Exploring the history and experiences of mixed heritage persons and inter-racial relationships across the world
Suriname, sometimes spelt as Surinam, and it neighbouring country, Guyana, are quite unique in the Americas in that the majority ethnic group of these countries are not the descendants of the colonisers or slaves but Indian, known as Hindustani. After slavery was abolished in 1863 and after the 10 years mandatory ‘apprenticeship’ for ex-slaves, the Dutch made a treaty with Britain, effected until 1916, that brought in the Indians to replace the free slaves who left the plantations in their droves to seek new pastures, mainly in the cities. The Hindustani population in Suriname is the largest group making up some 37% of the population and this may further boosted by immigrants from Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana. The Dutch themselves used their colonies in Indonesia, mainly Java as another source of labour, usually indentured, to replace the slaves at least until the Second World War. The Javanese make up some 15% of the population now. The original inhabitants, the Amerindians, make up only 4% of the population.
The descendants of the slaves can be divided into two groups – the Creole and the Maroons who are the descendants of escaped slaves. The Maroons, Nèg'Marrons in French and Bosnegers in Dutch, make up 8% of the population. In other parts of Latin America and the Caribbean, the term Zambo, a word that has been adapted and used derogatorily in English, is used to describe mixed Amerindian/Black persons. Even though many Maroons will have Amerindian ancestry, they have remained strongly African in appearance and culture suggesting strong assimilation of mixed offspring. These runaway slaves established several independent tribes such as the Saramaka, the Paramaka and the Kwinti. It is because of this that they form a separate identity from the Creoles despite the common African ancestry. Whilst escaped slaves on islands in the Caribbean had a hard time establishing themselves due to the limited space and hiding places, Suriname’s swamps and jungle provided ideal conditions to escape into where the European masters would be uncomfortable to venture. Sizeable escapee groups developed but despite this many slaves where recaptured sometimes with the help of other Maroons in return for food and other essentials.
The Creole are made up mainly of people of mixed race, mostly European/African but some Amerindian, other Asian and Jewish mixes, and those who might be regard themselves simply as descendants of slaves with no mix or little mix. Despite Suriname’s ethnic diversity, inter-racial miscegenation does not appear particularly common especially in the Indian and Javanese communities. The mainly mixed Creoles are the second largest ethnic group and make up some 30% of the population. Whilst the Spanish were the first Europeans to explore this region, it is the British and the Dutch who set up settlements with the Dutch eventually gaining control in return for the British getting New Amsterdam, renamed New York. The oldest Creole lines have mainly Dutch ancestry. Adding to the creole mix are immigrants from Haiti, French Guiana Dominican Republic and Guyana and a fairly new influx from Brazil.
There are also small communities of British, French, German, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish descendants who will have also contributed something to the current Creole population. The Europeans including those of Dutch descent make up about 5% of the population.
Other immigrant groups include the Chinese who also arrived during the 19th century and the Jews.
Apart from Surinamese in Suriname there is a sizeable number of them who live in the Netherlands. When independence was granted in 1975, subjects were given an opportunity to claim Dutch citizenship and a staggering 200,000 of an estimated 450,000 people took up the option and left for the Netherlands. In 2005, about 2% of the Netherlands’ population, over 320,000 people, claim Surinamese ancestry as compared to the 438,000 people in Suriname. That is staggering. At present, the Netherlands has the second largest population of people of Indian origin in Europe and the Surinamese Indians are one of the two distinct groups, the other being the non-resident Indians (NRIs).
The Surinamese of Javanese descent will also form part of the Netherlands multicultural population whose roots lie in Indonesia. The Indos’, as the Indonesian immigrants are known, migration to the Netherlands rivalled the Surinamese with some 100,000 individuals immigrating after the Second World War. We will be looking at the Indos in the chapter on Indonesia.
Surinamese of all ethnic types are said to have assimilated well into Dutch culture and it is in the Netherlands that the further mixing of the population with Dutch and other European and immigrant nationals must be taking place. It is probable that a high percentage of those who claim Surinamese descent are in fact of mixed heritage.
I expect to revisit this chapter after tackling both Indonesia and South Africa to compare their experiences as former Dutch colonies and when we look at multiculturalism in the Netherlands.