Suriname - The Beating Heart of the Amazon
(Brownsburg Nature Preserve looking on to Brokopondo reservoir)(Brownsburg Nature Preserve looking on to Brokopondo reservoir)
(Brokopondo reservoir from Brownsberg Nature Preserve, Brokopondo District, Suriname)
Suriname is the smallest country in South America, but is recognized as one of the most biodiverse countries in the world.
80% of the country is Rainforest, 90% of that virgin. Suriname's population is just over 550,000 with half of those living in the area around the capital city of Paramaribo.  Many Indigenous people are still living the traditional ways in the forest, but modern life exists in the few cities as well.  Originally home to Arawak Indians as far back as 3000 BC, it was first explored by the British in the late 1500's. The initial British colonial settlement of the 1650's was later ceded to Holland in 1667 in exchange for another piece of property that is now known as New York City. As a plantation economy Suriname held a major part in the slave trade for the Americas. Finally in 1975 Dutch Guyana gained its independence from Holland and reclaimed its original name of Suriname.
Suriname's place in history and culture as well as research into medical plants from the rainforest is quite significant, but largely unknown and unappreciated. This article offers a glimpse into all three.
(Commewijne river approaching Aliance, Commewijne District, Suriname)
(Commewijne river approaching Aliance, Commewijne District, Suriname) 
Suriname has less than 300 miles of paved roads and over 2,000 miles of waterways making boats the most versatile means of transport. There are only two main roads in the whole country.  East-West Road runs parallel to the countries shoreline on the Atlantic ocean going across the entire country from the border of Guyana (former British Guyana) to the border with French Guyana.  The other road runs from the capital city of Paramaribo south to Brokopondo reservoir. That road was expanded in World War 2 to allow better access to bauxite mines which were critical to the war effort for providing the aluminum in airplanes.  Even today 90% of the country and about 30% of the population are accessible only by boat or bush plane.
(Oldest Jewish Congregation in the New World and it's next door neighbor one of the largest Mosques in the New World, downtown Paramaribo)
Suriname's diversity goes beyond its flora and fauna.  Suriname also has 6 distinct cultures that maintain their unique identity while co-existing side by side with each other. Not only co-existing but frequently addressing each other with each others pleasantries and customs.
First nations - Arawak and Carrib
Second group - Dutch, who also gave safe haven to Sephardic Jews from Europe who set up an entire community of their own and a thriving plantation business under their full control.  So successful was this community that at the time they considered it to their Jerusalem.  Ruins of oldest synagogue in the New World from the 1600's are south of the capitol in Jodensavanne (Jewish Savanna) and their newer synagogue above has been in continuous use since it was built in the 1800's.
Third group - African slaves to work the plantations.  Fortunately Suriname's environment was quite similar to the locations many slaves came from so they found it easy to escape and set up their own communities in the jungle.  The escaped slaves, derogatorily called Maroons by the slave-owners, were so successful in the jungle that after defeating the slave-owners and the military several times the Dutch signed a treaty with them granting them freedom and sovereignty over certain territories.  Afro-Surinamese make up the largest percentage of the present day population in Suriname.
Fourth group - After slavery was abolished the plantation owners scrambled to keep their businesses alive. With help from their next door neighbors the British they imported a large group of indentured servants from India.  This has resulted in Suriname having the largest native Hindustani speaking population outside of India. They are now the second largest ethnic group in Suriname.
Fifth group - Indentured servants from China, bringing Taoist and Buddhist influences.
Sixth group - Indentured servants from Indonesia, resulting in a large Muslim population.
There is also now a large Creole population as well resulting from relations between the various groups.
(A Dutch visitor shopping in the produce building, Central Market, Parimaribo)
The expansive Central Market is a series of buildings covering 3 big blocks which is always bustling.
The produce building is for farmers to sell their locally grown produce.  The fish market on the back has direct access to the river with fisherman bringing fish, crabs and other seafood from the Atlantic ocean and inland rivers regularly.  The day this photo was taken a bunch of fingerling bananas in front of the visitor went for $5 SRD and 5 mango's went for $10 SRD.  That's 2 pounds of bananas for 0.66 cents USD and the 5 mango's for $1.20 USD.  All of it essentially organic, locally grown and everything is fresh that day. 
(Afro-Surinamese building, Central Market, Parimaribo)
This building along the river is used primarily by indigenous people, mostly Afro-Surinamese, to sell their hand made items and wild crafted herbs. This building is twice as large as the produce market and packed in tighter with more vendors.  As in North America escaped slaves were freely accepted into First Nation tribes.  In Suriname they set up separate communities of their own and existed side by side sharing knowledge and assistance.
Because of remoteness of the rain forest in Suriname the African traditional experience is more accurately persevered in Suriname than on the African continent  (Dr. Lorna Johnson Director/Consultant of the African and Caribbean Regions for United Way International and adjunct Faculty at Rutgers).
(Witches Alley, Central Market Paramaribo) Shamanism is so recognized in Suriname that they have a s(Witches Alley, Central Market Paramaribo)
(Witches Alley, Central Market, Parimaribo)
Shamanism is still an active part of Surinamese culture and very well accepted by all the local cultures. 
Located in between the produce and indigenous buildings there is a dedicated market for the wares of Shamanic and Traditional Healers.  Although small, "Witches Alley" is well respected and always very busy.  It is a place where you can literally buy snake oil (Anaconda oil which is being medically investigated for anti-inflammatory values), hand pressed coconut oil, and other herbal remedies.
Suriname has one of the largest Shamanistic cultures in the world and in large part preserved with the help of Harvard professor and ethnobotanist Dr. Mark Plotkin who researched the community extensively as documented in his book "Tales of a Shamans Apprentice". Several new medications have been created from his research and he still is conducting research on medicinal plants from the rain forest. 
Throughout history the vast majority of all pharmaceuticals came directly from the rain forest, originally as the plant products themselves (teas, powders, tinctures, etc.). Currently after research on the original plants, some have been able to be chemically synthesized, and others grown in greenhouse conditions. However many medicinals remain unreproducible by western science and still must be harvested from the wild.
(Koina traditional Afro-Surinamese village, Para District, Suriname) - Sergio Darius Tribal Shaman(Koina traditional Afro-Surinamese village, Para District, Suriname)
(Koina traditional Afro-Surinamese village, Para District, Suriname)
Sergio Darrius is a traditional tribal shaman. He was born and raised in a Saramaccan Afro-Surinamese village deep in the bush of Brokopondo.  His mother was the village shaman as was his grandmother and many generations before.  They raised him in the traditional ways and he learned all the knowledge of his family. He is well respected by both Afro-Surinamese and First Nation shamans and has taught Medical Botany to students from Dutch Medical schools.  Working as a guide he has traveled to all areas of Suriname and is also well versed in the ways of the modern world. He exists seamlessly between the traditional world of the forest and the modern world, often in the same day.
(Koina traditional Afro-Surinamese village, Para District, Suriname)(Koina traditional Afro-Surinamese village, Para District, Suriname)
(Koina traditional Afro-Surinamese village, Para District, Suriname)
The shaman is not well understood in modern culture. The Hollywood stereotype typically shows them in a dark or mysterious light. In western society someone can call themselves a shaman after taking a weekend workshop.  Both of these misconceptions ignore the true shaman's lifetime of studying the natural world and training under the apprenticeship and ongoing mentorship of another shaman. In reality, shamans are the wisdom keepers of the forest and caretakers of all creatures who live there, including the humans. Whereas western science has separate divisions of "Botanist" "Forester" "Entomologist" "Zoologist" etc. the shaman does not recognize divisions. Instead they work with the entirety of the whole being and how each piece interacts with each other. That is true whether that being is the forest itself or a plant, animal or human who lives there.  They exist to teach and share their knowledge and experience with others in order to restore harmony.  Their ways are not mysterious and in fact as documented by Dr. Plotkin are very solidly based in science and quite reproducible. However most people are not willing to spend their life learning the traditional ways so their simple cures seem magical to the uninformed, just as our pills and potions seem magical to traditional people.
(Koina village)(Koina traditional Afro-Surinamese village, Para District, Suriname)
(Koina traditional Afro-Surinamese village, Para District, Suriname)
Sergio gives us a spontaneous demonstration showing us how to use the rind of a tree fruit to make a fever reducing drink. The rinds have a acrid and pungent but interestingly pleasant smell. After boiled become a citrus spice type of tea.  This was the first of about 10 medicinal plants he showed us, all within less than 100 foot walk.
(Koina traditional Afro-Surinamese village, Para District, Suriname)
(Koina traditional Afro-Surinamese village, Para District, Suriname)
A dangerous delight. This nut from the cashew family is both delicious and medicinal as well. However similar to, but much worse than poison ivy, its hull is coated with an oil which will cause intense pain, irritation and often scarring if it contacts your skin.  The texture is similar to a macadamia nut and the taste is smooth and buttery.
(Koina traditional Afro-Surinamese village, Para District, Suriname)
(Koina traditional Afro-Surinamese village, Para District, Suriname)
This plant is an indigenous shrub that produces a fiber quite similar to cotton.  Smooth and supple straight form the pod it can be used as a fire starter, to make thread and cordage, be a matrix to hold medicinal poultices, or as a bandage for weepy wounds.  Unlike cotton it grows in dry soil and requires no cultivation. Domestic cotton remains one of the most water consuming and ecologically damaging plants on the planet. This rainforest species does not have that impact on the environment.
(Brownsberg Nature Preserve, Brokopondo District, Suriname)
(Brownsberg Nature Preserve, Brokopondo District, Suriname)
While showing us an abandoned birds nest Sergio heard a rustling in the leaves, some 75-100 feet above in the top of the canopy. He recognized the sound as that of a monkey. He gave a general call and more rustling occurred.
(Brownsburg Nature Preserve) A scout from the Howler Monkey troupe answers Sergio,s call(Brownsberg Nature Preserve, Brokopondo District, Suriname) (Brownsberg Nature Preserve, Brokopondo District, Suriname)
In less than a minute after Sergio's call a Howler monkey appeared to investigate.  This monkey was the scout for his troupe which was passing thru the area. By following him back we found a large troupe of about 50 monkeys moving effortlessly through the canopy. The whole troupe approached and passed by in less than 10 minutes.
(Brownsberg Nature Preserve, Brokopondo District, Suriname)
(Brownsberg Nature Preserve, Brokopondo District, Suriname)
Although his ears were still in the canopy his eyes were on the ground beneath us. A few steps later Sergio saw a subtle movement on the forest floor.
(Brownsburg Nature Preserve) Awareness is key The shaman is familer with all life in teh rainforest(Brownsberg Nature Preserve, Brokopondo District, Suriname)
(Brownsberg Nature Preserve, Brokopondo District, Suriname)
Although stealthy and silent in it's movements, Sergio's trained eye still quickly picked up this animal despite it being camouflaged perfectly into its environment.
(Small frog ~2 inches long, located dead center of this photo above brown leaf and below tip of twig.)
(Diagonal line from upper left to lower right corner lands just behind its eyes,  Line upper right to lower left runs along length of its body.)
(Brownsburg Nature Preserve)(Brownsberg Nature Preserve, Brokopondo District, Suriname)
(Brownsberg Nature Preserve, Brokopondo District, Suriname)
To anyone who has not been in the rainforest, they typically think of it as just a set of trees. Yet as shown above, each layer of the forest is a separate micro-biome with its own unique lifeforms and ecosystem.  The temperature, moisture and sunlight varies greatly every few feet from the forest floor to to the top of the canopy creating several niche micro-biomes, each occupied by different living things. Those that live in the canopy rarely touch the earth and likewise those on the earth rarely, if ever enter the canopy, or any of the multiple stories of the vast "apartment building" that exists in between. If they do they are short term visitors and not residents. 
Furthermore most people conceptualize the rain forest in two dimensional means using acres or hectares, yet in reality it is a four dimensional object that starts below ground level, extends to above the canopy and exists in several states of time (ages) simultaneously. For example the lichens and epiphytes that grow on 500 year old trees are not the same one that grows on younger ones, ergo the same tree has different biomes even depending on its age. This is the danger of clear-cutting. You cannot simply replant what you have just cut down and have the forest survive.
The influence of the rainforest extends around the globe, just as it is impacted by forces originating far beyond its physical boundaries. 
(Gas Station wall Commanjie district) The wisdom of the children
(Gas Station wall, East-West road Saramacca District, Suriname)
Stopping for gas on our trip west, we saw several hand drawn pieces of art pinned to the wall.  All on the same theme, however this one being most poignant.
In Suriname even the children know that if we lose the rain forest our planet loses its lungs. Furthermore it will spike a never ending fever of climate change, yielding catastrophic outcomes worldwide.  Additionally we also lose access to many of our pharmaceuticals, both those already know, and more importantly, those yet to be discovered.
Those who live there know this. The rest of us need to become aware of this and take actions to save it.  Today.
Several foreign ventures has recently started logging in Suriname. This in addition to the problems of illegal gold mining and the petroleum industry.  These ventures put Suriname's rainforest in critical peril. Here are several organizations working to save this vital habitat. Please contact them so that you can help. Today -