Kojo’s Dis/Ability: The Interpretation of Spinal Pathology in the Context of an Eighteenth-Century Jamaican Maroon Community

  • David A. InglemanEmail author
Part of the Bioarchaeology and Social Theory book series (BST)


More than three centuries ago, a man named Kojo became the leader of a group of self-emancipated African Jamaicans , referred to as Maroons . Although Kojo is one of the most famous African Jamaicans of his time, little is known about his physical appearance. Based on equivocal historical sources, nineteeth- and twentieth-century writers generally accepted that Kojo was “hunchbacked”. More recent scholarship has challenged this interpretation, claiming that Kojo’s condition was rhetorical and not corporeal—nothing more than a posthumous colonial effort to disfigure an otherwise indomitable adversary. However, viewed through the lens of social disability theory, there is little compelling ethnohistoric evidence to substantiate the assumption that, if Kojo did indeed have a visible body difference or spinal pathology, like kyphosis, such a condition would have necessarily disqualified him from holding the chief Maroon leadership position. To the contrary, special marked status might have actually helped to enable Kojo to assume power. It is argued that if scholars do not carefully contextualize paleopathological data and allow for the role of cultural creativity, then they run the risk of perpetuating disability stigma. This is particularly important because bioarchaeologists, unlike many other history scholars, have the advantage of being able to marshal physical evidence about specific people that can be used to critically read disability history.


Disability Impairment African diaspora Maroons Jamaica Ethnohistory Alternate ability 



I thank the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC) for funding my participation in the 2015 AAPA symposium in which these ideas were first presented. In April 2016, a more fully developed version of this paper was presented to the undergraduate Anthro Society at UCSC, as part of their Tea Time series. This chapter has benefited from insightful conversations with several people, most notably Mark Anderson, Jennifer Byrnes, BenJee Cascio, J. Brent Crosson, Ian Hancock, J. Cameron Monroe, and Peter Schmidt. In addition, Judith Habicht Mauche, Jude Todd, Christina Verdugo, and Eden Washburn commented on earlier drafts of this chapter. Finally, Jennifer Byrnes, Jennifer Muller, and three anonymous reviewers provided critical and much appreciated reviews. I thank all of these above named individuals, institutions, and organizations. However, any deficiencies contained herein remain mea culpa.


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© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of CaliforniaSanta CruzUSA

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