The list of things to tell you about Suriname’s culture is endless! Our population is a melting pot of many different colors and flavors. The Streets of Paramaribo offer the views of a true exotic palette. Yes, diversity is what defines us!
The following topics will be introduced here on this page and each topic will be featured in a future post of its own. Stop by regularly to check out new posts, content and pictures.
The indigenous people of Suriname are Amerindians. During the years of Dutch colonization, Africans were brought in to work the plantations as slaves. In 1775, there were no less than 600 plantations in Suriname. Anticipating the abolition of slavery in 1863, Chinese contractors were shipped in as early as the 1850’s. In the 1870’s contractors from India were recruited, followed by contractors from the Indonesian Island of Java in 1890. This large scale migration is the source of our multicultural population. Nowadays, it is not uncommon in Suriname to find people of dark skin that carry Chinese last names, or a Indian looking person with a typically indigenous last name. We all get along just fine! Even if the ethnic card gets played sometimes when emotions heat up, in the end we are all able to pronounce each other’s exotic names, and we know each other’s food!
All of these people also tend to speak their own language – be it Amerindian, Okanisi, Chinese, Javanese, Sarnami Hindi – plus our lingua franca: Sranan Tongo or short: Sranan. And since our official language is Dutch, the vast majority of the Surinamese people (over 90%) also speaks Dutch. As for tourists, don’t worry – you will find that most Surinamese speak some English and often also some Spanish.
Now you know that Surinamese people are from many different cultural and ethnic backgrounds, and speak different languages, you can imagine that our music is just as diverse! When speaking of Surinamese music, we usually refer to Afro-Surinamese music, which has strong African influences and is generally known as bigi poku. We also have Javanese bands here that play salsa rhythms to Javanese lyrics. There are Indian bands that play Caribbean style soca to Indian lyrics. These guys can also burst into Javanese or Indian music to lyrics in Sranan. Just recently, I was impressed to see an all-indigenous band perform bigi poku like never seen before. This is Suriname style! Click on the image of the saxophone to hear a sample of a bigi poku style. It also gives you an idea of how Sranan sounds.
My maternal grandparents set foot in Suriname around 1900, as a young married couple from Canton, China – no contracts, just adventurous spirits. My dad’s father took the same route, but he was a single young man and married a Surinamese lady of mixed heritage. Both of my parents were born in Suriname – my dad in the capital of Paramaribo, and my mom in Albina, near the border with French Guiana. My mom was fluent in Hakka, and was an expert in Chinese cuisine but was also famous for her Indian roti and one of our traditional dishes of Jewish/afro origins: pom. This is Suriname style par excellence!