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Reinier, Suriname

I was born 86 years ago in an Indian village in the Surinamese jungle. This has shaped me in many ways, an example is my respect for nature. And also with my patience. We indians have time enough. Initially that was my challenge here in western society. There is a deadline for everything. I had to adapt to all that rush.

My education as a human being is based on nature. Take as an example the event of my birth. It didn’t take place in a hospital. Or in a soft bed. No, I was born in the ground. They dug a pit. In that pit, my mother gave birth to me. The first to welcome me was the earth. That is why we speak of Mother Earth. After that, it was my grandmother who picked me up and placed me at my mother's breast. The emotional bond with those three — earth, mother, and grandmother — is the most important in our lives.

When I was 15 years old, missionaries arrived in our village. They came to the jungle to convert us. The Catholic Church had sent them to impose Western civilization on us from a Christian viewpoint. I then moved to Paramaribo to go to school. But I only learned what was useful for being a Christian, a little reading and writing, singing, and the bible. I immediately thought: what you are doing here is not right!

I detest the notion that we are ‘primitive’. Or that a process of awareness brings us closer to civilization. Which civilization? Who makes who aware? We have our own culture and we are perfectly aware. From time to time, I still give lectures about this and in my book ‘Indian Story’, I write about growing up in the jungle.

Eventually I came to study in the Netherlands. First I did agricultural sciences and then cultural anthropology. That way I was able to remain in touch with my people. I went back regularly and worked on initiatives for the Dutch and Surinamese government. I often had to fight to include the indians and their perspective in these projects.

The west has ruined us a lot, but among our younger people there is renewed interest in our culture. Currently there are only a few remnants left. I consider myself to be such a remnant of our civilization. We must try to preserve this with the necessary care. I say this to everyone who wants to hear it.


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