Creativity and Resistance: Maroon Cultures in the Americas

Maroon CurrencyExhibition features rarely seen material on communities of escaped slaves 

The Esther Thomas Atkinson Museum of Hampden-Sydney College proudly presents "Creativity and Resistance: Maroon Cultures in the Americas," a traveling Smithsonian exhibition that brings to light a little-known chapter in the history of the African diaspora. The exhibition will open Friday, January 4, 2002 and continue through Sunday, February 10, 2002.

Drawing from his experience as a historian of colonial Latin America and the Caribbean, Professor Lane will present a synthetic overview of the Maroon heritage of the Western Hemishpere. He will discuss in greater detail the interplay of creative adaptation and resistance in several specific historical contexts, including Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, and select Caribbean islands.
A lecture will be held: "From Margins to Center: The Maroon Heritage of Greater America" by Professor Kris Lane, College of William & Mary, Friday, January 25, 2002, 4:30p.m., Parents & Friends Lounge, Venable Hall. A reception will follow at the museum afterwards. 

Developed by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) and the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, "Creativity and Resistance" is a panel exhibition that features historical drawings and maps, timeline, contemporary photographs, and a selection of ceremonial daily life objects. 

Within ten years of Columbus' first voyage to the Americas, Africans brought to the Caribbean as slaves began to escape from plantations and mines to seek freedom. Through creativity and resistance, Maroons posed military and economic threats that struck hard at the plantation system and challenged the foundation of colonial power. Although not all Maroon communities were successful, many were able to survive in the wilderness and win partial political autonomy from colonial governments. From annual celebrations to the very name "maroon" - derived from the Spanish "cimarrón," meaning "fugative" or "wild one" - this struggle for self-determination continues to play an integral role in Maroon cultural identity today. 

Since the sixteenth century, Maroons established hundreds of communities throughout the Caribbean and the Americas, ranging in size from small groups to powerful kingdoms with thousands of members. However, very little is known about the African experience of "marronage" or "cimarronaje" ("escape from slavery"). "Creativity and resistance" focuses on the contemporary Maroon peoples of Jamaica, Suriname, French Guiana, and the Seminole community along the United States/Mexico border. The exhibition combines the voices of the living Maroons with those of their ancestors to emphasize links between Maroons past and present. 

Early Maroon communities were comprised of people from diverse African cultures who banded together to resist recapture and survive in the deep forests, swamplands, and jagged terrain. Maroons drew on a full range of resources, integrating African, Native American, and European elements to develop new societies and shared languages suited to their demanding environment. "Creativity and Resistance" celebrates the cultural vitality of Maroon people, examining their history, systems of government, spirituality, languages, aesthetics, music, dance and foodways. 

The vocabularies of contemporary Maroon languages, for example, are primarily European in origin, but contain substantial numbers of African and Native American words. These Creole languages were also strongly influenced by the sound patterns, style and structure of African languages. 

Native American influence can be seen in Maroon's use of a "matapi" (plaited straw sieve featured in the exhibition) in French Guiana and Suriname. "Matapi" is used to press poisonous juices out of cassava root to make the plant edible. A native plant of the Americas and still grown as a staple food today, cassava root is eaten as flat cakes in some regions and as "kwaka" ("cereal") in others. 

SITES adapted "Creativity and Resistance" from an exhibition developed for the 1992 Smithsonian Folklife Festival that coincided with the Columbian Quincentenary. During that time, the Smithsonian Institution brought a group of Maroon leaders to meet for the first time and discuss mutual concerns such as land and gender issues. Among the participants were paramount chiefs from Suriname and French Guiana, Maroon colonels from Jamaica, and Maroon leaders from the Seminole communities along the United States/Mexico border. 

This historic meeting has already had an impact on Maroon communities. In Suriname, the Ndjuka Maroon community recently elected its first "uman kabiten" (female village leader). Other Maroon communities have established alliances with Native American groups based on a common desire to protect natural resources and their land. 

"Creativity and Resistance: Maroon Cultures in the Americas" is curated by Diana Baird N'Diaye, P.h.D., Thomas Polimé, Ph.D., and Kenneth Bilby, Ph.D. Adiante Franszoon (Suriname Maroons), William "Dub" Warrior and Ethel Warrior (Seminole Maroons), and Major Charles Aarons and Col C.L. G. Harris (Jamaica Maroons) served as Maroon community advisors.