Suriname | A Melting Pot of Religious Diversity

The constitution of Suriname lets all practice any faith they wish and unlike many countries with conflicts between many religions, in Suriname, they blend together with very little tension.

IMG: ‘Mama Sranan’.  A statue in Suriname depicting the flve ethinc groups in Suriname. These five are also highlighted by the colored stars on their flag: black (Creoles), Brown (Hindustanis and Javanese), yellow (Chinese), red (Natives) and white (Europeans). Rob OO. Flickr. Creative Commons.

A perfect blend of South American, Caribbean, Asian and African culture, Suriname, formerly known as Dutch Guyana, is a true melting pot touching numerous sides of the world. Located in the Northeastern region of South America, nestled above Brazil with over 80% of the country covered by rainforest – the capital of Surinam called Paramaribo is the perfect example of this mixture of backgrounds – especially when it comes to religious beliefs.

Before even thinking about the religious diversity of Suriname, we need to consider the vast diversity of this country that shares borders with the Atlantic Ocean and the  Amazon, while simultaneously being sandwiched right in between two other Guyanas as well. This country was made to be a diverse melting pot.

From the varied interests of the British and Dutch powers, who colonized the region the 1600s, to the influx of enslaved peoples and indentured workers, Suriname has become the diverse country that it is today – a country different cultures, peoples, foods, languages, and faiths. Though Dutch is the official language, the country is known to recognize 8 official languages like English, Hindustani, Sranan Tongo, French, Portuguese, Spanish and more. Many think of Southern Africa as the rainbow nation, but Suriname can definitely give them a run for their money.

IMG: Unity. Rob OO. Flickr. Creative Commons

Lined with colonial Dutch style buildings from the 17th century, Suriname is one of the few places in the world where one can find a mosque, synagogue and a church adjacent to each other. Religions that can be found in Suriname are Christianity, Islam, Winti (the spiritual Animist practices of the enslaved Africans brought to Suriname that fled enslavement to create their own communities) and Amerindian shamanism.

In the 1600s, when the Dutch began to bring in enslaved Africans to take care of the plantation farms where many of the slaves would run away and join with indigenous communities or run and start their own communities in the forest this is when the first mixing of peoples and faiths began to bring us Winti.

For the Afro-Surinamese, known as Maroons, Winti, thought to mean “wind”, is the faith of enslaved Africans in Suriname. It is a blend of Akan and Fon beliefs syncretized with Christianity. It is found in the Maroon communities and dates back to the 1600s. It was taboo to practice for some time within the country, which made information on the faith difficult for many to document and research.

Once slavery was abolished in the late 1800s, the Dutch began to bring in indentured servants from the Dutch East Indies with a large amount coming from Indonesia (many Javanese) as well as India through a deal with the British. This migration lead to a large increase in the Hindustani faith in Suriname. Later on, there were some Chinese and Middle Eastern people brought in as workers to Suriname.

IMG: Arya Dewaker Mandir. The Arya Dewaker Mandir is the largest Hindu temple in Paramaribo, Suriname. David Stanley. Flickr. Creative Commons.

Paramaribo, named after the Paramaribo people, is home to almost half of Suriname’s population with a mix of various peoples – the largest being the Hindustani population making up around 22%. Hindustani doesn’t necessarily mean that the individuals practice Hinduism, as many of the Hindustani community are practitioners of Christianity or Islam as well. Hindustani is a general label for a community of people who migrated to Suriname from Asia in the nineteenth century as indentured labor due to agreements between the Dutch and the British.

Christianity makes up more than 40% of the population in Suriname with many different types of Christianity; like Pentecostal, Catholic and Moravian. Paramaribo for Muslims holds the largest percentage of Muslims on the entire continent of South America. They arrived as mentioned before as indentured laborers from all over South Asia, with the largest amount of the people coming from Indonesia.

IMG: Saint Peter and Paul Cathedral (1883) in Paramaribo, Suriname, is one of the largest wooden buildings in South America. David Stanley. Flickr. Creative Commons.

The Amerindians of Suriname practice their traditional forms of shamanism, worshipping nature and the forces of life with a shaman as a guide. They make up around 3.8% of the Surinamese population.

The constitution of Suriname lets all practice any faith they wish and unlike many countries with conflicts between many religions, in Suriname, they blend together with very little tension. And for those of us that love to travel and explore the spirituality of it all, Suriname is a perfect destination to get a bit of a Caribbean vibe, a bit of a South American vibe and a whole lot of flavor from the delicious blend of such beautifully rich cultures.


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