How we gathered here…the history of our people

If you’ve ever delved into the origins of the Surinamese people online, you might already be aware of how we came together: by boat. And that’s indeed accurate. However, our history stretches back much further.

According to various researchers, inhabitants of Siberia and Asia, some 15,000 years ago, crossed the then-dry Bering Strait and ended up in present-day Alaska. From there they spread southeastward to Canada, North America, Central America, South America and, later, the Caribbean.

In this way, the first inhabitants must have come to Suriname, and for centuries these Indigenous people led a peaceful existence in full harmony with nature.

That peaceful existence came to an end when the Europeans conquered the new world.

After the discovery of the western hemisphere in 1492 by the Spaniards, Suriname remained virtually silent for almost 150 years. In 1630 a group of Englishmen came ashore under the leadership of Captain Marshall, after whom Marshall Creek in the district of Brokopondo is named.

In 1652, Francis Willoughby, the removed governor of Barbados, moved to Suriname with the goal of establishing an English colony here. The English built a fort named Fort Willougbhy, which was located on the Suriname River in Paramaribo.

Meanwhile, in Willougbhy land, as our country was called by the British, some Portuguese Jews from Brazil and Zeeuwen from the Dutch province of Zeeland had already settled and initially had a good rapport with the English.

However, English rule came to an end after 15 years when the Zeeuw Abraham Crijnssen conquered Suriname in 1667 and renamed Fort Willougbhy Fort Zeelandia; the name the fort still bears today.

From then on, with a brief interruption from 1804 to 1816, Suriname remained a Dutch dominion from then on until independence in 1975.

The European settlers initially enslaved the Indigenous people to use them to grow agricultural crops. However, working the land was traditionally a traditional role of women within the Indigenous communities. Thus, the men were physically unable to do the heavy work on the land and, moreover, many died from the diseases brought by the Europeans.  

The solution the colonists sought was in Africa. There, Africans were captured and transported under deplorable conditions to Suriname, where they were enslaved and forced to work on the plantations.

Slavery was abolished in 1863, and to still ensure agricultural production, contract workers were brought from the British colony of India and later contract workers from the Dutch colony of Indonesia.  However, these were not the first contract workers in Suriname. Even before the abolition of slavery, the planters saw a labor shortage on the plantations coming and had Chinese contract workers brought to our country.

After their contract period, a considerable number of contract workers remained in Suriname, where they could build a better existence than if they were to return to their own country.

Over the years, people from different parts of the world have settled in our country; from China, the Caribbean, Lebanon, India, and, in more recent years, Brazil, among others.

All of this has resulted in a colorful patchwork of different ethnic groups and cultures that are still emphatically reflected in Surinamese society today.

Although there has been quite some mixing among the population over the years, most population groups of Suriname have maintained their cultural identity. This is also reflected in the traditional festivities and events that are sometimes exuberantly celebrated nationwide.