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The Trio: masters of creation

The Trio, a people living in Suriname and Brazil, are ‘masters of creation’. Their immense knowledge of nature and materials enables them to live in the jungle. Archaeologist Jimmy Mans follows the Trio.

The Trio are hunters, fishers and horticulturalists who live in the interior of Suriname. “The Trio are jacks-of-all-trades,” says Mans. “Thanks to their expertise and immense knowledge of their surroundings, they have thrived in the jungle for centuries.” Mans is researching the Trio's daily life and has learned that they have skills and creativity Westerners could rightly envy.

Houses

For example, the Trio’s knowledge and skills are evident in the way they build houses and villages. The Trio build their houses largely with natural materials. They know exactly which type of wood has the best properties to build a particular part of a house. Wakapu wood, as it is called, becomes hard if you dry it, so hard that even moisture and termites don’t have a chance: that makes it an ideal material for foundation piles.

“There can be sixty different types of wood in a single house,” Mans explains. “And the builders can identify precisely each type of wood in their house.”

If a Trio family leaves a house, for example, because there is rot in the roof or because they want to move to another place, they literally break the house down to the ground. The foundation piles are still useful, and are taken to the new place of residence. Thus, demolishing and reorienting houses means that a Trio village can be completely transformed within ten years.

Photo of the construction of a new house by Captain Paneshi Panekke (Amotopo, 2007) Photo: Jimmy Mans

Objects

The Trio’s creativity is also demonstrated by their ability to transform their natural environment, fashioning natural materials for their benefit. Mans: “When the Trio go fishing, they lure some fish by making a popping noise. They do this to imitate the sound of a particular plant that releases seeds into the water. They know that fish eat these seeds and that they locate the seeds on the basis of that sound. Such a discovery requires a huge amount of knowledge of the animal and plant kingdoms.”

Or consider their creativity when innovating with recycled objects and materials. “The Trio’s main staple is cassava bread, traditionally baked on earthenware plates. Due to the growing need for fuel, for outboard engines for example, oil barrels can also be found inside the villages. At one point, someone discovered that you can bake cassava bread on the lid of an oil barrel more easily than on an earthenware plate. This innovation has now widely spread throughout the Trio network. And they continue experimenting with applications of new materials. Unlike us, it takes them a long time to throw something away.”

Cassava bread baked on the lid of an oil barrel (Amotopo, 2007) Photo: Jimmy Mans

Mans has gained a lot of knowledge about the Trio lifestyle. He has been able to use this knowledge to shed light on the historical traces of the Trio and to reconstruct part of their history of the last century. He is currently working on the Caribbean islands in the NEXUS1492 project and, with his knowledge of the Trio, he is also helping archaeologists research the original indigenous peoples in the Caribbean.

Uwawa Kumu maakt een kano met kettingzaag (Amotopo, 2007) Foto: Jimmy Mans
Uwawa Kumu is making a canoe using a chainsaw (Amotopo, 2007) Photo: Jimmy Mans

NEXUS1492 research programme: New World Encounters in a Globalising World
NEXUS1492 website
Communicating Communities research project

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