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Suriname Maroons. A History of Intrusions into their Territories



Maroonage has been an important aspect of the history of slavery in Suriname. Maroons liberated themselves and conquered a more or less autonomous place beyond the borders of colonial society. At the same time, they remained dependent on that society for their subsistence. This made them enter the colonial money economy, although they stayed in relative isolation. When it turned out that their territories held enormously rich natural resources, a process of intrusion was started by colonial society to appropriate these riches. This has not stopped in postcolonial times. As a result, Maroons have found themselves constantly split between wanting to eam money to buy goods and prosperity, while in doing so, contributing to the destruction of the lifestyle they created during and after slavery.
Slavery, Resistance and Abolitions
A Pluralist Perspective
A Contribution to
the International Decade for People of African Descent
United Nalions
du€tional Scientifc and
Culiural Organlzation
Foreword vii
ToyIN FALoLA, Africa and Slavery in a Global Context I
ALAIN ANSELIN, Work, Power and Society in Pharaonic Eglpt 45
ABDI M. KUSow, Slavery and the Slave Trade Within and Across
the Red Sea Region: A Preliminary Conceptual Framework 59
ABUBAKAR BABAJo SANI, Slavery Ecology and Commerce: A Study of
Slave Estates and Trans-Saharan Trade in Katsina Emirate c. 1804-1903 81
ABDTJLAZIz y. LoDHI, Slavery and the Slave Trade in EastAfrica 91
JESUS GUANCHg, The Trans-American and Caribbean Slave Trade:
A Broad Field to Explore 109
eUINCE DUNCAN, From Freedom to Survival to Dreaming Freedom:
The Saga of Afro-Descendants in Latin America and the Caribbean 123
oRUNo D. LARA, IIN Speech: The Haitian Revolution and the
Rights Secured by the Descendants of the Victims of the Slave Trade,
Slavery and the Colonial System in the Caribbean-Americas 159
DouDou DIENE, Cultural Resistance to Slavery: The Creation of Maroon
Culture 189
MICHELE A. JOHNSON, In Slavery and Freedom: Domestic Service
in the Caribbean 797
ALEX VAN STIPRIAAN, Suriname Maroons: A History of Intrusions
into their Territories 215
MARiA ELISA vELLzeuEZ, Africans andAfro-Descendants in Mexico
and Central America: Overview and Challenges for Studies of their Past
and Present 225
RINA cACERES, 'The African Diaspora in Frontier Lands': The Case
of Spanish Central America during the Colonial Period 251
ANA FREGA, Afro-Descendants and the Founding Story of
the Nation: Monuments and Commemorative Dates 265
Mauritius: Between History and Memory 299
SHIHAN DE SILVA JAYASURIYA, African Roots of South Asians 311
NELLY SCHMIDT, Abolishing Slavery: A History and a Process As Yet
Incomplete 325
PAUL E. LOVEJoY, African Contributions to Science, Technology
and Development 351
MILTON GURAN, The Memory of Slavery and the Representation of
Self in the Construction of the Social Identity of the Agudds in Benin 385
JoEL QUIRK, Combating 'Modern Slavery' in Rhetoric and Practice 405
RICHARD BENJAMIN, The International Slavery Museum:
A Gateway to Memory Identity and Action 425
HILARY McDONALD BECKLES, Issues in the Movement for
Reparatory Justice for the Crimes of African Chattel Enslavement 439
REx NETTLEFoRD, UN Speech: The Transatlantic Slave Trade
and Slavery: The Psychic Inheritance 447
Suriname Maroons
AHistory of Intrusions into their Territories
Alex van Stipriaan
Alex van Stipriaan Luiscius is Professor of Caribbean History at the Erasmus
University of Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Since the 1980s he has been work-
ing particularly on slavery and its aftermath in Suriname, as well as on herit-
age in the Dutch Caribbean islands. He has also published on diverse aspects
ofAfro-cultures, Caribbean art, Maroons, the search for African roots, and on
traces and legacies of slavery in the Netherlands. He has also curated museum
exhibitions on, among other topics, slavery Maroons and race relations.
Maroonage has been an important aspect of the history of slavery in Suri-
name. Maroons liberated themselves and conquered a more or less au-
tonomous place beyond the borders of colonial society. At the same time,
they remained dependent on that society for their subsistence. This made
them enter the colonial money economy, although they stayed in relative iso-
lation. When it turned out that their territories held enormously rich natural
resources, a process of intrusion was started by colonial society to appropriate
these riches. This has not stopped in postcolonial times. As a result, Maroons
have found themselves constantly split between wanting to eam money to
buy goods and prosperity, while in doing so, contributing to the destruction of
the lifestyle they created during and after slavery.
From the very first moment thatAfricans were forcibly brought to the Americas,
they made successful attempts to escape slavery and start a new life far from colo-
nial centres. This process did not stop until the last days before the abolition of
slavery. In Suriname, the process began with the first English plantations that
were built there from 1650 and continued, increasingly, after the takeover by the
Dutch n 1667 until the Emancipation on 1 July 1863.
Essentially, there were two tlpes of maroonage: so-called petit marronage
(small-scale maroonage) and grand mqrronqge (large-scale maroonage). The first
refers to the individuals and small groups who absconded from the yoke of slav-
ery without the direct intention of settling deep into the interior of the colony. This
was often a temporary action, sometimes even a form of strike (van Stipriaan 1995),
which often ended in a forced or voluntary retum to the plantation or the slave mas-
ter. It could be an impulsive, desperation action, but also a well-thought-out plan.
Sometimes the refugees stayed away for only a few days; in other cases they stayed
at the edges of the colonised area for years. Despite the fact that the flight was tem-
porary,the petit marronage made clear that the power of the enslaver was limited
and that it would never succeed in enslaving the Africans completely. The colonial
authorities and the slave owners considered the petit marronqge as a kind of busi-
ness risk. Admittedly, it was difficult and it cost money, but up until the nineteenth
century, it was hardly considered a threat. That changed when it gradually became
clear that petit marronage was undermining the system from the inside out and had
become an effective strike weapon of what in the meantime was actually becom-
ing an enslaved (proto-) peasantry (see van Stipriaan 1995).
Grand marronage was the process whereby groLlps of refugees gathered in the
unexplored, non-colonised forests of the interior of the colony to set up inde-
pendent communities and to attack the colony from there. These actions focused
on the liberation of - sometimes literally brothers and sisters who still lived in
slavery, and also on obtaining people and means to maintain the group, varying
from tools, seeds and weapons to women.
It is truly remarkable that the Maroons undertook so many actions against the
colonisers, because these actions always provoked a military response and resulted
in long-term pursuit campaigns aimed at their extermination. The Maroons thus led
a fairly hunted existence. In addition, they had to survive in an environment that
was initially unknown to them, against which they had to protect themselves, al-
though they were sometimes helped by the original inhabitants of the territory the
Indigenous, or Native Surinamese. This double threat to Maroons obviously stim-
ulated strong forms of social organisation, kinship and religious systems, which de-
veloped from a very early stage.
Colonial society experienced grand marronqge as very threatening. It was a
daily challenge to the slave system on which the entire colonial existence was
based, and the costs in money and human lives were huge. Moreover, for the en-
slaved the mere existence of Maroon villages formed living proof that there was
an alternative to slavery however slight this might be. Because of the locations of
the Maroons in swampy or densely wooded areas, and also because of the wooden
palisades - protective walls and pitfalls behind which they were entrenched - it
was difficult for the colonial arrnies to pursue and fight the Maroons. And this was
complicated even more by their inability to deal with the guerrilla tactics used by
the Maroons.
Initially, it was predominantly men who fled slavery. Women had less opporhr-
nity to escape because ofthe care they had to provide for the children and usually
also for the elderly. Men often did not always live with them and were more mo-
bile. Therefore, there was always z great shortage of women among the Maroons,
especially during their formation period. Obviously, for the survival of the group,
women were of vital importance, which is why obtaining women was often part
of the raids Maroons undertook on the slave plantations. Often, women did not
want to join the Maroons and only went with them involuntarily. Maroon exisl
tence was hard and difficult and their future very uncertain. It often happened that
women with their children eventually returned to the plantations they had come
from. Emotionally, this must have been extremely difficult; because of their chil-
dren and relatives, they exchanged the relative freedom of Maroon life for the
non-freedom ofslavery (van Stipriaan 1992). Price (2003) points out that the
chronic female shortage regularly led to mutual conflicts, too. Also, raids for
women were sometimes undertaken among the Indigenous people, which led to
tensions in the free territories of the interior. Indigenous people were of great sig-
nificance for the Maroons virtually everywhere. They were the original inhabitants
of their settlements and knew them very well. The Maroons could learn from
them, and they could trade with them and maintain other forms of exchange. At
the same time, the Indigenous people were sometimes competitors or even ene-
mies, because they served as guides for the colonial armies. This combination of
cooperation and suspicion led to an often ambiguous relationship between Ma-
roons and Indigenous people.
This ambiguity can also be found in the mutual relationships between and
within the Maroon communities (Price 2003). Disagreement about women was
often the breeding ground for this; adultery with someone else's wife was one of
the most serious offences. With respect to newcomers - who could be traitors a
great suspicion also often applied. Long waiting times and even forms of impris-
onment often preceded admission to the Maroon community.
Between 1650 and 1750,many smaller groups eventually formed a few larger
Maroon peoples. The most important ones were and still are, the N'dyuka or
Okanisi in the southeast and a later split off the Paramaka or Paamaka in the east;
the Boni or Aluku also in the east (now mainly in French Guiana) and the Sara-
maka or Saamaka and Matawai and Kwinti in Central Suriname. At one point the
Maroons had become such a major threat to the slave colony that the colonial au-
thorities thought it was more sensible to make peace with most of them in ex-
change for peace and the delivery of new refugees. The Maroons were thus
definitively recognised in their freedom, had the promise that they would no
longer be attacked in their territories and received a sort of tribute payment in the
form of an annual cargo supply. Of course, delivery of new Maroons as well as
the tribute payments often led to conflicts. However, when finally, the Aluku,
with whom no peace treaty had been settled, retreated to neighbouring French
218 ALEx vAN srrpRrAAN
Guiana around 1780, the Maroon wars were over. Incidentally, these peace agree-
ments were not unique to Suriname. other slave colonies sooner or later made
peace with Maroon groups as well, such as Btazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Cuba, His-
paniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic), Mexico and Jamaica (price 2003,
609). The phenomenon was taken over and replicated as a useful means of deal-
ing with Maroons and vice versa. For example, the Surinamese peace treaties of
1760 (N'dyuka) and 1762 (saamaka and Matawai) were based on those of Ja-
maica from 1739 and 1740, and both parties concemed used this method. In the
prelude to the Surinamese peace treaties, it turned out that a Maroon negotiator
named Boston even appeared to have possession of the text of the Jamaican peace
agreements (Dragtenstein 2002).
In many slave colonies, after the peace treaties the Maroon communities disap-
peared and gradually merged into the colony. None ofthe Maroon communities re-
mained entirely independent of colonial economies. Trade (exchange) took place
everywhere, legally or illegally, since the Maroons could not produce some prod-
ucts themselves, such as gunpowder, rifles, iron tools and other necessities. This
also applied to the Surinamese Maroons; however, they belong to the few who
maintained contact with the colonial society, but at the same time managed to con-
tinue to live their autonomous existence outside colonial territory. That au-
tonomous space, however, turned out to become increasingly threatened when it
became clear how rich their ter.ritory actually was.
From the peace treaties of the mid-eighteenth century and the withdrawal of the
Boni/Aluku in French Guiana a few decades later until the end of the nineteenth
century, this autonomous Maroon territory in Surinamese interior lands was largely
'terra incognita'for the colonial society in the norlhern coastal strip; there weren't
even maps of it. The only interest that the colony in the region showed was in log-
ging, which was provided by the Maroons. For them this meant an important
source of income, with which they could purchase goods in the colony that they
themselves did not produce. Thus, despite their relative isolation, they were parl
of the colonial money economy at an early stage, long before the abolition of slav-
ery. At that time, their number was estimated to be around five thousand.l
An example is the Groot-Marseille sugar plantation along the cottica River. The
plantation bookkeeping shows that in the 1820s the N'dyuka traded alarge amount
of processed wood each year for an average of 2,200litres of dram, a rough type of
rum, plus an ayerage amount of 850 guilders. Together this amounted to approxi-
mately 1,150 guilders, as much as the annual salary ofthe director of this plantation.2
With the money eamed, consumer goods were purchased, such as weapons, pots
1 Cf, National Archives Netherlands, Minisky of Colonies, 4796.
2 Philadelphia, James Ford Be1l Library, arch. 81482.
and textiles. It must have been a strange situation when the acting Maroons came
to trade with the plantations where the working population still lived in slavery.
Even after the abolition of slavery in 1863, logging remained important and the Ma-
roons almost got a monopoly in this field. However, when the colonial authorities
starled to realise how dependent the colonial economy had become on the Maroons
in this respect and how much money they could earn with it themselves, they in:
tervened. 'The sooner the entire property disappears and is taken up among the or-
dinary residents of the colony, the better [...]' and '[...] those gentlemen have
already played the boss in our upper rivers for too long', stated some senior officials
in 1904 (quoted in Scholtens 1994, 58). As a result, logging was released for any-
one who wanted to do it, and by 1920 half of this activity was in the hands of pri-
vate companies. Increasingly larger concessions were issued by the authorities,
which was not in keeping with the autonomy of the Maroon habitats and thus often
led to major conflicts. Therefore, the colonial Maroon superuisor at that time said,
'The only means of preventing such instances of legal rurcerlainty seems to me to
gradually deprive the Bushnegroes of the right to cut wood wherever they want. In-
cidentally, it is also generally desirable to bring these Bushnegroes gradually more
directly under the authority of the [colonial] Board' (quoted in Scholtens 1994, l8l).
When, as a consequence of this new policy the Saamaka $anman (supreme Maroon
authority) Dyankuso was surnmoned to the city against his will in 7924,he sighed:
'We have come here to listen to the laws that the whites make for us, about us, with-
out us' (cited in Scholtens 1994, 83).
Increasing Intrusions
It was clear to the colonial goyemment that the interior part of the county had much
more potential than previously thought. Between I 855 and 1890, at least ten carto-
graphic and geological expeditions took place and another seven between 1 90 I and
1911. Many of the old Surinamese collections in European museums nowadays
consist of objects collected during all these expeditions. However, apart from this
exotic interest in Maroon culture, colonial entrepreneurs and authorities felt like the
Maroons were an obstacle to colonial progress. But at the same time, they could
not possibly do without their cooperation. Maroons were at home in the interior. It
had been their territory for a long time; to those from the colony it still was un-
known and almost 'foreign' jungle territory. Generally, Maroons did not greatly like
these strange, prying eyes. Although it generated revenue, many expeditions and
commercial enterprises were thwarted because their territorial rights were violated
and they knew that ultimately these activities would maybe not be in their best in-
terest. The observations of expedition leaders are telling in this respect. Although
they praise the capabilities of Maroons as jungle guides and boatmen, they mainly
220 ALEX vAN srrpRtAAN
porffay them as lazy andunreliable; the N'dyuka granman Alabi was, for example,
described as 'hateful of Europeans and a schemer, (Wentholt 2003, 151).
In some places Maroons managed to keep out the intruders for a long time. For
example, a colonial official reported that specific areas had been declared by the
N'd1uka as no-go areas for outsiders, 'on the pretext that their Gods forbade it,,
he stated. They refused to allow gold diggers and others access to the area, or,
elsewhere, they - 'as rightful owners of the lands'- demanded tax from the yields
of these outsiders (van Lier 7919,19; Scholtens 1994,91). Nevertheless, the colo-
nial government had already issued between 700,000 and 1,000,000 acres of land
- to gold concessions along the Upper Suriname, the Saramacca, the Marowi-
jne and the Lawa rivers, all areas inhabited by Maroons. The 5,000 to 10,000 peo-
ple working on the concessions in the forests were predominantly outsiders; still,
the gold sector and the balata (natural rubber) sector became the big money-mak-
ers for Maroons. with their knowledge of the interior of Suriname, they made
themselves indispensable as boatmen, guides, cargo carriers and unskilled labour-
ers. The peak of this new wealth was reached between 1900 and 1925. obviously,
colonial Surinamese and foreign gold, balata and timber companies made the real
money, but Maroons also managed to get their piece of the pie. when, for exam-
ple, the Balata company was shut down in 193 1 because of severe foreign com-
petition, about one-third of the more than 1,000 redundant workers were Maroon.
At that time about 20,000 Maroons lived in Suriname, almost without exception
in their traditional territories (Scholtens 1994, 89-94).
The most important sector for the Maroons was cargo shipping with their long
canoes. The highlight of that activity coincided, obviously, with that of the gold
and balata production between 1880 and 1930. These activities mainly took place
in East Suriname and neighbouring French Guiana, meaning that especially the
N'dyuka and the Paamaka were active in these sectors. yet, large groups of Saa-
maka, Matawai and Aluku participated too, sometimes causing mutual tension
(Scholtens 1994, B1). However, every Maroon involved in cargo shipping eamed
quite a bit of money, which made the intrusion of the money economy into Ma-
roon societies deeper and deeper. Estimates of the annu
ping runs range from 1,000 to 2,500, with at least two
involved in each trip. This means that many hundreds
and probably more, because many men had several women - benefited. from cargo.
on average, a bagasiman (cargo boatman) earned around four guilders per day,
though a substantial proportion of that went to the Maroon boat owner. An ind.en-
tured labourer on a plantation, however, received on average about sixty to eighty
cents a day, which the bagasiman considered a tip, at most. In the period lgg0-
1920, their average annual income was around 2,500 guilders, in those days a cap-
ital (Scholtens 1994,62; Thoden van Velzen 2003,25).
Maroons actually had a monopoly position in cargo shipping, a situation which the
colonial govemment looked on with dismay. They tried to gain control by introduc-
ing all kinds of new rules and pass systems. ln 1921, a large strike broke out among
tlre boatmen when gold andbalata production declined and freight rates dropped,
while at the same time the prices of goods in the stores increased. Moreover, most of
the bagasiman were illiterate and were often deceived by the weight of the freighf
shipped by their clients. Eventually the colonial Maroon supervisor broke the strike
by manipulating the political and religious affairs of the N'dyuka and humiliating
their granman. The sociocultural damage he caused was still felt four decades later
when an anthropologist was hit 'by the sharpness of the feelings about the strike, the
aversion felt for Maroon supervising official Van Lier and the tensions that still ex-
isted between some of the descendants' (Thoden van Velzen 2003, 48).
An even larger effect than the intrusions of the gold, balata and logging enter-
prises came from the rise of a new industry: bauxite mining and refining, which
began to boom from the 1 940s onward. In particular, the construction ofthe reser-
voir in Central Suriname for the benefit of that new industry had a lasting impact.
During the 1920s, when gold andbalata production were beginning to decline,
the American multinational Alcoa starled winning bauxite in Suriname, the raw
material for aluminium, and was later joined by the Dutch multinational com-
pany, Billiton. Soon bauxite became the largest production and export sector of the
country which was further stimulated by the Second World'War's enormous de-
mand for aluminium for military aircraft. production. Moengo became the baux-
ite company town of Suriname, in the middle of the Maroon area, but Maroons
were not allowed to settle there and only entered with a day pass.
As bauxite production increased, energy requirements also grew exponentially.
In 1958 alarge infrastructure project was starled in order to build a dam in the
Suriname River and thereby generate hydroelectric energy. The Maroons, how-
ever, were not consulted and many of them did not understand what was going on
until the very end. Quite a few even worked as labourers on the construction of
the dam. In just a few years, nearly 1,600 square kilometres were flooded and five
to six thousand Maroons had to leave their original habitat. The grounds of their
ancestors, the holy places of the spirits, the villages, their livelihood, everything
drowned. A large number of the expelled Maroons ended up in soulless transmi-
gration villages closer to the city, which today still offer a desolate sight. Others
settled south of the reservoir. The promised financial and material compensation
was very disappointing and not paid at all or only partially paid (see Landveld
2009). The facilities also lagged behind what had been promised, and prosperity
(including electricity) at the time never reached the Maroons further to the south.
Moreover, the situation widened the gap more than ever between Maroons in the
interior and the townspeople. Their complaints and protests were seen in the city
222 ALEr vAN srrpRrAAN
In Conclusion
Maroons are considered by most Surinamese to be the heroes of resistance against
slavery. They even managed to force the colonial authorities into peace, including
3 [https://www'cbvs'sr/images/content/gove morsl20T4lLeadingSectorsofSurinameDecem
ber201 4.pdfl (accessed 1 0-08-20 1 7)
tribute payment and recognition of their more or less autonomous residential areas.
Since then they have been able to build up their societies and culture in relative
peace. However, they remained dependent on the colonial economy for specific
utensils and consumer goods. After the abolition of slavery in 1863, when it be-
came increasingly clear how rich the area is that the Maroons lived in, a relent-
less process was initiated by the colonial society and its postcolonial successor td
invade and exploit that area. To this end, Maroons were indispensable as guides
and transporters, but otherwise they were mainly considered an obstacle in the
way. Traditional rights turned out to be worth nothing. Descendants of those with
whom they had previously lived in slavery but who had gone into maroonage, had
begun to look down on them after Emancipation and even support the intruders
of Maroon territory. Eventually they even became part of the postcolonial gov-
ernments from whom Maroons could expect as little as from the colonial gov-
ernments before. Traditional rights were not respected at all, mineral and other
resources were taken away from them, and their environment deteriorated quickly.
As a result, they have taken up arrns again, but this time juridically. Twice they
presented their case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, and twice, in
2005 ail,2007 , the court ruled in their favour. However, this so-called land rights
issue has still not been settled definitively. Meanwhile, Maroons increasingly
leave their original habitat, and half of them now live in and around the city of
Paramaribo, mostly in second-rate neigbourhoods.4 There is, however, one im-
portant difference than before: Maroons have gathered in two opposing Ma-
roon political parties, which are represented in parliament and are on and offpart
of government coalitions. They are now intruding into the territory of the intrud-
ers. It remains to be seen, however, whether this will lead to a stronger and more
respected position, or to their gradual incorporation in the Suriname nation state.
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Landveld, Erney R.A.O. , 2009. Alles is voor eeuwig weg; de transmigratie van Marcons
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4 Halfoftheestimatedll8.000MaroonsinSurinamenowliveinandaroundParamaribo;
between 2004 and,2072, their share in the urban population went up from 1 0 to I 6 per cent
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