Colonial building in Paramaribo Suriname

Suriname - A Caribbean Melting Pot - Venezuela and the Guianas 3

Author: Sue
Date: 17th October 2010

Caribbean Windmills in Suriname

We depart Georgetown, this time by minibus, which wends eastwards along the coastal road towards the frontier between Suriname and Guyana, the Corentyne River. It’s fascinating to see how each former colony reflects its different European imperial masters. Suriname was under Dutch control from the end of the seventeenth century and for a time part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Suriname became independent in 1975, but Dutch is still the official language.

This is a region of sugarcane and rice plantations. And it's low lying, so is threaded by drainage canals – and yes the odd windmill. Crossing the estuary by ferry, we can already see signs of the clapboard colonial architecture, with its distinctive shutters and curves.

Suriname -in a Nutshell

  • Perched just above the Equator, Suriname is the smallest country in South America. Suriname is mainly covered in rainforest, (over 90% of its territory, the highest proportion of forest cover in the world), but much of its wealth depends on the extraction of minerals: bauxite, gold, and oil.
  • Suriname was inhabited as early as the fourth millennium BC by various indigenous peoples, including the Arawaks, Caribs, and Wayana. Europeans arrived in the sixteenth century and the Dutch had established control over much of the country's current territory by the late seventeenth century. The colonial economy was underpinned by sugar plantations worked first by slaves imported by Africa and then indentured servants from Asia.
  • In 1954, Suriname became a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, but it then negotaed independence, which followed in 1975.
  • Suriname continues to maintain close relationships with the Netherlands and culture and society reflect the Dutch legacy. This is the only sovereign nation outside Europe, where Dutch is the official language.

Paramaribo, the Capital of Suriname - A Melting Pot

We hug the coast to Paramaribo - a great name for a capital. Fifty percent of the population live here as, like Guyana, most of the country is covered in rainforest. The Suriname River valley is a much more attractive proposition.

All the guide books refer to Paramaribo as a melting pot of cultures. The largest ethnic group is Hindustani, but thousands of indentured labourers were also shipped in from the Dutch East Indies to work the plantations. So there is Indonesian cuisine and mosques are a common sight, even next to a synagogue. It’s certainly a mélange of colour and smells.

We take a water taxi across a river confluence to  a sombre fort in a small park.  There's not a lot to see, the signs are faded and the highlight is the gun magazine. The seagulls come to admire us. There are (also faded) fishing boats drawn up on the shores and there are views of a broad bridge spanning the river in the distance. It's all very sedate.

UNESCO Paramaribo

Inner Paramaribo is  a UNESCO heritage site. The colonnaded brick and wooden architecture here is very rewarding. The  imposing Presidential Palace faces a whole row of black and white structures on  Independence Square. It's backed by another, pretty park, full of palms.

Braving the Paramaribo Market

Sauntering around the docks and into the market is much less sedate. The stall holders clearly don’t feel they have any vested interest in encouraging tourists to visit Suriname. They are extremely surly. A raised camera, just to take a general panorama and carefully aimed away from any individual, generates a hurl of abuse. It looks as if worse might follow, so I make as rapid an exit as I can, with a crutch. At least I have a weapon.

Wandering in Suriname is proving a little too exciting, so I return to our hotel.  Early bed seems like a good idea.

French Guiana next.

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