Maroon (people)

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Body of Ndyuka Maroon child brought before a shaman, Suriname, 1955

Maroons (from the Latin American Spanish word cimarrón: "feral animal, fugitive, runaway") were Africans who escaped from slavery in the Americas and formed independent settlements. The term can also be applied to their descendants.


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.[1] Sir Francis Drake enlisted several cimarrones during his raids on the Spanish.[2] 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.[3]

When runaway Blacks and Amerinindians 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 to survive from colonists, obtain food for subsistence living, and to reproduce and increase 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.[4]

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.[4] 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.[5]

In Cuba, there were maroon communities in the mountains, where African refugees who escaped the brutality of slavery and joined refugee Taínos.[6] 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.[7] Remnants of these communities remain to this day (2006) for example in Viñales, Cuba,[8] 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.[9] A British governor signed a treaty promising them 2,500 acres (1,012 ha) in two locations, because they presented a threat to the British. Also, some Maroons kept their freedom by agreeing to capture other escaped Blacks. On occasions, they were paid two dollars for each African returned.[10]

Beginning in the late 17th century, Jamaican Maroons fought British colonists to a draw and eventually signed treaties in the 18th century that effectively freed them over 50 years before the abolition of the slave trade in 1807. 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.[3][11]

In Suriname, which the Dutch took over in 1667, 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.[12]


Maroon village, Suriname River, 1955

Slaves 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 include 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 slaves. Maroons survived by growing vegetables and hunting. They also originally raided plantations. During these attacks, the maroons would burn crops, steal livestock and tools, kill slavemasters, and invite other slaves 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.[13]

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.

Geographical distribution[edit]


Maroon communities were formed among the Afro Asians who resisted slavery.[14] These communities of maroons still inhabit the South Asian countries.

Caribbean islands[edit]


In Cuba, there were maroon communities in the mountains, where escaped slaves had joined refugee Taínos.[6] Remnants of these communities remain to this day (2006), for example in Viñales.[8]

Dominica and St. Vincent[edit]

Similar Maroon communities emerged elsewhere in the Caribbean, such as Dominica and St. Vincent. See Garifuna.

Dominican Republic[edit]

See History of the Dominican Republic.


The French encountered many forms of slave resistance during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The African slaves that fled to remote mountainous areas were called marron (French) or mawon (Haitian Creole), meaning "escaped slave". The maroons formed close-knit communities which practiced small-scale agriculture and hunting, and were known for sneaking back to their plantations to free family members and friends. They also joined the Taíno settlements on a few occasions, who escaped the Spanish in the seventeenth century. Certain maroon factions became formidable enough that they made treaties with local colonial authorities, sometimes negotiating their own independence in exchange for helping to hunt down other escaped slaves.

Other slave resistance efforts against the French plantation system were more direct. The maroon leader Mackandal led a movement to poison the drinking water of the plantation owners in the 1750s. Another maroon named Boukman, declared war on the French plantation owners in 1791, sparking off the Haitian Revolution. A statue called the Le Negre Marron or the Neg Mawon is an iconic bust, which lies in the heart of Port-au-Prince.


Main article: Jamaican Maroons

Escaped slaves during the Spanish occupation of the island of Jamaica fled to the interior and joined the Taínos living there. Additional numbers fled during the confusion surrounding the 1655 British invasion. Runaway slaves continued to join them until the abolition of slavery. The main British complaint was that they occasionally raided plantations, and made expansion into the interior more difficult. These conflicts led to the First Maroon War in 1731 and the Second Maroon War in 1795. After which, approximately 600 maroons were deported to Nova Scotia, and later in 1800 removed to Sierra Leone. The only maroon settlement that remained after the Second Maroon War was Accompong, which had abided by its 1739 treaty with the British.

Puerto Rico[edit]

In Puerto Rico, Taíno families from neighboring Utuado were found living in the southwestern mountain ranges, along with the escaped Africans who intermarried with the Taíno. DNA evidence shows that many Blacks fled up the Camino Real into the mountains to escape the sugar plantations of Ponce. The Mandinka, Wolof, and Fulani mtDNA African haplotype, L1b, is present here.[15] Taíno haplogroups A and C can also be found in this area.

Central America[edit]

Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua[edit]

The Gulf of Honduras produced several types of maroon societies. Some of these were found in the interior of modern-day Honduras along the trade routes by which silver mined in the Pacific side of the isthmus was carried down to coastal towns such as Trujillo or Puerto Caballos to be shipped to Europe. The English bishop of Guatemala, Thomas Gage, reported active bands of maroons numbering in the hundreds along these routes in 1648.

A second group that could be classified as maroons were the Miskito Sambu, who formed from revolted slaves on a Portuguese ship around 1640 who wrecked the vessel on the coast of Honduras-Nicaragua and blended in with the indigenous people over the next half century. They eventually rose to leadership of the Mosquito Coast, and led extensive slave raids against Spanish-held territories in the first half of the 18th century.

A third group were the Garifuna, who were actually maroons on the island of Saint Vincent deported to the coast of Honduras in 1797. From their original landing place in Roatan Island, the Garifuna moved on to Trujillo, and then groups of them spread south into the Mosquito Kingdom and north into Belize.


A recently arrived slave, Bayano, led a rebellion in 1552 against the Spanish in Panama, and he and his followers escaped to found villages in the lowlands. Later these people, known as cimarrons, assisted Sir Francis Drake against the Spanish.

North America[edit]


See Gaspar Yanga, Afro-Latin, Afro-Mexican.

Nova Scotia[edit]

From 1796 to 1800, 550 maroons, who had been deported from Jamaica after the Second Maroon War, lived in Nova Scotia. In 1800, they were sent to Sierra Leone.

United States[edit]


The Black Seminoles who allied with Seminole Indians in Florida, were one of the largest and most successful Maroon communities in the United States.


Until the mid-1760s, Maroon colonies lined the shores of Lake Borgne, just downriver of New Orleans, Louisiana. These fugitive slaves 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.[16][17]

North Carolina and Virginia[edit]

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

South America[edit]


Main article: Quilombo

One of the best-known quilombos (maroon settlements) in Brazil was Palmares (the Palm Nation) which was founded in the early 17th century. At its height, it had a population of over 30,000 free people and was ruled by king Zumbi. Palmares maintained its independent existence for almost a hundred years until it was conquered by the Portuguese in 1694.


Escaped slaves 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 slaves, 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, Limones.

French Guiana and Suriname[edit]

Maroon men in Suriname, picture taken between 1910–1935

Escaped slaves, or Bushinengues in French Guiana and Suriname fled to the interior and joined with indigenous peoples and created several independent tribes, among them the Saramaka, the Paramaka, the Ndyuka (Aukan), the Kwinti, the Aluku (Boni), and the Matawai. By the 1980s the Bushinengues in Suriname had begun to fight for their land rights.[18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Sir Francis Drake Revived" in Voyages and Travels: Ancient and Modern. The Harvard Classics. 1909–14 paragraph 21.
  2. ^ "Sir Francis Drake Revived" in Voyages and Travels: Ancient and Modern. The Harvard Classics. 1909–14 paragraph 101.
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ 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. 
  5. ^ "The History of Haiti and the Haitian Revolution". The City of Miami. Retrieved 2007-08-16. 
  6. ^ a b Aimes, Hubert H. S. (1967), A History of Slavery in Cuba, 1511 to 1868, New York: Octagon Books.
  7. ^ The Hispanic American Historical Review, Vol. 66, No. 2 (May 1986), pp. 381–82.
  8. ^ a b "El Templo de los Cimarrónes" Guerrillero: Pinar del Río in Spanish
  9. ^ Edwards, Bryan (1801), Historical Survey of the Island of Saint Domingo, London: J. Stockdale.
  10. ^ Taylor, Alan (2001), American Colonies: The Settling of North America, New York: Penguin Books.
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ Alex van Stipriaan, Surinaams contrast (1995); Hans Buddingh', Geschiedenis van Suriname (1995/1999); Alex van Stipriaan/Thomas Polimé, Kunst van overleven (KIT, 2009).
  13. ^ Price, Richard (1973). Maroon Societies: Rebel Slave Communities in the Americas. Garden City, NY: Anchor Press. p. 25. ISBN 0385065086. 
  14. ^ Oka, R., & Kusimba, C. (2007). "Siddi as Mercenary or as African Success Story on the West Coast of India". In J. C. Hawley, India in Africa Africa in India: Indian Ocean Cosmopolitans (pp. 203–224). Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
  15. ^ African DNA Project mtDNA Haplogroup L1b African DNA Project, archived May 8, 2008 from the original
  16. ^ Din, Gilbert C. (1999). Spaniards, Planters, and Slaves: The Spanish Regulation of Slavery in Louisiana, 1763-1803. Texas A&M University Press. ISBN 0890969043. 
  17. ^ Hall, Gwendolyn Midlo (1995). Africans in Colonial Louisiana: The Development of Afro-Creole Culture in the Eighteenth Century. Louisiana State University Press. ISBN 0807119997. 
  18. ^ 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.




  • Campbell, Mavis Christine (1988), The Maroons of Jamaica, 1655–1796: a history of resistance, collaboration & betrayal, Granby, Mass.: Bergin & Garvey. ISBN 0-89789-148-1
  • Corzo, Gabino La Rosa (2003), Runaway Slave Settlements in Cuba: Resistance and Repression (translated by Mary Todd), Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 0-8078-2803-3
  • Dallas, R. C. The History of the Maroons, from Their Origin to the Establishment of Their Chief Tribe at Sierra Leone. 2 vols. London: Longman. 1803.
  • De Granada, Germán (1970), Cimarronismo, palenques y Hablas “Criollas” en Hispanoamérica Instituto Caro y Cuero, Santa Fe de Bogotá, Colombia, OCLC 37821053 (in Spanish)
  • Diouf, Sylviane A. (2014), Slavery's Exiles: The Story of the American Maroons, New York: NYU Press, ISBN 978-0814724378
  • Honychurch, Lennox (1995), The Dominica Story, London: Macmillan. ISBN 0-333-62776-8 (Includes extensive chapters on the Maroons of Dominica)
  • Hoogbergen, Wim S. M. Brill (1997), The Boni Maroon Wars in Suriname, Academic Publishers. ISBN 90-04-09303-6
  • Learning, Hugo Prosper (1995), Hidden Americans: Maroons of Virginia and the Carolinas Garland Publishing, New York, ISBN 0-8153-1543-0
  • Price, Richard (ed.) (1973), Maroon Societies: rebel slave communities in the Americas, Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Books. ISBN 0-385-06508-6
  • Thompson, Alvin O. (2006), Flight to Freedom: African runaways and maroons in the Americas University of West Indies Press, Kingston, Jamaica, ISBN 976-640-180-2
  • van Velzen, H.U.E. Thoden and van Wetering, Wilhelmina (2004), In the Shadow of the Oracle: Religion as Politics in a Suriname Maroon Society, Long Grove, Illinois: Waveland Press. ISBN 1-57766-323-3

Further reading[edit]

  • Johnson, Brian D. "The Land of Look Behind", Equinox Magazine, September–October 1983, pp. 49–65. A detailed article with many superb photos.

External links[edit]