Atlantic History Maroons and Marronage
by
Marjoleine Kars
  • LAST REVIEWED: 11 December 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 August 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0229

Introduction

The term “maroons” refers to people who escaped slavery to create independent groups and communities on the outskirts of slave societies. Scholars generally distinguish two kinds of marronage, though there is overlap between them. “Petit marronage,” or running away, refers to a strategy of resistance in which individuals or small groups, for a variety of reasons, escaped their plantations for a short period of days or weeks and then returned. “Grand marronage,” much less prevalent, and the topic here, refers to people who removed themselves from their plantations permanently. Grand marronage could be carried out by individuals or small groups, or it could be the result of plantation-wide breakouts, or even colony-wide rebellions. Although exact numbers do not exist, and in any event may have been smaller than previously thought, maroon societies were created throughout the Atlantic world. They were particularly prevalent in areas such as Brazil, Jamaica, and Suriname. Some communities existed for a few years; others persisted for centuries. In some countries, descendant of maroons still live in (semi) independent villages, though they are increasingly under siege. Wherever maroons existed, they shared certain characteristics, even as geography and historical dynamics created great variations. While maroons separated themselves from slave society, they did not live in isolation. Most had significant interactions with colonists and native peoples, as well as other maroons. Many maroons lived in a perpetual state of war. Colonizers generally wanted to wipe them out to prevent as yet enslaved people from joining them, and to put a stop to predatory attacks on plantations. In some areas, maroons and colonists eventually concluded treaties that recognized maroon autonomy in exchange for limited cooperation with colonial authorities in returning runaways slaves or putting down slave rebellions. Such cooperation has created controversy, both among descendants and scholars, as people debate how such actions should be assessed. In other cases, maroons and colonists were quite interdependent, trading extensively with each other. Relationships with native peoples, too, took a variety of forms, ranging from cooperation and intermarriage to hostility. In addition, maroons had to manage their relationships with each other. Thus, under challenging circumstances, maroons created political, economic, social, spiritual, and cultural institutions out of multiple traditions, with roots in Africa and in the Americas, and subject to new world contingencies. Maroons have been attractive research targets for scholars ranging from linguists and anthropologists to historians and archaeologists. In the process of illuminating maroons, researchers are gaining greater insight into the African diasporic experience more generally.

General Overviews and Anthologies

There is as yet not only one single panoramic view of marronage in the New World. Florentino and Amantino 2011 presents the most comprehensive summary in terms of chronology and geographical breadth. Thompson 2006 is an interpretive work that focuses on specific issues among some of the most famous maroon societies. In addition, there are several useful comparative anthologies that may be used as gateways to the various locations, time periods, and types of marronage in the past. The most influential has been Price 1996 (first published in 1973) which founded the field of maroon studies and has been reissued a number of times (with a new introduction in 1996), an indication of its importance to the field. It has appeared in a number of translations. Heuman 1986 and Hoogbergen 1995 provide exciting collections of essays that allow for cross-regional comparisons. Any student should start with these. Tardieu 2006 explains the Arawak origin of the term cimarron, from which marronage derives.

  • Florentino, Manolo, and Márcia Amantino. “Runaways and Quilombolas in the Americas.” In AD 1420–AD 1804. Vol. 3 of The Cambridge World History of Slavery. Edited by David Eltis and Stanley L. Engerman, 708–740. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

    DOI: 10.1017/CHOL9780521840682E-mail Citation »

    Succinct and comprehensive overview of both petit and grand marronage in the New World. Useful entry point for anyone new to the topic. Unfortunately provides only a limited bibliography.

  • Heuman, Gad, ed. Out of the House of Bondage: Runaways, Resistance and Marronage in Africa and the New World. London: Frank Cass, 1986.

    E-mail Citation »

    Appeared first as special issue of Slavery and Abolition. This collection of important articles by well-known scholars looks at runaways and maroons in Africa and the New World.

  • Hoogbergen, Wim, ed. Born out of Resistance: On Caribbean Cultural Creativity. Utrecht, The Netherlands: ISOR, 1995.

    E-mail Citation »

    Collection of papers from a conference held in the Netherlands in 1992. Covers the myriad ways in which enslaved people resisted bondage, including marronage in the greater Caribbean. In English, French, and Spanish.

  • Price, Richard, ed. Maroon Societies: Rebel Slave Communities in the Americas. 3d ed. With a new Preface. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1996.

    E-mail Citation »

    Hugely influential comparative collection of essays, still widely cited, covering the entire New World. A great place to start one’s investigation of marronage. Originally published in 1973.

  • Tardieu, Jean-Pierre. “Cimarrón-Maroon-Marron: An Epistemological Note.” Outre-Mers: Revue d‘Histoire 94.350–351 (2006): 237–247.

    DOI: 10.3406/outre.2006.4201E-mail Citation »

    Traces the term cimarrón, first applied to runaway slaves in Spanish America in the 16th century, to an Arawak word used to designate European plants and animals that ran wild. In French.

  • Thompson, Alvin O. Flight to Freedom: African Runaways and Maroons in the Americas. Kingston, Jamaica: University of the West Indies Press, 2006.

    E-mail Citation »

    Interpretive work based on secondary sources. Compares well-known communities to suggest similarities in how marronage originated and developed, in maroon politics, and in internal and external threats to maroon freedom. Provides an extensive bibliography.

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