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Applying Historic Maroon Settlements for Modern Black Liberation

In the quest for Black liberation in the modern era, the legacy of historic maroon settlements, such as quilombos, offers a compelling model for resistance and self-determination. Drawing inspiration from Assata Shakur’s call for an effective Black liberation system, this essay explores how these resilient communities can be applied and adapted to address the ongoing struggle for Black liberation in contemporary America.

Historical Context and Significance of Maroon Settlements:

Maroon settlements, also known as quilombos in Brazil, were autonomous communities established by escaped African slaves and other marginalized groups in the Americas. These settlements emerged as bastions of resistance against the oppressive systems of slavery and colonialism, embodying principles of self-sufficiency, collective solidarity, and armed resistance. Notably, maroon communities thrived in defiance of formidable odds, evading capture and sustaining themselves through agriculture, trade, and strategic alliances.

Lessons from Assata Shakur’s Revolutionary Struggle:

Assata Shakur’s advocacy for a revolutionary struggle resonates with the ethos of maroon settlements, emphasizing the need for organized resistance, collective action, and a clear vision of liberation. Shakur’s insights underscore the importance of building a cohesive and sustainable liberation movement rooted in the support of the masses and guided by a shared mission.

Adapting Maroon Principles for Modern Black Liberation:

To apply the principles of maroon settlements to modern-day Black liberation efforts, several key strategies can be adopted:

1. Community Empowerment and Self-Sufficiency:

Like the inhabitants of maroon settlements, contemporary Black communities can prioritize self-sufficiency and community empowerment. This entails investing in initiatives that promote economic independence, access to education, and holistic well-being within Black neighborhoods. By fostering self-reliance and collective ownership, communities can mitigate dependence on oppressive systems and cultivate resilience.

2. Collective Solidarity and Alliance Building:

Maroon settlements thrived through strategic alliances with diverse groups, transcending boundaries of race, ethnicity, and social status. Similarly, modern Black liberation movements can prioritize coalition-building and solidarity across intersecting struggles, forging alliances with indigenous communities, immigrant rights groups, LGBTQ+ activists, and other allies. By amplifying collective voices and mobilizing diverse constituencies, the movement gains strength and resilience.

3. Armed Resistance and Community Defense:

While contemporary Black liberation movements may adopt nonviolent tactics, the principle of community defense remains essential. Drawing from the legacy of maroon settlements, communities can prioritize strategies for self-defense and protection against systemic violence. This includes grassroots initiatives for de-escalation training, neighborhood watch programs, and legal advocacy to challenge state-sanctioned violence and promote accountability.

4. Cultural Resilience and Heritage Preservation:

Maroon settlements preserved African cultural traditions and ancestral knowledge, serving as reservoirs of resistance against cultural erasure. In the modern context, Black liberation movements can prioritize cultural resilience and heritage preservation, reclaiming narratives of resilience and resistance. This entails supporting initiatives for Black cultural expression, storytelling, and intergenerational knowledge transfer, fostering pride and solidarity within Black communities.

The legacy of maroon settlements offers valuable insights and inspiration for modern Black liberation movements in America. By adapting principles of self-sufficiency, collective solidarity, armed resistance, and cultural resilience, contemporary activists can build upon the legacy of resistance and chart a path towards a more just and liberated future for Black communities. As Assata Shakur envisioned, the struggle for Black liberation is protracted and multifaceted, requiring steadfast commitment, collective action, and a vision of liberation rooted in the legacy of maroon resistance.

Original Essay:

Revolutionary Model

There is a dire need for an effective Black liberation system in the Afrikan diaspora. Decade after decade, Blacks are continually disconnected from Afrikan culture, ideology, esteem, and more. Due to the lack of self-love by way of European beauty standards through target-market commercial industries, also the lack of family structures by way of CIA funded crack epidemics prisoning Black fathers and financially prisoning Black mothers; there are a sort of arrays stabilizing genocidal warfare against the black community. Though, Assata Shakur feels a revolutionary struggle is the needed foundation to elevate Black warfare and build an effective Black liberation. In response to Shakur’s essay, “Revolutionary Struggle”,describing key elements of an effective revolution, an informative history of quilmobos models as an effective Black liberation system.  

Shakur calls to an effective system, “Everyone i talked to was interested in taking the struggle to a higher level. But the question was how. How to bring together all those people scattered around the country into an organized body that would be effective in struggling for Black liberation”(414). Shakur examines the existence of a want; struggling people want to be a part of a revolution. Although, the system to carry out an effective revolution is not structured for them to follow. She notices the urge to research a cohesive and proper plan to gather people of the same cause to revolt. She goes on to say, “Revolutionary war is protracted warfare. It is impossible for us to win quickly”(415). The struggle of liberation is definitely a patient one, for African Americans have had on-going protest, strikes, sit-ins, walk-out, and other forms of resistant for over 200 years and still the war continues with gained but not complete progress. Many revolutionist act on emotion and seek immediate relief that leads to irrational actions and chaotic results. Establishing the reality of a slow but progressive warfare allows revolutionist to build a plan in comfort and execute an effective system in trust. But, what plan to build in comfort? What system to trust that may be executed effectively?

Quilmobos are the answer to Shakur’s call to an effective liberation system. Shakur claims, “Every group fighting for freedom is bound to make mistakes, but unless you study the common, fundamental laws of armed revolutionary struggle you are bound to make unnecessary mistakes”(415). The study of the quilmobo system of revolution nonetheless fecundates a common law of armed struggle and prevents mistakes. Quilmobos were wide spread across the Americas, therefore common, and still exist in Southern Americas in this present day, therefore a fundamental system. Based on common knowledge, a further explanation is presented. A quilmobo is a Brazilian settlement founded by people of Afrikan origin, mostly Maroons. These settlements were successfully self-sustained by escaped slaves. Although non-black oppressed peoples like: marginalized Portuguese, Brazilian aboriginals, Jews, Arabs, and even soldiers who refused to fight in warinhabited these communities. A quilmobo is not only a fugitive community but also an elaborate system of slave repression. Shakur stated a necessity to wear down oppressors “little by little and at the same time, strengthen our forces, slowly but surely”(414). Afrikan people in Brazil did just this; “Portuguese settlers complained to the government that their captives were running away into this inaccessible region and building mocambos, or small communities” (Palamares,Wikipedia). In history, the Portuguese were unable to disassemble these communities due to the planning system created. Communities in quilmobos are small and scattered and extend into interior regions yet connected and central, which prevented conquering.

Now that an effective system is chosen for a model, one may go on to acknowledge Shakur’s first step in building an effective liberation system: “Win the people”. She states, “Revolutionary war is people’s war. And no people’s war can be won without the support of the masses of people.” Escaped Afrikans in Brazil understood this concept and gained support of their people. Actions such as, free slaves returning to plantations and encouraging captive slaves to flee and join the quilmobosreinforced the concept mentioned by Shakur. Afrikans understood the meaning of liberation so much that they brought slaves by force, sabotaged plantations, and executed slaves who refused freedom (Zumbi,Wikipedia), all in the name of people power.  In order for the community of people to remain strongrooted and committed to the warfare Afrikans summoned slaves who were forced to freedom in the quilmobos. Although, the slaves could be freed by proving their heart and minds were in tune with the revolutionary struggle by going back to their plantations and forcing more to liberate from oppression. As Shakur mentioned, “Sisters and brothers joined these groups because they were committed to revolutionary struggle in general and armed struggle in particular and wanted to help build the armed movement…”(Shakur). As in Shakur’s Black Liberation Army, Afrikans of the quilmobos were overly dedicated to liberation of their peoples and committed to a communal understanding of revolutionary struggle. The dedication and commitment led to a collective conscious. This collective held a shared mission.

A shared mission is another key element Shakur stresses, ora common goal. She informs, “…[P]ure fantasy to think we could gain them [freedom and independence] by begging. The only alternative left was to fight for them, and we are going to have to fight like any other people who have fought for liberation.” An oppressed people must realize independence is vital to freedom. Throughout history, black revolutions fought to “hold hands” with their oppressors rather than struggle to build their own walking path. The delusion of oppressors being necessary to survival must be rebuked and unlearned in an effective revolutionary system. Going forth, Shakur mentions “beggars” who may correlate to likes of “Uncle Toms” and integrational passivist, for example Martin Luther King. Both of these groups depend upon White people to support their liberation movements rather forming an independent fight like Shakur deems key to success. Parallel to Shakur’s suggestion, the Afrikans of the quilmobos chose a more independent system of liberation. The quilmobos represented resistance set around three principals: free settlements, power seizures, and armed insurrection. These three goals anchored a common mission that must then be sustained.

Lets highlight the element of sustainability; a vital part of an effect revolutionary system, which both Shakur and Afrikans of the quilmobos understand. Shakur suggests, “To win any struggle for liberation, you have to have the way as well as the will, an over all ideology and strategy . . .”. This quote is relevant to the three principles previously mentioned. An established mission grounds and unifies all people of any community within a quilmobo. Quilmobos were based on a society and government that derived from a range of Central African sociopolitical models (Quilmobo,Wikipeda), a reflection of their connectedness to original heritage. Setting societal and governmental structures on a plan derived from ancestral lineage is important. It is important because it is a form of resistance against oppressive systems and keeps the energy of the mother culture alive for future generations of slaves. “Quilmobos” Wikipedia describes the structure, “This government was confederate in nature, and was led by an elected chief who allocated landholdings, appointed officials (usually family members), and resided in a type of fortification called Macoco”. Again, Quilmobos exemplifies a model of an effective system according to Shakur who shares, “It became evident . . .consolidation was not a good idea. There were too many security problems, and different groups had different . . . levels” Quilmobos too were conscious of these problems and constructed a plan to eradicate such issues. They formed two large consolidated entities, "Great Palmares" and "Little Palmares". Wikipedia’s “Mocambos” excerpt details in-depth, “In each of these units there was a large central town that was fortified and held 5,000-6,000 people. The surrounding hills and valleys were filled with many more mocambos of 50 to 100 people. A description of the visit of Johan Blaer to one of the larger mocambos in 1645 (which had been abandoned) revealed that there were 220 buildings”. This system shows builders of the quilmobos understood Shakur’s belief of consolidating not being a good idea. The communal structures worked independently yet formed to be interdependent. Therefore, in an event of an evasion, loosing a community wouldn’t drastically effect the collective environment.  

In addition to sustainability, defense is a necessity. Shakur informs, “…[O]rganizations were under vicious attack by the FBI, the CIA, and local police agencies”. In order to combat government forces, a system must effectively operate. The quilmobo model includes networks, and alliances to different social sectors. Resources even included valuable connections, which were able to foresee military expeditions and ultimately avoiding capture. Other inclusions are: slaves in fazendas, merchants, and even occasionally landowners or state officers(Palamares). Defense mechanism were maintained in a processed manner, “Information went through these networks back and forth, so the communities only had to keep a high degree of spatial mobility so that they could flee rapidly when a punitive expedition was marching to quilombos’ lands. Information, flexibility, mobility, and knowledge of the environment were the most effective defensive resources. Finally, armed resistance was one more defensive tactic, although it appears as the last resort of the communities, given the high price of this tactic”(Palamares). Armed resistance would include the likes of capoeira, a form of martial arts. Over six Portuguese armies attempted to seize the quilmobo communities but failed. This shows how effective the system is which overrides Shakur’s following disparity, “The police could terrorize the Black community daily, yet if one Black person successfully defended himself or herself against a police attack, they were called terrorists”.

The goal of the quilmobo is to form a stable community with an economy based on agriculture and commercial exchanges. This effective model should be followed as a system of black liberation through the diaspora and is indeed the substantial answer to Shakur’s call of an effective model of liberation.  

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