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Paramount chief Gazon Matodja of the Ndyuka nation in Suriname has passed on December 1st, 2011, at the age of 91. He died at the Diakonessen Hospital in Paramaribo, where he entered only days before, after suffering a stroke. Gazon Matodja had preferred passing at home, but succumbed to his illness before he could be transported. His mortal remains have been flown to his residency in Drietabiki. Government officials Paul Abena, Alice Amafo, Walter Bonjaski and Leo Brunswijk, all members of the Ndyuka nation, accompanied the paramount chief on this flight. The funeral will take place on a date yet to be announced. Mourning ceremonies, which started immediately after his death, are expected to proceed for several months.
Gazon Matodja had been paramount chief since 1966. At 91, he was not only the oldest dignitary in this function, but also the one with the longest reign. He was best known for his diplomacy. He took this quality to a highpoint in the 1980’s, during the armed conflict between Suriname military ruler Desi Bouterse and Ronnie Brunswijk’s Jungle Commando, in which Gazon Matodja refused to take sides. Instead, he assumed an intermediating role.
Newspaper De Ware Tijd recalls that Gazon Matodja was the first paramount chief of the Ndyuka to take on foreign traveling. Most notable were his trips to Ghana, Togo and Nigeria in the 70’s and his visit to Yale University in 1982. (The New York Times reported on this visit. Click here to read the article).
Gazon Matodja was born as a member of the Baakabee family, a branch of the Ooto lo clan, in the village of Moitaki. He was appointed successor to his uncle, paramount chief Pai Amatodya, but judged himself too young for the responsibility in 1947, when Pai Amatodya died, and chose to transfer his duties to Akontu Velantie, who was installed as paramount chief to the Ndyuka in 1950. Valentie passed fourteen years later, in 1964.
In 2000 Gazon Matodja installed the first body of formal authorities for Ndyuka residing in the Netherlands, including a kabiten and several basya’s. He was also the first paramount chief to appoint a women to the office of captain.
His work on behalf of the Ndyuka and the Suriname population at large, earned him several national and international awards and recognitions.
In an interview with RNW, André Pakosi, kabiten (chief) of the Ndyuka in the Netherlands says that although the death of Gazon Matodja ‘did not come unexpected’ to him, he was nevertheless shocked by the news. “He has been a great inspiration to me”, said Pakosie. A Dutch language eulogy on Gazon Matodja, written by kabiten Pakosie, can be read here.
Official statements on his succession are unlikely to be made soon. “We are not talking about that yet”, said Pakosie.
Starniews has referred to the passing as ‘the end of an era’.