News and background stories on maroon communities in the Americas.
On Tuesday 10 April 2012 thousands of people gathered in the Ndyuka village of Drietabiki in Suriname to pay their final respects to granman Matodja Gazon, the late Paramount Chief of the Ndyuka. The widely esteemed dignitary was buried at a reserved spot in Ma-Kownoe-Gron. This is an area downstream of the village of Poeketi, which is also close to Drietabiki – Gazon’s former residency.
The Paramount Chief of the Ndyuka, who was only recently crowned ‘king of the Ndyuka’ – in honor of his status and achievements – died on 1 December 2011 after suffering a stroke. He was 91.
Present at Drietabiki to bid him farewell were visitors from all over the country, as well as guests from abroad. The attendees included leaders and members of all six Maroon communities in Suriname, government officials and other special invitees.
The Ndyuka nation organized the ceremonies, while the government of Suriname contributed financially. The funeral took place at a relatively late date, about a month after the traditional period of three months post-death. The cause of this delay was a late start of the construction work at the grave site, as well as an accident. In February of this year, part of the dugout grave collapsed, causing one of the diggers to break his leg. Upon this, labor at the site was temporarily suspended.
The grave of the late Ndyuka-leader is not an ordinary one, nor is his coffin. Both are grand, thereby underscoring the status of the deceased among his people. Labor at the grave site was conducted by sixty diggers who worked in daily teams of six. The end result is a massive vault that sits at 20 square meters at a depth of 7 meters. Of likewise impressive proportions is the coffin, which measures 3 meters long, 1.5 meters wide and 1.5 meters high.
Explaining the unusual sizes of the grave and coffin, Ndyuka captain Johan Djani commented in newspaper De Ware Tijd, “The grave is like a house. It holds not only the coffin, placed on a traditional bench, but also personal belongings of the deceased and gifts to aid him on his final journey.”
In another article by the same newspaper, anthropologist Salomon Emanuels sheds light on the origin of the customary three-month-waiting period before the burial of a Maroon Paramount Chief. Says Emanuels, “This tradition started in colonial times. By the peace treaty of 10 October 1760 the Maroons were obligated to report the death of a Paramount Chief to the governor. But in those times, the Maroons had to paddle their way down, so a trip to Paramaribo took at least three weeks. Once in Paramaribo, they had to wait for about another week before the governor could see them, and afterward they had to travel all the way back, upon which the necessary rituals could start. This whole process took a good three months. Hence the three-months tradition.”
The late Paramount Chief of the Ndyuka has lain in state in Drietabiki for the full duration of the funeral preparations. A funeral priest was in charge of these preparations. He performed libations, for example, and consulted an oracle on a daily basis to receive advice on key matters, such as choosing a funeral date.
Meanwhile, representatives of the 12 Ndyuka clans conducted mourning ceremonies in various places, both within Suriname as well as in the Netherlands. These ceremonies will continue in months to come. The Ndyuka nation closes the period of mourning no sooner than one year after a funeral.
The duties of the Paramount Chief are currently performed by lower ranked dignitaries (such as captains or ‘kabitens’) of various Ndyuka clans. The identity of Matodja Gazon’s successor, who will be appointed and installed after the one year mourning period, has yet to be publicly announced. According to tradition, this person will come from the ranks of the Otoo-clan, as Matodja Gazon himself was.
Magaretha Malontie, district commissioner for the region Tapanahony has said in an interview with De Ware Tijd that the name of the successor is kept confidential for the time being, ‘as a sign of respect for the late granman’. De Ware Tijd writes on stating, “Yet some, including village elders, already know who the successor is. Gazon had chosen a candidate before his death. An oracle has indicated this person. During the ‘purblaka’ -ritual (literally ‘remove the darkness’) that marks the end of the mourning period, the successor’s name will be disclosed to the public. The date for the ‘purblaka’ will be set in the near future.”