A great deal of recent literature on the subject of grand marronage as resistance in slave societies has emphasized the positive correlation between the physical attributes of the societies in question and the potential success of such forms of resistance. By extension, “cultural” marronage, the retreat into an interior world to resist the daily reality of oppressive servitude, was also facilitated by the same geographical conditions that favored physical flight. The history of the Danish West Indian island of St. John bears out such a proposition: its rugged topography was conducive to intensive running away in the early eighteenth century and a massive and almost successful slave uprising in 1733. The suppression of the uprising, it could be argued, drove the resistance underground where it thereafter assumed different forms.
The present work analyzes the nature of that continuing resistance and its outcome: mechanisms for individual survival as well as those for institutional survivals that formed the basis for viable Afro-Caribbean society up to and including the present century. For this purpose, it mates historical with anthropological approaches and the resultant hybrid creation, “historical anthropology,” has been enlivened by the vigor usually associated with such genetic departures. The author argues persuasively that the divergent methodologies, not to mention conclusions, of the two disciplines investigating the same phenomenon, have demonstrable inadequacies. The Afro-Caribbean family is a case in point. Studied from an ethnographic present, it has little validity divorced from a temporal past. Conversely, conventional historical studies often identify the phenomenon without being helpful as to its meaning.
Karen Olwig lives comfortably and helpfully in both methodological worlds. Her holistic emphases, her location of family, nuclear and other, within a historical sociocultural continuum have opened fresh and interesting vistas on Caribbean slave society in general and the Afro-Caribbean family in particular.