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[Trinidad] A haven for runaway slaves

PostPosted: Mon May 31, 2010 4:20 pm
by bimjim ... =161684353

[Trinidad] A haven for runaway slaves
Mazalee and Cameron...
Louis B Homer South Bureau
Monday, May 31st 2010

Mazalee is a small mountain village overlooking Diego Martin and parts of Maracas Valley.

From that village, located on the Northern Range, the waterfront skyscrapers in Port of Spain are clearly visible, as well as many parts of Cascade and Maraval.

The scenic drive along the steep and winding concrete-surfaced road leading to Mazalee is awesome. The landscape is breathtaking.

On both sides of the narrow road, vegetables are planted up to the road’s edge, and to a height ranging from 1,000 to 1,800 feet above sea level.

From a distance, men tending to crops on the mountainside look like specks against the hillsides, and the abundant chive plants growing almost wild on the hills look like a green carpet.

Huge nutmeg trees in the mountain valleys provide shade during the dry season.

This is not a tourist village but the villagers peeping through wooden windows often smile and show an eagerness to welcome visitors and give an insight into life in the village.

’Agriculture is the mainstay of villagers,’ said Francis Emmanuel, as he joins a small group sorting and packaging chive and other seasonings for the wholesale market at Macoya.

He is one of 120 farmers who grow chive and vegetables sold at markets across the country.

He boasts about the fertile soil at Mazalee on which nearly anything can grow successfully.

’The soil here is suitable for growing chive, but anything you plant will grow here,’ he said.

Praedial larceny is not a deterrent to the farmers. They are each other’s keeper.

’We are one big family of farmers looking out for each other,’ said Emmanuel.

The village, though, is a far cry from what it was in the 18th century, when Mazalee and neighbouring village Cameron were still forested.

Geologists identify the area as an undulating limestone plateau with a series of hills set upon a karst landscape, consisting of sinking streams, caves and springs.

’Karst’ is terrain generally under-laid by limestone in which the topography is formed chiefly by rocks dissolving from water penetration.

The term ’karst’ means barren or stony ground.

But Mazalee today is by no means a barren place.

It is now a progressive agricultural district with great potential for the future of agriculture.

In the early 19th century, French planters, using slave labour, developed the area by converting the forest into cocoa and nutmeg plantations.

With the fall in the price of cocoa, this crop was replaced with every type of vegetable, while retaining the nutmeg trees and its fruit as the supplier of spices to the nation.

Cameron and Mazalee, with a combined population of some 900 people, once housed a camp for runaway slaves called Camp Marron, a name corrupted to become Cameron.

Slaves hiding in the area were often sought after by their masters with assistance from the government. Gangs were organised to flush out the slaves from their hiding places, which were mainly caves.

’By coincidence, a Scottish man named Cameron had moved from Naparima to Diego Martin. By the time he moved to Cameron the area was already called Cameron and sometimes Cimaron,’ records historian Anthony de Verteuil.

Bryan du Bois, who was born in Cameron, continues to look for tangible evidence that slaves once occupied the villages.

He said, ’After hearing about the existence of slaves in the area, I went in search of anything I could find to prove it was true.’

So far, du Bois has found a set of iron chains used for confining slaves.

Displaying his find of a few years ago, Du Bois said, ’Everybody could talk about slavery, but I have good evidence that this place really had slaves.’

The rusted chains are part of a collection of other artifacts, including coins, found by du Bois in and around Cameron.

His long-term plan is to build his collection and establish a small museum in the village to display what he has found.

He said several graves were found in the valleys. ’Nobody have any interest in finding out what is in the graves. The archaeologist only looking for Amerindian objects,’ he said.

The history of slave hunting in Cameron dates back to 1833, when the first Irish Governor, Sir George Fitzgerald Hill, was Governor of Trinidad from 1833-1840.

During his tenure, slavery was not yet abolished, and it was illegal for slaves to leave the plantations without consent of the slave master.

As Governor, Hill had sanctioned ’slave hunting’ and granted permission to estate owners to set up gangs to roam the forests and find the runaway slaves.

With the emancipation of the slaves in 1834, this practice was stopped.

Jane Toussaint, a 79-year-old resident of the village, has little knowledge of the existence of slaves in the area.

’I only hear about them but nobody never put me to sit down and talk about it,’ she said.

She recalled that she was one of the first three families who arrived in the village when the roads were just mud tracks.

’When we had load we used to carry it on a donkey,’ she said.

The older villagers still speak patois (broken French).

’My children not interested in that, all they know is English. The only time I get a chance to speak patois is when my older relatives visit me,’ said Toussaint.

Nearly all the villagers are related by blood or by marriage.

Toussaint has great belief in herbal medicine. She still practises the art of curing maljo (bad eye) by using sweet broom which she has planted in her yard to ’cut maljo’ from babies.

Mothers from the village climb the hill to her home to get their babies blessed and cured with the use of sweet broom.

’People here believe in me and they call me Mama,’ said Toussaint.

Religion plays an important part in the lives of the villagers. A high percentage are Roman Catholics who worship in the church dedicated to St Augustin. There are no primary schools there. The children must travel to various parts of Diego Martin to attend classes.

What is significant about Cameron and Mazalee is the strong family commitment.

Du Bois refers to the villagers as ’a roots community’.