Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Chapter 13: The Maroons and their adversaries.

The development of the Maroon societies.

If history has taught us anything, it is that in some instances a small but ruthless minority can keep a large majority subordinated for a long time. However, this is a lot easier if these suborinates are not needed for production. In concentration camps the inmates were used for slave labor, but the main object was to eliminate them. Consequently, the Nazi overlords lost little by starving and terrorizing them and the threat of a violent death was ever present. The slaveholders in the New World could not go a similar route. It has often been maintained that it was economically most expedient to exploit the slaves mercilessly until they dropped dead from exhaustion (generally after about seven years) and then buy new ones. However, even if the average slave could give a mere seven years of service in some places during some periods, this was not the result of a deliberate strategy. Most slaves did not die from starvation or maltreatment, but from the ravages of contagious diseases –against which the masters were as powerless as their chattels. Few masters could afford to transform their slaves into walking zombies: they needed their energy, strength and even their wit for the work that had to be done.

The inevitable consequence was that they also had to cope with resistance. The Surinam planters, with their woefully inadequate force of supervisors, had to expect more resistance than other slaveholders. They were, however, fortunate in having an endless stretch of forest behind their estates, ready to swallow up the most intransigent slaves. It could be surmised that the formation of warlike Maroon societies meant an additional threat to the slavery system, but it turned out this was not the case. It is far more likely that the very presence of Maroon tribes in the hinterland helped to preserve the system, until external developments heralded its demise.

Most Surinam slaves fled alone or in small groups and many of them soon returned to their plantation, sadder and wiser. A considerable percentage of those who sought freedom did so mainly because they did not fit into the plantation community and by their departure removed a (potential) source of conflicts. Others were the (innocent) butts of their masters’ frustration and ran away to save their own skin, but did not want to leave their loved ones behind and hid nearby –sometimes even on the plantation itself. Aiding and protecting them also united the slave community. The last category of single runaways were the schuylders. They settled close to the plantations and lived mainly from stealing and from whatever food they could gather, or cultivate in secret. Because they needed companions to survive, strangers often congregated in small communities, but remained distrustful of each other.

Runaways preferred to join groups of the same ethnic background. Hazard, a fugitive from the plantation Cannewapibo, stumbled upon a Coromantine and an Abo village in the forest, which had no contact at all with each other, even though they were situated within walking distance. After a short stay in the Coromantine village, he felt no longer secure, because the inhabitants, 10 men and 3 women, continuously threatened to kill one another. He then moved to the Abo village, which counted 14 men and 3 women, but after a landsman of his had been slain, he preferred to surrender to the whites.

Sometimes, these groups were so keen on reinforcement that they accepted any newcomer, but if the slave in question belonged to a different nation, he was likely to become the scapegoat when trouble arose (often fights over women). Many escapees came, like Hazard, to the conclusion that it was safer to brave the ire of their master than to stay with belligerent weglopers. Jaba, who had been kidnapped, decided after nine long years to flee back to the whites, when her captors started quarreling amongst each other, resulting in the death of all the (20) slaves they had in their power.

Constant infighting undermined the stability of many wegloper communities. This is illustrated by the sad odyssey of Cartoes of Meulwijk (alias Voeyoereman). Cartoes fled his plantation because of continuous beatings. In the forest behind Meulwijk he met two other runaways: Cottica of Perou and Adam of Halle in Saxen. They took him to their cabin, but the peaceful cohabitation did not last long. Adam imagined that Cottica was a poisoner and killed him in his sleep. Thereafter, he took Cartoes to Upper Cottica where they met the Maroon leader Baron, who had just plundered a plantation. They participated in a few unsuccessful raids and later followed Baron to his village in Upper Cottica. They were attacked there by a patrol and the group, consisting of 13 men and 10 women, had to flee to the Commewijne. Baron argued with a Coromantee named Benbonwa and left with his wife and child. The remaining runaways established a village on the Patamaka River, Tammaroe wa Hey, which was situated so close to a military post that they could hear the soldiers felling trees. Benbonwa was killed by his companions because they feared that he was a poisoner. When the remaining runaways went to Upper Patamaka to clear provision grounds, they discovered a Coromantine village, led by Quamie, and settled there. After some time, Cartoes left the group in the company of Adam and Tekkie and they were later joined by Coridon. Cartoes abandoned them because he suspected they wanted to kill him and briefly sought the company of Profijt and Sambo of Vossenburg who, however, he considered a threat to his life as well. While he was fetching provisions with Profijt, Kwamie joined the little group. Cartoes mistrusted him too, so he moved again. Along the way he met Lont, also of Vossenburg, who told him that he had escaped from the Maroon stronghold Boekoe. They stayed together for a while, but Cartoes mistrusted Lont and he went back to Quamie, who had not gotten any friendlier in the meantime. Thereupon Cartoes decided to go to Perica alone, built a cabin and lived there peacefully for a while. When he was looking for food, he was nearly caught by a group of weglopers, but he managed to reach his cabin undetected. When he heard the axes of a patrol, he did not feel safe anymore and he returned to Patamaka, where he had to live off cabbes. In the end, he decided that the existence in the jungle was too demanding, so he swam across the Patamaka and surrendered to a group of Negroes on patrol. He told the Court of Police that he had never experienced any charity, neither in his own land, nor in Surinam, neither from blacks, nor from whites and he pleaded that he “shall be killed with no malicious thought, but that he shall be punished with a rope so he can go to his god with an easy death”. His wish was granted.

When larger groups of slaves ran away together, the situation was different. They often acted to preserve their community when it was threatened by measures of their master, for example attempts to put them together with the slaves of another plantation. Sometimes, their escape was merely a protest and they went back voluntary once they had been given proof that the hated decision had been overturned. In cases like this, the slaves often ran away unprepared and were glad to be able to return to their cherished home. When the whites remained obstinate, such a spontaneous protest could escalate into a full-fledged rebellion, as happened in Tempati. Sometimes, a whole slave force resolved to flee into the forest without any direct cause, either because of the influence of a strong leader who did not want to live in slavery anymore, or because the situation made it feasible. This was, for example, the case during periods of external warfare.

The Court of Police was well aware of this possibility and warned that in case of an enemy attack the slaves had to be kept under close surveillance “because there is not one negro, who does not know, that it is then the time for him, to free himself or to run away without peril and therefore two or three planters who are based close together must form a patrol with their Creoles on such occasions with orders to shoot all negroes found outside certain limits under their feet”. After the plunder of the colony by Jacques Cassard, the councilors observed how vulnerable the country was when the planters were forced to leave their estates “exposing those, as well as the women and children, to the good, or bad intentions of the slaves, who then being alone without supervision, or work get used to a libertine existence that makes them long for their freedom, and seek it, like the experience during the last attack has partly taught [us].

The first large concentrations of runaways formed after the massive defections during such emergencies. Many slaves owned by English planters made off when their masters lost the control over Surinam to the Dutch. The Indian Wars added more recruits to the nascent Maroon communities. Some observers claim that more than 700 slaves ran away during this period. The attack of Cassard also provided an ideal opportunity for gaining freedom to a large number of slaves, most of them recent arrivals. Bondsmen of one (or a few) plantations escaping together formed the cores of the various Maroon tribes. In the initial stages, they are likely to have accepted newcomers eagerly, especially females, for they were in need of reinforcement. Those newcomers will have been even more welcome if they were familiar: either slaves from neighboring plantations, or belonging to the same nation as the dominant group.

Evidence of this scenario is found in the names of many of the Bush Negro clans, which are copies of the ‘Negro name’ of the plantation most early members came from (a name that was usually derived from the name of a former owner). A prominent Djuka clan is named Pata (after Gerrit Pater, one of the richest planters of the 18th century, who owned the plantations La Jalousie and Beekhuizen). Another clan is named Ansoe, the Negro name of the plantation Meerzorg, derived from the name of former owner Paul Amsinq. The Pinasi clan got its name from the Negro name of the plantation Frederiksburg, which derived from L’ Espinasse. The DominĂ© clan was named after a plantation once owned by a minister. The Missidjan clan originated from Palmeniribo, called Missidjan by the slaves, after the wife of former owner Jonas Witzen. Legend tells that the slaves fled from the plantation after murdering this ‘Missi Jonas’ (whom they hung from a ring fastened to the kankantrie where the slaves were tied for a whipping). The murderers were worthless trackers and could not find their way to the Saramaka. They were taken in tow by some ‘Ansoe Negroes’ and brought to the Djuka Creek. Another part of the Djuka tribe, with Boston as the common ancestor, is called the Compagnie clan (compagnie being the designation for a group of shipmates).

The Saramaka have a clan called Kardoesoe. It was named after a trader called Cardoso, who brought a shipload of slaves to Surinam during the attack of Cassard and hid them in the forest of Poelepantje, from where they escaped. A part of the fugitives came from Angola and they congregated in a village and clan they called Kardoso. Nepveu remarked about these Maroons that they were rumored to be the descendants of a brother and sister. Though most inhabitants of this village were healthy and able-bodied, some were malformed and this was considered a punishment of the gods for the supposed incest. Other clan names also point to a group of weglopers from one plantation: the Papota clan very likely got its name from Papot, a well-known planter family; and the Nassy clan from another prominent family, of Jewish extraction.

Life was hard for the Maroons in the Surinam jungle. Many died from starvation, illness, or attacks of enemy runaways, hostile Indians, or patrols. The ones who survived did so because of their own resourcefulness and courage. The early Maroon communities, conscious of their vulnerable position, were therefore only willing to include newcomers who were ready to pull their own weight. The leaders of those early groups, meriting their position because of their capacities (although it probably helped if they represented the most numerous nation) were, in the words of Franklin Knight, “rigidly authoritarian and often needlessly cruel”. They had little choice if they wanted to survive: many slaves arrived at their premises believing that from now on they would have an easy life. They were to be bitterly disappointed, as Hurault discovered: “the rebel chiefs [were] indifferent and even hostile to the wellbeing of the mass of the slaves. They feared that the combativity of their troops would be reduced by parasites, desirous to escape the condition of slavery in order to be no longer forced to any work. Boni imposed heavy tasks on the escapees who reached him, years of hard work, before he trusted them with arms. Countless among them gave up and preferred to throw themselves at the mercy of their masters.”

Genovese has remarked that it was very difficult for the Maroon groups to avoid the parasitic existence that alienated them from the slaves. It was the tragedy of the Maroons in Surinam that they could not afford to retire so deeply into the jungle that the whites were unable to track them down, because they were dependant on their products. Although some groups had learned Indian crafts, they could not provide for all of their own needs. They were unable to weave cloth, work iron, or make gunpowder. They had to steal the necessary goods from the estates and consequently had to stay fairly close to the plantation area, within reach of the patrols. When they robbed the plantations, they could not avoid harming the interests of the slaves as well, especially since they were not above kidnapping women and children to swell their ranks.

The larger Maroon groups could not depend on the provisions they stole from the plantations, so it was “the manner of the Weglopers to plant in the environment where they settle here and there some provisions & make shelters”. They cultivated rice, cassava, tayer, yams and sometimes corn. The provision grounds were a vulnerable source of food. Often, these were discovered and destroyed by patrols and then the Maroons were forced to subsist on stolen food and cabbes until they could harvest anew. They satisfied their need for protein by hunting, fishing and sometimes trapping, though this might give away their presence as well. The provision guard of Cortenduur, who followed the trail of a couple of runaways, discovered two to three hundred snares. The commando pursuing the trail stumbled upon a big house with two guards in front who resisted capture fiercely. One surrendered aften having been cut several times, the other had to be shot. Their companions managed to escape. The patrollers found earthenware, bows and arrows, machetes, deer meat and fowl in the house, as well as pots with plantains buried in the ground.

Genovese has classified most of the 18th century Maroons as ‘restorationalist’ in worldview. This holds true for the Surinam Maroons in particular. Moreover, they never reached the ‘revolutionary’ stage, like most of their 19th century Caribbean counterparts. The reasons for this are threefold. Firstly, they could not afford to lose the source of European goods they so badly needed. Secondly, the strongest groups were able to force the whites to concede to a peace treaty that gave them a large measure of independence. Thirdly, the Creole slaves did not gain more influence among the Maroons, as they did in other parts of the New World. On the contrary, while Creoles seem to have made up a reasonable part of some Maroon groups in the 18th century [the famous ‘Claas villages’, for example, incorporated a ‘Papa village’ and a ‘Creole village’; and the slave woman Fortuna, who had been kidnapped by Maroons, reported that the ones she had met were “mostly Creoles”], during the 19th century, practically all Maroons were (recently imported) Africans. The restorationalist character of the Surinam Maroon tribes is illustrated by their culture, that, although an original Afro-American creation, displayed the most pervasive African influence to be found anywhere in the Caribbean.

The situation of the major Maroon tribes changed for the better when the authorities concluded peace treaties with them: with the Djuka in 1760, the Saramaka in 1762 and the so-called Bekoe-Musinga Maroons (nowadays called Matuari) in 1767. These tribes were known from then on as the Bevredigde Bosnegers (‘Satisfied’ or ‘Pacified’ Bush Negroes). The pact was signed on the plantation Auca (for this reason, the Djuka were called Aucaners by the colonists). According to Wolbers, the whites had to swear a blood-oath in the following manner: “Each party let a few drops of blood, which had been obtained by a small cut in the arm, fall into a calabash with pure spring water, in which a bit of dry earth was mixed. All those present had to drink from this, after a few drops had been sprinkled on the ground. Next their Gado-man or priest laid a curse over all, who would break this covenant”. The peace treaties drove a wedge between the ‘satisfied’ and the ‘not-satisfied’ Maroons and permitted the whites keep the latter in check.

The Pacified Bush Negroes were not easy to deal with. Governor Nepveu complained that the authorities suffered “continuously much harassment and teasing”. However, “considering our weakness one shall incessantly be forced to yield to them in everything, to keep the peace, however onerous it might be”. His successor Texier was no more optimistic: “the more one gives in to them, the bolder, more arrogant and more malicious they become”. Some Bush Negroes from Upper Suriname, for example, asked him for the freedom of a slave woman owned by the Society. She was old and useless, so in itself this was not a problem, but Texier was afraid to create a precedent since many of them still had relatives among the slaves. The whites had to treat them with severity “because then they are peaceful, humble, fearful and compliant, and behave with Respect & Submission”. In the end, they proved to be reliable allies though.

Indians and Maroons.

The early weglopers would probably have perished in large numbers if the Indians had not aided them. During the Indian War, they collaborated on many levels and one group of runaways even amalgamated with Indians to form the so-called Karboegers van de Coppename. Some groups of Indians also took in runaways in later times and intermarried with them. Since the former slaves were often stronger and more ferocious than their hosts, some of them rose to prominent positions within the Indian tribes. Nepveu claimed that they were not above abusing their Indian subjects.

The plantation slaves often had friendly relations with the free Indians who hunted and fished for the planters and these were frequently willing to guide them to a Maroon settlement. Some Indian groups had an amiable rapport with these settlements, partly because they needed them to obtain valued European products (which the runaways had taken along from the plantations). The proto-Saramaka enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship with the Acouri Indians (a tribe that moved to the Brazilian side of the border in the middle of the 18th century and only returned to Surinam in the beginning of the 20th century). They married Acouri women and the Indians demonstrated them how to weave hammocks and how to make pots and baskets. They also taught them to fashion covers of woven cotton, which they sold in Paramaribo after the peace treaty. The Djuka did not know any of these handicrafts. In later years the tables were turned: the Indians became the easiest source for those western goods the Maroons could not do without: they traded cassava, cotton, roucou and the like for axes, machetes and iron pots. Sometimes, the Indians even received hammocks from the Saramaka. The whites were well aware of this symbiosis and they decided to stop trading with the Indians, who from then on could only get the desired products if they delivered a runaway, dead or alive.

Quite a few Indians were arrested for aiding runaways. Among them were Ariamono, an Indian captain, and his brother Jary. They had been caught with the help of the slave Tam, who had feigned that he wanted to flee to the Maroons. Ariamono testified in court that he and his brother had met runaways from Palmeniribo, led by Claas and Jankie, 15 years ago. These had escaped in 1712, with 20 persons. Claas and Jankie had established separate villages. Jary revealed that these Maroons had a lot of fowl and large provision grounds. One of their villages counted 80 adults, 12 adolescents and a couple of children, the other about a hundred people. The inhabitants of the most populous village had built a large house, which they used for ‘joelen’ (festivities), and many other houses. They had constructed traps for catching game, but had no bread. They came to fetch this in the Indian village, which was located about four days traveling. Both Claas and Jankie could speak the Indian language.

During the 18th century, the relations between Maroons and Indians deteriorated steadily. Partly because the Indians were seduced by the rewards the planters offered for hunting runaways; partly because the Maroons, in their search for guns and gunpowder, did not hesitate to overpower unsuspecting Indians and plunder their villages. The Indians were not very eager to attack a Maroon village, except when they were clearly in the majority: they feared the military prowess of their opponents too much. They were occasionally willing to guide patrols to Maroon hideouts and most of the lonely runaways they came upon were no longer welcomed into the tribe, but were delivered to the whites in return for goods and money.

Slaves and Maroons.

Despite the fact that their interests were not always parallel, many slaves had a lot of sympathy for the Maroons, which they showed in various ways. Bondsmen regularly warned Maroons for coming patrols. The Court of Police complained in 1717 that these bostochten often yielded little result “because of continuous correspondence with negroes of some plantations by which [the Maroons] are informed of ordered patrols”. On their part the Maroons were the cause that “many planters do not have the service of their slaves that should be, even less [they] can punish wrongdoers as merited”. The slaves rejoiced in the failures of the soldiers. Herlein noted that if patrols were sent out and “some of [the runaways] are bought back as prisoners, the Slaves all over the Country are very fearful, because one tells the other, and if the voyage ends unsuccessfully, then they are much prouder again”. After a successful bostocht against a Maroon tribe that by then already counted 800 members and had lived in freedom for so long that some of them had married children who had never seen a white, “there was much dismay among the Slaves of Zuriname”.

Slaves and Maroons sometimes cooperated admirably when the latter raided a plantation. During an attack on La Paix, it was apparent, according to the government, that the slaves had “agreed with the Weglopers and went with them voluntary, the attack having only been staged and continued to prevent the soldiers that were present to track the fleeing”. Not without danger to their own safety, weglopers situated their camps often in such a manner that “in one or two days the slaves from all sides reach it”, noted the government in 1772. After the disappearance of the slaves of Planteau and Picolet, Raad-Fiscaal Bernard Texier wrote that it is “undeniable that such a considerable force of slaves could not have been taken away with violence if there had been only a few well-intentioned among the bunch who had resisted, made noise and by their opposition had given as well the owner as the militia that was posted on the plantation the possibility to learn of the attack”.

There was not always friendly cooperation though: bloody confrontations between Maroons and slaves were frequent as well. The Maroons who attacked the plantation Marseille several times in 1774 were driven back by the slaves each time and pursued far into the forest. This brought Governor Nepveu to the conclusion that “when they have no correspondence at all with some of the most prominent slaves, the attack does not go that easy”. Many times the Maroons did approach plantation slaves beforehand, but got the cold shoulder. If they proceeded with the attack anyway, it could cost them dearly.

Sometimes, Maroons who tried to entice slaves to run away with them were lured into a trap, as happened in the following case. One day, the slave woman Jana of L’ Esperance came back from the field in a very agitated state. She grabbed her child, who was being cared for by an old woman, and wanted to make off with it. Her unusual behavior alarmed the other slaves, who brought her to the director. She confessed that she had been approached in the field by a runaway from the plantation, called Jupiter. He took her to the Bottel Creek, where two others were waiting. They tied her hands behind her back and wanted to take her with them, but she begged to be allowed to fetch her child first. They agreed to this and she promised that she would return to the same spot the next day with her child. As a precaution, they cut off half of her hair (probably to conduct wisi with). At the designated moment, the director laid himself in ambush with some of his schutternegers. Jana and her child functioned as bait. However, the runaways must have noticed that something was wrong, for they did not show up.

The slaves had good reason not always to rejoice in the visits of Maroons. These frequently had only plunder and women on their mind. Not rarely, the plantation slaves were driven to a furious pursuit to save their loved ones from the hands of these ‘liberators’. They ocasionally asked bondsmen from adjoining plantations for help. In 1751, the slaves of Zorghoven, with the assistance of some of their colleagues from Onoribo, managed to free several children and two women from the clutches of a group of Maroons (at least one of them a survivor of the revolt on Bethlehem the year before). They killed three of the culprits. A group of ten armed slaves followed the trail of the remaining kidnappers, who still had 2 men, 5 women and 4 children in their power, but they were unable to retrieve them. The bondsmen were well aware that such a display of ‘loyalty’ merited a token of gratitude. The slaves of Marseille were rewarded by the authorities as well as by their owners, who resided in Holland. They were greatly hurt when it turned out that their heroism was forgotten soon.

Many of the slaves ‘liberated’ by Maroons were not exactly grateful for their deliverance. They were torn away from their familiar surroundings and found themselves in a situation of great uncertainty. They could depend on no one. The women, especially, were treated hardly better than slaves. They were taken as wives by the most influential Maroons, without having any say in the matter. Often, they were used as a kind of breeding mares by men desperate for offspring. Until they had been around long enough to earn the trust of their companions, the new recruits were forced to perform the heaviest and dirtiest work, which made the prospect of continued slavery lose much of its horror. Many of the new additions, especially the involuntary ones, tried their utmost to return to their plantations. Therefore, they were watched closely and killed on the slightest suspicion that they wanted to escape.

The Maroons had good reason not to allow anyone to return to the whites, even when the persons in question had come to them on their own initiative and had merely found the joys of freedom somewhat disappointing. Many of the returnees were willing to betray the Maroon hideouts in order to escape punishment, or revenge themselves. To avoid this possibility, the Maroons often made new recruits swear a solemn oath (sweri), enforced by the drinking of blood, that they would never betray their comrades, on the penalty of being stricken with instant death. Jupiter of the plantation Elk Het Zijn told the Criminal Court how he had been captured while on patrol and had been brought to Boekoe, the stronghold of the Maroon leader Boni. Because he refused to participate in raids, he was employed as a provision guard. When Boekoe was attacked by the Vrijcorps, he was grabbed in the provision grounds, together with Janconie of Roosenbeeck. The next day, the commander freed Janconie of his shackles and ordered him to lead them to Boekoe. Along the way, Janconie suddenly dropped dead (without having been touched in any way) and Jupiter attributed this to the fact that he had not kept his oath to Boni.

Captured runaways were put under heavy pressure to betray their fellows and since that sometimes meant the choice between a horrible execution and freedom plus a reward, some of them were willing to comply. Others only professed to cooperate, but in reality lured the soldiers on the wrong trail, so their comrades would have more time to flee. Markies, for example, had promised to guide a patrol and he brought it to two villages, which were both deserted. He said he would lead them to another one, but instead he steered the patrol though so many swamps that the commander, sergeant Krijgslaen, became suspicious. Markies tried to desert, but was caught and severely whipped. The chance to find the village was lost, however, and the soldiers decided to return. Markies later explained to the Court of Police that he had sworn never to betray his leader Coffy and when he was on the verge of breaking his oath, his “eyes had twisted” and he could not find the way anymore. The leaders of the patrol were of the opinion that he had led them astray on purpose and had tried to warn the Maroons, because when they stumbled upon a large barbacot along the way, with a fire still burning underneath, Markies had asked for a calabash of water in a very loud voice and had started to rattle his chains, whereupon a Negro, who had been hiding under the barbacot, jumped up and ran away. Markies claimed he had not been a wegloper but a schuylder. What further happened to Markies the story does not tell, but Profeyt of Wajampibo, who on a similar mission had been plagued by a “twist in his head” and had also not been able to find the right track anymore, was beheaded for his failure.

Since runaways often claimed to have been kidnapped by Maroons to save their life, whites were not very gullible when confronted with this claim. Even slaves who really had been dragged away by force had much trouble to prove their innocence. In 1771, the administrators of Rustlust, Kennedy and Backer, wrote a request to Governor Nepveu, begging clemency for some of the women of their plantation, who had been captured by a patrol under the command of Ensign Sebulo. Maroons had attacked the plantation in the expectation that the slaves would follow them willingly, but a great deception had awaited them. Though unarmed, the slaves had resisted with all their might and had even managed to free some of the maids who had already been overpowered and bound. After this feat, they had continued to work to the full satisfaction of the director, even though they were very sad about the loss of their women. When Sebulo visited the plantation during his patrol, the bondsmen had asked him if he had any suspicion against the slaves of Rustlust who had fallen into the hands of the Maroons and he had denied he had. The administrators requested that the women would be sent back to the plantation, for “what kind of impression will it give to the well-meaning, loyal and especially Creole slaves who shall have the misfortune to see everyone who is dear to them in this world confined this way on their return or capture and treated the same way as those who have conspired and plotted with the runaways”.

The peace treaties of the 1760’s included the provision that the ‘Pacified Maroons’ were obliged “to return all the slaves or slave women who might come to them or who are encountered in the forest to the whites without any distinction and to deliver them to the nearest magistrate or burgerofficier”. The Bush Negroes kept their part of the bargain, but they did not like it very much. They made it clear that they had little desire to hand over slaves who had fled because of cruel mistreatment and they wanted to make sure that the slaves they delivered would not be condemned to death, except when they were guilty of murder. The Saramaka Bush Negroes (who returned only two of the twenty slaves already residing in their midst) complained that the wails of abused slaves caused much “commotion and resistance” in their villages, especially among the women and children.

It should, however, not be presumed that the Bush Negroes were motivated by humanitarian reasons only. Not only could they use the labor of the fugitive slaves very well, but they also saw a perfect opportunity to manipulate and blackmail the whites. Often, absconders were kept in semi-thralldom for a considerable period and only handed over after much pressure and the payment of bribes by the whites. Ensign Daunitz, the posthouder (government representative) with the Saramaka, made himself very unpopular by reporting to the authorities that they had hidden a large number of runaways in the forest. Chief Etja even threatened to kill him, but he later relented and acknowledged that peace had only been saved by the mediation of Daunitz.

Runaway slaves were often treated as pawns by the Bush Negroes, who held out for the best bargain. This is illustrated by the behavior of the Bekoe-Musinga Bush Negroes. They were closely allied with the Saramaka, but had not shared in the presents distributed to the Saramaka chiefs, and consequently were not included in the peace treaty either. Although they were not yet pacified, they often visited the plantation of Mr. Planteau and consumed dram with the slaves. Because this led to frequent disturbances, Planteau forbade them further entrance. Moreover, Musinga was refused free passage over the Para River and was very annoyed about that. He proposed to the elite slaves of the plantation to come with him and they agreed. To prepare for the flight, the housemaids and the voetebooy hid the possessions of the master in the forest. The other slaves butchered all their fowl and took it along half roasted. Musinga forced the unwilling slaves to follow him with the help of some of his Maroons and the slaves who participated in the conspiracy. At the same time, Bekoe enticed the bondsmen belonging to the plantations of Picolet and Latterman to flee with him. The slaves of the latter he gave to the Saramaka chief Donkie. Musinga gave some of ‘his’ slaves to chief Quakoe of the village Coffy Sambo, who returned them to the whites without delay and pocketed a handsome fee (probably shared by Musinga). The same happened to some slaves who were donated to chief Samsam. In retaliation for these kidnappings, a patrol under the command of ensign Dorig burned down Musinga’s village, but it had already been deserted because a lukuman had predicted the attack. When a peace treaty was concluded with Bekoe and Musinga in 1767, they returned some of the remaining slaves as a token of goodwill, but these were, of course, not the most useful ones. Susanna, for example, realized very well that she was only handed over because she was “old and sick and cannot work”. The other stolen slaves were kept behind to toil in the provision grounds and only after urgent requests some of them were sent back.

Less prominent Bush Negroes also delighted in the possibility of harassing the whites. A Saramaka named Soesa had “received if not taken away” a slave “to spite the white”, had given him to an Aucaner and had taken another one in return. He refused to hand over this slave to the authorities on the pretext that he belonged to the Aucaner “which game these two have invented to elude restitution according to the peace treaty”. There was nothing the authorities could do, except to threaten Soesa that they would arrest him the moment he showed his face in the capital.

In 1721, the death penalty had been made obligatory for runaways (except when they had been driven away by abusive planters, or had been kidnapped by Maroons). After the peace treaties, the authorities faced a problem, because they had promised the Pacified Bush Negroes that returned slaves would not be punished with death unless they were “wrongdoers, murderers and poisoners”. However, they did not dare to send the runaways whose lives they had to spare back to the plantations, out of fear that they would incite the other slaves to rebellion. Therefore, they decided to keep them at the fortifications to work in chains for the rest of their lives and they paid the masters 200 guilders as indemnification. In 1788, when the worst dangers were over, the whites could afford to be more lenient: from then on, the death penalties would be reserved for proven murderers only. In 1828, it was ruled that runaways could only be condemned to death if they had drawn blood while resisting capture. Finally, in 1838 the following decree was issued: “The escape of a slave from the colony Suriname, with the apparent aim to remove himself from his lawful master, will be punished with forced labor on one of the Government Establishments, or the plantation of his master, for the time of ten years at most.” This penalty will not have inspired much fear in the slaves, but by this time, although some Maroons groups continued to plague the colony, the real danger had long passed.

It can be concluded that the existence of Maroon settlements in the hinterland had profound repercussions for the position of the slaves. On the one hand, it proved that their situation was not hopeless, which gave them solace; on the other hand, it added to the dangers already lurking in the jungle. The slaves could never be sure of acceptance among the Maroons and if they were unlucky, they might be taken for a spy and be killed without mercy. Even when they were accepted, they might very well have bartered one kind of slavery for another and they might be treated by their new masters just as heartlessly as by their former owners. After the conclusion of peace treaties with the major Maroon tribes, they were no longer welcome there. From then on, they were locked in between the plantation area and Bush Negro territory. Though the Bush Negroes certainly did not sympathize with cruel slaveholders, runaways could not trust them and many deemed it prudent to stay out of their reach. Consequently, they were often forced to stay much closer to the plantations than they would have preferred.

The war against the Maroons.

During the Indian War of the 1680’s, runaway slaves became a threat to the colony for the first time. Cornelis van Aerssen was the first governor to take the problem of the weglopers seriously. He concluded a peace treaty with a group led by Jermes in 1685. After that the position of the remaining weglopers was weakened so much that they quietly disappeared from the scene for several decades. Although individual attacks could endanger isolated plantations, the Maroons only became a problem to the colony again after their numbers had swollen considerably by runaways profiting from the chaos that ensued after the attack of the fleet of Jacques Cassard in 1712. By the middle of the eighteenth century, Maroons made up about 10% of the black population.

During the post-Cassard period, the number of patrols that were dispatched increased and the awareness of the danger the weglopers posed grew. Governor Temming wrote in 1722: ”the runways who are very numerous and are spread far and wide over the whole colony start to become very insolent, and not without reason they are feared on some plantations, yes even here in Paramaribo to the side of the new expansion: if I had some more soldiers here, I flatter myself to be able to root out this scum in due course”. During the reign of Governor De Cheusses (1728-1734) one patrol after the other was sent out and three decades later Pieter Brouwers gloated that ”by fire and by sword this brave Hero had them pursued into their holes, and if he had not been stopped, he would have gone to war in person; alas! Surinam may morn the loss of this Warrior up to this moment”. De Cheusses’ successors were even more burdened by the duty of fighting the Maroons: by the middle of the 18th century they made up about 10% of Surinam blacks.

To stimulate members of the Burgerwacht to search for weglopers more actively, Governor Van Scharphuys decided in 1691 to reward them with a hogshead of sugar for every fugitive they apprehended and he promised anyone who participated in a bostocht 50 pounds of sugar a day. The premium for catching a runaway increased steadily: first to five guilders, than to 300 pounds of sugar (= 15 guilders) if the captive had been hunted on purpose and 100 pounds if he had been caught by sheer luck. Still later, the reward rose to 25 guilders if the runaway was captured in the territory enclosed by the major rivers and 50 guilders if he was captured outside this area -to be paid by the owner. In 1717, it was decided by the Government and Court of Police that everyone was free to organize a commando, which would be rewarded with 1500 guilders for the discovery of one of the so-called Claas or Pedro villages and 600 guilders for the discovery of another Maroon settlement. Slaves or runaways who guided a patrol to a Maroon village were rewarded with freedom. At the height of the Maroon Wars, the fee for a captive rose to 150 guilders.

During the first stages of the Maroons Wars, they were fought mainly by the planters themselves. When a burgercapitein decided to assemble a patrol to track runaways or raiders, the planters in his division had either to participate themselves, or hire replacements. When most owners moved to Paramaribo, this left only the directors and blankofficieren as recruits and understandably, they were not very eager to risk their lives for the possessions of others. A few planters seemed to enjoy these expeditions: David Nassy, for example, led one patrol after the other and he trained Indians in the use of rifles when he could not persuade enough whites to enlist. However, by 1730 it had become clear that the militia could not handle the situation and regular soldiers were sent on patrol as well. The jungle patrols were extremely hard on the participants. Governor Nepveu wrote that the soldiers “melted like snow before the sunsine and those who are still alive carry around an impotent and miserable body”.

In the beginning of the 18th century, Governor De Cheusses was already well aware that it would be difficult to beat the Maroons: “while they don’t have to do anything, but hide about six behind trees here and there on the Route of our march, and from there shoot at our men, and then flee again further, since it will be impossible to discover them before they shoot, or to pursue them after the shooting, while they are in their Element there, and are very knowledgeable, and if one or two of our men are wounded in this manner, they will need bearers again, to traverse the forest”. Half a century later, Nepveu had similar reservations “even if there were 1000 yes 3000 men in those Forests, they could not do more than is done now, while it is impossible to engage them, if they want to retire, and the same with hungering them out even if one could suppose that one would find all their provision grounds, while they will never lack cabbes, wild fruits, fish and game”.

Despite this prevailing pessimism, patrol after patrol was dispatched. The soldiers experienced hell on earth. Van Sypesteyn explained: “Often they had to wade for hours and sometimes during half a day through the deep swamps, sinking to the hips in the swamp at every step, and obliged to carry the weapons and the ammunition on the head, to prevent them from getting wet. If the night fell, before they had reached a dry spot, then they were compelled to tie the hammocks to trees above the water or above the swamp, or to spend the night on a raft, which had been fashioned hastily from felled trunks … Sometimes it happened that, while they were wading through the swamp with the water reaching to their armpits, they were shot at by the ever-lurking bush negroes from a safe hideout, without being able to defend themselves much, because they, standing in the water, could not load their discharged rifles.”

Fortunately for the soldiers, the rebels had a constant shortage of guns, gunpowder and ammunition. According to Stedman, their shots often did not do much damage, because their rifles were loaded with small pebbles, buttons, or coins and they used a potsherd instead of a piece of flint for ignition. Sometimes, the Maroons were driven to attack military posts to obtain guns and ammunition, a risky venture that could go very wrong. Boni was rumored to make his own bullets.

Logistics was always the weak point for patrols. Governor Mauricius reported: “All the provisions have to be carried on the head by slaves and easily spoil in this heat. And everything depends on the loyalty of these slaves, who have been scraped together from all plantations, and usually are those which the owners or directors of the plantations want to get rid of. So it is usually the end of all patrols that one has to return for lack of provisions.” Governor Crommelin observed: “when a Load-carrying Negro has to carry provisions for four weeks for himself, one can easily understand that one cannot give him much to bear for the white Patrollers”.

Many of the Maroon villages were not that far away as the crow flies, but it often took weeks to reach them: “one reckons from Auka being a Jewish plantation, situated just below the Blue Mountain, at least 14 days travel, over Mountains, Creeks and Valleys, before one nears their Villages”, Thomas Pistorius observed. The Maroons usually situated their settlements in swampy areas, on the higher sand ridges. In the rainy season, they were practicably unreachable. During the rest of the year, they were well protected too. Some were surrounded by stakes, who functioned as man-traps: “From this we can see, that the Bush Negroes are not as simple as one thinks, and even shame us, while they do everything in their ability that is conductive to their Defense”, Governor Nepveu noted. One of the larger settlements was called Pennenburg, because “around the Village they had made double Diamonds, Crosswise over each other, in the manner of a Draught-board, with square holes, in which sharp pins had been put, which properly distributed, like a fence of Palisades, surrounded the Village”, wrote Pistorius. Boekoe had similar fences and was also protected by swivel-guns. When a village was attacked, the Maroons often did not defend themselves, but retired into the jungle, tried to hide their trail and brought their women, children and ‘house gods’, “in whom they have much confidence”, to safety.

Because of “bad judgement and fear” white soldiers were useless for battling Maroons. Moreover, the costs of dispatching so many patrols soon became prohibitive. Not infrequently, these amounted to more than 100.000 guilders for the average sojourn. Although a special cassa had been established for this purpose in 1749, it was emptied much quicker than it could be filled. It became increasingly clear to the whites that they could not win this war on their own.

From the beginning, they had put their hope on the abilities of the Indians. In 1690, for example, Governor van Scharphuys informed the Society that “fourteen days ago a troupe of 17 Coromantees have run away which [I] immediately have had pursued, but until now [I] got back no more than 8 of them the Indians have gone out in search of the rest who [I] hope return [with] good success”. Using Indians had its drawbacks though. The authorities observed in 1712 that weglopers had continuous contact with the Indians “who function as Instruments to debauch the Negroes on the plantations to Desertion”. Many runaways sought refuge with the Indians along the Saramacca and Coppename rivers and made ‘plantations’ for them. Later, the lure of rewards made the Indians more willing to track absconders, but they were put off by the fact that they often did not receive the promised premiums.

The bravery of the Indian warriors left much to be desired as well: “The Carib Indians are Lazy and Peaceful [and] fear the Weglopers a lot; they also don’t need any kargasoenen [trading goods] since they get enough kargasoenen from the Ruijlders [and don’t need] to barter for them, [they] also don’t want to do anything, and [they] would themselves not easily be able to find the places where those Weglopers hide”, Commander De Raineval complained. Governor De Cheusses was just as pessimistic. The Society should keep in mind “that the indians even though they knew some hideouts of the weglopers would never betray those, because it is a fearful people, and they would be afraid to be employed to point out these weglopers”. According to Teenstra, the Waraus were much better suited for hunting Maroons than the Caribs or the Arawaks and much less addicted to alcohol. The half-black Coppename Karboegers were deemed the most courageous. It was forbidden to trade with them to make sure they did not obtain guns. Governor Mauricius proposed in 1747 to ply them with gifts to get them on the side of the whites.

The battle against the Maroons could never be decided with the help of the Indians, so the colonists were forced to enlist Negro troops, who were much more suited to guerilla warfare. Slaves made up a valuable part of the various bostochten from the beginning, especially the schutternegers accompanying their masters. A more or less typical expedition to the Sara Creek, for example, consisted of a lieutenant, an ensign, 40 planters, 37 schutternegers and 83 carriers. The owners did not always like to see their slaves employed for this purpose. One of them complained to the Court of Police: “I do not give slaves to have them burn houses and to have them beaten with clubs as has been done here continuously for three years”. Other whites saw more possibilities.

Already in 1716, some colonists proposed that “The best and most loyal Negroes can be encouraged by favorable promises and compensation, and the service one would get from them, would in all probability have an even greater effect, than that of the Indians, because they are usually bolder”. Shortly after this, Commander De Raineval concluded: “Therefore, in my opinion, there will never be found a good remedy for this scandalous desertion, as with a group of freed Negro Creoles and Mulattoes, with four to five whites as their Chiefs, who could be divided [into] one group on the Upper Zuriname River and one group on the Upper Commewijne River, provided that first sufficient housing, provision grounds are made for them, the premiums for the catching and shooting of the maroons could be split, one half for the Mulattoes and Negroes and the other half for the whites … To animate and reassure these Mulattoes and Free Negroes one should supply those who had caught and killed a certain number of runaways with a wife to be paid for partly from their premium, and what was short from the public means of the land”. In this period, the authorities were not ready for these extreme measures yet. Governor Van de Schepper observed: “with regard to the Blacks one cannot Form a regular Corps and supply them all with guns, since this [is] too dangerous and would often lead to our own ruin, but most whites ordinarily whether on Patrol or otherwise take along two or three of their loyal slaves who they can trust supplied with riffles and use them”.

As the hostilities dragged on, the whites came to reason. The peace with some Maroon groups in the 1760’s had not ended the troubles with belligerent runaways. A new group under the command of Boni and his lieutenants Baron, Jolicoeur and Coromantin Codjo harassed the whites as never before. Governor Nepveu observed: “The terrible Insolences of these Negroes is without Example; however it appears that their principal goal is, to force us to make peace with them too, which is surely all the more questionable, since others will not fail to assemble in this Manner again from time to time: so this is an evil of which one cannot humanly speaking expect the end as long as one has Slaves”.

Since the expenses of fighting the insurgents nearly brought the colony to bankruptcy, Governor Nepveu concluded in 1769 that ‘if the slaves are made willing, they alone are able to track and catch runaways”. The best way to make slaves ‘willing’ was to promise them freedom. So three years later, the Governor and Court of Police decided to buy the freedom of 300 of the best slaves in the colony. Most of the candidates were eager to accept this opportunity. Only a few, owned by timber grounds in the Para, declined. These ‘Black Chasseurs’ (also called the Vrijcorps or Redi Moesoe) turned out to be singularly efficient and Governor Nepveu reported with glee that “the Negroes are incomparably more competent for this than Whites, and that one has always to expect much Benefit of them, provided one lets them act on their own without hindrances & without beings charged with Whites, for whom it is impossible to act with dexterity and obstinacy in the Forest, when it matters”.

The Maroons considered the Redi Moesoe traitors of the worst kind, but in the beginning, they wanted to give them a chance to defect. One chasseur reported to the Court of Police that he had been captured by the Maroons along with twelve comrades. Their captors had given them the choice to join them or die. Their leader Vigilant thereupon pronounced that they preferred to die and all of them were sentenced to death. The gun pointed at the survivor, however, failed twice and the Maroons regarded this as a sign from the gods. They killed his comrades with machetes, but decided to let him go, after whipping him soundly, cutting off an ear and shaving off his hair. Jupiter, the kidnapped slave of Elk Het Zijn, had witnessed this execution and later testified that the Maroons had brought the captives to their place of worship, had retracted their oath that they would not kill any Negro and had replaced it with an oath that from now on they would kill any chasseur that fell into their hands. The Redi Moesoe did not give quarter to the Maroons either. They gained some remarkable victories, the conquest of Boni’s stronghold Boekoe being the most remarkable.

During the height of the Boni War, Governor Nepveu finally found support for a favorite plan of his: the establishment of the so-called Cordon Pad around the inhabited part of the colony. The construction took from 1774 tot 1778. Kappler gave the following description: “The right branch of it stretched from the Suriname to the Commewijne, the left from the latter to the sea. The paths were about 80 feet wide and where they went through the forest, ditches four feet deep and 10 feet wide lay on both sides, in which the water seeping out of the forest gathered, and which discharged into the rivers and creeks. At a quarter of an hour distance of each other sentry posts and pickets were situated, which were partly manned from the main post, partly had a regular crew. The call-to-arms traveled the cordon pad from one end to the other in a few minutes.” In a way, the colonists had become the prisoners of their own former slaves.

In their desperation, the Surinam whites requested the help of the motherland and in 1773 the first contingent of State soldiers arrived under the command of Colonel Louis Henri Fourgeoud, who had gained valuable experience during the suppression of the Berbice rebellion in 1763. Nearly 2000 soldiers were sent to Surinam and when they left after five years of skirmishes only “a sad few hundred” were still alive. A minority had been killed in actual battle. Liquor and diseases had taken the heaviest toll. The debaucheries of the soldiers in Paramaribo, where they spent most of their time, angered the inhabitants and the fact that they had to bear a large part of the costs of the expedition did not please them very much either.

Colonel Fourgeoud was appointed the commander of all troops in Surinam, the soldiers of the Society included -thus surpassing the governor in importance. It is therefore not surprising that the relations between Colonel Fourgeoud and Governor Nepveu were strained from the beginning. Nepveu wanted the State troops to engage the Maroons whenever possible and to hunt them without mercy. Fourgeoud preferred a more restrained tactic. Nepveu complained that “with his Caresses, Benefactions, Promisses he tries to get [the Bush Negroes] on his side and on the other hand denigrates us with them”. Fourgeoud concentrated on destroying the provision grounds of the Maroons and in the end, this proved successful: desperately short of food and exhausted by the constant pursuit the remaining ‘unpacified’ Maroons (led by Boni) crossed the Marowijne River to French Guyana.

The troubles were not over though. Fortunately, the whites could depend on their new ‘pacified’ friends. When the Boni Maroons, in search of provisions and utensils and gunning for a similar peace treaty, returned to plunder the colony in 1788, the whites enlisted the help of the Djuka to suppress them. The Djuka were hesitant at first, but in 1792 a group led by captain Bambi attacked the village of Boni and killed him. This signaled the definitive end of the Boni Wars. Although a peace treaty was denied them, the Boni Maroons (nowadays called Aluku) were permitted to stay in Surinam as wards of the Djuka and they posed no longer a threat to colonial society. Other groups continued to trouble the plantations and until the last months of the slave era, patrols were dispatched to root them out, but although they remained a nuisance, they never constituted a real threat anymore.

For the whites it had been a bitter moment when they were forced to acknowledge that they could not defeat their rebellious slaves on their own. Coming to depend on their own former bondsmen to protect them was not an easy step, but it was a necessary one. The Bevredigde Bosnegers were never happy with the situation they had been obliged to accept and up to this day have retained a deep suspicion of whites and their motives, but the peace between them and the colonial government endured, to the benefit of both. This is certainly more than can be said about the peace treaties with Maroons groups elsewhere.