The urgency of the land rights for the Saamaka people

The urgency of the land rights for the Saamaka people

Suriname - 12 September, 2023

The Pontificia Universidad Javeriana de Colombia joined Tropenbos Suriname to support the Saamaka community

From March – August 2023, the Observatory of Ethnic and Peasant Territories (OTEC) from the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana de Colombia joined Tropenbos Suriname and the VSG (Association of Saamaka Authorities), to support the Saamaka community in the urgent quest for their collective land rights.

A group of four OTEC researchers and several local young Saamaka were in charge of investigating in depth the life of the Saamaka community along the Suriname River basin, in addition to providing tools for geospatial information, and capacity building of the young population of this tribal community.
This research had two phases of field work within the Saamaka territory. The first phase was during April where the researchers Pablo Ramos, Daniela Ortegón, Juliana Buitrago and Carolina Arévalo participated. The second phase took place between June and July and was led by researcher Daniela Ortegón a biologist who is an expert in governance, together with Juliana Buitrago, an ecologist who is an expert in gender perspective.


During this investigative process, more than 30 villages located along the Suriname River basin were visited, from the southern part point to those located at Brownsweg. More than 50 interviews were conducted with different members of the communities including traditional authorities, elders, women and youth. In addition, other forms of rapprochement with the communities were implemented, such as the promotion of group dialogue scenarios, visits to areas of interest, tours of forest areas, and participation in cultural events.

This immersion into the Saamaka world, in addition to providing very valuable information for gaining territorial rights, strengthened ties of union and collective work. Without doubt, this territory is highly valuable on a cultural and ecological level. These attributes are in jeopardy with increasing mining and logging activity, which has its area of greatest impact in the northern zone of the territory. Different sources of negative impact have been identified towards the middle zone of the river basin, such as pollution, ecosystems deterioration and extraction-related environmental conflicts. This indicates that the area of exploitation is increasing and with it, the risk of loss of cultural and spiritual values that have been so well protected in the bowels of the Saamaka community.


Territorial rights not only represent an urgent measure for the well-being of the Amazon Forest, but of an entire community that has historically inhabited this territory and has become part of it. The Saamaka community knows how to relate to the forest and in return the forest provides what is necessary for their well-being. However, if the necessary measures for its legitimate defence are not taken, the life that this piece of land houses will continue to be at risk.