KORMANTSE

THE AFRICAN DIASPORA

 



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ABOUT THE MAROON HERITAGE RESEARCH PROJECT

(MHRP)

THE ROOTS OF MHRP

Since 1989 archaeological investigation into the heritage of the Maroons, groups of people who escaped from slavery and formed independent communities and pioneered struggle against slavery in the New World, was initiated by the University of the West Indies. Established and directed by E. Kofi Agorsah, then the Moulton Barrett Lecturer in Archaeology at the University of the West Indies, the project has undertaken archaeological surveys, mapping and excavation of Maroon sites in Jamaica and Suriname. I nitially dubbed UWI Mona Archaeological Research Project (UMARP) the project expanded its focus and participation and changed its name to Maroon Heritage Research Project (MHRP). The main objective of the project has been to identify, through archaeological investigation, supported by ethnographic evidence, cultural responses of the Maroons to transformations in ecological, political, social and economic conditions occurring in the New World during colonial times. In addition to general data collection on site distribution in the Caribbean and the Americas, the project conducted investigations in Jamaica generally and specifically at the sites of: Nanny Town, Marshall's Hall, Old Accompong and Seaman's Valley and also located a host of others in the Blue Mountains of Jamaica. Additional ethnographic data on Maroon warfare, political and social systems, herbal medicine and other aspects of Maroon heritage have been collected at various stages of the project.

Vice Principal Joe Pereira receives donation documents from Edward Moulton Barrett, University of the West Indies

 

Formal cutting of tape by E. M Barrett, IWI, Jamaica

Receiving the keys to project vehicle and Laboratory

The MHRP project has been the first of its kind of research on the archaeology of Maroon heritage in the Caribbean and south America, and the support received from Universities, individuals, and many research institutions and individuals in the Caribbean and North America has been enormous, resulting in the accumulation of a large body and a wide range of data in the laboratories of the University of the West Indies, Jamaica and the Suriname National Museum in Paramaribo. Although many can boast of the collection of tons of ethnographic information on the history, oral traditions and culture of the Maroons in Americas, no archaeological investigation had ever been conducted until the launching of the MHRP in 1995. Some scholars even thought that there was nothing that we do not know about the Maroons. Findings assembled by the MHRP in Suriname and Jamaica clearly demonstrate that such claims were not only wrong but misleading.

Freedom - the core of Maroon Heritage

The MHRP addresses Freedom; it addresses the material evidence of its roots in the Americas; it challenges historiographic concepts that relegate the achievements of small-scale societies to a secondary place. The story of the Maroons, slaves who fled from bondage and fought a long war to maintain their freedom, goes back to the very earliest days of European settlement and slavery in the New World. Although small in size and in their operations, the Maroons were among the first Americans in the wake of 1492 to resist colonial domination, striving for independence. They forged new cultures and identities and developed solidarity out of diversity through processes, which only later took place on a much larger scale. Past Maroon societies ranged in size from small bands of a few people to powerful groups often referred to as bands, although some numbered up to a thousand or more. Marronage was a common phenomenon in all parts of the Western hemisphere where slavery was practiced. Wherever large expanses of inaccessible and uninhabited terrain permitted, as in the rough and rugged mountains of Jamaica, the Dominican Republic or Equatorial forest and marshlands of Suriname or Oklahoma and Texas in the USA, these communities proliferated.

In many ways the Maroon experience is represents broader processes of response against enslavement and oppression that shaped the heritage of the western hemisphere. Not only were Maroons at the forefront of resistance to slavery but also, they were among the first pioneers to explore and adapt to the more remote, unsettled spaces in both American continents and the Caribbean. For example Maroons were in the leadership that launched the Haitian Revolution, which gave birth to one of the first independent republics in the Americas in 1804. Although there is a large and growing body of scholarly writing about Maroons based solely on archival research and translations relatively few people today are aware that such communities ever existed as the societies that paved the way for open defiance of colonial power. For example, in British North American colonies, more than fifty Maroon settlements, including those of the Black Warriors of the Seminole, are known to have come into being between 1672 and 1864. Not only were Maroons at the forefront of resistance to slavery, they were also among the first pioneers to explore and adapt to the more remote, unsettled spaces in both American continents and the Caribbean. Their role as pioneer freedom fighters, therefore, appears to pass unnoticed by many historians, a tragedy characteristic of the treatment experienced by other small-scale societies. The Maroons withstood military assaults for years, and although they were most of the time outnumbered by colonial forces, which were also much better-armed, they fought until the colonial forces sued for peace.

Maroon heritage - a major historical thread    

Maroon Heritage as a major thread that weaves New World History together . The heritage of the Maroons goes back to the very earliest days of European settlement and slavery in the New World, but the story has never been told archaeologically. Historical documents mention that as early as 1502, the first known African slave escaped his captors and fled into the interior of the island of Hispaniola. Others joined later to form one of the earliest documented Maroon communities on an island named Samana, located off the coast of Hispaniola. Many more of such runaway communities, many of them escaping from the mines, ranches and plantations of the European colonizers, were to emerge throughout the New World. As this project brings in the archeological evidence the large volume of ethnographic data available will become more complete and meaningful to students, researchers, museums, and indeed the general public who will have the opportunity to experience the products of these small-scale heroic fighters in more realistic forms. Archaeological and ethnographic evidence of Maroon heritage in the Caribbean confirm that both accommodation and conflict characterized processes of cultural continuity and innovation among the Maroons.

THE MHRP IN SURINAME

Although earlier phases of the project in Jamaica confirmed the partnership of enslaved Africans and Amerindians in freedom-fighting, questions regarding socio-spatial relationships, and the formation and transformations of Maroon settlements and culture remain unanswered. The excavations at Maroon sites in Jamaica broke new grounds in Maroon heritage studies. However, little evidence of houses and house structures was uncovered from the Jamaican Maroon sites.. Questions about the internal physical plan and organization of Maroon settlements and their spatial behavior, mortuary practices and food ways remain undetermined. While the Maroon sites in Jamaica did not permit the acquisition of material to address these and other related issues, the sites in Suriname provide evidence for addressing and dealing with some of these unanswered questions, wholly or at least partially. Availability of an extensive ethnographic material on Maroons of Suriname has made this goal more attainable. In addition, Suriname provides comparative data on the formation and transformation of Maroon settlements and culture. E xtension of the MHRP to Suriname since 1995 enabled detailed surface study, survey, mapping and excavation results that have expanded our knowledge on Maroon experience. In addition to the major sites of Kumako in the Suriname River basin, and Tuido in the Salamanca River basin many sites including Timba, Sabana, have been examined. The environment of these sites consisted of abundance of wild life and deteriorating virgin forest much of which is being destroyed through timber concessions. Through archaeological survey and excavations including the location and distribution of sites, place names, features and artifacts much is now being known about the formation and transformation of Maroon culture. Place names, derived from local information, are being compiled with the help of the local people. The names provide information regarding geographical location, circumstances of the founding and even about the environmental conditions of the areas around the sites. Those with names of founders or rulers of the time provide yardsticks for chronological reconstruction. A discussion of some of the results obtained so far gives an indication of what is out there that could be lost to posterity if systematic studies are not conducted on the Maroon lands before they are prospected for modern development. Evidence from some of the sites provides indications of the interface of the Maroons with the indigenous groups during the colonial struggle to retain their freedom.

Linking Maroons and African Diaspora

The Atlantic era provided opportunities for forging links between continents, peoples, and their technologies. As part of the dramatic and complex cultural transformations of the era, Caribbean technology in particular reflected significant contributions of the world beyond Europe. While the assumption of inevitable replacement of African industry by European technology has long held sway, closer examination of Caribbean evidence for technological innovation, patterns of demand, organization of production, and imports, suggests an alternative narrative. The historical archeology of other sites of material interaction has made it possible to examine the variety of evidence for the African contributions to metallurgical industry on the island of Jamaica. What can we learn about the experiences of enslaved and free Africans from written records, oral traditions, and current practice? What can Jamaican historical archaeology and artifacts tell us about the context for the transfer of technology? What is the surviving memory of iron and what can it reveal about the creativity, skills, identity, and empowerment of African-Jamaican descendants?

QUESTIONS

How did the Maroons manipulate the environmental circumstances to adapt to them, eventually transforming it? What was the physical nature of their site(s) and how would patterning at both settlement and regional levels indicate adaptation and continuity of their root traditions (African, Amerindian, European, American), in Maroon cultural and settlement development? How would the observed patterns relate firstly to adaptation to particular ecological zones, interaction between Maroon settlements and, to the colonial plantation system? The goal is to identify evidence that would indicate cultural responses of Maroons to the transformations in ecological, political and economic conditions during the colonial era. Demonstrating that the Maroon experience was an essential part of the New World experience in the search for freedom constituted an even bigger challenge. The focus on socio-spatial behavior of resistance groups, goes beyond the common approach to the study of small-scale societies as victims of slavery in the Americas. What then was their role and cultural contributions to New World heritage. The Maroons withstood military assaults for years, and although they were most of the time outnumbered by the better-armed colonial forces, they fought until the latter sued for peace. What was the secret of their survival? It was hypothesized, in this project, that Maroon successes lay in the strength and pattern of social adaptation and transformation, as well as spatial adjustment of their settlements to changing conditions through time. As an important single constant strand in New World history, the Maroon evidence should provide temporal and cultural link between the experiences of the Maroons and those of other New World societies. Understanding the growth and development of Maroon settlements, their size, location, spatial relationships, distribution of artifacts and structural features and obtaining adequate temporal relationships between these, should go a long way to enhance the quality of our interpretations of Maroon heritage and their role in new World history and culture as well. As this project unveils scientific archeological evidence, the large volume of ethnographic and historical data available (Price 1983, 1996, Robinson 1987, Bilby 1984, 1992, van Velzen and van Wetering 1988, Hoogbergen 1991), will become more complete and meaningful

1989 Video on Archeological Excavation at the UWI