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Tour 17 - The Maroons of the Rio Grande Valley
Excerpted from the book, Tour Jamaica, by Margaret Morris

The rafting trip covers only 7 miles of the beautiful RIO GRANDE, but will whet your appetite to explore more of the lush valley. This is Maroon country. The runaway slaves of Portland, called the Windward Maroons were particularly fierce and bold. In the early days of British settlement they would swoop from their mountain strongholds to raid the coastal settlements, and for more than a century the Rio Grande was the scene of guerrilla warfare. For a long time the Windwards were led by a woman, the legendary Champong Nanny or Grande Nanny, a fierce lady, reputed to have magical powers. It is said that she kept a cauldron of water boiling without any fire into which unwary British soldiers fell and perished. It was also believed that Nanny never went into battle armed like the rest (but) received the bullets of her enemy that were aimed at her and returned them with fatal effectî ñ in (blush) a manner of which decency forbids description. The first and most famous Jamaican matriarch, Nanny was made a national heroine during the Feminist 1970s although there is no documentary proof of her existence. In 1734 the British finally succeeded in driving the Maroons from their mountain fortress when the canny Captain Stoddart approached from ST THOMAS dragging some swivel guns through a district called HALF A BOTTLE and over a peak now called STODDARTíS PEAK.

NANNYTOWN, high in the JOHN CROW mountains was never resettled, and to this day people swear that the site is haunted a spirit place. The weird experiences of the last military expedition to visit there (during the 70s) tend to substantiate the claim. Stalwart British soldiers reported a landslide on Mount Abraham opposite Nanny Town when a piece of the mountain fell away with a roar like thunder, and told Reuters that they had seen faces and heard voices among the trees at night. One of them was mystified when his watch disappeared from his wrist while he was securely zipped into his sleeping bag. The few hardy hikers who tackle the Nanny Town trail report a profusion of rare plants and animals. Experienced guides can be hired at Windsor or Johnís Hall.

After Nannyís death, the Windwards were led by Quao, one of her Captains. He has to his credit the massacre of a large British force. In 1739, four months after Cudjoe of the Leeward Maroons made peace with the British, Quao also signed a treaty. By this, lands were ceded to the Windward Maroons and they were allowed to live in peace and semi-independence. Today many of their descendants are small farmers in the Rio Grande Valley where the story of their gallant fight lives on in legend and place names.

Leaving Port Antonio by the cluttered, shabby road south you come first to RED HASSEL where it is said, the land ran red with blood after one battle. At BREASTWORKS the British built a fort to keep the Maroons at bay. At FELLOWSHIP there was a temporary truce. Here the road branches R to BERRIDALE, starting place for the rafting trip.

FELLOWSHIP is now the headquarters of the RIO GRANDE VALLEY PROJECT, an agricultural and community development project funded by the government of the Netherlands. The project office and community centre was built by the Womenís Construction Co-operative. Floods caused by deforestation and erosion on the hills are becoming a recurrent problem ñ and the main reason for abysmal road conditions in the valley. In response, conservation has recently become a key element of the project. Agro-forestry and bench terracing are being promoted and farmers are being encouraged to minimize the use of chemicals that can pollute the river and prevent careless disposal of the blue plastic bags used to ìsleeveî the banana bunches. Project officers Barrington Hall and Hubertus Gaymans are also assisting communities to develop eco-tourist accommodation and facilities. ETAG, a local Eco-Tourism Action Group has trained guides who are available to accompany you to nearby eco attractions like the SCATTER FALLS and FOXES CAVES. To find these you will cross the river on a raft and take a short, fairly level hike along the river bank to a tributary called the Sarah, alias ìSAYî river where the Scatter Falls tumble into the river from both sides for about half a mile. Crossing the river by stepping stones you walk beside the lower Scatter Falls to the Thaxter property and Foxes Caves. The larger cave, which is lighted has 10 chambers, the smaller one boasts a stream and waterfall. For information about guides and other attractions phone ETAG at the project office, 993-2543.

From the Fellowship junction the road crosses the Rio Grande and winds upstream through farmland and banana cultivations, small and large farms and government land settlement schemes. Rich alluvial soil and high rainfall makes this the most fertile farmland in the island. Golden Vale, the name of one large privately owned plantation describes it well. Proceed with caution, you never know what lies around the next corner ñ country bus, market truck, or mega pothole. Roadside vegetation includes tree ferns, wild ginger lilies and blue Thumbergia, a domestic creeper now running wild. Frequent vantage points reveal vistas of banana fields, the majestic, blue-green river and the mountains that guard the almost inaccessible site of Nanny Town. Some people say that SEAMANíS VALLEY is the place where Quao ambushed and massacred a British force including 200 sailors from a warship. Others that this was the place where Maroon sentinels could first discern approaching soldiers and would give the ìsee manî signal.

Take the road that branches L to MOORE TOWN, modern seat of the Windward Maroons. It is a small village scattered along a stream with a school, playing field, post office and seven churches. No one can explain the name. Some think it was named after a governor of Jamaica, others that the correct spelling is More because it was the site chosen when the Windwards demanded more land. It is said that Nanny's mortal remains were removed from Nanny Town and buried here at the BUMP GRAVE. At the time of her elevation to heroine status in 1975 the government erected a memorial here over the alleged grave. Close by lives the modern leader of the Maroons: Colonel Harris, better known as Teacher Harris. Unlike the Accompong Maroons who hold hotly contested elections at five year intervals, the Maroons of Moore Town have retained Harris as Colonel for close to 30 years. He is a retired schoolteacher, past JLP Senator and frequent author of letters to the press. As we went to press Colonel Harris was co-ordinating efforts to create a Maroon Museum in Moore Town.

Your valley trip could be enhanced by accepting the services of guides like Bigger or Lucky Osborne, two of Col. Harrisís adjutants. They know everyone in the valley and can advise on the state of the roads, the sites of unfrequented waterfalls, how to find the hot springs on the Guava River, etc.

On the outskirts of Moore Town a dirt road follows the river to CORNWALL BARRACKS, once occupied by British troops, now the site of another ETAG eco-attraction called Twin Apple Park where you can sample Maroon food and absorb Maroon lore. From here a very old swinging bridge crosses to GINGER HOUSE where there is a particularly beautiful waterfall called JUPITER beside a cave and mineral spring. The river here is ideal for swimming and picnics. You can cross by the swinging bridge (locals and their mules and donkeys still do) or return to Seamanís Valley and turn L to ALLIGATOR RIVER where, legend insists, an alligator dressed in black was once seen entering the church. Then cross the river by a more substantial bridge and continue to Ginger House, COMFORT CASTLE and MILBANK. The river swirls over and around huge worn stones, is joined by numerous small springs, and there are myriad small waterfalls and swimming holes to tempt you. Comfort Castle has a post office, police station with telephone link, and, of course, several churches. Milbank is headquarters for rangers attached to the BLUE MOUNTAIN/JOHN CROW MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK. They will be glad to arrange camping or hiking trips and can recommend guides from the local community. BOWDEN PEN on the Mattie River is the end of the line. Don't be tempted to proceed into St Thomas unless you have guides, a fourwheel drive and the weather is very good.

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