Forging New Paths with the Matawai

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Since March 2015, ACT has been leading a multifaceted participatory mapping project with the Matawai Maroon community of cental Suriname.  The created maps will serve as a basis for the development of the Matawai territory, as determined by local authorities. The Matawai will own the maps and determine their use. See:

Darel Willems from the Avittiemauw Foundation discusses the map with Granman (Chieftan) Lesley Valentijn. Click to enlarge

In September, ACT-Suriname staff visited the Matawai territory for a second time this year, to validate the maps that were produced on the basis of data collected during fieldwork in February and March. The maps were carefully pored over by community members from the villages of Boslanti and Pusugrunu, as well as the Matawai Granman Lesley Valentijn. “The corrections will be implemented by ACT cartographers so that the community will have high quality maps visualizing their perspective of their territory in 2016,” says ACT-Suriname’s Program Director, Minu Parahoe.

During the same trip, a 12-person expedition of ACT staff and Matawai guides and youth departed for the mountain called Ebba Top in Matawai territory, at the request of the Matawai community. Ebba Top, 720 meters high, is the best-known and northernmost tip of the Van Asch Van Wijck Mountains in Suriname’s vast Sipaliwini district. This ridge consists of a number of single mountains interspersed by hills that form the border between the upper Suriname and upper Saramacca River watersheds.

The purpose of the expedition was to collect data for a map visualizing opportunities for tourism and displaying official land use zoning. The Matawai community also had decided that an existing trail to Ebba Top—however, now so overgrown that its exact path had become unknown—should be shown on this map.

After reviewing an existing topographic map, the team decided to also seek a route that would be easier for tourists to follow. The tropical rainforest is not conquered so easily!  During the exhausting and obstacle-laden first two days of the expedition, the Matawai guides sought the old trail without success. 

Camping in the rainforest. Click to enlarge

On the third and final projected day, doubt lingered as to whether Ebba Top and its summit might be reached on time.  But with the confidence provided by GPS readings, the team soldiered forward.   Finally, an emboldened Matawai climbed a tree and exclaimed “Ai, mi e sjie eng!” (Yes, I see it!)  

Having reached the foot of the mountain, however, the group saw that they had arrived at one of the steeper slopes.  Part of the group began its arduous ascent. At about 350 meters, increasing altitude brought improved mobile phone access. The ACT Suriname office was phoned to deliver the good news that the Ebba Top summit had at last been reached.

In December, expedition leader Niradj Hanoeman concluded that another expedition would be required. “A lot of time was spent in attempting to locate the old trail. We did not cut a new trail during this exploratory expedition because we wanted to have little impact on the forest. With the trail GPS data, we can now help the community forge a clear trail that will arrive on the easy side of the mountain,” said Niradj with a grin.

Dutch version can be read on the ACT-Suriname website.

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