Eco tourism comes to Isolated Indigenous Village in Suriname

27 Mar

The Trio tribe of Kwamalasamutu – an Indigenous village located in southwest Suriname adjacent to the border areas with Guyana and Brazil – does its utmost to develop tourism in its living area together with Conservation International Suriname (CI-Suriname). With tourism it hopes to create employment for the nearly 2000 soles who live in the isolated village.

Kwamalasamutu, a Trio village South West of Suriname

In the past the tribe was nomadic and not used to live in large numbers in a permanent village. The people lived in groups of 100 and when the area was exhausted they just removed to another place. Until now they move mainly in Sipaliwini Nature Reserve to and from Brazil for festivities and family visits. Such a hike lasts not longer than a day.

According to Annette Tjon Sie Fat, director of Conservation International Suriname, the foot paths are an adventurous tourism attraction.”The old paths from Kwamalasamutu to Tepu are interesting for tourists. It is adventurous and an open area to invest. There has to be an investor who is willing to develop this branch of tourism together with the local community. ” Tepu is another indigenous village in the south of Suriname.

Since the establishment of Kwamalasamutu in the midst of 1970 by missionaries, the tribe live in large numbers and cannot move anymore. They subsist primarily on fish, bush meat and a limited variety of food crops, especially cassava. Sources of income are few and many supplies must be flown in from the coast. The village can only be reached by air, one and a half hour flight from Paramaribo.

RAP to know the value for tourism

The village has various tourism attractions. The new to science species discovered during a Rapid Assessment Program (RAP) in 2010 is one of them. A group of 53 Trios, students and national and international scientists implemented this biological research to among others see what is of value for tourism in the area. They examined the diversity and status of plants, fishes, reptiles, amphibians, birds, small mammals, large mammals, ants, katydids, dragonflies, damselflies, aquatic beetles and dung beetles.

Nearly 1,300 species including 46 new ones along the Kutari and Sipaliwini River were documented. Among the new discovered species were fish, frogs and dozens of insects, such as the Cowboy Frog, the Armored Catfish and the Great Horned Beetle. “These animals are interesting for tourists to see. Otherwise you would never see them, ” says Tjon Sie Fat.

Armoured Carfish (photo: Conservation International)

The purpose of this RAP survey was to establish a baseline of information for local ecotourism and future monitoring efforts. It was leaded by Conservation International (CI) in an area of 18000 hectare by the Trio tribe of Kwamalasamutu declared protected. Now it is forbidden to hunt there. Wildlife became scarce, so hunters have to go further away from the village to hunt for food. “CI came with the idea to implement a baseline study and compare it with 2 sites outside the area. The purpose was to look if beasts they use as food source occur there more than in other areas and to prove that after some time more wild is in the area. By documenting the wild we could also reach an arm to tourism. Therefore we recommend that tourists have to walk with guides in the area and that wildlife are named on western way.” says Tjon Sie Fat.

A book titled ‘A Rapid Biological Assessment of the Kwamalasamutu Region, Southwestern Suriname’ was produced by the RAP.’ “We are glad…,”says Ashongko Alalaparoe, granman (tribal chief) of Kwamalasamutu, “that this field research has been done and that now there is a book of our nature in English. Not only we know what we have here, but now also other people can see photo’s of our nature and read about it. We hope that when people learn about our beautiful nature, they will get curious and come to Kwamalasamutu to see with their own eyes.” Other material from the RAP are: posters of camera trapping, a manual for field research and two 10 minutes instruction films of how to measure carbon. Alcoa Foundation has financed US$ 250.000 to make the program possible.

Map of Suriname

Current expedition to Border Mountains

At this moment another expedition is implemented at the Border Mountains, which can neither be reach by air nor by road. Later this year it is the turn of Toemak Hoemak mountains. Brazil and French Guyana have already researched the area until 25 km from the Toemak Hoemak mountains, but Suriname never. The RAP is now going on. Since the beginning of march over 20 CI researchers and support staff are in south east Suriname to assess the biodiversity of one of earth’s last untouched areas. There are no results yet, but there are updates on twitter. According to these updates the aquatic beetles expert Andrew Short is ecstatic about high water beetle diversity and many possible new species. Two hundred bird species have been found so far and the expedition has also found a poison dart frog that lives in ant nests. Despite 1 broken boat, 1 faulty helicopter and 1 sick game warden the RAP continues. At Sunday last the team reached the mountaintop and found it cool to be where nobody has been before. Now the team is in base camp in Kasikasima mountains and caught big cats in camera trap photo’s. One of the scientists has a new friend: a baby dusty parrot that fell from its nest. It likes crackers in warm milk. Trio and Wayana (Amerindians) men have dragged boats to get CI RAP team back to Palumeu (a Trio village in the South of Suriname) in a few days. The RAP of the Border Mountains will last until the 29th of march when the last people will come in Paramaribo, the capital of Suriname. It is financed by Suriname Conservation Foundation and the RAP of Toemak Hoemak Mountains will be financed by Harbers Family Foundation.

Werephai as tourism attraction

Another tourism attraction of Kwamalasamutu is Werephai, a unique petroglyphs cave from 3000 BC, which Kamainja Panashekung, the local coordinator of CI-Suriname discovered on 8 may 2000 during search for his lost dog. The Trios already knew of the existence of Werehpai and searched it since 1980. This human location of precolumbian period is located in the protected area northeast of Kwamalasamutu, along the Maripa Eeuku (Maripa river) and consists of a rock formation on a hill approximately 50 meter higher than its surroundings. The rock formation is more than 150 meter long and approximately 50 meter wide. The whole complex of rocks lying on each other is impressive. Large and little ‘rooms’ are under these blocks.

petroglyph at Werephai (photo: Sirano Zalman)

More than 300 drawings of human and animal figures of the Amerindian spiritual World are to see on the granite rocks. The rock drawings look like those of the Mayas. Pots, jars and potsherds lie scattered at some places in the caves. Even stone ‘pens’ with which the images were carved are still to find. Probably the rocks served as ritual, living or hiding place of indigenous tribes from the past.

“At Werephai…,” says Chris Healy “samples were taken from potsherds and small jars. These samples indicate rituals, but it can also be that people were living there.” Healy is an anthropologist who did logistics for a preliminary study of Werephai in 2007 to date and document the petroglyphs of Werephai together with archeologist Aad Versteeg and landscape archeologist Dirk Noordam.. “It is rare that so much petroglyphs are in one place and that you can find also dating material. The oldest samples were 5000 years old, but there are indications that there are older ones, ” says Healy.

According to him Werephai is an archeological site very suitable for tourism from which the indigenous peoples can provide. “It is an indigenous protected area, but if it receives a monumental status, it can be included on the Unesco World Heritage list. With tourism in this area one can generate income to pay guides who can also function as park watch men.”

Now the Trios are protecting their discovery with love and proud. They consider Werephai as their holy place. It took years before they allowed others to the area, but according to Tjon Sie Fat CI could convince them to develop the area for tourists. Now they have built a tourist resort at Iwaana Saamu a place not far from Kwamalasamutu. They are trained to host tourists and to manage the resort.

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Posted by on March 27, 2012 in Suriname


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