On Expedition with Totomboti

de makers van het Surinaamse theatercollectief Totomboti, expeditievoorstelling, Oerol 2024

From October 26th to 28th, programmer Marin de Boer received special guests. Edje Doekoe and Toya Saakie, founders of the artist collective Totomboti from Pikin Slee in Suriname, set foot on Terschelling.

They were accompanied by Totomboti members residing in the Netherlands, linguist Vinije Haabo and visual artist Marjet Zwaans. For the Oerol Festival 2024, they are creating a sound piece based on ongoing research, introducing us to the Saramakaan traditions that connect Suriname and the Netherlands.

Totomboti is known for its massive woodcarvings inspired by obia (a spiritual force according to animistic belief traditions) and other natural phenomena. They continue the traditions of their African ancestors, who escaped slavery and settled in the remote interior of Suriname. Rooted in the Rastafarian movement of the early 1980s, the collective advocates for harmony with nature, Saramakaan cultural heritage, and community life. With this in mind, they founded the Saamaka Museum in 2009.

Marjet Zwaans is a visual artist organizing her practice around the ideas of Ecological Economics. She creates spatial installations, performances, and gatherings. Often working collaboratively, she seeks a way for each participant to contribute from their own experience without merging: a practice of correspondence. She lives and works in Amsterdam and Pikin Slee.

Vinije Haabo was born in Pikin Slee as a descendant of the Saramakans. He studied International Development Studies and African Linguistics and has been living in Wageningen since 2002. Currently, he is completing his life’s work thus far: The Great Dictionary of the Saramakaan language.

Within Totomboti, the emphasis is on finding artistic intersections and mutually benefiting from the knowledge of ancestors from the Netherlands and the Surinamese interior. Natural forms and systems are central to their approach.

Together, they are now working on the research project Kanda Hanka (Anchoring Songs), where Saramakaan culture comes to life in songs. These songs tell the oral history and contain references to the colonial era, shipping, and specific places. For Oerol Festival 2024, they are creating a sound piece presented in both the Netherlands and Suriname. The project promises to be an interesting exchange between two different but deeply connected cultures.

Anchoring Songs is made possible not only by a contribution from Oerol but also by the Commemorative Year of the Slavery Past of the Mondriaan Fund.