Building a Maroon Mentality

Tiffany D. Pogue, PhD
6 min readSep 28, 2020

Given our current socio-political-cultural-economic reality, it is imperative that Black people develop a mentality that allows us to focus on ourselves, build partnerships and institutions, create relationships with allies, and learn to be as proactively self-sufficient as possible. To do so, it is necessary that we understand our shared histories and use them to radically imagine an entirely different way of living.

As such, the purpose of this writing is to present the Maroon Mentality (Pogue, forthcoming) as a tangible strategy that may allow us to (re)activate the deepest parts of our radical imaginations and collective responsibilities so that we can create as many safe spaces for our people as we can.

What is a Maroon?

Throughout our history, there have always been some Africans that have liberated themselves (and in some cases others) from openly hostile predators, and built communities of safety within which they could be absolutely sovereign and safe to be themselves culturally. These settlements had different names throughout the African World. In Brazil they were quilombos, in Cuba palenques, in Venezuela cumbes, and in Jamaica Maroon settlements (Do Nascimento, 1980; Patterson, 1970; Price, 1996).

Across time and space, these communities served as locations within which resisters unified under a shared desire for liberation and built community-based systems of mutual support and success. Maroonage, or the act of living in these conditions, is frequently characterized by sometimes building communities in hostile environments for protection, cooperative economics and mutual support, and a focus on defensive living. It should be mentioned that because the collective safety of the group could be threatened by the betrayal of self-centered individuals, maroons demanded allegiance from group members and engaged in formal treaties for protection and expansion.

In documented cases, Maroons were able to fight off oppressors and to maintain their sovereignty under the threat of capture, enslavement, and death. Their abilities (and legacies) demonstrate not only the military prowess of these people, but also the social organization of their communities that made their existence possible.

I believe that we — their children — can also create networks of safety and mutual support if we establish a Maroon Mentality.

What’s a Maroon Mentality?

Maroon settlements throughout the African World stand as evidence of the strength of collective liberatory efforts. They also exist as models for contemporary freedom work. In the section below, I will outline five elements of the Maroon Mentality, describe the historic rationale for each element, and detail how I believe these things can be useful today.

My argument for Maroon Mentality is based in part on the history outlined above and on Abdias Do Nascimento’s concept of Quilombismo. According to Do Nascimento (1980), Quilombismo is an idea imbued with strategies for dynamic organization “capable of mobilizing the Black masses in a disciplined manner, because of its psychosocial appeal, rooted in the history, culture and experience of Afro-Brazilians” (p. 153). I have considered Do Nascimento’s assertion and find it particularly valuable in its support of the development of a consciousness regarding how best to create freedom for one’s people within a larger, harsher society. My approach differs, however, because I seek to position Maroon Mentality in its Diasporic context as applicable to (and informed by) not only the Afro-Brazilian context, but the global African experience.

The first step in developing a Maroon Mentality is keeping one’s self and collective safety at the center of your daily operations. This includes setting protective boundaries around you, your time, and your space. In Brazil, Jamaica, and elsewhere Maroon settlements could be thought of as fortresses protected by nature and sophisticated systems of surveillance. We musn’t forget that even in the relatively recent US context, the Deacons for Defense and the Black Panther Party for Self Defense sought to create protective boundaries around our communities through philosophy and practice. Our work, contemporarily should be informed by their strategies.

Second, Maroon Mentality requires that you actively seek to support positive institution-building activities. There is no single way to support community-based institutions and you should not feel obligated to do any one particular thing. You can work on institution building through intellectual offerings like books and articles, artistry, brainstorming (thinktanks), financial giving, information sharing, and more. You do not have to recreate something that already exists as long as you’re ready to support what’s been established. (I would also add that supporting institution-building includes holding institutions accountable for how they take care of their responsibilities to our people*.)

Within Maroon settlements, all community needs were met by the community itself. We must create our own institutional systems to do the same.

Third, a Maroon Mentality means that you learn (and teach) self- and community-defense techniques. This can be formal or informal, but in either case it means that you work to ensure the physical, social, spiritual, economic, and sexual safety of ALL community members. It may look like getting a gun license and learning firearm safety, practicing and/or teaching Yoga, Tai Chi, or Capoeira, or even getting your annual pap smear and encouraging others to do the same. Whatever it is that you do, you must remember that all members of Maroon settlements work to continue supporting the safety of the entire collective.

Fourth, we must promote ideals related to economic justice if we are to maintain a Maroon Mentality. We must learn to support cooperatives established to barter and to trade goods and services. We must invest in and support Black-owned businesses that invest back into our communities, and we must support (through recruitment and giving) HBCUs and entrepreneur training programs. By recalling the history of our ancestors’ abilities to generate everything they needed for their communities through trade, raids, and more, we can learn to support ourselves.

Finally, Maroon Mentality means seeking to establish and maintain treaties with the natural world and other indigenous peoples we share space with. We must honor our word, and demand equal respect in all situations. We must honor the land and practice good stewardship of our resources. As Do Nascimento reminded us, quliombismo is “against ecological pollution and favors all forms of environmental improvement” (p. 170). We can study Palmares, the greatest quilombo in Brazil, as a model of interdependent relationships practiced by Africans, Indigenous peoples, and other supporters — including the land.

Next Steps

It is important to note that none of these things requires an immediate shift in our individual locations. We do not move nor do we have to wait until we are sharing land before we establish our own Maroonage. Our first, and most critical shift is a spiritual and mental one to align our behaviors with the ones listed above.

Are you ready?

*We must remember, as Mama Zora reminds us, that all our skin folk ain’t kin folk. We protect people to whom we belong and who belong to us. We don’t take with us, or argue with, those who Mama Harriet would have shot.

References and Resources:

Ali, O. H. (2018). African and Afro-Indian Rebel Leaders in Latin America. ReVista (Cambridge), 17(2), 21–23.

Diouf, Sylviane A. (2014), Slavery’s exiles: The story of the American Maroons, New York: NYU Press.

Do Nascimento, A. (1980). Quilombismo: An Afro-Brazilian Political Alternative. Journal of Black Studies, 11(2), 141–178.

Kopytoff, B. K. (1978). The early political development of Jamaican Maroon societies. The William and Mary Quarterly: A Magazine of Early American History, 287–307.

Patterson, O. (1970). Slavery and slave revolts: a socio-historical analysis of the first maroon war Jamaica, 1655–1740. Social and Economic Studies, 289–325.

Price, R. (1996). Introduction: Maroons and Their Communities. In R. Price (Ed.) Maroon Societies: Rebel Slave Communities in the Americas, (pp. 1–30). Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.



Tiffany D. Pogue, PhD

Tiffany D. Pogueis an Assistant Professor of Teacher Education whose research interests include Black Educational History, Philosophy, & Literacy Tradition.