AfriGeneas Africa Research Forum
Salawa and Maroonage part two
Now that we have talked a little about the nature of salawa, let's talk about the concept of maroonage.
First, I'd like to make clear that the principles of salawa and the importance of good character are not only relevant for maroons but for all Africans in general. No matter where African people are born, no matter the circumstance, we all should recognize good character as a cornerstone of our existence. African culture in its purest form teaches this in ways that are designed for the success of African people globally, we just have to show the interest in reclaiming our birthright, which is our culture. We as a people cannot win without good character tied to its application in African culture.
Maroonage has a long history with extensive references. I use the KiBantu term Kilombo to refer to the concept of and lifestyle of maroonage and it can be more or less translated as “encampment.” To be a maroon is to be a citizen of a Kilombo, these terms have the same meaning and implication. Many are familiar with the portuguese spelling of Quilombo, but it is originally a KiBantu word and not portuguese. The term (Kilombo) has cultural and character-oriented implications that can sometimes be overlooked when studying the history of maroonage in general. Many people are familiar with maroons from a historical perspective, but there are numerous Kilombos in existence today. The Xotome of Ganlodo for instance is a Kilombo. A Kilombo is not limited to captives (so-called slaves) who freed themselves and formed communities of their own in the western hemisphere. It can also exist within a people’s native land (Africa for instance) and cause them to leave and establish a separate smaller community because the larger community is or was becoming increasingly self-destructive and anti-African. It can also take place when there is no physical captivity anymore but a people’s ancestors may have been brought to that land against their will.
So therefore, and to be clear, the word Kilombo not only means encampment but also refers to a group separating itself from the larger community or nation because of the larger community/nation’s degenerate ways. Now to recap, a maroon community is the same as a Kilombo.
In today’s world, maroonage as a concept can be looked at as African culture+black nationalism= maroonage. You can’t have maroonage without African culture or an African people first and only policy. Many people today may be black nationalist, but have no interest in living African culture, and you have people throughout the diaspora who live African culture but are not black nationalists. But you cannot have maroonage without realizing the inherent importance of both. The people who live African culture (including those new Africans in the diaspora)think, for example, that it is okay to involve non-Africans in African culture. They will even go so far as to initiate these non-Africans to African dieties. But for a maroon and any true African, this is disrespectful of our ancestors who fought against the ancestors of those same non-Africans who these “African” sellouts willingly initiate to this day. The people who live the culture but sell it out are way more dangerous than the nationalists without culture because they present the culture in the wrong way and are part of the reason African culture is not respected globally now the way it once was. Another reason it is not as respected is because many of our people have no interest in living their own ancestral culture. That is partially because they feel there is no way to ascertain which African culture they descend from but as was explained in part one, we have ways of retrieving that information for new Africans who don’t know.
One of the most notable examples of a fully functioning Kilombo is the Brazilian example of Palmares, also known as Angola Janga. For those not familiar a quick google search can bring one up to speed. There are a number of things that are instructive about Palmares. For one, it was largely organized by Africans from the Kongo region. What they would do in the early days of their formation into a Kilombo is they would escape captivity and form small villages deep in the jungle, often on hillsides. The portuguese would call these small, often mobile camps mocambos and feared them greatly because of how difficult they were to pinpoint. They also feared them greatly because of how several of them would be extremely organized and in communication. But the main reason they feared them was because the actively engaged in living their own culture and some of the members of these groups were trained priests and many of the ones that weren’t were also living the culture before capture in Africa. Then you had those Africans who were born into captivity but still had the innerstanding that African culture was the natural way to live as an African and even though they were not born into the culture they still sought it out when possible and strived to apply it in everyday life. Maroons equate African culture with the survival and freedom of African people. The members of the Kilombo would perform ritual to ask for the freedom of their people and the destruction of the caucasian captors. Maroons to this day ask this of the deities and our ancestors. I ask daily for the freedom of my people and the destruction of our oppressors, just like our ancestors did. I also ask for the destruction of those who sell out our people and culture. Just as our maroon ancestors did. There was a vetting process for determining who could be admitted into the Kilombo. Simply being an African wasn’t enough. There would be instances where the portuguese would hire a sellout African to try and infiltrate the Kilombo and then report the location of Palmares to the portuguese along with other valuable intel that would aid in the defeat of the town. So here the emphasis on character was paramount to being a member because if you were sympathetic to the portuguese, you could not be trusted and could not gain access to the location or setup of the Kilombo. So, as maroons we put a large value on the character, trustworthiness, strength, consistency and intelligence on all potential members of our community. The same that was true then is true now. We know that if we tell just anyone where we are or the nature of our setup, that can and will be used to effort our destruction.
Palmares had a permanent central town with a fortified wall and trenches. There are reports that as many as 10,000 (though some say upwards of 17 to 20k) people lived in the central town and smaller camps in the nearby area. They had elected officials and had a king chosen by the people that was largely based on the Kongo model of hierarchy.
Now that we've talked about some of the geography and setup, let's examine what took place there a little more closely. The first individual granted the title of king by the people was Zumba. He was also referred to as Nganga (priest in the Kikongo language) Nzumbi. He was a royal of the Kongo people. To keep things shorter, in 1678, at the objection of his most trusted advisors (including Zumbi his nephew) he agreed to a treaty with the governor of Pernambuco and this treaty would effectively end the Kilombo if agreed to. This is because one of the terms of the treaty was that all of the members of the Kilombo would move to the coast where their location was known and their activities could be monitored. Also, all people not born in the Kilombo would be returned to captivity. In exchange Zumba was told he would receive weapons. Why this made any sense to Zumba is unclear because it clearly only benefitted the portuguese, but I think it was largely motivated by fear. Before the “treaty” was offered, in 1677 Zumba had led an offensive war expedition against military strategist Fernao Carrilho but was soundly defeated. 47 people were captured including two of his sons, He was wounded and barely escaped himself. In Losing two of his sons (there are reports that they were executed along with the other 45 Africans) and so many members of his Kilombo must have shaken his resolve because in 1678 he sent an envoy to Recife to negotiate peace. He knew there could be no peace with the portuguese, they would not stop until they could have total control over the region. Peaceful coexistence was not possible. The best method was to stay hidden and defeat the portuguese when they attempted to find Palmares. He knew all this and knew that this maroon policy was what had kept them safe from infiltration as a Kilombo for almost 80 years up until that point. But he was traumatized by the defeat and lost sight of the thousands of others that were counting on him for their safety. His deviation from the guerilla war tactics caused his defeat, a defeat likely spurred on by arrogance, and now his people were to pay the price if allowed. When he sent the envoy to Recife, the governor was told that Zumba himself would come to negotiate “peace” and that he was open to finding a way to live together. Bottom line was that it really wasn’t a treaty, it was a surrender. This is why his nephew, Zumbi, and many others who knew what was going on opposed the decision and would not either give up their location, or go to live among their oppressors in neo-capitivity. Zumbi and thousands of others stayed behind and continued to live as maroons whIle Zumba returned to live among the oppressors under their watch while many of his people were put back in chains as a result of the “treaty.”
Zumba was poisoned in the end. There are reports that the people of the Kilombo were responsible, while others say that when he did return to the coast as the caucasians wanted, they then were able to poison him. It is truly unclear what happened. But one issue is clear, the cost for being a traitor to your people is high. It can cost you your life. Part three will tie it all together and look at where we go from here. We will define some very critical terms and talk about practical solutions.
Azacotogan Fajise Syenxwe