Saramaka - Sociopolitical Organization

The Saramaka, like the other Maroon groups, maintain considerable political autonomy within the Republic of Suriname.

Social Organization. Saramaka society is strongly egalitarian, with kinship vertebrating social organization. No social or occupational classes are distinguished. Elders are accorded special respect and ancestors are consulted, through divination, on a daily basis.

Political Organization. The Saramaka have a government-approved paramount chief (g aamá ), a series of headmen ( kabiteni ), and assistant headmen ( basiá ). Traditionally, the role of these officials in political and social control was exercised in a context replete with oracles, spirit possession, and other forms of divination, but the national government is intervening more frequently in Saramaka affairs (and paying political officials nominal salaries), and the sacred base of these officials' power is gradually being eroded. These political offices are the property of clans (lo). Political activity is strongly dominated by men.

Social Control. Council meetings ( kuútu ) and divination sessions provide complementary arenas for the resolution of social problems. Palavers may involve the men of a lineage, a village, or all Saramaka and treat problems ranging from marriage or fosterage conflicts to land disputes, political succession, or major crimes. These same problems, in addition to illness and other kinds of misfortune, are routinely examined through various kinds of divination as well. In all cases, consensus is found through negotiation, often with a strong role being played by gods and ancestors. Guilty parties are usually required to pay for their misdeeds with material offerings to the lineage of the offended person. In the eighteenth century people found guilty of witchcraft were sometimes burned at the stake. Today, men caught in flagrante delicto with the wife of another man are either beaten by the woman's kinsmen or made to pay them a fine.

Conflict. Aside from adultery disputes, which sometimes mobilize a full canoe-load of men seeking revenge in a public fistfight, intra-Saramaka conflict rarely surpasses the level of personal relations. The civil war that began in 1986, pitting Maroons against Suriname's army, brought major changes to the villages of the interior. Members of the "Jungle Commando" rebel army, almost all Djuka and Saramaka, learned to use automatic weapons and became accustomed to a state of war and plunder. Their reintegration into Saramaka (and Djuka) society remains problematic.

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