Arawaks and Maroons

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Updated: Mar 14, 2023
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Category: Culture
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The indigenous people of Jamaica were known as the Arawaks. They named the island Xaymaca, which means “land of water and wood”. The Arawaks lived in tribes where the women were responsible for farming crops such as sweet potatoes, corn, fruits, cotton, and tobacco while the men were responsible for fishing and hunting. The Arawaks built their villages all around the island. However the most popular area to reside in was near the coast, for fishing opportunities. The natives were physically described as being light brown, short statured, and nicely built with coarse black hair. Their facial structure was described as being broad with flat noses.

In 1494, Christopher Columbus took his second exploration to the region now known as the West Indies. This is where he discovered Jamaica. Columbus initially described the indigenous people of Jamaica has being extremely hostile because they attacked his men to prevent him from landing on the island. However, Columbus was determined to conquer the land in the name of Spain so he traveled down the coast of the island to try again. The Arawaks in this area also fought to keep Columbus and his men from docking there. However, they were defeated and the Spaniards began to kill and torture the Arawaks to conquer their land.

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The Spaniards went to Jamaica in search of gold. However, when they did not discover any gold they decided to begin planting crops on the island and use it as a supply stop for their travels back and forth from Europe to the Americas. Along with new crops the brought deadly diseases. A large amount of the enslaved natives died from being overworked while many more died from the diseases the Spanish brought to the island. In 1660, the Spanish lost control of the island to the English.

As the English began to settle on the island and form their own plantations, some of the Spanish released their Arawak slaves while others escaped. Escaped and released slaves usually resorted to the mountainous region of the island. The terrain made it hard for their owners to find and catch them. The Maroons, what they came to be known as, developed their own community and lived as free people. As slave rebellions continued to increase, so did the Maroon population.

The actual word “Maroon” is French , meaning fugitive. These Maroons were of Jamaican origin, that lived in rugged mountains, plains and hills. In the midst of fighting white planters, any slaves who were free or runaway slaves would go to these areas because it was hard for the slave masters to follow and catch them. Over time they formed their own community which also led to more revolts. A man by the name of Cudjoe, led and encouraged this group of people to fight back. Years of fighting, and years of violence continued between the Maroons and the British.

On March 1739, The First Maroon war ended. Their leader Cudjoe agreed to the peace terms which would give them guaranteed freedom and semi-independent rule in the Cockpit country and surrounding area. Only if the killing against the white planters was to stop and they returned any runaway slaves who sought out refuge in their land. Once the English colonist failed to come to terms with the free slaves, the Maroons continued to raid the mountain tops and forest. The Maroons became a refuge for runaway slaves again and out numbered white planters 10 to 1. The Maroons were growing by the day and became a potential threat to the colonists. With the Maroons growing rapidly, the Assembly had to pass six acts to suppress the Maroons. The country had spent $105,000 Euros for this purpose over a five year span, roughly about $120,000 USD.

The first Maroon War held conflict between the Jamaican Maroons and the Colonial British authorities, starting around 1728 and ending after the peace treaties in 1739/1740. In the early 1650’s the British took control of most of Jamaica, causing the Spanish to flee to the northern coast. Many of these Spanish people joined the Maroons in the hill country (Campbell). Since the Maroons initial act wasn’t to get the Spaniards out of Jamaica completely the British figured they were allies; which soon proved to be wrong.

The next steps for the British and the Maroons included building their alliance. Together the British and Maroons got rid of the Spaniards completely. Conflict began in 1663, when the separation of the Maroons led to greater violence; the Maroon leader, who was also helper to the British governor, colonel Lubolo was killed by another Maroon leader by the name of Juan de Serras.

Dealing with tremendous tension for eight decades the British realized they couldn’t move the Maroons. Later a state of open warfare existed for ten years between the British and the Maroons. The first governor for the British, Robert Hunter was deeply frustrated at the fact that the Maroons had the advantage of the mountain terrain over the British now that there was conflict between the two. Within the next five years the British and Maroons would soon come to the conclusion of dropping issues and creating peace through negotiations. The Leeward and Windward Treaties of 1739 ended the Maroon-British wars; With the Maroons returning runaway slaves back to the British (Campbell).

The Leeward Treaty also known as the Cudjoe Treaty of 1739 was a treaty of peace and friendship between the Maroons and the British. Britain wanted the Maroons protection of lands, but the Maroons wanted freedom and to not be controlled under the British government. So this treaty was signed by Cudjoe, leader of the Leeward Maroons on March 1st, 1739. This ended the killing and slaughtering of the British because they had no other choice or way to protect their Maroon areas, and they did not want Britain to take over their island.

This treaty consists of articles within the agreements of peace to cease all hostility between the British and the Maroons, and to treat the Maroons as a free sovereign nation and to not be subjected by British. For example, the British would not have the authority to dictate what the Maroons could grow and what they could not grow. They would be allowed to plant any seeds or vegetables as they desired without having to get permission. After the treaty they were able to sell in British markets. The British law would not apply to the territory that belonged to the Maroons so the Maroons would have their own laws. Their newfound voice placed Cudjoe as the leader who made the direct decisions if the island were to be invaded, as he elected for a mutual defense within the militaries to defend each other.

The British still wanting protection also played a part in the drafting of the treaty. So the two military leaders combined ideas to support each other in the military. It was made clear that if a white man did anything of harm to Cudjoe that they be sentenced under jury for their actions. If any black person were to run away that they would not be harmed but put into the hands of Cudjoe and sent back to their chief. Cudjoe was the Maroon’s main leader with full-power to decide any punishment for committed crimes and power to appoint other leaders.

The convenient roads from Trelawney town to Westmorland and St. James, both British and Maroon remained friendly with each other. This town belonged to Cudjoe, the leader of the west Maroons but was governed by Edward Trelawney. This town consisted of 1500 acres of land owned by Cudjoe. Many slaves escaped to this land but were demanded to return to their commander or slave owner. The land pulled the British attention because 400+ slaves escaped there and the British became curious so they decided to take over, in which the West Maroon’s had to protect and defend it from the British.

There was another war that began in 1795 to 1796 that lasted only eight months known as the “Second Maroon War”. The maroons thought they were being mistreated under the treaty’s terms. The Second Maroon War was between the British government and the Maroons located in Trelawny town. Two Maroons were caught stealing pigs, in which they were arrested in put in a cage used to torture prisoners. The British got involved by imprisoning them which went against the treaty made after the First Maroon War. The agreement was for the West Maroon leader, Cudjoe, to have the power and right to sentence any person who commits a crime. In turn, the war broke out because the British did not abide by the treaty.

The effects of the Maroon War and its ensuing treaties left management of many Maroon affairs to be handled by themselves internally. Some of these tasks included tracking slaves and other Maroons who did not agree to the treaties. The use of guerilla warfare is something the Maroons were all too familiar with although it’s a concept has been seen long before and after their time. This tactic that would be used years later in many different conflicts, such as the American Revolution, Civil War, and even the Haitian Revolution, the only successful slave revolt in history.

The British felt that as a group who had been so adept in guerilla warfare that they would have no problem carrying out some of these aforementioned tasks. However, despite it being laid out in this manner, post war governments did not function as intended. Cudjoe, leader of the Maroons, had been tasked with keeping down future slave rebellions in return for his people’s independence. He worked with the British in many aspects to upkeep this pact that was made as he valued the independence of the nation over many other matters.

The treaties were outlined with the design that the governments would be adept as a slave-tracking force and keep tight order over their citizens. In the British’s eyes, this quickly turned out to be false as they viewed disruptive and aggressive behavior from civilians. The British found this to be unacceptable and chastised the Maroon governments as unorganized, as the British expected outbursts of these sorts to be quickly shut down without hesitation. They viewed this activity as a threat to peace and security due to an inept governing force from the Maroons.

The Maroons also experienced upstarts in factionalism among themselves on several different scales, disrupting almost all of their settlements. An example of this is evident in 1742 in which a few rogue Leeward Maroons and Coromantee slaves began a conspiracy across several plantations where they decided to cut off all outsiders and start their own society on the island of Jamaica. Despite the efforts to keep order, these splits would emerge more frequently as time went on, as a second one would arise in 1749 in Crawford Town.

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These events proved that there is always be an unhappy party, no matter what agreements are reached in political dealings. Despite the Maroons gaining a form of independence, they still would not be able to please all those who fought for the cause. This second fracturing in Crawford would lead to the burning of the town. Those who rebelled were met with resistance from many outlying groups of Maroons who attempted to persuade the Crawford Maroons to give up their quest. After a conflict in which several were lost, those in Crawford town were given no other option but to give up in their ambitions for rebellion.

This minor usurpation highlighted Cudjoe’s conscious efforts in keeping peace with the British on their agreement. He would not allow for the rebellion of fellow Maroons, as long as it threatened conflict with the British once again. The first Maroon War was fought on the basis in which many revolutions and wars are fought upon, freedom. It is basic human nature to want to be free and British occupation infringed upon these rights that the Maroons felt they were entitled to.

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Arawaks and Maroons. (2019, Dec 05). Retrieved from