Inés Pérez and Elizabeth Hutchison
The regulation of labor relations and social rights substantially changed workers’ lives over the course of the 20th century. Domestic service, however, was only poorly and belatedly protected under labor law, and its incorporation proceeded in a slow, ambiguous, and nonlinear manner. The specific ways in which domestic service regulation emerged in Chile and Argentina, respectively, offer insight into this process and also present some important contrasts, despite the nations’ geographic proximity. In Chile, although the rights recognized for household workers were limited, the Labor Code of 1931 included an article on domestic service. In Argentina, the first comprehensive regulation for this sector was a special statute sanctioned by decree in 1956. In both cases, the “special” nature of such regulation was attributed to the place of domestic service in family life. As domestic labor was reconceptualized through legislative reform in each country, household workers gradually came to enjoy some, but not all, of the rights guaranteed to other workers.
Communities of runaway slaves, more commonly known as “Maroon communities,” were created throughout the Americas. Enslaved people ran away from their owners all the time, often just for a few days, but some decided never to return to slavery and instead found permanent (or semi-permanent) refuge from the harsh life on the plantations in swamps, jungles, forests, and mountains. Sometimes in very small groups of less than ten people, but more usually in much larger numbers, maroon communities attempted to live independently, free from white interference. White responses to maroon communities varied over time and included military assaults and peace treaties.
Richard Price and Sally Price
Fifty years ago, we began wide-ranging anthropological and historical work with Saamaka Maroons, the descendants of slaves who had escaped from the plantations of coastal Suriname in the late 17th and early 18th centuries and established an independent society and culture deep in the Amazonian rainforest. Then a colony of the Netherlands, Suriname became an independent republic in 1975. Events of the 1980s and 1990s—most notably a civil war between the State and the Maroons and the subsequent decision by the State to exploit the timber and mineral riches of the Saamakas’ traditional territory—have led to wrenching changes for people who were once the masters of their forest realm. As the most visible and activist academic supporters of the Saamakas, the authors were barred from Suriname by the national government and, since 1986, have been condemned to continuing work in neighboring French Guiana (Guyane), where tens of thousands of Saamakas in exile have become part of a complex multi-ethnic society driven by strong assimilationist policies authored in Paris. During this same period, the authors have become increasingly involved in activism, assisting the Saamaka people in Suriname in their struggle to protect their territory, which has unfolded before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
What are the moral dilemmas posed by this activist work? What has it been like writing Saamaka ethnography and history from the excentric location of Guyane? How do we imagine the book that we will never get to write, about changes and continuities in Saamaka life over the past fifty years?