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date: 28 May 2017

The Saamaka Maroons of Suriname

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Latin American History. Please check back later for the full article.

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?