Maintaining a Balance

You may have noticed that during our trip through Suriname many of the village leaders that we have visited, and whose voices we have brought to you, have stressed above all the need for their land rights to be recognised. Today we have come to Nieuw Koffiekamp, an Aukana village in Saramacca territory. The story of this community more than any other demonstrates why land rights are so important for the sense of security of the people of the interior.

The story began like all Maroon stories with slavery, the first relocation of these people. Brought over from Africa they escaped from the plantations and eventually won their freedom from the Dutch. Koffiekamp was established on Sara creek by a man called Koffie and three sisters. They are the original ancestors for the whole village that exists now. This gives the place the wonderful family atmosphere that many Maroon villages share and that make coming here such a warm experience. The second relocation was in 1964 when the Afobakka Dam was built to provide hydro-electricity for the Bauxite mines in the area. The dam created the Brokopondo Lake. In the process eight villages were flooded, Nieuw Koffiekamp was one of them.

The villagers were promised jobs, new houses with three bedrooms in each, free electricity and a better life than they had known up to then. They were brought here and settled in the village. The houses were small wooden two-roomed affairs is set in rows, so unlike the normal organically created villages of other Maroon villages. The electricity arrived .... thirty years later. The people made the best of it but sacrifices were made on the way. Many villagers, not liking the new-style-lay out moved to other Maroon villages and settled there, others moved to Paramaribo and the opportunities the big city offered. Somehow the family spirit survived and the rest of the people re-built their community on new ground.

Now, almost unbelieveably the people face a third re-location. In 1992 the govenemnt gave away the gold prospecting rights to the land in and around Nieuw Kofficamp to the Canadian Multinational, Golden Star, and the community was threatened once again. This time they have dug in and as yet have not been moved on. As they point out, the last re-location was somewhat unbeatable, the waters rose and they had to move. This time they are staying put. They have been mining the area themselves and want to keep doing so. They are not really even against the establishment of the Golden Star mine which could create much-needed employment. What they want is very simple. The want to be consulted by the Government and Golden Star so that a mutually agreeable arrangement can be made. They want the opportunity to work in the proposed mine, and they want the right to a piece of the land so that they can mine themselves if they choose to. Central to both of these things.... they want their land-rights recognised. They want to be central to any decision that concerns the land that they have against the odds made their own and the compensations offered to be honoured.

It is a moving story of cultural resilience and governmental heavy-handedness, and one that clearly shows why communities throughout the country are looking to the new government (that is presently forming its coalition) for rights to their lands. In this way they would be consulted in determining the future use of the lands that they rely on for their livelihoods. Very few of the leaders we have talked to are totally set against the exploitation of any of the resources their lands hold. They just want a small slice of the cake to help them to develop. When locals from the village mine they give 3% to help put in telephone lines and build-up the school. It would seem reasonable that outsiders should contribute more to the local community as a starting point for the future....



Re-living the Upheaval

Present Times

Future Hopes

LINKS - Suriname Human Rights
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