Friday, November 19, 2010

Black people in The Netherlands – Meet the Surinamese

I will write a few post this week about the Surinamese community in the Netherlands because Suriname will celebrate 35 years of Independence on November 25.

But before I write about the community in the Netherlands (or Holland) I will give you a small introduction to the country and the people of Suriname.

Suriname is the smallest independent country of South America and one of the most cultural divers nations in South America and the Caribbean. Although Suriname lies in South American it's cultural regarded as a Caribbean country.

The Surinam population in Surinam and in the Netherlands (about 700.000) consists of the following groups.
• Amerindians, the original inhabitants of Suriname
• The Surinamese Creoles or black community , the mixed descendants of West African slaves and Europeans (mostly Dutch) and other ethic groups in Suriname.
• Hindus or in Dutch Hindoestanen, the descendants of nineteenth-century contract workers from India
• The Javanese, descendants of contract workers from the former Dutch East Indies on the island of Java, Indonesia
• Surinamese Maroons, descendants of escaped West African slaves
• Chinese, mainly descendants of the earliest nineteenth-century contract workers
• Jews, mainly descendants of Sephardic Jews and Ashkenazi Jews
• Boeroes. derived from boer, the Dutch word for farmer , descendants of Dutch nineteenth-century immigrant farmers..
• Lebanese, people from the Middle East.
(source wikipedia)

The official language of Suriname is Dutch, but the local language is Sranan Tongo (Surinamese tongue), which is the Creole language of Suriname. Although other languages are spoken, everyone from the indigenous in the Amazon to the Chinese shopkeeper in the main Capital of Paramaribo speaks and understands Sranan Tongo.

But the cultural and political dominance of the Creoles is also the biggest controversy between the Creoles and Hindus, the two biggest ethnic groups. The Hindu community has a strong business focus, while the Creoles are very Government oriented. Another aspect is that in Suriname and in the Netherlands a Surinamese person is regarded as the Creole person, although the Creoles are now outnumbered by the Hindus. One of the reasons is perhaps that most celebrities, artist and athletes are of Creole origins.

But in spite of this controversy cultural tolerance is regarded one of the key elements of Surinamese culture, racial intolerance is the other one.

The ethnic controversy is also one of the reasons why there is such large population of Surinamese in the Netherlands. It’s almost just as big as in Surinam (350.000). Before and after the independence of Suriname in 1975 people feared an ethnic war between Creoles and the Hindus, a fear which was fuelled by both ethic groups. Although the “war” never occurred it did trigger a mass immigration to the Netherlands. The other reason was that many people didn’t believe the independence would work. But even before 1975 there was a large group of Surinamese in the Netherlands, mainly Creole students.

In The Netherlands you will find the Black Surinamese community in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Almere and the Hindu community in The Hague. But Hindus also live in Amsterdam.

To end, some videos about Suriname and about Surinamese culture.

Journey from the Netherlands to Suriname
This video is a journey from the Dutch Airport schiphol to the Surinam Airport Sanderij. He uses the "Fa Waka" which means "how are you. Waka" - Walk, that's why they used to call Sranan Tongo, Negro English. You will hear more English sounding words like "kondre" - Country

Suriname where culture meets nature
A tourist video about the Indigenous people and the Marroons of Suriname

Marroons and their struggle
Interesting video of the Marroons and their struggle. Someone wrote that the Surinamese Marroons have the best kept piece of Africa outside Africa. Because they escaped to the rainforest their culture has remained pure 18the Century African. I think that's why a few Ghanaian chiefs visited the Marroons in the rainforest in 1975 to formally apologise for their part in the slave trade. Also read an African-American perspective on the blog Afrospear here . The Marroons also speak Sranan Tongo, but they also have their own language. Marroon music is Kauna.

Surinamese Hindu music from singer Dhroeh Nankoe - "Payelia"
This video of Dhroeh Nankoe caputures the spirit of the Hindus of Suriname. I remember writer VS Naipaul wrote that Hindoes in Suriname were cultural still very close to India. Although I knew they spoke Sarnami, a Surinamese version of Hindi, I didn’t know that in the neighbouring country British Guyana most Hindoes don’t speak or even understand Hindi anymore, so I was told. Other elements of Surinamese Hindu culture are Bollywood and the popular Hindu spring festival Holi-Phagwa (the the Festival of Colours).

Javanese culture in Suriname
This is the famous, at least in Suriname, Djarang-Kepang or Javanese horse dance ritual. In this dance ritual the dancers become the spirits of tigers, monkeys, snakes and pigs. They then eat everything such as live chicken, broken glass and paddy. I have actually seen some people eat glass when they were in trance. The Javanese culture in Suriname is the oldest Javanese culture in the world, it doesn’t even exits anymore in present Java Indonesia. Especially the wedding tradition is almost ancient Java, so I am told.

Javanese dans (bonus video)
No, this is not Indonesia, this is still Suriname. I think it’s Lelydorp, the home city of the Javanese community in Suriname.

Chinese New Year - Year of the tiger

In the video some Chinese New Year scenes, but also a reception for cabinet members and other important figures in Surinam. The black man who speeches is former President Ronald Venetiaan.

Around Jerusalem in 60 Seconds: Suriname Synagogue at the Israel Museum

This video is about the reconstruction of the Suriname Synagogue in Isreal. It appears Israel wanted to preserve this important element of Surinamese Jewish life. There is still a Synagogue in Suriname, next to an Islamic mosque. One example of Jewish culture is one the national dishes of Suriname, named "Pom". Although most people though it was Creole

165 Year Boeroes in Suriname - Boeroes (Famers)
In the video the commentator says that Boeroes are sometimes seen as Dutchmen, but that they resent that idea. They want to be regarded as Surinamese. In the video you see the now former minister of Surinam Ricardo van Ravenswaay handing over a play garden to the village of Groningen. The woman in the video says: "It's very important for us that we are Surinamese in the first place." Van Ravenswaay, the first Boeroe in a Surinamese government, referred in his speech to the hardships of the first settlers.

Fra Fra Sound - Creole Kaseko/Jazz fusion
This is a video of the Dutch-Surinamese band Fra Fra Sound (based in The Netherlands). The music is a mix of traditional Creole Surinamese Kaseko music and Jazz. The band is accompanied by an Amsterdam percussion school. In a way this music reflects Creole culture, it's a fusion of everything. I use the word Creole in the Surinamese context, because most Surinamese Creoles usually call themselves Black people.


  1. You may be interested in going there:

  2. Anonymous, thanks for the information!

  3. This was very informative. Thank you so much for this history/culture lesson.

  4. Nice article! The world needs to know more about the beautiful and diverse culture of Suriname :D Although I was born in The Netherlands, I am proud to be a Surinamer!


  5. de filmpjes updaten.vooral de eerste very nice,though!


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