I sit on the landing stage. The moon glistens on the Suriname River and the rainforest across the river has become a black wall. Croaking frogs and chirping crickets penetrate the silence of the night. I have traveled deep into the Surinamese rainforest.
Drums that are being played in Pikin Slee village reverberate more vibrations than a sound. There must be some kind of celebration going on. Tomorrow the owner of Pasensie Guesthouse will take us to the village and tell us all about the Maroon culture and way of life.
This ecolodge is the only accommodation in the village of Pikin Slee, some five hours travel from Suriname’s capital Paramaribo. It’s beautifully located along the Suriname River. There are several huts with bedrooms for 2 to 4 persons and Kens Libbarth, the owner of the guesthouse, has plans to expand. “The interior of Suriname is growing in popularity on the tourist trail; travelers like to visit Suriname’s traditional Maroon villages. I have tourists staying here most of the time and I have enough space to expand without the place becoming cluttered,” he explains.
The huts are basic, with single beds and mosquito netting. The latter is not that much of a necessity, there are few mosquitoes and malaria and dengue have been eradicated in this region. We share a toilet and shower, but really don’t need the latter – the Suriname River is a much better bath.
There are six of us, and instead of bringing all our rations and renting the kitchen to do our own cooking, we decided to treat ourselves to local dishes made by Jackie.
Jackie has worked here for ten years. She warmly welcomed us when we arrived this afternoon, with coffee and tea waiting on the table. Her first meal for us consisted of white rice, chicken and kouseband – which is a very thin bean about a metre long and tasty when properly prepared.
In the days to come she will serve cooked bananas, sweet potatoes, cassava – the Maroon staple food – and a local dish which, she explains, was one of the earliest dishes the Maroons lived on: a soup made with soup balls of grated bananas.
The Maroon People: the Saamaka, or Saramakas
Maroons are the descendants of fugitive slaves. During the Dutch colonisation, they fled into the rainforest and established their own communities. The Saamaka Maroons, or Saramakas, are one of these groups and they live in small communities along the upper Suriname River. They live in wooden huts and cook on wood or gas.
Gas cylinders are brought from Paramaribo by boat; there are no roads to Pikin Slee. From Paramaribo it is a three-hour bus ride to Atjoni, from which a korjaal – local wooden boat – takes visitors, produce and wares to numerous villages along the bank. It is an adventurous journey.
Activities in and around the Rainforest
The guesthouse is a perfect place to linger, to stay longer than planned. We spend our days reading in a hammock on the terrace or in the pina – an open hut with thatched roof. We take dips in the river and can fish from the landing stage.
At night Kens shows old black and white movies that were recorded in the region dozens of years ago, and which depict the Maroons’ old ways of life. It is quite remarkable that although modernity has penetrated the Suriname rainforest, many of their traditions still exist as we see them in these movies, such as the delicate construction of dugout canoes.
From the village trails lead into the rainforest and either connect with kostgrondjes (vegetable gardens) or other villages. Our guide Roberto takes us on walks during which he indicates medicinal plants and is the first to hear the presence of monkeys. We hike to the nearby villages of Foetoenakaba and Botopasi as well.
The Village of Pikin Slee
Kens takes us to the village where he explains the Maroon culture and traditions. The Maroons have their own language and only few of them speak Dutch, so it is practical to have a guide with us to communicate with the inhabitants. We mainly see woman and children; many of the men work in Paramaribo. Another good place to get a feeling for the Maroon culture and traditions is the recently opened Saamaka Museum in Pikin Slee.
We are invited to two celebrations: the end of the school year, and an end-of-mourning period, called pur blaka. We are more than welcome to be here, to watch it all but taking pictures is a sensitive issue. We must always ask permission first.
- To get to Pikin Slee, take a bus from Saramacca Street in Paramaribo to Atjoni. From Atjoni there are daily korjalen going upriver. The boat trip to Pikin Slee takes about 2 hours. If you travel with a group, Kens may pick you up from Paramaribo as well.
- If you prefer an organised tour, visit one of the travel agencies downtown Paramaribo. They offer package tours that include all aspect of the trip.
- Kens is a good host. He understands and anticipates the needs of his guests. The simple gesture of handing us two bottles of ice-cold water as we drove from Paramaribo to Atjoni typifies his sense of hospitality. From Pikin Slee he can organise multiple-day tours into the jungle or trips farther up the Suriname River to waterfalls or other Maroon villages.
- For more information, see the Pasensie Guesthouse website.