Jennifer Asare, my wife for 19 years, stood in the middle of a bar in Accompong Town on a rainy day on June 17, 2017 drenched in emotions, rain and tears. The drive through the mountains of Jamaica from Montego Bay to the area called the Cockpit Country was almost three hours; passable but not the best of roads. The narrow road through the conical mountains and tropical rain forest snaked through villages with a good proportion of the houses uncompleted just like back home in Ghana.
This was our first-ever visit to Jamaica where my father-in-law hailed from. Mr V.H. Cooper, an architect and air-navigator was born in Port Antonio, lived in the UK, moved to Ghana and died in 1992.
The landscape dotted with plantain, taro, cocoyam and breadfruit- reminiscent of anywhere in the Ashanti and Eastern regions of Ghana. The feeling was so much like back home in Ghana; the temperature, humidity, people and the vegetation and even the goats and dogs wondering around the villages.
The tears on her cheeks had been triggered by the custodian of the Accompong Town History Museum calling for a bottle of rum to perform libation, seeing that we were both from Ghana and the fifth Ghanaian visit. The former President, Flt Lt Jerry John Rawlings also visited this town in 1997. We signed the guest book after a trip to the cemetery and they historically buried their dead the same as the Asantes did years ago.
There are so many similarities between Jamaica and the Asantes and on the celebration of the independence day of the Republic of Jamaica , let us draw parallels between our two nations, look at cultural similarities and identify areas of diplomatic and tourism cooperation.
Bob Marley, the Jamaican King of Reggae, quotes that it is “Better to die fighting for freedom than be a prisoner all the days of your life” and it best describes the Maroons who live in the mountains of Jamaica and predominantly hailed from Ghana and Congo. They were escaped slaves. They ran away from their Spanish-owned plantations when the British took the Caribbean island of Jamaica from Spain in 1655.
The word Maroon comes from the Spanish word ‘cimarrones‘, which means ‘mountaineers’. They fled to the mountainous areas of Jamaica, where it was difficult for their owners to follow and catch them, and formed independent communities as free men and women.
In 1739, the British made peace with the Maroons and the treaty names them as Captain Cudjoe, Captain, Accompong, Captain Johnny, Captain Cuffee, Captain Quaco, and several other Negroes, their dependents and adherents. The names of Kwadwo, Acheampong, Kofi, and Kwaku are traditionally day-born authentic Akan names. On arrival at Accompong Town (Acheampongkrom) it was very emotional. The entry was celebrated with the blowing of the traditional “atenteben” used by the Asantes and the colours.
The flag of Jamaica is one of the most recognisable flags around the world and Usain Bolt has made it even more familiar. A dig-up into the history of the development of the Jamaican flag revealed something very interesting. The Asante flag and the Jamaican flag have the same colour combination. They are both black, yellow and green.
Visit to Asantehene
In May 2016, a delegation of Maroons from Accompong in Jamaica visited the Asantehene. The Maroon delegation was invited as the Asantehene’s guests of honour during the Akwasidae Festival, which is the Kingdom’s most important celebration. The King of Ashanti, Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, described the meeting as being a very important “spiritual re-unification” particularly because the Maroons in Accompong trace their ancestry back to the Akan and the Ashanti people. “These are my people, they have come back home,” he said, when introducing the delegation.
This very important event would not mean much to Ghanaians and Asantes. This is so magnified after a visit to the Cockpit country. It gives meaning to why many Jamaicans have returned to Ghana and lived here with no nostalgia. Rita Marley, the wife of the Jamaican Legend, Bob Marley, lives at Aburi. Aburi bears extreme resemblance to Jamaica.
And yes Bob Marley! He defines Jamaica and reggae. His residence at 56 Hope Road in Kingston is now a museum and home to Irie FM, a must visit. It was the home to Tuff Gong reggae record label. A tour of the Museum reveals more of Ghana’s footprints in Jamaica. Bob Marley had an oxtail whisk which in Ghana is used by chiefs in the north and the Akan traditional priests, a smock with two large Gye Nyame patterns which was given to him as a gift and a pair of native sandals lay by his bedside. We listened with pride as the tour guide talked us through these items and we had to mention that we were from the motherland.
On August 6, Jamaica celebrated its independence day. We wish the Jamaican community in Ghana well. Our two countries have similar cultural practices and a closer diplomatic cooperation is needed from both governments. Ghanaians do not need a visa to travel to Jamaica and vice versa. On the streets of Montego Bay, Kingston and Orcho Rios, the music of Shatta Wale blurred on loudspeakers. The evolution of architecture and spatial planning is similar to most cities in Ghana. We have not done much with this relationship and we have to explore this in the interest of both countries and promote a better relationship.
“Don't bury your thoughts, put your vision to reality” – Bob Marley.