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Marooned: Africans in the Americas 1500 - 1750

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D J Thornton
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Joined: Sat Aug 01, 2015 3:58 am

Marooned: Africans in the Americas 1500 - 1750

Postby D J Thornton » Fri Jul 06, 2018 3:30 am

The word maroon has two meanings, originally identical. Two early stories illustrate the convergence of the word. In 1502, Governor Orvando sailed to Hispaniola with an African slave aboard whose name is not recorded. This man had served as a slave in Europe as a result of the European slave trade with Africa. On reaching land in the Caribbean, he recognized his opportunity and quickly escaped to the hills to live free with the local Indians. This phenomenon was repeated over and over, to the point that the Spanish developed a name for it: cimarrón. People were not the only escapees from colonial servitude. Cimarrón originally applied to the cows and horses the Spanish brought with them who escaped into the wilds in the early days of the conquest. Soon after, it was applied to Indian slaves who escaped to the hills, but by the mid-1500s it was most usually applied to African runaways. These absences, whether permanent or temporary, were referred to by the French colonists as marronage, and in English the word was shortened to maroon.
Marooned indeed, for there was no way back to Africa and, from this point on, the formative experience of the Africans reaching the Americas would be essentially seaborne. As the conquest continued, patterns of labor changed and there was less and less need to bring trained servant/slaves from Spain. Instead slaves were to be brought directly from Africa by sea on a voyage that would soon become known as "The Middle Passage". Whatever the brutalities of the capture and enslavement in Africa, it was unlikely to rival the terrors of the passage from Africa to the Americas.

Brutal, disgusting, horrifying, and frequently fatal, living through The Middle Passage defined the individuals capacity to survive. If they were to have no further experience of African culture in their whole lives (and most would not) it would be the rite of The Middle Passage, with its mystery, pain, and terror, that would provide Africans with their final link to their personal identity. When Europeans tried to lessen the likelihood of a slave rebellion by transporting people in mixed ethnic groups they did not realize that they were forging a new "African", rather than Yuroba or Igbo identity. The whole term "African American" is born of this experience, when distinctions of nation became secondary (although not lost) as you lay among the dead and dying and anyone who shared your existence was a brother or sister in misery.

Africans of many nationalities who came to the Americas on the same ship regarded themselves as ritual kin, for the rite of passage was an established formality in many African cultures. In Saramaka they called this máti or síbi, in Brazil’s Palmares they referred to it as malungo. Survivors of the voyage were successful initiates and they recognized and honored each other for the rest of their lives. Often sold to the same plantation, these fellow initiates would become the people on whom you could most rely, who might conspire with you to escape, to play sick, or to poison the masters. Initial difficulties of language would be overcome by trust, in that you knew your bond was sacred and your fellow initiate would not betray you. Slaves on particularly brutal plantations also held to similar bonds

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