The Voice of the Kari'na - The Caribs of Galibi

Yesterday evening we returned back from Babun Santi Beach to Galibi, the small Carib village that sits at the mouth of the Marowijne estuary. We met with Captain Ramases and showed him our project asking him to participate. We were aware from the beginning that in this village we were dealing with more sophisticated participants than we have met so far on our journeys. As I will explain later this village is unique in Suriname in many ways and the level of education is far higher here than elsewhere. We made our now polished pitch, showing him our diary entries from Kwamalasamutu, Kawemhakan and Dritibikki, and invited him to participate by taking advantage of an opportunity to send a message to the world. He liked the work we showed him and agreed to take part ... the transcript of his short message is at the bottom of this page. In fact he liked the work so much that later in the evening Reggie Sliygngaard came to visit us. He told us that both Captain Ramases and Captain Pane would talk to us, and that the village appreciated our efforts for the indigenous and tribal communities of Suriname so much that they wanted to put on a show for us today. They had approached the Shaman of the village through his mother (the shaman is 86 years old!) to see if it would be possible for him to lead the Marakka dance, which they stressed is only performed for the initiation of a new Shaman. We went to sleep in the warm glow of their appreciation.

There are two organisations in Suriname that represent the rights of the indigenous and tribal peoples here. One is the OIS which represents the Amerindian peoples, the other is VIDS, or the Organisation of Village Leaders, which represents the interests of all the peoples of the interior. That this is not an ordinary Surinamese village is perhaps best illustrated by the fact that Captain Ramases is the Head of OIS, while Captain Pane is Chairman of VIDS. Its hard to express how much their approval means to us after the journey we have just undertaken through the myriad different cultures of this country.

After a wonderful sleep I awoke at the first cock's crow (you might have heard a lot of them on our videos!). I was determined to video the dawn, and I wasn't disappointed. Dawn is such a blissful time in a fishing village as the boats head out to sea for the day, carving their way steadily through the water, ablaze with the first rays of the sun. Too soon the sun was high in the sky and in no time it was covered by rain-filled clouds which dumped on the village till mid-afternoon.

We were able to spend three hours interviewing the captains about the village, about what makes it so unique and about their work with the conservation of the nearby Sea Turtles. Throughout our trip, from Semoise right at the beginning, to Kwamalasamutu in the deep south of Suriname we have heard rumblings of discontent with the traditional hereditary leaders of communities. At times it has been hard to disagree with these feelings but as outsiders it has been equally hard to criticise centuries of tradition. The discontent has been especially strong in places where the 'modern' world is beginning to tease apart the threads of an age-old social fabric. Galibi is leading the way in finding a solution to this thorny problem. Like so many things in this country it all began in the "Interior War" of 1987. The Captains were away for long periods and the young people formed a youth organisation to keep things running smoothly. Pane and Ramases were two of these young men. After the conflict ended they had gained a lot of respect amongst the people of the village.

The villagers here are amazingly in touch with the outside world. They will quite easily chat about feminism and gender issues and the importance of cultural identity. They seem to scan international trends and grab onto ideas that they recognise as important new elements, and then incorporate them into the world of the village. So perhaps it is not surprising that they were also well aware of the concept of Democracy. As things stood it would have been quite easy for them to do more damage than good with this idea. Just look at Oliver Cromwell or the French Revolution. What is particularly beautiful about what has been achieved here is that these young leaders slowly succeeded in bringing the whole village - including the old captains - round to the idea. Ten years later and three years ago they finally won the debate and were elected leaders of the community, which they set about re-arranging along radically new lines. The best illustration of this was the diagram that they showed us of the present structure of the village. At the top of the tree sits "The People", below them the Captains. It would be hard to imagine some of the captains and Granmen that we have visited visualising their social worlds in this order! The new order is constructed out of a whole range of village organisations and positions, all of which are beavering away, applying for money from different international aid and development organisations. A trading organisation takes produce from the whole village and, taking advantage of the proximity of French Guyana, sells local produce in neighbouring France. A women's group has flourished and owns the two biggest boats in the village which it rents out to the men. A village radio station has been set up to make sure that new developments are communicated to the whole village. As the highly intelligent Captain Pane stressed "The hardest but most important thing is to keep the whole village informed and involved".

How to change to meet the demands of a changing world, while keeping a grip on your traditional values? Here they have set up organisations to maintain culture. There is one that monitors the fine details of social protocol and Reggie Slijgngaard, the head of this organisation, was the man who knew the protocol to ask the Shaman's mother to ask the shaman to perform the ceremony that we saw this afternoon. There is a man whose sole task it is to monitor the Kari'na language, to create dictionaries and record usage. There is a computer in the radio room into which all the cultural details of Kari'na culture are being loaded. What is ironic is that of all the 'traditional' villages we have been to, the traditions here seem to be the most cherished. It is truly remarkable what has been achieved and it hasn't gone un-noticed in this country. The leaders are in demand all over Suriname to lead workshops on how things work in Galibi. Nearby the villages of Bigiston, Tapuku and Erowarte have themselves followed the Galibi example. From what I have seen, this approach would work well throughout the interior. Typically careful, Captian Pane stresses that he never tells people how to live their lives, but is happy to explain the way things changed here. To me the whole thing is epitomised by Pane's response to Saramacca captains who want to change the system in their country and depose their Granman. He tells them that they have to work on the Granman, persuade him slowly, and take the years that Pane himself took to make sure the Granman and all the people understand and go along with the new order.

Even better, the Galibi villagers have set up an organisation called STIDUNAL to liase with, and aid, STINASU and Biotopic with their work in the conservation of Sea Turtles and the development of eco-tourism. This too has been a long road travelled. In 1969 STINASU established a nature reserve on the beaches from which the Kari'na traditionally used to harvest eggs. They did this without even consulting the people of Galibi, and not surprisingly raised considerable local opposition. The tide finally turned though the work of Henk Reigaard and his wife Judy who apparently worked tirelessly trying to make STINASU see the importance of involving the Kari'na, and convincing the Kari'na that the Turtles were worth more to the village alive than dead. STINASU set up the eco-tourism lodge on Babun Santi where they now employ villagers to look after tourists, and they also signed a paper granting the people of Galibi the hunting and fishing rights in their traditionally held territory. Two years ago there was a big party to mark the opening of the lodge and it seems things are now improving with Turtle numbers rising steadily according to STIDUNAL.

So it felt like there was something to celebrate as we made our way to the Marakka dance. The Shaman did not disappoint, appearing with his two apprentices and the dancers dressed in the bright colours of traditional Carib dress. I have often wondered what happened to the indigenous culture of the Caribbean. I feel incredibly lucky to have been here to Galibi to find out. Even luckier to have seen the Marakka dance and heard the music of the Karin ... a rhythm that can only have originated from the lapping of the waves on the shore or slapping gently the side of a fishing boat. Today's video shows this dance and a message from Captain Ramases. It is a pleasure that this message is not a desperate cry for help. These people have helped themselves. They have also helped to safeguard the Sea Turtles that come here to nest. All this, however, remains a fragile achievement while the Kari'na, like all the tribal and indigenous peoples of Suriname, have no legally binding rights to their ancestral lands. They have earned the support they request ... and, over the last two days, our deepest respect.

The Voice of the Kari'na - The Caribs of Galibi

Our development in Galibi depends on 2 important factors: 1. Security: We would like to see our landrights problems solved. We are asking the government to acknowledge our landrights. We also ask all international organisations and donors to give support to all our activities in getting these landrights so that our government will accept our landrights." `

2. We depend on economic activities to make a living in our village. We do not want to depend on the Government for that. Therefore we are working on a lot of projects, economic projects. We ask the donors to support us in this and to consider funding these projects when we apply to them.



The Water Ablaze...

Captains Pane and Ramases - The New ViIlage Order

Kari'na Shaman

The Shaman's Dancers

Waves on the Shore ...

LINKS - World of Villages – Suriname
LINKS - Movement for Eco-Tourism in Suriname
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