Being on a map means to exist: the Saramaccan experience

In February 2016, 18 Saramaccan community representatives from the Brownsweg and Upper Suriname River areas met in the capital of Suriname, Paramaribo, with key stakeholders and policymakers. The event was organised by the Saramaccan Peoples to share the results of a two-year process which led to the visualisation and documentation of their traditional environmental knowledge over a vast area.

It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words and maps may be even more effective in conveying messages when it comes to resource distribution and access. In fact the outcome of the process – which the Saramacca delegates proudly presented at the meeting – consisted of a series of community-generated physical and digital maps.

The maps and various data sets were produced in Saramaccan, English, and Dutch languages as a result of three Participatory 3D modelling (P3DM) exercises that took place in 2014 and 2015, involving 220 residents, including women, youth and the elderly. A film documentary about the process was released in 2015 in SaramaccanEnglish, and French.

Maps generated using data extracted from the 1:15000 scale participatory 3D model of the Brownsweg area (manufactured in November 2015), combined with the digital elevation model obtained from the Foundation for Forest Management and Production Control, Suriname.

Saramaccan leaders highlighted the uniqueness of the data the communities were able to collate, geo-reference and visualise using highly sophisticated technology, including Geographic Information Systems (GIS). Benefitting from external technical support, knowledge-holders were able to share their mental maps and memories which were used to populate blank 3D models.

The Saramaccan representatives drew attention to the relevance and accuracy of the data, and its accessibility to third parties, provided free prior informed consent for their use was given. "We made the map for it to be used. We want other people to make use of it. We only ask that the data is not used without involving us, the Saramaccan Peoples," concluded a community representative.


The Saramaccan delegates welcomed the use of the data for spatial planning purposes and called on the government and private investors to recognise them as key stakeholders and fully involve them when planning logging activities, protected area management and gold mining concessions within traditional Saramaccan lands.

They urged for the replication of P3DM processes in the rest of the Saramaccan territory so that a complete map of traditional Saramacca lands could be generated. To achieve this, they called on the government, development organisations, private sector, and NGOs present at the meeting to raise the necessary funds.

The event was hosted by Tropenbos International SurinameWWF Guyanas and the Association of Saamaka Authorities.

In addition to Tropenbos International Suriname, project sponsors included the UNDP-GEF Small Grant Programme and CTA. Contributions by both organisations were duly acknowledged, with participants stating that their valuable contribution established a 'fertile ground' for community empowerment via P3DM which they considered to be a very innovative process. Participants also acknowledged that the P3DM process had inspired other communities who were now requesting support to deploy the P3DM process in their areas.

Related articles

Stay connected 

comments powered by Disqus