" The Maroons”
The African freedom fighters


can be called the first Americans because they were the first people to strike a blow for freedom in this hemisphere.


African Freedom Fighters of the Americas – Part I

By: By Sister Farika

Wherever slavery existed in the Americas, Africans resisted. They ran away from slave plantations, fomented slave rebellions and found many ingenious ways to escape slave-masters. Some jumped ship and ran to join welcoming freedom fighters. Some freed themselves within 48 hours of arriving on the plantation. Africans did not accept slavery quietly.

The most daring and militant Africans were those who left the Euro centric world to build their own society. They can be found throughout the Americas.
Historic and heroic names of freedom fighters have come down to us from these maroon societies, and the numerous other struggles for liberation: from Jamaica, Nanny, the National Heroine, and Captains Cudjoe, Quaco, Accompong and Cuttee; from Guyana, Cuttee; from Brazile, King Ganga Zumba; from Colombia, King Bayano; from Venezuela, King Miguel; from Martinique, Fabule; from Montserrat the “March 17 Heroes”; from St. Croix, Buddoe (1848) and Queen Mary (1878); from Antigua, King Court, Tomboy and Hercules (1735), from Suriname, Captain Adoe (1749); and St. Vincent, Paramount Chief Joseph Chatoyer (1795). These were all freedom lovers and symbols of a history of struggle for self determination, self realization and fulfillment.

The African freedom fighters known as “the Maroons,” can be called the first Americans because they were the first people to strike a blow for freedom in this hemisphere. It was in Mexico in 1537, that the first Negro King of the Americas was proclaimed after installing their king and living free under him for many years. A confrontation developed at the start of the 17th century. A new African king called Yanga (Nanga or Naga) of royal African stock, who had for 30 years been a maroon leader, finally negotiated and pace treaty with the Mexican colonial government in 1609 and got official recognition for his free Negro settlement known as the town of San Lorenzo de los Negros. Yanga’s maroon movement is historic, for it is the only Mexican Negro community that successfully revolted, negotiated and secured their full freedom en masse and had it sanctioned and guaranteed in law.

Their Living Quarters

The second Negro King of the Americas was elected by the maroons of Darien in Panama in 1548. King Bayano negotiated the first major peace treaty between the established colonial government and the rebel forces, establishing a New world model of “a maroon state within a state.” Bayano was ably supported by Felipillo, another Negro leader in the Gulf of San Miguel, and it was not until 1581 that the descendants of the 1548 rebels agreed to be reintegrated to the central government, thus ending a 33-year resistance.
The Venezuelan Negroes in the Buria mines revolted in 1552, declared Miguel as their King, named his wife Gulomar their Queen with their baby son as Prince, and appointed their own Negro Bishop. King Miguel founded a capital surrounded by trenches and palisades, thus establishing the first Venezuelan CUMBE or maroon village; he organized an army and waged a psychological war on the whites. When he died, the Iirahara Indians took up the fight and held the Spaniards at bay for over sixty (60) years in the san Felipe (Buria) area.


The Colombian “palenque” continues to be famous even today and attracts ethnologists, folklorists and anthropologists for research; but its history goes back to the rebel African communities of Santa Marta and Cartagena. The First public rebel was Domingo Benkos Bioho who claimed to have been king of an African state prior to his capture and transfer to the New World. Along with his wife Queen Wiwa, he refused to accept enslavement. King Benkos established himself firmly in the Palenque of San Basilio with stockades and trenches, an army of trained spies and guerrilla warriors in 1619. His system of control was so rigid that even his daughter, Princess Orika was tried and sentenced to death for trying to free a Spanish prisoner, Captain Francisco de Campos, who had been sent to destroy the maroons.

A peace treaty between the maroons and the colonial government was signed in 1717 (nearly a century later ), acknowledging their local government. They have their own political leader, military captain and a mayor. The inspector of police is democratically elected. All white men except priests are excluded from the town.

The Maroons of Haiti were the force behind the Haitian revolution. It was the Maroons in the hills of Haiti who kept the freedom struggle going from the 1500’s and pioneered the Haitian revolution. The kick-off of events that led to the final consolidation of forces that freed Haiti was the night of fire, created by Boukman, a Maroon from Jamaica. Many peasant Haitians revere Boukman today and refer to Jamaica as Boukmanland.
In the USA, Blacks and Indians escaped in the 1600’s mostly from the Carolinas and Georgia, to Florida. They were called Seminoles after their escape. They maintained their freedom for a century until the U.S. Army defeated them. In 1830 most Seminoles went to Oklahoma. In 1840 some went to Mexico to maintain their sovereignty while others migrated to the Caribbean. Some returned to Texas in 1870.

In Brazil active resistance took three basic forms: armed insurrections; attempts to seize power; and fugitive slave settlements called QUILOMBOS or MOCAMBOS.  The most famous maroon settlement is the historic “Negro Republic” of Palmares in Pernambuco which lasted nearly a century (1605 1694). Their king, Ganga-Zumba (Great Lord), ruled in splendor and majesty with a formidable military machine that crippled the Portuguese for decades. He commanded a vast Kingdom with several sub-chief. Between 1645 and 1672 the frustrated Portuguese authorities gave up efforts to destroy his kingdom, but after 1672 they came back with renewed vigor and waged continuous war for over 20 years (1672-1694).

Zumbi was born free in Palmares, a maroon nation founded at the beginning of the 16th century. At its height, palmares had about 20,000 residents and controlled a large area in what is now Brazil.

As an infant, Zumbi was captured in a raid on Palmares and raised by a priest. At the age of 15, he returned to Palmares, and eventually became its leader.

In 1693, the Portuguese sent an army of over 6,000 mercenaries and Palmares was destroyed. Zumbi escaped, but was killed two years later. Parts of his body were put on display in Recife as a warning to those who would resist or flee from slavery.
For his bravery and ability, Zumbi is considered a national hero of Afro Brazilians, inspiring past and present struggles for liberation.

In Suriname the historic Bush Negros celebrated 300 years of freedom in 1984. The day the boat arrived in Suriname, some proud African fled straight to the hills and refused to submit to slavery. Others fled from plantations and joined them.

Of the countries that were the recipients of African slaves, Suriname is the only one where runaway slaves occupied and held independent territory for centuries. These runaways matched their will to live in freedom against the might of Dutch colonialism; and despite the odds against them, they waged successful guerrilla type campaigns which forced the Dutch colonial agents to their terms of peace which guaranteed them full freedom and independence.

Nineteen-eighty four marked 300 years since the first peace agreement was reached between the colonizers and the Maroons of the Coppename River.  Fighting continued in other parts of the colony for another hundred years during which other peace treaties were signed between the Dutch and the Maroons at different locations. The quest for peace with the Maroons of the

Saramaka River began in 1749’ it was partially obtained in 1762 and finally concluded in 1767. On October 10, 1760 another peace treaty was signed with the Maroons of Djuka Creek.

So Suriname can boast of having the hemisphere’s largest maroon population and the most highly developed independent societies and cultures in the history of Afro-Americans: the Djuka, Saramaka, Matawai, Aluku Paramaka and Kwinti tribes.

Maroons possess a rich body of musical repertoires and styles that are among the most African in the New World. Musical traditions such as the drum languages of Guianese and Jamaican Maroons, the abeng horn and language of Jamaican Maroons, and the Guianese Maroon agado or 3 stringed bow-lute have survived in few other parts of the Americas. This musical knowledge is not only valuable on its own terms, but its important to the reconstruction of Afro-American musical history more generally. Likewise, the distinctive creole languages spoken by present day Maroons have provided essential keys to the understanding of Afro American language history across the hemisphere.

This linguistic heritage can be further explored through recordings of Maroon verbal arts, such as folktales and other narrative forms, many of which can be related to similar verbal traditions in other parts of the Americas influenced by African cultures.

The Maroons of Accompong occupy a unique place in the history of the Marronage in the Americas. Their oral history states that they are the descendants of Africans brought to Jamaica during the 15th century as a military defense unit a s well as those brought to act as hunters, body guards, servants and field hands from the Native Arawak population and the runaways from slavery under the Birtish. Their ancestral leaders were Kojo, Accompong and their brothers Kofi, Kwashi, Kwaku and Njoni. The Queen Mother of the Maroons was Nannie who was their sister. They are known as the Western Maroons because of the area where their land is found. Most of their forefathers came from Ghana, Nigeria and Sierra Leone and Madagascar. The Ashant’s and Akan people were the leaders in their struggle.

The Accompong Maroons live in the cockpit, country to which Kojo retreated with his followers during the first Maroon war. The most fierce slave revolts in Jamaica were organized and fought by the Maroons.

They were known for their elusiveness and with the help of mountainous terrain, managed to separate themselves and live independently ninety-six years before the end of the slave trade system. One authority notes that “the Maroons developed a baffling method of warfare. Skilled in woodcraft and familiar with the untracked forests, they avoided open fights. Instead, disguised from head to foot with leaves and tree boughs, they preferred ambush. What’s more, it was almost impossible to surprise them in their settlements. Keen-eyed lookouts spotted approaching forces hours before the arrival, and spread the warning by means of an abeng (a cow’s horn bugle).

The town of Accompong was a supply town for the larger Nyankipong maroon town-Kojo’s town, founded by the ancestral leader of the west. Accompong was one of his brothers. Over the centuries, the British have shifted state borders in order to confuse the Africans about their historic past.

On January 6, 1738, the British sent a battalion against the Western Nynakipong Maroons under Captain Kojo. The plan was to surprise them and destroy their town. They hoped to use military might to end the “Maroon problem”, once and for all.
But it was the Birtish who were surprised” Having been warned of their coming by a spiritualist Nyankipong woman, Kojo sent his men to ambush the British. The were hidden along a narrow trail that the British had to take in single file. Kojo’s men went before and behind them.

The man who blew the abeng was hidden in a cave, where a rocking stone was set. As each soldier passed, the stone rocked. When the stone no longer rocked, the hornman knew that there were no more soldiers. He blew the Abeng and Kojo’s soldiers attacked the British.

The British were hemmed in and could not escape “the trees that sprang to life,” and killed them. Kojo spared the life of the leader of the troop, so he could report to the British government what had happened to their men. There was consternation. There were debates. The British were forced to come to the conclusion that they should offer peace terms to Kojo and his people. Today, January 6th is the highlight of Accompong life.

Descended from Black slaves and local Arawak Indians, the Maroons are a dramatic example of a people of African culture displaced in the New world. Their struggle to retain indigenous elements in music, dance and religion have long made them a driving force behind the Caribbean influence in the United States. They count among their descendants top reggae stars, all but one of Jamaica’s Prime Ministers and Pan Africanist Marcus Garvey.

Yet for decades, the Maroons have survived in a state of limbo invisible to the outside world, viewed as traitors and country hicks by many in the larger Jamaican society. Only now is a new sense of rediscovery beginning to sweep the island and bring them out of the shadows.

Early January marks the Maroon’s 250th anniversary of the Western Maroons victory over British colonials and the historic peace treaty that recognized their state as one of the hemisphere’s first independent territories. While thousands congregate in small festivals across the United States, it is in Accompong – ringed by the formidable Cockpit Mountains – that the major celebration occurs.

In these lushly vegetated hills a full half-century before the American Revolution, desperate men found solace and banded together to blow the horn of freedom across the Americas. The Maroon territory was called the “Land of Look Behind” because the British soldiers would ride two on a horse, one facing forward, the other looking backward for ambushes. Masters of guerrilla warfare, the Maroon sharpshooters were said to never miss their mark.

But is hasn’t been easy to look forward in this land of look behind. The past has been so strong and overpowering that one keeps living in it. Ancestors are ever close by, scolding those who dare to try and forget them. Two hundred years is spoken of as if it were just yesterday.

Yet almost everything written and recorded on Maroons has been done outside their vision of themselves. Treaty boundaries have been changed, lands stolen, names switched around and events misinterpreted. Little by little, Britain whittled away the Maroon territory, taking away seaports and isolating their settlements, and then handing the mandate to Jamaica's governments to continue in its pattern. Jamaica's majority have viewed the Maroon's country cousins with a mixture of fear and neglect.

The Maroons have been left to balance uneasily between their Maroon identity and a Jamaican nationality. They had to learn to live skillfully in two worlds. Today two-thirds of the Maroon population have migrated to other areas of Jamaica or to U.S. cities like Miami, New York, Washington, D. C., Philadelphia and Los Angeles. Maroons form the backbone of Jamaica's security forces and are represented in the fields of education, law and politics.

Only 7,000 Maroons are left in the old towns and backwoods of the St. Elizabeth region in Jamaica's interior. Agriculture is the mainstay there but poor road conditions mean that farm products have difficulty reaching Jamaican markets. There are no high schools or vocational training centers in these towns. Since Maroons are indistinguishable from other Jamaicans once they leave their compounds, their voting clout goes unnoticed by the larger Jamaican society.

The greatest indignity, however, for this people so rooted in history is to have the names of their heroes who resisted the British – Kuffee, Kwaku and Kwashie - become synonymous for "fools, country bumpkins, and upstarts." Previously, many Maroons reacted to this derision from other Jamaicans by hiding their ancestry when they rose to positions of fame. Now new efforts are being made to reclaim their past in a way that brings dignity to them as people and offers inspiration for the future. By recounting their own history, Maroon historians hope to guide their community out of its present uncertainty. An assembly of "colonels," the honorary title of Maroon leaders, recently met to form a federation of the remaining Maroon states - Accompong, Moore Town, Scott's Hall and Charles Town - to bring the British and Jamaican governments to the negotiating table for innumerable treaty violations.

Today, "God's Children" are once again ready to face the future with the same daring and determination of their ancestors long ago.



This article originally ran in the December 06, 2004 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly.Posted: Thursday, July 17, 2008 1:18 pm

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Queen Nanny Of The Maroons –

The Mother Of A Nation
Published May 1, 2006



It is night in the . The year is 1734. There is no noise save the occasional hoot of an owl or the shriek of a bat enjoying its evening feast. A visitor might think the place uninhabited, but this is a warrior’s camp – Maroon soldiers and look outs are posted along every ridge, high up in the trees, behind every shadow. They are cloaked in darkness and covered in branches, hiding among the lush foliage.

A few hours before morning approaches, we hear the tramp-tramp-tramp of black British boots on Maroon soil – the British soldiers, in their bright red uniforms and big black boots, with their loud laughter and disregard for their environment, are a stark contrast to the Maroon soldiers. The British have come to capture what they feel is rightfully theirs – escaped or never captured Africans who they view as slaves, the rightful property of the British government.One Brit, a straggler, comes to rest in a clearing, puts his gun down and leans back against a tree to catch his breath. He looks up to the sky, enjoying the peace and quiet of the night and wondering when they will reach the elusive Nanny Town so they can finally burn it to the ground. Suddenly, the “tree” he was leaning against comes to life, and with a whispered word in a language he has never before heard, slits the soldier’s throat.

I was told this story, with slight variations, by Major Charles Aarons of the Mooretown Maroons in 1994. Maj. Aarons was, at the time, the democratically elected second-in-charge at the time, under Col. C.L.G. Harris. The two were put in place by a council of 24 women who were in turn picked by the modern Maroon people to run things in Mooretown, a town that is also called “New Nanny Town” because that is where the people moved to when Nanny Town was finally burned after about 50 years of warfare in 1734.

The most significant leader of the Windward, or Eastern, Maroons was, of course, the legendary Queen Nanny. Brilliant strategist, spiritual leader, sustainer of hope, diplomat, nurturer, Nanny is the kind of leader that inspirers legends and changes the world. In fact, I would argue that Nanny had at least two significant contributions that changed the direction of the modern world: first, she developed Guerrilla warfare and the tactics she used were later studied by military strategist in the Vietnam War and others. Second, because she and her people established the first independent black polity in the New World, she led the way for freedom struggles in Haiti, Brazil, the U.S., Guadelope, Surinam… - anywhere where there were enslaved Africans. Without the work of the Maroons under her leadership, I believe the world would be a different place.

Queen   Nanny Of The Maroons – The Mother Of A Nation-Main

Nanny, a wise and great leader who changed the history of the world, is indeed the mother of Jamaica. Her legend lives on in this great island nation – her image graces the 500 bill (the ‘Nanny Note’), she is referred to in song, poetry, verse and every day language, and she is one of seven National Heroes (the only female and the only Maroon to be so honored).

Some argue[1] that because of Nanny’s influence, the Maroons and people in the surrounding area of Mooretown are more egalitarian, and that women have greater rights than in the rest of Jamaica.Queen Nanny has alternatively been called “ubiquitous,” “formidable,” “the mother nurturer of a nation,” and it is said that, “her legendary spirit evokes pride among her people, and among all Jamaicans.”[2] Incredible legends are told of this warrior queen. It is said that she was able to catch bullets and fire them back at the British.

It is said that she possessed magic (also called obeah, Science, or myal) and had incredible psychological control over the British, who were deathly afraid of her and her powers. One story recounts the tale of the “Nanny Pot,” a huge cauldron of boiling liquid strategically placed on a mountain trail on the way to Nanny Town. When the British soldiers would look in the pot, they would suddenly look in and die. Each soldier coming up the single file path would meet with this same end, except for the last one, who Queen Nanny would save.

She would bade him look in the pot where all the soldiers had died, and send him back home to tell his general what he saw, this further instilling the magical power of the leader. In fact, some hypothesize that this cauldron was actually the convergence of two rivers, where the water appeared to boil. The rebel queen, who was a wise herbologist, would put herbs in the water that had a chloroform-like effect. As the soldiers approached, they would inhale the vapors, become drugged, and fall in to their deaths.

Another story recounts a time when the Maroons were at the brink of starvation and Queen Nanny was considering surrendering to the British. She heard a voice in her head tell her not yet, wait one more day. When she awoke the next morning, she found three pumpkin seeds in her apron pocket. The voice told her to plant them. She planted them on the side of a mountain now known as Pumpkin Hill, and in a very short time, the seeds grew to fruition with large pumpkins that saved the Maroons from starvation. This story is often cited when scholars refer to Nanny’s nurturing qualities, and her ability to care for her people like a mother earth deity.

I would argue that Queen Nanny is not only the “mother of a nation,” but also the Mother of Us All. As Edward Kamau Brathwaite so eloquently states,


Nanny both physically as priestess and metaphysically as queen-mother, not only contributed important inputs of personal leadership to her embattled group, but by miraculously keeping alive and adapting to the new conditions the survival rhythms of her past homeland, helped make it possible not only for her own group to survive with dignity and some respect from the other; but, by her victorious presence in and through the groups, helped to make it possible for African culture itself to survive in a hostile slave and materialist environment in such a way that that culture, instead of being eradicated, was able to survive and subterraneously contribute to what is emerging as the complex and unique “creole” culture of our time. [3]


The lessons that can be learned from her leadership affect all of us. Her wisdom, openness to incorporating elements from other cultures like the Arawak and other African nations, her strength, and her spirituality inspire all of us. I think if we could all see her as a model – of resistance, determination, and strength against all odds – the world would be a better place, and we would all be able to see what is not visible, what is on the other side of the visible world.



[1] Bilby, Kenneth and Filomina Chioma Steady. “Black Women and Survival: A Maroon Case.” Black Women Cross-Culturally, ed. F. Chioma Steady. Cambridge, MA: Schenkman, 1981.

[2] As quoted in Gottlieb, Karla. The Mother of Us All: A History of Queen Nanny of the Windward Jamaican Maroons. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 2000, p. 79.

[3] Brathwaite, Edward Kamau. Wars of Respect: Nanny and Sam Sharpe. Kingston, Jamaica: Agency for Public Information, National Heritage Week Committee, 1976, pp. 17-18.





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