Rachelle Bong A Jan

Rachelle Bong A Jan

Attune Development
Suriname

Kwamalasamutu, a Trio Community in Suriname

One of the communities selected by COBRA for Best Practice sharing

February 6, 2014

Rachelle Bong A Jan, our partner from the NGO Attune Development, introduces us to the community of Kwamalasamutu. She has worked extensively with this community and gives us here some insights about the history, lifestyle and challenges of the community.

Kwamalasamutu: an introduction

Located deep within the forested interior of Suriname, the Amerindian village of Kwamalasamutu is considered home to a conglomeration of several Indigenous Peoples, of which the Trio (syn. Tarëno, Tirio, Tiriyó) forms the largest group. Some of the other indigenous groups/tribes that also reside in Kwamalasamutu include the Pïrëujana, Sakëtayana,

Okomojana, Sikijana, Mawajana, Tunajana, Waiwai and the Akuriyo. Considered the largest indigenous settlement located in the southern half of Suriname, Kwamalasamutu encompasses approximately 800 – 1000 inhabitants. Due to regular migration traffic occurring across the borders with neighboring Brazil (to the south) and Guyana (to the west), and between indigenous communities in-country, the population size of Kwamalasamutu tends to fluctuate.

KwamalasamutuKwamalasamutu was founded in the second half of the 20th century by Baptist missionaries who sought to merge small and scattered indigenous settlements in one central location with the intention of making certain services such as healthcare and education more available to surrounding forest communities and to spread the gospel. Currently, the village is headed by a tribal chief called ‘granman’ who is supported by a team of village captains who in turn are assisted by ‘basjas’. Village matters are put before the traditional authorities to resolve according to customary rules and law. The traditional household generally consists of 6 members with the average indigenous family having 4 children.

Tasks and duties around the household are strongly gender related with the women carrying responsibility for preparing the food, doing household chores, looking after the children and planting crops on the agricultural fields, while the men are mainly in charge of cutting open new fields, hunting and fishing, and acting as head of the family. The majority of the population lives from the land, practicing shifting cultivation and going on regular hunting and fishing trips. The staple food crop is cassava (Manihot esculenta) which is complemented with plantain, banana, pineapple, corn, sugarcane and some other tuber and vegetable crops.

Challenges in development

In the past ten years, there have been several initiatives undertaken by both state institutions as well as by NGOs and the private sector, directed at strengthening the community of Kwamalasamutu in the area of education, (traditional) healthcare, environmental conservation and protection, sustainable livelihoods and culture. A quick review of past engagement efforts shows that village members and community leaders have been involved in workshops, conferences, training, meetings and other types of encounters focused on knowledge exchange and transfer of some sorts.

Notwithstanding the past and current positive developments transpiring in Kwamalasamutu, there are various socio economic and environmental challenges that need addressing.

Similar to other settlements located in the hinterland of Suriname, development opportunities are scarce. Owing to its remote geographical location, Kwamalasamutu can only be reached by airplane when travelling from the capital city of Paramaribo. This requires any organization or entity interested in implementing development initiatives in Kwamalasamutu to seek sufficient funding given the high costs of airfare.

Needless to say, the difficulty in accessing Kwamalasamutu has impeded developmental processes. The Government of Suriname has made notable efforts to address this issue by offering cheaper subsidized flights to locals through the services of a local flight company, but the extent to which this has benefitted the community and paved the way towards development still needs to be explored.

The opportunities for wage labor are limited. Only a small portion of the population is able to find a steady occupation for instance; teachers working at the school, health assistants working for the local health clinic, and some villagers having employment with the government or locally operating NGOs. Some villagers partake in ecotourism activities and/or are also engaged in the pet trade. Traditional livelihoods strongly depend on the exploitation of natural resources and the rich biodiversity of the surrounding forest, but with an expanding population of Kwamalasamutu, an increased local demand for these resources is generated. Furthermore, the demand for exotic wildlife species stemming from national and international customers has aggravated the problem. As such, populations of certain floral and faunal species are under threat from the growing extractive activities.

With the establishment of modern telecommunication infrastructure and greater aerial accessibility, the Trios have been increasingly exposed to Western lifestyle. This inclination towards modern culture has brought about significant societal change and has impacted on the preservation of Indigenous culture. Field observations show an apparent loss of culture, mostly evident amongst the youth of Kwamalasamutu.

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