|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
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
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
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