The Voice of the Saramacca

It is difficult, if not impossible to try and summarise the personal observations and feelings of this past day let alone tell the story of the people in this area. There is so much that I would love to write about if only I had the time - The way the elders of the village greeted me on our arrival, hugging me with open arms, saying in soft tones "Aday no" (are you here?) the correct reply being "Ai me day" (yes I'm here). It was a beautiful scene, an openness I hadn't anticipated and if I am honest could only have dreamt of. Thankfully there are still places in the world where traditional values and beliefs still hold true, and those values mean that you can greet a stranger with open arms...

I would also like to have described the moonlight walk through the village, the meetings with the Captains (three in total) and the ceremony that it entailed, the children crowding around our hut near the river bank in the morning, the orange and red snake that spent the night above our heads....but sadly I can only just touch on them for now... (batteries you know!) However the documentaries will tell this story in more detail (Yes! we are also making films about this journey)....

Setting up a computer with a satellite system in a village like Semoise creates quite a stir, this morning proved as much.

Hugo sent a messenger by boat up river to Asidopo asking the Granman of the Saramacca- Songo Aboikoni if we could talk to him about his people. We were sitting with two of the Captains of Semoisie and Captain Paulus from down-river (see yesterday) when a canoe arrived with the reply..... "No"

It would be fair to say that we were not the only ones who where disappointed, the Captains immediately entering into a lengthy discussion (as is their way) each relaying his thoughts on why the spokesperson of the Saramacca people would be reluctant to speak! Opinions where not limited just to the Captains. At one point a villager approached demanding that we 'force the Granman to talk to us' Hugo Jabini, our guide and Chairman of TOOKA (Lit. "Change" - A foundation to improve the well-being of the peoples of the interior) which assists the Association of Saramacca Authorities, acted as our interpreter explaining that we had been granted permission to film but Songo was too busy - the official reason being he was preparing for a trip to the capital, Paramaribo. Although there where many alternative explanations suggested the simplest and perhaps most suited to this diary entry would be that he was reluctant to talk to 'journalists' .

The Granman had sent a message that we could simply carry on with our work as a guest of the captains of Semoisie, the village where we are now. Hugo suggested we didn't push the issue and should just carry on with our work. This we did with some relief. It's important to point out that what follows below is not in any way a political statement made by Runningman but rather an attempt to describe the day we had and an exposition of the views of ASA as expressed to us.

We spent the afternoon floating down the beautiful Suriname River interviewing Hugo and Captain Paulus, asking them about the history of the Saramacca people and the reasons for the formation of the ASA. Apparently 3 or 4 years ago English-speaking Chinese arrived in the area claiming to have signed an agreement with the Granman (Songo) which granted them permission to start logging-prospecting in areas considered tribal lands, traditionally used for hunting, fishing and other activities crucial to the survival of the villages. When approached the Granman denied any knowledge of the concessions. It was for this reason that the ASA was formed.

Hugo explained that traditionally each of the Captains, as representative of their community, should at the very least, have been consulted. The Granman is not an elected leader, he is the oldest son of the oldest sister of his predecessor. (Royals would be a European comparison ... royals with the power to make judgements- both good and bad).

Recently, so we are told, a similar situation has arisen - the Granman signed an agreement with the Government that ASA rejected . ASA sent a message to Suriname's current President 'alerting him' that they had not as Captains been advised or consulted regarding the planned large-scale concessions which infringe on their tribal lands. It is, as I have said a complex situation and not one that we as visitors can pretend to fully understand. However the ASA have asked us if we could attach a copy of the appeal and its subsequent petition for your consideration so that the voice of the Saramacca People be heard. Both documents appeared in local newspapers. In the simplest terms they request the government to consider their human rights as indigenous and tribal people and honour the original treaty (that still stands in international law) that they won from the Dutch Colonialists in the 18th Century.

Hugo Jabini pointed out that in a globalised world, his people can no longer afford to blindly follow a Granman if he doesn't act in the interests of his people. One of the central activities of ASA is training the captains to deal with the complex legal implications of concessions and making them aware of how to defend their rights. They stress that they want to work with the Granman but not at any price. When we explained our project to the captains of Semoisie and Captain Paulus, they requested that we would make their problems known to the outside world. We are here as Runningman to offer a platform to all sides in the debate, so we invite the Granman, Soni Aboikoni, if he reads this to contact us and make a statement.


Semoisie Calling

Captains in Discussion

Interview with Hugo and Captain Paulus

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