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Indian Arrival Day: Remembering the History of Indians in Suriname

Written by Pari Akloe

My name is Pari Akloe and I am an Indo-Surinamese living in The Netherlands.

June 5th, 2020 marks the 147th commemoration of Indian Arrival Day in Suriname (my parents’ birth country). Simultaneously this day is also ‘celebrated’ in The Netherlands as many Indo-Surinamese have also settled in the here. In Suriname this day is a national holiday.

I don’t think that we should happily celebrate Indian Arrival day due to all the hardships that our ancestors faced but I definitely think that we should take the time to remember our grandparents and thank them for all the sacrifices they made for their descendants.

In this blog I would like to share some Indo-Surinamese history with you.

Suriname is bordered by the Atlantic ocean to the north, French Guiana to the east, Guyana to the west and Brazil to the south. It all started when slavery in Suriname came to an end. Suriname was colonized by Great Britain and The Netherlands in the 17th century.

Slavery was abolished in Suriname in 1863, but slaves were obliged to continue to work on (mostly) sugarcane plantations for another ten years for a 'fee'.

When the end of the 10-year-period came in sight in 1873 the Dutch planters began to look for a solution. The neighbouring British Guyana had already had the British Indies working for them; the so-called coolies. This led the Dutch to work with the British. Indians were also being brought to Suriname as indentured servants under the false pretext of visiting the ‘holy land of Sri Ram’ for pilgrimage.

Most Hindustani contract workers in Suriname came from the North of the British Indies, and especially from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Bengal.

Not knowing where exactly they were being shipped to and how long it would take, they still dared to cross the Atlantic ocean on a ship called the Lalla Rookh.

Lalla Rookh is the first sailing ship that left from Calcutta on 26 February in 1873 with 410 Indians. After a long journey of a little more than three months, the sailing ship Lalla Rookh finally arrived on June 5th, 1873 at Fort Nieuw, Amsterdam in Suriname. Due to poor conditions not everyone survived that trip; 11 people died. Soon after that 12 more people died. But the Dutch colonizers saw benefits and after Lalla Rookh, around 64 ships followed to transfer Indian labourers to Suriname until 1916. Dewa is the name of the last steamboat that left Calcutta in 1916.

In these 43 years around 34,000 Indians were willingly or unwillingly shipped to Suriname.

My parparaja came to Suriname in 1896 with the ship Hereford IV. I don’t know much about him. I’ve come to know that the spelling of my last name has been changed over time. According to the archives no family members came along, but according to family stories my paraja came to Suriname as a little child. In this photo you can see my paraja and paraji and two little children. I am sure he is my paraja as he looks very much like my aja. Although I really want to more about my family history it’s really hard to find information in the national archives.

The Indian immigrants served a 10-year contract, but these years weren't kind to them. They didn’t get paid as promised, they got beaten up by the plantation owners and women even got raped – just to sketch the situation a bit. After 10 years they could go back home to India, but the Dutch government didn’t want to ship them all back. They came with incentives like free settlement rights and financial commissions. This resulted in about 2/3 of Indian labourers remaining in Suriname to build a new life; that’s the group where I’m a proud offspring from. I stand on their shoulders.

I don’t forget what they went through and I thank them for my heritage from the bottom of my heart.

Over time the Indian traditions brought to Suriname by our ancestors have mixed with other traditions from different ethnic groups in Suriname. Suriname has become a melting pot of cultures. Traditional Indian cuisine has fused with African cuisine for example. Indo-Surinamese have developed their own identity yet tried to hold onto Indian traditions and values. I identify myself with both Surinamese and Indian culture and I think we should never forget that we have roots in India. I am my great-great-grandparents who brought the Indian culture to Suriname and who made sure to preserve the culture and traditions which have contributed to the culture we have now. With our own authentic bara with chutney, Roti doksa, cooking on a chulha, dancing Baithak Gana, singing Chowtal and our very own Sarnami dialect.

Even though we remember Indian Arrival day on June 5th, this is not really the moment when the first Indians set foot on Surinamese soil. Even before this date, some Indian indentured servants already moved to Suriname from its neighbouring country Guyana. In Suriname you can find a ‘Baba and Mai’ memorial that symbolizes the first Indian man and woman to set foot on Surinamese soil. A replica of this monument can be found in Calcutta at the Suriname Ghat.

Indian diaspora with a similar history can also be found in Mauritius, South Africa, Guyana, Trinidad & Tobago, Fiji and Jamaica.

Trinidad & Tobago remembers Indian Arrival day on 30 May (1845) and is also first country to start this holiday in 1994. Jamaica on 10 May (1845), Mauritius on 2 November (1834),Guyana on 5 May (1838), Jamaica on 10 May (1845), Grenada on 1 May (1857), St. Lucia on 6 May (1859), South Africa on 16 November (1860) and Fiji on 14 May (1879).

This article is written by Pari Akloe You can find Pari on IG @pariksha10

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