"Closing his eyes, not knowing where one is, one is invaded by Africa, the smells, everything is there and in the end we were 10,000 km of Africa. It is as if Africa is here and everywhere." Surinamese Kaidara Dance Researcher talking about Saramaka Maroon Dance.

Saramaccan women clad in colorful panyi and kamisa cultural wear tied in complicated knots around their waists and upper bodies, headscarves around their heads, Emancipation Day celebration at Saramacca River village of Santigron,Suriname               
The Saramaka or Saramacca are one of six Maroon (black slaves who had escaped from slavery and set up independent communities beyond colonists' control) Samaraccan Atlantic Creole-speaking peoples in the Republic of Suriname. The Saramaka people are o­ne of the largest Maroon tribes in Suriname and they were formerly called "Bush Negroes."  In the beginning of mid-2010, the people formerly known as “Saramaka” began calling themselves, in their official documents in English, “Saamaka,” to conform to their own pronunciation. This was after the tribe gain international prominence when they won international right to settle on their indigenous land case against the Republic of Suriname at IACtHR, Saramaka People v Suriname in November 28, 2007.

                             The Seketi Mujers (Saramaka dancers)

 Since 1990 especially, some of the Saramaka have migrated to French Guiana due to extended civil war in Suriname. Together with five other Maroon tribes in Suriname and French Guiana, the Saramaka form the largest group in the world of Maroon people of African descent. The Saramaka people are mostly Fon/Gbe and Kikongo speaking people as well as some Akan-speaking people (Fantes).
Suriname, formerly called Dutch Guiana, has been independent from the Netherlands since 1975. The 55,000 Saramaka (some of whom live in neighboring French Guiana) are one minority within this multi-ethnic nation, which includes approximately 37 per cent Hindustanis (East Indian descendants of contract laborers brought in after the abolition of slavery); 31 per cent Creoles (descendants of Africans brought as slaves); 15 per cent Javanese (descendants of contract workers brought during the early 20th century from Indonesia); 3 per cent Chinese, Levantines, and Europeans; 2 per cent Amerindians; and 12 per cent Maroons. Together with the other Maroons in Suriname and French Guiana: the Ndyuka (55,000), and the Matawai, Paramaka, Aluku, and Kwinti (who together number some 18,000) – the Saramaka constitute by far the world's largest surviving population of Maroons of African descent.

                                 Kids in Drepada,Suriname

Since their escape from slavery in the 17th and 18th centuries, the Saramaka have lived chiefly along the upper Suriname River and its tributaries, the Gaánlío and the Pikílío.

Since the 1960s, they also live along the lower Suriname River in villages constructed by the colonial government and Alcoa. They were relocated to allow flooding of approximately half their tribal territory for a hydroelectric project built to supply electricity for an aluminum smelter. Today, about one third of the Saramaka live in French Guiana, most having migrated there since 1990 after warfare in Suriname.

Saramaka people speak Saramaccan. The Saramaccan lexicon is largely drawn from Portuguese, English, Dutch, and Niger-Congo languages of West Africa, especially Fon and other Gbe languages as well as Akan. The African component accounts for about 5% of the total.
Saramaccan phonology has traits similar to languages of West Africa, and it even has developed tones, which are common in Africa.

                          Saramaka Maroon tribe men of Suriname

Over half of Saramaccan's words are from English. It is generally agreed that Saramaccan's Portuguese influence is because the language's creators lived on plantations with Portuguese masters, and possibly slaves speaking a Portuguese creole that the masters had brought with them while migrating to Suriname from Brazil Saramaccan's creators started with an early form of Sranan Tongo and transformed it into a new creole via this Portuguese influx, plus heavy influence from the grammars of Fongbe and other Gbe languages.
Certain common words in Sranan Tongo, the most common creole spoken in Suriname, also derive from Portuguese words.
Table 1: Words of European origin in Saramaccan
SARAMACCAN                       GLOSS                                                           ORIGIN
naki ´                                            ‘hit’                    < English                               "knock
sitonu ´                                         ‘stone’                < English                                "stone
s´ık´ısi                                          'six’                    < English                                "six
tu`                                                ‘also’                 < English                                "too
kule´                                            ‘run’                   < Portuguese                          co"rrer
buka ´                                         ‘mouth’                < Portuguese                         "boca
ak` ´ı                                           ‘here’                  < Portuguese                          aqu"i
wol´ uku ´                                   ‘cloud’                 < Dutch                                 "wolk
min´ıs´ıti                                      ‘minister’              < Dutch                                 mi"nister
amEEkan´                                  ‘American’             < Dutch                               Ameri"kaan

                          Beautiful Saramaccan Maroon girls of Suriname

Saramaccan is divided into three main dialects. The Upper Suriname River dialect and the Lower Suriname River dialect are both spoken by members of the Saramaccan tribe, while the Matawari tribe have their own dialect.
The language has two surface tones, high and low. Stress in European words is replaced by high tone in Saramaccan.
Fifty percent of the vocabulary of Saramaccan is derived from English, while 35% is derived from Portuguese. It is one of the few known creoles to derive a large percentage of its lexicon from more than one source (most creoles have one main lexifier language), and it is said to be both an English-based creole and a Portuguese-based creole.
                   Saramaccan boys pulling a log from the forest to make canoe,Suriname.

About 5% of the vocabulary of Saramaccan is of African origin, the most of any creole in the Americas. Source languages for these words include Kikongo, Gbe languages, and Twi/Fante. A number of African languages have been reliably identified as substrates for Saramaccan, most prominently Gbe languages and Kikongo (Arends 1995:240–253), with the Gbe languages generally believed to have had an especially strong influence on the language’s development (Kramer 2002:12–19).
Table 2 gives a number of Saramaccan words of likely African origin. (Kikongo lexemes taken from Daeleman (1972); Gbe (i.e., Fon Gbe and Ewe) lexemes taken from Smith (1987a).)
Luanga Saramaccan girls in Suriname

Table 2: Words of African origin in Saramaccan
SARAMACCAN                        GLOSS                            ORIGIN
puk` us` u`                                     ‘bat’                           < Kikongo        lu-mpukusu ‘bat’
bandj ` a`                                       ‘side’                          < Kikongo        mbaansya ‘side’
mbal` u`                                         ‘(wood) chips’            < Kikongo        mbalu ‘(wood) chips’
mat` ut` u`                                      ‘small rat’                    < Kikongo       ma-tutu ‘small rat (pl.)’
tO`O`n                                           ‘type of rodent’           < Fon Gbe       t`˜o  ‘rat’
log` os` o`∼log` oz` o`                   ‘turtle’                          < Fon Gbe       logozo` ‘tortoise’
ahun´                                              ‘grass’                         < Fante/ Ewe   ahon/ ax´˜O ‘sp. grass’
adjindja´                                         ‘porcupine’                  < Fon Gbe       ad` zidˇ zˇa´ ‘hedgehog’
gogo´                                             ‘bottom, back’              < Fon Gbe      gogo´ ‘buttock’
agasa ´                                           ‘crab’                           < Fon Gbe       agas` a´ ‘land crab’  
gidigidi                                            'violently'            Fon gbe/Ewe/Ga/Twi  gidigidi  'violently'
 degon                                            'shrimp"                        Fon Gbe          adingo 'shrimp'
                                            Saramaccan people

To English speakers not familiar with it, the English basis of this language is almost unrecognizable. These are some examples of Saramaccan sentences (taken from the SIL dictionary):
De waka te de aan sinkii möön.                                   "They walked until they were worn out."
U ta mindi kanda fu dee soni dee ta pasa ku u.             "We make up songs about things that happen to us."
A suku di soni te wojo fëën ko bëë.                             "He searched for it in vain."
Mi puu tu dusu kölu bai ën.                                          "I paid two thousand guilders to buy it."
Examples of words originally from Portuguese or a Portuguese creole are: mujee (mulher) "woman"; womi (homem) "man"; da (dar) "to give"; bunu (bom) "good"; kaba (acabar) "to end"; ku (com) "with"; kuma (como) "as"; faka (faca) "knife"; aki (aqui) "here"; ma (mas) "but"; kendi (quente) "hot"; liba (riba) "above"; lio (rio) "river".            

                        Saramaccan old woman with her African-American Maroon friend,Suriname.
The ancestors of the Saramaka were among those Africans sold as slaves to Europeans in Suriname in the late 17th and early 18th centuries to work the region's sugar, timber, and coffee plantations. Coming from a variety of African peoples speaking many different languages, they escaped into the dense rainforest – individually, in small groups, and sometimes in great collective rebellions.
Dutch maroons
                   Saramaka tribe family,Suriname village. circa 1915

Of the Surinamese maroon societies, Saramaccan’s is the oldest, with 1690 generally being given as the year of a first mass escape of slaves who would form the group’s founding core. Price (1976:30) gives 1712 as the date of the last significant influx of escaped slaves into the group. For nearly 100 years, they fought from the rainforest for their independence. They were so feared that late 18th century maps showed the defensive fortifications in the colony intended to protect against their raids. By 1770, the oldest maroon societies in Suriname had signed treaties with the Dutch, which made them effectively closed to new recruits (Price 1976:29–31, Bakker et al. 1995:168–169).

                   Saramaka tribe woman.Suriname. Circa 1910

In 1762, a full century before the general emancipation of slaves in Suriname, the Maroons won their freedom and signed a treaty with the Dutch Crown to acknowledge their territorial rights and trading privileges. The Saramaka have a keen interest in the history of their formative years and preserve their very rich oral tradition. Innovative scholarly research since the late 20th century has brought together oral and archival accounts in new histories.

                Saramaccan tribe women of Asidonopo,Suriname greeting a visitor!
Like the other Suriname Maroons, the Saramaka lived almost as a state-within-a-state until the mid-20th century, when the pace of outside encroachments increased. During the late 1980s, a civil war between Maroons and the military government of Suriname caused considerable hardship to the Saramaka and other Maroons. By mid-1989 approximately 3,000 Saramaka and 8,000 Ndyuka were living as temporary refugees in French Guiana. Access to the outside world was severely restricted for many Saramaka in their homeland. The end of the war in the mid-1990s initiated a period in which the national government largely neglected the needs of Saramaka and other Maroons while granting large timber and mining concessions to foreign multinationals (Chinese, Indonesian, Malaysian, and others) in traditional Saramaka territory. They did not consult the Saramaka authorities.
A Bush-Negro of the Saramaka tribe, Dutch Guiana. Circa 1910

In addition, during this period there were numerous social changes, both on the coast of Suriname and in Saramaka territory. U.S. Peace Corps volunteers lived and worked in Saramaka villages, Brazilian gold-miners arrived on the Suriname river, and such activities as prostitution, casino gambling, and drug smuggling became major industries in coastal Suriname and accompanying the miners.

                    Saramaccan Maroon tribes men of Suriname performing their traditional dance

In the mid-1990s, the Association of Saramaka Authorities filed a complaint before the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights to protect their land rights. In November 2007, the Inter-American Court for Human Rights finally ruled in favor of the Saramaka people against the government of Suriname. In this landmark decision, which establishes a precedent for all Maroon and indigenous peoples in the Americas, the Saramaka were granted collective rights to the lands on which their ancestors had lived since the early 18th century, including rights to decide about the exploitation of natural resources such as timber and gold within that territory. In addition, they were granted compensation from the government for damages caused by previous timber grants made to Chinese companies. This was paid into a special development fund, which is now managed by Saramaka.
                       Saramaccan Maroons of Suriname performing their traditional dance of African origin

Saramaka People v Republic of Suriname {A Summary of Case 12.338 Twelve Saramaka Clans ( Suriname )}
The Saramaka people are o­ne of the largest Maroon tribes in Suriname . There are 61 Saramaka villages located along the Upper Suriname River alone. Ownership of Saramaka territory is divided among a number of matrilineal clans or lö. Members of the clans have rights to hunt, fish, farm and gather forest produce in the area owned by their clan, but ownership remains vested collectively in the clan. Despite this, Suriname presently maintains that the Saramaka, and other indigenous and tribal peoples, have no rights to their lands and resources, all of which are owned by the state and can be exploited at any time. Suriname is thus the o­nly state in the Americas that has failed, at least to some extent, to legally recognize and require respect for indigenous and tribal peoples’ rights to own their lands, territories and resources traditionally occupied and used.

Saramaccan washing and bathing in a rive at Drepada, a small Saramaccan village located close to Brokopondo,Suriname.

In addition to failing to legally recognize the land and resource rights of the Saramaka, Suriname has actively violated those rights by issuing numerous logging and mining concessions in Saramaka territory. The Saramaka first became aware that part of their territory had been granted to a logging company when the employees of a Chinese company calling itself NV Tacoba arrived in the area in 1997. When they challenged the company, the Saramaka were told that the company had permission from the government and any attempt to interfere with its operations would be punished by imprisonment.

A Chinese company calling itself Jin Lin Wood Industries also surfaced in the area in 2000. This company has relations with Ji Sheng, another Chinese company operating in Saramaka territory. A concession of 150,000 hectares held by Chinese company, NV Lumprex, was also recently discovered. Lumprex and Tacoba are ultimately owned by China International Marine Containers (Group) Ltd., a company registered o­n the Shenzhen Stock Exchange. This company uses the timber to make wooden floor boards for shipping containers. Finally, a Chinese company known as Fine Style is also operating in Saramaka territory.
These concessions, which were granted without even notifying the Saramaka, are presently guarded by armed, active duty Surinamese military. According to eye-witnesses, logging has caused widespread environmental damage and substantially restricted the Saramaka’s ability to use their forest resources. o­ne Saramaka eye-witness, for instance, stated that
The soldiers told me: ‘Leave the Chinese, go hunting here (in an area where the Chinese have finished cutting already). But don’t let the Chinese see you.’ Well, I went there: there was destruction everywhere; the forest was destroyed. In Paramaribo people don’t know what the Chinese are doing. Should not someone control the logging-activities of foreign investors? The Chinese cut hundreds of trees, dragged them to a place and piled them up there. They abandoned them in the forest because they did not need them anymore. For us, people from the interior, it is terrible to see cedar trees cut down that are so important for us. And all this destruction made the animals flee away also.
Saramaka reports of environmental degradation and violations of subsistence rights have been confirmed by independent observers. o­n 20 May 2001 , for instance, the Philadelphia Inquirer published an article o­n the activities of logging companies in Suriname with reference to the Saramaka situation. This article states in part that:
This was all too clear [environmental degradation] walking through the Jin Lin concession. The company had plowed large, muddy roads about 45 feet wide into the forest, churned up huge piles of earth, and created fetid pools of green and brown water. Upended and broken trees were everywhere and what were o­nce plots of sweet potatoes, peanuts, ginger, cassava, palm and banana crops - planted in the forest by Maroon villagers - were muddy pits.
After discovering that their territory had be given to logging companies, the Saramaka began organizing and held a series of meetings. They decided to file formal complaints with the Surinamese government asking that the concessions be revoked and that their rights to their territory be legally recognized. Three complaints were submitted between October 1999 and October 2000, none of which received any response. Faced with silence from the state, increased logging activity and a lack of effective domestic remedies, the Saramaka decided to seek the assistance of the Inter-American Commission o­n Human Rights.
                         Saramaccan of Suriname

Logging Road in Saramaka Territory
After the case was filed with the Commission, the Saramaka continued to submit formal complaints to state authorities. Most notably, in January and February 2003, formal petitions were submitted complaining about probable flooding of Saramaka communities due to efforts to increase the storage capacity of the Van Blommenstein reservoir and the attempts of US environmental organization, Conservation International, to expand the Central Suriname Nature Reserve into Saramaka territory. Again no response was received from the state.
At a meeting held o­n 23 November 2002 , the Saramaka recounted their o­ngoing experience with the logging companies. The Surinamese press reported their complaints as follows:
During the meeting, the villages located around Pokigron, complained again about the destruction of the forest by Chinese concession holders (among others) who bulldoze agricultural plots, block off creeks with logs and pollute them and restrain people from hunting and fishing in their ancestral territories. All this with the help of the National Army. Enormous amounts of cedar wood, which are of special importance to Maroons, are cut and left behind in the forest as commercially uninteresting. The generally heard complaint was that the Chinese cut first and then see if they will use the wood later.[1]

A month earlier, the press quoted two Saramaka leaders as follows:
"We are in danger of losing our very way of life," said Albert Aboikoni, village chief in the Wanhatti tribal organization. "The government is giving logging companies concessions in our area, and they are destroying the forest, polluting the water, and taking our land," he said.[2]
Other residents said they have lost lands to Surinamese or Chinese logging companies working with government permits. Cesar Adjako, head of the Kayapaati village near the southern Suriname River, lost his land two years ago when o­ne Chinese logging company began felling trees. "All of a sudden, armed security men deny me access to the land I worked for 30 years. How can that be?" Adjako said. "My ancestors have been living here for centuries."[3]

Submissions to the Inter-American Commission o­n Human Rights
In October of 2000, the Vereniging van Saramakaanse Gezagdragers, an organization representing the majority of Upper Suriname River Saramaka Captains, and twelve Saramaka Captains acting o­n behalf of their respective lö (the Petitioners) submitted a petition to the Inter-American Commission o­n Human Rights. The Petition seeks redress against the State of Suriname for its acts and omissions that violate the Saramaka people’s rights to, among others, property, cultural integrity, judicial remedies, due process of the law and the right to participate in decisions affecting them. The Petitioners requested that the Commission intervene to encourage government action that would result in legal recognition of tribal lands in accordance with applicable international legal standards. They also requested that the Commission institute precautionary measures against all logging and mining activities o­n or affecting Saramaka traditional lands.
On 6 June 2001 , petitioners transmitted a Supplemental Submission and Request to the Commission. This Supplemental Submission provided updated information about the situation and made requests additional to those set forth in the Petition.
On 22 March 2002 , Petitioners were informed that the Commission had formally opened Case 12.338. The Commission explained that it had requested that the State provide information concerning the allegations raised in the Petition o­n two separate occasions and that "so far there has been no reply…." Petitioners were also requested to provide additional observations o­n the merits of the case.
In accordance with the Commission’s request, Additional Observations o­n the Merits were submitted in May 2002. Therein Petitioners stated, among others, their willingness to resolve the case through a friendly settlement procedure mediated by the Commission.

In July 2002, the Petitioners filed a Supplemental Submission in Support of Admissibility and Request for Precautionary Measures in order to provide further evidence substantiating their request for precautionary measures. Petitioners also informed the Commission that they had authorized three attorneys to represent them in relation to the case.
On 23 January 2003, Petitioners filed a Supplemental Submission Providing Updated Information and Requests to inform the Commission about latest developments and to request: 1) that precautionary measures be issued again (see below); 2) that the Commission issue a report o­n the merits at the earliest possible date and; 3) should Suriname fail to comply with the Commission’s recommendation in the merits report that the case be submitted to the Inter-American Court.
On 28 February 2003, Petitioners received a document entitled ‘Official response of the State of Suriname Regarding case No. 12.338 Twelve Saramaka Lös (Communities)’ dated 27 December 2002. The state argued: first, that Petitioners had failed to exhaust domestic remedies; second, that the Saramaka people do not have any legal property rights in Surinamese law and conceded that the question of indigenous and tribal land and resource rights is unresolved in both law and policy; third, that the rights of the Saramaka people to be consulted, participate in and consent to decisions that affect them had not been violated; fourth, that judicial remedies existed and due process of the law was guaranteed; fifth, that the Saramaka people’s right to cultural integrity was respected; and, finally, that the right to self-determination could not apply because that right is held exclusively by nation-states, not by peoples within independent states.
On 18 March 2003 , Petitioner filed a submission entitled Response to Submission of Suriname and Additional Information, which commented o­n the arguments of the state and provided additional information concerning the human rights situation of the Saramaka people and reiterated request made in prior submission, particularly those of 23 January 2003 .

                         Samaraka coast,Suriname

Captain Signing Petition to the IACHR
The additional information related, first, to the future flooding of at least five Saramaka villages caused by state-authorized efforts to increase the storage capacity of the Van Blommenstein Reservoir. Expansion of the reservoir will be undertaken by Suralco, a Surinamese subsidiary of US corporation, Alcoa, and was authorized by the State in January 2003. Second, to the efforts of a US-based environmental organization, Conservation International, to expand the Central Suriname Nature Reserve so as to incorporate the Gaan and Pikin Rivers , both of which are inhabited by the Petitioners and comprise an integral part of their traditional lands and territory. At least seven Saramaka villages are affected by these plans. Should the CSNR be expanded into Saramaka territory, it will constitute a direct expropriation of Saramaka lands and resources as nature reserves are by law the property of the State.
On 23 May 2003 , Suriname submitted a document entitled ‘Additional information submitted by the Government of Suriname’ ("Second Submission"). While this submission largely repeated the arguments made in the State’s first submission discussed above, it also contained a number of disturbing statements that illustrate an underlying hostility towards that rights of the Saramaka people. In particular, Suriname maintains that recognition of and respect for the rights of the Saramaka people are discriminatory, may lead to racial discord and societal unrest and may jeopardize national security.
On 15 July 2003 , Petitioners submitted observations o­n the Second Submission and again requested that the Commission reiterate precautionary measures and continue to treat the case as an urgent situation requiring immediate attention.

Precautionary Measures
In August 2002, the Inter-American Commission issued precautionary measures requesting that the Government of Suriname "take appropriate measures to suspend all concessions, including permits and licenses for logging and mine exploration and other natural resource development activity o­n lands used and occupied by the 12 Saramaka clans until the Commission has had the opportunity to investigate the substantive claims raised in the case." Precautionary measures are intended to protect the Saramaka people from human rights abuses caused by resource exploitation and by Suriname ’s failure to act while the IACHR conducts an investigation of the situation. These measures are o­nly issued in extreme and urgent cases that pose an immediate and irreparable threat of harm.
Writing in support of precautionary measures, Dr. Richard Price, an anthropologist and leading academic expert o­n the Saramaka, wrote that without immediate protective measures, "ethnocide – the destruction of a culture that is widely regarded as being o­ne of the most creative and vibrant in the entire African diaspora – seems the most likely outcome.
After the Petitioners were notified of the request for precautionary measures, o­n 21 August 2002 , they wrote to the Procurer General of Suriname , S. Punwasi , requesting information o­n the measures the State intends to take to honour the Commission’s request. They noted that, while the Commission’s request is formulated as a ‘recommendation’, the Inter-American Court o­n Human Rights had decided in 1997 that in accordance with the principle of good faith … if a State signs and ratifies an international treaty, especially o­ne concerning human rights, such as the American Convention, it has the obligation to make every effort to comply with the recommendations of a protection organ such as the Inter-American Commission ….

81. Likewise, Article 33 of the American Convention states that the Inter-American Commission is, as the Court, competent "with respect to matters relating to the fulfillment of the commitments made by the State Parties", which means that by ratifying said Convention, States Parties engage themselves to apply the recommendations made by the Commission in its reports (emphasis in original).[4]
The letter concluded by informing the Procurer General that the Petitioners "are willing to attempt to resolve this case via a friendly settlement procedure [and] will be pleased to met with you at an agreed time to discuss this proposal." An additional letter was sent o­n 12 October 2002 . No formal response was received from the Procurer General and no discernible action was taken to comply with the precautionary measures issued by the Commission.

On 23 November 2002 , Petitioners, assembled at a tribal gathering, adopted a formal resolution calling o­n the State to provide information concerning the measures it intends to take to give effect to the Commission’s request for precautionary measures. This resolution was transmitted to the relevant State authorities and was reported o­n in the media. No response was received. A statement was made o­n this issue by a government official at a press conference held in October 2002 during which the Saramaka people presented a recently completed map of their territory. As reported by the Associated Press, the District Commissioner for Sipaliwini District stated that:
The former Dutch colony's government has stopped issuing concessions while it considers the request and monitors whether companies are complying with environmental regulations, district commissioner Rudy Strijk said. "We know that the rights of the Maroons and the Amerindians were violated in the past, but this administration has vowed not to do so and will keep its promise," Strijk said.[5]
On 15 January 2003 , Petitioners submitted a formal petition pursuant to Article 22 of the 1987 Constitution of the Republic of Suriname requesting information about implementation of the Commission’s request from the Office of the President and reiterated their willingness to attempt a friendly settlement. Again no response was received.

On 23 January 2003 , Petitioners informed the Commission that:
Since the Commission issued precautionary measures in August 2002, the situation in the Upper Suriname River has not improved. In fact, the situation is worse today than it was in August. Logging companies have increased and accelerated their operations, with all the negative consequences detailed in prior submissions, and National Army troops continue to harass members of the Saramaka people and deny them access to their traditional hunting, farming and fishing areas. These companies also continue to destroy the Saramaka people’s agricultural plots, o­ne of its primary means of subsistence. … Degradation of the ancestral lands and forests of the Saramaka people continues unabated, access to sacred sites is denied and these sites have been desecrated - desecration of these sites is irreversible and constitutes a direct violation of the Saramaka people’s internationally recognized religious and cultural rights - and other fundamental human rights remain subject to o­ngoing and repeated violation.
On 9 February 2003 , the leaders of seven Saramaka communities wrote to the President and Conservation International requesting that expansion of the Central Suriname Nature Reserve be suspended until such time as the Commission has reached a decision o­n Case 12.338. No response has been received from the State or Conservation International.
On 27 February 2003 , Petitioners met with government officials including the Attorney General (ag.). They took the opportunity to raise the issue of Suriname ’s compliance with the precautionary measures requested by the Commission in August 2002. The Attorney General stated that his office had advised the President that the State should comply, but no action had been taken so far. The possibility of initiating a friendly settlement process was raised by the Attorney General. Petitioners responded that given the nature of the extant violations against the Saramaka people and the failure of the State to honour prior commitments with regard to territorial rights, that they would need to see verifiable progress o­n compliance with the precautionary measures prior to agreeing to attempt a friendly settlement. The Attorney General stated that he would convey this to the President.

Applicable Legal Standards
Inter-American jurisprudence o­n the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples, such as the Saramaka people, is considerable. The most authoritative statement comes from the Inter-American Court o­n Human Rights in The Mayagna (Sumo) Indigenous Community of Awas Tingni v. Nicaragua . In that case, the Court confirmed that indigenous and tribal peoples land and resource rights arise from traditional occupation and use and their own forms of tenure and customary law. In its judgment, issued in September 2001, the Court observed that
By virtue of the fact of their very existence, indigenous communities have the right to live freely o­n their own territories; the close relationship that the communities have with the land must be recognized and understood as a foundation for their cultures, spiritual life, cultural integrity and economic survival. For indigenous communities, the relationship with the land is not merely o­ne of possession and production, but also a material and spiritual element that they should fully enjoy, as well as a means through which to preserve their cultural heritage and pass it o­n to future generations.[6]
Finding that "The customary law of indigenous peoples should especially be taken into account because of the effects that flow from it," the Court stated that "[a]s a product of custom, possession of land should suffice to entitle indigenous communities without title to their land to obtain official recognition and registration of their rights of ownership."[7] The Court then held, among others, that "the State must adopt measures of a legislative, administrative, and whatever other character necessary to create an effective mechanism for official delimitation, demarcation, and titling of the indigenous communities' properties, in accordance with the customary law, values, usage, and customs of these communities."[8]
The Commission has itself has repeatedly emphasized state obligations to recognize and respect indigenous and tribal land and resource rights. Most recently, the Commission found that "general international legal principles applicable in the context of indigenous human rights … include:
· the right of indigenous peoples to legal recognition of their varied and specific forms and modalities of their control, ownership, use and enjoyment of territories and property; and
· the recognition of their property and ownership rights with respect to lands, territories and resources they have historically occupied."[9]
The facts of the Awas Tingni Case are almost identical to those applying in the Saramaka case. The Saramaka will therefore be relying o­n this and other international human rights principles in seeking resolution of the issues involved with their case. This case is the first time that Suriname ’s failure to recognize indigenous and tribal peoples’ territorial rights has been challenged in an international human rights body. If successful, the case may represent a precedent that will benefit all other indigenous peoples and maroons in Suriname .
21 July 2003
The Samaraka people won this case!
Samaraka tribe men of Suriname

For more than two centuries, the economy has been based on full exploitation of the forest environment and on periodic work trips by men to the coast to bring back Western goods. For subsistence, Saramakas depend on shifting (swidden) horticulture done mostly by women, with hunting and fishing done by men, supplemented by wild forest products, such as palm nuts, and a few key imports such as salt. Rice is the most cultivated crop, in dry (hillside) technique, but other crops include cassava, taro, okra, maize, plantains, bananas, sugarcane, and peanuts. Domesticated trees, such as coconut, orange, breadfruit, papaya, and calabash are mainly cultivated in the villages. There are no markets.
Once the men have cleared and burned the fields, horticulture is mainly women's work. Hunting, with shotguns, is the responsibility of men, who do most of the fishing as well. Men have always devoted a large portion of their adult years to earning money in work in coastal Suriname or French Guiana. This allows them to buy the Western goods considered essential to life in their home villages, such as shotguns and powder, tools, pots, cloth, hammocks, soap, kerosene, and rum. During the second half of the 20th century, small stores sprang up in many villages, and outboard motors, transistor radios, and tape recorders became common. Today, cell phones are ubiquitous and communication with Paramaribo, by both men and women, has vastly increased. And new economic opportunities in the gold industry – mining for men, prostitution for women – are being exploited.
You can take an African out of Africa but you can`t take Africa out of them. Saramaka tribe people of Malobi Village, Suriname pounding palm fruit like it is done in Africa 

Commercial: Until the late 20th century, the Saramaka produced most of their material culture, much of it embellished with decorative detail. Men built the houses and canoes and carved a wide range of wooden objects for domestic use, such as stools, paddles, winnowing trays, cooking utensils, and combs. Women sewed patchwork and embroidered clothing, and carved calabash bowls. Some men also produced baskets, and some women made pottery. Today, an increasing number of items, including clothing, are imported from the coast.

Division of Labour
Traditional villages, which average 100 to 200 residents, consist of a core of matrilineal kin plus some wives and children of lineage men. Always located near a river, for water, transportation and fishing, they are constructed of an irregular arrangement of small houses, open-sided structures, domesticated trees, occasional chicken houses, various shrines, and scattered patches of bush.
preparing food in a 'bosneger' (maroon) village, Marowijne River
Pictures of Suriname - preparing food in a 'bosneger' (maroon) village, Marowijne River

(In contrast, the so-called transmigration villages, built to house the 6,000 Saramaka displaced by the hydroelectric project, range up to 2,000 people. They are laid out in a European-style grid pattern, used throughout larger South American cities, and in many cases have been located far from the riverside.) Horticultural camps, which include permanent houses and shrines, are located several hours by canoe from each village. They are exploited by small groups of women related through matrilineal ties.
Many women have a house in their own village, another in their horticultural camp, and a third in their husband's village. Men divide their time among several different houses, built at various times for themselves and for their wives. Traditional Saramaka houses are compact, wide enough to tie a hammock and not much longer from front to back; with walls of planks and woven palm fronds, and traditionally roofs of thatch or, increasingly, of corrugated metal. They do not have windows but often have elaborately carved facades.
Since the Suriname civil war, the Saramaka have built an increasing number of houses in coastal, Western style, using concrete as well as wood, and featuring windows and more expansive floor plan.

  Samaraka Krutu village people telling Ananse story. Circa 1922. Ananse story is based on Akan trickster story  character called Kweku Ananse

Social Organization
Saramaka society is firmly based on matrilineal principles. A clan (lo) – often several thousand individuals – consists of the matrilineal descendants of an original band of escaped slaves. It is subdivided into lineages (bee) – usually 50 to 150 people – descended from a more recent ancestress. Several lineages from a single clan constitute the core of every village.
Samaraka Maroon tribe family,Suriname

The matrilineal clans (lo) own land, based on claims staked out in the early 18th century as the original Maroons fled southward to freedom. Hunting and gathering rights belong to clan members collectively. Within the clan, temporary rights to land use for farming are negotiated by village headmen. The establishment of transmigration villages in the 1960s led to land shortages in certain regions. The success of the Saramakas in their lawsuit against the government of Suriname will now permit them to manage their lands with less outside interference.

Complex marriage prohibitions (including bee exogamy) and preferences are negotiated through divination. Demographic imbalance, owing to labor migration, permits widespread polygyny. Although co-wives hold equal status, relations between them are expected to be adversarial. The Saramaka treat marriage as an ongoing courtship, with frequent exchanges of gifts such as men's woodcarving and women's decorative sewing. Although many women live primarily in their husband's village, men never spend more than a few days at a time in the matrilineal (home) village of a wife.
Each house belongs to an individual man or woman, but most social interaction occurs outdoors. The men in each cluster of several houses, whether bee members or temporary visitors, eat meals together. The women of these same clusters, whether bee members or resident wives of bee men, spend a great deal of time in each other's company, often farming together as well.
Saramaccan women clad in colorful panyi and kamisa cultural wear tied in complicated knots around their waists and upper bodies, headscarves around their heads, Emancipation Day celebration at Saramacca River village of Santigron,Suriname

Matrilineal principles, mediated by divination, determine the inheritance of material and spiritual possessions as well as political offices. Before death, however, men often pass on specialized ritual knowledge (and occasionally a shotgun) to a son.
Pregnant Samaraccan woman,Suriname

Each child, after spending its first several years with its mother, is raised by an individual man or woman (not a couple) designated by the bee, girls normally by women, boys by men. Although children spend most of their time with matrilineal kin, father-child relations are warm and strong. Gender identity is established early, with children taking on responsibility for sex-typed adult tasks as soon as they are physically able. Girls often marry by age 15, whereas boys are more often in their twenties when they take their first wife. Protestant missionary schools have existed in some villages since the 18th century. State elementary schools came to most villages only in the 1960s. Schools ceased to function completely during the Suriname civil war of the late 1980s and have been rebuilt only partially since.

                          Saramaccan marriage/wedding

A woman is required to go into seclusion during her menstrual cycle. The cycle is considered a time of transgression and destructive of village order. Women aren’t allowed to perform many of the village’s functions and face other restrictions during their menstrual cycle. The Saramaka expression “to be in menstrual seclusion” is the same as “to be in mourning.”

 Political organization and social control
The Saramaka people, like the other Maroon groups, are run by men. The 2007 ruling of the Inter-American Court for Human Rights helps define the spheres of influence in which the national government and Saramaka authorities hold sway.
Saramaka society is strongly egalitarian, with kinship forming the backbone of social organization. No social or occupational classes are distinguished. Elders are accorded special respect and ancestors are consulted, through divination, on a daily basis.
Saramaccan kid

Since the 18th century treaty, the Saramaka have had a government-approved paramount chief (gaamá), as well as a series of headmen (kabiteni) and assistant headmen (basiá). Traditionally, the role of these officials in political and social control was exercised in a context replete with oracles, spirit possession, and other forms of divination. As the national government is intervening more frequently in Saramaka affairs (and paying political officials nominal salaries), the sacred base of these officials’ power is gradually being eroded. These political offices are the property of clans (lo). Political activity is strongly dominated by men.

                                          Samraccan girls in a hut

Council meetings (kuútu) and divination sessions provide complementary arenas for the resolution of social problems. Palavers may involve the men of a lineage, a village, or all Saramaka. They treat problems ranging from conflicts concerning marriage or fosterage to land disputes, political succession, or major crimes. These same problems, in addition to illness and other kinds of misfortune, are routinely interpreted through various kinds of divination as well. In all cases, consensus is found through negotiation, often with a strong role being played by gods and ancestors. In a type of reconciliation justice, guilty parties are usually required to pay for their misdeeds with material offerings to the lineage of the offended person. In the 18th century people found guilty of witchcraft were sometimes burned at the stake. Today, men caught in flagrante delicto with the wife of another man are either beaten by the woman's kinsmen or made to pay them a fine.

              An elder of the Santi Ground community, Saramaka, and another member of the community

Aside from adultery disputes, which sometimes mobilize a full canoe-load of men seeking revenge in a public fistfight, intra-Saramaka conflict rarely surpasses the level of personal relations. The civil war that began in 1986, pitting Maroons against the national army of Suriname, brought major changes to the villages of the interior. Members of the "Jungle Commando" rebel army, almost all Ndyuka and Saramaka, learned to use automatic weapons. They became accustomed to a state of war and plunder. Their reintegration into Saramaka (and Ndyuka) society has been difficult, though migration to the coast and French Guiana has provided a safety valve, if not for the receiving areas.

                            Samaraka tribe Maroons,Suriname. Circa 1890

Belief system
The Maroons traditionally believe in the 'Go-Gadu, "the Great God. This god is the creator of all that exists. That God dwells there, "a Tapu Gadu Gadu a Liba. Going Gadu rules to delegate to the minor gods. Taken the world by The lower gods in turn exert influence on the people again.

Here a woman who is supposed to be possessed by a snake's spirit (which is rather serious) is the center of elaborate rituals involving offerings and the herbal bath shown on the photo during the day and (wild) dancing during the night. 
The village Santigron in Suriname (along the Saramacca river yet not far from Paramaribo) is one of Surinames Maroon villages, i.e. villages of descendants of 18th Century run-away slaves. Unlike in Brazil or Jamaica, some 20,000 Maroons are still living in Suriname 's rain-forest having retained their most original and traditional Afro-American culture. 

A distinction is made between four different pantheons which the gods are housed. They are reptile spirits (or Dad Gadu Vodu), the spirits of the predators and scavenger birds (kumanti), the ancestral spirits (yooka) and the forest spirits (or Ampuku Apuku).
Every aspect of Saramaka life is based in various religious beliefs. Such decisions as where to clear a garden or build a house, whether to undertake a trip, or how to deal with theft or adultery are made in consultation with village deities, ancestors, forest spirits, and snake gods. The means of communication with these powers vary from spirit possession and the consultation of oracle-bundles, to the interpretation of dreams. Gods and spirits, which are a constant presence in daily life, are also honored through frequent prayers, libations, feasts, and dances.
The rituals surrounding birth, death, and other life passages are extensive, as are those relating to more mundane activities, from hunting a tapir to planting a rice field. Today about 25 per cent of Saramaka are nominal Christians – mainly Moravian (some since the mid-18th century), but others Roman Catholic. Increasingly some are converted to Evangelicalism of one or another kind.
The Saramaka world is populated by a wide range of supernatural beings, from localized forest spirits and gods that reside in the bodies of snakes, vultures, jaguars, and other animals, to ancestors, river gods, and warrior spirits. Within these categories, each supernatural being is named, individualized, and given specific relationships to living people. Intimately involved in the ongoing events of daily life, these beings communicate to humans mainly through divination and spirit possession. Kúnus are the avenging spirits of people or gods who were wronged during their lifetime and who pledge themselves to eternally tormenting the matrilineal descendants and close matrilineal kinsmen of their offender. Much of Saramaka ritual life is devoted to their appeasement. The Saramaka believe that all evil originates in human action; not only does each misfortune, illness, or death stem from a specific past misdeed, but every offense, whether against people or gods, has eventual consequences. The ignoble acts of the dead intrude daily on the lives of the living; any illness or misfortune calls for divination, which quickly reveals the specific past act that caused it. Through the performance of rites, the ancestors speak, the gods dance, and the world is again made right.

Individual specialists who supervise rites oversee the major village- and clan-owned shrines that serve large numbers of clients, as well as the various categories of possession gods, and various kinds of minor divination. These specialists generally pass on their knowledge to selected individuals before death. A large proportion of Saramaka have some kind of specialized ritual expertise, which they occasionally exercise. They are paid in cloth, rum, or, increasingly, cash.
Saramaka ceremonial life is not determined by the calendar, but rather regulated by the occurrence of particular misfortunes, interpreted through divination. The most important ceremonies include those surrounding funerals and the appeasement of ancestors, public curing rites, rituals in honor of kúnus (in particular snake gods and forest spirits), and the installation of political officials.
Every case of illness is believed to have a specific cause that can be determined only through divination. The causes revealed vary from a lineage kúnu to sorcery, from a broken taboo to an ancestor's displeasure. Once the cause is known, rites are carried out to appease the offended god or ancestor (or otherwise right the social imbalance). Since the 1960s, Western mission clinics and hospitals have been used by most Saramaka as a supplement to their own healing practices. During the Suriname Civil War of the 1980s and 1990s, most of these facilities were destroyed. They have only been very partially restored since.

                           Sammaccan woman undergoing purification rites fro Happiness and good luck

The dead play an active role in the lives of the living. Ancestor shrines – several to a village – are the site of frequent prayers and libations, as the dead are consulted about ongoing village problems. A death occasions a series of complex rituals that lasts about a year, culminating in the final passage of the deceased to the status of ancestor. The initial rites, which are carried out over a period of one week to three months, depending on the importance of the deceased, end with the burial of the corpse in an elaborately constructed coffin filled with personal belongings. These rites include divination with the coffin (to consult the spirit of the deceased) by carrying it on the heads of two men, feasts for the ancestors, all-night drum/song/dance performances, and the telling of folktales. Some months later, a "second funeral" is conducted to mark the end of the mourning period and to chase the ghost of the deceased from the village forever. These rites involve the largest public gatherings in Saramaka and also include all-night drum/song/dance performances. At their conclusion, the deceased has passed out of the realm of the living into that of the ancestor.

                                      Samaraka people

Body cicatrization, practiced by virtually all Saramaka women as late as the 1970s and 1980s, had become relatively uncommon by the start of the 21st century.

 Numerous genres of singing, dance, drumming, and tale telling continue to be a vibrant part of Saramaka
Marowijne River, drums
Pictures of Suriname - Marowijne River, drums

File:Tropenmuseum Royal Tropical Institute Objectnumber 60050642 Portret van een jonge Marron vrouw in.jpg

Samaraka dancer



Young Samaraccan girl kneeling. Bendekonde, Suriname

Samaraccan women braiding hair.Circa 1949


  1. Interessante na América do Sul existir tribo de negros Samaraccan como se fosse na Africa...eles tem suas terras, seu idioma e sua autonomia.Parabéns ao Suriname por não acabar com a tradição e a cultura de parte do seu povo.


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