Maroon (people)

Leonard Parkinson, a "captain of maroons", 1796 engraving.
Ndyuka man bringing the body of a child before a shaman. Suriname, 1955

Maroons are descendants of Africans in the Americas who formed settlements away from slavery. Some had escaped from slavery on plantations to form independent communities, but others had always been free, including those born in such settlements. Maroons often mixed with indigenous peoples of the Americas, creating creole cultures.[1]

Maroons surprised by dogs (1893) (Brussels) by Louis Samain.


The American Spanish word cimarrón is often given as the source of the English word maroon used to describe the runaway slave communities of Florida and of the Great Dismal Swamp on the border of Virginia and North Carolina, on colonial islands of the Caribbean, and other parts of the New World. Lyle Campbell says the Spanish word cimarrón means "wild, unruly" or "runaway slave".[2] The linguist Leo Spitzer, writing in the journal Language, says, "If there is a connection between Eng. maroon, Fr. marron, and Sp. cimarrón, Spain (or Spanish America) probably gave the word directly to England (or English America)."[3] The Cuban philologist José Juan Arrom has traced the origins of the word maroon further than the Spanish cimarrón, used first in Hispaniola to refer to feral cattle, then to enslaved Indians who escaped to the hills, and by the early 1530s to enslaved Africans who did the same. He proposes that the American Spanish word derives ultimately from the Arawakan root word simarabo, construed as "fugitive", in the Arawakan language spoken by the Taíno people native to the island.[4][5][6][7][8]


1810 aquatint of a maroon raid on the Dromilly estate, Jamaica.

In the New World, as early as 1512, enslaved Africans escaped from Spanish captors and either joined indigenous peoples or eked out a living on their own.[9] Sir Francis Drake enlisted several cimarrones during his raids on the Spanish.[10] As early as 1655, escaped Africans had formed their own communities in inland Jamaica, and by the 18th century, Nanny Town and other villages began to fight for independent recognition.[11]

When runaway Blacks and Amerindians banded together and subsisted independently they were called Maroons. On the Caribbean islands, they formed bands and on some islands, armed camps. Maroon communities faced great odds against their surviving attacks by hostile colonists,[12] obtaining food for subsistence living,[13] as well as reproducing and increasing their numbers. As the planters took over more land for crops, the Maroons began to lose ground on the small islands. Only on some of the larger islands were organized Maroon communities able to thrive by growing crops and hunting. Here they grew in number as more Blacks escaped from plantations and joined their bands. Seeking to separate themselves from Whites, the Maroons gained in power and amid increasing hostilities, they raided and pillaged plantations and harassed planters until the planters began to fear a massive revolt of the enslaved Blacks.[14]

The early Maroon communities were usually displaced. 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.[14] One of the most 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.[15]

In Cuba, there were maroon communities in the mountains, where African refugees who escaped the brutality of slavery and joined refugee Taínos.[16] Before roads were built into the mountains of Puerto Rico, heavy brush kept many escaped maroons hidden in the southwestern hills where many also intermarried with the natives. Escaped Blacks sought refuge away from the coastal plantations of Ponce.[17] Remnants of these communities remain to this day (2006) for example in Viñales, Cuba,[18] and Adjuntas, Puerto Rico.

Maroon communities emerged in many places in the Caribbean (St. Vincent and Dominica, for example), but none were seen as such a great threat to the British as the Jamaican Maroons.[19] A British governor signed a treaty in 1739 and 1740 promising them 2,500 acres (1,012 ha) in two locations, to bring an end to the warfare between the communities. In exchange they were to agree to capture other escaped Blacks. They were paid a bounty of two dollars for each African returned.[20]

Beginning in the late 17th century, Jamaican Maroons fought British colonists to a draw and eventually signed treaties in the mid-18th century that effectively freed them a century before the Slavery Abolition Act 1833, which came into effect in 1838. To this day, the Jamaican Maroons are to a significant extent autonomous and separate from Jamaican society. The physical isolation used to their advantage by their ancestors has today led to their communities remaining among the most inaccessible on the island. In their largest town, Accompong, in the parish of St. Elizabeth, the Leeward Maroons still possess a vibrant community of about 600. 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.[11][21]

In the plantation colony of Suriname, which England ceded to the Netherlands in the Treaty of Breda, escaped Blacks revolted and started to build their own villages from the end of the 17th century. As most of the plantations existed in the eastern part of the country, near the Commewijne River and Marowijne River, the Marronage (i.e., running away) took place along the river borders and sometimes across the borders of French Guiana. By 1740 the Maroons had formed clans and felt strong enough to challenge the Dutch colonists, forcing them to sign peace treaties. On October 10, 1760, the Ndyuka signed such a treaty forged by Adyáko Benti Basiton of Boston, a former enslaved African from Jamaica who had learned to read and write and knew about the Jamaican treaty. The treaty is still important, as it defines the territorial rights of the Maroons in the gold-rich inlands of Suriname.[22]


Maroon flag in Freetown, Sierra Leone
Maroon village, Suriname River, 1955

Enslaved people escaped frequently within the first generation of their arrival from Africa and often preserved their African languages and much of their culture and religion. African traditions included such things as the use of medicinal herbs together with special drums and dances when the herbs are administered to a sick person. Other African healing traditions and rites have survived through the centuries.

The jungles around the Caribbean Sea offered food, shelter, and isolation for the escaped enslaved people. Maroons sustained themselves by growing vegetables and hunting. Their survival depended upon military abilities and culture of these communities, using guerrilla tactics and heavily fortified dwellings involving traps and diversions. Some defined leaving the community as desertion and therefore punishable by death.[23] They also originally raided plantations. During these attacks, the maroons would burn crops, steal livestock and tools, kill slavemasters, and invite other enslaved people to join their communities. Individual groups of Maroons often allied themselves with the local indigenous tribes and occasionally assimilated into these populations. Maroons played an important role in the histories of Brazil, Suriname, Puerto Rico, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Cuba, and Jamaica.

There is much variety among Maroon cultural groups because of differences in history, geography, African nationality, and the culture of indigenous people throughout the Western Hemisphere.

Maroon settlements often possessed a clannish, outsider identity. They sometimes developed Creole languages by mixing European tongues with their original African languages. One such Maroon Creole language, in Suriname, is Saramaccan. At other times, the Maroons would adopt variations of local European language (Creolization) as a common tongue, for members of the community frequently spoke a variety of mother tongues.[23]

The Maroons created their own independent communities, which in some cases have survived for centuries, and until recently remained separate from mainstream society. In the 19th and 20th centuries, Maroon communities began to disappear as forests were razed, although some countries, such as Guyana and Suriname, still have large Maroon populations living in the forests. Recently, many of them moved to cities and towns as the process of urbanization accelerates.

Types of Maroons[]

A typical maroon community in the early stage usually consists of three types of people.[23]

Most of them were enslaved people who ran away right after they got off the ships. They refused to accept enslavement and often tried to find ways to go back to Africa.

The second group were enslaved people who had been working on plantations for a while. Those enslaved people were usually somewhat adjusted to the slave system but had been abused by the plantation owners - often with excessive brutality. Others ran away when they were being sold suddenly to a new owner.

The last group of maroons were usually skilled enslaved people with particularly strong ideals against the slave system.

Relationship with colonial governments[]

Maroonage was a constant threat to New World plantation societies.[24] Punishments for recaptured maroons were severe, like removing the Achilles tendon, amputating a leg, castration, and being roasted to death.[24]

Maroon communities had to be inaccessible and were located in inhospitable environments in order to be sustainable.[24] For example, maroon communities were established in remote swamps in the southern United States; in deep canyons with sinkholes but little water or fertile soil in Jamaica; and in deep jungles of the Guianas.[24]

Maroon communities turned the severity of their environments to their advantage to hide and defend their communities.[24] Disguised pathways, false trails, booby traps, underwater paths, quagmires and quicksand, and natural features were all used to conceal maroon villages.[24]

Maroon men utilized exemplary guerrilla warfare skills to fight their European enemies. Nanny, the famous Jamaican Maroon, developed guerrilla warfare tactics that are still used today by many militaries around the world.[24] European troops used strict and established strategies while maroon men attacked and retracted quickly, used ambush tactics, and fought when and where they wanted to.[24]

Even though colonial governments were in a perpetual state of hatred toward the maroon communities, individuals in the colonial system traded goods and services with maroons.[24] They also traded with white settlers and Native American communities.[24] Maroon communities played interest groups off of one another.[24] At the same time, maroon communities were also used as pawns when colonial powers clashed.[24]

Absolute secrecy and loyalty of members was crucial to the survival of maroon communities.[24] To ensure this loyalty, maroon communities used severe methods to protect against desertion and spies.[24] New members were brought to communities by way of detours so they couldn't find their way back and served probationary periods, often as enslaved people.[24] Crimes such as desertion and adultery were punishable by death.[24]

Geographical distribution[]


In Cuba, escaped enslaved people had joined refugee Taínos in the mountains to form maroon communities.[16] Remnants of these communities were present in 2006, for example in Viñales.[18]

In Dominica, Saint Lucia and St. Vincent communities developed on islands across the Caribbean, such as the Garifuna people.

In Haiti enslaved Africans who fled to remote mountainous areas were called marron (French) or mawon (Haitian Creole), meaning "escaped slave". They formed close-knit communities that practised small-scale agriculture and hunting.

Jamaican Maroons were escaped enslaved people who fled to the interior and joined the Taíno during the Spanish occupation of the island. The Second Maroon War erupted in 1795. The only Leeward Maroon settlement that retained formal autonomy on Jamaica after the Second Maroon War was Accompong, in Saint Elizabeth Parish, whose people had abided by their 1739 treaty with the British. A Windward Maroon community is also located at Charles Town, on Buff Bay River in Portland Parish. Another is at Moore Town (formerly Nanny Town), also in the parish of Portland. In 2005 the music of the Moore Town Maroons was declared by UNESCO as a 'Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.'[25] A fourth community is at Scott's Hall, also in the parish of Portland.[26] Accompong's autonomy was ratified by the government of Jamaica when the island gained independence in 1962.

The government has tried to encourage survival of the other Maroon settlements. Since 2008, the Jamaican government and Maroon communities have held the Annual International Maroon Conference at rotating communities around the island. Maroons from other Caribbean, Central and South America nations are invited.[26] In 2016 Accompong's colonel and a delegation traveled to the Kingdom of Ashanti in Ghana to renew ties with the Akan and Asante people of their ancestors.[27]

In Puerto Rico, Taíno families from neighboring Utuado moved into the southwestern mountain ranges, along with escaped African enslaved people who intermarried with them. DNA analysis of contemporary persons from this area shows maternal ancestry from the Mandinka, Wolof, and Fulani peoples through the mtDNA African haplotype associated with them, L1b, which is present here. This was carried by African enslaved people who escaped from plantations around Ponce and formed communities with the Arawak (Taíno and Kalinago) in the mountains.[28]

Central America[]

Bayano, a Mandinka man who had been enslaved and taken to Panama in 1552, led a rebellion that year against the Spanish in Panama. He and his followers escaped to found villages in the lowlands. Later these people, known as Cimarron, assisted Sir Francis Drake in fighting against the Spanish.

North America[]

From 1796 to 1800, Black Nova Scotians, who had been deported from Jamaica after the Second Maroon War, lived in Nova Scotia. In 1800, they were sent to Sierra Leone.

Until the mid-1760s, maroon colonies lined the shores of Lake Borgne, just downriver of New Orleans, Louisiana. These fugitive enslaved people controlled many of the canals and back-country passages from Lake Pontchartrain to the Gulf, including the Rigolets. These colonies were finally eradicated by militia from Spanish-controlled New Orleans led by Francisco Bouligny. Free people of color aided in the capture of these fugitives.[29][30]

A large settlement of the Great Dismal Swamp maroons lived in the marshlands of today's North Carolina and Virginia.

South America[]

One of the best-known quilombos (maroon settlements) in Brazil was Palmares (the Palm Nation) which was founded in the early 17th century.

Escaped enslaved people established independent communities along the remote Pacific coast, outside of the reach of the colonial administration. In Colombia the Caribbean coast still sees maroon communities like San Basilio de Palenque, where the creole Palenquero language is spoken.

In addition to escaped enslaved people, survivors from shipwrecks formed independent communities along rivers of the northern coast and mingled with indigenous communities in areas beyond the reach of the colonial administration. Separate communities can be distinguished form the cantones Cojimies y Tababuela, Esmeraldas Canton, Limones, Chiriquí.

Maroon men in Suriname, picture taken between 1910–1935

In French Guiana and Suriname (where Maroons account for about 15% of the population),[31] escaped enslaved people, or Bushinengues, fled to the interior and joined with indigenous peoples and created several independent tribes, among them the Saramaka, the Paramakans, the Ndyuka people (Aukan), the Kwintis, the Aluku), and the Matawai. By the 1980s the Bushinengues in Suriname had begun to fight for their land rights.[32] Between 1986 and 1991, the Surinamese Interior War was waged by the Jungle Commando, a guerrilla group fighting for the rights of the Maroon minority, against the military dictatorship of Dési Bouterse.[33] In 2005, following a ruling by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the Suriname government agreed to compensate survivors of the 1986 Moiwana village massacre, in which soldiers had slaughtered 39 unarmed Ndyuka people, mainly women and children.[31]

See also[]


  1. ^ Diouf, Sylviane A. (Sylviane Anna), (2016). Slavery's exiles : the story of the American Maroons. New York: NYU. pp. 81, 171–177, 215, 309. ISBN 9780814724491. OCLC 864551110.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
  2. ^ Lyle Campbell (2000). American Indian Languages: The Historical Linguistics of Native America. Oxford University Press. p. 400. ISBN 978-0-19-514050-7.
  3. ^ Leo Spitzer (1938). "Spanish cimarrón". 14 (2). Linguistic Society of America": 145. doi:10.2307/408879. JSTOR 408879. The Shorter Oxford Dictionary explains maroon 'fugitive negro slave' as from 'Fr. marron, said to be a corruption of Sp. cimarrón, wild, untamed'. But Eng.maroon is attested earlier (1666) than Fr. marron 'fugitive slave' (1701, in Furetiere). If there is a connection between Eng. maroon, Fr. marron, and Sp. cimarrón, Spain (or Spanish America) probably gave the word directly to England (or English America). Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  4. ^ José Juan Arrom (1983). "Cimarrón: apuntes sobre sus primeras documentaciones y su probable origen". Revista Española de Antropología Americana. Madrid: Universidad Complutense. XII: 10. Y si prestamos atención al testimonio de Oviedo cuando, después de haber vivido en la Española por muchos años, asevera que cimarrón «quiere decir, en la lengua desta isla, fugitivos», quedaría demostrado que nos hallamos, en efecto, ante un temprano préstamo de la lengua taina.» English: And if we pay attention to the testimony of Oviedo when, after having lived in Hispaniola for many years, he asserts that cimarrón "Means, in the language of this island, fugitives", it would be demonstrated that we are, in fact, before an early loan of the Taíno language.
  5. ^ José Juan Arrom; Manuel Antonio García Arévalo (1986). Cimarrón. Ediciones Fundación García-Arévalo. p. 30. En resumen, los informes que aquí aporto confirman que cimarrón es un indigenismo de origen antillano, que se usaba ya en el primer tercio de siglo xvi, y que ha venido a resultar otro de los numerosos antillanismos que la conquista extendió por todo el ámbito del continente e hizo refluir sobre la propia metrópoli. English: In short, the reports that I am contributing here confirm that cimarrón is an Indian word of Antillean origin, which was already used in the first third of the sixteenth century, and which has come to be another of the many antillanisms that the conquest extended throughout the breadth of the continent and made to reflect on the metropolis itself.
  6. ^ Richard Price (3 September 1996). Maroon Societies: Rebel Slave Communities in the Americas. JHU Press. pp. xi–xii. ISBN 978-0-8018-5496-5.
  7. ^ Wright, 106,
  8. ^ José Juan Arrom (1 January 2000). Estudios de lexicología antillana. Editorial de la Universidad de Puerto Rico. p. 128. ISBN 978-0-8477-0374-6.
  9. ^ "Sir Francis Drake Revived, in Voyages and Travels: Ancient and Modern, The Harvard Classics. 1909–14, para. 21.
  10. ^ "Sir Francis Drake Revived", in Voyages and Travels, para. 101.
  11. ^ a b Campbell, Mavis Christine (1988), The Maroons of Jamaica, 1655–1796: A History of Resistance, Collaboration & Betrayal, Granby, MA: Bergin & Garvey. ISBN 0-89789-148-1.
  12. ^ American Vistas. 1971. p. 23.
  13. ^ Don C. Ohadike (1 January 2002). Pan-African Culture of Resistance: A History of Liberation Struggles in Africa and the Diaspora. Global Publications, Binghamton University. p. 22. ISBN 978-1-58684-175-1.
  14. ^ a b Rogozinski, Jan (1999). A Brief History of the Caribbean (revised ed.). New York: Facts on File, Inc. pp. 155–68. ISBN 0-8160-3811-2.
  15. ^ "The History of Haiti and the Haitian Revolution". The City of Miami. Archived from the original on 2007-08-26. Retrieved 2007-08-16.
  16. ^ a b Aimes, Hubert H. S. (1967), A History of Slavery in Cuba, 1511 to 1868, New York: Octagon Books.
  17. ^ Franklin W. Knight, Review of Benjamin Nistal-Moret, Esclavos prófugos y cimarrones: Puerto Rico, 1770–1870, in The Hispanic American Historical Review, Vol. 66, No. 2 (May 1986), pp. 381–82.
  18. ^ a b "El Templo de los Cimarrónes" Guerrillero: Pinar del Río Archived 2008-05-08 at the Wayback Machine in Spanish
  19. ^ Edwards, Bryan (1801), Historical Survey of the Island of Saint Domingo, London: J. Stockdale.
  20. ^ Taylor, Alan (2001), American Colonies: The Settling of North America, New York: Penguin Books.
  21. ^ Edwards, Bryan (1796), "Observations on the disposition, character, manners, and habits of life, of the Maroons of the island of Jamaica; and a detail of the origin, progress, and termination of the late war between those people and the white inhabitants." in Edwards, Bryan (1801), Historical Survey of the Island of Saint Domingo, London: J. Stockdale, pp. 303–360.
  22. ^ Alex van Stipriaan, Surinaams contrast (1995); Hans Buddingh', Geschiedenis van Suriname (1995/1999); Alex van Stipriaan/Thomas Polimé, Kunst van overleven (KIT, 2009).
  23. ^ a b c Price, Richard (1973). Maroon Societies: Rebel Slave Communities in the Americas. Garden City, NY: Anchor Press. p. 25. ISBN 0385065086.
  24. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Price, Richard (1979). Maroon Societies: Rebel Slave Communities in the Americas. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 1–30. ISBN 0 8018 2247 5.
  25. ^ "Moore Town Maroons", Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park; accessed 12 July 2016
  26. ^ a b "6th Annual International Maroon Conference 2014", Ministry of Justice, Jamaica; accessed 12 July 2016
  27. ^ "Historical Meeting Between The Kingdom Of Ashanti And The Accompong Maroons In Jamaica", Modern Ghana, 2 May 2016
  28. ^ "African DNA Project mtDNA Haplogroup L1b". 8 May 2008. Archived from the original on 8 May 2008.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  29. ^ Din, Gilbert C. (1999). Spaniards, Planters, and enslaved people: The Spanish Regulation of Slavery in Louisiana, 1763–1803. Texas A&M University Press. ISBN 0890969043.
  30. ^ Hall, Gwendolyn Midlo (1995). Africans in Colonial Louisiana: The Development of Afro-Creole Culture in the Eighteenth Century. Louisiana State University Press. ISBN 0807119997.
  31. ^ a b Kuipers, Ank (30 November 2005). "Villagers return to site of 1986 Suriname massacre". Forest Peoples Programme. Reuters. Retrieved 14 June 2018.
  32. ^ Case of the Saramaka People v. Suriname, Judgment of November 28, 2007, Inter-American Court of Human Rights (La Corte Interamericana de Derechos Humanos), accessed 21 May 2009.
  33. ^ French, Howard W (14 April 1991). "To Suriname Refugees, Truce Means Betrayal". New York Times. Retrieved 14 June 2018.




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