The Influence of Maroon Heritage on Garvey

The Maroon culture in Jamaica has long been recognized locally and internationally for being able to outsmart the English and eventually force them to sign peace treaties. Consequently, several events/activities have been planned over the years “to honour and draw national and international attention to the unique history, cultural heritage and practices of Maroon communities in Jamaica”.  Two such popular events are the Accompong Maroon Festival in St. Elizabeth held annually on January 6 and the International Charles Town Maroon Conference and Festival in Portland held annually around June 23.

The story of the Maroons in Jamaica is often shrouded with controversy. However, one cannot deny or ignore the impact of this exclusive set of persons on the history, and politics, to some extent, of Jamaica, thereby making Jamaica’s Maroons, arguably, the most popular and recognized Maroons in the English-speaking Americas. It is this distinction that has resulted in many persons claiming Maroon heritage. They want to be a part of this rich legacy and embrace this unique ethnic identity. Personalities such as Vivian Crawford, Executive Director of the Institute of Jamaica, Buju Banton, internationally-acclaimed singer and songwriter, and Dr. Harcourt Fuller, Assistant Professor of History in the Department of History at Georgia State University are examples of proud descendants of Maroons. Marcus Garvey is said to have been a descendant of Maroons as his father, Malchus, proudly claimed Maroon heritage. However, if Garvey was in fact a Maroon descendant, to what extent did his Maroon heritage help to shape his ideology?

According to Dr. Fuller, a part of the Maroon legacy is the feeling of never being subdued and always seeking justice. We could say that Garvey’s entire life was spent seeking justice. From seeking justice for his co-workers at P.A. Benjamin’s in his early life, to his global push for equality and justice for Black people. Other characteristics of Maroon legacy are said to include ingenuity, fortitude and mysticism.  These are all qualities that Garvey displayed. He showed ingenuity or initiative in forming a movement that sought to represent Black people and ensure their welfare at a time when this would have faced much resistance. He showed resilience over and over again in his fight for justice for his fellow Blacks and, in order to accomplish all he did, he often had to draw on his spirituality. 

Other aspects of Maroon culture that seemed to have shaped Garvey’s ideology are the concepts of self-rule and self-reliance. Just as how the Maroons continue to govern themselves by making their own laws, so did Garvey advocate for Black people to choose who should lead them. Here in Jamaica, he pushed for the right of the citizenry to elect its own government. Garvey also strongly believed that Black people should be self-reliant. This meant not just forming part of the labour force but also to own enterprises. Through the UNIA, Garvey either established or encouraged the setting up of various black-owned businesses in the United States and here in Jamaica. These included the Edelweiss Amusement Company in Jamaica, the newspaper companies: Negro World, The Blackman and New Jamaican, as well as the Negro Factories Corporation. Of note, is that Black people were not allowed to own their own businesses here in Jamaica at the time that Garvey established these enterprises. So, again, he showed initiative and was a pioneer.

Whilst we could draw other similarities between Garvey and maroon heritage, the final one that will be discussed here is the tenet of Anti-colonialism. Garvey spoke extensively about the exploitative nature of colonialism. Consequently, he supported nationalists’ movements that opposed colonial systems. So, without a doubt, Garvey would have supported the enslaved Africans who had fled their European masters and set up their own communities. It is important to note however, that while he criticized imperialism, Garvey did point out that he was respectful of the colonial constitutional authority and lobbied for changes under the colonial system while at the same time, supporting eventual self-government.  

So, it could be argued that Garvey’s Maroon heritage may have had some influence on his tenets of Garveyism. Whatever your take on the matter though, it is undeniable that both Garvey and the Maroons in Jamaica have helped to shape our history and have allowed us to be able to enjoy some of the privileges we do in present times.   

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