Historical Background


Like nearly all countries in the region, Suriname has a history of colonization, slavery and immigration. All these factors created a captivating history, ultimately a colourful population and a very tolerant society.

Suriname was the home of many distinct indigenous cultures. The largest tribes were the Arowaks and the Caribs. On the Sipaliwini savanna and along the Nickerie, Corantijn and Sipaliwini Rivers, we still find some rock-carvings called petroglyphs or timehri's.

The colonization of Surinam is marked by slavery. Plantations relied on slave labour, mostly supplied by the Dutch West India Company  from its trading posts in West Africa, to produce their crops. Tropical products such as sugar, coffee, cocoa and cotton were cultivated on these plantations .Sugar and cotton were the main goods exported from the colony to the Netherlands  until the early 18th century, when coffee became the single most important export product of Surinam.

The planters of the colony relied heavily on African slaves to cultivate the plantations along the rivers. The treatment of the slaves was notoriously bad and many slaves escaped into the hinterland. These runaway slaves were called maroons and they often return to raid the plantations for food, weapons, supplies  and also to recruit new members.

Slavery in Suriname was abolished by the Netherlands in 1863, but the slaves were not fully released until 1873, after a mandatory ten-year transitory period. As soon as they became truly free, most of  the slaves abandoned the plantations where they had worked for several generations.

As a plantation colony, Suriname was still heavily dependent on manual labour, and to make up for the shortage, the Dutch brought in contract labourers from China,  the Dutch East Indies (modern Indonesia) and India (through an arrangement with the British). After the end of their contracts the indentured labourers were encouraged to stay in Suriname. From the Indian and Indonesians immigrants two third chose to stay in Suriname. Eventually they became peasant farmers.

Rice became staple food. Improved technology made it possible to export this product. At the turn of the century attempts were made to diversify the economy. Rubber tapping or balata bleeding as it was called was an important economic activity. The demand for rubber in Europe was quite high. Gold mining also prospered for a while, but the most important new industry after World War I became the mining of bauxite. Rich deposits of this raw material for aluminum were discovered and the Aluminum Company of America (ALCOA) was willing to invest in Suriname starting in 1916.

In 1954 Suriname became an internally self-governing member of the Kingdom of The Netherlands along with the Netherlands Antilles and on November 25, 1975 Suriname became an Independent Republic.

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