Interview w/ Tolin Alexander (writer, film & stage director, and storyteller)

1. On Descent, ‘Marronage’ and Settlement

I (am a) descendant of the people who ‘freed’ themselves ... I don’t say ‘runaway’;
(Who) built their society far away in the interior
That is more the upper Suriname;
That is more at the end of the river where there are (many) waterfalls.

After slavery people who freed themselves, told stories to their own children,
Of where they came from
And so for many of (the children), there was the wish to go to that place
Where they were as slaves.

(And so), 200 years ago a lot of maroons moved from the upper Tapanahoni River
Back to the 'Kotika’ area,
Where there were the sugar plantations; the coffee plantations.

And that is my family story, I was born in the ‘Kotika’ in 1971.

2. On Ancestral Space and Ancestral Legacy

Each holiday vacation we went with them into the interior,
To the village where my mother (originally) lived
That was Wanhati. The other name of Wanhati is Agiti Ondoo.

We had a strong bond with the village of my mother
Wanhati is one of the (culturally) strong villages;
A strong culture in (religion), in plays, in dance and music.

Here was the place where you also had what we call the Oracle; the Gaan Gadu;
The great god (from whom they sought) counsel
Many people from many other villages (would) come and they (would) stay
Wanhati had a strong culture
That’s why Wanhati, the village of my mother,
Became the centre of the maroon people of the ‘Kotika’.

My mother, born and raised in Wanhati, is in her eighties
She is a great dancer;
An Awasa dancer
My uncle in his eighties, still plays the talking drum
My grandfather was also a talking drum player
My father was what we call a ‘Kabiten'; that is the chief (of) his village
His father was (the) chief of his village
Let me say ... I (grew up) with the culture
As a young child,
I had a lot of ideas to do things with the culture.

What I liked most was storytelling.

3. On Storytelling

I started the storytelling in a ‘mato’ form
The ‘mato’ is a kind of storytelling with music things
In oral traditions, you pass (on your) knowledge through your children;
(Through) relatives,
(Who) you know have the capacity (to carry) what (we know as)heritage.

(Through) a lot of stories in my family, religious stories (and those of) special things,
I (get) a kind of initiation.
You know ... Maroon society is oral based and some stories you don’t tell everyone;
Even if they are your children
They have to pass through some kind of initiation to pass (on) your story.

(Onto) me, they have passed (on) a lot of family stories
(Onto) one my brother(s), they passed on their knowledge (about) herbs
Some stories I can tell
Some, I have to lay back and not talk too much about (them).

4. On Messaging in Song and Dance

That song called Agaankoi;
That’s a kind of song that older people sing with a lot of sayings
Its (like) a sort of battle
So when people have trouble with each other they sing Agaankoi
It’s a battle ... but in an artful way
The women do the movement of the Agaankoi, which is (like) a fish
It is a type of song and dance
Awasa is also (another type) ... Agaankoi is more smooth ... more slow;
More (graceful) movements.
Awasa is very quick
(Drumming) the Agaankoi beat is (slower).

5. On the Ordering Oracle

All authentic Maroon villages have one or more Oracle(s)
The oracles you consult;
(You) walk with it and (It) tell(s) you stories... about you
If your (passed relatives) worry about you or mother earth is worried about you,
You can go (for) counsel (from) the Oracle;

(The Oracle) is (an) object
It’s an object, but is a kind of ... in my language we say .... ’a sacral’
It has power
They (invest it with) the power,
They libate,
They pray and ask (the) ancestors to pass their knowledge to that object
They (can) ask the ancestor to appear in that object.

Most Oracles are not made now, they (were) made many years (ago)
Some of the Oracles are (of) the time (that) the people freed themselves.

An Oracle is not a thing you go and build ... it becomes a sacral thing
You have to have the knowledge to handle it;
To treat (with) it
People take care of the Gaan Gadu
It is a prestigious (role) to be one of the Gadu man.

One of the great oracles is the Gaan Gadu; Great God
That Oracle can speak justice
Some ... if they become (chiefs), have to swear to that Oracle
It becomes a kind of institution,
To keep the society in balance.

6. On Walking the Oracle

Always when I walk with it, they feel ... this must be something
Once we walk (with) it, people always feel something …
We never mention what it is.

7. On Community and Economy

It (is) not an (individualistic) community
It (is) a collective community
If you go to sell wood ... that means you earn money,
You have to share with other family members;
Other villages
Individualism ...
(Not) in the Maroon society.
It is not possible to earn money alone
You have to share ... with the whole village.

  • 'Kotika' is a variant spelling, as articulated by Tolin Alexander, of the region which is commonly spelt 'Cottica'.
  • 'Kabiten' is the Ndyuka language variant of 'Kapitein'.
  • The spelling of 'mato' is undetermined.

This project is part of a Fellowship supported by Tilting Axis and Het Nieuwe Instituut, in collaboration with the Amsterdam Museum, De Appel, The Black Archives and Melly.

*korjaal (pronounced kȯr-ē-al) is a dug-out or canoe.

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