The Republic of Suriname (Republiek Suriname in Dutch), is a sovereign state on the northeastern Atlantic coast of South America. Suriname is situated between French Guiana to the east and Guyana to the west. The southern border is shared with Brazil and the northern border is the Atlantic coast. The southernmost borders with French Guiana and Guyana are disputed by these countries along the Marowijne and Corantijn rivers, respectively, while a part of the disputed maritime boundary with Guyana was arbitrated by a tribunal convened under the rules set out in Annex VII of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea on September 20, 2007. At just under 64,000 square miles (165,000 square kilometers), it is the smallest country in South America. Suriname has a population of approximately 566,000, most of whom live on the country’s north coast, in and around the capital and largest city, Paramaribo.
Situated on the Guiana Shield, it lies mostly between latitudes 1° and 6°N, and longitudes 54° and 58°W. The country can be divided into two main geographic regions. The northern, lowland coastal area (roughly above the line Albina-Paranam-Wageningen) has been cultivated, and most of the population lives here. The southern part consists of tropical rainforest and sparsely inhabited savanna along the border with Brazil, covering about 80% of Suriname’s land surface. The two main mountain ranges are the Bakhuys Mountains and the Van Asch Van Wijck Mountains. Julianatop is the highest mountain in the country at 4,219 feet (1,286 meters) above sea level.
Long inhabited by numerous cultures of indigenous tribes, Suriname was explored and contested by European powers before coming under Dutch rule in the late 17th century. In 1954, the country became one of the constituent countries of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. On November 25, 1975, the country of Suriname left the Kingdom of the Netherlands to become an independent state, nonetheless maintaining close economic, diplomatic, and cultural ties to its former colonizer. Its indigenous peoples have been increasingly active in claiming land rights and working to preserve their traditional lands and habitats.
Suriname is considered to be a culturally Caribbean country, and is a member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). While Dutch is the official language of government, business, media, and education, Sranan, an English-based creole language, is a widely used lingua franca. Suriname is the only territory outside Europe where Dutch is spoken by a majority of the population. The people of Suriname are among the most diverse in the world, spanning a multitude of ethnic, religious, and linguistic groups.
The name Suriname may derive from a Taino (Arawak-speaking) indigenous people called Surinen, who inhabited the area at the time of European contact. British settlers, who founded the first European colony at Marshall’s Creek along the Suriname River, spelled the name as Surinam. When the territory was taken over by the Dutch, it became part of a group of colonies known as Dutch Guiana. The official spelling of the country’s English name was changed from Surinam to Suriname in January 1978.
Indigenous settlement of Suriname dates back to 3,000 BC. The largest tribes were the Arawak, a nomadic coastal tribe that lived from hunting and fishing. They were the first inhabitants in the area. The Carib also settled in the area and conquered the Arawak by using their superior sailing ships. They settled in Galibi (Kupali Yumï, meaning “tree of the forefathers”) at the mouth of the Marowijne River. While the larger Arawak and Carib tribes lived along the coast and savanna, smaller groups of indigenous peoples lived in the inland rainforest, such as the Akurio, Trió, Warrau, and Wayana.
Beginning in the 16th century, French, Spanish, and English explorers visited the area. A century later, Dutch and English settlers established plantation colonies along the many rivers in the fertile Guiana plains. The earliest documented colony in Guiana was an English settlement named Marshall’s Creek along the Suriname River. Disputes arose between the Dutch and the English for control of this territory. In 1667, during negotiations leading to the Treaty of Breda, the Dutch decided to keep the nascent plantation colony of Suriname they had gained from the English. The English got to keep New Amsterdam, the main city of the former colony of New Netherland in North America on the mid-Atlantic coast. Already a cultural and economic hub in those days, they renamed it after the Duke of York: New York.
In 1683, the Society of Suriname was founded by the city of Amsterdam, the Van Aerssen van Sommelsdijck family, and the Dutch West India Company. The society was chartered to manage and defend the colony. The planters of the colony relied heavily on African slaves to cultivate, harvest and process the commodity crops of coffee, cocoa, sugar cane and cotton plantations along the rivers. Planters’ treatment of the slaves was notoriously bad and many slaves escaped the plantations.
With the help of the native South Americans living in the adjoining rain forests, these runaway slaves established a new and unique culture in the interior that was highly successful in its own right. They were known collectively in English as Maroons, in French as Nèg’Marrons (literally meaning “brown negroes”, that is “pale-skinned negroes”), and in Dutch as Marrons. The Maroons gradually developed several independent tribes through a process of ethnogenesis, as they were made up of slaves from different African ethnicities. These tribes include the Saramaka, Paramaka, Ndyuka or Aukan, Kwinti, Aluku or Boni, and Matawai.
The Maroons often raided plantations to recruit new members from the slaves and capture women, as well as to acquire weapons, food and supplies. They sometimes killed planters and their families in the raids; colonists built defenses, which were so important they were shown on 18th-century maps, but these were not sufficient.
The colonists also mounted armed campaigns against the Maroons, who generally escaped through the rain forest, which they knew much better than did the colonists. To end hostilities, in the 18th century the European colonial authorities signed several peace treaties with different tribes. They granted the Maroons sovereign status and trade rights in their inland territories, giving them autonomy.
In 1861-63, with the American Civil War underway and slaves escaping to Union lines in the South, President Abraham Lincoln of the United States and his administration looked abroad for places to relocate freed slaves who wanted to leave the United States. It opened negotiations with the Dutch government regarding African-American emigration to and colonization of the Dutch colony of Suriname in South America. Nothing came of the idea, and after 1864 the idea was dropped.
The Netherlands abolished slavery in Suriname in 1863, under a gradual process that required slaves to work on plantations for 10 transition years for minimal pay, which was considered as partial compensation for their masters. After 1873, most freedmen largely abandoned the plantations where they had worked for several generations in favor of the capital city, Paramaribo.
As a plantation colony, Suriname had an economy dependent on labor-intensive commodity crops. To make up for a shortage of labor, the Dutch recruited and transported contract or indentured laborers from the Dutch East Indies (modern Indonesia) and India (the latter through an arrangement with the British, who then ruled the area). In addition, during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, small numbers of laborers, mostly men, were recruited from China and the Middle East.
Although Suriname’s population remains relatively small, because of this complex colonization and exploitation, it is one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse countries in the world.
During World War II, on November 23, 1941, under an agreement with the Netherlands government-in-exile, the United States occupied Suriname to protect the bauxite mines to support the Allies’ war effort. In 1942, the Dutch government-in-exile began to review the relations between the Netherlands and its colonies in terms of the post-war period.
In 1954, Suriname became one of the constituent countries of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, along with the Netherlands Antilles and the Netherlands. In this construction, the Netherlands retained control of its defense and foreign affairs. In 1974, the local government, led by the National Party of Suriname (NPS) (whose membership was largely Creole, meaning ethnically African or mixed African-European) started negotiations with the Dutch government leading towards full independence, which was granted on November 25, 1975. A large part of Suriname’s economy for the first decade following independence was fueled by foreign aid provided by the Dutch government.
The first President of the country was Johan Ferrier, the former governor, with Henck Arron (the then leader of the NPS) as Prime Minister. In the years leading up to independence, nearly one-third of the population of Suriname emigrated to the Netherlands, amidst concern that the new country would fare worse under independence than it had as a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Indeed, Surinamese politics soon degenerated into ethnic polarization and corruption, with the NPS using Dutch aid money for partisan purposes. Its leaders were accused of fraud in the 1977 elections, in which Arron won a further term, and the discontent was such that a large chunk of the population fled to the Netherlands, joining the already significant Surinamese community there.
On February 25, 1980, a military coup overthrew Arron’s government. It was initiated by a group of sixteen sergeants, led by Dési Bouterse. Opponents of the military regime attempted counter-coups in April 1980, August 1980, March 15, 1981, and again on March 12, 1982. The first counter attempt was led by Fred Ormskerk, the second by Marxist-Leninists, the third by Wilfred Hawker, and the fourth by Surendre Rambocus.
Hawker escaped from prison during the fourth counter-coup attempt, but he was captured and summarily executed. Between 2 am and 5 am on December 7, 1982, the military, under the leadership of Dési Bouterse, rounded up 13 prominent citizens who had criticized the military dictatorship and held them at Fort Zeelandia in Paramaribo. The dictatorship had all these men executed over the next three days, along with Rambocus and Jiwansingh Sheombar (who was also involved in the fourth counter-coup attempt).
National elections were held in 1987. The National Assembly adopted a new constitution that allowed Bouterse to remain in charge of the army. Dissatisfied with the government, Bouterse summarily dismissed the ministers in 1990, by telephone. This event became popularly known as the “Telephone Coup”. His power began to wane after the 1991 elections.
The brutal civil war between the Suriname army and Maroons loyal to rebel leader Ronnie Brunswijk, begun in 1986, continued and its effects further weakened Bouterse’s position during the 1990s. In 1999, the Netherlands tried Bouterse in absentia on drug smuggling charges. He was convicted and sentenced to prison but remained in Suriname.
On July 19, 2010, the former dictator Dési Bouterse returned to power when he was elected as the new President of Suriname. He was reelected on July 14, 2015. Before his election in 2010, he, along with 24 others, had been charged with the murders of 15 prominent dissidents in the December murders. However, in 2012, two months before the verdict in the trial, the National Assembly extended its amnesty law and provided Bouterse and the others with amnesty of these charges.
The first stamps were issued by Suriname in 1873. The designs during the colonial period were mostly similar — or identical — to the designs of the Dutch stamps of the time. Most stamps were supplied from the Netherlands and printed by Joh. Enchedé. Some were printed locally in Paramaribo — the 1892 and 1912 sets. During World War II, stamps were printed, in 1941, by Kolff & Co in Jakarta, Indonesia and, from 1941, by Bradbury & Wilkinson in Great Britain. In 1945, two sets were printed by the American Bank Note Co. in New York. Since independence, Suriname has issued stamps with a blend of themes of national interest and themes of interest for the thematic collectors market.
Scott #335 was released on March 26, 1966, part of a set of four commemorating the centennial of the Redemptorist Mission in Suriname (Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer). The 15-cent yelllow brown and black stamp was printed by photogravure and perforated 12½ x 13. It portrays Mons. Joannes Baptista Swinkels.
Born in 1810, Swinkels became a priest on September 20, 1834, and jointed the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer in 1834,
On July 30, 1865, Pope Pius IX entrusted the Apostolic Vicariate of Suriname to the pastoral care of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer. According to the decision of the then superior general, the Nicholas Mauron, the mission remained the responsibility of the Redemptorist missionaries of the Province of Amsterdam (integrated today into the Province of Sanctus Clemens). On September 12, 1866, the then 55-year old Swinkels was appointed apostolic vicar of Dutch Guyana and Amorium’s titular bishop.
Mons. Swinkels and three Redemptorist missionaries departed on December 12 on the sailing ship De Jonge Eduard, arriving in Suriname on March 26, 1866. Missionary Peerke (Peter) Donders, a missionary who had come to Suriname in 1842 while still a diocesan priest, had worked in the leprosarium of Batavia. He was recruited by Swinkels, becoming a Redemptorist in 1867 and is the most prominent figure in the Congregation’s history.
After a stay of almost ten years in Suriname, Mons. Swinkels died in Paramaribo in September 1875 at the age of 65.