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History of Suriname

The history of Suriname dates from 3000 BCE, when Native Americans first inhabited the area. Present-day Suriname was the home to many distinct indigenous cultures. The largest tribes were the Arawaks, a nomadic coastal tribe that lived from hunting and fishing, and the Caribs. The Arawaks (Kali'na) were the first inhabitants of Suriname; later, the Caribs arrived, and conquered the Arawaks using their sailing ship. They settled in Galibi (Kupali Yumï, meaning "tree of the forefathers") on the mouth of the Marowijne river. While the larger Arawak and Carib tribes lived off the coast and savanna, smaller groups of indigenous peoples lived in the rainforest inland, such as the Akurio, Trió, Wayarekule, Warrau, and Wayana.

The first Europeans came to Suriname in 1650, when English settlers were sent by Lord Willoughby, the governor of Barbados. The settlements were invaded by the Dutch, lead by Abraham Crijnsen. In 1667, the English and Dutch signed the Treaty of Breda, in which the Dutch traded their colony New Amsterdam (currently New York) for Suriname. The colony was named Netherlands Guiana.

Maroon village, Suriname River, 1955
In the first half of the 18th century, agriculture flourished in Suriname. Most of the work on the plantations was done by African slaves. The treatment of these slaves was bad, and many slaves escaped to the jungle. These Maroons (also known as "Djukas" or "Bush Negroes") sometimes returned to attack the plantations. They formed a sort of buffer zone between the Europeans who settled along the coast and main rivers, and the unconquered Native American tribes of the inland regions.
Maroon women with washing. Suriname River. 1955
Juju charm protecting dugout canoe on riverbank, 1954
Body of Maroon child brought before a medicine man, 1955


Suriname was occupied by the British in 1799 after the Netherlands were incorporated by France, and was returned to the Dutch in 1816, after the defeat of Napoleon. The Dutch abolished slavery only in 1863—the last European nation to do so—although the British had already abolished it during their short rule. The slaves were, however, not released until 1873; up to that date they conducted obligatory but paid work at the plantations. In the meantime, many more workers had been imported from the Netherlands East Indies, mostly Chinese inhabitants of that colony. After 1873, also many Hindu laborers where imported from India. This emigration was ended by Mohandas Gandhi in 1916. After that date, many laborers were again imported from the Netherlands East Indies.

In the 20th century, the natural resources of Suriname, rubber, gold and bauxite were exploited. The US company Alcoa had a claim on a large area in Suriname where bauxite, from which aluminium can be made, was found.

In 1973, the local government, led by the NPK (a party of which mostly former Africans were member) started negotiations with the Dutch government about independence, which was granted at November 25, 1975. The first president of the country was Johan Ferrier. Many Surinamese did not trust the independent Suriname and fled to The Netherlands.

After short period of political instability at the end of the seventies, a group of sixteen young militaries overtook the government in 1980. This revolution was welcomed by the population that expected that the new government installed by the army would end corruption and improve the standard of living in Suriname. The Dutch initially accepted the new government. However, the cooperation between Suriname and The Netherlands collapsed when 15 members of the political opposition were killed by the army on December 8, 1982. This event is also known as the December killings (Decembermoorden in Dutch).

The Dutch subsequently ceased their financial aid to their former colony. In 1987, democracy was reinstalled by the military government. In the same period, a maroon rebellion was led by Ronnie Brunswijk. His attacks caused killings among suspected supporters of him, and many maroons fled the country. In 1990 when an army led by Dési Bouterse sent home the government, but international pressure lead to new elections the following year. During the 1990s, political relations with the Netherlands were reinstated.

In August 2001, the Dutch provided a triple A state guarantee to enable the Surinamese government to receive a 10-year loan from the Dutch Development Bank (NTO) for the amount of Euro 137.7 million (U.S.$125 million). The loan has an interest rate of 5.18% per year and was used to consolidate floating government debts. U.S.$32 million of the loan was used to pay off foreign loans, which had been taken under unfavorable conditions by the Wijdenbosch government. The remaining 93 million of the loan was used to pay off debts at the Central Bank of Suriname. This enabled the Central Bank to strengthen its foreign currency position according to the IMF standards to the equivalency of 3 months of imports.

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Former Dutch colonies
Aruba (current) | Berbice | Brazil (part) | Cape Colony | Ceylon | Demerara | Deshima | Dutch East Indies | Dutch Guiana | Essequibo | Dutch West Indies or Netherlands Antilles (current) | Netherlands New Guinea | New Netherland (New Amsterdam, New Sweden) | New Zealand (part) | Smeerenburg | Taiwan | Tobago | Travancore | Virgin Islands (part)
See also: Dutch colonisation of the Americas | Dutch East India Company | Dutch West India Company | New Holland







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