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Table of Contents
1. Introduction 2. West African Origin 3. African Rebel Communities (known as Maroons) ◦ Maroons in North America ◦ Maroons in Mexico ◦ Maroons in Jamaica ◦ Maroons in Brazil ◦ Maroons in Suriname 4. Cultural Similarities Between Continental Africans and Africans in the Americas ◦ Foods ◦ Language ◦ Spirituality ◦ Names 5. Conclusion
The American continents have been home to various different peoples for possibly 40,000 years, as some estimates have it. The peopling of the Americas worked in three waves. One was of Asians crossing the Pacific ocean in boats, and there are theories of an ancient land bridge to North America(in present day Alaska) and the second was with Africans crossing the Atlantic in boats, using conduits of transport that they called “rivers on the seas”. The third wave is the most recent, and probably most related to the essay. That is the violent, and forced migration of Africans, by Europeans between the 15th and 19th centuries. This mass kidnap saw the movement of possibly hundreds of millions of Africans, from their continent, to various spots around the Earth. The majority of Africans were shipped to Brazil and the Caribbean, because of this fact these areas had the highest instance of “Marronage”, a term which describes the escape, and subsequent sovereignty of Africans who refused to be enslaved. The Haitian bicentennial website defines Marronage as
“...slaves running away from the plantation to hide in the mountains of the island or in its forests. From their retreat, the maroons conducted raids on the plantations and often would come at night to poison or kill their masters. “
All over the islands of the Caribbean, and the lands of South America, we have great examples of the legacy left by these freedom fighters. In Jamaica we see “Maroon Towns” all over the island. In Haiti, not only do we see more Maroon towns, but the country its self is a macrocosm of many of the smaller rebellions that took place by Africans throughout the Americas. Haiti, infact became the first republic in the western hemisphere, after the arrival of the Europeans. In South America there are even more cases of successful African resistance. If we look at the Maroons of Suriname, anywhere from 80,000 to 200,000 Africans that have made a home for themselves in the hostile jungle interiors of the country, to this day we have the descendants in Surinam of Africans who fought wars for centuries working
toward the self determination of their people, as well as the protection and propagation of their African cultural heritage. Referred to as Bosnegers or Bush Negroes in the European Dutch language, these men and women have done much to end the oppression that has existed around them as long as many of them have been in South America.
African resistance to western enslavement began when the first Africans, were snatched out of their respective villages. Many fought, and an obscene amount died. The death toll from the African enslavement period, referred to by the Swahili word “Maafa”, which translates to “great catastrophe”, will probably never be known, however according to Jamaican Scholar, Armet Francis, the toll is very high. In his work “Children of the Black Triangle”, he says
The total number of slaves imported is not known. it is estimated that nearly 900,000 came to America in the sixteenth century, 2.75 million in the seventeenth century, 7 million in the eighteenth, and over 4 million in the nineteenth perhaps 15 million in total. Probably every slave imported represented, on the average, five corpses in Africa or on the high seas. The American slave trade, therefore, meant the elimination of at least 60 million Africans.
Whether we are talking about 2,000,000 deaths or 60,000,000 we are looking at a massive loss of life. A time period in which you had the choice to fight, die, or face multigenerational slavery. This is the age of African enslavement, as well as African rebellion. According to Paul Lovejoy, author of “Transformations in Slavery, a History of Slavery in Africa”, somewhere around 84% of the Africans brought to the Americas were from Western Africa. Present day countries like Ghana, Ivory Coast, Togo, Benin and Nigeria are the original lands of the majority of enslaved Africans. Because of this fact, there are many cultural similarities between Africans in the Americans and Africans that remained on the continent. Similarities that consist of foods like Mofongo in the Spanish speaking Caribbean, various words such as pickney (for children)
and nyam (for the verb eat) in the English speaking Caribbean, spiritual systems in Haiti and Brazil as well as a wealth of other connections that will be explored in the next section. We are studying African people, which for the most part record history through oral tradition, rather than written tradition, as is the norm for European societies, it becomes increasingly difficult to cite and document literature to back up information. Where possible, it will be said when information given is from said non literal traditions.
As stated earlier in the paper, there were many instances of Africans escaping the brutal treatment of their oppressors and forming their own societies. All over the western hemisphere we see this as the case. From the United States to Argentina, and obviously everywhere in between we see the hunger for liberty was quite insatiable in the Enslaved African. Contemporary historians, as well as deceased ones have done well to keep the instances of African Marronage unknown to the public. Richard Price, through years of research has worked to unveil the great legacy of these freedom fighters. In his book “Maroon Societies” many authors write about different areas of the Americas in relation to the Maroons. The escaped Africans of the present day United States are very rarely taught or indeed spoken about. Between 1611 and 1865 there are documented about 50 different maroon towns within the national borders. One of the strongest towns existed in the dismal swamp region of Virginia. This area was home to some 2000 Africans and indigenous Americans, as well as some outlaw whites. To support their selves and families, people hunted, farmed and traded with whites and free Africans that lived on the borders of the swamp. According to American law, this was illegal trade, but it was lucrative since there were some resources that could only be obtained in the swamp. By 1775, a great leader rose in the Maroon community. Hes known today as the “General of the Swamps. He harassed and attacked white communities around the swamp, and caused so much trouble that a bounty was placed on his head and
mobs of whites would travel around the swamp looking for him. Eventually they found him and his army and he was put to death. That however didn't stop the maroon incursions. Their attacks continued until the lat 19th century when chattel slavery was outlawed in the USA. To the southwest we have the story of Africans who flourished in the eastern regions of Mexico. These regions were, and are today full of mountains, hills and forests, the type of terrain that Maroons have thrived in. By the early 1600's indigenous Africans, as well as escaped Africans had populated this area so well that the many Spanish towns and sugar plantations were beginning to close and move to different areas, thus putting the young colony of Mexico(then called New Spain). The Spanish governor dispatched the military to “pacify” the Maroons but failed time after time due to the ferocity of the Maroons, and the advantageous terrain. By about 1610, a very proud king rose amongst them and went on to challenge the Spanish to attack his settlements. King Yanga, as he was knows was a good tactician. Since the Spanish obviously had better weapons and armor, he forced them to chase him and his people all throughout the rugged hillside. After about a year of this, and casualties on each side, the Spanish were forced to respect the king and his people's sovereignty. They signed a treaty that said the Palenque(maroon town) would be designated a free town, all the captured Africans who were allied with the king would be free, and Spain would have to stop raiding the Palenques. In exchange, the Africans would stop raiding the sugar plantations. The Africans still live there today in a town called Yanga, in the Mexican state of Veracruz. Every year, they celebrate the defeating of the Spanish, and what they call the first free city in the Americas in 1609.
The island of Jamaica, today is popularly known as a land of fighters. In contemporary conversation, even expatriate Jamaicans may tell you it's not safe to leave the resort towns of the island, for if you do, you're definitely risking your life! This idea is not without some truth though. As the Europeans took over more and more land in Africa, the most hostile of natives would be captured and sent over seas to the lands of the Americas recently depopulated by their genocidal practices. So with this fact in mind, it's no wonder that today people tend to think of Jamaicans, and indeed most AfroCaribbeans in the light that they do. Africans in Jamaica were assuredly more hostile in the slavocracy of the 15-1800's. The story of the Maroons on that island is a little different than the rest, as the island changed hands a few times, leaving the Africans free at times. In the early 1600's England and Spain fought over the Island, and the enslaved Africans often fought on the side of the English with the idea that they may be better off with out the Spanish. By 1655 the English expelled the Spanish, effectively ending a period of around 160 years of Spanish rule. The Africans quickly escaped to uninhabited parts of the island and formed their own communities. By the time the English had control of most of the Island, there were Maroon towns dotting the country side. This reality became a real thorn in the side of English imperialism. One of the communities were so difficult to access because of it's location. To get there one would have to go through a narrow chasm for some distance. For English armies to get there, they would have to go through this chasm single file and come out the other end. Every time they tried this, Jamaican maroons would be waiting on the other side with guns and arrows. In one instance, the Maroons stood at the top of the chasm, waited until all the soldiers were walking along the inner chasm and they rolled a bunch of logs on top of them killing each of them. By 1720 these many Maroon towns were organized by a family of Africans, possibly from the Ashanti kingdom of present day Ghana, West Africa. This family, Nanny, Accompong, Johnny, Cudjoe, and Quao, went on to lead the 5 maroon towns of Accompong, Trelawny Town, Mountain Top, Scots Hall, Nanny Town. These maroons fought so well that the English had to make a treaty similar to the one made a century earlier. This treaty designated land for the Maroons and said that no English would raid them anymore. Nanny, is
remembered as one of the national heroes, and she is depicted on the 500 dollar bill, called “the nanny” Today the Maroon towns still stand as a testament of the power of those fierce Africans. The escaped Africans that made the interior of Brazil their home have a legacy that bring great pride to Afro-Brazalians. In the jungles of western Brazil existed a kingdom that lasted for around 100 years. The government was a federation of different “Quilombos” that unified with the need of mutual protection. Described by R. K. Kent in his essay “Palmares: An African State in Brazil” as having it's real strength lying in the fact that they provided food and security to all their inhabitants who considered themselves:
“subjects of a king who is called Ganga-Zumbi, which means great lord,and he is recognized as such both by those born in Palmares, and by those who join them from the outside.”
by the end of the kingdom's 100 year existence, the Portuguese and dutch began to work together to bring it down, and within one year they were invaded 5 times, this worked to destabilize it, and by around 1700, the government was deposed. Maroon towns still existed in the area, but the centralized government was finished. Today the state of Alagoas celebrates the republic every year. The last Maroon societies we'll focus on are those in the forests of central and southern Surinam. These populations have been by far the most successful of all the maroons of the Americas. In all the different groups there live anywhere from 80,000 to 150,000 people. The land of Suriname was inhabited by Natives who lived on the coast, and when the land was sold by the English, to the Dutch, a war ensued that ended with the
original inhabitants being forced to the interior. These natives later worked to liberate many Africans and help them to survive in the harsh terrain of the northern Amazon. The origins of the Africans are almost exclusively in Ghana, West Africa and thus a lot of their traditions are quite in line with the Ashanti of Ghana.
In the culture of west Africa we have certain dishes that have traveled over the Atlantic ocean with the kidnapped people. One of the main dishes of the Caribbean nations is a derivative of the staple food called Fufu. In west Africa, a staple is mashed up into a paste, and then broken apart and dipped in a soup and eaten with hands. There are quite a few similar dishes in the Americas • Dominican Republic – Afro-Dominicans have a dish in which they fry a plantain, yuca or breadfruit and mach it together with garlic, olive oil and pork and eat it with a red sauce around it. Outside of the addition of Pork, this dish is almost the same as Fufu • Puerto Rico – Puerto Rican Africans have a dish named Mangú, a dish that consists of boiled green plantains mashed to a specific consistency and then topped with sauteed onions and deepfried salami, deep-fried cheese, fried eggs or avocado • Cuba – Afro-Cubans also make Fufu, and they didn't change the name. It's called “Fufu de Plantanos”, or Cuban Fufu. This dish is made similar to Dominican Mofungo. Africans in the Americas were forced to give up their native tongues, and forced to learn the language of their oppressors. Because of this few words remain from west Africa. Some examples are: Jamaicans, Trinidadians, and Guyanese use the word pickney to refer to children. People from the southern United States use Pickeninny, and Surinam people use the word Pikkey. All these words derive from the Ghanaian Akan word Piky which also means children. Amongst the Jamaican, and particularly the Jamaican maroons, there exists a tradition of a
belief in an entity known as a Duppy. Most people would equate this with the ghost that we in the European world know very well, but taking a closer look one can see that this entity is much different. While in most instances, a ghost is a negative, malevolent being, often times with nothing better to do than scare people, a Duppy is something else. According to the work of Mac Edward Leach, as well as personal interviews, the Duppy is associated with the soul of a human that may have inhabited another human or animal. Also, as a ethereal entity that has a task to complete or a message to deliver. The idea of a Duppy wasn't created in the Caribbean. It is a product of west African spirituality. According to the above mentioned article,
..In Sierra Leone, for example, the word “Duppy” has two meanings depending on the region and culture group. It means either child or a (spirit). The idea of a Duppy or spirit floating around is very African, and is connected with the belief that the spirits of the dead ancestors are always hovering around the village, protecting and watching to see that the tribal laws are well kept.
In all of the Americas you have various different versions of a spirituality that seems to have foundations in the spirituality of the Yoruba people of present day Nigeria. For the most part, European slavers denied freedom of religion and severely punished Africans for practicing their religions. For this reason most Africans in the Americas simply replaced their own pantheon of spiritual deities with names from catholic saints. In Brazil we have Candomble, In Cuba, we have Santeria, in Haiti we have Voodoo, in the south of the USA, we have voodoo and in Jamaica we have Obeah men and women that keep the African spirituality alive. Over the centuries of practice, many of the religions have become syntheses of African and Indigenous American spiritual systems, along with the European religions. Finally, like the Akan of west Africa, some Africans in the Carribean have naming systems that correlate with the day on which an individual was born below is a table showing how they work.
Akan Name (Ghana) [Male/Female] Kodjo/Adwoa Kwabena/Abenaa Kweku/Akua Yaw/Yaa Kofi/Afua Kwame/Amma Alwasi/Akosua
Jamaican Name (Males) Cudjo Cubbenah Quaco Quao Cuffee Quamin Quashee
Surinam (Saramaka & Akuan people) [Male/Female] Kodyo/Adyuba Kwamina/Abeni Kwaku/Akuba Yaw/Yaba Kofi/Afiba Kwami/Amba Kwasi/Kwasiba
Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
This small essay is just an attempt at intellectually creating cultural bonds, and subsequently breaking some of the barriers that exist between Africans on the continent, and Africans in the diaspora. It's my theory, that until we see one other as family, and indeed until we think as a monolith, we will continue going in this endless spiral of negativity and failure. In talking about the divisive behaviors between us, initiated by the various foreigners throughout the ages, Ayi Kwei Armah summed our dilemma up perfectly: ….that out left eye should be set to see against its twin, not with it –surely that is part of the destroyers' two thousands seasons of triumph against us? That the sight of the eye should be unconnected, cut off from the mind's embracing consciousness; that the ear's hearing should be blocked off from the larger knowledge of the mind, that the nose's smelling and the tongue's tasting should be pushed apart from the mind's whole consciousness- what is that but death's whiteness in delirious triumph?...the wall of whiteness build to separate sense from sense.
Works Cited "Africans in America/Part 2/Maroons in Revolutionary Period." PBS. PBS. Web. 05 Apr. 2010. <http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part2/2p50.html>. Anderson, S. E., and Vanessa Holley. The Black Holocaust for Beginners. Danbury, CT: For Beginners LLC, 1995. Print. Boddy-Evans, Alistair. "African History: The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade." African History -- Explore the History of Africa. About.com. Web. 05 Apr. 2010. <http://africanhistory.about.com/od/slavery/tp/TransAtlantic001.htm>. Francis, Armet. Children of the Black Triangle. Trenton, N.J.: Africa World, 1989. Print. "Haitain Bicentennial Site." THE HISTORY OF HAITI AND THE HAITIAN REVOLUTION. The City of Miami, May 2004. Web. 05 Apr. 2010. <http://www.ci.miami.fl.us/haiti2004/history.htm>. Van, Sertima Ivan. "The Mariner Orince of Mali." They Came before Columbus: the African Presence in Ancient America. New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2003. Print.
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