KORMANTSE

THE AFRICAN DIASPORA

 



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RESEARCH PROJECTS

MAROON HERITAGE RESEARCH PROJECT (MHRP)
(THE CARIBBEAN AND THE AMERICAS)
 

MHRP

The Maroon Heritage Research Project (MHRP) launched since 1989 aims at conducting archaeological study of sites of Maroons (groups of people who escaped from slavery and formed independent communities and pioneered struggles against slavery in the New World) in the Caribbean and South America. It involves field mapping, excavation and analysis of cultural material and publication of the research data. 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.  

Maroon Archaeology in Jamaica
 
The early part of the project was conducted in Jamaica. The archaeological project, the first of its kind on Maroon heritage, received support from Universities, individuals, and other research institutions in the Caribbean and North America, resulting in the accumulation of a large body and a wide range of data now housed in the archaeology laboratories of the University of the West Indies (UWI) on the Mona campus. The outcome has been the survey, mapping and excavation of four Maroon sites in Jamaica: Nanny Town, Marshall's Hall, Old Accompong and Seaman's Valley and the collection of ethnographic data on Maroon warfare, political and social network, traditional medicine and related aspects of Maroon heritage in Jamaica. Although the study confirmed the partnership of enslaved Africans and Amerindians in freedom-fighting, questions regarding socio-spatial relationships, and Maroon responses to the formation and transformations in their settlements and cultural behavior, remained unanswered.
 
Maroon Archaeology in Suriname

Since 1996, the project has sought answers to questions regarding these issues by examining selected Maroon sites including the already surveyed sites of Kumako, Tuido as well as Bakakum, and Sentea, all in the Saramakan Maroon areas of Suriname with histories spanning the earliest, middle and latest periods of Maroon existence in Suriname. Cultural data on settlement patterns and spatial behavior, mortuary practices, artifact patterns and structural regularities, soil chemical analysis and dating will be used to determine the formation and transformation processes in land use and other cultural patterns. The main objective has been to identify, through archaeological evidence, supported by ethnographic data, the nature and mechanism of cultural responses or functional adaptation of the Maroons to transformations in ecological, social and economic conditions occurring during colonial times in Suriname.
 
Unanswered Questions from Previous Research

The excavations at Maroon sites in Jamaica have broken new grounds in Maroon heritage studies. However, little evidence of houses and house structures was uncovered. 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 appear, from preliminary reconnaissance, to have the potential for evidence for addressing and dealing with some of these unanswered questions, wholly or at least partially. The availability of an extensive ethnographic material on Maroons of Suriname should make this goal more attainable. In addition, Suriname will provide comparative data on settlement development using evidence from the sites of Kumako, Tuido, Bakakum and Sentea, which span the earliest, middle and later periods respectively, of Maroon history in the area. Evidence of physical and locational changes in house features should indicate adaptation to the settlement space available to them and also adjustments in their social relationships over time. This will constitute the main test of the hypothesis of the study as indicated earlier. The proposed new phase will also have the additional opportunity of dealing with Maroon society with evidence of longer sequence of habitation in the same area, more clearly and better ethnographically defined and researched.
          Publication of the results of the project, using the Suriname and Jamaican examples, will help explain more effectively the nature and mechanism of the functional adaptation of the Maroons. Attempting to explain the role of the Maroon experience in the New World, as well as a single constant strand in New World heritage will be a major challenge. Existing large volumes of documentary and ethnographic data on Maroons make no reference or attempt to collect archaeological evidence and fail to research the processes of the formation and transformation of Maroon past Maroon heritage and the relationship between the societies and their past settlement as well as their spatial behavior that may have constituted the root of their achievements as freedom fighters and fill in the gaps in our knowledge of Maroon culture. Several challenges face this project as it is the first of its kind. For example, archaeologically demonstrating that the current leadership of the New World in freedom-fighting is re-enactment of efforts that have characterized its heritage for centuries, will be another major challenge. Determining social relationships and ethnicity, using spatial regularities and artifact patterns heightens the challenge. However, the results should redress many aspects of the imbalance in contemporary scholarship about the period of slavery and the pioneer freedom fighters.
          A major goal of this proposed project is to identify, through archaeological evidence, supported by abundant available ethnographic data, the nature of cultural responses of the Maroons to the formation and transformations in ecological, political, social and economic conditions occurring during colonial times. Secondly, the project is expected to result in a book publication, which will present detailed descriptive analysis and interpretation of the archaeological evidence.
          This project addresses freedom and it addresses the material evidence of its roots in the Caribbean and challenges historiographic concepts that relegate the achievements of small-scale freedom-fighting societies to a secondary place in human history using archaeological evidence for the first time. The question that prompted the Maroon Heritage Research Project (MHRP) several years ago was: what was the nature and mechanism of the functional adaptation of the Maroons to ecological, political, social and economic changes throughout their entire period of freedom-fighting? Secondly, in what ways would one consider the Maroon experience as emblematic of broader processes that shaped the heritage of the western hemisphere? Within these general questions several related ones have arisen and while it has been possible to address them in previous excavations in Jamaica some of them and even new and additional ones remain to be addressed in this proposed project in Suriname, South America.    


CONTACTS

Suriname : Dr. E. Kofi Agorsah, (Project Director), Maroon Heritage Research Project (MHRP), c/o Drs Laddy van Putten and Hanna van Putten, Stichting Surinaams Museum, Fort Zeelandia, Abraham Crijnssenweg 1, Paramaribo, Suriname, S. America OR Commerwijnestraat 18, Zog en Hoop, P. O. Box 2306, Paramaribo, Suriname,, S. America Tel: (597) 425871/Fax (597) 425881 E-Mail: agorsahe@pdx.edu. Or kofiagorsah@yahoo.com

Jamaica : Department of History, University of the West Indies, Mona, Kingston 7, Jamaica, West Indies. E-Mail: kofiagorsah@yahoo.com  

USA : Dr. E. Kofi Agorsah (Project Director) (MHRP), P. O. Box 8205, University Station, Portland, Oregon 97207. Tel: 503-725-5080 Fax: 503-725-4003 E-Mail: agorsahe@pdx.edu. or kofiagorsah@yahoo.com .