Bush Negroes (Maroons), Suriname, ca. 1831


Pierre Jacques Benoit, Voyage a Surinam . . . cent dessins pris sur nature par l'auteur (Bruxelles, 1839), plate xlv,fig. 91. (Copy in the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University)


Caption, A woman wearing bells (left); a Spy with the instrument he uses to convey news (center); and a man holding a canoe paddle (right). As background to this illustration, Benoit writes that from time to time the Bush Negroes (Bosch-Negres) raid plantations and kidnap enslaved women. It is very difficult for planters to recapture these kidnapped women because the Bush Negroes hide them in the deepest forest areas. However, he continues, a number of these women have family or other emotional attachments on the plantations from which they were taken, and sometimes escape and return to their plantations. And to make escape more difficult, the maroons attach to the necks of these women different types of bells (les grelots et la sonnette) so that they can be aware of any movement made by the women. In this illustration, the author depicts a woman who he saw with bells around her neck and her body which the maroons hoped would discourage her from trying to escape again(p. 61). In referring to the Spy (espion), he writes that the Bush Negroes are very distrustful and suspicious of Europeans, and to know what is going on throughout the colony, they have established a manner of communication no less prompt/quick than the telegraph. When an event takes place in the city that is of interest to them, whether it be preparation for war, the death of an important personnage or the arrival of a vessel, one of these Bush Negroes whose job is that of a spy and who maintains contact with Negroes in the city who let him know what is going on and as soon as he hears the news he goes into the country and using a small lead instrument, resembling a flute but only having one hole in the middle, he blows into it with force. The sound which is spread more than a league in distance is repeated by other Bush Negroes and at the end of a few minutes the Bush Negro villages learn that something new has happened (p. 62). Benoit (1782-1854), a Belgian artist, visited Suriname around 1831 and apparently stayed for several months. The 100 lithographs in his book (hand colored in the John Carter Brown copy), accompanied by textual descriptions of varying detail, are derived from drawings he made during his visit, which included time in Paramaribo, the capital, as well as trips into the interior visiting Maroons and Amerindians. Forty of his lithographs, with our translations from the French text, are shown on this website.


Benoit, Pierre Jacques

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