The maroons were the most successful alternative to European colonial society’s organization. Born from resistance to slavery, these were essentially communities of Africans who escaped, individually or collectively, from their owners’ plantations and estates in search of freedom, following a tradition that had been established by the indigenous peoples. The word came from the Spanish word "cimarrón," which was first used to refer to livestock that escaped during the first attempts by
Two forms of slave resistance were identified in plantation society in the
Despite the terribly disadvantaged conditions in which the escaped slaves worked and lived, a surprisingly large number of the communities survived for a long period of time and usually in close proximity to the plantations. It appears that they survived due to the nature of their social organization and the physical location of the communities, among other reasons.
The maroon settlements mostly consisted of strong adults, as was described by Bryan Edwards, a Jamaican planter. He noted that the maroon’s daily way of life unquestionably strengthened their bodies. They were agile and strongly muscled.
Leadership appeared to be based on political and military abilities and one of the most formidable of the Jamaican maroon leaders was called Nanny. Men predominated in the maroon communities, just as they did throughout the institution of slavery, but as the communities stabilized, the imbalance between the genders adjusted on its own. The most successful leaders combined religious roles with their political positions, thus reinforcing their authority over their followers. In the 18th century, many leaders were rigid, authoritarian and sometimes cruel. New members of the community had to prove themselves. Deserters and spies were brutally assassinated.
Security was a constant concern in the maroon settlements. All of the successful settlements in the
Due to the unfavorable environmental conditions, only the strongest and most solid maroon communities survived. Hunger, malnutrition, dysentery and accidental poisonings from plants were the main factors that attacked and destroyed the communities. Additionally, in
The success of maroon communities required the cooperation of slaves and other benefactors. This ensured a supply of firearms, tools, utensils and, in some cases, food to establish communities in the forests. Not only the urban maroons, but also the majority of rural maroon communities, gradually developed a symbiotic relationship with the society from which they had escaped their status of servitude. Unfortunately, this symbiosis was lethal to the integrity, cultural distinction and vitality of the maroon existence. Once the maroons were successful in gaining legal or quasi-legal recognition, their structure, internal organization, methods of recruitment and political activities underwent serious changes. They accepted severely limited concessions of territory in the treaties they signed. While they obtained legal status, the price they paid was giving up internal controls and power. Some restrictions, such as not allowing newly escaped slaves to join the group, limited the size of the communities. Richard Price, referring to the treaties signed by Jamaican maroons in the introduction to Maroon Societies: rebel slave communities in the Americas, stated that these same treaties allowed them to buy, sell and own substantial numbers of slaves, hunt new fugitives for a bounty, and thereby earn the hatred of much of the slave population.
By accepting external legal control over basic aspects of their lives, the maroon communities did more harm than good. Gradually, they became virtually indistinguishable from the neighboring slave communities. In the end, the maroons were unable to overcome the limitations and internal contradictions of a state within a state.
Autor: Zahira Cruz
Published: May 02, 2012.