It was in Accompong in 1739 that runaway Maroon slaves signed a peace treaty with the British to gain semi-sovereignty over the area. Today, the treaty still stands. The town is run by an elected “colonel”, the state can only interfere in the case of a capital crime, and residents continue to live a peaceful life.
The town lies in the heart of Cockpit Country, where you can find places with names such as of “Me No Sen You No Come”, the “Land of Look-behind”, “Wait-a-Bit” and “Quick Step”. Getting to Accompong involves a short 30-minute drive from the not-so-enchantingly named Maggotty in St Elizabeth parish, and a certain amount of courage as you wind round a succession of treacherous blind corners. Up until the 1980s, the town’s gates were locked and outsiders had to seek permission to enter, but now visitors can come and go freely.
Accompong town is concentrated around one main road running up the hill, but the surrounding countryside is vast – somewhere between the 15,000 acres the slaves were originally promised and the 1,500 acres recorded on the written treaty (where a crucial zero was mislaid).
Yet there’s more to this tax-free, crime-free living than meets the eye. Although residents are keen to retain their freedom and cultural identity, raising their own funds for community projects, maintenance and development is not easy. “Farming just isn’t viable anymore,” Deputy Colonel Rupert Robinson (aka Colonel Robbie) says. “Tourism has to be number one now.”
The annual Maroon Festival to honor Colonel Cudjoe draws in up to 15,000 visitors. The day starts with a ceremony at the Peace Cave paying respect to Maroon ancestors, which is followed by feasting, dancing and traditional myal drumming. It all culminates in a giant parade and a sound-system dance party that continues throughout the night. Jamaicans don’t need an excuse to party.