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Maroon writers collaborate on poetry publication

Omslag Puu a doo

Source: dWT Online

Maroon writers in Suriname have collaborated in the publication of a poetry book that marks a new approach in the promotion and preservation of their culture. Aptly titled ‘Puu a döö’ (literally meaning ‘to show to the world’), this collection of 24 poems provides unique insights into Maroon lifestyles and values. Additionally, it highlights the beauty of the different languages spoken by Maroons in Suriname.

Eight scribes from different age groups, both youngsters and seniors, produced material for this unique collection: Sa Angila a paandasi umang (pseudonym for Angila Albitrouw), Felu kamisa (pseudonym for Egbert Fonkie), Ateyadendu (pseudonym for Dorus Vrede), Gavuna (pseudonym for Ifna Vrede), Koetoe Agaasie, Randolf Lienga, and the late Arthur Licht, who recently passed away.

Their poems express their attitudes towards a variety of subjects, such as nature, history and traditions, everyday life and social issues. Dorus Vrede (64), for example, relates his thoughts on the construction of the hydraulic lake in traditional Saamaka Maroon territory and the subsequent government-forced relocation of his village, an event that had a profound impact on his coming of age in the 1960s. Vrede, who has been writing poems and short stories since 1978, is a well-known figure in Surinamese literature. His earlier works have appeared in newspapers and magazines in Suriname and the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. “But for this publication I wrote original material”, he says.

More than 30 years Vrede’s junior, co-author Angila Albitrouw (born 1984), also writes about matters of identity. In addition to this, she focuses on matters of freedom, black consciousness, stigmatization, and cultural norms and values. Albitrouw is a poet from the Ndyuka community, who started writing about ten years ago.

Whereas Albitrouw has written her poems for ‘Puu a döö’’ in the Saakiiki language (a dialect employed by Ndyuka Maroons who live in Saamaka territory), other authors in the collection have used Saamaka or Ndyuka. This prevalence  of different idioms in the book was a deliberate choice of the publisher – the nonprofit organization Saamaka Akademiya – who works to promote and preserve Maroon culture and languages.

Adding to the cultural richness of this publication, some of the poems in ‘Puu a döö’ relate to traditional practices among Maroons in Suriname. Similarly, the book’s title itself – ‘Puu a döö’ – refers to an old Maroon custom. It is the ritual regarding the formal introduction of a newborn child into the community. While the terms ‘hudu bai’ and ‘puu a döö’ are Saamaka in origin, these rituals are practiced by all Maroon communities in Suriname. Each community just refers to them by another name.

The inclusion of such cultural references in ‘Puu a döö’ holds much significance in the present time – now that many long-standing Maroon traditions are on decline due to inevitable modernizations within the communities. This fact was duly pointed out to publisher Saamaka Akademiya during the planning of the book launch event for ‘Puu a döö’. The organization wanted someone to properly present the ‘Hudu bai’, a ritual-play, but experienced great difficulties in finding a suitable performer.

As Marijke Agwense, Saamaka Akademiya’s president, explains: “Hudu bai is the custom of praise singing during the cutting of trees in the forest. The songs are to encourage the men wielding the axes and to pay homage to guardian deities and ancestral spirits. However, we hardly ever cut trees with axes anymore. We mainly use chainsaws. And these being so loud and noisy, there is almost never room for songs anymore. As a result, only a few of us are still acquainted with the authentic ways of the hudu bai.”

The poetry book was formally presented to the public on Friday, November 23rd 2012 in Paramaribo. The ceremony passed in true Maroon ambiance. Invitees were welcomed by a small choir of female singers, while cultural expert Berry Vrede served as the event’s ‘gaantio’ (literally meaning ‘great uncle’). He moderated the proceedings and announced each poem reading individually.

Although this first edition of ‘Puu a döö’ does not include a mainstream-language translation (such as Dutch or English), encouraging responses from the public have caused Saamaka Akademiya to consider this option for a possible future edition.

‘Puu a döö’ costs 20 SRD (6 US Dollars) and is obtainable through the office of Saamaka Akademiya. Interested readers may contact the organization by emailing sakademiya@gmail.com.

To connect with Saamaka Akademiya on Facebook, please visit: http://www.facebook.com/saamaka.akademiya

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This entry was posted on January 10, 2013 by in Suriname News and tagged .