Style Observer

A Tale of Two Maroon Towns


Sunday, June 24, 2018

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My bare feet desperately grasped for balance as I crossed the Wag Water river. Knee deep, I gingerly waded and nearly toppled over twice. I was on Maroon land in Scott's Hall, St Mary.

I visited Scott's Hall two years ago, when my spiritual brother Kwasi visited Jamaica for the first time. A native of Ghana, I adopted him as my brother when we met in college. He was a student of Pan-Africanism and the diaspora and he wanted to see the Maroons and talk about their connection to Africa.

Natalie Burton, secretary of Scott's Hall Maroons, and her son Rodene Rose Jr greeted us with cries of “Akwaaba!” (Ghanaian for welcome) as we descended the stairs to the asafu yard. I watched my brother's eyes sparkle as he and the Maroons swapped notes on language and lineage. Some words in Kromanti are the same in Fanti and they nodded with pride when Kwasi spoke Fanti and they understood.

Once we crossed over the river, we settled on a smooth, soft white sand clearing that looked like it should be on the beach.

This time, I returned to Scott's Hall with another friend from New York, Georgia, whose family legacy said that she had Maroon blood. Travel is a great prescription for curiosity and when she told me her story, I knew another visit to Scott's Hall was in the cards.

Captain Rodine blew the abeng to let the community know that outsiders were on the property. I was quite pleased to see that Scott's Hall has a stage, small museum, kitchen and rooms for overnight guests.

Georgia brought potato pudding and cannabis tincture to share with the Maroons. As she cut the pudding, I went around and poured the tincture for everyone to sip. Inhaling deeply, I sat on large cocoa leaf, closed my eyes and listened to the river's song.

Rodine and the other men walked further up the river, leaving us womenfolk behind. We promptly took our clothes off and got in. Layma and Natalie started singing a traditional Kromanti song. The late afternoon sun's rays glinted between the large poui tree's branches and warmed my face.

Layma spun around in the water feverishly. (This New Yorker and non-outdoorsy person thought it was an alligator out to kills us all.)

“A wha?” Natalie asked.

“Mi teet drop out,” she responded, still spinning around.

We found ourselves looking beneath the river's surface for Layma's dentures.

“Mi see it!” she exclaimed and thrusted her hand in to retrieve it. We all smiled in relief.

We left with an invitation to visit the Charles Town Maroons to meet their new colonel, Mama G.

Located in Portland, Charles Town is about an hour's drive from Scott's Hall and 20 minutes from Buff Bay.

I had visited Charles Town when I was working on my film on jerk cuisine. I interviewed the late Colonel Lumsden at Charles Town. It was a pleasure to be back on the lush grounds, although the Charles Town property has now expanded to include a gift shop with hand made products, an office and an underground jerk pit, along with a stage, shaded dining area and a kitchen.

When I met Mama G, I felt the air move. Her brown eyes darted on and around me as if she were checking for something in particular. Her diminutive stature belied her palpable power. Her shoulder-length locks were pinned under an elastic neon orange headband. Small feet darted out from underneath burgundy sweatpants.

Mama G's bare feet hugged every pebble as she walked to the nearby shop to purchase a beer. In just a few minutes tour buses were expected to arrive. The teenagers busied themselves with fetching the drums, last-minute sweeping and sprinkling water on the ground. They all wore official green Charles Town Maroons T-shirts.

The buses arrived and tourists poured out with interpreters in tow. We walked to the performance area past artistic representations of famous Maroons like Tacky, Cudjoe and Nanny. The sound of the drums flooded the village and the movement of dancers seemed to transport us to another time; Natalie, Rodine and Layma were being pulled by hypnotic drumming as they ascended the steps to dance onstage.

When the last tourist boarded their bus, we walked to the river nearby. It was an easier trek this time, as the river bank was lined with black sand and not stones. The sun was covered by a blanket of thick clouds and the water was cold. The Buff Bay River runs through the Charles Town property. I quickly dunked under the water and swam to the almond tree on the other side. As I flipped and floated on my back, again, a ray of light caressed my face.

“The sun start shine again!” a little girl shouted to her friend.

*The Charles Town tour includes a visit to the museum, a drum and dance performance followed by lunch.

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