What’s in a Name?

What is a Kilombo? Kilombo is the Bantu word for an encampment. Bantu is a native language spoken in parts of modern day Angola. This word was taken up in the New World within the Portuguese sphere of influence to describe the societies of those African slaves and at times Indigenous peoples of the Americas that sought to end their enslavement through direct flight. This phenomena of runaway slave societies appeared throughout the Western Hemisphere: in Spanish colonies they were referred to as Palenques; in areas of French and British influence they were known as Maroon or Marron societies; and in areas of joint Spanish and French influence the inhabitants of these societies were referred to as Cimarrones [it has been suggested that these terms; Marron and Cimarron are derived either from the Spanish term Marrano which literally means swine but refers historically to the community of Spanish Jews; others claim it derives from the term Cimarron itself which has been thought to refer to those people that live in the “Cimas,” or mountain tops].

Regardless of the etymological derivations of these words, what has attracted us to this word is the phenomena that called it into existence—slave flight. It is our contention that these runaway slave societies have a lot to teach all of us in our contemporary context. It is these runaways that first understood that it was their sweat and blood that made the “modern world” possible and that it was this same sweat and blood that could bring another such world into existence. It was thus these runaways that were able to demonstrate that liberation is not built through a life and death struggle against the slave-master, but rather through a life and death struggle for the construction of another life, another formation of daily habit, rituals, and beliefs that would in practice make the slave-master function obsolete. In this respect it may be true, as many scholars have observed, that the modern notion of guerrilla warfare is in many respects directly indebted to these runaways and the military resistance they exerted against their would-be captors. But in this sense our insight must go further in order to understand, as did our Maroon predecessors, that an effective struggle against our captors is the one we wage on a daily basis with our hands and tools to create what has yet to be, and not the one limited to tanks, guns, and bullets directed at the destruction of what has already been.

Finally, we have been very conscious of our usage of this term, and we would like to make clear that it is not a metaphorical borrowing, it is a necessary acknowledgment of a gift handed down to us by courageous Afrikans and Indigenous peoples, and a commitment to both flight and the trans- and inter-racial character of the original Kilombos.