22 Feb

Map of the Week: Maroon Societies of the Island of Ayití

By Phoebe Hill

Marronage refers to removing oneself from enslavement and slave-holding society to form independent communities. In virtually every slave society in the Americas maroon communities emerged as a key act of resistance to the dehumanizing and brutally violent experience of enslavement.

The Island of Ayití, today shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic, was the site of the first Spanish colonial endeavor in the new world. Soon after the Spanish landed on the island, they began to enslave indigenous peoples and, in the aftermath of indigenous population collapse from disease and brutality, began to forcibly transport enslaved Africans to the island as well. As in all other slave societies, the practice of marronage grew as a form of resistance to such enslavement.

Maroon communities on the island of Ayiti were powerful, large, and often inter-generational. During Spanish colonial rule, enslaved Africans on the island frequently escaped from plantations and fled to the remote fringes of Spanish territory. Such communities were often capable of major revolts – they were politically organized, often as West African-style kingdoms with militarized hierarchies. Maroon societies frequently engaged in raids of Spanish sugar plantations and have been accredited, at least in part, with pressuring the Spanish to secede a significant portion of the island to the French.

Under French colonial control, many thousands more enslaved Africans were transported to the island and, subsequently, many thousands more escaped from plantations to join maroon societies. Such societies would go on to be instrumental in the orchestration of the Haitian revolution in which many, often formerly enslaved people, fought to overturn both slavery and colonial rule. Such efforts made Haiti, the country occupying the Western third of the island, the only state to have emerged from a successful slave revolt and the second state in the Americas to have gained independence from a colonial power, after the United States. The island of Ayiti shows how marronage, a practice of self-liberation and self-organization, was the ultimate act of resistance to a capitalism predicated upon the exploitation of enslaved Africans and indigenous peoples.