In what mode should we interact with the history of the Maroon struggle? Some wisely suggest that we should eschew a purely legalistic, Western-Eurocentric, textual analsis of the treaty. In what sense should the treaty, and, most importantly, the events surrounding it, be confined to a purely textual analysis?
What does a treaty mean? Treaties, like contracts, are supposed to be manifestations of the mutual will of the parties. What do we do when they are not? What do we do when one culture, one legal system, chooses to create and enforce an agreement in a different mode than another? And when the content of the agreement, the mutual understanding, that thing we call a "meeting of the minds" is understood differently in these different worlds?
The Maroons fought for their freedom. This is undisputed. A man named Cudjoe negotiated an agreement, an end to war, with the British. The British got a piece of paper with a "treaty" on it. The Maroons swore a sacred oath, recognizing and being recognized, and promising peace. (See Kenneth Bilby, Swearing by the Past, Swearing to the Future: Sacred Oaths, Alliances, and Treaties among the Guianese and Jamaican Maroons. 44 Ethnohistory 655 (1997) (arguing that peace between Maroons and British can be understood as a sacred "blood oath" from the Maroon perspective, with fundamentally different import.).
Unfortunately, the paper treaty eviscerates many of the rights fought for by the Maroons. Modern, legalistic, interpretations have further watered down these sovereign rights. It is understandable. The British, and their heirs in the Jamaican government, inherited the British legal system. However, it raises a painful question:
Do we honor the legal context created by slavery? For that is what it is. The British, by taking free people from Africa and enslaving them, created this state. When the people revolt, should the products of their revolution be "read" from their natural, original, freedom? Or should the products of their revolution be read through the lens of the people who enslaved them?
We must not forget our history. Part of kidnapping and enslaving a people includes abandoning their legal system. Do we affirm the choice to enslave by using the legal system of the enslavers, rather than the enslaved? What does that say about us, about the international community, that we choose to codify legal systems imposed on a peoples by force?
And is it right? By what authority do we treat? By what authority is it that a treaty is more important than a blood oath? By what treaty did the nations of the world, including the cultures in the Carribean and Africa that still exalt the oath (See id), bind themselves to honoring the treaty? By what oath did they give up their right to demand the honoring of oathes?
It would be impossible to do so. There can be no legal structure defining that which creates the legal structure. For first the legal structure must be created. By a legal structure. It is all assumed. Western, European, dominant "first world" culture assumes the logic of the written word, the power of the text. But where is it written into our law that the law shall be in writing? Among the Maroons, the speech is the law. How, if we wish to remedy the disparity between the European and the African modes, do we frame a law? To say a sovereign must be able to bind itself to be truly sovereign is not to say how. To say treaties are based in religious fervor is not to say which religion one honors.
We are left with justice. The principle that is universal. The principle that can act as a basis for law without being enacted within law. How is it just to proceed here? Is it just to allow a people to be taken, enslaved, then require them to submit to treaties they would not have agreed to? Is it just to require revolting slaves to honor what they believe is their agreement, the blood oath of peace, as more than simply the absence of war, while allowing the ex-enslavers to get away with merely having to pay some small respects, for as long as their courts choose to recognize even those?
No, that is clearly unjust. The just solution is to give the people that which they spilled their blood for, so many years ago. Freedom. And if to do so, we must sacrifice "our" writing for "their" oathes, so be it. Therin lies respect.
Thanks to Dr. Bilby for assistance in developing this argument.