time's tolerance of Christian practices to the extent they did not interfere with First-Time jurisdiction -  namely that maroons kept up their rituals and duties.  This tolerance, as is quite common in Christianity, was not mutual, as many converted Maroons now found the rituals to be sacrilegious.  Thus tension arose as the Maroon Christian movement needed a way to replace the top tier, and thereby subjugate the maroon's second tier of “traditional authorities” to the Christian God.

            This opportunity arose as of Christianity emerged as Accompong's dominant spiritual practice as result of a clash between Obeah and Christianity in the 1930s.  Under the lead of Col. Cawley the Accompong maroons claimed the First-Time were being manipulated by the obeah for person gain.  To prove the superiority of the Christian God, Cawley burned down a ritual hut, claiming the Town Master had given his approval.  When no retaliation from the Obeah was suffered by Cawley, Christianity won a symbolic victory over the second tier and the balance of religious authority in Accompong shifted.  The First-Time spirits were now subordinate to Christian God, allowing Col. Cawley to outlaw obeah.  First-Time spirits could no longer sanction maroon behavior with such certainty, cutting to their ability to perform the social control functions which had originally made them necessary.  It is at this time that it is said the First-Time Maroons retreated into the wood.  And while Obeah and Myal have slowly resurfaced, the  Maroons “say things "turned down" in Accompong Town from that time, by which they mean that community spirit, discipline and traditional social controls began to weaken.”(Kopytoff 1987) This ideology shift did not eradicate obeah, but rather turned it into an underground practice and thus reduced overt power of Obeah and Myal influence.[37]

            The Col. Cawley incident reflects the process of change in African socio-legal religious practices, stemmed by interaction and dependence on external influences, which directly changed Accompong's legal system.  Since it's formation, Accompong's external contract and reliance on the Jamaican government have steadily increased. The maroons have “important social and economic links with the larger society and had developed a patron-client relationship with the Jamaican government that was central to their existence.”(Kopytoff 1987)  This dependency, exacerbated by economics problems in Accompong due macro-economic factors and their own limited economy, culminated into a capitulation to the Christian God in the 1930s, who further asserting His power over the spirits of the lower tiers in ways that had not been His province.


            The modern structure of Maroon religious ideology remains intact but the content and relationships of the two tiers has changed.  After acquired the Christian god in the 1st tier, the many maroons rejected complete adoption of Christian dogma because it did not  respects the division of Maroon ideology.  Yet ”the ascendance of the Christian god – in turn, led to social changes. Because the spirits functioned to enhance community integration, provide social controls, and impose sanctions, the undermining of their power weakened the consensus on which traditional political authority in the community ultimately rested, and hastened processes of social change already underway in the community.” (Kopytoff 1987)⁠

            The consequences to the Accompong maroons are more pronounced than they first appear. The shift in religious authority, diminishes the power of ancestor worship, which in turn diminishes the maroons claims  of autonomy. The decrease in the power of Accompong's traditional African religious practices, which through the Peace Treaty's blood oath provide the maroons with legitimacy for their self-government, has brought Accompong more in line with the rest of Jamaica, just as the British had originally intended.  Accompong' divine mechanism for enforcing social control does not now work as effectively because a variance in the maroons religious beliefs lessens the incentive to conform to religious obligations.

            Even the resurgence of obeah and meal practice has not allowed it to come back as strong.

After being driven underground, obeah has steadily emerged as a facet of Accompong's new tourism driven economy.  Individuals come from far and wide to seek their services and fittingly, obeah practitioners now claim to cure modern health issues such as cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure.  Myal practice, now ritualized in a ceremony for outsiders to witness, is used today to entice tourism to Accompong.  Thus while many effects of the Peace Treaty remain strong in Accompong, the provisions on isolation, land rights and a limited economy are now reflected in the Accompong maroons struggles to modernize their economy.  However, tourism bring who key problems to the community: 1) exactly who own maroons lands? – as some maroons now want to individualize the communal land  to build tourism infrastructure and 2) exactly  who owns maroon culture? - as maroons have been refused indigenous status so have no way to protect their intellectual property,  consists of their religious rituals and ceremonies and music, which now provide them with tourism revenue.


            The Accompong Maroon's land rights, the foundation of their autonomy, are legally pluralistic with:a traditional African dimension[38]  and a Colonial legal dimension.  Maroon socio-legal traditions stipulate that the land in owned by all maroons communally, while instead the Jamaica's legal code uses the common law concept of individual land.  Accompong Maroons, historically, successfully resisted pressure to abandon their communal tenure system, yet modern (but different) pressures continue unabated, as the community becomes more integrated into the national economic system.” (Balfour/Spence)

            The Accompong   Maroons viewed the Peace Treaty as providing them with land in perpetuity, which maroon obeah-practioners justified by” the inalienability of land and spirit, conflated in a haunted topography of animate groves and herbal rites where the natural world and its products were used to attract or calm ancestral spirits and obis could return duppies to the shades.26 “ (Wilson 2009) The strength of their land rights claim is in their communal ancestral lands, a shared African institution, which ceded to them as group by the British in the Peace Treaty.  It is a form of joint tenure for all consanguineous children, legal or illegal. This communal free hold protects the Maroons from taxation, and thus further influence of the Jamaican state. Better than any other group of maroons, the Accompong Maroons have historically successfully resisted “pressure to abandon their communal tenure system, yet modern (but different) pressures continue unabated, as the community becomes more integrated into the national economic system.[39]

            This communal system contracts with the individual land titles which exist elsewhere in Jamaican.  The Maroons have consistently rebuffed efforts to individualize their titles. Presently there is nothing to say who is and who is not an Accompong maroon and many think this should be written into a constitution.  But maroon citizenship rights include the right to vote and the right to use Accompong's communal land for farming or to build a house..  “All social practices in connection with land rights and legal relation of land tenure are guided to a certain degree by reference to relationships grounded in the past.”  Thus the ancestors are a check on the maroons ability to develop the land for individual use.  However the some Accompong Maroons purchase land outside their community, and as such as subject to Jamaican taxation” (Zips 1998b)⁠FN 33 The power to allocate communal lands, rests with the Colonel, but he does not retain allodial title- the Maroon nation at large does, including the ancestors and future generations.  Thus the spirits serve the check land rights abuses of Accompong government.


            The first step for an aggrieved Accompong Maroons with a land dispute is to go to the Colonel, who has judicial power and the ability to allocate land, to try and resolve the dispute informally through rational discourse between the parties. But or formal internal land disputes, an aggrieved Accompong Maroon submits the complaint to the Maroon council,(Zips 1998a)⁠  The council conducts negotiations between the parties with the help of experts (often obeah-practioners)as mediators. The Commissioner of Land is the Council member responsible for land issues, performing an investigation and consultations with historical experts who are knowledgeable in land boundary issues.  The Commissioner then  and reports  to the Council, so council is check on Commissioner's integrity.

            To resolve the dispute, the Maroon Council uses a process of adjudication process known as “contextual justice” – where “the whole historical context of personal and social relations was taken into consideration.” Knowledgeable local persons were allowed to comment on the issues as social recognition of justified claim is the main way of solving the dispute.  This is done either by 1) pacification which is the consensual settlement of conflicts over title claims, or 2) rectification which is a top-down clarification of the boundaries by Maroon authorities. (Zips, 1998 fn 31).  Pacification is “expression of the society’s interest in the institution of communal land ownership. Even though the land belongs to the whole community, families or individuals ‘control’, or possess their allocated parcels. The use of this land is at their discretion as long as it does not affect the community as such.”

            But the Maroon Council's popular legitimacy has been diminished.  They do not convey their opinions to the public because of the traditional African socio-legal practice of basing judgement on the force of reasonable discourse. Thus the social validity of the Council's decisions was based on “evidence provided by historical experts and specialists in the actual distribution of proprietary occupancy.”  But many of these experts are dead or too old to be reliable.  This creates a fear among many Accomompong Maroons impartiality, especially in such a small, insular society.  This mistrust of Maroon authorities, in part due to the Cawley Incident, and now “[t[here is an observable tendency in Maroon society to 'run to court', that is, to the Jamaican court. This shows first a failure of the 'traditional' authorities to keep alive or to revive their 'traditional' feature of basing legal and political decisions on rational social consensus.”(Zips, 1996)

            Thus the Maroons face a crisis in their judicial system because more and more the maroons now submit land rights claim to the Jamaican court, which has the power to convert the communal land into individual land.  These courts, often ignorant of Maroon traditions and laws, many not resolve the problem under valid traditional Maroons legal institutions, causing problems with enforcement of the verdict within Accompong.  In such a small society this leads to parties taking sides in the dispute and spreads the conflict to other sectors of the society, grossly effecting the entire operation of the Accompong community and putting them at risk for the exertion of external influence.


            The Accompong Maroons now face the risk of losing their property by going to an impartial, ineffective Maroon Council, or to face the risk of jeopardizing the socio-legal institution which provide them with autonomy.  This is a tricky situation for the Maroons, and the result of the increasing influence of external religious and legal institution on the distinct Accompong Maroon legal systems.  Without official recognition that the Maroons are distinct from the rest of Jamaican population, they risk becoming so much a part of the greater that Jamaican state that the Accompong Maroons, like the other Jamaican Maroons, will be absorbed into Jamaica's already creolized culture.   As the Accompong Maroons continue to welcoming visitors through the town’s gates, which until the 1980s had been locked to “outsiders”, they subject themselves to further influence, which in the religious sphere, has proved to be a threat to their continued unique existence.

[1]         The term “maroon” comes from the Spanish word for “runaway”: cimarron – and they may be called alternatively: Cimaronnes, Garifuna, etc.

[2]         The colonial governments offered terms (allowed to set up govt in some fashion) to maroons in Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Hispaniola, Mexico, Jamaica and Suriname, but only in Jamaica and the Guianas do they remain distinct groups.  (Price, Maroons, intro p. 1-30)

[3]         Marronage may be grand (group escape) or petit, (individual escape).  Due to my focus on legal systems, this paper will naturally be focused, as are more discussions, on grand marronage.; Note that Maroonage is not limited to the New World, that is just where we had the most slavery.

[4]   The Carribean other civil law influences play a part in Jamaican law.

[5]         the differences between them was in their political organization (per Kopytoff) - “in the distribution and exercise of authority, in the balance of power between headmen and religious leaders, and in the degree of political centralization and control of outlying settlements.” (Kopytoff 1978)p. 288; Kopytoff argues that the Leeward maroons “centralization of power and the continuity of chieftancy gave a stability to Leeward maroon society that allowed the development of social controls more subtle than those of the Windward Maroons.” P. 305. 

[6]   Moore Town on the other hand had a leader who became part of the governmetn.

[7]   See Nanny's Asafo for the Full Text of the Treaty.

[8]         when both the Windward and Leeward maroons communities did separate treatites. Note that Accompong Maroons have usupred the Treaty of the Trelawny Maroons after their deportation.-2nd Maroon War

[9]   This would later come into conflict with the post-independence Jamaican tate.

[10] Refer to Accompong's appropriation of the Trelawny treaty claim.

[11]       The Maroon's land claim is rather vague: “deliberately couched in vague geographical terms as a bargaining counter.” Balfour/Spence p. 201.

[12] They still do not have one to this day and The produce the Maroons could sell to exterior towns required approval of the Jamaican Governmetn. 

[13] Kojo is still referred to as the “townmaster” by trhe Accompongians who interpret the spirits-->likely first time right?  Zips. 285-86.

[14]       “As a result of this exchange of blood, the treaty was concluded for all time by sacred oath – it was rendered ‘everlasting.’ From the perspective of the Maroons, it is thus not the signing of the treaty – the X that Kojo (probably) fashioned – that constitutes the peace-bringing act, but the ritual exchange of blood: ‘The treaties have been written in blood. They have been signed in blood. Therefore, they are blood treaties, which cannot be broken. No legal tricks can undo the treaties. Only war could break them.’” (Zips 2011)

[15] The fact that the British were repulsed by the propsect of the blood treaty showed the Maroons comparative bargaining power during the treaty negotiations. Cite is Bilby p. 669.  See also Bilby p. 661 – The Windward Maroons also were “unanimous in their conviction that their own treaty was consecrated with a  blood oath.” In fact unlike the Acoompong maroons, who still have the paper copy of the treaty, the Windward maroons do not consider the power of the treaty diminished. Bilby p. 662.;

[16] This truly ended at emancipation but the Maroons didnt seem to notiec.e

[17]       “Even shortly after the time of the Jamaican conquest, the British were forced to undertake the unthinkable and ‘…entered into diplomatic relations with people defined by their own laws as “commodities” akin to livestock’ (Bilby 2006, xiii).:” (Zips 2011)

[18]       to fill the gap in the Colonel's “proper Command” over the maroons by creating a maroon court in each town, run by Maroons but with a white superintendednt.  The governor could grant commissions to whites or Maroons to run the courts, but they were not themselves Maroons courts, but rahter part of colonial jurisdiction

[19] -->See Kopytoff p. 91 for full law.

[20]       Right now this is the fact that “the Maroons basing their legitimacy on the anti-slavery freedom struggle ending with a Peace Treaty which they interpret (quite justifiably, given the distribution of military strength) as a veritable historical victory; and the Jamaican state referring to the successful independence struggle ending with the proclamation of an independent national state.” (Zips 1996, p. 302).

[21]       Coromantee = first used by  British to designate largely Akan-speaking slaves purchased on the Gold Coast  known for warrior & agricultural skills the label seems knowingly appropriated by the consolidating, if ethnically diverse, Maroons in the east and west, despite or even because of its noncorrespondence to an African nation, perhaps to shape an ethnicity specific to Jamaica that bridged linguistic and cultural divisions and so supply “


[22] In Accompong there is but 1 Abeng player including an Abeng (a cow-horn bugle

[23]        According to legend Nyankipong is the mother of both Nanny and Kojo.

[24]       Maroon culture  there are many “purely traditional” authorities (i.e. not legalised by treaty/statute) that have always affected the balance of power in a narrower sense—including spirits and religious specialist (who ensures the wellbeing of the community with the help of the dead, old ancestors, oral historians who possess knowledge of historical righst, and traditional healers (healing social problems and conflicts).

[25] Accompong was Cujo's brother and founder of the Accompong Community.

[26] Legend states tehat the Town Master frequently rides throught Accompong on a white horse in full dress to ensure that everything was to his liking.

[27]       Maroons are available for private consultation to redress wrongs to individuals. A Maroon can go the grave of a first-time Maroon and sks for help.  In a few days your person would be punished (death, sickness, lost property).

[28] Usually 3-4 generations back.

Ė  [29] The duppy can be either the manifestation (human or animal) of the sould of a dead person or a malevolent supernatural being.  A person is believe to posssess two souls- one good and one eartly.  Upon dying the earthly sould god to heaven to be judged by god but the eartly one stay in the ground for the next3 days, and if proper precaustions arent taken the body may escape and appear as a duppy.;

[30]       and used it to heal the sick, maintain relationships between people, nature and the supernatural world.


[32]       it is an example of what historians have called the "resistant knowledge" that evolved among slaves.

[33]       While the headmen had access to supernatural aids, they were never the Obeah.  In fact it was a woman obeah, Nanny, who is considered the most importatnt Leeward Maroons- considered on par with Cujo.; Kopytoff suggests that the fact the British didnt give any political power to Obeah led to the downfall of the non-Accompong Maroons-->see Nanny.; Cujo used an obea quite often

[34] Myal translats as “spirit” and refers to justice, fair adminstration and to the healing capabilities of human beings.;  Myal, which was the dominant religion of Jamaican slave before Christianity, may also be used to communicate with the spirits

[35]       Note also that the failure to give power to the Obeah removed the previous separation between military and government, and caused imbalance within one aspect of Maroon community.

[36]       wever by the 1882, protestantism had enough followers to build a church In Accompong.

[37]       in part due to the fact that the only lady who did it had a stroke, now only the Abeng blower can commnicates?-(Zips 2011)As of 2001 Myal is on Decline.  (Baldwin-Jones 2011)Although the celebration was resumed under Christian hegemony, there is still a continuing tension between Christianity and those aspects of the event rooted in African cosmology...

[38]       African Law: Land Tenure  “Pre-colonial patterns of land use in Africa were often complex reflections of relationships between land rights and social organization.”(Barker and Spence 1988)⁠ p. 200.


[39]         Originally, Accompong was not allowed to have a market economy right?  There was little need as they subside by wages made as companies of slave trackers.  From emancipation throuh to modern times the Accompong maroons survived on subsistence agriculture.  However, the more entrepreneurial younger generation are in need of investment funds, especially in the tourism industry.