Proud, beautiful and confident, that is the best way to describe the participants of the Surinamese “Avondvierdaagse”, a sporting four day event in which thousands of women, men and children walk approximately ten miles a day across the town of Paramaribo.
Every year, after the Easter holidays, Suriname’s capital city becomes the stage of the most popular parade in its kind. And even though there are no links to the Christian carnival festivities, some people regard it as the Surinamese equivalent of the Caribbean Carnival.
While much has been written about the brutality of Dutch rule in other parts of the world – particularly what is now Indonesia – during the colonial era, colonial authorities in Dutch Guiana did not impose significant restrictions on the cultural and religious practices of their indentured workers. As a result, Hinduism had a stronger retention rate among its adherents, the majority of whom were raised in Bhakti traditions. Arya Samaj also had a strong following, and a subgroup within the movement - Arya Dewaker – was recognized as a cultural association by Dutch authorities in 1930.
Like in British Guyana, the Hinduism practiced in Dutch Guiana remained strong due to its importance to most Indo-Caribbean people. However, one thing that has been a notable difference is the retention of language among those who lived in the Dutch colony. Sarnami Hindustani, a dialect of Bhojpuri, is still spoken by many Indo-Surinamese, and the linguistic retention has helped the community maintain cultural traditions. This is largely due to the fact that the Dutch did not force the Indo-Caribbean population to abandon their native languages, unlike in British colonies like Trinidad and Guyana, where English was imposed as a means of attempting to erase cultural and religious traditions.
Suriname has been independent from Dutch rule for 40 years, and today, nearly a third of its population are Hindu. The Hindu community’s cultural impact can be seen in cities such as the capital, Paramaribo, home to the world famous Arya Dewaker temple (pictured above). Moreover, Holi (Phagwah) is a national holiday, and Hindus and non-Hindus alike celebrate Diwali across the country.
The impact of Suriname’s Hinduism is also being felt in the country that once colonized Dutch Guiana. Thousands of Indo-Surinamese migrated to the Netherlands, where they have become acclimated in Dutch society. The majority of Dutch Hindus are, in fact, Surinamese who settled in the Netherlands in the 1970s and 1980s.
The colonial legacy in both Suriname and the Netherlands has helped to foster a vibrant Hindu community among the Indo-Surinamese. The enduring practice of Hinduism in Suriname is a reminder that the Hindu Diaspora has been able to survive the trauma of indentured servitude, migration, and the challenges of acclimation in the farthest corners of the world.
Great example on how you can find your roots in unexpected places.
So, most West Indian people know the Allison Hinds soca version of ‘Faluma’. It’s undeniably still my all time favourite soca song and one of my fav songs in general. It’s just beautiful sounding to me and for years I would sing the words to this song, and my cousin and I would wuk up in her living room or me and my friends would have random soca parties in my dorm room and I would never know what I was saying while singing it.
One day an eternity later I was looking around the internet for lyric translations, and I discover it is originally a Surinamese Maroon song, originally recorded by Ai Sa Si, used in Winti (the African derived religion practiced in Suriname) for particularly water Kumanti (Akan) spirits. I saw Watra (Wata) Mama particularly mentioned for this song online by Winti practitioners but in both Guyana and Suriname, the idea is spoken more in plurals like “fairmaids” (Guyana) in general or watra mamas in Suriname. The difference is in Suriname they are also venerated Winti spirit whereas in Guyana she is a once venerated, then feared spirit, then turned cautionary children’s tale. Idunno how many times my dad done told me about “fairmaid” dragging people underwater forever and then expecting me to get some sleep after that. Anyway, in addition to this, the song’s cool because Faluma “a dove” in the aong is a metaphor for the spirit of African peoples and the singers are saying it was killed and asking who killed it, asking at the end “Mama a yea yea dunah?”
Thing is Dutch Berbice near the Canje River in Guyana is near Suriname’s (formerly Dutch Guyana) border and once upon a time the two countries were one colony and the practices were very similar. However, Suriname has kept their African religions more intact whereas Guyana’s Comfa practices have slowly been disappearing because of harsh Protestant colonial laws that are still, yes STILL in place against them (even if it’s just symbolically. They won’t get rid of them simply to piss people off and to make Comfa practitioners feel bad if they turn their shit too African for the mainstream tastes) and because of demonization in general. Comfa has become extremely Christianized and alot of information has been lost.
Like in Suriname, Afro-Guyanese once venerated spirits from “African nations” they named Kongo, Kromanti, Shango(Yoruba), Vudu(Fon), as well as Igbo. The accompanying Igbo drum rhythms I don’t know if they are still around and the song and dance for the Vudu drum rhythm is also gone as far as I know and have asked around about. But the drummer I heard from said he remembered the Vudu dance having something to do with a snake, the same as I read it was in Suriname. Wata Mama particularly also used to be venerated in Guyana heavily until the practices died out in the 60s because of a strict ban against them since the late 19th, turn of the 20th century. Which is a shame because Guyana is the “Land of Many Waters”.
It’s sad and it got me to wondering if Comfa info couldn’t be retrieved from what information could be collected from Suriname and Guyanese Comfa religion revived in a more African sense. I mean that sounds mad dismissive but I ain’t about heavy Protestantism and special attention given in Comfa practices to British spirits (I’m serious), quite frankly.
Anyway… all this always comes to mind whenever I play that song. That and the fact that it’s hilarious that Christian West Indians still whine up to this song during Carnival time, never knowing they giving Kromanti spirits they life. Lol. Excuse the rant.
Winti is an Afro-Surinamese traditional religion that originated in South America and developed in the Dutch Empire; this resulted in the syncretization of the religious beliefs and practices of Akan slaves with Christianity and Indigenous American beliefs.
The foundation of Winti based on three principles: the belief in the supreme creator called Anana Kedyaman Kedyanpon; the belief in a pantheon of spirits called Winti; and the veneration of the ancestors. There is also a belief in Ampuku (also known as Apuku) which are anthropomorphic forest spirits. An Ampuku can possess people (both men and women) and can also pass itself off as another spirit. Ampuku can also be water spirits, and are known in such cases as Watra Ampuku
Winti is described according to C. Wooding as:
“…an Afro American religion, within which the belief in personified supernatural beings occupies a central position. These personified supernatural beings can take possession of a human person, switch off their consciousness, as it were, and thereby reveal things concerning the past, present and future as well as cause and/or heal illnesses of a supernatural nature.” (C. WOODING, Winti: een Afro Amerikaanse godsdienst in Suriname (Meppel: 1972)
Another Winti expert (H.J.M. Stephen, 1985) describes Winti as:
“…primarily a religion, which means that respect for the divine, worship and prayer are central. In addition, it has a strong magical aspect, which often has been emphasized too one-sidedly and unfairly. Magic involves the influence of earthly events by supernatural means.”
History of Winti
During slavery, members of various West African tribes were brought to Suriname. They came from kingdoms that had certain religious aspects in common, like the belief in a supreme creator God who lives far away from the people, leaving the world to gods or spirits who are less powerful than him, and the belief in an immortal human soul and the related ancestor worship.
After the abolition of slavery in 1863, a ten-year period of economic slavery followed known as ‘De Periode van Staatstoezicht’ (the period of State Supervision). The period of State Supervison ended in 1873 and was followed by a very long period of mental and cultural slavery. The former slaves and their descendants were forced to convert to Christianity and for nearly 100 years (1874–1971) practicing Winti was forbidden by law. They were also forced to speak Dutch, education in their own language 'Sranan Tongo’ was forbidden, and children were not allowed to speak Sranan Tongo in schools.
It is believed that a human being has three spiritual aspects, the Dyodyo, Kra, and Yorka. Through these aspects human beings are integrated into the supernatural world. The Dyodyo are the supernatural parents who protect their children and may be higher or lower spirits. They received the pure soul, the Kra, from Anana and give that to a child. The Kra and Dyodyo determine your reason and mentality, while the biological parents provide blood and the physical body. Yorka, the other spiritual part, absorbs the life experiences. After the death of the physical body, the Kra goes back to the Dyodyo and the Yorka goes to the realm of the dead.
There are four Pantheons or groups.
1. The Earth pantheon with the Goron Winti.
2. The Water Pantheon with Watra Winti.
3. The Forest Pantheon with Busi Winti.
4. The Sky Pantheon with Tapu Winti.
Certain groups of Maroons also distinguish a fifth pantheon, the realm of the death.
The Earth pantheon
The water pantheon
The forest pantheon
The sky pantheon
Opete or Tata Ananka Yaw
Rijksuniversiteit te Utrecht Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies (1979). Nieuwe West-Indische gids. 53–55. Nijhoff. p. 14.
Wim Hoogbergen (2008). Out of Slavery: A Surinamese Roots History. LIT Verlag Berlin-Hamburg-Münster. p. 215. ISBN9783825881122.
Wooding, Ch.J. (1972). Winti: een Afroamerikaanse godsdienst in Suriname; een cultureelhistorische analyse van de religieuze verschijnselen in de Para. Meppel: Krips.
Wooding, Ch.J. (1984) Geesten genezen. Ethnopsychiatrie als nieuwe richting binnen de Nederlandse antropologie. Groningen: Konstapel.
Stephen, H.J.M. (1983). Winti, Afro-Surinaamse religie en magische rituelen in Suriname en Nederland. Amsterdam: Karnak.
Stephen, H.J.M (1986). De macht van de Fodoe-winti: Fodoe-rituelen in de winti-kultus in Suriname en Nederland. Amsterdam: Karnak.
Stephen, H.J.M. (1986). Lexicon van de Winti-kultuur. Naar een beter begrip van de Winti-kultuur. Z.pl.: De West.
A look at the color proofs for a photo portfolio in this week’s issue, which features the work of the Italian artist Nicola Lo Calzo. Lo Calzo’s most recent project, “Obia,” focusses on the Maroons of Suriname and French Guiana—a marginalized community of descendants of former African slaves.
Photograph by Senior Photo Editor Siobhan Bohnacker
Suriname is mostly just really difficult to get to. Geographically, it lies between Guyana and French Guiana, with the Brazilian Amazon to the south. Most of the population lives along the Caribbean coast, but vast parts of the country are rainforest.
Top Image: Adrien Ajintoena, a member of one of the largest Ndyuka Maroon families, and a survivor of a 1986 massacre in which Surinamese troops attacked his village, Moiwana, and killed at least thirty-five Maroons. Photographed in Charvein, French Guiana.
Middle Image: A bronze statue of a slave, by an anonymous nineteenth-century artist, at the Alexandre-Franconie museum.
Bottom Image: An embalmed parrot at the Alexandre-Franconie museum, in Cayenne, the capital of French Guiana. In Maroon tradition, forest animals are often associated with divinity, and are considered vehicles for spirits.
In his most recent project, “Obia” (now showing at the Dominique Fiat Gallery, in Paris), Nicola Lo Calzo balances his heart with his historical curiosity. In the eighteenth century, a number of Africans—from the Saamaka, Ndyuka, Aluku, Paamaka, Matawai, and Kwinti peoples—who had been enslaved on plantations in French Guiana and Suriname escaped their forced labor and gathered in groups in the forests between colonial settlements. There these rebels, called Maroons, built their own communities, while periodically fighting off troops sent to reclaim the plantation owners’ property. In 1760, Dutch colonists signed the first treaty recognizing their former slaves’ will to freedom. Today, Maroons are still living where their ancestors literally cleared paths, but they are economically, and thus socially, marginalized. Yet another legion of black outcasts, many of them lead impoverished, unfocussed lives amid a rich and focussed history. How to survive it?