Thursday, May 21, 2009

Cockpit Country, Jamaica: Land of Look Behind Looks Ahead

Fom the air, the terrain looks like a vast area of green overturned egg boxes. A rugged and remote forest, it is full of small hills and valleys speckled with an abundance of caves and sinkholes. It is home to the Jamaican Boa, the Giant Swallowtail Butterfly, the Black-Billed Parrot and many other species endemic to the area. It has place names like If-Me-No-Call-You-No-Come, Wait-A-Bit and Quick Step, Maroon Town and Accompong. Most importantly, it is a place of enormous cultural heritage and the ancestral home of the Maroons, rebellious slaves who ran away from the British colonialists in the 17th and 18th century. This is The Land of Look Behind.

The Cockpit Country is a five hundred square kilometer pristine area of wet limestone forest located in the central western parishes of the island of Jamaica. A unique and rich area of biodiversity, the Cockpit Country is home to many species of plant and animal life, many of which are only endemic to the area. It is also an important source of water for the western part of the island.

The Cockpit Country was the greatest ally of the tenacious Maroon warriors who ran away in the 17th and 18th centuries from the Spanish and the British. Its ruggedness provided safe haven for those who could navigate the treacherous cliffs and valleys and not fall to their deaths in the sinkholes that appeared out of nowhere. They fought a guerrilla war with the British for over eighty years. Eventually they signed an agreement which gave them independence and sovereignty over the area, and their own homeland one hundred years before the emancipation of slavery. Today their descendants live in small villages surrounding the Cockpit Country.
The most ominous recent threat to the Cockpit Country arose in 2006 when it was announced that the government was going to allow Alcoa to prospect for bauxite mining in the area. Bauxite mining is Jamaica’s second largest source of income, however, the existing bauxite mines in the island have resulted in water contamination and devastating environmental destruction. Several environmental groups got together with the Maroons and other interested parties and formed the Cockpit Country Stakeholders Group. They staged a massive Save Cockpit Country public awareness campaign which resulted in the government being forced to back down on allowing mining prospecting.
The Nature Conservancy, in conjunction with USAID and other local government agencies are now poised to develop sustainable tourism and farming projects in the area and there have been some proposals to have the site declared a World Heritage Site.

A recent project is the establishment of From their website, the vision for Cockpit Republic states that it “is a sales representative for environmentally and socially responsible businesses in Jamaica’s Cockpit Country. We support existing businesses and champion the development of new ones by assisting in their planning and marketing their products and services. Because it is so remote, the economy of the Cockpit Country suffers and, as a result, residents are exploiting the woodland’s natural resources. Despite previous efforts to develop the unique culture and environment of the Cockpit Country into an eco-tourism destination, there remains no foundation to support entrepreneurship in the area. At Cockpit Republic, we believe that the economic growth of the Cockpit Country will be led by her own entrepreneurs and we are dedicated to laying a foundation under which local enterprises can develop in harmony with woodland preservation, a foundation that gives creative enterprises access to a market that demands culturally unique and sustainably produced products and services.”

Cockpit Republic features information on its website describing The Original Trail of the Maroons: “An Accompong-based eco-tourism organization that carries hikers through the Cockpit Country on 300 year old trails the Maroons used to fight the British army. The Original Trails of the Maroons is receiving assistance from the Forest Conservation Fund for the development of the route between Accompong and Quick Step into an overnight hike.” A description of the hike states:

“Hikers awaken from a night above Saucey Bottom and hike to a overnight sojourn in Quick Step where they will stay in a comfortable lodge and enjoy local food and culture. The next morning hikers will return to Accompong via the Peace Cave trail. In all, this hike is a comprehensive experience of one of the most mystifying environments in the world where hikers will enjoy the hospitality and culture of local communities along the way. There will be no better immersion into Jamaican culture and its environment. This is the ultimate hybrid of community, heritage, and eco-tourism in Jamaica.
Funding for the Quick Step Trail Project has been made possible with a grant from the Forest Conservation Fund" (CockpitRepublic)

In his book Creating a World Without Poverty, Mohammed Yunus, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize said this about the potential for information technology to assist in bringing an end to poverty:

“The new IT can help to integrate the poor in the process of globalization by expanding their markets through e-commerce. Traditionally the poor have been victimized by middlemen who have controlled their access to markets, dictated business terms, and siphoned off profits. . . The new IT can promote self-employment among the poor, liberating them from reliance on corporate employers or government make-work programs and unleashing their creativity, energy, and productivity. . . It is an empowering tool that enhances options and brings all the world’s knowledge to everyone’s doorstep.” (Yunnus 190)

I believe that offers a prime example of what Mr. Yunnus was advocating in his book. The Maroons are looking ahead to the future with their new project and I applaud and support their efforts and wish them great success. Sustainable eco-tourism projects that arise out of the local peoples knowledge and that respects their land and their heritage is a positive development for the people of Jamaica. We need more of them. Copyright ©Kathy Stanley 2009. Labrish is grateful to for their permission to use their photographs in this post.
Works Cited
Yunnus, Mohammed. Creating a World Without Poverty: Social Business and the Future of Capitalism. New York: Public Affairs, 1997.

Cockpit Country Links
Related Posts:
Cockpit Country Jamaica Update
Dear Jamaica
Journey with Bob: Cockpit Country Jamaica

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