In this post I want to address slave rebellions that did not involve joining one of the maroon tribes in Suriname.
First I want to deal with an issue that confuses many locals as well as foreigners, namely the question: Why didn’t all the slaves join the maroon tribes?
Let’s first deal with some more recent events in order to understand human behavior. During WWII when Germany occupied Holland and caused many of its citizens to die, there was an underground resistance movement in Holland. However not everybody joined the resistance movement, but I’m sure most were supportive in one way or another.
It was a similar situation in Suriname. The slaves were very aware of the maroons and actually kept close contact with many of them. There was actually an underground economy, where the maroons bought things from slaves & vice versa. For example the maroons would buy alcohol and small metal utensils while they sold fish to the slaves.
It is important to know a few facts about this period in order to understand the whole picture.
- Not all plantations were run by cruel owners. As a matter of fact it was against the owner’s interest to rule with an iron fist especially in the case of Suriname, because the constant ever present threat of slaves running away and joining the maroons.
- The slaves who were born in Suriname usually had extended families on nearby plantations with which they had contact and close family bonds.
- Joining the maroons was not fun and games. You were basically joining an army, which was in a constant state of war. As such the army generals & leaders had to have full obedience and trust from the regiment. The disciplinary punishments dealt to new recruits was often as harsh as the worst plantation bosses and sometimes even worse. These are all things that the slaves knew, because some new recruits actually escaped from the maroons and threw themselves at the mercy of their former masters!
- The women were sought after and usually had little choice who would become their husband in the maroon tribes of those days. This is no longer the case.
- Yet all the slaves were very proud of the maroons, and as I said before, they did lend their support in one way or another. According to historical accounts when the colonial army scored a victory against the maroons the mood among ALL the slaves in the colony would be somber for a few days. On the other hand when the colonial army suffered a defeat the slaves would get a certain stride of pride in their walk and demeanor.
- They also sabotaged equipment, poisoned the planters in some instances
- The jungle in Suriname is a dangerous place if you are not familiar with it and one can easily get lost and die in it.
What we do know is that there were a lot of runaways who did not join the maroons. Many of these runaways lived close to the plantations or in the city moving around very carefully.
The most famous of these runaways in Suriname were Kodjo, Mentor & Present. They lived in the city and lived off taking food and supplies from local shops & warehouses.
The reason they are well known is because they caused one of the biggest fires in the history of the colony, for which they were punished by death.
According to their testimony the reason for the fire:
Cojo had initially explained the Paramaribo fire as a diversion to cover the stealing of food, but as he was later testifying before two judges of the Court, he suddenly added that he had wanted to set a fire in Missie Peggie’s house because she punished him. He then expanded: he and his fellows had hoped that once much of the city had been burned to ash and they could become well supplied ith weapons, they would overcome the whites, drive them away, and make themselves masters of the land. The African Tom knew of an abandoned plantation on the Suriname River where they could set themselves up
Here is another account of part of the court proceedings, of Kodjo, Mentor & Present, by a certain Mr Teenstra an abolitionist in Suriname: Teenstra thought the crimes of the guilty slaves “horrible” and deserving of the death sentence ordered by the court, but denounced the slave system with its outrageous punishments administered by masters on the plantations as responsible for such brutal behavior.
He found Cojo an angry, hardened man, but also “handsome and wellfavored”; if he had been a Christian and a free man, he would have had a different destiny. Still, Teenstra was struck by the slaves’ response in Sranan to the pastor who urged them to pray to Jesus for forgiveness.
Indifferent to the Christian message, Cojo said “O alla bakkra moese dedé toe,” “Oh, all the white people must die some day, too.” And Present, holding his chained hands up to the stone window frame, affirmed “These stones must one day break.”
Another form of resistance was slowing down work. The slaves were seen as dumb by the whites, and the slaves basically used this to their advantage by working way below their capacity.
Yet another form of rebellion was how the slaves endured their punishment. The slaves would never give the plantation owner the pleasure to hear him cry, scream or show any sign of suffering during punishment. In fact some would even smile during the whole ordeal, no matter how severe the punishment.
I must say that personally I often thought to myself that I would certainly have joined the maroons. But of course this is easy to say in hindsight. I could also imagine my mother with her little children being very hesitant to expose her children to new & unknown dangers.
I can also imagine that an entire plantation who were being treated cruelly would join the maroons or at least make an attempt, which actually happened often.
What I do know is that just like my ancestors I’m filled with a sense of pride by how the maroons have survived.
There are also lots of stories of non maroon heroes in the colonial history of Suriname. Be on the lookout for those stories as well.