Latin American Studies Maroon Societies in Latin America
by
Charles Beatty Medina
  • LAST REVIEWED: 07 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 July 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0122

Introduction

Prior to the 19th-century abolition of slavery in the Americas, enslaved Africans were offered few avenues to achieving individual freedom in Latin America. Some methods, such as self-purchase, or individual manumission, were recognized in law. Others, such as marooning, or marronage, involved running off and repudiating the legal regime of enslavement. Invariably, runaways used many strategies to attain and maintain their freedom. Among these the creation of independent Maroon communities has received much scholarly attention for a number of reasons. One obvious reason is that black escapees succeeded in forming bands, or communities, in every slaveholding region of the Americas and they did so in spite of daunting obstacles. Another reason is that state authorities often involved themselves in conflicts and interactions with Maroons. In a number of instances authorities legitimized Maroons, deputizing them for regional defense and the capture of future escapees. Thus, Maroon activities produced a wealth of official letters, reports, and legal cases that forms the documentary basis for an extensive scholarship. Still, as a subfield of Latin American history and Africana studies, the study of Maroons (or Cimarrones) is relatively recent. Scholarship before c. 1940 tended to see rebels and Maroons as little more than a detriment to colonial development. Like other fields closely tied to the post-war struggle for civil rights, Maroon studies sprouted with the rise of New Social History. Early works focused on maroons’ courageous rejection of slave society and laid the groundwork for refuting the myth of African slave docility. Later, Maroon studies blossomed as scholars sought to understand the internal dynamics of Maroon societies, oftentimes linking these communities to African cultural origins. In addition, as scholarship on the African experience in Latin America emerged, runaway slave communities (quilombos, palenques, cumbes, mocambos) formed a standard topic within general studies. Most of the resources in this bibliography, however, explore marronage exclusively. This resource is divided by national boundaries because scholars have generally stuck to them as a framework for research. Importantly, scholarship has not always followed colonial boundaries or indicated the relative weight of individual territories under colonial rule. Most countries have been grouped in geographic clusters, such as Venezuela and Surinam: Others represent earlier administrative or political ties, such as Colombia and Panama and Mexico and Central America. Because of its size (in terms of African arrivals) and extensive scholarship on Maroons, Brazil stands alone. Subject-based sections have been created as well: Foundational Works and General Studies and special Themes. A constant question for the Afro-Latin-Americanist researcher is to what extent to incorporate the non-Spanish, non-Portuguese speaking colonies. In the case of Haiti, the answer has moved more and more toward inclusion. However, English, Dutch, and other colonies remain somewhat marginalized. Indeed, the vagaries of historiography are such that the African experience in British North America is largely (and artificially) decoupled from the English colonies of the Caribbean and Central America. Fortunately, in studies of marronage, such separations have not fully crystalized. In part, this is due to the cross-border movement of Maroons (think Haiti to Santo Domingo, North Carolina to Spanish Florida). And, in part it is because any general discussion of marronage appears incomplete without Jamaica and Surinam. Finally, the widely accepted perception among scholars of Maroon studies as a broadly comparative field is one of the key accomplishments of Price, in his introduction to Maroon Societies (Price 1996, cited under Foundational Works and General Studies). This framework has been further enhanced by the emergence of Atlantic history and the “circum-Caribbean” as frameworks for historical analysis.

Foundational Works and General Studies

In some fields a single foundational work opens the way for scholars in many areas—both intellectually and geographically. Such is the case with the seminal work Price 1996 first published in 1973. With twenty-one chapters of essays and primary sources, this volume remains a starting point for the study of Maroons in Latin America. Eight chapters, with essays published between 1952 and 1970, cover Spanish America and Brazil. Price’s introduction, along with the preface added in 1996, remain essential to the field. An earlier breakthrough monograph, written in Spanish and covering Spanish America and Brazil, is Guillot 1961. In the aftermath of these two very different types of volumes emerged a small flood of scholarship, most of it nationally based. As a consequence, a discernible typology of Maroon studies quickly came about during the 1970s and 1980s. One group of studies was grounded ethnographically, whereas another followed the principles of historical study. More often, these two were combined to produce many shades of ethnohistorical methodology. Finally, a tendency arose among some anthropology-based studies to focus on contemporary Maroon-descended communities, sometimes working backward to a group or community’s origin in the colonial period (see Friedemann and Patiño Rosselli 1983, cited under Colombia and Panama). A prime (and perhaps unduplicated) example is Price 1983 (cited under Venezuela and Surinam). It is worth noting, as well, that an important area of scholarship is dedicated principally to the contemporary anthropological study of communities descended from Maroon societies. Rodriguez 1979 presents a very good overview of early Maroon societies in Spanish America. Heuman 1986 is perhaps the next-most-important edited volume covering Latin America and the Caribbean after Price 1996. Lucena Salmoral 2005 is an essential collection of Spanish American slave laws, many of which pertain to runaway slaves, the punishments for escape, and the penalty for abetting or sheltering Maroons. McKnight and Garofalo 2009 combines primary sources (both a transcribed and a translated version) with innovative analysis in two chapters examining marronage in Ecuador and Colombia. Likewise, essays in Serna Herrera 2011 look at marronage within the broader context of blacks in Ibero-America. Thompson 2006 is a grand synthesis that, in some sections, demonstrates the difficulty of dealing with Maroons in all places and periods, yet it provides an excellent analysis of key topics.

  • Guillot, Carlos Federico. Negros rebeldes y negros cimarrones: Perfil afroamericano en la historia del Nuevo Mundo durante el siglo XVI. Buenos Aires, Argentina: Librería y Editorial “El Ateneo,” 1961.

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    The first monograph to provide a survey of marronage across Latin America. Outlines a broad variety of cases, including the Caribbean, Mexico, Panama, Ecuador, and Peru. Incisive and literary in tone. Extremely useful for understanding African resistance in the age of conquest.

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

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    A well-formed volume of essays covering all the Americas. Unique in containing essays on runaway slaves in Africa. This fine collection of dedicated essays treats the Caribbean, Africa, and mainland Latin America.

  • Lucena Salmoral, Manuel. Regulación de la esclavitud negra en las colonias de América Española, 1503–1886: Documentos para su estudio. Universidad de Alcalá de Henares monografías. Madrid: Universidad de Alcalá de Henares, 2005.

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    An essential resource for the study of slavery and laws created to curb marronage in Spanish America. Contains provisions and laws promulgated by the Crown and individual colonies. Particularly strong on laws against aiding runaway slaves and penalties, especially for the 16th century. Documentation remains useful and relevant through 1886. Excellent for graduate and scholarly research.

  • McKnight, Kathryn Joy, and Leo J. Garofalo, eds. Afro-Latino Voices: Narratives from the Early Modern Ibero-Atlantic World, 1550–1812. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 2009.

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    A well-thought-out bilingual collection of sources, with commentary, on the Afro-Latin-American experience. Chapters include excellent introductory essays. Two chapters examine marronage in colonial Colombia and Ecuador.

  • Price, Richard, ed. Maroon Societies: Rebel Slave Communities in the Americas. 3d ed. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996.

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    Originally published in 1973. This is the first major collection of Maroon essays from across the Americas and remains the single most referenced work on the subject. Some contributions may appear dated, yet most still form an excellent starting point for the study of Maroons in specific countries. Many have become foundational essays (see chapters by José L. Franco, Gabriel Debien, and R. K. Kent). Price’s preface and bibliography, added in 1996, provide an excellent update.

  • Rodriguez, Frederick. “Cimarrón Revolts and Pacification in New Spain, the Isthmus of Panama, and Colonial Colombia, 1503–1800.” PhD diss., Loyola University of Chicago, 1979.

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    Modest in its title, this dissertation studies marronage from its beginnings in Hispaniola and forefronts African and Native American relations and interactions in the early formation of Maroon societies. Explores the extent of anti-Maroon campaigns and how Spanish authorities used writs of concession to legitimize indomitable Maroon communities.

  • Serna Herrera, Juan Manuel de la, ed. Vicisitudes negro africanas en Iberoamérica: Experiencias de investigación. Colección historia de América Latina y el Caribe. Mexico City, Mexico: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 2011.

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    An excellent volume that contains two worthwhile essays on marronage. María Cristina Navarrete details Maroon power and violence in the Cartagena region (Palenque de Limón). Mónica Velasco Molina looks at forms of African resistance in Brazil, focusing on various types of activities, including the role of the capitães-do-mato (slave catchers) in the cycle of resistance.

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

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    Well-thought-out and thematically based survey of key areas of Maroons’ political, social, economic life, and survival. Covers all regions of the Americas, including the United States and Latin America. Draws on cases and gives thoughtful comparative analysis across four centuries.

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