UCL Anthropology


Lydia Gibson

Lydia Gibson

UCL Email: lydia.gibson.14@ucl.ac.uk
Year of Start: 2016
Supervisors: Primary-Katherine Homewood; Secondary-Hannah Knox
Subject: Social Anthropology
Fieldsite: Accompong Village/Cockpit Country, Jamaica

PhD Research

Politics of propriety: Accompong Maroon use of Cockpit Country forest

Accompong Maroons are distinct from the other Maroon towns in Jamaica for a number of reasons: they are the only remaining Leeward Maroons, they are the only Maroons who exercise legal autonomy, they do not pay land tax and they are the only Maroon town located in the Cockpit Country Forest region. The latter distinction has played a key role in the ontology of Accompong Maroons-the karst topography and resulting undulating (and unrelenting) terrain provided cover and refuge for the runaway slaves of 1665 that formed the first of the Maroons. It also became the site where the first Maroon war was waged against the plantocracies, a war fought so effectively by Maroons able to utilise forest cover that the British offered a peace treaty.

Today the Cockpit Country is one of the world's 200 biodiversity hotspots with high levels of endemism of both flora and fauna, supports 5 watersheds which provides 40% of Jamaica's freshwater and, given its limestone formation, has an extensive cave network. Though the importance of the forest in the formation of the Maroons is clear, how the Maroons use the forest today, how it contributes to current constructions of Maroon identity and the types of livelihoods derived from its use remains unknown. These unknowns are compounded by the heated contestation surrounding the forest; NGOs, the state, academics and conservationists as well as the Maroons all have conflicting and/or competing interests in Cockpit Country but are all brought together by conservation efforts largely around protecting the forest from the threat of mining, but also include deforestation (from agricultural clearances and yam sticks) and parrot hunting.

My research considers Maroon use of the forest, the intersecting conservation efforts and the ontologies, world views and interest that support these efforts in conjunction with the historic interactions Accompong Maroons have had with agents of Western forces to further challenge conceptions of both ontology and indigeneity.  The dichotomy of tradition and modernity that is employed in paradigms centred around political ontology and the "ontological turn" depict the subalternisation of indigenous (and local) populations upon the incursion of Western forces and focuses on current modes of resistance. This research aims to connect historic and present use of politics, plants and the forest by Accompong Maroons to not only retain their culture and autonomy, but how both Maroon and Western perspectives alike have been and continue to be transformed in these interactions in continued fluctuations of convergence and divergence which I term "ontological pulse".

Research Interests

  • Ontology
  • Indigenous Peoples
  • Forest Ecology
  • Land use and rural livelihoods
  • Ethnobotany

Education History

  • BSc Mathematics and Biology (University of Bristol)
  • MA Sociology of Childhood and Children's Rights (UCL - IOE)
  • MSc Social Anthropology (UCL)