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Blue and John Crow Mountains - Historic Slave Refuge In Jamaica

For many years, slaves of both Taino and African ancestry made new lives as free people amidst the rich biodiversity of the Blue and John Crow Mountains.

The Blue and John Crow Mountains cover a rough and expansively forested mountainous area in the southeastern part of Jamaica. It was this same area which gave refuge first for the indigenous Tainos who were escaping slavery and later for "Maroons", former African slaves. These runaway and rebellious slaves were resisting the European colonial system in this rugged and isolated region by creating a network of hiding places, trails, and settlements, which made up the Nanny Town Heritage Route. The mountains and the forests gave the Maroons all they needed for their survival. For many years, slaves of both Tainos and African ancestry made new lives as free people amidst the mountain biodiversity. The mountains were named as a United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage site in 2008 due to their biodiversity and their intangible heritage. The site is a symbol of Maroonage and it is at the center of Maroon culture in Jamaica.

5. Physical Geography of the Blue and John Crow Mountains -

The Blue and Crow Mountain ranges lie in a mountainous region in the remote parts of eastern Jamaica. The mountains’ biodiversity is protected in the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park. The Blue Mountain ranges stretch for nearly 50 kilometers, with the highest point being the Peak Mountain at an elevation of 2,256 meters. The John Crow Mountains is a limestone plateau peaking above 1,140 meters and extending parallel to the island’s northeast coast. Together, these two ranges make of for almost 20% of Jamaica’s total landmass. The mountains slopes are home to vast expanses of broad-leaf and montane rainforests.

4. Escaping Slavery in Colonial Jamaica -

From 1655 onward, the English occupied Jamaica after capturing it from the Spanish. After sugarcane cultivation was introduced in the island, the number of slaves increased rapidly. Slaves in Jamaica were either of African or Taino ancestry. As the number of slaves increased, so did the number of maroons who ran away from their masters to form independent communities. The Jamaican Maroons settled in Moore Town, located in the Blue and John Crow Mountains, or in the Accompong Hills found above Montego Bay. The Maroons created their own culture and traditions and developed a spiritual attachment to the mountains. The impenetrable jungles in the mountains provided the Maroons with a safe haven. The Maroons also trained in guerrilla warfare as a measure of protection.

3. The Nanny Town Heritage Route -

The Nanny Town Heritage Route is a series of hiding zones, trails, settlements, viewpoints, and caves which served as homes and routes of travel for the escaped slaves. The site is named after Nanny who was a leader of the Maroons and who led them to victory in several wars and who agitated for the Maroon freedom from the British. The region is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, recognized for its historical, cultural, and natural significance. Due to years of isolation of the Maroons in Nanny Town, they developed unique oral traditions, music, spiritual practices, and language. In modern day, the site is regarded with reverence by the Maroon communities scattered near the mountains.

2. Habitats and Biodiversity -

The mountains’ landscapes are characterized by valleys, rivers, cliffs, and forests. On the slopes of the Blue Mountains, the famous Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee is cultivated. The forests support families of epiphytes, from lichens, ferns, mosses, to flowering plants. The mountains are home to the rare giant swallowtail butterfly, Jamaican hutia, Jamaican Peak Frog, Jamaican boa, and the Arntully Robber Frog. Bird species found in the site includes the Jamaican blackbird, Amazona agilis, Bicknell’s Thrush, and Yellow-billed Parrot.

1. Environmental Threats and Conservation Efforts -

The mountains’ ecological systems are threatened by alien plant and animal life, climate change, agricultural and human encroachment, fire, deforestation, and mining activities. The mountain ranges are protected in the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park, and their isolation further affords them protection. The Maroon communities have been actively involved with conservation efforts, as the mountains have cultural and spiritual importance to them. Management in the buffer zone, however, needs to be strengthened to ensure sustainability of the core zone.

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