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This stool is from the Maroons or Bushinengues of Suriname on the northeastern Atlantic coast of South America – the population of escaped slaves who fled to the forests of Suriname to avoid recapture and whose villages evolved into transplanted replicas of villages in West Africa. In the colonial era, they were known as the ‘Bush Negroes’. The predominant groups among the slaves were the Ashanti (from what is now Ghana) and the Yoruba (from what is now Nigeria).
The culture of the Maroons or Bushinengues in Suriname remained particularly true to its African origins, perhaps more so than anywhere else in the Caribbean and the Americas, and so the stool here for example, is identifiably Ashanti in its influence.
The stool is carved from several pieces of light grained wood. There is a curved seat, two legs and two cross bars. The top is decorated in low relief carving with a zoomorphic figure, as are the external sides of the legs. The top is also further decorated with brass, domed-headed tacks.
Stools were important in Maroon or Bushinengue culture, for it was forbidden to sit on the ground. Accordingly, most households would have several stools. Typically, they were carved by the man of the house, often as a marriage gift to his wife or wives. The culture was frequently matrilineal – inheritance passed down the female line. They were animists: every object was assumed to be the residence of a spirit, presumably including this stool.
Slaves were brought to Suriname from Africa by Europeans from about 1650 onwards. The average number of slaves brought to the colony from 1650 to 1826 was between 1,500 and 2,000 a year (Dark, 1954, p. 4).
The area was inhabited by various indigenous groups prior to it coming under Dutch rule in the late 17th century. The Dutch ruled the colony as a plantation economy dependent on African slaves and, following the abolition of slavery, indentured servants from Asia. As a consequence, around 20% of the population today can claim direct descent from West Africa and are the descendants of escaped slaves the Maroons or Bushinengues. (Another 15% have mixed African descent.) And another 14% are descended from Java, in what was then the Dutch East Indies, now Indonesia. (Javanese is actually one of Suriname’s official languages today.)
In 1954, Suriname became one of the constituent countries of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1954. And in 1975, Suriname finally became an independent country. Suriname today is bordered French Guiana, Guyana and Brazil. It is the smallest sovereign state in South America and has a current population of just under 600,000.
The stool here has a splendid patina from age and use. The wear to the top especially has given it a worn, warm, golden hue. There do not appear to be any lost brass tacks. The joints are a little loose and there is some minor scratching to the legs, but otherwise, the stool is in fine condition.
Dark, P.J.C., Bush Negro Art: An African Art in the Americas, Alec Tiranti Ltd, 1954.