Maroons of the Caribbean

September 25, 2007

RESISTANCE WAS AN INTEGRAL PART OF Caribbean slave society. Slaves resisted in myriad ways-from the subtle and passive, acted out on a routin- ized daily basis, to the violent, whether singly or collec- tively, planned or spontaneous. But for the slave owners, perhaps the most vexing form of slave resistance was the flight from servitude to establish autonomous communi- ties outside the bounds of slave plantations: maroon soci- eties. Not surprisingly, marronage began in Hispaniola, the first European settlement in the New World.' As early as 1503, two years after the start of the slave traffic to the Caribbean, the runaway problem had become so great that the governor of the island urged the Spanish Crown to suspend the trade-which, in fact, was done for a short time. By the middle of the sixteenth century, runaways outnumbered Hispaniola's white male population seven to one. Bands of them had established themselves in the mountains, descending at intervals to attack the settle- ments below. 2 Such guerrilla warfare-surprise attacks and retreats and ingenious ambuscades, thereby avoiding direct confrontations-was to become the pattern through- out the Caribbean. As the slave systems in the area developed, some of the harshest punishments were reserved for the "skulking runaways," or "sneaking and treacherous rogues," or "desperate villains," or "pernicious scum," as one Euro- pean power or another described the maroons. Laws were passed that gave every citizen the power to capture maroons, dead or alive, and generous rewards were prof- fered. Even slaves were granted freedom for capturing or killing maroons. After all, in the capital accounts of the slave owner, a maroon was both capital and labor, and a prime slave-the one more apt to run off-could fetch up to 350 pounds sterling, a tidy sum, especially in times of scarcity. The Spaniards trained bloodhounds and organized hunting parties called rancheadores to capture runaways. The Portuguese, fearing the example of Palmares, Brazil' s largest maroon settlement, organized units called capitdos- do-mato or bush captains to conduct their search. The Spanish Church joined in, and the Inquisition, never shy in dispensing punishment, viewed the attempt to escape Mavis C. Campbell teaches history at Amherst College. This article was adapted from The Maroons of Jamaica 1655-1796 by Mavis C. Campbell (Bergin & Garvey, 1988). Abridgement by permission of Greenwood Pub- lishing Group, Inc., Westport, CT. Copyright(c) 1988 by Bergin & Garvey Publishers Inc. from slavery as apostasy, for which slaves should be made to atone in this world or the hereafter. 3 Despite such deterrents, maroon societies remained ubiquitous. Maroon societies were based on African sociopolitical and military formations, adapted to fit New World condi- tions. This is not to imply that each group shared a homogeneous African cultural heritage. Indeed fragmen- tary evidence suggests that there was ethnic plurality within most communities, although one group might be in a dominant demographic or military position. Most ma- roon leaders, especially in Jamaica, were of the Akan- speaking group, but the ethnic make-up of the rank-and- file is less clear. In order to prevent ethnic cleavages that could be damaging to his authoritarian leadership, Cudjoe of Jamaica, perhaps the best known maroon leader in the hemisphere, insisted that his people speak the enemy's language-English-in his community. Ironically, the slave masters also insisted on the use of the colonial tongue among plantation slaves for the same security considerations. ESPITE ETHNIC DIVERSITY WITHIN MA- roon societies, cultural commonalities seemed to take precedence over particularism. Roger Bastide, in reference to the quilombo maroons of Brazil, said, "[I]t would seem that in most cases, as in Palmares, we are dealing with 'tribal regression,' a kind of return to Af- rica." This "Africanness" that transcended regionalism and ethnic or linguistic affinities was reflected, for the most part, in sex roles, attitude toward warfare, familial arrangements, attitude toward hierarchy, and above all religion, which was pivotal to all resistance in the area. African religious beliefs gave the unifying force and the rallying point to mobilize, motivate, inspire, and design strategies. Religion gave the ideology, the mystique, and the courage and leadership to maroon societies to con- front the awesome power of the slave society. Indeed maroon leaders were expected to be imbued with tran- scendental knowledge, which could be used for the ben- efit of the whole community. Resistance and African religions are clearly linked in both slave rebellions (for instance, in Haiti) and maroon societies. Regardless of ethnicity, Africans would invari- ably invoke the right loa (spirit) before going to war. Devotees, after taking oaths of allegiance and fidelity to the cause, rubbed themselves with certain magical con- coctions prepared by the religio-military leader, or wore an assortment of charms or amulets to war. The Jamaican maroon heroine Nanny, Makandal of pre-revolutionary St. Domingue, Jean Franqois of revolutionary Haiti and REPORT ON THE AMERICAStheir followers believed that these preparations rendered them impervious to the enemy's bullets. Women played multifaceted roles in maroon commu- nities in Jamaica. In African fashion, they were the agriculturists, but some were priestesses or warriors, like the celebrated maroon leader Nanny, now a national hero of Jamaica. To be sure the very early maroon societies had a preponderance of men, reflecting not only the sexual imbalance on the plantations but also the hazardous nature of marronage and the peculiar dangers it held for females. But as marronage developed, some of the com- munities achieved a parity of men and women, and by the 1730s, women and children outnumbered men among the windward groups. A few women managed to run away singly or in pairs with their lovers or "husbands." How- ever, the incidence of female fugitives did not develop significantly until the first decade of the nineteenth cen- tury up to emancipation. Growth in the female population can be accounted for by natural procreation within the communities and early depredations on plantations not only for provisions and arms, but also for women. Jamaica's maroons were also the first agriculturists of the island oriented to the domestic market. Following the British occupation in 1655, British planters cultivated the monoculture of sugar, geared to the expanding export markets of Europe. The maroons planted other crops, and their diversified surplus soon became accessible in the local marketplaces for the larger population, especially during periods of drought and other cataclysmic events peculiar to the tropics. Long before peace treaties were signed, maroons would disguise themselves as free blacks to enter the marketplaces both as buyers and sellers. T HE MAROON SOCIETIES OF JAMAICA wrought havoc with the island's plantation econo- my. Their communities in the hills tempted many estate slaves to join them or set up similar communities. The maroons preyed on plantations, advancing at intervals to inveigle away slaves (especially women) to carry off or kill cattle and horses, to help themselves to ammunition and weaponry, or to kill or wound whites. The period of greatest danger to Jamaican planters was from the 1720s to 1738. There was an exodus of planters from the island, who abandoned their estates because of maroon intrusions. In addition, maroon proximity to arable land either prevented owners with patents from settling or deterred the parceling out of lands in such areas-particularly in the northeast. And in these years of crisis, the slaves, always alert to any weakness in the social structure of the masters' world, deserted the planta- tions in large numbers.A dialectical relationship devel- oped between marronage and absenteeism, in which cause and effect soon became entangled. The urgency with which the plantocratic legislature passed deficiency laws aimed at increasing the number of whites on the island attests to the slaveowners' awareness of the severity of the crisis. With the signing of peace treaties in 1738-1739, the country became economically buoyant once again almost immediately. The cimarrones (maroons) wreaked their greatest dev- astation on the Spanish Empire in Panama, especially between the 1540s and the 1570s. Their depredations were directed against the brutal slave portage (the trajin) of vast quantities of silver and gold, particularly between Nombre de Dios and Panama City. The situation became even more alarming to the Spaniards when the cimarrones became "confederated" with British pirates and, in some cases, with French corsairs as well. Spanish officials complained incessantly that the runaways, being so "thor- oughly acquainted with the region and so expert in the bush," could show the British "methods and means to accomplish any evil design they may wish to carry out and execute." 4 Indeed maroons showed Francis Drake how to cross the Isthmus of Panama, "a feat the English could not have performed alone." 5 The Spaniards were the first to sign treaties with the maroons. As early as 1545, unable to defeat the major band in Hispaniola, they offered peace terms which were turned down by the maroon leader, Diego de Campo. He was later captured, but talked his way out of execution by offering to lead expeditions against his former colleagues in the woods. After desperate, unsuccessful efforts to curb the power of the runaways, the Spaniards initiated peace negotiations with the cimarrones in Panama in 1579, which resulted in two separate treaties and the establish- ment of two free black communities close to Nombre de Dios. 6 These communities soon became useful to the Spaniards in their fight with the British, the maroons' earlier allies. The disappointment of the British was acute when, in 1596, they returned to Panama to find the cimarrones now part of the Spanish security system in that country. Maroons in Jamaica also signed treaties with the British during the seventeenth century. And the Dutch, in 1684, made some form of peace settlement with some of their maroons in Suriname, but "nothing more was heard [of it]." 7 T HE WILLINGNESS OF POST-TREATY MA- roons throughout the region to collaborate with the colonial slave regimes after the signing of treaties was as pervasive as their earlier resistance to such regimes. Under the terms of the treaties, maroons were willing to return runaways and police the woods diligently in search of others." To explain this collaboration, some argue that movements of this kind did not provide acommon agenda, an organizational structure, or a unifying ideology. More- over, some claim, because African slaves in the Americas encompassed a multiplicity of ethnicities and languages, the notion of pan-African solidarity was alien to their way of thinking. (In Jamaica this divisiveness was presumably countered to some extent by the fact that most of the maroon leadership was in the hands of the Akan-speaking group.) In making treaties with the maroons in Jamaica, the British government initially had the limited objective of eliminating the disruptive influence maroon activities had on the plantation economy. As an auxiliary military force against internal and external enemies, the maroons would help to stabilize the economy. Moreover, pacification would create a division between the maroons and the other blacks under slavery. This was the case with respect to peace treaties with Lubolo in the seventeenth century, Juan de Serras later in the same century, and with Cudjoe and Quao in the eighteenth. As soon as these treaties were signed, the relative power of the parties shifted dramatically. The British position progressed from embarrassing helplessness (1655- 1739) to condescending, albeit urbane protectiveness (1740s to late 1770s) to cavalier disregard for the con- cerns of maroon affairs, and eventually culminated in arrogant control (by the 1790s). In the final analysis, the maroon story is a study of colonial power. A parallel emerges between governance of the post-treaty maroons and the indirect rule practiced by Britain in colonial Africa.' To the British, indirect rule was indigenous local self-government conducted prima- rily by local chiefs in situ, where "the function of the British administrator is rather to guide by influence and advice than to rule by direct command."' 0 For the African principalities, even when the system could be defended on grounds of efficiency, it was still an alien intrusion con- ducted primarily with a view to catering to alien interests. Indeed this efficiency often served to inculcate a feeling of helplessness among the "natives," leading them to negate their own cultural values and spawning a cadre of "mimic men" with an excess of reverence for the ruler. IN JAMAICA, THE BRITISH OFFICER JOHN James, the forceful, vain, and courageous generalis- simo of maroon affairs, was part of this intrusive alien rule. After he was appointed superintendent of the maroon community of Trelawny Town in 1767, James' very dynamism nearly spelled doom for maroon hegemony. Maroon officials under his rule soon lapsed into a state of lethargy. By the end of his tenure, the Trelawnys seemed to have lost their fierce independent spirit, reliance on their own initiative and pride in their cultural heritage. The colonial-dependency syndrome had begun. The colonial state appointed James major-comman- dant of all the maroons in 1779, for his good conduct "in keeping under proper subjection"-in the words of Gov- ernor Dalling-the maroons of Trelawny Town. Playing the part of a latter-day seigneur, James boasted that, under his care, the maroons had "behaved and demeaned them- REPORT ON THE AMERICAS 36selves well...[and] rendered very great services and ben- efits to many of the planters and other settlers in the island."''I Historically, indirect rule was the result of conquest. The special relationship that the maroons of Jamaica had with the colonial power came about precisely because they were never conquered militarily. The system ushered in by the eighteenth-century treaties brought about de facto direct rule by the overarching power of the colonial apparatus-by the presence of the white residents in their midst, by the maroons' obligations to wait on the governor when so commanded, and even more importantly, by the governor's authority to appoint their leaders after the demise of those named in the documents. With the power of administering the death sentence wrested from him, what real power or social control could a post-treaty maroon leader wield, given the nature of his society, nurtured in warfare and cruel courage? And how effective could he be when his people could now appeal over his head to white resident officials of the local government? In addition to the power whittled away from the maroons under the treaties, the Jamaican government passed laws that placed constraints on maroons' eco- nomic earnings, their mobility, theirability to intermingle with slaves and their traditional juridical functions. The decline in the power of maroon leaders bore an inverse relationship to the increased powers of the white superin- tendents. By the 1790s, not only could the superintendents usurp the position of the chiefs by presiding at their courts, they now directed search parties, supervised road ser- vices, and made sure the maroons complied with the limits set on expenditures. They kept strict surveillance over the movements of maroons by issuing passes to those who wished to leave the towns. But perhaps most suffocating to the maroons was the requirement that obliged superin- tendents to report regularly on the maroon communities, noting their demographic profile, the number of arms- bearing men, the number of slaves and slave owners in their midst, the number living outside their commun- ities-the sum total of which could be considered official espionage on maroon affairs. T HE 1795 TRELAWNY TOWN WAR WAS THE denouement of a process that began with the signing of treaties nearly 60 years before. That a major uprising did not occur earlier was largely the result of a conflation of circumstances, one of which was the patronage system in which influential men acted as arbiters in disputes. Under the new, weaker, more arrogant administration of the governor, the Earl of Balcarres, and the superintendent, Thomas Craskell, the maroons felt that their perceived special relationship with government had been betrayed. This war also revealed the lack of black solidarity and the weakness of the maroons. In earlier pre-treaty wars, slave deserters swelled the ranks of the maroons, and fortified them with much-needed supplies, gave them strategic information and acted as guides to recently The Spaniards trained bloodhounds and organized hunting parties called rancheadores to capture runaway slaves. departed plantations for the purpose of plunder. By con- trast, relatively few slaves deserted the government par- ties in the Trelawny Town War, and most of those who did established their own maroon communities. In fact, so unpopular were the Trelawny maroons that some slaves manhandled other slaves for having participated on the side of the maroons. Moreover, no other maroon commu- nityjoined the Trelawny maroons in the war. Theirclosest neighbors, Accompong Town, aligned themselves with the authorities against them. Some maroon communities have survived to this day in Jamaica-due to a remarkably stubborn resilience. When in the 1840s the government tried to encompass them into the wider political system of the island, the maroons stoutly refused. The maroons have their own reality carved out of their history. It is the abstract notion of this history exemplified by their treaties and lands, sacrosanct and inalienable to them, that has fed their resilience. By any standard, the maroon story is a heroic one. A handful of bedraggled fugitives, whose numbers planto- cratic fear had always inflated, fought courageously for freedom against some of Britain's best-trained soldiers, and succeeded. Yet, especially after the cessation of hostilities, the maroon story is also paradoxical, complex and puzzling. The maroons kept slaves themselves. And after the peace settlements, maroons became a major stumbling block to others who wished to wrest freedom from the slavocracy. Indeed, in the words of Eugene D. Genovese, the maroon communities had a "restorationist or isolationist, rather than a revolutionary content."12 Maroons of the Caribbean 1. The word "maroon" has come to denote fugitive slaves from plantations in the New World, although the Iberians had their own designations. The etymology is uncertain, but the consensus is that it derives from the Spanish cimarron, which originally referred to domestic cattle that had escaped to live in the wild. See Richard Price (ed.), Maroon Societies (New York: Anchor Books, 1973), pp. I, 171, 172, and passim. Other views on its origin include that of Edward Long who felt that the word (which he rendered "Maron") is probably derived from the Spanish marrano, a young hog of one year, which was also used to describe the hunterofwildhogs, todistinguish themfromthebucaniers--hunters ofwild cattle and horses. See Edward Long, The History of Jamaica... (3 vols., London: Frank Cass, 1970), vol. 2, p. 338 n. (first published, 1774). 2. Price, Maroon Societies, p. 1; Eric Williams, From Columbus to Castro: The History of the Caribbean, 1492-1969 (New York and Evanston: Harper & Row, 1970), pp. 66-68. 3. Ibid., p. 67. 4. See The Municipal Council of Panama to the Spanish Crown, February 24, 1573. Document No. 21, in I.A. Wright, Documents Concerning English Voyages to the Spanish Main, 1659-1689 (London: Hakluyt Society, 1932). 5. Kenneth R. Andrews, The Spanish Caribbean: Trade and Plunder, 1530-1630 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1978), p. 40. 6. Documents 68-73, in Wright, Documents. 7. Sylvia W. DeGroot, From Isolation towards Integration: The Surinam Maroons and Their Colonial Rulers (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1977), p. 7. 8. The phenomenon of collaboration, which is not new to history, has, however, been given much scholarly attention since World War II. It has even generated a new pejorative word "quisling." But the collaboration of the Jamaican maroons would not fit well under the quisling model. Nor should it be seen as "servile" in Stanley Hoffman's term. It was also not an act of submission, defeat, or resignation. Rather, it was "an active policy ofcoopera- tion and compromise" as Steinhart found when dealing with collaboration in Western Uganda. For an excellent theoretical approach to collaboration, see Stanley Hoffman, "Self-Ensnared: Collaboration with Nazi Germany," in his collection of essays, Decline or Renewal? France Since the 1930s (New York: Viking Press, 1974), pp. 26-44; Edward I Steinhart, Conflict and Collabora- tion: The Kingdoms of Western Uganda, 1890-1907 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1977) See also John A. Petropoulos, "Forms of Collaboration with the Enemy during the First Greek War of Liberation," in Nikiforos P. Diamondouros et al. (eds.), Hellenism and the First Greek War of Liberation 1821-1830: Continuity and Change (Thessaloniki: Institute for Balkan Studies, 1976), pp. 1 3 1 - 4 3 . 9. This view was first proposed by George Cumper, although he did not develop it. See George Cumper, "The Maroons in the 18th Century: A Note on Indirect Rule in Jamaica," Caribbean Quarterly No. 8 (1962). It was later adopted by Kopytoff, "The Maroons of Jamaica," pp. 3 5 0 -57. 10. Charles Jeffries, The Colonial Empire and Its Civil Service (Cam- bridge: Cambridge University Press, 1938), p. 1 3 4 . 11. Journal oftheAssembly of Jamaica No. 8, Nov. 29, 1786. 12. Eugene D. Genovese, From Rebellion to Revolution: Afro-American Slave Revolt in the Making of the New World (New York: Vintage Books, 1981), p. xiv. This brilliant Marxist scholar found much of the maroon story maddening. "Relations," for instance, "between maroons and slaves after promulgation of such treaties became maddeningly ambiguous," pp. 52-53.

Tags: Caribbean, slavery, maroons, Jamaica, race

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