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A meeting between British and Jamaican Maroons

The Maroons were runaway enslaved Afrikans in the Carribean Islands, and the Americas, who formed independent soverign settlements together. The same designation has also become aderivation for the verb "to maroon", which means to escape.

African Rebel Communities (known as Maroons)

In the Americas, as early as 1512, enslaved Afrikans had escaped from Spanish and Portuguese captors andeither joined indigenous peoples or eked out a living ontheir own. Sir Francis Drakeen listed several'cimaroons' during his raids on the Spanish. As earlyas 1655, escaped Afrikans had formed their own communities in inland Jamaica, and by the 18th century, Nanny Town and other villages began to fight for independent recognition. On the Caribbean islands, they formed bands and on some islands formed armed villages. Maroon communities faced great odds to survive against white attackers, obtain food for subsistence living, and to reproduce and increase their numbers. As the planterstook over more land for crops, the Maroons began to vanish on the small islands. Only on some of the largerislands were organized Maroon communities able tothrive by growing crops and hunting. Here they grew innumber as more Afrikans escaped from plantations and joined their bands. Seeking to separate themselves fromwhites, the Maroons gained in power and amid increasing hostilities, they raided and pillaged plantations and harassed planters until the planters began to fear a mass slave revolt. Eventually, Maronage spread anywhere enslaved Afrikans were.

Maroons in North America

The escaped Afrikans of the present day United States are very rarely taught or indeed spoken about. Between 1611 and 1865 there are documented instances about 50 different maroon towns within the national borders. One of the strongest towns existed in the dismal swamp region of Virginia. This area was home to some 2000 Afrikans and indigenous Americans, as well as some outlaw whites. To support them selves and their families, people hunted, farmed and traded with whites and free Afrikans that lived on the borders of the swamp. According to American law, this was illegal trade, but it was lucrative since there were some resources that could only be obtained in the swamp. By 1775, a great leader rose in the Maroon community. Hes known today as the “General of the Swamps. He harassed and attacked white communities around the swamp, and caused so much trouble that a bounty was placed on his head and mobs of whites would travel around the swamp looking for him. Eventually they found him and his army and he was put to death. That however didn't stop the maroon incursions. Their attacks continued until the late 19th century when chattel slavery was outlawed in the USA. [1] [2]

Maroons in Mexico

Statue of King Yanga in the city of Yanga, Veracruz, Mexico

To the southwest of North America is the story of Afrikans who flourished in the eastern regions of Mexico. These regions were, and are today full of mountains, hills and forests, the type of terrain that Maroons thrived in. By the early 1600's indigenous Afrikans, as well as escaped Afrikans had populated this area so well that the many Spanish towns and sugar plantations were beginning to close and move to different areas, safer for white capitalism, thus putting the young colony of Mexico(then called New Spain). The Spanish governor dispatched the military to “pacify” the Maroons but failed time after time due to their ferocity, and the advantageous terrain. By about 1610, a very proud king rose amongst them and went on to challenge the Spanish to attack his settlements. King Yanga, as he was knows was a good tactician. Since the Spanish obviously had better weapons and armor, he used hit and run war tactics, forcing them to chase him and his people all throughout the rugged hillside. After about a year of this, and casualties on each side, the Spanish were forced to recognize the king and his people's sovereignty[3]. They signed a treaty that said the Palenque(maroon town) would be designated a free town, all the captured Africans who were allied with the king would be free, and Spain would have to stop raiding the Palenques. In exchange, the Afrikans would stop raiding the sugar plantations. The Afrikans still live there today in a town called Yanga, in the Mexican state of Veracruz. Every year, they celebrate the defeating of the Spanish, and what they call the first free city in the Americas in 1609.

Maroons in Jamaica

Map of Maroon towns and regions in Jamaica

As Europeans took over more and more land in Afrika, the most hostile of natives would be captured and sent over seas to the lands of the Americas recently depopulated by their genocidal practices. Because of this, Afrikans in Jamaica were assuredly extremely hostile in the slavocracy of the 15-1800's. The history of the Maroons on that island is a little different than the rest, as the island changed hands a few times, leaving the Africans free at some periods. In the early 1600's England and Spain fought over the Island, and the enslaved Africans often fought on the side of the English with the idea that they may be better off with out the Spanish. By 1655 the English expelled the Spanish, effectively ending a period of around 160 years of Spanish rule. The Africans quickly escaped to uninhabited parts of the island and formed their own communities. By the time the English had control of most of the Island, there were Maroon towns dotting the country side. This reality became a real thorn in the side of English imperialism. One of the communities were so difficult to access because of it's location. To get there one would have to go through a narrow chasm for some distance. For English armies to get there, they would have to go through this chasm single file and come out the other end. Every time they tried this, Jamaican maroons would be waiting on the other side with guns and arrows. In one instance, the Maroons stood at the top of the chasm, waited until all the soldiers were walking along the inner chasm and they rolled a logs on top of them killing each of them. By 1720 these many Maroon towns were organized by a family of Afrikans, probably from the Asante kingdom of present day Ghana, West Afrika. This family, Nanny, Accompong, Johnny, Cudjoe, and Quao, went on to lead the 5 maroon towns of Accompong, Trelawny Town, Mountain Top, Scots Hall, and Nanny Town. These maroons fought so well that the English had to make a treaty similar to the one made a century earlier. This treaty designated land for the Maroons and said that no English would raid them anymore. Nanny, is remembered as one of the National Heroes of Jamaica, and she is depicted on the 500 dollar bill, called “the nanny” A British governor signed a treaty promising the Maroons 2500 acres (10 km²) in two locations[4]. Also, some Maroons kept their freedom by agreeing to capture runaway enslaved Afrikans. They were paid two dollars for each slave returned. Today, tours of the village are offered to foreigners and a large festival is put on every January 6 to commemorate the signing of the peace treaty with the British after the First Maroon War.

Maroons in Brazil

A statue of King Zumbi in Brazil

The escaped Afrikans that made the interior of Brazil their home have a legacy that bring greatpride to Brazilian Afrikans. In eastern Brazil existed a kingdom that lasted for around 100 years. The government was a federation of different Quilombos that unified with the need of mutual protection. Described by R. K. Kent in his essay Palmares: An Afrikan State in Brazil as having it's real strength lying in the fact that they provided food and security to all their inhabitants who considered themselves: “subjects of a king who is called Ganga-Zumbi, which means great lord,and he is recognized as such both by those born in Palmares, and by those who join them from the outside.” by the end of the kingdom's 100 year existence, the Portuguese and Dutch began to work together to bring it down, and within one year they were invaded 5 times, this worked to destabilize it, and by around 1700, the government was deposed. Maroon towns still existed in the area, but the centralized government was finished. Today the state of Alagoas celebrates the republic every year.

Maroons in Surinam

A map of Rebel Afrikan Communities in Surinam

In forests of central and southern Surinam, Maroon populations have been by far the most successful of all the maroons groups in the Americas. In all the different groups there live anywhere from 80,000 to 150,000 people. The land of Suriname was inhabited by Natives who lived on the coast, and when the land was sold by the English, to the Dutch, a war ensued that ended with the original inhabitants being forced to the interior. These natives later worked to liberate many Afrikans and help them to survive in the harsh terrain of the northern Amazon. In October 10, 1760, the Ndyuka, a large group of Maroons signed a treaty forged by Adyáko Benti Basitonor Boston, a former enslaved Afrikan from Jamaica who had learned to read and write and knew about the Jamaican maroon treaty. The treaty is still important, as it defines the territorial rights of the Maroons in the gold-rich inlands of Suriname. The origins of the Afrikans of this region are almost exclusively in Ghana, West Africa and thus a lot of their traditions are quite in line with the Ashanti of Ghana. [5]

other Maroon groups

By 1700, Maroons had disappeared from the smaller islands. Survival was always difficult as the Maroons had to fight off attackers as well as attempt to grow food. One of themost influential Maroons was François Mackandal, a houngan, or voodoo priest, who led a six year rebellion against the white plantation owners in Haiti that preceded the Haitian Revolution. In Cuba, there were maroon communities in the mountains, where escaped Afrikans had joined refugee Tainos. Before roads were built into the mountains of Puerto Rico, heavy brush kept many escaped Afrikans hidden in the southwestern hills where many also intermarried with the natives. Escaped Africans sought refuge away from the coastal plantations of Ponce. Remnants of these communities remain to this day. Maroon communities emerged in many places in the Caribbean (St Vincent and Dominicafor example), but none were seen as such a great threat to the British as the Jamaican Maroons.

  1. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part2/2p50.html
  2. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part2/2p50.html
  3. http://www.colormagazineusa.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=623
  4. http://scholar.library.miami.edu/slaves/Maroons/maroons.html
  5. Armet Francis (1989). Children of the Black Triangle. Africa World Press. Cite has empty unknown parameter: |1= (help)