It’s officially been 400 years in the United States; more than 500 years in South America since Europeans transported Africans by force to build their “New World” colonial empires.
In the years since abolition, many stories about the way our ancestors survived, resisted and ran away have been told. Very often, these memories are told from an American point of view even though less than 1 per cent of enslaved Africans were brought to this country.
All across the Western hemisphere, however, the story of Maroons is not highlighted. In some places like the United States, it is barely discussed at all.
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Maroons were a special class of “runaways.” For various reasons, they did not seek refuge in “sanctuary cities” as they would be known today — parts of the colonial empire that did not enforce slavery or allowed runaways to live as free people.
Instead, they left the cities and towns created by whites and chose to create settlements, big and small, in harsh climates where the whites were unlikely to pursue them. Swamps and bayous, mountains and forests became their new homes.
In America, they were first called outlyers, presumably because they were “lying out” in hidden places, away from white control. This refusal to be controlled also led to the name “maroon,” which comes from the Spanish word cimmarón, meaning “wild, untamable.”
The Spanish word may itself be an adaptation of a word for “fugitive” in the language of the Caribbean islands’ indigenous Arawaks.
The Maroons of Jamaica and Brazil are probably the best known because they actually fought wars against the British and Portuguese, respectively, held their former enslavers at bay, and created organized societies of their own.
However, Africans and their descendants practised marronage all over the Western hemisphere, including the Caribbean islands of Cuba, Haiti and Guadeloupe. Here’s a closer look at some of the countries where maroon communities lived: