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Apatou (Municipality, French Guiana, France)

Last modified: 2021-07-10 by ivan sache
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Flag of Apatou - Image by Ivan Sache, 6 April 2021

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Presentation of Apatou

The municipality of Apatou (9,245 inhabitants in 2020; 202,000 ha) is located on the border with Suriname, 50 km south-west of Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni. Until the building of a road in 2010, Apatou could be accessed only by boats sailing on the Maroni. The municipality was established on 12 November 1976, separating from Papaïchton and Grand-Santi. Mostly inhabited by Businengue (descendants of escaped slaves), Apatou is composed of three main settlements, Apatou, Maïman and Patience, and several scattered hamlets.

Apatou was founded in the late 19th century by Joseph Pakiséli Apatou, member of the Dipelu lô (clan) of the Aluku people. In the 1870-1880s, Apatou guided the explorers Crevaux and Coudrau during the survey of Upper Maroni. As a reward, he was named "captain" (customary chief) by the colonial authorities. Not validated by the customary authorities, this appointment caused a secession in the Aluku; Apatou and his family left and settled in Lower Maroni, on a plot officially granted by the colonial authorities in 1882 in the place called Hermaina. Located closed to the penitentiary colonies, the village served as an Aluku outpost, whose inhabitants specialized in river transport for the traders of Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni.
The population of Apatou dramatically increased in the 1980s because of the civil war in Suriname; Businengue refugees, from the Ndjuka and Paramaka peoples, settled in Apatou without any problem, since they belong to the same ethnic group and speak the same language as the Aluku. In 1999, foreign citizens represented 60% of the population of Apatou.
[J. Barret (Ed.). Atlas illustré de la Guyane, 2001]

Ivan Sache, 6 April 2021

Flag of Apatou

The flag of Apatou (photo) is white with the municipal coat of arms.

The central elements feature on a blue disc a "faka tiki", a place of ancestors' worship composed of a cross with pieces of white cloth. It is surrounded left by a "pali" (paddle) and right by a "mata tiki" and a "mata" (mortar and pestle), two tools traditionally used by women to remove the outer envelop of rice grains (photo).
In chief, the name of the municipality is surrounded left by a "koubi" (acoupa weakfish) and right by a "mama fo" bird.
In base, a "tembe" symbolizes love for the village; green symbolizes women, red symbolizes men, blue symbolizes children, and yellow symbolizes the bank.
The same elements, the two yellow stars excepted, were featured in a different arrangement on the coat of arms recorded in 2001.
[J. Barret (Ed.). Atlas illustré de la Guyane, 2001]

The word "tembe" is believed to come from Dutch "timmer", "a carpenter". An alternative explanation relates "temb" to the words "ten", "time", and "membe", "spirit", used in Sranatango, a Creole language from Suriname.
In common language, a "tembe" is any kind of hand-made artifact that respects traditional figures end elements, which does not prevent innovation.
The arms of Apatou features a "ferfi tembe", a painting made on wood or canvas, composed of geometric figured and lines arranged in a symmetrical way in compliance with some traditional codes. With time, "tembemen" were recognized as artists, for instance, in Apatou, Antoine Aouegui aka Lamoraille, Lampe Lando and Alex Loswijk.
[Ministry of Culture].

Valentin Poposki & Ivan Sache, 6 April 2021