Cimarrón is the Spanish translation of maroon, aka enslaved Africans or descendants of whom escaped to form free settlements (often in rugged wild locations) away from the jaws of the colonial empire. My ancestors were cimarrónes on the Bahoruco mountain range in what’s now called Dominican Republic. This botánica is a continuation of their medicine, magic, radical kinship, a synergy of Indigenous West African and Arawak-Taino healing wisdom. This botánica is a continuation of their freedom dreams.
There were settlements all over the so-called Americas. From the Palenques of Colombia, the Quilombos of Brazil, to the swamplands of Virginia, wherever there was a plantation there was resistance to enslavement and there were also maroons. The Garifuna in Belize, a community emerging from marronage, have even managed to conserve their indigenous language amidst so many continued challenges to their sovereignty.
The graphic I made above is referencing a popular lithograph depiction of Leonard Parkinson in Jamaica, but of course images and other archival evidence don’t really exist and even historical depictions can’t fully tell our stories. But the land remembers it all. The mountains and rivers that provided protection and nourishment. And the legacy endures in our music, stories, spirituality, and other lifeways no matter where displacement or diaspora has taken us.
From a young age I felt a strong pull to learn about the history of slavery’s maroons and other alternative communities. But it wasn’t until college that I found “evidence” for this ancestral connection. Chills ran all through by body when I learned from the First Blacks in the Americas exhibition at the Dominican Institute Library that my family’s hometown was the site of the largest maroon settlement on that side of the island. This academic research compliments an embodied research that is oh so healing.
I believe there’s guidance here to be mined for our collective freedom. We can disarm the apparatus of violence and create new modes of living. We can relearn ancestral skills and innovate them to rewild our lives and our world. Our love for the earth is the sweetest song we can sing, and in this interdependence we can find our keys to freedom. I think utopia is a dream worth being head over heels in love for.
How are you getting ready to be free?
Resources for further learning
- Cimarron Spirit (2015) film by Rubén Durán. Streaming on Kanopy
- Maroons Revisited: History and Stories panel at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture
- We Dream Together: Dominican Independence, Haiti, and the Fight for Caribbean Freedom by Anne Eller
- Quilombo (1984) film by Carlos Diegues
- Slavery's Exiles: The Story of the American Maroons by Sylvia A. Diouf