The maroon community, San Basilio de Palenque, did not rise one day out of nowhere. To become recognized as an autonomous and free community, it had to fall and rise many times under the leadership of many and under different names. These are some of their stories. Later, we will talk more about one of the maroon heroes and how the palenques were the space in which runaway slaves and their offspring reinvented their world from their African roots and pointed the way to their freedom.
#Sanbasiliodepalenque #africanpalenques #africanleaders #africanheroes #atlantictrade #colonialhistory #historyofcolombia #historyofcartagena #abolition #abolitionofslavery #slavery #blackslavery #blackcreole #creole #freedom
1.Kings, Queens and Captains: Leaders of the Palenques of Sierra de Maria, during the 16th and 17th Centuries. Maria Cristina Navarrete. Magazine Frontiers of History, Vol. 20, No. 2, PP 44-62, July-December 2015. Universidad del Valle, Colombia.
2. Ma Ngombe: warriors and ranchers in Palenque. Richard Cross and Nina S. de Friedemann. Carlos Valencia Editores, 1979.
3.Palenque de San Basilio. Masterpiece of the Intangible Heritage of Humanity. Presidency of the Republic of Colombia. Ministry of Culture. Colombian Institute of Anthropology and History. Bogota, Colombia, 2002.
4. Afro-descendants in the Americas. Social and identity trajectories. Claudia Mosquera, Mauricio Pardo and Odile Hoofman. National University of Colombia. Colombian Institute of Anthropology and History. Colombia 2002.
7. Palenques and Marronage: resistance processes against the colonial salve system in the Caribbean (XVI, XVII and XVIII centuries). Alen Castaño. Pontificia Javeriana University. Cali, Colombia, 2015.
8.Cimarrones and Palenques in the New Kingdom of Granada. Maria Cristina Navarrete. Tzintzun, Journal of Historical Studies, No.33, January-June 2001.
9.Manual of Afro-descendants in the Americas and the Caribbean. Afro World Organization, Higher Institute of Afro Training, the Regional Analysis Centers for the Promotion of Racial Equity, the Multi-Country Program and Initiatives with Indigenous and Afro-Descendant Peoples of UNICEF's Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean.
10. Anthology of Afro-Colombian women poets. Library of Afro-Colombian Literature. Colombian Ministry of Culture.
At night, the silence is oppressive. The sticky heat attracts the mosquitoes from the swamp. The maroons’ pursuers are on high alert. The shadows blend into the leaves of the trees. A sudden rain of guava balls falls and adheres to the soldiers' clothes and weapons. Upon hearing the first beat of the war drum, hundreds of bats emerge in search of fruit.
The soldiers rise in terror, the drums sound menacing, and the bats quickly disappear. The stunned troop are retreating, and there is no human power to bring them back, they shout terrified: those blacks fly!
The drums continue to ring in the distance, and the maroons collect the weapons and supplies that the troops left behind. In this way, clandestine blacks delimit territories. Even today, many peasants in the surrounding area remember the rumor that the maroons fly.
Palenque: A community of runaway slaves and their descendants.
Bohio: A type of hut.
Arcabuz: A type of rifle.
Cabildo: A town council
The king of the arcabuco
1540: The city of Cartagena, founded only seven years ago, is in anguish. The Spanish sovereign, His Majesty King Charles V, has issued a certificate addressed to the provincial governor. His Majesty, the king, has been informed of the many black fugitives who have raised havoc among Indians. His Majesty, the king, believes that the solution is to grant forgiveness to blacks. In this way, they will calm down, leave the Indians alone, and return to their masters who will forgive them. It is imperative that the ordinance works; Cartagena is already the most active slave-trading port.
1541: The measure of forgiveness for black fugitives has had little effect. It is for that reason that the governor of Cartagena has issued an ordinance permitting the Indians to capture alive or dead any black fugitive they find. Every Indian who produces a catch will be rewarded with ten pesos. This incentive seeks to reduce possible alliances between Indians and blacks.
1575: Twenty years have passed since the revolt led by the black Ballano in the Panama Isthmus. Due to the troubles that came as a result of that riot, it is now commanded in the Third Book of the Cabildo that: no black man or woman will be allowed to absent themselves from the service of their masters. Punishment for those who ignore this decree is one hundred lashes. The punishment will be given as follows: The black offender will be taken to the pillory, tied with a strap of rattles, and scourged. Then the black will remain tied to the pillory for the other blacks to see. It is warned that no person takes the black down, under penalty of paying twenty pesos to the judge and accuser, and the Cabildo House in equal parts.
1590: Don Pedro de Coronado Maldonado, the attorney general of the province of Cartagena, has presented a list to the Council of the Indies and to his Majesty King Philip II, reporting that despite the punishments given to eradicate, many continue to flee their masters and roam the land stealing and killing many people.
His Majesty King Philip II, like his predecessor, commands to proclaim in the province a general pardon for those blacks who obediently return with their masters. Those who refuse to abide by the generous order of their gracious Majesty, and that have been absent from their job for more than a year will be sentenced to the perpetual galley.
1599: The neighbor Don Juan Gómez has reported that the African slave Domingo Biohó, rebelled against his master and in the company of his wife and thirty companions and has escaped in the direction of the swamp of La Matuna. Rumor has it that in the vicinity of the swamp, they have settled down and built a village. Around them, they have laid stakes, built pits, false paths, and traps. It is also said that the black Domingo has declared himself king of the arcabuco or La Matuna and is called Benkos Biohó.
Without wasting time, Don Juan Gómez had organized a recapture expedition that failed and resulted in his unfortunate death. This has led to bands of other fugitives joining the black Domingo Biohó. Due to their now large numbers the rebel gang has sought refuge in the slopes of the dense forests.
In an effort to suppress the uprising inspired by Domingo Biohó, the governor has sent Diego Hernández Calvo, mayor of the Holy Brotherhood, with twenty-four soldiers and weapons to the place where Don Juan Gómez has fallen. The company could hardly give a Christian burial to the brave fallen neighbors and return, since they did not have enough smoldering rope for the arquebusier.
The governor Don Jeronimo de Suazo y Casasola assures that the black fuhitives are planning to free a large number of slaves and move on to Mompox. From there, they plan to reach the mines of Zaragoza and achieve the uprising of the slaves who work there. They will then fall on Cartagena and from there meet in Panamá with the blacks which are in Acla.
Indeed, these are times of great turbulence.
1602: Governor Don Jerónimo de Suazo remains concerned about the alarming situation of those maroons that seem to multiply like the Greek hydra. The governor, with the support of the neighbors and the Cabildo of Cartagena, has determined to manage the destruction of that black settlement that is outside the law.
The latest reports confirm attacks by rebel blacks in areas of Mompox, Tolu, and Tenerife. In the face of the deaths of four Spaniards and the disappearance of others, governor Jerónimo de Suazo had decided to send a militia consisting of thirty arquebusiers and a captain to conquer the illegal inhabitants of La Matuna. But the forces were repelled.
Without succumbing to hopelessness, the governor has sent a second expedition, this time of 250 men and three captains, one of them commanding a group of freed blacks, those who have already bought their freedom. They have determinedly embarked upon the onslaught against the people of La Matuna Swamp, entering their waters and walking with mud to their shoulders.
Governor Jerónimo de Suazo has called this new attack the war of the maroons. Blacks have defended themselves with spears, arrows, stones, and some rifles they had obtained in previous assaults on neighboring farms. Still, the troop sent by the governor forced the maroons to withdraw.
Witnesses to the event report that some maroon warriors have fallen and that on their run, they have burned their bohios, [is a type of hut] others, black men and women are now prisoners. The campaign was not a total success as there are blacks who escaped and have barricaded themselves on some islets of the swamp. Despite this, the governor has informed His Majesty King Philip III that the result has been satisfactory and that the heads of Domingo Biohó and Lorencillo, were brought back.
1603: In a letter to His Majesty King Philip III, the governor has stated that the war on the maroons is fruitless because the land on which the battles are fought is mountainous and rough, not to mention the large number of swamps that breed mosquitoes, other insects, and wild beasts. In addition, the warm weather, humidity, and torrential rains have sometimes made it impossible to carry out the attacks.
Also, sources confirm that the leader of the maroons of La Matuna, Domingo Biohó, was NOT killed in the last attack, instead only wounded and still on the run.
1604: The honorable and generous governor of the city of Cartagena, Don Jerónimo de Suazo has decided to sign a capitulation in which it is resolved to grant peace for a year to blacks who are outside the scope of the law.
Consequently, the authorities of the city of Cartagena have decided to send the infantry captain Luis Polo de Aguila to make peace. Initially, the king of the arcabuco, Domingo Biohó, seems interested in the idea and expressed that he was willing to serve the King of Spain without further bloodshed. The rebel demanded that for his blacks to end the war, the Spanish authorities must spare the maroons' lives. The illustrious governor Jerónimo de Suazo agreed. However, the truce did not last. The blacks claim that the Spaniards have not kept their word. The assaults on different farms have started again.
1612: In the past thirteen years, the local government has invested efforts and 36,642 pesos in the war against the maroons. In consequence, again, the inhabitants of La Matuna have received another peace offer from the new governor Don Diego Fernández de Velasco who granted free access to enter the city.
1621: In reference to the black Domingo Biohó, the new governor Don García de Girón, states that he is a bellicose and courageous man, who with his deeds and charms, takes with him all the nations of Guinea in this city and province. He has caused so much damage, deaths, and uproar and, because of that, this city has spent more than two hundred thousand ducats.
It is known that the village of La Matuna, with Domingo Biohó at its head, has banned the entry of Spaniards who carry weapons to their town. To the frustration of the people of Cartagena, the black residents of La Matuna may enter and walk armed through the streets of Cartagena.
With unpleasant surprise it is said that after the agreement, the black Domingo Biohó walks around our city with arrogance and dressed with a sword and a golden dagger, as if he were a great knight. When he comes to Cartagena, he is accompanied by armed blacks and that the slaves of the city and the province have great respect for him.
Now that the rebel leader has a license to walk the streets of our city, he has caused skirmishes with the guard of the prison whom he threatened with his spear. Consequently, at ten o'clock at night, Domingo Biohó has been arrested and taken to appear before the Governor García Girón, who has issued a trial against the maroon.
On March 6, after the maroon Domingo Biohó was found guilty of conspiracy and disturbing the peace, the black rebel was sentenced to hang. The governor believes that after hanging him, the blacks will now be very quiet and peaceful.
1633: The residents of Cartagena have decided to send a statement to the king of Spain complaining about the overwhelming situation in which they live. Despite the death of Domingo Biohó more than twelve years ago, the palenque of La Matuna continues to attack neighboring farms, stealing cattle, kidnapping slaves, and sowing terror.
The Queen and the Captain
1629: Don Francisco de Murga, is the new governor and captain-general of the province of Cartagena. He is expected to end once and for all the flight of slaves and the growing number of palenques that multiply like weeds.
The palenque that most presses him is the one known as El Limonar, located more than 12 leagues from Cartagena. A black called Francisco Criollo holds the highest rank and commands military chiefs called "mandators," who are also creoles born in El Limonar.
The insolent settlers of the palenques El Limonar, Polín, and Sanaguare consider themselves owners of María la Alta and María la Baja. Punishing them is almost impossible. The criminals are holed up in remote and hilly valleys and their numbers have grown considerably. There also appears to be a system of hierarchy between these villages, with El Limonar being the head, while Polín and Sanaguare its subordinates.
During the first years, the maroons of these palenques did not cause problems to their neighbors, owners of farms, and villages of nearby Indians. Still, their agressive actions have increased with the incorporation of new fugitives into their ranks. It is challenging to estimate in detail the specific number and provenance of the inhabitants. Reliable sources confirm that much of the clandestine community that lives outside the law is made up of creoles, Angolan Africans, especially malembas and others of diverse origin.
1633: The problems with that palenque El Limonar continues. Don Francisco de Murga, writes to His Majesty King Philip IV recounting the severe state of which the city of Cartagena suffers.
Under interrogation, the black Lorenzo Criollo has reported that Francisco Criollo is still captain of El Limonar. But that after the victorious Spanish soldiers conquered the palenque of El Polín in 1632, the surviving blacks of that village took refuge in El Limonar, thickening the ranks and declaring a black creole of Angolan descent, queen of the palenque. This woman is called Leonor and has been seen accompanying her soldiers and captain Francisco Criollo in military companies dressed as a man.
Another informant, the black Antonio Angola, declares that the war character of El Limonar has increased, given the influence of the black malembas, who support that queen. They seem to want to have more warriors and workers and increase the number of women to grow families. For this reason, the Indians, farm peasants, and passers-by have been at the mercy of their assaults. In particular, we are concerned about the two thousand slaves who work in the surrounding farms. Reports confirm the deaths of 50 Spaniards and Indians caused by these barbarians.
Under the current state of affairs, we are preparing again to fight the village of El Limonar. As is already the knowledge of Her Majesty, more than 14,000 pesos have already been invested in this endeavor, and it is hoped that this time, with a force of more than 500 veteran soldiers, the suppression and eradication of those criminals will be definitively achieved.
1634: Governor Francisco de Murga has done his job. The Spanish military forces have taken the black village of El Limonar by surprise, executing its destruction. However, some blacks managed to escape the onslaught and are known to have been received in other communities such as the palenque de la Magdalena, across the Rio Grande.
1642: Don Nicolás Heras Pantoja, alderman, and attorney of the city of Cartagena inform the municipal authorities that in the mountains and thick forests of the province, there are more than six hundred black fugitives. They have been seen in gangs fleeing their masters. And to continue with their freedom and evil customs, and thefts and damage they commit, they are fortified within palenques in the roughest and narrowest of the mountains.
It is very unfortunate that the neighbors of the city and the indigenous people are in constant danger. Fearing that this situation might get out of hand, the alderman has asked His Majesty King Philip IV to grant forgiveness to the fugitives that return promptly to their masters. This certificate will be awarded annually in the city, farms, and places of provincial jurisdiction.
The captain of the confederation
1655: It has been stated that there is a quarrel between the governors of the provinces of Cartagena and Santa Marta about the jurisdiction of a palenque of blacks equidistant to the two cities. The governor of Cartagena claims his right to take action against that village, while the governor of Santa Marta defends his right over the jurisdiction of that place. This village is said to have been in existence since about 1634, its emergence dating back to the fall of the palenque El Limonar. However, other sources claim that at least this palenque has been standing for fifty years.
It is said that the black Domingo Criollo, also known as Domingo Grande, captains several palenques in the Sierras de María. This elderly, burly and heavy man has residence in the palenque of San Miguel.
It has also been reported that the other maroon villages of Arenal, Duanga, and Joyanca are subordinate to the palenque of San Miguel. There in San Miguel, Domingo Criollo presides over meetings in a bohio, where they make decisions, delivered the news of the government, and prepare the community regarding the defense of the village.
It is known that the residence in each palenque was determined by kinship, friendship, and origin. Duanga, Joyanca, and San Miguel are inhabited by creoles while the Arenal palenque was populated by Africans who prefer to live separated from the black creoles. Its captain is Francisco Mina, who is, in turn, military chief of all other villages.
1679: News arrives from the province of Santa Marta. It is said that the maroons of the province of Cartagena see with good pleasure what has happened to the maroons of the province of Santa Marta. A group established between Rioacha and Santa Marta has asked the governor to declare them free and give them lands. Recently the demand was accepted on the condition that they help the provincial government in defending the city of Santa Marta in the war against the Indians. The neighbors of the city of Cartagena do not see with good eyes the decision made by the governor of the province of Santa Marta. The alliance between the Santa Marta Government and the blackss exasperates the spirits of both the neighbors of Cartagena and the maroon rebels of this region.
1680: Some maroon women have been captured from the palenques of the Sierras de María. The black creoles Felipa and Magdalena have told that their function in the palenque was to graze the mountain, cultivate beans and pick them, peel and grind corn, make funche, buns, and peel rice. They also gave themselves the task of washing clothes and cooking food. As well, the comment that many men went out to work, others clear the mountain for cultivation, and others-built punts. This explains why men escape more quickly than women when attacked.
1682: The captain-general of Cartagena has decided to implement the heavy hand against the rebels and has sent Bartolomé Narváez to attack the palenques of the Sierras de María. But the attempt has failed, and the troop has been outnumbered.
1688: The parish priest of Turbaco, Don Baltasar de la Fuente Robledo, recounts that in one of his missionary visits, he sighted a large population of maroons in the mountains. Soon after, the parish priest was called to administer the sacraments and baptize adults and children, celebrate marriages, and preach.
It is said that days later, Don Baltasar has received news from Domingo Criollo, who tells him that he receives obedience from more than six hundred blacks and captains. And that he offered obedience to the governor of Cartagena in exchange for freedom and for being fixed a territory where they can live in peace. Several talks have begun, and a number of capitulations have been agreed upon.
Without wasting time, the parish priest has continued to inform the outgoing governor Rafael Capsir y Sanz, and the incoming governor Juan de Prado y Estrada about the peace intentions of the leader of the black village of San Miguel.
However, none of the governors have shown interest in the offering. On the contrary, the governor Don Juan de Prado y Estrada has decided to send an armed company of a thousand men to the Sierra de María. Despite their determination, they have encountered a vigorous defense of the palenque, which has led the thousand men to argue for a fortnight whether to continue the attack. Finally, it has been resolved to dissolve the campaign. Soon after, news has come from the maroon leader that his people only wish to have official freedom, as they consider themselves free.
However, during the turmoil, a royal certificate has been issued which insists on continuing the persecution of the maroons until they are finished. The warlords of the palenques must be severely punished.
1689: At the same time as all this happens, the parish priest Don Baltazar, who continues with his desire to bring peace, has found himself in need to bring the news and proposals of what happened to His Majesty King Charles II and the Council of Indies and has presented the capitulations proposed by the maroons of the Sierras de María.
1691: His Majesty King Charles II, responds to the offer by annulling the 1688 certificate and decreeing a new pacifist certificate. Where everything requested by the maroons is accessed: recognition of their freedom, without punishment for their escape; delimitation of the territory with the right of productive use; legal and tax treatment to equal that of the free population; autonomy of government. In return, the blacks promise not to fight and not receive any more fugitives in the palenque.
In regard to what has been agreed, the neighbors of the city of Cartagena do not repair in showing their discontent with the royal mandate. The neighbors argue that by officially giving freedom to the maroon rebels and handing them the land will only lead to the collapse of the economy, whose base is the slaves. Some say, "we respect, but we do not comply." Others declare that there is a conspiracy that the fugitives and domestic slaves are conjuring up an uprising.
As a result, the residents of Cartagena have gathered in the cabildo and demanded that the governor take up arms against the blacks of the Sierras de María and other palenques of the province. Plans for the attack have been drawn up, and it has been agreed that neighbors will cover the costs of the war.
The latest reports confirm that the Spanish militias in an attack on the black village Betancur, have killed five blacks and sent their heads to the governor, who has celebrated and ordered to hang them in the plaza. In the cathedral, the achievement has been celebrated with a song Tedeum laudamus. This has been followed by other displays of superiority and brutality that hope to give a lesson and serve as a warning about the kind of retaliation the authorities plan to take against the black rebels.
However, retaliation in the city does not seem to affect the maroons; they have again lashed out, stealing, burning, and shouting their claim for the fulfillment of the certificate ordered by His Majesty.
1693: Due to the gravity of the situation, the cabildo of Cartagena agrees that freedom is recognized only to the blacks born in the arcabucos, that is to say, the creoles without a master. In this way, the certificate ordered by his majesty is fulfilled, and the agreement and complacency of the masters and ranchers were guaranteed.
But the black rebels have opposed that condition. They argue that this will disintegrate their communities.
1694: The new interim governor, Don Sancho Jimeno de Orozco, ignores the pacifist certificate issued by his majesty three years earlier. Instead, it has marched in the direction of the black villages of the Sierra de María, including the largest, the town of San Miguel leading the government troops. The attack features 450 men, with a vanguard and rear battle corps and two rounds of arcabuceros on the sides. In the face of ramming, the maroons have set fire to the palenque and escaped.
After 48 days of besieging the area, Don Sancho is aware that the maroons have taken refuge in the Palenque de Duanga, 7 leagues from there. Without wasting time, the governor sends two captains of his army against the palenque Arenal. It is said that there were those who fell prisoners, others died in the skirmish, the rest was devastated. At the same time, a crew has been dispatched to chase the captain of the fugitives, Domingo Criollo and his companions.
In a few days comes the news that the black man known as Domingo el Grande was successfully killed off two shots of arcabuz. He was found in an attempt to hide women, children, and the elderly. His head is now on display in a public place in the city of Cartagena.
Despite the success of the company, there are rumors that there are blacks who have taken refuge in the mountains and other palenques. The latest reports confirm that throughout the fight that took place in the mountains, the domestic slaves have continued their escape plans. The number of rebels is growing, and the conspiracies of blacks continue to haunt the government and neighbors of the city of Cartagena.
1713: The Bishop of Cartagena, Friar Antonio María Cassiani, has offered himself as an intermediary to achieve peace. The bishop appears to be in favor of the recognition of the freedom of the maroons. The governor complains that he has found the bishop rebuking the neighbors who punish their black slaves.
1714: The creole Captain Nicolas de Santa Rosa signs peace, and a series of capitulations agreed with Bishop Antonio Maria Cassiani. The now reconstructed Palenque San Miguel will be baptized San Basilio Magno in honor of the order of St. Basil to which Bishop Antonio Maria Cassiani belongs. It has also been agreed on the self-determination of the community and that the word palenque should be kept and use in the name, in honor of all those who lived and fought for freedom in the Sierras de María.
Very well, dear listeners, as is customary, it is time to discuss some aspects of the narrative. This time we will briefly comment about the legend of Domingo Biohó, the hero in the first story. The one tha kind of put things inmotion. We will also talk about how maroonage was a response against the oppression of slavery, how the palenques were the space in which runaway slaves and their offspring reconstructed their present, from their African roots, and pointed the way of their freedom.
Let us start with the feat of Domingo Biohó, which has been compiled from the few written sources dating back to his time. There are disparities in the years that he was on the run, the number of times he was attacked, the exact terms of the peace treaty, and the year he was finally captured. The reasons for his death sentence are unknown.
Also, colonial documents recorded numerous Biohos at different times in colonial history. Some were descendants of the first Biohó, others perhaps were awarded the title to continue the leadership or to used it to confuse the Spanish authorities, giving the impression that the legend was still alive. In the same way, historical documents recorded the hangings that occurred between 1600 and 1790 of Domingo Bioho, Domingo Biho, Dominguillo Bioho, or Domingo Bioo. So, the image of the hero lived for a long time.
In the 1690s, there were numerous struggles against the maroons. Many were sacrificed, and others returned to their owners in Cartagena, while still others were sold and sent to other places. Most of the palenques were destroyed, and the survivors spread in search of refuge, giving life to new communities or increasing the ranks of others.
During this time, the colonial authorities were unable to handle the problem peacefully. Only when the situation became unbearable were the maroons offered prerogatives, truces, and treaties. But progress was rarely made, due mainly to the inconsistency of colonial authorities, the indecision of the municipal authorities, and the pressure of the neighbors who had much to lose with the freedom of blacks.
As we could see in the previous narratives, maroonage was an act of rebellion in the face of the oppression imposed by the condition of slavery. Maroonage became a form of mobilization sometimes dispersed as we saw in the previous episode in the Biography of a Runaway; on other occasions, maroonage became a military, social and cultural community project.
The struggles of runaway slaves destabilized the colonial system by acting as an antithesis of the values defended by the settlers. At the same time, marronage meant the rescue and preservation of the values of the African people and the affirmation of their freedom that translated into their languages, religion, music, dances, and in their constant demand for self-determination. By creating their communities and governments, they gave rise to new ways of life that blended with those of the indigenous and whites depending on where they were located.
In the article “Conspirators enslaved in Cartagena in the XVII century,” Jane Landers says that the colonial history of what is today Colombia is full of African rebellions. The first one dated in 1531 when some slaves burned the city of Santa Marta.
The phenomenon of "fled and risen" was then a constant in Nueva Granada. Besides, the number of whites was less than the growing number of slaves entering the port which created widespread fear. For example, in various ordinances there are repeated concerns about thefts orchestrated by slaves. Then, without much success and in an attempt to limit their movement, the slaves were forbidden to go out at night, to live apart from their masters, to carry weapons, and to gather on Sundays to perform their dances in places that had not been designated by the Cabildo.
Despite the anguish and the state of paranoia in which Cartagena's neighbors lived, the demand for slaves increased. Each ship imported between 300 and 600 slaves. In addition, between twelve and fourteen ships a year were coming through the port. Do the math.
In 1621, governor García Girón declared that there were more than 20,000 slaves in Cartagena. Experts today estimate that from 1580 to 1640, between 135,000 and 192,000 Africans entered Nueva Granada through Cartagena de Indias.
On the other hand, contrary to what many had said over the years, the imported slaves came from places in Africa with cultural background and development. It has been documented that, after 1570, most of the slaves came from Guinea and Cape Verde. Later they came from Angola and Congo. Many of them mastered the handling of bronze, gold, and iron, as well as textiles and sculpture. Some had been miners, ranchers, and came from societies with a high social, political, and religious organization.
Leaders, defense of the palenques and belly law
Now let's talk about the palenque leaders and their defensive strategies. Clara Inés Guerrero García in her article “Palenque Memories of Freedom” says that "the strategic position of the Montes de María (in Colombia), communicated by freshwater with the interior and with the sea, facilitated the mobility of the maroons, as well as the entry of goods to the city, the exit of precious metals, the slave trade, and the delivery of mail. Everything that entered the colonies had to pass through its territory, for the Magdalena River was the way of communication, and that was the area of the maroons."
This is one of the reasons why settlers also lived in great distress. The goods were sometimes raided by the maroons, who had a better knowledge of the territory. But this does not mean that they were happy to give themselves to pillaging; rather it was a survival strategy that they followed at different times while at the they were trying to reach an agreement for their freedom.
Part of the struggle for recognition of their communities was that, if they were recognized as subjects of the Crown, they hoped to acquire the legal status of people with souls and rights. If so, they could settle and grow as a community with dignity and character of their own, rather than being regarded as savage fugitives outside the law.
María Cristina Navarrete says in her article “Kings, queens and captains” that "the palenques were communities with a diversity of values, ways of understanding the maroonage and with social, ethnic and political divergences. The date of the formation and duration of these communities influenced how they organized politically." In other words, those palenques that were raised in the 16th and 17th centuries differ significantly from the palenques formed later. This difference lies both in the type of leaders and in the model used to legitimize their authority.
For example, before 1700 most leaders of the maroon communities came from Africa and, in many cases, claimed to have royal ancestry. This was the case with Ganga-Zumba in Brazil, Domingo Biohó in Colombia, Yanga in Mexico, and Bayano in Panama, who at the time declared themselves kings of their palenques or quilombos. In contrast, by the 18th century, the maroon leaders were mostly creoles, that is, they were born in the Americas, and were called: captains, governors, colonels instead of kings.
Life in the palenques was difficult as they were always under attack. They were continually preparing to defend themselves against the Spanish militias. Since they feared the disintegration of their family and friendship groups after an attack, in many cases, it was agreed that they should be grouped under the idea of belonging to the same master, that is to say, the owner of the first fugitives.
This was influenced by the so called belly law, which determined that those born of a free man and a slave woman should serve, which means that slavery was inherited through the maternal line. It is said that the maroon María Embondo told her children born in the palenque that they were slaves of Don Ilario Marquez and that if the palenque were to fall, they should not go to another house other than that of Don Marquez.
Finally, it is worth mentioning that, el Palenque de San Basilio, is a community descended from colonial maroons that have historically survived to this day. And it still retains the African heritage, which is expressed in its language with Bantu Kikingo-Kimbundu influence, and in its funeral rites and in its spiritual vision. Due to all this and the intertwined stories of fights for freedom is that in 2005 the Unesco declared El Palenque de San Basilio an intangible cultural heritage of humanity.
And that's all for today; we will come back in two weeks with the last episode on Afro-Latino narratives. For now, I'll leave you with a poem by the Colombian poet Lucrecia Panchano. Until the next cuento, adios, adios.
(Taken from the digital book Anthology of Women Afro-Colombian Poets. Library of Afro-Colombian Literature. Ministry of Culture of Colombia.) Translation by CQS.
In your physiognomy, hair and skin, Africa screams.
Screams in the mixing of pigmentation,
screams in the soul, where the noble of every being dwell,
and it echoes, in the twists and turns of the imagination.
Africa screams in the thousand voices of the ancestor
as a telluric force, it shudders our being.
Screams everything about him, which is also ours
in all our actions and our work.
Africa screams, in all that means life
and in the nameless pain of centuries of oppression.
Africa screams, in hope and in the lost faith
and in the seclusions of our hearts.
Africa screams, not to inventory an infamous past
nor make reminders of humiliating racism.
Africa screams, to push us to move on
so that our identity doesn't go to the abyss.
Africa screams in blood that runs through the veins
and it makes the heart a place of confluence.
Screams in our joys, also in our sorrows
and reveals in its roots, his physical presence.
In all that exists and in all that our environment shakes
Africa vehemently and bluntly SCREAMS.
Tres Cuentos is a creative exercise of researching, writing and retelling. This podcast was produced and edited by CQS. Special thanks to Don Hymel for proofreading and recording the stories.
Dawn of Man – Quincas Moreira
Camaguey – Silent Partner
Double Drift - Kevin MacLeod is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/)
Somethings Here – The Whole Other
At Launch - Kevin MacLeod is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/)
Restless Natives - Doug Maxwell/Media Right Productions
Tribal Affairs - SYBS
Kul Riddim – Konrad OldMoney
Destination Unknown – Ugonna Onyekwe
Lurking - Silent Partner
Dama May Primal Drive - Kevin MacLeod is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/)
Search And Destory - Audionautix
A_Great_Darkness_Approaches_Can_You_Feel_It - ELPHNT
Kye Kye - Doug Maxwell/Jimmy Fontanez