History of Suriname

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History of Suriname
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The early history of Suriname dates from 3000 BCE when Native Americans first inhabited the area. The Dutch acquired Suriname from the English, and European settlement in any numbers dates from the seventeenth century, when it was a plantation colony utilizing slavery for sugar cultivation. With abolition in the late nineteenth century, planters sought labor from China, Madeira, India, and Indonesia, which was also colonized by the Dutch. Although Dutch is Suriname's official language, with such a diverse population, it developed a Creole language, Sranan.[1]

Indigenous settlement[edit]

Suriname was populated millennia before the Europeans by many distinct indigenous cultures; the largest nations at the time of colonialization were the Arawaks, a nomadic coastal tribe that lived from hunting and fishing, and the Caribs. The Caribs conquered the Arawaks along much of the coast, and into the Caribbean, using sailing ships,[2][3] they settled in Galibi (Kupali Yumï, meaning "tree of the forefathers") on the mouth of the Marowijne river. While the Arawak and Carib lived off the coast and savanna, smaller groups of indigenous peoples lived in the rainforest inland, such as the Akurio, Trió, Warrau, and Wayana.

European colonization[edit]

A plantation in Suriname by Dirk Valkenburg (1707?)
Plantations in Suriname around 1800.

English colonization[edit]

Coastline of the Guianas

The first Europeans who came to Suriname were Spanish explorers and Dutch traders who visited the area along with other parts of South America's 'Wild Coast.' The first attempts to settle the area by Europeans was in 1630, when English settlers led by Captain Marshall attempted to found a colony.[4] They cultivated crops of tobacco, but the venture failed financially.[citation needed]


In 1650, Lord Willoughby, the governor of Barbados, furnished out a vessel to settle a colony in Suriname. At his own cost he equipped a ship of 20 guns, and two smaller vessels with things necessary for the support of the plantation.[5] Major Anthony Rowse settled there in his name. Two years later, for the better settling of the colony, he went in person, fortified and furnished it with things requisite for defence and trade. Willoughbyland consisted of around 30,000 acres (120 km2) and a fort. In 1663 most of the work on the 50 or so plantations was done by native Indians and 3,000 African slaves.[6] There were around 1,000 whites there, joined by Brazilian Jews, attracted by religious freedom which was granted to all the settlers by the English.[citation needed]

Dutch colonization[edit]

The settlement was invaded by seven Dutch ships (from the Zeeland region), led by Abraham Crijnssen, on February 26, 1667. Fort Willoughby was captured the next day after a three-hour fight[7] and renamed Fort Zeelandia. On July 31, 1667, the English and Dutch signed the Treaty of Breda, in which for the time being the status quo was respected: the Dutch could keep occupying Suriname and the British the formerly Dutch colony New Amsterdam (modern-day New York). Willoughbyland was renamed Suriname; this arrangement was made official in the Treaty of Westminster of 1674, after the British had regained and again lost Suriname in 1667 and the Dutch regained the colony in 1668. In 1683 the Society of Suriname was set up, modelled on the ideas of Jean-Baptiste Colbert to profit from the management and defence of the Dutch Republic's colony, it had three participants, with equal shares in the society's responsibilities and profits—the city of Amsterdam, the family Van Aerssen van Sommelsdijck, and the Dutch West India Company. The Van Aerssen family only managed to sell its share in 1770; the Society came to an end in 1795 when this kind of trade and business was no longer seen as acceptable.

Slavery and emancipation[edit]

A Dutch plantation owner and female slave from William Blake's illustrations of the work of John Gabriel Stedman, published in 1792-1794.
Funeral at slave plantation, Suriname. Colored lithograph printed circa 1840-1850, digitally restored.
Maroon village, Suriname River, 1955

In South America, slavery was the norm; the native people proved to be in limited supply and consequently the Atlantic slave trade supplied the workforce for the plantations. The plantations were producing sugar, coffee, cocoa, cotton which were exported for the Amsterdam market. In 1713 for instance most of the work on the 200 plantations was done by 13,000 African slaves, their treatment was horrific, and slaves periodically escaped to the jungle from the start.[8][9] These Maroons (also known as "Djukas" or "Bakabusi Nengre") attacked the plantations in order to acquire goods that were in short supply and to free enslaved women. Notable leaders of the Surinam Maroons were Alabi, Boni, Joli-coeur and Broos (Captain Broos). In the 18th century, three of the Maroon people signed a peace treaty, similar to the peace treaty ending the First Maroon War in Jamaica, whereby they were recognised as free people and received a yearly tribute that provided them with the goods they used to "liberate" from the plantations. A contemporary description of the war between the Maroons and the plantation owners in Suriname can be found in Narrative of a Five Years Expedition Against the Revolted Negroes of Surinam by John Gabriel Stedman.

Suriname was occupied by the British in 1799, after the Netherlands were incorporated by France, and was returned to the Dutch in 1816, after the defeat of Napoleon; the Dutch abolished slavery only in 1863, although the British had already abolished it during their short rule. The freed slaves were, however, still required to continue their plantation work on a contract basis and were not released until 1873;[10] up to that date they conducted obligatory but paid work at the plantations. In the meantime, many more workers had been imported from the Dutch East Indies, mostly Chinese inhabitants of that colony, creating a Chinese Surinamese population. From 1873 to 1916, many laborers were imported from India, creating the Indo-Surinamese. After 1916, many laborers were again imported from the Dutch East Indies, especially Java, creating the Javanese Surinamese.

Twentieth century[edit]

In the 20th century, the natural resources of Suriname, rubber, gold and bauxite, were exploited; the US company Alcoa had a claim on a large area in Suriname where bauxite, from which aluminum can be made, was found. Given that the peace treaties with the Maroon people granted them title to the lands, there have been international court cases that negated the right of the Surinam government to grant these claims (meaning the right to take the land for themselves).[clarification needed] On November 23, 1941, under an agreement with the Netherlands government-in-exile, the United States occupied Dutch Guiana to protect the bauxite mines.[11]


In 1945, the first full election was held, with the Netherlands providing aid in health matters.[citation needed]

In 1954, Suriname gained self-government, with the Netherlands retaining control of defence and foreign affairs.[citation needed]


Henck Arron, Beatrix and Johan Ferrier on November 25, 1975

In 1973 the Dutch government started independence negotiations with the local government, led by the NPS (a largely Creole party), which was granted on November 25, 1975; the Dutch instituted an aid programme worth US$1.5 billion to last till 1985. The first President of the country was Johan Ferrier, with Henck Arron (leader of the NPS) as Prime Minister. Roughly a third of the population emigrated to the Netherlands prior to independence, fearing that the new country would not be viable.[citation needed]

In 1980, the government of Henck Arron was overthrown in a military coup led by Sergeant-Major Dési Bouterse. President Ferrier refused to recognise the new government, appointing Henk Chin A Sen (of the Nationalist Republican Party). Another coup followed five months later, with the army replacing Ferrier with Chin A Sen; these developments were largely welcomed by a population that expected the new army-installed government to put an end to corruption and improve the standard of living. This was despite the fact that the new regime banned opposition parties and became increasingly dictatorial; the Dutch initially accepted the new government; however, relations between Suriname and the Netherlands collapsed when 15 members of the political opposition were killed by the army on December 8, 1982, in Fort Zeelandia. This event is also known as the December murders (Decembermoorden in Dutch); the Dutch and Americans cut off their aid in protest at the move.[citation needed]

In 1985, the ban on opposition parties was lifted, and work began on devising a new constitution; the following year saw the start of an anti-government rebellion of the Maroons in the interior, calling themselves the Jungle Commando and led by Ronnie Brunswijk. The Bouterse government violently tried to suppress the insurgency by burning villages and other similar means. Many Maroons fled to French Guiana.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Albert Gastmann, "Suriname and the Dutch in the Caribbean" in Encyclopedia of Latin American History and Culture vol. 5, p. 189. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons 1996.
  2. ^ Romero-Figueroa, Andrés. Basic Word Order and Sentence Types in Kari'ña. Meunchen: Lincom Europa 2000
  3. ^ Carlin, Eithne and Boven, Karen (2002). The native population: Migrations and identities. In: Atlas of the languages of Suriname, Eithne Carlin and Jacques Arends (Eds.) Leiden: KITLV Press
  4. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica: A Dictionary of ARTS,SCIENCES, and General LITERATURE, Volume XI (Ninth Edition—Popular Reprint ed.). Retrieved 2008-05-04. In 1614 the states of Holland granted to any Dutch citizen a four years' monopoly of any harbour or place of commerce which he might discover in that region (Guiana). The first settlement, however, in Suriname (in 1630) was made by an Englishman, whose name is still preserved by Marshal's Creek.
  5. ^ "Preface - British History Online". www.british-history.ac.uk.
  6. ^ George Warren (1667) An impartial description of Surinam.
  7. ^ "America and West Indies: February 1667 - British History Online". www.british-history.ac.uk.
  8. ^ The Boni Maroon Wars in Suriname by Wim S.M. Hoogbergen
  9. ^ Stedman, John Gabriel (1962) The Journal of John Gabriel Stedman, 1744-1797, soldier and author, including an authentic account of his expedition to Surinam in 1772 Mitre Press, London, OCLC 924217
  10. ^ https://www.rijksmuseum.nl/en/rijksstudio/timeline-dutch-history/1863-abolition-of-slavery
  11. ^ "Home". faculty.virginia.edu.

Further reading[edit]

  • Gastmann, Albert. The Politics of Surinam and Netherlands Antilles. 1968.
  • Hoefte, Rosemarijn and Peter Meel (eds.), Twentieth Century Suriname. Continuities and Discontinuities in a New World Society, Leiden 2001, KITLV
  • Kurlansky, Mark. 1992. A Continent of Islands: Searching for the Caribbean Destiny. Addison-Wesley Publishing. ISBN 0-201-52396-5.

External links[edit]