From the time of Columbus the gravest threat to European domination of the
Western Hemisphere came from outlaw communities of former slaves. These
maroon colonies, as they were called, were considered a knife poised at
the throat of the slave system. Some fearful Europeans saw them as a sword
pressed against the entire colonial system in the Americas.
As oulaw communities they operated
in remote, difficult-to-find and hard-to-defeat locations. Maroons considered
each day of survival a small miracle, and were thankful for each new dawn
as free men and women.
Some colonies were begun a single
African or Indian, and otheres were the result of several or many slaves
fleeing together. From their first day maroon colonies faced enormous
problems. They had to quickly find a safe location, plan a defense, feed
and clothe their people, and plan the life of a stable community.
were usually in short supply, and many maroon raids sought to bring back
African or Indian wives. Families meant that communities would last, remain
at peace, and that their soldiers would fight harder because their loved
ones and children were at risk.
Some maroons perched near large cities
and lived as bandits. They raided local plantations, merchants, and even
Indians and slaves. Their communities were unstable, often had few women
and no children, and usually disappeared into the violence they helped
create. Although some earned a reputation for daring raids on rich Europeans,
most were feared by people of every Race.
It not only inflicted
terrible damage, but terrified any invading army with the thought that
a sudden, painful death could occur at any moment. These pits were almost
impossible to detect.
Men and women, who once were starved and beaten by master, grew strong
and vigorous in these hidden communities. Maroon self-esteem seemed to
Men and women, who once were
starved and beaten by master, grew strong and vigorous in these hidden
communities. Maroon self-esteem seemed to grow with each month of liberty.
It also sprang from the knowledge that Europeans were often afraid to
march out and challenge their comunities’ defenses. “Their
self-respect grows because of the fear whites have of them.” Wrote
a Portuguese colonist to King Joao in 1719.
Maroon culture drew from the experiences of Africa’s nations, Native
Americans, and what each of these peoples learned about Europeans as slaves
or free men and women.
Africans, so far from home, made special efforts
to preserve their ancestral ways and pass them on to their children and
others who would listen. African patterns, prominent in farming and defense,
were also important in government, administration of justice, and religion.
Maroon music also reflected
the confidence settlements had in their military strength. A maroon song,
preserved for generations in Brazil, assured villagers their enemies were
Black man rejoice
White man won’t come here
And if he does,
The Devil will take him off.
Many maroon colonies adopted forms of Christianity, but allowed a
Many maroon colonies adopted forms of Christianity, but allowed a number
of competing religions to flourish. In some villages and families mystic
religions played a vital part in the way people faced the terrible threats
around them. Maroons were convinced that each day still alive was worthy
of a blessing to a powerful outside force.
To the surprise of Europeans,
many maroon colonies. Maroons settlements were an effort to re-create
a free society by people who had once lived free. Before 1700 most maroon
leaders were- like their followers- African-born. Some of these colonies
built dynasties on African models that lasted for generations and had
royal courts, cabinets, princes, and princesses.
By the beginning of the
eighteenth century maroon figures were cut from a different mold. They
were born in the Americas, often of Black Indian stock. Their skills were
in dealing with Europeans in battle and at the negotiating table. They
preferred to be known as governor or commander rather than king or queen.
Maroon leaders were first
and foremost military figures. For over four centuries in Latin America
European armed forces waged a war to the death against them.