Hoe wij hier ook samen kwamen

I often blog about the history and cultural experience of the African diaspora, and then specifically the African Surinamese diaspora. Since Suriname is an ethnic and cultural melting pot, there are however, several other diasporic communities. One of those communities is the Surinamese Indian diaspora or the Hindustani as we call them in Suriname.

After slavery was officially abolished in 1863 (unofficially in 1873, but that’s a story for another time), a lot of the formerly enslaved people rightfully left the prisons otherwise known as the plantations. Because of this, the colonial authorities needed a new set of workforce. For this they looked towards Asia, and then specifically India, Indonesia and China.

On the 5th of June it will be 148 years since the ship Lalla Rookh arrived in Suriname with 399 Indian men, women and children. Most of them came to Suriname under false pretenses, a lot of them were just plain kidnapped. In the following documentary, the 104 year old Ramlali Awadhbihari explains how she also was kidnapped and shipped off to Suriname. She speaks what we call Sarnami, a Surinamese Hindustani language, which is a mixture of the Indian languages Bhojpuri, Awadhi and sometimes Urdu. The documentary has English subtitles.

The Last Kantraki, Diaspora TV on Youtube. From the description box: Made by: Rahman Films International Editor: Moti Marhe Moti Marhé interviews the longest living British-Indian indentured labourer of Suriname, Mrs. Ramlali Awadhbihari (104 years old), in or about 1982. The producer Abdoelrahman Ramjan made the filmdocumentary ‘Aji Ramlali’, on her life in which we followed her during the last five years before her death. The interviews are in the only language she could speak: her Sarnami-Hindustani.

Kidnapped after child birth
There is also this account that can’t be traced back to a specific person. But it’s one that I often think about. A Javanese (from the Indonesian island Java) woman had just given birth the night before. The next morning, she stayed at home to recuperate from giving birth, while her family and the rest of the community left to tend to their agricultural fields on the outskirts of their village. Having run out of fresh water at home, she went to the river to fill some buckets. However, still weak from giving birth the night before, she fell unconscious at the river bank. When she woke up again, she was on a boat on her way to being shipped off to Suriname. I often wonder and think, what became of her family and children in Indonesia? Did they think she had abandoned them? Did they think she had died? They probably died never getting an answer to all their unanswered questions.

Kidnapped because of love of their child
I recently read “Van Elmina naar Paramaribo” by Dr. Frank Dragtenstein. Apart from giving a historic account of one specific “slave raid voyage”, documented in a ships logbook, it also gives insight into how and when the transatlantic slave trade came about. There are a lot of parallels to be drawn with modern geopolitics, but this is again a story for another day. The book also gives a kidnapping account which, like the previous one, will stay with me forever. This account is documented by the kidnappers themselves. It tells the story of a 30 year old woman, and her two children, one being a girl of about 14 years old and a two year old boy. The kidnappers encountered this lady and her children while they were sailing inland in the Senegambian region in 1446. At least three men tried to overpower her, but according to their own account, they were not able to do so. That’s how hard she fought back. She only gave up when one of the kidnappers took her baby and ran with it towards the boat. The kidnapper rightfully assumed that she would stop fighting and follow her child out of maternal love.

Hoe wij hier ook samen kwamen, the title of this blog, is a phrase in the Surinamese National Anthem. It’s Dutch for, “no matter how we came together”. Well, the way we came together in Suriname is often times just a plain horrific story.


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