Palumeu - METS and Eco-Tourism

So today began in Palumeu, a Trio village on the way down the Tapanahoni River. It was like Kwamalasamutu and Tepu in many respects, but different in one significant way - whereas Tepu and Kwamala are trying hard to find ways of increasing tourism, and the flow of money into their villages, Palumeu is already there. METS (The Movement for Eco-Tourism in Suriname) has had a tourist lodge on the edge of the village for 8 years. Interrupted by the interior war of a few years ago, METS is trying its hardest to create a steady flow of travellers and tourists to its resorts here in Palumeu as well as in Awaradam (on the Saramacca River) and in Brokopondo Lake.

Now, eco-tourism for me conjures up the nightmare vision of fat foreigners pointing cameras at 'natives' in grass-skirts. A few years ago I saw a damning film about 'eco-tourism' in Papua New Guinea called Cannibal Tours by a controversial anthropological filmmaker O'Rouke. It showed the attitude of the visitors, and the way in which the 'cultural shows' that the local people put on merely served to re-enforce the prejudices and stereotypes that the visitors bring with them .... "You mean they really eat people?!" So it was with mixed feeling that I set off this morning to interview the captain and his Basha's about the activities of METS in this village.

All these Trio villages we are visiting are 'Christianised' and have been for over thirty years. We are not venturing to find 'lost tribes' nor would we wish to. I may feel sad when I see the effects of the missionaries. The tribal dress, the Piai's magic and the dances that used to be performed - all these have gone, except for choreographed shows for tourists who wish to participate in a shared fiction with the local communities. But the people themselves have been already been changed, passed through the invisible veil from the timeless and ancient to the 'modern'’. It’s no use for us as outsiders to romantically wish them back to the Stone Age. They do not want to go.

They want money and development, education and health improvement, electricity, jobs and running water. So this morning as we sat by the river talking to the Captain he said that he welcomed the work of METS, and was happy that tourists come to Palumeu. He talked about his dislike of the alternatives that were open to him... gold-mining and logging. The outsiders that he fears are not tourists but people involved in these activities. He said that most tourists respect the people of the village, although some leave with promises of sending back help and photos, which are never fulfilled. These broken promises have been a constant refrain throughout our trip through Trio villages and I am happy to report that we have always said in our meetings with the Captains and the Granman that we offer no promises. We do what we can to get the word out there, but we cannot say for sure what direct benefits this will achieve ... that part we leave up to you!

This morning we received an e-mail from Margreet Kauffman who runs an educational project in Palumeu. If anyone wishes to help in a concrete way please contact her at margreet.kauffman@tsm-ils.nl.

After an interesting discussion with the Captain we went to meet Michael, the Maroon manager of the resort. I was further relieved to hear that METS seems to have a very conscientious approach to eco/culture-tourism. It caters for groups of between 4 and 20 people and has no intention of increasing the numbers. It offers a several activities ranging from culturally based experiences, to nature trips, to the adventure of climbing the sacred Mount Kassikassima. It was certainly a strange experience sitting chatting to Michael while sipping Kassiri Beer from his refrigerator - we haven't had anything cold for weeks!

So we have now left Palumeu and slowly we are winding our way ever-onwards down-river. Travelling with Dyon is good. For the first time we have enough time to fit everything in. We travelled for just 2 hours today before making camp, and going fishing for our supper. I caught my first Piranha yesterday, but this evening we left it to the professionals (see video). We have made camp on a little bit of heaven surrounded by the murmur of small rapids. It has been the most beautiful evening.


Talking to the Captain

Down is Easier than Up!

Returning with the Catch

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