The Ndyuka Treaty Of 1760: A Conversation with Granman Gazon

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For Maroons in Suriname, treaties are hard-won symbols of freedom consecrated by the blood and power of our most powerful ancestors -- blood that guaranteed our existence as free peoples with autonomous territories and institutions. The treaties were and still are -- at least from the Maroon perspective -- the basis for defining our relationship with the Surinamese state.

During the course of a land rights education project conducted by myself and another Maroon lawyer with Tapanahony River Ndyuka communities, I had the honor of speaking with Granman Gazon Matodja, paramount leader of the Ndyuka people, about his understandings of the treaty concluded by the Ndyuka and the Dutch in 1760. This conversation, transcribed in part below, took place at Diitabiki, the residence of the Granman, on November 5, 1998.

We, the Ndyuka people, have been living in the interior of Suriname for centuries. From the very first moments of our arrival in what is now called Suriname, we fought against the whites and freed ourselves from the inhumane system of slavery. Slavery was a degradation of human life and human values. Human beings were turned into working machines. The only way people could free themselves from that system was to be courageous and not to be afraid to sacrifice their lives. Even mothers and children had to sacrifice their lives. Indeed, it is true that we paid a high price for our freedom. At no price are we going to let the government take it away today. This freedom is enshrined in the treaty with the whites.

Everyone who denies the value of the treaty denies the slavery that was imposed on the children of Africa, denies the hardships that we endured during slavery, denies our freedom and our existence as human beings. In my understanding this treaty is still valid even though there is no slavery anymore. How could one deny this treaty, which we shed so much blood for? How could I deny my history? How could I throw away the bonds between the present and the past, between past generations and those of the present?

During slavery the whites had their laws, but we had our own laws too. The laws of the whites were made to oppress us, to justify and even promote slavery (evil). We had and still have laws to govern ourselves. Our laws allow us to live in peace and harmony.

We did not gain our freedom by the laws of the whites, as did most of the other peoples in Suriname. Today [the government of Suriname imposes] rules on us, and expect us to respect and abide by them. They deny everything we achieved in the past, but they need to understand that the treaty existed a long time before the laws we have now. We are not going to give up what we achieved in the past at any price.

Article copyright Cultural Survival, Inc.

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