This important book about the maroons of Jamaica is based on papers presented at a conference held at the University of the West Indies, Mona, in October 1991. It is an innovative and informative book; not only does it take an international and interdisciplinary approach, but it includes contributions by leaders of Jamaica’s maroon communities as well as by scholars. The volume presents discussions of pathbreaking archaeological research at maroon sites in Jamaica that indicate cultural links among Amerindians, Africans, and Spanish and English settlers. It also offers thoughtful interpretations of maroons as cultural innovators in the Americas. As some of the first truly autonomous societies in the region, maroon communities began the biological and cultural merger process, which generally proceeded on a more egalitarian basis than in areas more tightly controlled by European colonists.
Jamaican maroons were unique in several respects. Although Jamaica is not a very large island, it is essentially a mountaintop protruding out of the sea. Its wild interior is vast, steep, and difficult to penetrate, offering protected bastions in which maroon communities quickly developed techniques of guerrilla warfare. Those communities thus posed an ongoing threat to the stability of the slave system; they were not so far away as to be isolated, but they were so well fortified and skillfully organized and defended as to be nearly impregnable.
The British adopted a treaty system that recognized the maroons’ freedom and territorial autonomy in return for military and police services to the British authorities, including the return of runaway slaves. While such treaties between colonial authorities and maroon communities were common in the Americas, the Jamaican system was the most enduring and effective. The result was the congealing of a distinctive culture among Jamaican maroons, which is to some extent a throwback to the Jamaican slave population as it existed during the mid-eighteenth century. It includes Akan influences in social, linguistic, musical, religious, and artistic traditions. There is great pride in the independence and military triumphs of the ancestors, as reflected in the contribution in this volume of Collin Lloyd George Harris, chief of the Moore Town maroons. It is surprising that Kamau Brathwaite has had to go to great lengths to prove the existence of Nanny, the great woman maroon leader, and to have her historical significance recognized in Jamaica.
This book is a reflection of the intellectual contributions of more than a generation of Caribbean scholars who have devoted themselves to freeing Caribbean scholarship from the dead hand of Eurocentric empire history. Caribbean historians are indeed creating a history from the inside out while maintaining an international and interdisciplinary perspective. It is a promising as well as a fruitful approach that is on the cutting edge of multicultural studies in the Americas.