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The Charles Town Maroons today

A look at the Charles Town Maroon community — past and present practices

Monday, November 12, 2018

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THE Charles Town Maroons occupied Crawford Town high in the Blue Mountains before signing the peace treaty with the British when they moved down to Charles Town on the Buff Bay River. They remain there today. The then leader of the group was Nanny's captain, Quao. Today they are led by acting colonel Marcia Douglas. And while the group retains some traditional acts and practices, a lot has changed. Observer North & East visited the Portland community last Thursday and here is what we discovered:

The Abeng

The Abeng is known to be the first wireless means of communication. In the early days the Abeng was used summon or assemble Maroons in a central place. It was used to notify maroon villages of a pending attack by the British and to communicate tactics. Today the Abeng is used in Charles Town to notify Maroons of a town clean-up day. It is also used to call Maroons for a meeting, whenever a baby is born, or whenever a maroon has died.

Charles Town population and leadership

It is difficult to determine the population back then; however, there are just over 2,500 people living in Charles Town today. Of that figure, 98 per cent are said to Maroons. The council is made up of 17 members and approximately 26 children are a part of the group. A colonel heads the group, although no elections are held for the post. The colonel is selected through the guidance of Charles Town ancestors. Council members are also selected.

Warfare

White planters were outraged at the fact that the Maroons remained free. Slave owners feared that the Maroons represented a symbol of hope for the slaves who were still in captivity. The maroon villages were a place of refuge for the runaway slaves. This resulted in constant aggression by the British, who often sent white militia into the interior to subdue the Maroons. The Maroons in turn unleashed their vengeance raiding plantations at night and killing whites regardless of their age or sex. Today in Charles Town the Maroons no longer prepare for war. Colonel Douglas says there is no need for this, but should there be an attack, Maroons will be ready with the help of the ancestors.

Drumming

The drum was used by the slaves to communicate in ways the whites owners could not understand, and so could be used to incite unrest and cause revolt. It was banned. But no amount of prohibition could permanently silence the sound of the maroon drum. Drumming played a vital part in the slaves' recreation, in their worship, in their celebrations. It was also used for healing. When necessary, drums would be dismantled after use to avoid detection by the authorities. Today the Charles Town Maroons still do drumming and dancing as entertainment. Colonel Douglas says it is important to retain as much of the maroon tradition as possible, and that can be done through the drums. Douglas says that the drum brings out the inner soul of Maroons.

Ancestors

Maroons would consult the ancestors when healing was needed or when preparing for war. Today, the Charles Town Maroons continue to consult the ancestors for healing and guidance.

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