Modern Monetary Marronage

Alison Malisa
4 min readNov 8, 2023


Taking Refuge in the Grassroots for Economic Liberation and Cultural Evolution

From Maroon Comix

Wherever there was slavery, there was Marronage. After teaching history for over a decade, it is surprisingly my new word for the week. Marronage means escape from slavery, particularly to take refuge and establish new communities in the forests and mountains. What can we learn from the universality of marronage about the human instinct for freedom, about cooperative cultural emergence, and about how to obtain true global liberation in the face of subjugation of any kind?

Marronage is derived from the word si’maran meaning “wild”, another gift from the cultural and linguistic legacy of the famously generous and peace-loving Taino people who were the first to greet Columbus. This is what he wrote in his diary about them:

“They traded with us and gave us everything they had, with good will … they took great delight in pleasing us … They are very gentle and without knowledge of what is evil; nor do they murder or steal…Your highness may believe that in all the world there can be no better people … They love their neighbors as themselves, and they have the sweetest talk in the world, and are gentle and always laughing.”

He went on to suggest they would make great servents, yet most lost their lives being enslaved to Columbus’s brutal and futile search for gold. Some escaped by taking refuge in the surrounding forests.

Marronage reminds us that resistance to domination is a core human trait.

The Haitian Revolution was fomented in the forests by marooners. Even American colonists escaped from their own patriarchal communities of domination to live in the forests or join Native communities- a form of marronage. Even Benjamin Franklin famously noted that English settlers were constantly fleeing to the Indians while Indians almost never fled to live with the colonists. (Check out the book Tribe; On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger)

Marronage also took place in Africa. Along the coast of Kenya, marooners were called watoro. Ten sacred forests have been declared World Heritage Sites by UNESCO because of the rich culture that emerged after the native Mijikenda watoro took refuge from enslavement.

It strikes me now that I’ve been party to an egregious academic oversight in teaching about slavery without taking a deep dive into the cultures that emerged from those who escaped. How can we learn from marronage communities about the fundamentals of grassroots economics, cultural evolution, and human potential?

In an in-depth study of marronage on the Swahili Coast, Clélia Coret notes that, while diverse, “Slave rebels sought community, not “independence.” (Coret, 2021)

Focusing on studying freedom, especially through the lens of marronage, may provide invaluable insights into how liberated human cultures emerge within communities.

Grassroots Economics Foundation (GEF) in Kenya does exactly this by exploring and strategically reawakening indigenous practices, pointing to a path toward freedom from the economics of domination, including wage slavery.

On the spectrum of freedom-seeking strategies, marronage seems to sit at the apex. While marronage marks a reclamation of liberation and rebuilding of humanity, on the other end are more common strategies wherein freedom is conferred through purchase (England), war (United States), or political struggle (South Africa).

Looking at marronage in coastal Kenya, not all slaves found refuge in the forests, either. In a recent essay, Will Ruddick, econo-optimist and founder of GEF wrote about Methodist missionaries who began harboring the fugitive slaves, subsequently “freeing” 1,400 coastal Mijikenda people… by purchasing them and putting them to work.

The study of freedom vs. slavery is a historical lens with voluminous impact, which brings to mind new interpretations on Industrial England after the country compensated slave owners in 1833. What are the injurious cultural and economic implications of sanctioning humans as possessions in the very attempt to liberate them?

This can be compared to the United States’ decision to emancipate slaves without compensating owners, and instead waging war, which also had substantial cultural and economic repercussions.

While the history of marronage is less known, it may be a critical lens for understanding the spectrum of freedom, and applying this understanding to the pursuit of true liberation now.

Today, it is estimated that 50 million people are enslaved. The shadow of domination casts such a long and distorting influence over our collective consciousness, it can hinder our ability to imagine a peaceful world. Like a fish that doesn’t know it’s in water, we can be unaware of how deeply entrenched the mindset of domination is in our culture. This mindset has many tragic implications, including the simple idea that money is the best way to motivate people to do the drudgery. And it reaches its ridiculously perilous pinnacle in such dangerous paradoxes like perpetuating global nuclear armament to prevent war.

It is time to look toward those who have committed to studying the pursuit of freedom by taking refuge in the grassroots. Indigenous communities all over the world have rejected domination and persisted. Surviving horrendous abuse, these communities have protected valuable cultural knowledge that can help inform a cultural shift toward designing a world that works for all, from the grassroots.

“We have the capability not just to mend the scars of the planet but to alleviate our own sufferings.”

Will Ruddick, 2023



Alison Malisa

EconoWitch||Stirring the pot of Economics Education & Research 4 Peace, Prosperity, Regeneration, and Wellbeing for All. Prosocial||Nature||Salutogenesis