Charles Town Maroon Conference gets a taste of Suriname

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A delegation from Suriname participated in the fifth Charles Town Maroon Conference held in Portland, Jamaica from June 20-23—as Paul H. Williams reports in this article in the Jamaica Gleaner. [Our thanks to Peter Jordens for sending this item.]

THE PARTICIPATION of the Suriname delegation in the fifth Charles Town Maroon conference in Portland last month was highly anticipated as the Jamaican Maroons and their Surinamese counterparts have much in common in terms of their rich history and heritage.

And the three women, Maggie Schmeitz, Monique Pintoe, and Ijna Vrede, who made up the delegation, certainly enhanced the richness of this year’s event with their colourful presence and clothes, their hike to an 18th-century coffee plantation, and the serving of a traditional soup.

Schmeitz, of the non-government group Stichting Ultimate Purpose, and Pintoe and Vrede, representing the Surinamese Government, are from the Matawai, Dyuka and Saamaka tribes, respectively.

The delegation was invited to the conference by Colonel Frank Lumsden of the Charles Town Maroons to add to the international flavour of the conference. The invitation was accepted because as Ijna Vrede said, We wanted to learn and to meet our brothers and sisters. She is a Maroon captain and the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Regional Development and has responsibility for the indigenous peoples of the interior.

In preparing for the conference, she said she had expected to see how Maroons from the diaspora exchanged their culture but realised there was a big academic component upon her arrival.

“I am happy to be here because I learn so much. I have learned about the surprise (ambush) system Africans had to use to become who they are – the fight, the struggle – but also the love that we give each other to realise our goals,” Vrede told The Gleaner. “I am very proud to meet the Jamaican Maroons, and I notice that we have so many similarities in the way of living, and I feel at home with the Jamaican Maroons.”

In addressing the gathering on Sunday during the Quao Day celebrations, Vrede paid tribute to Colonel Lumsden and the people of Charles Town. The Jamaican Maroons were invited to participate in CARIFESTA to be held in Suriname later this year.

Shortly after her address, the women, who wore Surinamese T-shirts and traditional wrap skirts, sprang a surprise of sorts when they adorned three of the main organisers of the conference and five Maroons representatives with traditional Surinamese Maroon body and head wraps. After the adornments, a bottle of Surinamese rum was also presented to Lumdsen, who held it high in the air declaring jokingly that he would keep it for himself.

The Surinamese were still not finished with their generosity. And so they left the stage to come up with more goodies. Behind the scenes, with the assistance of Charles Town tour guide Marcia Douglas, they pinched balled cassava flour into little bits.

These little bits were then put into water boiling over a wood fire. Soon afterwards, jackfish and seasoning were added. The result was apiti (Saamaka tribal name), a traditional Surinamese Maroon cassava soup, also known as afungi in the Dyuka tribe.

The official representatives of the Maroon communities in Jamaica were the first to taste the soup. It was a merging of cultures – the Jamaican Maroons were drinking traditional Surinamese Maroon fish and cassava soup from Jamaican Maroon calabash bowls, while dressed in traditional Surinamese Maroon wraps. The remainder of the soup was served to the other patrons, some of whom nodded in approval.

The Surinamese themselves seemed to be impressed with the three days of activities, and by the end of the event, they were thinking of their own big international Maroon conference. They have conferences among the six Maroon tribes in Suriname, but nothing like the Charles Town Maroon conference. “We have to use this as an example and go back and discuss it,” Vrede said. “Maroons in Jamaica, I want to tell you, you are a powerful group, wonderful, magnificent and we need each other to grow. Keep your traditions! Keep your culture!”

For the original report go to http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130629/news/news1.html

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