African Runaways and Maroons

Review: Mulroy on Thompson

Alvin O. Thompson. Flight to Freedom: African Runaways and Maroons in the Americas. Mona: University of the West Indies Press, 2006. xi + 381 pp. Figures, notes, bibliography, index. $40.00 (paper), ISBN 978-976-640-180-1.

Reviewed for H-Caribbean by Kevin Mulroy, University of Southern California Libraries
Published by [mailto][/mailto] (June, 2007)

Alvin Thompson, professor of history at the University of the West Indies, Barbados, and an expert on Guyana, has written an impressive survey of the history of African slave runaways and marronage throughout the Americas. Interested readers in this field will need to go back nearly thirty years, to Richard Price's groundbreaking and indispensable _Maroon Societies: Rebel Slave Communities in the Americas_ (1979) to find a work of comparable scope and importance. Thompson builds upon Price's edited compilation by analyzing and synthesizing the best and most recently published research on the subject. This leads to a reassessment of interpretations that have informed discourse on marronage that is Pan-American in scope.

Thompson positions his book as an interpretive work focusing on the struggle for freedom of displaced and enslaved Africans. He concentrates on the most notable maroon societies--Palmares, Brazil; the Saramakas and Ndjukas of Suriname; San Basilio, Colombia; Esmeraldes, Ecuador; Le Maniel, on the border of Haiti and the Dominican Republic; and the Leewards and Windwards of Jamaica--but notes that marronage existed almost everywhere in the Americas. He supports his arguments with examples drawn from a wide range of additional communities. According to Thompson, "Maroon settlements constituted the first independent polities from European colonial rule, even if the authoritarian states did not recognize them as such at the time. They had their own independent political, economic and social structures, and occupied definitive land spaces that they often contested with the colonial powers and won" (p.13).