|A Short Hop to Kwamalasamutu
Operation 'Grass Hopper'
started in the 50's. Groups of hardy workers floated heavy machinery
up Surinamese rivers as far as they could go. From there they cut through
the jungle and started clearing the land creating small airstrips in
the middle of nowhere. It was an ambitious plan, attempting to open
up the interior of this jungle-clad country. The idea was to fly in
road making teams once the airstrips had been completed. Then they would
then start cutting trails towards each other from remote areas across
huge distances. As I say, it was an ambitious plan, one that never fully
came to fruition. Almost fifty small airstrips where created. Today,
what remains of them form the interiors lifelines to the outside world
Amotopo is an old grasshopper station, established in the 60's. Apart
from the overgrown remains of an old research hut perched on a hill
about a kilometre away, there is nothing but angry mosquitoes, 700 metres
of red gravel runway.... and a decrepit wooden shack.
After hauling our equipment through the forest one last time with the
crew, we sat under the shade of the 'reception shack' awaiting the sound
of our plane. These last few weeks have been an endurance test - one
that I will never forget. As I sat there listening intently for the
noise of the engine, a thousand images of the past days ran through
my mind - Aweti struggling bravely through the wash, Marcel half possessed
powering through the rapids - throttle in hand, little Lion swimming
for his life towards the bank to save us, Edwin hacking through the
forest to find the way, Michael (the former parrot catcher now turned
eco-guide) laughing and cracking jokes, Suresh the crazied tractor driver
revving his engine, and last but not least Sergio 'Brank's Son smiling
enigmatically at the back of the boat.
Then came the strange experience of leaving them, re-supplied and load-lightened,
but still in the Mosquito zone ... Amotopo long way from home and the
Wonootobo Rapids once-again between them and their destination. Roberto's
Plan A is pretty desperate... to tie empty Gasoline Bottles to the boat,
and basically throw it down the Rapids and leave the river Gods to decide
its fate. Either it will be smashed to smithereens in which case they
will once again be in Suresh's hands - we joked with Suresh when we
heard of the border tension between Guyana and Suriname "we've got a
hostage, but the trouble is that he's got the gun". Plan B is too hard
to even think about.... Drag the boat back over the hilly, rocky, track
3km to the foot of the rapids.
It was a strange separation. I gave my monocular to Edwin, the silent
backbone of the crew, ever watchful, and never a clumsy or hurried movement.
For about an hour we sat suspended between the sadness of leaving the
Corantyn Crew and the excitement of moving on to Kwamlasamutu departure.
But I'll never forget the moment when the door swung closed and I sat
filming and waving at the same time, and Edwin stood, looking through
his new spyglass back through the strangely oval window. The engine
revved and we pulled away into the sky leaving our fellow strugglers
Suddenly the rivers were flying beneath us, rapids once huge, were now
mere frothing streams. After a half-hour hop we fast-forwarded to the
Trio Village of Kwamalasamutu (Kwamala). If anywhere was the source
of our quest here in Suriname it is Kwamala, in the deep south of the
country, in a more undulating and hilly part of the forest, at a slightly
higher elevation, with smaller rivers. Kwamalasamutu is a Trio village
(pop 1,300), at least the dominant group is the Trio. But as the Granman
pointed out, he is the leader but there are ten other tribes within
the village, all at varying degrees of linguistic and cultural assimilation
to Trio. The Granman is village leader ... the villagers themselves
are, in reality, drawn from ten different tribes, each one with a captain.
If there is any reason for our trip here in Suriname it is to meet the
Trio people of Kwamalasamutu and focus on the knowledge of their traditional
healers. If there is any one man in Suriname that we had hoped to meet
and have guide us through the forest, it would be Fritz Von Troon, a
character we have heard from the beginning of our project. It was therefore
a dream come true when we touched down in Kwamala and the doors opened
and Fritz was there to meet us.
What followed has to be the best day of the trip so far. I wish it were
not so late in the night and I could give more time to describing our
first afternoon in Kwamala in more detail. We were led to meet the Granman
on arrival. He received us in a meeting house under the gaze of half
the village. The discussion proceeded slowly and methodically with Romeo,
our new guide, interpreting through the Basha to the Granman. We explained
our wish to offer him and his village a platform to say whatever they
wished, to the world via the Internet. We said that we would like to
film in the village for five days. And asked his permission. After about
an hour the meeting was adjourned till five in the afternoon, during
which he could think about our proposal. We meanwhile washed our clothes,
bathed in the creek and ate a hearty meal of chicken beans and rice.
We returned at 5 and resumed discussions, this time armed with our camera
and computer. We showed the Granman the video-letter sent by Captain
and Basha John yesterday and then played him yesterdays web-video: "the
making of the video letter'". As the meeting started to take off the
mood slowly changed from one of deliberation to one of collaboration.
The gathered crowd watched as we played the web-film of our boat disaster
of two days ago. We told the Granman we would make a video of him seeing
the video letter and send it to the world and show it to him tomorrow.
The meeting went wonderfully and at 9am tomorrow we meet with him again,
and he will begin to share with us the cultural knowledge of his people.
We sleep tonight in anticipation of a whole new world opening up to
A Sad Goodbye
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