Vernacular Names of Traditional Rice Varieties Reveal the Unique History of Maroons in Suriname and French Guiana

Pinas, Nicholaas; van de Loosdrecht, Marieke; Maat, Harro; van Andel, Tinde


Rice is a keystone crop in all Maroon communities in Suriname and French Guyana today and they cultivate hundreds of traditional varieties. Historically, rice can be considered an indicator crop for successful marronnage in the Guianas. Unraveling local variety names can reveal the history, farming systems, spiritual significance and probably the diversity of rice in Maroon communities. We interviewed 67 rice farmers (96% female), collected over 400 rice specimens and built a database with 284 unique rice names from our own fieldwork and previously collected names. The process of naming a rice variety is complex, but there are recurrent patterns among the five Maroon groups we studied. We categorized names referring to morphology, agronomy, animals, humans, and rice brought from specific regions or by other Maroon and non-Maroon groups. Very few names are shared between Maroon groups. When we showed the farmers six rice varieties from outside their village, all recognized African rice (Oryza glaberrima) and pende (O. sativa with spotted husks). When a variety was unknown, an initial name was given based on its morphology. Maroon rice names are truly unique as they reflect the varieties that were available, the history of plantations and marronnage, climate aspects that influenced the selection of farmers, the many separate groups of runaways joining the Maroons, the adaptation to the Amazonian ecosystem, and their contacts with outsiders. Our results show that unravelling Maroon rice names leads to a better understanding of the close connection between the process of marronage, locally developed agricultural practices, and connections to West Africa. These historical origins continue to exist and form a unique Maroon system of variety exchange, farm management and crop diversity.