amaica is home to one of the world's most fascinating cultures and historically important people – the Maroons. Yet so little is known about the Maroons, whose very rich culture and heritage is threatened to now become a thing of the past. That would be a tragedy; after all, the heroes and heroines of the Maroon rebellions could be considered the Spartacus of their time; except these slaves were victorious in their fight for freedom. This fact is not lost on Jamaican-born, New Jersey-based filmmaker Roy T. Anderson. After years of research and dozens of interviews that took him from remote regions of Jamaica's Blue and John Crow Mountains, to the coastal regions of Ghana and its interior, then finally to the mysterious and isolated Maroon community of Accompong, he has conceived Akwantu: the Journey. This ground breaking documentary film tells the story of a people whose enduring saga has too often been misunderstood or omitted from the history books.
Although there is some dispute as to the origins of the word "Maroon," most historians agree that it derived from the Spanish word "cimarron" meaning wild, untamed, and as a general reference to livestock that has gone astray. Around the middle of the eighteenth-century runaway African slaves in the West Indies, and the Americas were generally referred to as Maroons. These determined former slaves refused to remain in bondage, instead they chose to fight for their freedom and to build a new albeit uncertain life.
Akwantu: the Journey documents the struggle for freedom of the Maroons of Jamaica who were able to flee the plantations and slave ships to form communities in some of the most inhospitable regions of the island. Poorly armed and outgunned, the Maroons faced down the mighty British Empire led by such brave warriors as Cudjoe and Nanny. Cudjoe who has historically been described as a "short almost dwarf-like man" fought for years to maintain his people's independence and freedom. However, Cudjoe also held the belief that the only way to secure a stable future for his people would be to negotiate a long-term peace with the British. This way of thinking, some would say eventually lead to the signing of a peace treaty with the British in 1739. Nanny, a spiritual leader skilled in the use of herbs not only managed to keep her people healthy, but safe as well by utilizing effective "guerilla warfare" tactics to defend against the vaunted British firepower.
As a result of The First Maroon War, generally regarded as having occurred between 1720 – 1739, two peace treaties were signed with the British in 1739 establishing Maroon self-government on the Leeward and Windward parts of the island. As a condition of these treaties the Maroons agreed to remain in territories designated by the British Crown; the Leewards to possess lands situated between Trelawney Town (founded by Cudjoe) and the Cockpits, while the Windwards were given a "certain quantity of land..." that included Nanny Town (founded by Nanny) in the Blue Mountain region of Jamaica. Another treaty term (that remains a contentious issue even today) required the Maroons to come to the aid of the colonial government in capturing future runaway slaves and return them to their masters for which they were to be compensated. The Maroons also agreed to safeguard the island against attacks from all foreign enemies, and to also put down future slave insurrections.
Nowhere else in the New World had Africans attained such a degree of autonomy coming almost sixty years before the Haitian Revolution (1791), and almost one hundred years before the abolition of the slave trade (1834) in the former British colonies.
Accompong is home to several hundred former African slaves and their descendants. Situated in the south western Jamaican parish of St. Elizabeth in that rugged, hilly terrain known as "Cockpit Country" is where Anderson has proudly traced his Jamaican ancestry. Accompong's original settlers consisted of ethnic groups from Africa's Gold Coast (modern day Ghana) and the Congolese (or present day Cameroon). Today, Accompong and the other Jamaican Maroon communities of Scotts Hall, Charles Town and Moore Town, provide us with a living reminder of a proud people whose ancestors succeeded against unbelievable odds in their struggle to remain free.
Shot in Jamaica, Ghana, Canada and the United States over the course of two years, the film will feature interviews with world renowned scholars, Maroon officials and present day Jamaican residents (both Maroon and non-Maroon), all the while weaving Roy's ancestral personal journey from the 'gold coast' of West Africa (Ghana) to Maroon society and finally North America.
Akwantu: the Journey highlights Anderson's travels to the "Motherland," retracing the steps of his ancestors and their agonizing trek on foot from Africa's northern interior to the coastal dungeons of modern day Ghana. Here slaves would be imprisoned while awaiting transport across the Atlantic Ocean – the dreaded Middle Passage. This forced-journey would inevitably give rise to the desire within these Africans to regain their lost independence and stolen freedoms. They would come to embody both in mind and spirit the struggle of a people that history would come to know as the Maroons.
Maroons today have not forgotten their glorious though bloodied path to freedom. As far back as Anderson can remember his family has always spoken proudly of their rich Maroon heritage. In recent years Roy (a veteran Hollywood stuntman and world record holder) began searching out his family's history. What started out as an innate sense of curiosity grew into a newfound sense of pride. Anderson was now more determined than ever to tell the tale of the Maroons; Jamaica's best-kept secret.
With this 87-minute feature length documentary, writer/director Roy T. Anderson invites you to join him on a most improbable journey into the lives of a people whose enduring spirit of self-determination is as much alive today as it was more three hundred years ago.