A Leap of Imagination

By Françoise Vergès

No change for the good ever happens without it being imagined first, even if that change seems hopeless or impossible in the present. —Martin Espada

When I was an adolescent on Réunion Island and I was walking in its impressive mountains, which all bear the names of Malagasy maroons,¹ I imagined them looking down at the land of unfreedom, of plantations and colonial administration. They were free. They carved a land that belied the normalization of enslavement. At night, they went to the shores of the Indian Ocean to train themselves in the art of fighting. The slave owners, who deeply feared them, organized armed militia to wage war. The war lasted a century. Those who had killed a maroon were awarded with enslaved women, children, and men. Those who had been brought in chains to this French colony and had dared to imagine freedom when everything around them said that enslavement was natural and normal, had to be destroyed. Yet, their leap of imagina – tion was constitutive for the child and adolescent that I was. They created an art of marooning that had to be imagined in order to become possible.

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¹ Maroons were the enslaved who fled the plantations, for a day or more, or for years, establishing sovereign communities in the mountains of Réunion. They renamed themselves, rejecting with this gesture the surnames that slave owners had given them (which could be demeaning). Through this self-naming, they expressed their anti-slavery resistance and their fight for freedom in their native language, Malagasy: Tsimendef (from ‘Tsi Mandevi,’ which means ‘not a slave’), Mafate (from ‘Mahafaty,’ which means ‘one who kills’), Dimitile (from the Malagasy word for ‘the watchman’), Tsilaos (from ‘Tsy ilaozana,’ which means ‘a space that one does not abandon’), or Anchaing and Heva.

This essay is part of the publication Slow Spatial Reader: Chronicles of Radical Affection, Carolyn F. Strauss (ed.), Amsterdam: Valiz, 2021, www.valiz.nl/en/publications/slow-spatial-reader.html.

Published under the Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/, with the editor’s and publisher’s knowledge and permission.

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