In Suriname, South America, the International Day of Indigenous Peoples (9 August) is traditionally celebrated in the palm garden in the capital, Paramaribo. People from all tribes gather here, and sell their foods and handicrafts.
However, this year the Association of Indigenous Village Leaders (VIDS) decided to organise something bigger, and to hold the festivities in one of the indigenous villages. It was quickly decided what the theme should be: indigenous food and food systems. Loreen Jubitana, director of the VIDS office, said: “we wanted to raise awareness, both among the indigenous groups themselves, as well as among the wider public, on how diverse and how healthy our traditional foods are. We will organise a ‘cook-out’, an event where different villages cook their dishes outside on a log fire, and sell these to visitors who can taste what the indigenous cuisine has to offer. Typical dishes include atjupo, a ‘pepper pot’ with fish or wild meat, eaten with cassava bread; cassava or yams in banana leaves; wild meat, fish and crabs; roasted caterpillars and insects; and of course, the famous kasiri, an alcoholic drink made from cassava.”
The celebrations took place in the Carib village of Pierrekondre-Kumbasi, in the Para district. The day was opened by the village council with a traditional prayer and blessing, and the singing of the national anthem. Theo Jubithana, VIDS’ chairperson, read a powerful statement in which he stressed the importance of traditional foods for the culture and wellbeing of the indigenous communities. He explained that this food is fully natural, sustainable, and without any ‘modern’ additions like pesticides, preservatives, or genetic modification. It’s healthy and fresh and has sustained indigenous peoples for centuries.
Food systems and food security are under pressure now in many villages, as the forests and waters are being invaded and degraded. Hunters and fishers travel to go further and longer to find game or fish, and forest products are less abundant. Jubithana emphasised the importance of secure land rights for indigenous tribes in curbing this trend, which is something VIDS is still pushing for, in follow-up to the 2016 ruling of the Inter-American Court on Human Rights.
He also highlighted the negative influence of the global economy and lifestyle on younger indigenous generations, now that the monetary economy has made its entry into indigenous life – one example being the need to pay school fees. This economy has, in some cases, started to replace traditional ways of planting and eating. While healthy, traditional crops and products are sold for cash, indigenous families consume purchased, less nutritional food at home, including soft drinks and other products full of sugars. In the villages, the level of chronic diseases like diabetes, which never existed in the past, has grown at an alarming rate. VIDS wants to reverse this trend by promoting and supporting indigenous foods among its population ,and warning people of the risks of decreasing knowledge and use of traditional produce.
Following the speech, the food court was opened. Visitors feasted on a variety of freshly prepared food and drinks, and enjoyed the dancing and singing of the Lokono cultural group ‘Kodoro’ from Cassipora. Indigenous visitors from across Suriname mingled with other visitors and all ate together.
Artisans sold crafts including beads, pottery and weaving, and products like organic tea, herbs and traditional medicines. They also sold kasiri, as well as fresh fruits like watermelons and pineapples. There were also two free workshops for visitors: the first on healthy traditional lifestyles and the second on traditional health practices and medicinal plants. These spurred lots of discussions and provided ‘food’ for thought for many visitors.
At the closing of the day, Loreen Jubitana said “I am very pleased, everything went so well, people enjoyed themselves. It was a big success”. The participants were equally positive, and several villages have already expressed interest in hosting a similar event next year.