Lives and homes near the river in Suriname in South America
The river's flow brings rewarding time on the waterAtjoni, SURINAME
Suriname is the smallest country on the continent of South America. Facing the Atlantic Ocean, it is unique in that the main transportation network in the interior of the country is made up of rivers alone, thus many boats here are used as a form of transport by the people. We traveled the Suriname River, its waters stretching from the Guiana Highlands through the Amazon region.
Numerous villages built over the years line the riverside
The Suriname River has its source in the Guiana Highlands and flows into the Atlantic Ocean. While shipments of goods by airplane have become more common, the Suriname River has been the main artery for the transport of goods throughout Suriname's history. Today, many goods arriving from the Atlantic Ocean are transported to the capital of Paramaribo via its waters.
Formerly known as Dutch Guiana, Suriname gained its independence from the Netherlands in 1975. Afterwards, exports of mineral resources such as bauxite have supported the economy of South America's smallest country. However, what cannot be overlooked when discussing the history of Suriname are the plantations. It is said that Europeans first visited the area around 500 years ago, and the British were the first to arrive and establish plantation colonies in areas along the rivers such as Paramaribo. The work environment was extremely harsh and many laborers used the Suriname River to escape. They then established relations and settled with the native South Americans, erecting numerous villages over the years.
Boats and outboard motors are an essential part of daily life
The port of Atjoni lies at an important point midstream on the Suriname River and at times, almost 100 boats can be seen gathered here. The river is the only way to go from Atjoni to Guyana through the interior, and boats take the place of cars and trucks, carrying people and goods. With all the roughly 30-ft. canoe-like boats lined up at the port, it is a memorable sight. Most of them mount Yamaha outboards, their light weight, compact size and durability making them the overwhelming choice. As these boats are so important in peoples' daily lives, the service at the maintenance shops is also top-notch.
A large number of people and goods can be found at Atjoni, and in the morning, it looks more like a busy marketplace than a port. The closest village is 30 minutes away, and the farthest villages takes one or two overnight stays to reach, even if you leave early in the morning.
For the people of Suriname, this is not unusual at all, but for visitors like ourselves who do not view rivers as a type of road, we are clearly reminded of how living surrounded by the natural environment could very well be difficult for us.
The skippers here all have impressive piloting skill with their outboards. Even when the river is wide, there are plenty of places with hazardous sunken rocks but the skippers work the outboard motor’s manual controls to vary the speed as they wish and maneuver the boat onward without trouble. They skillfully navigate the river avoiding the rocks using the knowledge they have built from years of experience on the water.
Suriname as an eco-tourism destination
As we pass by village after village along the river, people can be seen doing laundry, playing in the water, fishing and preparing food, almost as if the river itself is a part of each family home. Recently, eco-tourism package tours are becoming more popular, with a rising number of tourists visiting villages even deeper in the jungle to experience this lifestyle by the river. Giving themselves over to the seemingly slower passage of time brought by the rich diversity of the jungle and the river's flow, these tourists experience both the hurdles of living in nature as well as the blessings it brings through their short time in these villages.
The people living on the Suriname River still carry on the knowledge and traditions of how to live in harmony with nature from their ancestors. Today, we are quick to believe that our standard of living is determined by the amount of material wealth we have, but the people here turn the workings of nature into blessings and live a life in close proximity to the river.
Look up at night, and you can see a sky full of stars just like when out at sea, and that same sky is mirrored on the surface of the Suriname River.