Saramanka Cassava Cakes

Table of contents

Aluku Maroon Storytelling Tradition

Fashion a Patchwork Cape


        To introduce students to the Saramaka and French Guiana Maroon tradition of patchwork designs (known as pisipisi) and to provide a hands-on experience that explores Suriname and French Guiana Maroon aesthetics.


        In the second half of the 19th century, when the increased migration of Saramaka Maroon men to the Atlantic coast of Suriname had made cloth more widely available in Maroon villages, men and women began to experiment with the artistic possibilities of trade cotton. One popular style of decorative sewing that developed at the end of the century was the practice of cutting and joining pieces of cloth to create intricate patchwork compositions. Saramaka women called this technique pisipisi (bits and pieces sewing) and used it to make capes for their husbands to wear across one shoulder. The basic elements were small, square, triangular, and rectangular pieces of cloth in a variety of colors. Solid red, navy, and white were the most prominent colors, although many examples included other colors and patterns as well (such as striped patterns). The pieces were then sewed together to make a handsome cape.


(Click an image to enlarge it)
Drawings adapted from Afro-American Arts of the Suriname Rain Forest (1980) by Sally and Richard Price, pg. # 66, 67.

Activity 1

Materials - Colored pencils or crayons (red, white, navy, yellow, pink, blue or green)

Design examples:

  • You are planning colors for your new patchwork cape.

  • Look closely at the shapes in the patchwork design examples.

  • As the Maroons do, try using contrasting colors (use strikingly different colors next to one another).

  • Then repeat your color patterns for some of the square boxes and design your own colorful patchwork design for your cape.

Have fun!

Activity 2

Materials - Colored pencils, paper, and a ruler

        Can you design your own unique Maroon patchwork cape? Using the materials listed above, design your own colorful patchwork cape. Be creative! (Children 8 and older with adult supervision may use fabric to produce a Maroon patchwork cape.)

        Suriname and French Guiana Maroons name the cloth they design according to memorable stories and events in the life of their community. Can you name your own patchwork cape?