Academic journal article Journal of Third World Studies

Maroon Resistance and Settlement on Danish St. Croix

Academic journal article Journal of Third World Studies

Maroon Resistance and Settlement on Danish St. Croix

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

There is an overwhelming body of literature on how Africans resisted the imposition and institution of slavery in the Americas. (1) This literature has examined and documented African slave resistance in the Americas within two different but inter-connected categories. On the one hand, the enslaved Africans used overt or open and observable forms of resistance such as the destroying plantation property, killing their owners and engaging in outright revolts and rebellions. While thousands of overt forms of resistance occurred in the Americas, not all led to freedom for the enslaved. (2) Many slave conspiracies and rebellions were uncovered and suppressed by the more powerful plantation management. Some slave revolts, however, were successful. The most well-known are, of course, the slave revolts on Haiti (1804) and on St. Croix (1848).

On the other hand, the enslaved Africans used covert or concealed acts of resistance that included injuring plantation animals, going-slow or working inefficiently, damaging machinery, faking illness, burning canefields, and running away. These were milder but equally effective forms of resistance that stemmed essentially from the innate desire to settle personal injuries or to defy rule in order to achieve total freedom. The main difference between overt and covert resistance was that the former confronted and challenged the plantation system openly, which risked physical injuries and even death while the latter taxed the plantation system through passive actions, which were less recognizable and therefore more difficult to suppress. However, the planters got around these challenges by enforcing more physical punishment and by using the effective tactic of divide and rule. The planters granted more freedom and rewards to trusted slaves to watch over the other enslaved Africans. Nonetheless, these methods and techniques did not prevent resistance to the plantation system.

Of the different forms of resistance, running away or marronage was the most extreme in that it revealed a rather interesting perception of the enslaved. The word 'maroon' was first applied to cattle that had escaped or gone wild (cimarron) during Spanish colonization in the Caribbean. The word was later applied to Indians who had escaped the Spanish encomienda system. By the middle of the sixteenth century, maroon meant an African slave escaped from a plantation. The Danish Moravian missionary Oldendorph claimed that maroon meant ape because the escaped African slaves were living like apes in bushes. (3) The records of marronage, however, show that the enslaved persons' motives went beyond just resisting and fighting for freedom. They were attempting to establish an autonomous free society as an alternative to European imperialism and colonialism in the Americas. The maroons did not seek to take over white society. They wanted a separate community. This desire among the enslaved was a permanent feature of the plantation system that lasted as long as the institution of slavery itself.

Alvin Thompson notes that maroon communities and heritage existed in slave societies from the North, Central and South America to the Greater and Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean. (4) Wherever and whenever slavery existed, there was maroon resistance. There were actually two forms of marronage: petit and grand. Petit marronage was a temporary desertion of slaves from plantation life while grand marronage was a permanent escape from the plantations. (5) Recently, La Rosa Corzo added another category of marronnage in Cuba, caudrillas de cimarrones, armed bands of runaways with no permanent base. (6) The grand independent maroon communities were called different names in different regions in the Americas: Palenques in the Spanish Colonies, Quilombos or Mocambos in Brazil, Maroons in British Colonies, and Maronberg in the Danish Colonies. In French Guiana and in Suriname the maroons were called Bush Negroes. …

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