Antecume Pata

Antecume Pata is a Wayana village of about 250 people situated along the Haut-Maroni River, in French Guiana. The Maroni River is the border between Suriname and French Guiana. There is no control of the border in this area and people move freely from one side to the other.

The village is situated at 2 to 5 hours of boat (depending on the season) from the local town and administrative centre: Maripasoula. The village was founded by André Cognat, a French Metropolitan man who came to explore the area in the 1960s. He was adopted by a Wayana leader, who considered him as his son. After a few years he decided to found his own village, where he would build a school and a health post, and take the role of intermediate between the Wayana people and the outside world. In Wayana, “pata” means village. Antecume is André Cognat’s Wayana name. The village is thus called “the village of Antecume”. He is still the chief of the village, although there is also a traditional Wayana leader.

The village is also located within the Parc Amazonien de Guyane (PAG), in the South of French Guiana. The PAG is the largest national park in France and in the European Union. Its total area is of 3.4 million hectares, and has 10.000 inhabitants, mostly Amerindian, Maroon and Creole communities. The Amerindian communities living in the Park are mostly Wayana, Wayãpi and Teko-Emérillon. These communities live within a still highly pristine environment and Amerindian communities depend on it for their livelihood. However, gold mining is a serious issue in the area. Miners’ basecamps can be found along the river, as well as Chinese shops, where food, drinks, gasoline, but also alcohol, drugs and prostitutes can be found. Social and environmental issues linked to gold mining activities are serious, going from mercury contamination and deforestation, to alcoholism and prostitution.

One of the main challenges that was underlined by community participants was the lack of togetherness, between Wayana villages but also within the village, in order to face all the issues related to gold mining. There is no local NGO that represents the Wayana people of the Haut-Maroni and each village deals with its problems (or uses opportunities) in an individual way. Within the villages, local participants have also mentioned that people are becoming more and more individualist, preferring to work for a salary rather than voluntarily, for the community’s benefit. As a consequence, within COBRA, the local participants will try to organise themselves into a club, to prove to the community that things can be achieved by young people of the village.

However, despite the fact that the village has been exposed now since more than 50 years to all sorts of influences (catholic missionaries, French education, Surinamese and Brazilian gold miners, etc.), they have managed to keep traditional livelihoods alive. Their farming system, their fishing techniques, their hunting practices, their knowledge of the forest and how to use its resources, their language, are only some of the examples they mentioned that keeps their community strong and sustainable. In a world where Amerindian communities’ exposure to the Westernised world is often seen as a threat, the ways in which the Wayana people of Antecume Pata are maintaining their culture alive and passing it on will be an interesting insight for Guiana Shield Indigenous communities.

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