Saturday, July 4, 2009

July First: Abolishment of Slavery in Suriname

So I thought a good post for July 4th would be about my July 1st here in Paramaribo. July 1st is a national holiday, celebrating the abolishment of slavery in Suriname. Wikipedia says that happened in 1863, yet the slaves were not officially released until 1873. A little context: In Suriname slaves were imported from Africa, just like in the United States, to work mostly on sugar plantations. As in the U.S., slaves escaped their masters. Unlike in the U.S., these slaves successfully established communities in the interior of Suriname and lived out their lives, developing their own cultures and languages. The descendants of these escaped slaves are called Maroons. Even today they live in the interior according to their own traditions and have a completely different culture than the descendants of slaves who did not run away, now called Creoles. This happened in Brazil too- the villages were called Quilombos. But all the Quilombos of Brazil were destroyed, there are none left today. During the era of slavery, Maroons often raided the plantations and made life difficult for the Dutch. Why didn't this happen in the U.S.? I don't fully understand it myself, and the answer would be more complicated than I could address in a blog post.

Back to the party. Wednesday was a giant party. We went to the Palmentuin, the Palm Garden in downtown Paramaribo. There was a stage with music and some dancing (not enough dancing in my opinion). But the real fun was in people-watching. Almost everyone was wearing a pangi, the Surinamese equivalent of a capulana, or kanga or pagne. This fascinates me! There are people of African descent all over the Caribbean, but I would like to know where else the style of dress is so solidly African. The pangi differs from the African wraps in that it has usually been hand-embroidered around the edges. (I promise some beautiful pictures of pangis are on the way!) Men wear the pangi tied around their neck and around one shoulder, like a cape. But who wants to watch men? The women wore pangis as skirts with matching head scarves, often puffed up to a great height. Whole families would wear matching pangi sets. (I have a whole post on pangis here.)

My roomate Katie decided to buy a pretty blue pangi at the park and I decided to buy one too so we could match. And then Surinamese people wanted to take pictures of us together. I was nervous they would roll their eyes at us for looking so absurd, but I was wrong. One lady retied Katie's pangi, another told us she liked seeing us dressed up. We got interviewed by a tv crew (but I don't think it ever got aired). We received lots of smiles and positive attention. It was too much fun.

The Abolishment of Slavery didn't just affect the African population of Suriname. After the slaves left the plantations, the Dutch began to import indentured servants from first India and then Indonesia. These two groups now make up large portions of the Surinamese population and also contribute to its culture today. At the party in the park, I will say most people were of African descent, but I did see a few women in shalwar-kameezes and also in Amerindian dress. There was a lot of Javanese food being sold on the street that day too.

This amazing festival made me wonder about my own country. Why don't Americans celebrate the abolishment of slavery as a national holiday? I have this vague idea that some people celebrate Juneteenth, June 19. But I don't know anyone personally who celebrates this day, publically at least. It seems like we tried, but that Juneteenth simply isn't the holiday it should be. Why in Suriname and not in the U.S.? Why do Surinamese Maroons still wear African-style clothes? Why was there no equivalent to a Maroon village in the U.S.- or was there, and we simply don't learn about it in school? Any ideas?

It's wrong I know, but I got such a kick out of the look of horror on this kid's face! He obviously wanted off the see-saw, and no one was listening.

This was a hand-pushed carousel.

1 comment:

Dr. Jordanstein said...

There were Maroon communities here in the U.S., but they were all raided and destroyed. I think the environment has a lot to do with it. You saw how hard it was first hand to get to the interior in Suriname. That might have discouraged any vengeful slave masters. At the end of Octavian Nothing, he goes to a Maroon community in the U.S.