Dear Editor,

Thank you for your explanatory note on Mr Kwayana’s letter captioned ‘SN should not have deleted paragraph in letter’ (13.2.09). Below follows an elaboration upon, and clarification of the points made in my letter of February 5, 2009, around the eve of commemoration of the Berbice Revolution of 1763.
Re: The trade and peace agreements to which I referred − There appears to be ample evidence that from the early years of colonisation, the Dutch, and later the British, entered into a variety of agreements, alliances, compacts or treaties with Amerindian leaders (chiefs or captains). The earlier agreements were probably not treaties in public international law, but were more likely to have been in the nature of private international law contracts. The early Dutch traders at first concentrated on commercial relations with the Amerindians, and then used their commercial experience to their advantage in their colonisation strategy. I would refer your readers to an article ‘Amerindian-European Relations in Dutch Guyana,’ from Colonialism and Underdevelopment in Guyana, 1580-1803, and published in Caribbean Slave Society And Economy, A Student Reader, 1991, Beckles & Shepherd, Eds, in which Professor Alvin O. Thompson referred to the interior migration of Amerindians in Guyana, due to the presence of the competing Dutch, Spanish and Portuguese colonists. He explained that, “The early Dutch pushed the Indians out of their homelands, and those whom they could not push out they attempted to wipe out with superior military technology and strategy. In some instances the Indians offered physical resistance, but at other times they quietly retreated to areas less accessible to the new invaders.” The Dutch did, however, seek the friendship of some of the Amerindians, in particular the Caribs, as they needed their services for trade (including the trade in enslaved Indians) and military purposes (eg hostilities with the Spanish, conflicts with some Amerindian nations, and the capture of enslaved African runaways). He noted that “As early as 1685 the Caribs are recorded as migrating from the Spanish to the Dutch zone…” and that the Manaos,  said to have been “…a powerful slave-raiding group…” of the Rio Negro and Rio Branco districts, areas of modern Brazil, had sought to engage in regular trade with the Dutch, but “…found that their efforts were being thwarted by the Caribs and Akawois who occupied strategic areas along the established trade routes.” (Thompson, p. 13-15). Professor Thompson also cites accounts given by Van Berkel and the British Guiana Boundary Arbitration with Venezuela, which confirmed that alliances were entered into between the Dutch and various Amerindian captains or chiefs. The Dutch developed the practice of distribution of gifts to these captains or chiefs from about the late 17th century. The practice of gifts ‘as a token of friendship’ became more formalised in 1778 and was recorded in the minutes of the Court of Policy of Essequibo and Demerara. The Dutch sought to establish occupancy and to exercise jurisdiction over a large area of the interior. In 1784 the Dutch West India Company even went as far as to approve “…an elaborate plan…” for the government of Essequibo and Demerara to honour the “…chiefs of the Carib, Arawak and Warrau peoples…” by including the offer of “…lands on which to settle permanently, close to the Dutch settlements.” In 1810, when the British were in control of the colony, a Carib chief, Mahanarva, went into the Demerara capital with his forces and threatened hostilities unless the presents and allowances were forthcoming. The government decided to “…appease the chief…” (Thompson, p. 18-19).  These practices may be deemed to have been treaties in public international law, as they may be regarded as having taken place between ‘nations.’

Re: The Maroon encampments − There were large Maroon (African Bush Community) encampments in Guyana prior to the Berbice Revolution of 1763. In an excellent book, which I would recommend to your readers, Maroons of Guyana, Some Problems of Slave Desertion in Guyana, c. 1750-1814, published by Free Press in 1999, Professor Thompson states that in 1744, in the North-West District of Essequibo, there were large encampments of “at least 300” Maroons. A gruesome incident occurred, following an expedition against them. Hands of Africans killed were severed and taken to Governor van Gravesande, who had them “…nailed to posts as a warning…” (Thompson, p. 15 & 21).  Professor Thompson also referred to a letter from a French official in 1782, during the short period of French rule, which estimated that there were “…a little over 2,000 maroons…” in the territories of Berbice, Demerara and Essequibo (Thompson,p. 14-15). He also noted that the status of Maroons was defined by the authorities. In 1806, the Court of Policy of Demerara and Essequibo ruled that “…one year’s residence in the bush…” was the criterion to be applied for legal recognition as a Maroon, and that those persons “…who were resident in the bush for more than two years were regarded as being confirmed in their way of life as maroons.” In 1810, the Court of Policy of Berbice applied the same criteria, and added a clause to the effect that  Maroons also apparently included those “…over sixteen years of age who ran away in groups of ten or more from one plantation, and who stayed away for three months or more…” (Thompson p. 16).

Re: The Treaty with the ‘Creole Island’ Maroon community − Professor Thompson has shown that Maroon communities were firmly established in Guyana well over 260 years ago. He reports:  “There were few occasions in the history of the colonial experience of the New World, when the White colonial governments found it more expedient to come to a modus vivendi with the maroons than to seek a military solution to the problem. The most outstanding examples of this are in the cases of the maroons of Jamaica in 1739, and those of Surinam in 1761, 1762 and 1767.

“We also note an instance of such an arrangement taking place in Essequibo in 1738. In that year, according to Hartsinck, (and 1741, according to Netscher) between 36 and 40 creole slaves belonging to WIC’s estate, Poelwijk, situated in the Mazaruni River, ran away and established themselves on an island, later called ‘Creole Island’, in the upper Cuyuni River. This island offered considerable difficulties of access to the Whites who sought to apprehend the deserters. The latter had fortified themselves on the island and, it is said, even challenged the Whites to come and get them. The Commander of the colony, who seems to have lacked confidence in the small number of troops at his disposal to dislodge them, and who perhaps feared that they would soon become a rallying point for other disaffected slaves, decided to arrange a treaty of peace with them. By this treaty, they and their progeny were to be declared free people, on condition that they work every other month for the WIC. This group was sometimes referred to in contemporary Dutch sources as “half-free creoles.”

How much of this ‘half-freedom’ they were allowed in practice remains uncertain. In any case, they were not satisfied with their lot for, as we have indicated above, in 1765 it was said that the entire group “intend to desert to the Spanish Missions up in Cuyuni, so as to be entirely free.”  (Thompson, p. 27). This suggests that the Maroons had been established on Creole Island for at least 24 years.

I trust that the provision of the historical sources which formed the evidential basis for my letter published on February 5, clarifies the position. In view of the factors referred to above, including the defining of the status of Maroons (Bush Communities) by the authorities in the early 19th century, there would appear to be considerable force in the assertion that the descendants of those communities are ‘indigenous peoples’ in accordance with the relevant provisions enshrined in the Constitution of Guyana.

Finally, I confirm that I am based in the UK, and not in the USA.

Yours faithfully,
Colin Bobb-Semple

Editor’s note
1. First, there seems to be some misunderstanding about the term the “early years of colonization.” The year of the first treaty with the Amerindians on record − 1778 − could not be described as occurring early in the chronology of colonization; it comes near the end of the Dutch period. The terms of the treaty of that year and the subsequent ones are not in question. The early period of colonization could be identified as beginning in the 1720s and would perhaps last for a few decades thereafter.

2. When the authorities prior to 1778 searched for treaties with the Amerindians both in Essequibo and in the Netherlands, none could be found. It is not in dispute, however, that there were understandings and alliances which evolved over many decades in respect of the four ‘free nations’ – the Arawaks, Akawaios, Caribs and Warraus − and that the Dutch supplied presents to them, albeit often in relation to services rendered.

However, nowadays it can be said with fair confidence that the early Dutch did not push the Indians out of their homelands following their arrival. In the first place, there were simply not enough colonizers to contemplate anything of that kind (the Amerindians could easily have wiped them out), and as indicated in the previous note, Dutch (and African) numbers remained low into the eighteenth century. In the second, there is ample evidence for a sizable Arawak and Warrau community which settled behind the plantations in Berbice in the eighteenth century, which is one of the reasons why prior to 1762 it was so difficult for Berbicians to establish maroon camps. The phenomenon of plantation Amerindians was never so pronounced in Essequibo, although there were some Akawaios living behind the plantations there. Furthermore, there is some circumstantial evidence to suggest that the Warraus probably followed the Dutch into Guyana from the Orinoco delta, when they had not been there in the decades prior to the Dutch arrival.  The Warraus most likely disappeared from some parts of the littoral with the move of plantations onto the coast towards the end of the eighteenth century. As said in the previous note, the movement of the Amerindians in general away from colonial settlements comes especially with the great expansion of the plantation system after the Berbice Uprising. In the case of the Caribs, whose numbers clearly dwindled in the nineteenth century, the possible move may have been connected to the abolition of the Amerindian slave trade in the 1790s. The slave trade had provided them with large-scale access to European goods, for which they had earlier been the main distribution agents in the Guianas. It is possible that after Amerindian abolition they then gravitated towards the Portuguese, who provided
a large market for enslaved Amerindians.
3. The Caribs moved with ease around the Guianas. They were Essequibo’s most numerous nation for most of the Dutch period, although the largest number of them was to be found in New Grenada, where they were subject to ‘reductions’ by the Spanish authorities. Their alliance with the Dutch and their prosecution of the slave trade gave them access to guns with which to confront the Spaniards. There were no Caribs in Demerara (although the Essequibo authorities sometimes used them there) and there were none in Berbice; the Corentyne Caribs came under the jurisdiction of Suriname.

4. The only maroon camp of any significance in Essequibo for most of the Dutch period was the Barima one. The maroons could only establish themselves there because the Barima Caribs for several decades had been in alliance with the French and were hostile to the Dutch. In 1744 the Fort Island authorities talked them around, however, and their first act cementing the new friendship was the elimination of the maroon community. They then offered to watch for runaways making for the Orinoco. It was difficult for maroons to find safe places to settle in Essequibo given the ubiquity of the Caribs.

The large size and enduring nature of the West Demerara maroon communities in the final decades of the eighteenth century is most certainly not in question. As said earlier, there were no Caribs living in Demerara, and the rapid expansion of the plantation system there and the importation of comparatively large numbers of Africans over a fairly short space of time made maroon settlements viable in a way they had not been in Essequibo prior to the 1760s. Demerara was of late foundation, however, its first plantation being established in 1746.

5. Where Creole Island is concerned, Netscher is a far more reliable source than Hartsinck (whom he claims is mistaken about a part of the story), because he cites his primary sources for his statements on this subject in his Archival Notes. These are: the Commandeur’s report to the Zeeland Chamber of the West India Company in letters of June 9 and November 10, 1741, and February 8, 1742 − all in the Rijksarchief in The Hague. He says the last letter stated that three Creole Islanders did not want to avail themselves of the pardon offered by the authorities, and retreated towards Spanish Guiana. As a consequence a bounty was put out on them. The final letter he cites, that of October 2, 1743, is also reproduced in the appendices to the British Guiana Boundary Arbitration case and refers to the killing of the last two survivors – Ariaen and Fortuyn – by the Waini Caribs.

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