25 March 2010

Last days in Suriname

The Presidential Palace where La Condamine was invited to stay by the dutch governor Mauricius.
24/3. During our stay in Suriname we slept in Camp David, about 30 km south of Paramaribo. During his 5-day stay in Suriname, La Condamine enjoyed the hospitality of the dutch governor Mauricius. He stayed in the presidential palace that had been renewed in 1730. However, in 1742, the palace was in such a bad state that Mauricius continued to live on his plantation, using the house of his son for receptions and banquets. La Condamine did not complain and only writes that he measured the northern latitude and performed "some other observations" before leaving on a dutch ship for Amsterdam.

He measured: "5 degrés 49 minutes septentrionale".
The GPS, borrowed from Carlos Mena in Quito gave: N 5° 49' 33'' and W 55° 9' 7''. A fortuitous correspondence?

Presntly, the Suriname president does not live in this colonial house; it is only used for receptions.

That Mauricius invited La Condamine to come to Paramaribo offering him his house, a passage to Holland with a passport "en cas de rupture entre la France et les Etats Généraux" seems an indication of a good relationship between the two colonies. I wonder whether this relationship is still so good. In Cayenne, for instance, people hardly knew who Bouterse was and if they knew they didn't want to speak about it. It was therefore a surprise to hear from Phil Boré about a radio program of "France-Inter", with the following introduction:

"Patrick Pesnot;  samedi 27 février 2010
La guerre civile au Suriname
D’aucuns l’ont appelée la Babel tropicale… Un curieux petit pays métissé, où l’on croise des créoles, des Indiens, des Amérindiens, des Javanais, des Chinois et des Européens… Et où, malgré le fait que la langue officielle soit le néerlandais, on parle au moins 15 dialectes. Je veux parler du Suriname, l’ancienne Guyane hollandaise, un Etat situé au nord du Brésil, coincé entre le Guyana et notre Guyane française.
Mais pourquoi évoquer aujourd’hui avec Monsieur X ce pays lointain dont la plupart d’entre nous ignorent l’histoire et même la localisation exacte ? D’abord parce qu’à lui seul le Suriname concentre un certain nombre des dangers qui pèsent sur notre planète : une déforestation démesurée, une exploitation irraisonnée des richesses naturelles et la pollution qui en découle, une misère latente, une violence endémique, une situation politique chaotique, une corruption latente, un trafic de drogue en expansion et, coiffant toutes ses difficultés et les expliquant en partie, la fièvre de l’or…
Il faut ajouter que le voisinage du Suriname avec la Guyane française ne laisse pas d’inquiéter… Car le Suriname exporte aussi ses propres maux sur l’autre rive du fleuve Maroni… Là où se trouve la précieuse base européenne de lancement de fusées de Kourou… Autant dire l’importance stratégique du Suriname dont, pourtant, les médias parlent rarement.
Monsieur X propose donc de donner un coup de projecteur sur cette région méconnue et d’analyser les menaces qu’elle représente…"

I am trying to obtain the rest of the discussion which sounded to me quite good and nuanced.

Enjoying a glass of rum and eating peanuts, we had a long discussion in Camp David about the revolution or coup in 1980, the killings in December 1982 and the civil war that followed between Bouterse (with many indians in the army) and Brunswijk (Jungle commando of Bosland Creolen), lasting about 3 years. Dennis and Dole had quite different experiences. Dennis knew most of the army people that were involved in the coup and emphasized the difficult decisians they had to take. He cited Bouterse saying that it is most dangerous "to push a peaceful man too far".
Dole, on the other hand, had just started his study at the law faculty and joined the "destabilization forces", participating in all kinds of demonstrations. When the killings occurred he told how they felt defeated....

A complicating factor in Suriname is that this is a small community (less than 500.000) in which everybody seems to know each other. This became more clear to me when Dennis introduced me to Ronny Brunswijk. We had entered a supermarket where mainly Brazilian people and gold seekers come. I was looking there for jam of the palmfruit "Podosiri" or "Asai". I thought Dennis was making a joke with me and shook hands with a big, laughing, black Bosland Creool. But it was Brunswijk indeed. As member of the "National Assemblee" he had obtained land where gold was present. That was probably his reason for coming there....

Looking for birds with Otte Ottema in Peperpot and Weg naar Zee.
On Tuesday (23 March) we fetched Otte Ottema at his house and drove to Peperpot where it just became light. We saw some beautiful birds like Little cuckoo, Cinnamon attila, Blackish antbird, Blackcrested antshrike (een paartje) and finally the beautiful Greentailed Jacamar! On the Weg naar Zee, we saw many more birds like the large Savanna and Blackcoloured Hawk.

Last evening: With Paul Woei in the restaurant of his son, beautifully built in the old printing office of the journal "De Vrije Stem", bombed in 1982 by Bouterse.
The last evening we went to the restaurant of Paul Woei's son, beautifully furnished and decorated in an old printing office of the journal "De Vrije Stem". For next year, Paul Woei told us, he had made an appointment with a Suriname television station for an interview to tell about La Condamine's visit to the Guyana's. So, the story has not yet ended.....

22 March 2010

Paramaribo and visit to the Upper Suriname river

The new Leica fluorescence microscope acquired by the MWI to be used for detection of chromosomal aberrations.

17, 18 and 19/3. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.  One of our visits had been to the "Medisch Wetenschappelijk Instituut", a medical institute connected to the "Anton de Kom" University. There we visited Audrey Lo-Fo-Sang and Joan Werners with whom I had corresponded about bringing a fluorescence microscope sponsored by Fraen-Company (Milan) to Paramaribo, just as the one we brought to Salatiga in Indonesia. This time, however, contacts with Fraen were postponed and will have to be restored again. We also met Prof. Mrs. Adin, who explained to us a real-time PCR machine used for detection of influenza, malaria and Chlamidia; not an easy thing to explain......

The Afobaka dam and (right) the Brokopondo drainage basin (stuwmeer), with to the west the Brownsberg mountains in the far distance.

On Thursday we left Camp David at 8 a.m. arriving at the Afrobaka dam around 11 o'clock. Although the water level was low it is still an impressive drainage basin. Driving west of the lake through the Brownsberg mountains we saw the so-called "transmigratie"-villages built for the people who originally lived in the Brokopondo area. These people were "Bosland Creolen", mostly Saramakans, descendants of fugitive slaves. The villages are characterized by the so-called "kostgrondjes", gardens from where vegetables and fruits are obtained. They are always accompanied by newly-burned areas where new gardens will be started. This habbit of slash-and-burn causes much concern among "green" people in Europe. Driving now through this region of secondary forests the burned areas do not make me too depressed: it is not a nice sight, but it occurs on a small scale and re-forestation seems to occur rapidly.

Left: A typical village garden ("kostgrondje") where casave (tapioca), "mais" and bananas are cultivated. 
Right: a recently burned area where a new garden will be started.
The dirt road to Isadou was still bad, but a Chinese company is working hard to make a pavement. Strange to see the Chinese characters on all their equipment and trucks. In Pokigron we took a koreaal to Isadoe (meaning "Welcome" in the Saramakan language) on the Upper Suriname river.  There we slept in a little house drawn by Hilbert.

Left: Port of  Pokigron with many "korealen" on the Upper Suriname river.
Right: In a "koreaal" with a 85 PK motor over the Upper Suriname river to Isadou. The bottom of a "koreaal" consists of a dugout canoe. This is enlarged with planks.
Hilbert's impression of our house in Isadou.
 Before making a walk through the jungle André, the owner of Isadoe, had to remove a "Sika" (a rapidly growing bag of eggs laid by a sand flea just beneath the skin) from underneath my foot. Then, we went by boat ("koreaal") over the river chasing away many kingfishers. Later, walking over a path through the jungle of a secondary forest, we saw three little monkeys ("Sagowijntjes") high up in the trees. It was difficult to follow them and they had soon disappeared.... How diificult it must be to make a study of the behavior of these monkeys like performed by Marc van Roosmalen (see his book "Blootsvoets door de Amazone")!

Left: In the early morning André removes a "sika" from underneathe my foot using a needle from a palm tree.
Right: Fog over the river.
Dennis accompanying us to the koreaal and a large Ringed Kingfisher or "Fisman".
When am I going to learn all these plants and trees and the stories about their healing or "Winti" powers?
Our guide, Dorus Amimba, showed us many medicinal plants and told us the stories about their healing power. For instance, "Neku", a liana used to intoxicate fish. Later, in a village, we saw how little boys were pounding the leaves of this liana with a large wooden pestle. When walking through Gunsi we met his uncle, Done Adriaan, who had worked as surveyor in the large Canadian gold mine near Brownsberg and who was now the "Kapitein" of the village.
The Uncle and an aunt of Dorus, our guide with whom we walked through Gunsi, a Saramakan village.
The "Bosland creolen", descendants of fugitive slaves, consist of various tribes like the Saramakans, the Matuaries or Kwintis, the Aucaners (to which Ronnie Brunswijk belongs) and the Paramakaners. In general, these people live much closer "to nature" than the original amerindians. The indians in Suriname (Caraïbs, Arowaks, Trios and Wajanas) seem to take over western habits much easier; they seem more adapted to western culture except when they go hunting! Bosland creoles are more farmers than hunters. (Information from Dennis Chin-a-Foeng).

Dorus was roman catholic. He called the religion in Gunsi "heiden" (pagan), but agreed that it should be called "Winti". The little houses in Gunsi had small doors, believed to make it difficult for bad ghosts to enter. When I asked Dorus about his deformed fingertips (lepra?), he said that it had been caused by bad ghosts when he was still a little kid. It had finally been healed by a Dresiman (shaman). He also explained that this non-christian village was protected against bad ghosts by low gates, called "asanpau", at the entrances; again bad ghosts cannot pass such low entrances.

Left: A typical house in the non-christian village Gunsi, with a low door that prevents bad ghosts from entering the house.
Right: Two women coming from their garden ("kostgrondje"), one transporting vegetables, the other wood.

A protecting gateway ("asanpau" in Saramakan) at the entrance of the village.

21 March 2010

Visits in Paramaribo

Left: Visit to the atelier of Paul Woei. Right: His poster that started our interest in the voyage of La Condamine.

15 and 16/3. Monday and Tuesday.  We had a very pleasant visit to the house of Paul woei. He told us how, together with art students, he had made the tourist poster that told us for the first time about La Condamine and had started our interest in him. He also told us that there was a kind of monument memorizing the determination by La Condamine of the position of Paramaribo during his short visit to the town. He thought we could get more information at the museum of the town.
It appeared that Paul Woei had been studying in Amsterdam in the early sixties and that we had common memories of a little restaurant behind the Binnen-Bantammerstraat, where you had to go down a small staircase to buy a nassi-goreng for 1 guilder.
We visited his atelier and drank Markusa-juice of fruits from his garden with his wife. We watched a beautiful video he had made himself of his visits to the people of the Upper Suriname river which he had also painted ("A Journey of Art in the Rainforest"). Then Dennis drove us to the Waterkant next to Fort Zeelandia to see the "monument" (see photograph). It was a copper circle in the pavement of the old quay ("aanlegsteiger") divided in 32 parts with a cross in the middle that seemed to indicate the 4 winds.
Left: Was this a circle that memorized La Condamine's determination of the position of Paramaribo's fort?
Right: In the back the presidential palace where a second "ijkroos" (for compass calibration) occurs on the terrace.
So, after a telephone call by Dennis' wife, Cindy, who seems to know everyone in Paramaribo, we went the next day to Mr. Bubberman, who worked in the museum and who was interested in La Condamine. He showed us old history books and old maps, but couldn't give us any confirmation about La Condamine's "monument". He advised to search in the journals of Mauricius, the governor that had invited La Condamine to come to Paramaribo. These were still present in the Dutch National Archive. 

Looking in history books and old maps with Mr. F.C. Bubberman in the museum.

Finally, after another telephone call by Cindy, we went to the architect Philip Dikland. He told us that the circle was a so-called "ijkroos" used for calibration of compasses and that there was another more intact circle on the terrace behind the presidential palace. The distance between the two circles could have served to calibrate the length of a measuring-chain. He didn't know whether the circles existed already in 1744, but he did know that La Condamine was helped by the local land surveyor named De Lancourt, when determining the position, probably at the present location of the statue of Lachmon. Such positions, however, were not used in the dutch maps of the time. Only in 1870 the map of Cateau shows the first position measurement. He gave me a beautiful article entitled "Landmeters in Suriname van 1667 tot en met 1861".

Philip Dikland: making maps of the plantations in Suriname, using a minute glass and a rowing boat to calculate distances.

Camp David Impressions

Entrance Camp David with the big lounge.

14/3. Sunday. Waking up at 5 p.m. I thought it was already becoming light. A rooster was crowing nearby, but no other birds could be heard. Only, infrequently, the strange noise of a bat and the continuous sounds of crickets. I went down to  my hammock under the big roof of the lounge. At 6 a.m.the stars started to disappear and it finally became lighter. Now I heard a loud, melodious sound "ou-yee-you"; probably frogs. Only around 6:20 the first birds started to sing: the "Daguka", the "Gadofowru" (bird-of-God), the "Blauwtjes" and, finally everywhere, the Great Kiskadee or "Grietjebie", which we already saw at the Ecuador-Peru border. It will take some time again before I know the most common ones. It was near 7 a.m. and fully light when the mosquitos chased me out of my hammock.

Left: Our bedroom with a "guard" above the door. Right: Hilbert relaxing in a hammock with dog and rooster. 

Camp David is a forest camp, not a luxurious resort! That means that you should accept reaching it via a very bumpy road, having a large spider above your door, a frog jumping in front of you in the dark when walking over the grass, a small lizard under your bed or the sounds of bats outside the screens of the windows. The shower gives one type of clean well-water and is warmer in the evening than in the morning. When it is dark (7:30 p.m.) the electricity is switched on, allowing you to recharge your batteries and to fall asleep on a bed or in a hammock in the cool breeze of a van. You can call this semi-luxurious.

Dole has prepared a traditional meal with rice, vegetables and fried fish.
Left: It is Rambutan-time! A neighbour of Javanese descent gives us two kinds of Rambutan. Right: The monkey Kobus living half-wild down the road likes the rambutan.
In the morning Dole makes coffee or tea and for breakfast warm little breds with fried eggs. Then, there is time for reading, for looking around at the "Redikins"  (Silver-beaked Tanager) and "Doifi's", for making a walk to the surrounding developments or for asking Dennis to tell about the complicated and dramatic events in the eighties with the military coups of Rambocus, then Bouterse and, finally, the civil war with the "Bosland Creoles" (van Brunswijk), all happening within a community of some 450.000 people of very different origins, brought together by the Dutch.

Left: In what butterfly will this large (10 cm), hairy beast transform itself? Right: On a walk behind Camp David.
Eating peanuts during a rain shower. The only tasteful thing La Condamine could enjoy on his voyage seemed to be "cacahouètes".