Dritabikki - A Whole New World

Today was one of those days that will be hard to compress into one diary entry. It seems more like a week... It began in Granbori the small N'Duka village where we spent last night – a peaceful night by the banks of the Tapanahoni River. Closing my eyes, the rapids beside the village sounded more like the sea with a big swell, than a river. This morning we had a short chat with the Captain of Granbori about the sad situation regarding the village’s health needs (see yesterday's diary). Then we set off for Dritabikki, the centre of N'Duka culture and the home of Granman Gazon. This was our last day with Dyon Smaal who has shown us so much of Wayana culture and brought us down the rapids and up the Rosevelt Peak - so a big "thank you" must go to him.

Over the last month since we left Nieuw Nickerie we have travelled over hundreds of miles of river. Day by day, mile upon mile, bend upon winding bend we have seen nothing but nature. We have only passed another boat very rarely, near the Trio and Wayana villages. Not once in the whole month have we passed another boat with a motor on the back. Just the daily arc of sun rising, hot midday, and the beautiful evenings that offer a peaceful reward at the end of each day. At this time the river takes on a whole new character, and the evening sun lays gold into the green of the trees at the river's edge.

Today's menu started in just the same way. A few spoonfuls of rapids and a sprinkling of tropical rain, the usual fare.... Slowly, however we started to pass scattered N'Duka camps. Shanty-huts perched idyllically on islands or set back in the bush, on quiet corners of the river. At about two in the afternoon the boat stopped and Don pointed out Sela Creek, a small tributary of the Tapanahoni, feeding in to our right. As we passed. Sela creek we saw the first sign that we were moving into a different world. The deep green water of the Tapanahoni was joined by the light brown waters of Sela Creek. A symbol, if we needed one, that we too were about to be joined by a new and important force in the forest. Gold mining is carried out up-stream in the creek, and the evidence was all too obvious. We will be focusing on gold mining in the coming days, its background causes, its social and environmental effects. For now it is enough to say that blasting at the riverbanks with power-hoses washes sediments into the river's waters and makes them run a different colour. This visible sign belies the most damaging environmental effect of small-scale mining, namely mercury, which washes into the water and gets into the food chain through the fish. We will be examining the realities of this situation, not ranting from the pulpit, but talking to experts about how to control this seemly chaotic activity and minimise it's damaging effects.

Moving on down-river the settlements increased in number, we began to see oil bottles floating by in the water and plastic bags stuck on branches at the edge of the stream. A quiet fell on us as we all took in the fact that life in our wilderness was over and we were about to enter a whole new world.

Arriving at Dritabikki was weird. Dritabikki is not the centre of the world, but it might as well have been New York as far as we were concerned. Between the islands that make up the community, large boats with huge engines passed to-and-fro. As we came to rest on the shore we even saw a jet-ski sitting waiting for a joy rider. Dritabikki has shops! Shops with biscuits in! Beer, Rum, Sardines...a fridge! In short everything a weary traveller could want. As we sat enjoying the first tastes of 'civilisation' we heard a great commotion down by the river, gun shots and shouting. Jumping up we asked what was happening. A young girl had died a few days ago. The noise was preparations for tomorrow’s funeral. The grave-digging party was on its way back to the village to be greeted by the rest of the community. We followed as they walked to the coffin, decorated and laid under the thatch of a hut. The community surrounded the hut and banged their paddles on the ground as they walked around the coffin. A beautiful farewell to a girl who died too young. Apt because she was from a people for whom the river is the life force, and was the route to freedom from slavery hundreds of years ago.

Granman Gazon is now a venerable old man of eighty years. Of all the five Granmen in Suriname he is widely the most respected. Held to be wise and honest, he has a lifetime of experience in guiding his people through the changing times. He was to be our first stop in this village but he sent word through a Basha that he was too tired this afternoon to meet us. We all look forward to an audience with him first thing tomorrow morning. Until we meet him tomorrow we were not too keen to photograph the intimate cultural details of the funeral and so we kept a respectful distance. By way of recompense we had the wonderful surprise of the appearance of Johannes a day early. Johannes is to be our guide on this final leg of our trip. He is from Dritabikki but now lives in Paramaribo and we hadn't expected him 'til tomorrow morning at the earliest.

It has been a confusing day of change. Gone are the days of endlessly following rivers whichever way they take us. Now we are into a new phase and we have only tonight's sleep to adjust to the new world that surrounds us. This world could not be better represented than by the talking-drum in today's video. This evening, the children practised as they waited for the final wake for the poor dead girl from Dritabikki. I go to sleep with the image of the community banging their paddles on the ground around the coffin, the way to freedom from slavery, the way from life to the after-life...


Granbori Faakatiki (Shrine to Ancestors)

Goodbye Granbori

Hello Dritabikki

Young N'Djuka

LINKS - Cardy Adventures
LINKS - Mayedu - Eco-Destinations - Johannes Tojo
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