Accompanied by Frank, my traveling companion, I visit Kumalu, a jungle resort on a tiny island on the Pikin Rio in Suriname, a paradigm of ecological tourism.
The inhabitants of the small villages on both banks of the river have grown accustomed to groups of curious tourists visiting Suriname. Although natives occasionally try to sell simple craftwork, their original way of life has hardly changed. “We are trappers and hunters,” says Frank, who is local to the area. For two days, he has offered nothing but insight and adventure. Every night, we’ve traveled up the river to fish with bows and arrows, immediately roasting our catch and washing them down with some kind of homemade moonshine.
In the morning, we get up before sunrise to find high ground. From here, we sit silently for hours as the river comes to life. Thick white trails of mist slowly become wisps while a few women use the intimacy of dawn to wash themselves. Jungle birds proudly announce the dawn as fishermen cast their first nets from small canoes.
Suddenly, from the depths of the forest, the sinister thump of the tom-tom disrupts the quaking morning air. “A funeral,” says Frank. Leaving our high rock, we walk towards the drumming, becoming instantly engulfed in the maddening jungle shadows. As we follow a small path leading to the next village a few hours further on, the sound becomes increasingly threatening. “Don’t worry,” he assures me, “a funeral is for the whole community. But there is one thing you must know: you can’t take any photos.”
We arrive just in time to see a swaying group of men carrying the canoe-shaped casket to a shelter. It will rest there until the actual funeral later in the week. Meanwhile, a chief from another village approaches from the river surrounded by myriad decorated canoes. Then, from the banks of the river, a series of gunshots blasts through the hazy sky.
It is only on our return to the resort that Frank tells me of the unpredictability of local hospitality. He explains how some villages house spirits of revenge whom natives zealously honor since they purportedly freed blacks from slavery. “In these villages, whites are not welcome. Not out of hate, but out of a desire to protect them from these spirits. If a white man should enter one of these villages, anything could happen...”
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