To Build a Tukuispan

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Kwamalasamutu awakens. The first sunrays break through the clouds and light on thatched roofs in the tiny Surinamese rainforest village. A few residents are already on their way to wash themselves in the river. Mist still hangs in the air.

Suddenly, we hear a voice over the village loudspeaker. It’s Granman Asongo Alalaparu. Per the daily ritual, he makes the morning announcements. Today—as for the last two weeks—the big project is building the community’s new Tukuispan. And everyone is expected to help.

The new Tukuispan under construction. Click to enlarge

We hear the names of villagers called out and wonder what is happening. Bruce Hoffman, ACT-Suriname Manager for Field Projects and a longtime Kwamalasamutu resident, smiles. These are the people who have not yet participated in construction, he says. The Granman, a respected elder and the village leader, is doing his best to rally the Kwamala residents who are not all too eager to spend a hot day cutting and hauling heavy logs for the project.

When the original Tukuispan burned down a few years ago, the village lost its spatial and cultural center. Tukuispans—large, round traditional huts—are communal structures where important cultural activities, ceremonies and large meetings take place. After much discussion, the community decided that simply rebuilding their Tukuispan was not good enough. The new structure should be much taller and wider than its predecessor.

Bruce Hoffman, ACT Manager for Field Projects, and indigenous park guards. Click to enlarge

Bruce Hoffman, ACT’s manager for field projects in Suriname, resides in Kwamalasamutu and works with ACT’s Indigenous Park Guards (IPGs) in the construction and coordination of the Tukuispan. Bruce and the IPGs gather logs from the kwapwei tree—sometimes traveling an hour away from the village to find them. Once the logs are back in the village, they put them together using traditional techniques, as well as the more than 110 pounds of nails sent from the capital city by ACT Suriname.

When the wooden infrastructure of the Tukuispan is completed, the villagers will construct a roof from tassi leaves. Tassi is a small palm known as “maraja” in the local Trio language (scientific name: Geonoma bacculifera). The leaves are woven into long panels and tied onto the pole framework to create a roof. Due to the constant construction and maintenance of homes, there is very little good quality tassi to be found nearby the village. For this reason, finding, gathering and especially monitoring tassi in the forest is also an important task for Bruce and the IPGs.

ACT IPG's on the way to the new Tukuispan. Click to enlarge

Villagers are glad to see that the IPGs are monitoring tassi. Together with the University of Utrecht and local partners like the Center for Agricultural Research (CELOS) and the National Herbarium of Suriname, ACT is researching how best to approach the issues of tassi scarcity. ACT takes this task so seriously that tassi monitoring will be integrated into the IPG training program this year. Once thorough data is collected, the community will work with ACT to design an action plan.

Through a continued presence in this village (as well as many others around the country), ACT identifies the areas of importance for indigenous communities and creates projects based on community needs. This collaborative, demand-based effort supports ACT’s positive relationship with local peoples and ensures that projects align with cultural values. In this way, ACT and its indigenous partners continue to preserve cultural and environmental heritage in the Surinamese rainforest.

Dutch version can be read on the ACT Suriname website.

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