San Domingo, 1700s: Ad for Runaways
Zabo, an Ibo, five feet one, quite homely, has scars and lash marks on shoulders having only recently been whipped. Fled the home of the undersigned. Seven newly arrived slaves, part of the cargo of the vessel “L’Aimable,” all Congos, not yet branded.
Jean Fouchar, The Haitian Maroons: Liberty or Death, 4
Armed Maroon from Surinam
Surinam, 1718: Permanent Resistance
The fact that punishments for runaways have to be codified into edicts and laws testifies to the persistence of the maroon resistance.
If a slave runs away into the forest in order to avoid work for a few weeks, upon his being captured his Achilles tendon is removed for the first offence, while for a second offence…his right leg is amputated in order to stop his running away; I myself was a witness to slaves being punished in this way.
Richard Price, ed., Maroon Societies, 3
Palmares, Brazil, 1695: Maroon Community
Zumbi of Palmares, painted by Antônio Parreiras
For ninety years, maroons have sustained an African society called Palmares led by a small group of chiefs. Economically successful, they have developed trading relations with local plantation owners. Living in a constant state of war, they spread themselves over a large area and engage in general guerrilla war, gradually wearing down the Portuguese. Recognizing the constant threat of the inspiration of their example to other slaves, the Portuguese inflict heavy losses on the Palmarinos, whose supreme chief, ganga-zumba, sues for peace in 1678. But the younger leaders, including the zumbi (war chief), resume the struggle. Not until 1695 do the Portuguese develop a powerful coalition, including ruffians and mercenaries, to defeat the Palmarinos. The Portuguese describe the zumbi as a Negro of singular courage, great spirit and persistence.
Eugene Genovese, From Rebellion to Revolution, 63
Surinam, 1796: An Adversary Speaks
John Gabriel Stedman
Captain Stedman, an enemy of the maroons who overran some of their villages is impressed with the life they have created under the harshest conditions…Their fields are even overstocked with rice, cassava, yams, plantains, etc. They make salt from palm-tree ashes…We have found concealed near the trunk of an old tree a case-bottle filled with excellent butter, which…they made by melting and clarifying the fat of the palm-tree worms; this fully answers all the purposes of European butter, and I found it in fact even more delicious to my taste. The pistachio or panda nuts (peanuts) they also convert into butter…and frequently use them in their broths. The palm-tree wine they always have in plenty…They fabricate pots from clay…the gourd or callebasse tree procures them cups; the silk-grass plant…supplies materials for their hammocks…candles they can make, having plenty of fat and oil; and the wild bees afford them wax, as well as excellent honey.
Richard Price, ed., Maroon Societies, 11
Jamaica, 1730: Nanny, Freedom Fighter
Nanny, Freedom Fighter
Legend and folklore, they say, embody the spirit of the people who remember and tell the stories. The name and deeds of Nanny still dance on the lips of twentieth-century Jamaicans. Her town is still sacred ground.
Leader of the Windward Maroons, she is so powerful they name a town after her, which becomes known for having the greatest warriors. Completely naked except for a necklace of teeth, she invokes loa Ogun (Yoruba god of war) before going into battle. Her followers believe she has magic powers that will make them invulnerable to English weapons. They swear oaths of allegiance to the cause of repelling the intruders from their land. It will take all the magic they can muster to defeat the lust for wealth propelling the white man to this small island.
In battle, Nanny catches British bullets in her buttocks and expels them back. She keeps a large cauldron bubbling without a fire. When the British soldiers come too close they fall in and suffocate.
Nanny is full of magic. The white men’s teeth she wears around her neck cannot bite her.
Mavis C. Campbell, The Maroons of Jamaica 1655-1796, 4, 11, 50-51
Maroons: Communities of Resisters
In 1502, Governor Ovando brought “a few Negroes” to Hispaniola to bolster the faltering colony that Columbus had left behind. Among them was the first African American maroon, who escaped to the Indians soon after coming ashore.
Maroonage or flight was one of the major ways slaves resisted their cruel conditions. It was so common that communities formed by these runaways filled the edges of the Americas from North Carolina to Brazil. Known as palenques, quilombos, mocambos, cumbes, laderas or mambises, these new societies embraced African values and traditions while utilizing skills of the indigenous population. Some survived less than a year, while others lasted for generations or even centuries.
Some became so powerful and so threatening to the plantation system both militarily and economically that the whites had to press for peace agreements with them. The first treaties made by Europeans in the Western Hemisphere were with the maroons.
Almost constantly at war with the Europeans, the maroon communities had to be nearly inaccessible in order to survive because their former masters usually hunted for them. They had to find land both defensible and hidden, which meant creating a society in the most inhospitable terrain. This required immense creativity and courage to endure daily hardships. For example, in one maroon community the water was filled with worms; the people had to devise elaborate purifying operations just to live there.
Yet amid the brambles or rocks or dense jungles, these maroons created thriving economies that included a wide variety of foods and art and a well-developed political and military organization. Maroon societies raised manioc, yams, beans, bananas and plantains, sugarcane, vegetables, tobacco, and cotton. Through ingenious traps and springs they were able to capture animals and fish.
Maroons throughout the Americas developed incredible skills in guerrilla warfare. The defense of their societies included booby traps, false paths with pointed spikes, and extensive use of the natural environment for defense. The warrior bands became adept at ambush, surprise, cross fires, and extreme mobility. They developed extensive and reliable intelligence networks and often communicated by horns. These tactics were necessary because they were almost always outnumbered, and the Europeans had superior firepower.
The reality of resistance, so integral to the Caribbean, was rooted in the slave’s consciousness of his or her human dignity.
See Richard Price, ed., Maroon Societies; Mavis C. Campbell, The Maroons of Jamaica 1655-1796