History of Suriname – from Dutch slave colony to multi-ethnic nation (documentary)

No subtitles? Click on cogwheel or CC icon. In 2015, Dutch public television made a series of documentaries about the 200th anniversary of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

The series was critized for not reflecting colonial history enough, so two additional episodes were tacked on about Suriname and Indonesia, two former Dutch colonies. In this episode, the two white presenters discover how Suriname in South America tries to develop its own perspective on its history, using newly discovered documents as well as oral history. A new generation of Surinamese historians wants to develop a new discourse independent of the Dutch view of the country.

After the Dutch conquered the territory in the 17th century, they imported a large number of enslaved Africans and forced them to work on plantations. Some of these Africans escaped to the hinterland and wage a guerilla war on the Dutch. Their descendents constitute a seperate ethnicity to this day, called the Maroons. The Africans that didn’t escape were the ancestors of Suriname’s Creole ethnicity. After the Dutch abolished slavery relatively late in the 19th century, indentured laborors from India (Hindustanis) and Indonesia (Javanese) were brought to Suriname.

In the 1920s and 1930s, Dutch colonial authorities supressed local political movements, as is illustrated by the tragic fate of national hero Anton de Kom. After spending time in the Netherlands where he was in contact with Indonesian nationalists such as Mohammad Hatta, the later vice-president of Indonesia, he returned to Suriname where he became a social organizer. For his activism, he was exiled from the colony, joined the Dutch resistance against the Germans in the Secord World War, and died in a Nazi concentration camp.

After the war, leaders Jopi Pengel and Jagernath Lachmon persued a ‘fraternization policy’ which succesfully saved Suriname from inter-ethnic violence. The peaceful coexistence of its many ethnicities and religions is at the core of Surinamese nationalism today. Suriname gained independence from the Netherlands in 1975.

Famous author and historian Cynthia McLeod shares her personal memories of this event. The documentary also sheds light how Suriname influenced Dutch society, and talks to Dutch hip-hop artist Typhoon about his vision on the legacy of slavery and colonialism.