Her Excellency Fidelia Graand-Galon is Suriname’s Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the Republic of Ghana. Suriname is a small country on the northeastern coast of South America. It’s defined by vast swaths of tropical rainforest, Dutch colonial architecture and a melting-pot culture. On its Atlantic coast is the capital, Paramaribo, where palm gardens grow near Fort Zeelandia, a 17th-century trading post. Formerly called Dutch Guyana, part of her diverse peoples are believed to be slaves taken out of Africa, particularly from West Africa.
Recently Ambassador Graand-Galon gathered local chiefs in Ghana for a meeting in order to expand sociocultural ties with Suriname. She believed that there are a lot of similarities between her people and West Africans.
At the meeting she discovered that Chamba people from the Okanisi nation in Suriname are offshoots of Chambas in Nigeria and Ghana, who were taken as slaves across the Atlantic to South America. Some of them known as Maroons fought gallantly and got their independence from their slave masters on September 19, 1762. 2023 therefore is the 160th year of their independence. The others, non-Maroons remained in slavery until the treaty of freedom was signed. All these people form a formidable part of Suriname today. However, there are nationalities like Yoruba, Hausa, Amerindians, Asians,Hindustanis, Creoles, and Javanese.
Recently, Gavel International Correspondent, Ibrahim Jibril Ikowe met with Ambassador Graand-Galon at her office in Accra, Ghana. In the interview that ensued, she explained with much emotions, the cultural ties between Suriname people and their West African brothers. It is a story of the anguish of slavery, and the triumph of freedom in a far away land. Excerpts:
Your excellency, we know you, but for the benefit of our readers, can you please introduce yourself?
Am the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Suriname here in Accra Ghana. I presented my credentials on the 22nd of March 2022.
Recently you gathered traditional chiefs in Ghana. What prompted the meeting?
Suriname is one of Guyana’s tribes. We have British Guyana, French Guyana and Dutch Guyana , but we are Dutch Guyana’s but we are called Suriname. Most likely people don’t really know who we are. Because of the Dutch language we speak , we are not really connected to the English speaking countries, but to the Netherlands and Belgium, so you can find a lot of us in the Netherlands, Belgium and in French Guyana. It became the colony of the Dutch for about 200 years. A lot of Africans were shifted from Africa to some new nations, they met people there, but it was not as much as now.
You see coming to Africa,Suriname has been colony of European countries, the first one was the UK, and they exchange Suriname for New York, Suriname was in the hands of United Kingdom, and they now exchanged Suriname for New York, New York was new Amsterdam in the United States of America, when we became Dutchmen colony.
Apart from living style, those people have a different way of life than they used to live in Africa. With the formation of nations, we have six kingdoms and they have Paramount Chief, kings, and overall chiefs. Under the kingdoms there are clans each kingdom has a name, it could be the name of the river they settled or the name of the plantation where they freed themselves from. Suriname has big rivers. Six out rivers in Suriname are where you can find those that Freed themselves from slavery.
When I came to Ghana I was surprised, because the title of the paramount kings in Suriname i thought they created it, but I realize that the name of the paramount king in Suriname was very close the Gan people (Accra people) for instant in Ghana they say Ganmantshey. In Suriname when you say Ganman that means the paramount chief in Suriname. Every village has a chief, and overseer among the chiefs, just like in Africa. I have been told that before they had the formation of the six kingdoms, they came together and assembled themselves to select one to be the overseer. They are called the forest Ganman, the overseer of the Maroon people in the forest (Busi ganman )
What prompted me to invite the kings is the history of Suriname. We were enslaved when Africans were forcefully sent into slavery in Suriname. Many of them freed themselves from the colonial masters and went far away from the plantation and settled alongside big rivers. There are six rivers where you can find those who freed themselves from slavery.
When you say ganman in Suriname that means a paramount chief. One of the reasons why I came to Ghana as an ambassador is to work on cultural exchange between Ghana and Suriname, also tourism and so on. Therefore, the agenda is for deliberation about cultural exchange, tourism and entrepreneurship with the chiefs. So I invited actors. Why some actors? Because of the African stories which have been told by media houses like, CNN, BBC, the way is been told sometimes you won’t like to go to Africa. Sometimes it’s like more of the problems that you see, Africa is full of problems.
Nollywood became so popular in our country. The stories of Nollywood really exposed us more to African culture . Stories like marrying a girl from a village to the city where another girl in the town that your dad has arranged then will be jealous of the village girl. All these Nollywood stories are very popular in Suriname. It made more people in Suriname aware of the happenings in Africa. Tell Nollywood actors /actresses that if they don’t know Suriname, Suriname knows them.
The likes of Mercy Johnson, we love her very well, and gospel artists like Mercy Chinwo, Jonathan. David G came to Suriname, and guess what? I was to be his protocol officer. If he reads this interview, let him know that I, the former Ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago Mrs Fidelia Grand Galon and the current ambassador of Suriname to Ghana, extended my greetings to him. Nollywood and Ghallywood stories really made Africans in the diaspora aware of Africa. All these are the reasons why I invited them, so that we can do business because doing business with the diaspora is the best thing that can happen to Africans.
My task as an ambassador is to engage people of Africa, to tell them where we are, and that we are open for tourism. My country is known as Africa outside of Africa. When you go to the region where the kingdoms are, you will think you are in Africa. Even the mode of dressing, sometimes here in Ghana when I dress and start walking on the street with my African sisters, you can not even notice me because we look alike, and dress the same, you can only know when I speak.
When I am with my African friends, in them I see my mother, my father, my sister, my everybody , because we look so much alike. You know fufu? We in Suriname eat fufu and soup, peanut soup, and make Gari. They don’t call it gari but kwaka, and I was made to know that kwaka is a Hausa word, to call gari. I learnt a lot.
We have a lot of Nigerians living in my country. They have restaurants selling African food like gari, fufu and other food items. My mum was the best and the first fufu maker. Fufu and okro is a very nice food, you wash your hands in the calabash before and after eating of fufu! Very interesting.
We did not know fufu through Nollywood. I grew up with fufu because my mum was the best fufu maker. The Maroon people in those six kingdoms are still keeping the African culture, if the world did not know , now they know. Gaamans are heads of the kingdoms. They don’t elect gaamans, you become a gaaman by birth through maternal lineage.
In Suriname there are Asians, Europeans, Lebanese, Chinese, Japanese, all living in their little groups.
We also have an Ooni nation in the East, they speak Dutch and French because the Guyanas are close to the French and Dutch borders. Before I came to Africa, I spoke to one of the chiefs of Ooni and Aluko people. I was speaking like I was making a kind of difference between the ooni chiefs of Suriname and that of the French Guyana, but one the chiefs said to me, look madam, we are one, I was like am sorry. It was like trying to put differences between them, or splitting them. Their gaman name there is Gaman Foster, and then you have the Okanisi who are the largest one in the city. Their Gaman name is Bono, Bono is a tribe in Ghana. And within the okanisi tribe you have the chambas, therefore chamba people belong to the okanisi tribe of Suriname.
Therefore if you are looking for the chambas of Suriname, they are in the eastern part of the Okanisi nation. Chamba people are scattered all over the world. These are the reasons why I have invited chiefs and their Queen mothers, actors/actresses, musicians because they bring about storylines and African movies have opened the eyes of the Africans in diaspora.
Ghanaian actors like Inspector Bediaku, and Helen Edward were in attendance.
Therefore the agenda is to introduce Suriname to the royal kings, actors and musicians, movie stars, entrepreneurs, because we want to do business with our African counterparts. Culture, tourism, and business are the main objectives .
How do chambas of Suriname marry?
I can tell you because that was the way I got married. We marry three times, the first is, coming to the intended girl’s house with brothers, uncles to let the family know your intention. You come with some gifts, in this arrangement the girl and the boy are not part of it. The first marriage has taken place between the two families, if the girl is still young, the man will have to wait until after the initiation of the girl into adulthood.
During the initiation into adulthood, you will be wrapped with a cloth called PANGI, when you are given the pangi, it is a big feast or celebration. They will cook rice, a lot of food because it is the biggest day of your life. They will be telling you that from today on, you are no more a child, you are an adult, your husband can come and take you away. After that, a day will be arranged for the husband to come and take away his wife. When coming they will bring a lot of gifts. About the dowry, I have a video that I will send to you so you can see how it is done. That day they will perform Bananba dance, the father and the mother will dance to the Bananba . The Bananba dance is where the parents displays what is going to happen in the bedroom with bride and groomEverybody is excited, they all want to see it happen.
How are the Suriname people feeling about this unification that you are working on?
Suriname people are very excited about the prospects. The only thing is to announce to the government of Suriname to make it official. I spoke to someone about my meeting with the Chamba chiefs in Accra, she was so happy, she was like how can I speak to him? What would I tell his royal highness and so on? She was saying my mum told me much about chambas that they are the best. The anxiety is too high among the Surinamese. Chambas in Suriname marry more than one wife, I know it is the same here too.
In Suriname, we have two African diaspora days. The first one is on the 1st of July. Emancipation day is a commemoration of 160 years of independence and the second one is Maroon day which is a holy day. You have all offices closed, all the kingdoms, tribes, communities will have their celebration, music, dance, gospel songs, name it. The festival starts on the 19th day of September to 10th of October which is the official Maroon day. The day Samaka signed peace with Okanisi tribe on 19th of September, 1762. After many years of been enslaved, they revolted, go to plantation fight the colonial masters to free their brothers, they did that for many fighting themselves until when the peace treaty was signed on the 19th of Sept. 1762
When should the Chiefs of Chambas in Nigeria expect you?
Well, I don’t know, but I hope I can come this year’s 2023 or if not next year but the earlier the better
What is your message to the chiefs of Chambas who are playing important roles in the re- unification of chambas?
Well I want to say that the African spirit still lives where Africans are. We have seven ethnic groups in Suriname. The non Maroons are the ones that stay in slavery until when the peace (they speak krio language that language is mixture of English and africa) treaty was signed, but the maroons are the one that freed themselves from their colonial masters. I want to assure the king’s that Africa is still very much alive outside Africa.
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