Monday, February 23, 2009

Hoi van Paramaribo

that's hi from Paramaribo in Dutch as spoken here in Suriname.  Perhaps you thought that only Spanish and Portuguese were spoken on the South American mainland:  well it's not true!   Under colonialism there were three Guianas -- English, French and Dutch -- which are just below Venezuela on the continent's Atlantic Coast.  French Guiana is still French and is where the French launch their satellites.  The British divested themselves of their former colony in 1970 when it became an unacceptable burden on her Majesty's Exchequer and which is today the independent country of Guyana.  The Dutch followed in 1975, setting their former colony free to become Suriname which lies just north of the equator and consists mainly of undeveloped rain forest. 

Surname's current population is about 470,000 of which only about one percent are white.  The largest ethnic groups are from India, Java and Africa which the Dutch brought into the area to work their plantations under various conditions of servitude, including slavery for the Africans. Suriname has the largest Muslim minority of any country in the Western Hemisphere and they are undoubted the most secular Muslims I've run across in all my travels.  They love to celebrate Muslim holidays when the women wear traditional Muslim dress, including head scarves.  However few wear them the rest of the year when they wear jeans and other western dress just like the rest of the country's inhabitants. They also celebrate Christmas or whatever other holiday comes along and they drink! Suriname's religious mix is quite equally balanced between Muslims, Hindus, Catholics and Protestants. The oldest Jewish community in the Americas thrived here for nearly 350 years but has dwindled down to about 200 in the last decade due to Suriname's religious diversity, its tolerance and high rates of intermarriage.  One of the most commonly known facts about Paramaribo is that the Neve Shalom Synagogue stands next to the Ahmadiyya Anjuman Isha'at Islam Mosque on Keiserstraat and that there has been almost no religious strife.  Suriname is rightly proud that everyone gets along religiously even when having their differences with their politicians and their government.  This morning my taxi driver drove me past these two house of worship en route to the embassy.  He had an Islamic crescent hanging from his mirror and said that he was Muslim.  When passing the Synagogue, he indicated he thought Judaism was some form of Christianity and said that he personally also believes in Jesus.  This goes along with what embassy colleagues told me that religious identification in Suriname is quite muddled which may explain the peaceful coexistence.

Despite the harsh conditions under colonial rule, the Surinamese have enthusiastically embraced Dutch culture and language.  Paramaribo has a beautiful city center filled with very attractive white Dutch colonial buildings which is a UNESCO world heritage site. I spent Sunday visiting several Dutch historic sites along the Suriname River which were also heavily visited by Surinamese.  

Example of Dutch architecture in Paramaribo
 Here are a few related websites you might find interesting:

No comments: