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Maroon Areas Of The New World

MHRP Jamaica

MHRP In Jamaica

MHRP In Suriname
Volta Basin Archaeological Project (VBARP)
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MHRP Pictures From Suriname

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Curriculum Vitae (CV)



The establishment of plantations in Suriname by the English Governor of Barbados in the mid-17 th century set off the enslavement of the indigenous Surinamese some of whom resisted slavery by running away. L ater, followed the formation of communities of runaways, better known in Suriname as “Bush Negroes”, after the Dutch took over Suriname in 1667 and continued the plantation system. They had found substitutes for the indigenous people by importing and enslaving Africans, who also escaped from the plantations into the inaccessible regions, forcing peace treaties in the 1760's that won freedom for them. Much research has been conducted on their military encounters with colonial forces, and also about their ethnographic present from historical records, oral traditions and translations of Dutch archival records, yet we do not know about the material culture of their formative stages. A rchaeological research on the evolution of Maroon heritage in Suriname was never an issue in Caribbean Studies until the Maroon Heritage Research Project (MHRP) was launched ten years ago in Suriname with two major objectives: to study and reconstruct the evolution of Maroon material culture and the formation and transformation process of that aspect of their culture. These objectives would assist us to explain not only the Maroon interface with the indigenous people of Suriname but also the cultural process of their adaptation and survival as they pioneered the fight for freedom from colonial slave culture.

Archaeological research commenced in Suriname over a century and a half ago through the pioneering archaeological investigations by geologists and other scientific explorers in Suriname. However, much of what we know about the archaeology of Suriname comes from the researches of Add Versteeg, Arie Boomert both very highly respected archaeologists from the Netherlands who have worked and published a lot about the prehistoric cultures in Suriname. Their studies depict the prehistoric groups in Suriname as developing through transformations from early hunters and gatherers and fishing lifestyles of small groups, particularly in the open savannah lands of the south, to shifting cultivators and finally permanent farmers. These interpretations derive from exploration of many prehistoric archaeological sites, rock art and environments in Suriname.   Although a lot of Maroon oral traditions and modern ways of life have been documented, no archaeological work has ever been carried out on the evolution of Maroon culture until 1996, when a pilot project was launched in Suriname. As the first archaeological endeavor on Maroon heritage in Jamaica, everything had to be started from the scratch and despite the problem of funding. This project in Suriname is an outgrowth of archaeological program, the first of its kind on Maroon heritage, initiated in Jamaica in 1990. It received tremendous support from Universities, individuals, Maroon communities, their chiefs and elders, research institutions in the Caribbean and North America, resulting in the accumulation of artifacts and a wide range of data now housed in the archaeology laboratories of the University of the West Indies (UWI) on the Mona campus.   Although the Jamaican study confirmed the partnership of enslaved Africans and Amerindians in freedom-fighting, questions regarding socio-spatial relationships, and Maroon responses to changing conditions in their settlements and in cultural behavior, remained unanswered. The excavations of Maroon sites in Jamaica broke new grounds in Maroon heritage studies. However, little evidence of houses and house structures was uncovered. Questions about the internal organization of Maroon settlements and their spatial behavior, mortuary practices and food ways remain undetermined. While the Maroon sites in Jamaica, by their nature and locations, did not provide evidence to address these and other related issues, the sites in Suriname, judging from preliminary background studies, indicate the potential for uncovering evidence to address those unanswered questions. ARCHAEOLOGICAL RESEARCH Since the1996 pilot research expedition, sponsored by the Portland State University, with support from the Suriname National Museum and Maroon chiefs, a brief reconnaissance of the basin of the Suriname River, covering 41 modern and past settlements was undertaken. It was observed that, while many sites are being destroyed and Maroon settlements displaced by operations of timber and gold mining companies through concessions granted the Suriname government, many more continue to be consumed by the recently built hydro electric power artificial lake. The project therefore aimed at identifying and advising on salvaging sites, where possible. It was also intended that a longer project would be planned that would help to assemble cultural data on settlement patterns, spatial behavior, mortuary practices, and artifact patterns, and also collect material for dating and conduct soil chemical analysis to determine human land use patterns.

Following the 1996 pilot study, the MHRP launched an expedition in 1997. The 1998 and 1999 seasons of the MHRP) sponsored by the National Geographic Society were designed to conduct an archaeological investigation of the patterns of locational and spatial transformation in the settlements of the Maroons. As in Jamaica and other places, it was the first time an archaeological study (excavation) had been undertaken on Maroon heritage in Suriname, although several ethnographic studies have taken place over the last several decades. The data collection continues to be based on these basic assumptions and periods. Surveys are usually conducted by small crews (3 to 5) to relocate or identify sites using topographical maps obtained from the Department of Planning, Suriname, and to determine the geographical limits (boundaries) of sites based on the distribution of artifacts and surface features such as collapsed structural features and also by resort to ethnographic information. Ecological studies involved the recording data on the topography, soils, drainage patterns, site modification, vegetation or plant resources, including the recording of local names of places and features. Between 2000 and 2004 the project conducted detailed surface study, survey, mapping and excavations of the sites of Kumako in the Suriname River basin, and Tuido in the Saramacca River basin. 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 discovered 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 the 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.