Kumako: A Place of Convergence for Maroons and Amerindians in Suriname, SA

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The Dutch occupied Suriname in the mid 1600s after failed attempts by the French and English. In a span of 20 years Suriname had changed hands from the French to the Spanish and Portuguese, who were quickly driven away by indigenous peoples, and by 1634 to the English who sought to establish settlements in Suriname. However, each of these instances of attempted habitation was short lived and precipitated years of repetitive power struggles leading toward colonisation (Goslinga 1971, 1979).

Suriname soon developed a Maroon population, that is people of African descent who had escaped from enslavement, and an important destination was Kumako (Figure 1). It is possible that ad hoc transient groups defined as petit-maroonage (small-scale opportunistic flight from plantations) may have been the first to establish a Maroon presence at Kumako.


This initial population may have been followed later by a population surge catalysed by gran-maroanage (the flight of large groups of slaves from plantations), which was documented to have occurred by 1680. The Kumako settlement was pivotal to early Maroons because it provided immediate refuge for large communities of runaway slaves and the context for a uniquely New World cultural transformation to take place. The settlement became culturally defined in the early 1700s with numerous Maroon clans creating alliances.

Dutch planters had heard of Kumako's existence by 1713, but still did not know of its whereabouts. By the 1730s Kumako was reported to be a thriving village, boasting a supportive hinterland peopled by matrilinear groups living along forest tributaries of the Suriname River. Kumako was infiltrated and burned by the Dutch in the early 1740s. After the peace accord of the 1760s, the settlement was abandoned for the river-based communities we still see today.

Maroons and the indigenous peoples of Suriname must have co-existed in relative proximity, which raises the issue of how far they inter-married or learnt technology from each other. While we do not want to read the ethnography back into deep time, it is nonetheless informative to observe that little cohabitation and few mixed marriages occur today in areas where Maroon and indigenous villages border each other, as is the case in the Tapanahoni Valley region (Ndjuka Maroons and Wayana Amerindians) and the Lawa Valley (Boni Maroons and Wayana Amerindian).

The principal methods of study have so far been anthropological, most notably, archival and oral historical documentations, which are commonly used to identify unique attributes of contemporary and past Maroon culture (Fermin 1781; Price 1975, 1983, 1996; Price & Price 1980, 1988, 1991, 1992; Bilby 1996; Hart 2002). The existing bodies of historical documentation offer some context for a discussion about the causes and consequences of the social structure of African-diaspora peoples, but they do not address cultural exchanges between indigenous peoples and early Maroon communities. Even though archival and oral historical documentations are substantive in their accounts of cultural development, they provide limited evidence about population shifts, the identification of population groups and the diffusion of material culture. History gives us clues but it does not track movements in space and time, and it does not report the interactions that incoming groups may have had with indigenous people in a country upon arrival.

Maroon sites are often studied for their historical relevance to African diaspora discourses on resistance, rebellion and retention (Brana-Shute 1990; Agorsah 1993, 2001; Allen 1999; Price & Price 2003; Haviser & MacDonald 2006; Ngwenyama 2007; Ogundiran & Falola 2007). To assess the validity of possible historical and prehistoric occupation of a location, archaeometric analysis can provide complementary datasets to better understand and assess cultural transformation expressed in settlement patterns and lifeway choices (Stahl 1995). …