Saramaka - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities . The economy is based on full exploitation of the forest environment and on periodic work trips by men to the coast to bring back Western goods. For subsistence, the Saramaka depend on shifting (swidden) horticulture, hunting, and fishing, supplemented by wild forest products and a few key imports such as salt. Gardens are planted most heavily in dry (hillside) rice, but include many other crops, among them cassava, taro, okra, maize, plantains, bananas, sugarcane, and peanuts. Villages have domesticated trees such as coconut, orange, breadfruit, papaya, and calabash. Garden produce, game, and fish are shared among kin. There are no markets.

Industrial Arts. The Saramaka produce the great bulk of their material culture. All men build houses and canoes and carve a wide range of wooden objects for domestic use, such as stools, paddles, winnowing trays, cooking utensils, and combs. All women sew and embroider clothing and carve calabash bowls. Some men also produce baskets, and some women make pottery.

Trade. Men devote a large portion of their adult years to earning money in coastal Suriname or French Guiana to provide the Western goods considered essential to life in their home villages, such as shotguns and powder, tools, pots, cloth, hammocks, soap, kerosene, and rum. Since the 1960s small stores have sprung up in many villages, and outboard motors, transistor radios, and tape recorders have also become common.

Division of Labor. Once the men have cleared and burned the fields, horticulture is mainly women's work. Hunting, with shotguns, is the responsibility of men, who do most of the fishing as well. Wage labor outside the tribal territory is a male prerogative.

Land Tenure. Land is owned by matrilineal clans, based on claims staked out in the early eighteenth century as the original Maroons fled southward to freedom. Hunting and gathering rights belong to clan members collectively. Within the clan, temporary rights to land use for farming are negotiated by village headmen. The establishment of transmigration villages has led to land shortages in certain regions.


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