The 'Botanical Gardens of the Dispossessed' revisited: richness and significance of Old World crops grown by Suriname Maroons

Tinde van Andel*, Amber van der Velden, Minke Reijers

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)


Old World crops entered the Americas as provision on slave ships and were planted by enslaved Africans in their home gardens, known as the ‘Botanical Gardens of the Dispossessed’. Escaped slaves who settled in Maroon communities in Suriname’s forested interior practiced shifting cultivation for centuries with seeds they brought from their home gardens. After the abolishment of slavery, Creoles largely abandoned agriculture and farming became the activity of Asian wage laborers. Maroon agriculture has never been studied in detail. The recent discovery of African rice (Oryza glaberrima) in a Maroon garden initiated this ethnobotanical study on Old World crops grown by Maroons, and their motivations for maintaining this agrodiversity. In 2013, we collected crop cultivars and landraces and interviewed 16 Aucan and Saramaccan Maroon farmers. The greatest richness was encountered in bananas, taro, okra and rice. Most crops were used for food, but sesame, melegueta pepper and African rice largely lost their food function and served mainly for rituals. Farmers exchanged seeds and tubers with family members and other ethnicities in both urban and forest communities. Spending time in the capital during childbirth or illness resulted in the loss of typical Maroon crops (e.g., Bambara groundnut), as seeds lost viability during the farmer’s absence. Motivation to grow specific crops and cultivars varied from tradition, food preference, seasonal spreading, rituals and traditional medicine. Documentation of specific landrace properties, storage of seeds in germplasm centers and in situ conservation are urgently needed to safeguard these previously undocumented Maroon landraces.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)695-710
JournalGenetic Resources and Crop Evolution
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • African crops
  • Ethnobotany
  • Landraces
  • Maroons
  • Slavery
  • Suriname
  • Traditional agriculture


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