NICOLE VAN STRAATUM

Suriname Journal

Awarradam I : The Assignment

 Steps into village 

Steps into village 

Before coming to Suriname, I researched the cultures of both the native Amerindians and the African Maroons that live in this unique country. It was only in my wildest dreams, that I would have an invitation to experience these villages that still preserve the traditions of their ancestors. Although seen as a primitive lifestyle in modern day, the foundation of the Maroons allows for a systematic call and response attitude - where everyone is following a specific role in their community. 

After the Dutch attempted to use the indigenous people as slaves, even killing off thousands of Amerindians - soon realized that they were not going to cooperate, nor in the Dutchmen's eyes were they strong enough for the laborious work. The remainder of surviving native tribes ran away and relocated deep into the Amazon. Our Surinamese Maroons were brought here by Dutch colonist from primarily West Africa after hearing of the African slave trade during the 1700's. The Maroons are warriors that escape slavery and settled their West African villages in the "bush" or the jungles of this unfamiliar tropical land. Both the Maroons and Amerindians working against the colonist were able to teach each other more about how to grow stronger by using their environments and constantly out-witted the colonist. Both are known for vast of knowledge when it comes to medicinal plants, spiritual healing, and even protection through higher spiritual realms.  

 Dug out canoe - a work in progress by some local Saramaccan men. 

Dug out canoe - a work in progress by some local Saramaccan men. 

 The Captain of one of the Saramaccan villages and his young wife. 

The Captain of one of the Saramaccan villages and his young wife. 

Still today, the rituals, traditions, and spiritual connection from the West African roots are present along the rivers of Suriname. I was sent to capture a very sacred symbol of both mystical awareness and protection that is represented in these Saramaccan Maroon villages from a Surinamese holistic healer based in the Bay Area, Loraine Van Tuyl, PhD. The palm leaf gates are washed with herbs and hung at the entry way into these villages - I photographed them for her book cover, Amazon Wisdom Keeper. While I was there, I ventured through the 4 villages that are close to the tiny tourist island of Awarradam. The locals went about their business - fishing, bathing, washing dishes and clothes in their river. The women chopped down wood for their cooking fires. The simplicity and connection to nature felt so vibrant and alive. I felt alive. 

 Our guide with braided palms used to make roofs. 

Our guide with braided palms used to make roofs. 

 Grass skirt gate "as-em-pao" in Saramaccan. 

Grass skirt gate "as-em-pao" in Saramaccan. 

At night, we heard drumming and chanting from a nearby village - my guide whispered to me "Someone must have died," I thought, what beautiful sounds of death I hear, "in Maroon culture, when there is a passing - we dance all night, for nights on end to help separate the spirit from the body."  To me, this made more sense than Western cultures mourning for our lost souls as if the spirit is no longer existent. I began to realize we can use all our five senses while we are here on earth, but together as a community we raise our ancestors on with as a living spirits. 

 Elderly couple in village - he makes all the boatsmen's rows. 

Elderly couple in village - he makes all the boatsmen's rows.