In response to a request made by one of the “Sunny in Suriname” readers, I actively approached the older generation in my village, asking them if they knew any folk tales they could share with me. One day, I paddled my dug-out canoe to the airstrip in Kajana (a neighboring village) to say goodbye to a Dutch friend who had taught at school in Kajana for a year and a half. As I got back into my canoe to paddle back home, one of my neighbors in Ligorio, Albert Abia, was entering his canoe to paddle home as well. His brother-in-law had just sent him a package from Paramaribo by airplane so he went to pick it up at the airstrip. It looked like I had company for the paddle.
We were each paddling our own canoes, side-by-side down the Gran Rio, as he told me this Saramaccan tale:
“There once was a father who had two sons. The older brother was handsome and the younger brother was ugly. They lived together as a family until one day the older brother told his father that he was going to move to another village. The younger brother heard his older brother and said that he wanted to come along with him but the older brother refused.
The younger brother was determined to follow his older brother so when the day arrived for his brother to leave, the younger brother snuck out from the house and followed his older brother secretly. The younger brother tailed the older brother the entire way to another village.
Finally when the older brother arrived at the other village, the younger brother revealed himself. The older brother realized there was nothing he could do and it was getting dark so they searched to find a place to sleep. The only person who lived in this village was the devil, but the brothers did not know this at the time. The older brother knocked on the devil’s door and asked, “Can we come in and tie our hammocks in your house?”
“Of course! Come in!” replied the devil.
The devil tied hammocks for the brothers and said, “It is getting late. It is time to go to bed.” So, the devil left the room and the brothers got in their hammock. The older, handsome brother fell asleep right away.
At ten o’clock, the devil entered the room and said “Boys? Are you asleep yet?” The devil was ready to kill the brothers in their sleep but then the younger brother chirped up and said, “No I am still awake.”
The devil asked, “What’s wrong?”
“I am hungry,” replied the younger brother.
So the devil went to the cook house and took a plate full of rice to the boy and said, “Eat and then you will be able to go to sleep.” The devil left as the younger brother ate the plate full of rice. At eleven o’clock, the devil came back into the room and asked, “Boys? Are you asleep yet?” The younger brother replied, “No, I am thirsty.” So the devil brought the ugly boy a cup of water and left as the boy drank the water.
At midnight, the devil returned once again. “Boys? Are you asleep yet?”
“No, my stomach hurts. I need medicine.”
The devil fetched his medicine and gave it to the boy saying, “Now you can go to sleep, boy.” Once the devil left the room, the younger brother realized that this man was the devil and wanted to kill the two brothers. He rolled out of his hammock and woke up the older, handsome brother and told him that they needed to get out of the village before the devil killed them. The two brothers ran out of the devil’s house and ran and ran and ran until they reached the riverbank. But the river was too wide to swim across.
Meanwhile, the devil entered the room where the brothers had tied their hammocks. He asked, “Boys? Are you asleep yet?” There was no reply. He crept up to the hammocks but when he reached to grab the brothers, there was nobody in them. The devil realized the boys must have run away and began chasing after them.
Once the boys reached the river, they saw a flock of pigeons. They knew that pigeons have the ability to carry people to the other side of the river and asked the pigeons to do so. The pigeons carried the boys across the river and dropped them off safely on the other bank.
Finally the devil arrived at the river and saw the boys standing on the other side. The devil, however, did not know that the pigeons can carry people across the river. The devil took several strides back and then sprinted towards the river. At the edge of the river bank, the devil jumped up and soared through the air until he fell into the middle of the river with a big splash.
That is how all of the rocks in the middle of the river were created. Each rock represents where the devil tried to jump across the river but did not land on the other side.”
Another quick story:
In a recent post called Pleasant Surprises, I spoke of a man named Pompea. Well, after my family’s vacation over Christmas and New Years, I traveled upriver, sitting next to Pompea for a good 8-10 hours. With each passing village, Pompea brought Saramaccan history to life, recalling the villages’ original names and correcting my pronunciations of the current ones. Even more impressive, he identified names of rapids, large boulders in the middle of the river and areas of the jungle that had not been inhabited for years. As we talked, a random idea popped into my head.
“Pompea, when you were a boy, did you know what money was?” I asked.
He looked at me with a serious confusion. “What sort of…??” He attempted to reply but then masked his bewilderment by shaking his head and erupting into a disbelieving laughter. I sat there thinking about how my grandparents witnessed the birth of TVs, computers and smartphones but here, the man sitting next to me on the boat, is a man who did not know what money was when he was a boy. Money! Now, he has a solar panel installed on top of his house and uses a cell phone daily.
And finally… SUPERBOWL CHAMPS!!