The stories of the maroons are accounts of empowerment and community spanning from southern Virginia to as far as Suriname, and beyond. The word maroon derives from the Spanish word, cimarrón meaning wild, unruly. Maroons were a diverse group of Africans and their descendants in the Americas who formed settlements away from New World chattel slavery. Some had escaped from plantations, but others had always been free, like those born among them in freedom. They often mixed with indigenous peoples, thus creating distinctive creole cultures.
Ricki, Descendant of Jamaican Maroons
Earlier this month on my trip to Kingston, Jamaica I shot the first photos of a series exploring the descendants of maroon
ancestors/societies. Pictured above is Ricki, a singer/songwriter and visual artist of Jamaican nationality, and Maroon lineage by way of her paternal family. I found it interesting in Jamaica knowledge of The Maroons is common and many people proudly accept African Maroon history as a part of their heritage. It was on a ride to the countryside when our taxi driver Robert, and my friend's mom Rebecca were in conversation about The Maroons that my work had a tiny bit of validation. He, a man who from what I gained in the weeks time spent was very versed in the history and politics of the U.S., was surprised to find out there was an in-depth history of Maroons in the States.
In the small amount of lineage work I've done so far, I've been able to identify a figure from history, Gamby Gholar, who is believed to be an ancestor to my family. The name Gholar is of West African origin. I've found accounts of it having Dahomey/Fon roots, as well as Mende by way of Guinea/Sierra Leone. Gholar was a high conjurer, a priest of African spirituality, in The Great Dismal Swamp. 1831 to 1851 saw the development of the Dismal Swamp as a spiritual center. Leaders such as Father Gamby Gholar directed practitioners of African mysticism (a religion of the use of sorcery and spiritual powers for benign purposes). He held his position as Head of the Seven Heads as for over thirty years.
Maroons in the Great Dismal Swamp 1888
In the last 2.5 years ancestor reverence and veneration has become an integral part of my life and growth. With the state of the world today it doesn't feel like an option to investigate those who came before me. It's clear to me that I have a responsibility to continue their legacies in my ways of life and sharing their stories as a means of resistance and empowerment. I believe the stories of The Maroons are worth examining. There is much to be learned by black youth in America about building community and working in private physically and spiritually to ensure the prevalence of our peoples.
I am looking forward to developing a wider web of knowledge on my family's lineage and The Maroons of the America's. Jamaica definitely left me with a thirst to know more. I was happy to be in the country with and inspired by my friend Akua Shabaka, who was on a roots trip. There she was documenting the country and it's cultural significances, for personal research and her brand House of Aama. Akua has been one person in my inner circle who inspires me to truly take a Sankofa approach to my family's narratives.
It is never taboo to go back and get what is at risk for being left behind.
"Digging Up the Secrets of the Great Dismal Swamp". Popular Archaeology. May 15, 2011. Archived from the original on January 14, 2012.
Diouf, Sylviane A. Slavery's Exiles: the Story of the American Maroons. New York University Press, 2016.
Leo Spitzer (1938). "Spanish cimarrón". 14 (2). Linguistic Society of America": 145. doi:10.2307/408879. JSTOR 408879.