Weekend Escape: Dancing with the Charles Town Maroons
Stepping into the Charles Town Maroon Museum and Asafu Yard in Portland is like entering a time warp. Images of 18th-century maroons are engraved on the wooden-gated entrance and seem to follow you everywhere.
The maroons, descendants of the Akan people in Ghana, were enslaved and fought for their freedom from the British in the 1700s. They escaped to the Leeward and Windward mountains in Jamaica, one of their settlements being Charles Town, where their descendants currently reside.
"Manteh," said tour guide Marcia Douglas as she welcomed THE WEEKEND STAR in true Maroon fashion upon our arrival. Douglas is currently the only female colonel commander of the Maroon community. She guided us to a tall antique door with a drawing of the sankofa bird on it, which symbolises the nourishing of the younger generation and continuation of the maroon tradition.
The Charles Town Maroon Museum was opened in 2003 by its founders Colonel Frank Lumsden and Douglas' father, Kenneth Douglas. It is ideal for culture and history enthusiasts, school tours, and, in Douglas' own words, "anyone who wants to learn about Maroon culture".
It is relatively small but holds all the components to transport you to the 18th century to experience the life of a Maroon. Artefacts like a large copper pot used to make sugar, neck shackles, irons, and weaponry are on display. Perhaps the most popular artefact, the abeng, is also an active feature of the museum and can only be blown by someone appointed by the ancestors. Douglas said that they still use the abeng in the village to send messages of births, deaths, and celebrations. Upon our arrival, the abeng was blown to summon dancers and drummers, who we would encounter later on the tour.
Another prominent feature of the museum is the people/historical figures it celebrates. Notable Maroons like Nanny, Quao, Dutty Boukman, Cudjoe, and Johnson are honoured and celebrated in different ways in the small space. There is also a craft shop with merchandise and maroon-made wine at the location.
Your tour of the museum will culminate with drumming and dancing in the Asafu Yard, a large yard space that Maroons used to prepare for battle, but also engage in dance. Youngsters and older folk entertained us on a small platform where they showcased traditional dance forms complemented by vibrant drumming. It was soon our time to join in on the fun as the children came into the yard, tugging on the shirts of visitors to come and dance. This was a perfect example of how the maroons have been able to preserve their culture.
"It is important that we impart our knowledge to them (children) so they can learn and understand what is meant to keep the tradition, culture and history so when they have their children, they can pass it on," Douglas said.
But the children are not bound to the village.
"We will have our Friday-night drumming here at the Asafu Yard, and some of the kids will go play games at church community groups and sometimes come here. They have to explore so they can choose later on in life where their destiny is. you can't choose one's destiny; you can only point them to it. In the future, I would like to see more young people being steadfast in their culture and doing what I am doing because there is enough space for everyone."
Insect repellent, change of clothing or towel.
Cultural and heritage site, warmth of residents, drumming, dancing.
The Charles Town Maroon Museum and Asafu Yard is nestled in the Buff Bay Valley in Portland. From Kingston, the site is a near two-hour drive if you drive through Stony Hill and Golden Spring in St Andrew. On entering St Mary, drive along Broadgate unto Iter Boreale before making it to Windsor Castle.