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The Cockpit Country - Environmental and Cultural Centre of Jamaica

The Cockpit Country is known for having the most unforgiving terrains in Jamaica but it remains one of the most beautiful parts of the island. Measuring over 76,000 majestic acres, Jamaica’s Cockpit Country sprawls across six parishes, Trelawny, St. James, St. Elizabeth, Manchester, St Ann and the northernmost tip of Clarendon, the Cockpit Country makes up for 7% of Jamaica’s land Mass.

The name “Cockpit Country” was given by the British who had great difficulty navigating the treacherous terrain of the land during their war with the Maroons. Back then, the term cockpit was used to describe the sick bay on the lower deck of the Man-of-War (an armed sailing ship). It was predominantly known for being small, humid and very badly lit. During battle, it was also very noisy and it was difficult to breathe because of the smell from the blood of the wounded. Fighting in the Cockpit Country reminded the soldiers very much of the sickbay on the ship and therefore it was named as such.

The Landscape of the Cockpit Country


The rough terrain is accredited to the soil which is predominantly made up of Limestone, which as you might know is not the best at absorbing water. Therefore, when it rains, the water runs down through the cracks in the limestone, causing some parts of the land to sink leading to the rugged terrain we now know to be filled with rounded hills and valleys described as karst. This water is responsible for supplying over 40% of the rivers and streams which supply the water needs of the 6 western parishes. It is the main source of water for 5 major rivers, Great River, YS River, Black River, Montego River and the Rio Bueno and I think this is impressive!

The Flora and Fauna


The Cockpit Country’s unique landscape and weather make it the ideal home for many endemic plants and animals including the Jamaican Boa, Homerus Swallowtail, Black-Billed and Yellow-Billed Parrots and a variety of frogs. The Windsor Great and Martha Tick Caves are both known as the homes of indigenous species of bats, the Jamaican Flower Bat and the Jamaican Fig-Eating Bat.

An astounding 101 species of plants including herbs, orchids, vines, trees and shrubs have been found that are not only endemic to Jamaica but specifically the Cockpit Country. Another 5, can be found in other parts of the world, therefore it is not endemic to Jamaica. However, the cockpit country is the only part of the island where these plants can be found.

There is also a very rare type of fern that is not only indigenous to Jamaica but to the Cockpit Country itself. The area accounts for an estimated 60% of Jamaica’s endemic plants and has one of the highest numbers of endemics in the Caribbean!

The Cultural Significance of the Cockpit Country


While it is a beautiful and diverse area, that is not its only significance. The Cockpit Country is the home of the first people during slavery, the Maroons. The Maroons fought against the British in this very area for their right to freedom in the first and second Maroon wars. The British were outsmarted by the Maroons, who were better able to fight on and use the rugged terrain to their advantage. Admitting defeat, they decided to sign peace treaties with the Leeward Maroons (led by Cudjoe) and Windward Maroons (led by Quao). This makes the Cockpit Country the first sovereign state in a then captive Jamaica. Many of the descendants of those Maroons still live in the area today with the largest Maroon village being the Accompong Maroons in St. Elizabeth.

Mining in the Cockpit Country


This particular topic hit a very sore spot for many Jamaicans both at home and overseas at the government leaning towards bauxite mining in the area. To disturb the natural existence of the area may cause irreparable damage to our water supply and definitely lead to the permanent loss of many plants and animals that are only found in this area.

This led Prime Minister Andrew Holness to take the necessary action to protect the environmental hub. The ground-truthing exercise which borders and clearly highlights the over 74,000 acres of protected land began in 2017. This part of the land is subject to specific rules on farming and mining to protect the flora, fauna, culture and water bank of Jamaica. Nevertheless, mining in the Cockpit Country continues to produce heated debates.

The Cockpit country has so much cultural and environmental significance! I think it should be protected so future generations will be able to enjoy its natural resources and beauty as well.

I also recommend you read The Rivers in Jamaica Scenic & Serene.

Regards,
SS

References:
  • Cockpit Country — Jamaican Petrel, https://www.jamaicanpetrel.com/cockpit-country
  • Cockpit Country Home, https://www.cockpitcountry.com/

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