Jamaica Gleaner
Published: Saturday | July 7, 2012
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Maroon village a hit at jerk fest
People chilling out in the Moore Town Maroon Village set up on Folly Estates during the recent Portland Jerk Festival. -PHOTOS BY PAUL WILLIAMS
Paul H. Williams, Gleaner Writer

FOLLY ESTATES, Portland: WERE IT not for the Maroons, the Portland Jerk Festival might not have existed. The whole idea of cooking and preserving food by the process known as jerking was started by the Maroons, who would cook seasoned wild hogs and other creatures in a hole dug in the ground.

The hole was known as a barbecue. Now, many years after, in the age of super-refrigeration, the jerking of meat is still a popular culinary activity, to the point where it is the theme of an entire food festival.

That festival is the Portland Jerk Festival, held in a parish that has two of the major Maroon villages in Jamaica, Charles Town and Moore Town. Portland is Maroon country, and for some reason, when I arrived at the festival on Sunday, July 1, I didn't quite make the connection between the jerk festival and the Maroons, until I heard the sound of the abeng, which is a cattle's horn used by the Maroons to send messages, and to invoke the spirits of their ancestors. The sound of the abeng was a foreshadow of things to come, but that too died on me.

Various booths and stalls lined the way. A big fenced-off stage stood at the bottom, huge tents and rides were in the middle, and on the far side, there was a row of white-topped booths where the jerking was going on. That was where I wanted to go.

jerked reindeer

Since the jerked reindeer was the thing on my mind, I went in search of it first, found it, ate a piece, put the rest into my bag, and set about exploring. I heard drums beating in a subdued way. Still, I had no inkling as to why. After I reached the end of the row of white tents/booths, I came upon The Moore Town Maroon Village. That was what was written on the banner at the front of a huge hut erected among very tall almond trees, which served as posts.

It appeared as if the Maroons had 'captured' a piece of Folly Estates, and settled there, way at the top, where they could see everything, including the panoramic harbour. It had the look of an indigenous Maroon village. Bamboo, cacoon vines, and coconut fronds brought from Moore Town formed the basis of the hut, including the serving counter within. The only man-made material used was the tarpaulin that covered the hut, in the event of rain.

The yard around the hut was also enclosed. Two wooden tables, decorated with cacoon vines and pods, on which to place food were erected. Some people were sprawled on their backs, relaxing under trees, while others sat on tree roots, eating food prepared in the village. There was a variety of jerked food, done in traditional and non-traditional ways, in addition to roasted breadfruit, plantain, yam, etc, 'run dung', blue drawers, and pots of soup. At intervals, the performers, broke out into drumming, dancing and singing.

Colonel Wallace Sterling, leader of the Moore Town Maroons, seemed to be quite pleased with the way things were unfolding. He said the Moore Town Maroons were actively involved in 1999 and 2000, the first two years of the festival. Last Sunday was the first time they have participated since 2000, at a time when Jamaica is celebrating 50 years of Independence.

"Notwithstanding the fact that the Maroons have been independent before the rest of Jamaica, we are all sharing in this grand celebration of our 50th year of Independence. For us to be back here celebrating with the other Jamaicans is very important to us," Colonel Wallace said. The area where the village was set up was specially chosen to create an authentic ambience, and to ensure the experience was a success. And from the look of things it was.

After demonstrating a robust piece of modesty when asked about the part the original Maroons played in the realisation of a modern-day Portland jerk festival, he finally said, "Our fore-parents, they did what they had to do, and it is fair enough to say that [it's because of them], many persons are enjoying this method of preparing pork and chicken. It is something that we are proud to have brought to the fore."


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