|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.....
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
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.
Captains in Discussion
Interview with Hugo and