The king of the Ashanti kingdom of Ghana, Otumfuo Osei Tutu II is in Suriname to mark the country’s 43rd independence anniversary.
“This visit is significant for Suriname because of our culture and Surinamers that have an affinity with West Africa, especially Ghana.”
“We need to maintain better ties with African countries. The African continent is on the rise, so we have to take the opportunity to see how we can achieve sustainable development cooperation,” Deputy Director of Foreign Affairs, Miriam Macintosh told the National Information Institute on Tuesday.
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The king, who arrived on Thursday with a large 40-person delegation, is expected to share knowledge about Ghana’s cultural heritage, especially with the local traditional authority of the indigenous peoples and Maroons of Suriname, reports Caribbean media, The Daily Herald.
The chief guest of Suriname’s 43rd Independence day will attend several activities as part of the celebration including a lecture entitled “The Role of a Traditional King in a contemporary Modern Nation State” at the Anton de Kom University. At the time of publishing this, the Asantehene was set to meet local African Maroon communities of Suriname and their tribal chiefs.
Suriname, once known as Dutch Guiana, is one of South America’s smallest countries that has gone through a series of coups and civil wars since independence from the Netherlands in 1975. Considered to be a culturally Caribbean country, the people of Suriname are among the most diverse in the world, having a multitude of ethnic, religious, and linguistic groups.
Most of its people are descendants of African slaves and Indian and Javanese indentured labourers brought over by the Dutch to work in agriculture.
Ghana shares many historical and cultural ties with Suriname as a large number of people who were captured and sold into slavery during the Dutch period were from Ghana. Most of the slaves imported to Suriname came from Central Africa (more than 66,900 slaves, 31.6 per cent of the total number), Ghana (more than 53,000, 25 per cent of the total) and Bight of Benin (more than 34,700, 16.4 per cent of the total), according to data.
Thousands of slaves also arrived from Senegambia and Sierra Leone. The Akans from Ghana were, officially, the predominant slave group in Suriname and would due to their militaristic background and common language become runaway slaves (Maroons) and lead several slave rebellions across the Caribbean and the Americas with notable leaders being Cudjoe, Quamin, Quamina, and Cuffy which correspond to Akan day names Kojo, Kwame, Kwabena and Kofi.
For their proud display of wealth and culture and their dominance in West African history, the Akan ethnic group remains one of the most prominent and popular clans in West Africa. Today, they are mostly found in all parts of Ghana and neighbouring Cote d’Ivoire and their culture can also be found in the New World as a number of Akans were taken as captives from the Gold Coast to the Americas.
Historical accounts state that from the 15th century to the 19th century, the Akan people dominated gold mining and trading and this attracted the Europeans. Following periods of war, the capture and sale of Akan people into the slave trade shot up, especially during the wars between the Ashanti tribe and the Fante (as both sides sold a large number of their captives) as prisoners of war.
The conflicts resulted in large numbers of military captives being sold into slavery who would become known as “Coromantee” (Akan ethnic groups such as Ashanti, Fanti, Akyem, likely taken as war captives).
It is documented that from the beginning of the 17th century until after the end of emancipation in 1863, the Dutch (which gained Suriname from the English by the treaty of Breda in 1667) was in control of the Gold Coast trade in West Africa and had two main fortresses there from where they shipped Africans – Fort Amsterdam, in Kromanti (where the term Coromantee came from) Ghana and Fort Elmina, in Elmina Ghana.
Thus, Ghana and Loango (in present-day Congo) became the source of most slave descendants in Suriname with a significant number from Dahomey (in present-day Benin) but also from other parts of West Africa though in smaller numbers.
Slavery was then prevalent in South America as the native people were not adequate for the plantations that were established by Dutch and English settlers. By 1713, most of the work on the plantations that were producing cocoa, sugar, coffee and cotton was done by about 13,000 African slaves.
Due to the harsh and horrific treatment they received in the hands of their slave masters, most of the slaves escaped.
In countries like Suriname where they were surrounded by jungles, a large number of them, as early as the 17th century, escaped the plantations to the jungle and formed a new, unique and successful culture in the interior and became collectively known as Maroons.
Among the oldest known Maroons were from Suriname in northeastern South America. A 1976 study by Richard Price, cited by Black History Heroes states that there were six African Maroon groups in Suriname, dividing them into two main groups on the basis of cultural and linguistic differences, as well as location:
(1) the Eastern Tribes, consisting of the Ndyuka (Aucaner, Awka), the Aluku (Aluku nenge, Boni), and the Paramaka (Paramacca); and
(2) the Central Tribes, consisting of the Saramaka (Saramacca), the Matawai, and the Kwinti.
The Djuka and Saramaka are the largest African family groups. The Aluku, Matawai, and Paramaka are much smaller in number. The smallest tribe is the Kwinti, with fewer than 500 people.
According to Kwasi Konadu in his book, The Akan Diaspora in the Americas, although the Djuka and Saramaka were among the largest Maroon groups in Suriname and French Guiana, all Maroon groups shared basic constituents in terms of society and culture.
“All Maroons irrespective of numerical size or geographical location shared a similar political and agrarian structure and the primary social unit was the matriclan and its divisions. Among the Saramaka, most of the gaanobias (major spiritual forces) were vested in clans and said to have been brought from Africa. A leader headed each matriclan and succession (in principle) occurred by way of “being the eldest son of [the male leader’s] eldest sister. Certainly, this social configuration mirrors the matriclan (abusua) structure of the Akan and the (abosom) spiritual agents vested therein, and settlement patterns and the names thereof provide further evidence of an Akan influence on the African cultural dynamic in Suriname and French Guiana. Among Aluku Maroons, for example, some of their settlements were named Kofi-hay, Kwamigron (Kwamekrom) and Kormantin-Kodjogron (Kwadwokrom); the last of these was said to harbour mostly Kormantins who fled from plantations and were led by Kormantin Cojo (Kwadwo).”
The Maroons usually raided plantations to recruit new members from the slaves and capture women, as well as to acquire food, weapons, and other supplies. In the process, they sometimes killed planters and their families prompting colonists to build defences but this did not stop the Maroons.
During armed campaigns against the Maroons, they fled through the rainforest which they knew better than the colonists. To bring an end to the conflicts, it is recorded that in the 18th century the European colonial authorities signed several peace treaties with different tribes and granted the Maroons sovereign status and trade rights in their inland territories, giving them autonomy.
Since independence in 1975, some Maroon communities have remained in poverty, with little health care, job opportunities and education. Growing numbers of Maroons have, therefore, moved to Paramaribo, the capital of Suriname, and working as labourers or in the bauxite enclaves, one of the country’s key sector of the economy apart from gold, oil and agriculture.
Some are expanding eastward into adjacent French Guiana while many others left Suriname during the civil war (1986-1992) that was largely due to the government’s attempt to ignore the political, religious and cultural freedom that had been given to the Maroons during the colonial era.
Currently, a majority of Maroons have relatives abroad, particularly in the Netherlands, who send remittances, Minority Rights Group International has said.
This August, Ghana’s ambassador to Suriname, Abena Pokua Adompim Busia, said she is open to further development of most Maroon districts, especially for tourism and other economic activities.
Meanwhile, culturally, the Akan culture has been more dominant in terms of language and religious practices in the South American country. The descendants of escaped slaves in the interior of Suriname and the Maroons in Jamaica still use a form of the Kormantine language, including Akan naming conventions, in which children are named after the day of the week on which they are born. For instance, Ama for a girl born on Saturday and Kojo for a boy born on Monday. Likewise, the Anansi spider stories are very popular across Suriname at the moment.
Below is a video of a Suriname filmmaker who visited Ghana to explore the roots of Surinamese people: