Bad news. And djaran kepang in Suriname

             

Bad news this time. Roberta was hit by a car. We buried her in the garden in the shade of a ficus by the "small" green bamboo bushes. Her favourite spot. We shed lots of tears and if Surinamese had seen it, they would have found us utterly ridiculous. Surinamese don't care for pets and especially not for cats. “Thiefs!”, they say. Adding to our sorrow was that Roberta was again doing very well mentally, after all those traumatizing experiences (three weeks on a fishing boat including the trip from Trinidad to Suriname, one month home alone when we were in Holland, the sterilisation). She was endearing, funny and sociable. But also reckless and that cost her her life. We are extremely sad but for Rita things are even worse, as she lost her playmate. This was Roberta, 9 weeks old:


We already live four years in Suriname and this country is still able to surprise us. We experienced a djaran kepang.
Three years ago our friends Carla and Walimin, who live in Laarwijk (a former plantation across the river), organised a big wedding party for their two daughters who married on the same day. Two days of Javanese ceremonies and... two days of unusual heavy rain. The party grounds were completely flooded. Carla was almost in tears and Walimin was worse than timid. But unhappiest was Mariska, their youngest daughter. We haven't seen her laugh all evening and after two weeks the truth came out: Mariska was back home. In short: a disaster. The Javanese priest explained it all as a case of guna guna, a bad spell from a jealous man. But this time the gods were sympathetic towards the family: it remained dry, even the electricity wasn't down (the previous day it rained cats and dogs and there was no power until well after midnight), the djaran kepang was sparkling and exciting, the party was animated and lasted until very late.

A djaran kepang is a Javanese dance, traditionally performed during important celebrations such as weddings and circumcisions. The dancers come on stage as horses (two men together dressed up as one horse and the rest with hobbyhorses between their legs), gallop around on the special mantra-like honky-tonk music from the gamelan band and then go into prayer calling in spirits. Their leader – who obviously disposes over natural powers - leads them into a trance by sprinkling a bit of some special oil on their faces. Then the horses start grazing, eating grass, straws and flowers. When the leader touches them again with some oil they go into a deeper trance (this happens quite suddenly, they fall down like frozen in a weird position), changing into monkeys, snakes or tigers. It can be rather gruesome, especially with those tigers because they then wolf down a living chicken.

In our case they changed into monkeys (luckily) and this was extremely funny to watch. They peeled coconuts using their teeth, one climbed into a huge coconut palmtree while an other held a peel to his ear and using a stick as an antenna he was making telephone calls with his cell phone. One very cheeky monkey teased the bride by dressing into an skirt putting two half coconuts underneath as breasts, and an even bigger coconut on his belly he lay on the ground pretending he was a woman giving birth.

The leader has to keep his monkeys under control because things can run out of hand easily. If necessary he soothes them by smearing some babypowder and oil around their mouthes. To free them from their trance he sprinkles more oil and mumbles incantations to exorcist the spirit and freezes the bodies, so they lay motionless stretched as mummies on the ground.  Then he wakes them up by striking them hard with a wet red towel on the left shoulder. You see their faces change and they look around relaxed and confused, sometimes a bit ashamed of what they have done because they can't remember afterwards and they also don't feel any physical pain or whatever.

We were told that researchers made x-ray photo's of the stomachs of djarankepang-dancers who in trance ate the weirdest things, and of this nothing was showing on the photo's.
According to JW it all was inspired comedy, but anyhow it was a splendid show and Carla and Walimin were radiating.

So now we have Bouterse as a president. “Bouta”, they call him lovingly, because the Surinamese are fond of this guy. By the way, he was born in Domburg, is from the same generation as Marius, Bahru and Ro so they played together and behind a glass of beer our friends now say these we-all-know-each-other-stuff to us, such as: “My friend Desi promised me that he will renovate Domburg square.” Of course they are exaggerating. Hopefully also concerning the permits for the Dutch; people say that obtaining them may become more difficult because Bouterse wants to get rid of the Dutch. Fact is that there are so many trainees from Holland and Belgium, that there is not enough place for Surinamese trainees! “Suriname for the Surinamese” is an important item for Bouterse and of course he is right. For many countries Suriname is still a “conquered land” and it is high time now that Surinamese profit from their own resources. Fortunately we are SO-ers (= Surinamese Origin, as JW’s mother was born here) so we expect to remain welcome.
Whether the new presidential government, now that Suriname positioned itself internationally a bit off-site, will be an improvement to the economy is doubtful. On the other hand an appealing leader can do lots of good things locally. Perhaps Venetiaan realised a lot during his term of service, but he was not able to convince the people of his high deeds, considering his not so flattering nicknames.

The euro and the US dollar became scarse recently and we expect that the situation will deteriorate because increasing import needs more and more hard currencies. Bad for the Surinamese because prices will go up even more while wages remain on the same level; not so bad for us as we no longer collect SRD’s directly from our Dutch bankaccount; no, we go to one of the many exchange offices (also for all your money laundering), collect euro's by paying 3% and exchange these for SRD’s. This generates 25% more SRD’s!

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