Cimarronadas

D. 19 Palenque or Maniel of black cimarrons. 1540, aprox. D. 19 Palenque or Maniel of black cimarrons. 1540, aprox.

The difficulty with internal communications, due to the attacks by Indigenous and African people, isolated the Spanish villages even more, forcing the settlers to relinquish them totally and move to the larger cities. Enriquillo's rebellion begins a new era of Cimarrons (or Maroons) civilizations in America. This was the only available vehicle of survival and liberty, thus it was quickly adopted by the African slaves after their arrival to the New World, establishing the foundation for the creation of a new Neo-African society opposing the European-style plantations, "all mixed" in the American soil.

The definition of the term "cimarron" is "wild", "jungle-like", "savage", "untamed", applied to non cultivated plants, to "escaped", "runaway", "fugitive" applied to domestic animals that ran wild in the bush, as well as men, first Indigenous, then Black slaves after escaping to the jungles in search of liberty away from their masters".6

The first rebellion of African slaves took place in the Diego Colon and Melchor Castro sugar mills in 1522. From that moment on, although many methods of torture were used to prevent them, the Cimarronadas were impossible to control.

There were two types of "Cimarrons": the nomads that roamed the areas surrounding plantations, looting what they could and feeding on wild cows and pigs, and the organized Cimarrons in sedentary groups that inhabited the palenques or manieles, small villages constructed in difficult and hard to inaccessible locations with defense systems such as fences or traps, and with the corresponding farms to supply their needs.

From the start, the Indigenous and the African people developed a very special cultural exchange: the Africans would try to reconstruct their confused cultural roots under the white master's language and religion, but using the Indigenous customs for nutrition and survival in the new habitat. As explained by Professor Juan Bosh, the Negroes and Indigenous people understood each other perfectly, since "both had a tribal social conscience and a very similar cultural level... they were hunters, used similar farming practices, fishermen; their religions were animistic; the shared a similar experience with the white man... and the children of both races were called Zambos and were considered slaves."7

Life in the first palenques or manieles found African Negroes, indigenous and zambos living in very basic conditions; always on constant lookout against the Spanish enemies that would organize occasionally to hunt them, cultivating yuca, eating casabe and carrying water in higueros (gourds) the same as the native inhabitants. It was also in these palenques that the reconstruction of African cultures could freely be attempted, with its isolated elements, fragmented and re-constructed with new Gods and beliefs, from which new priests and shamans surge, merged with the Catholic saints and forced merged festivities.
In their diverse manifestations, religion occupied the predominant spot, within the Cimarrons and the plantation blacks there was a clandestine web of ritual complicity intermixing Catholic representations and dogmas with those of the cults of the Yoruba, Fon, Ashanti, Bantu, etc.

As explained by René Depestre, "thanks to the power of collective and imaginary memory, they were able to invent new rules of life in societies that were in the process of restructuring their personality...from farming methods to marriage and family norms, from religion to folklore, from language to all culinary and nutritional methods, from the funeral ritual to the corporal expression in the traditional matrix of the dance and the sex, from the magic to popular pharmacopoeia, from music to oral literature and social games, from the way to carry children to even women's hairdos, from mythology to armed resistance."8
And how strong the armed defense of the Cimarrons was, since they melted and forged knives, lances and swords from the metal they stole from the Spaniards, with which they caused considerable casualties to the rancher posses and slave catchers.

The groups of Cimarrons dedicated to pillage posed a great threat to the colonial neighborhoods and authorities, who got to the point of fearing a possible of a general black uprising around 1540.
The Crown named Alonzo López de Cerrato as governor and president of the Real Audiencia, with precise instructions for resolving the problem with the Cimarrons. Cerrato organized a strong anti-cimarron campaign that between 1543 and 1546 was able to eliminate the principal chiefs of gangs such as Diego de Ocampo, Diego Guzman, Juan Vaquero, "who brought with them a company of more than 1,000 blacks with lances and leather shields,"9 and which culminated with the death of the chief Lemba in 1548. The situation was under control, but the Cimarronadas then took on a more passive character, but the uprisings continued being a constant throughout the entire colonial period.