North America was not the only place to import African slaves to work its planatations in the 17th and 18th centuries. Surinam, on the northeastern coast of South America, also had a slave population, members of which escaped into the inland rain forests where they developed into six cultural and linguistic groups. One of the largest of these colonies was Saramaka.
An evenign of music and dance from Saramaka, organized by Richard and Sally Price and sponsored by the Museum of African Art, was presented at Baird Auditorium Saturday. Trusting their ability to captivate an American audience, the Saramakans organized a lecture-demonstration that ranged from quiet songs and dances of everyday life to excerpts from the more spectacular nightlong ceremonies celebrating spirits of the forest, snakes and ancestral spirits.
There was an air of spontaneity to the performance, resulting in a spirit of cooperation and competition among the artists, similar to the challenges in American tap-dancing. Much of the dancing was mimetic: Characteristics of rodents, fish, turtles and even American automobiles were conveyed through movement. The feelings of affection among the performers who hugged each other for praise and good luck after each set were magnified into a rapport between performers and audience by evening's end.