Winti Ceremony - The Voice of the Paramacca

As promised today begins with a Winti cleansing that Moises performed on his wife, Amalensie. Arising at dawn I watched Moises as he made the herbs that he collected yesterday into a potion (Agwa) with which he was going to wash his wife. Taking the leaves of at least seven different herbs, ferns and lianas he crushed and twisted them in his gnarled old hands and put them into a big bowl. Between each layer of different leaves he sprinkled chalk (or Pemba) and on the top he sprinkled the crushed bark of a rubber tree. Then he added water and beckoned to his wife to come to be washed.

What happened next took us all by surprise. Suddenly Amalensie beating her breasts went into a convulsive fit. Moaning and quivering she crumpled to the floor gripping her husband's arm. Moises, ever the caring companion, acted fast. Taking his pot of Pemba he covered her with chalk and then taking the Agwa he began to wash his wife from head to foot. Slowly her convulsions began to subside and the quivering in her limbs began to calm. The whole thing seemed to be over almost as quickly as it began. I felt that strange feeling that I get when I see an accident, my legs were shaking and my mind spinning with a hundred questions.

We sat with Johannes our guide for a long time trying to make sense of what we had just witnessed. The first thing to point out is that the cleansing is just one part of part of a long process. Some time ago Amalensie had disturbed a forest Winti spirit. She had gone with Moises for a couple of months into the forest to tap rubber trees. Women have to follow strict rules during menstruation. They must not walk through the forest or go to the rivers or creeks during this time. In every Maroon village we have been to we have been shown the menstruation house where women are meant to stay during their period. As Moises and Amalensie were in the forest for over two months, it was impossible for her to observe the normal rules. She was walking through the forests and fishing in the rivers to catch food while her husband was working to collect rubber to make a bit of money. In doing this she angered or upset/disturbed the Fodu Winti. The Winti spirits are either ancestral (often warrior) spirits, or they are forest spirits.. The Fodu Winti is one of the latter. Shortly after this she began to suffer a recurring affliction.

It is important to pick my words carefully. Describing these things in English it is hard to be accurate. She was not sick or ill in the way we would say. The Obeyaman (medicine man) does not heal Malaria or other specific medical ailments, rather he deals with a different realm... an order of things, and a relationship between people and their surroundings, laid down through centuries of practice and imported on the slave ships from Africa.

Amalensie had crossed a line and what we witnessed this morning was part of the process to bring her back into line with that disturbed order. When she comes out of the affliction she will be a different person with a different place in the order of things. Every Obeyaman is a specialist and controls a small number of the numerous Winti spirits. Amalensie will have to find an Obeyaman who is the 'boss' or Master of the Fodu Winti. He will make for her a stool/bench (Bangi) and a table (Tafa) for her and he performs a ceremony. After this she becomes a spirit-medium for the Fodu Winti. People can then come to her when they have a problem. She sits on the Bangi, at the Tafa and becomes an intermediary to the world of the Winti spirits. What we saw this morning was an interim measure. Amalensie has not been able to find the Master of the Fodu Winti yet. So in the meantime, every few months she must perform a trance like we saw this morning to pacify the Fodu Winti. She is saying 'Stand-by ... I know I've disturbed you ... I'm still looking for your master.."

By Nine O’clock it was all over. Amalensie reappeared in her best frock and the tiny group of huts that make up Moises' village had returned to calm. It was time for us to leave. We have become used over the last months to arriving in places, placing ourselves in the middle of other people’s lives, and then moving on again. As I said goodbye to Amalensie, and as Moises waved to us as we drew away in our boat it was like we were old friends and parting was difficult. We have made many such friends on this trip but their faces will stay with us for a long time. It seems absurd to think that we only met them yesterday afternoon.

Before heading to Langa Tabiki we returned to the spot where we had first met Moises yesterday. I had forgotten to get a shot of the "Koan-Tikki" that he had showed us. The "Koan-Tikki" is a sign, of which there are many in the forest. These are features in the trunks of trees and vines that mark them out as special. Before clearing land for cultivation the Obeyaman must cleanse the area so that the people don't get problems from the forest sprits. If someone was to cut or burn a Koon-Tikki by accident (and many are situated high in trees) then a relative of that person is afflicted in some way. As Johannes pointed out this is a very effective form of social control. The whole family get angry with a family member who stops paying attention to the old ways.

During our short trip to Langa Tabiki we passed the Paramacca Creek that the Paramacca people take their name from. It was a good time to fill in some of the history of this noble people. They are the first to point out that they are the only Maroon or Bush-Negro Tribe here that never signed a freedom treaty with the Dutch slavers. They fought for and won their freedom and don't need a piece of paper from a Dutchman to tell them that they are free. Their story is amazing. Further up-river live the Aukanas, another Maroon Tribe. In 1760 thy signed a treaty with the Dutch slavers in which they were granted their freedom on one condition. Any slaves escaping after the agreement would be returned by the Aukanas to the Dutch. So the Paramaccas' first years were spent between the twin threats of the Dutch and their own African brothers - a rock and a hard place. As a result they lived in hiding up the small Paramacca Creek, and then later set up all their villages on islands which were easier to defend from these dual threats. Today the Paramacca Creek is reserved as a burial ground for the tribe. We passed on respectfully.

The Paramacca people, like all the Maroons of Suriname are divided into Los or clans. They do not have family names so often these names are used as surnames when officialdom from Paramaribo requires. The names are taken from the names for the plantations from which their descendants escaped. Next week we will be travelling with Martin Misidian to Saramacca territory. Misidian is a derivative of Mista John - a plantation owner of old. It is a rare privilege to be travelling in this area with so many extraordinary stories of old that still resonate strongly with life today.

To this day the Paramaccas are a proud and independent people with the strongest sense of identity of any group of we have met in Suriname. This afternoon we went to meet with Granman Levi - their leader. Armed with our experience of Granman Gazon of the N'Dukas, and Granman Asongo of the Trio people we offered Granman Levi the same opportunity - a platform to address the issues effecting his people - He jumped at the opportunity. Here is a transcript of what he says... once again in shows the way the people of the interior feel they are mistreated by the powers that be in the Capital.

"They (the people of Paramaribo) come looking for us during the elections. We give them the power with our votes. Then they give the licence to outsiders to come and take the forest away... our gold, our wood, our bauxite. But I am the Granman of the Paramacca and they don't even ask my opinion".

As the end of the video shows, this evening we talked to Joseph, one of Granman Levi's Captains. He points out that the Paramacca people fought for, and won their freedom centuries ago and yet they still have to struggle to defend their land and their rights to this very day. The village is awash with Brazilians, illegal outsiders accompanied by their whores; their eyes, sunken by the search for gold. They walk around shiftily in vivid contrast to the proud gait of the Paramacca who continue to hold their heads high.


The Final Preparations

Fodu Pays a Visit

Koan Takiti - Do Not Disturb

Granman Levi

The Window of Opportunity

LINKS - Creativity and Resistance
LINKS - Human Rights
LINKS - Mayedu - Eco Tourist Destinations
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