Creativity and Resistance: Maroon Cultures in the Americas

"If the Maroons had been defeated, meaningful black resistance to the indignity and cruelty of African slavery would have ended--at least for a season--and so even today the cries of the tortured might still have been heard on the plantations, in the dungeons and from myriad village squares across the world."

Colonel Colin Lloyd George Harris, 1992


        The words of Colonel Colin Lloyd George Harris, leader of the Windward Maroons in Moore Town, Jamaica, since 1964, reflect a very important part in the history of the African Diaspora in the Americas. But very little is known about the African experience of marronage or cimarronaje (escape from slavery), its survivors, and their descendants in the New World.

        For more than four centuries, thousands of enslaved Africans managed to escape from the plantations and mines of European colonizers throughout the Americas, searching for freedom in the wilderness. Between the early 16th and late 19th centuries Maroons challenged the colonial powers and violently resisted enslavement, striking hard at the foundation of the plantation economy of the Western Hemisphere.

        In remote areas throughout the United States, the Caribbean, Central America, and South America, Maroon communities emerged as free and independent societies that forced colonial governments to sign treaties and pacts guaranteeing their freedom, their land, and their political autonomy. These communities emerged as an integration of African, Native American, and European cultural elements. After centuries of struggle, survival, assimilation, and adaptation, these Maroon communities were able to develop a unique sense of identity and history, contributing in many ways to the shape of the Western Hemisphere.

        Today, descendants of some of the original Maroon communities live in Jamaica, Suriname, French Guiana, Colombia, Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, and the Bahamas. Challenged by a modern and changing world, contemporary Maroons still preserve a strong sense of their history, traditions, values, and identity, deeply rooted in an African past. Creativity and Resistance: Maroon Cultures in the Americas focuses on contemporary Maroon peoples of Jamaica, French Guiana, Suriname, and the Seminole community along the United States and Mexican border. Through examples of cultural expression and historical documentation, and by combining the voices of living Maroons such as Colonel Harris with those of their ancestors, this exhibition provides visitors with a unique opportunity to understand the cultural vitality and creativity of Maroon people, the strong links between their past and present, and the importance of their ancestors' struggle and success in their collective sense of self-determination and identity.

       The exhibition Creativity and Resistance has been organized by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) in collaboration with the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, with the support of the Special Exhibition Fund of the Smithsonian Institution. It began its national tour in March, 1999.