Jul 012015


Today is Keti Koti (Sranantongo for “the chains are cut”) Emancipation Day – the end of slavery – in Suriname. The day is also known as (Prisiri) Maspasi, meaning “Emancipation (Festival)”. Slavery was abolished by the Netherlands in Suriname and the Dutch Antilles in 1863. However, slaves in Suriname would not be fully free until 1873, after a mandatory 10 year transition period during which time they were required to work on the plantations for minimal pay but without the many formerly state sanctioned abuses. After 1873 many slaves left the plantations where they had suffered for several generations, in favor of the city of Paramaribo.


The first Europeans who came to Suriname were Dutch traders who visited the area along with other parts of South America’s ‘Wild Coast.’ The first attempts to settle the area by Europeans was in 1630, when English settlers led by Captain Marshall attempted to found a colony. They cultivated crops of tobacco, but the venture failed financially.

In 1650 Lord Willoughby, the governor of Barbados, fitted out a vessel to settle a colony in Suriname. At his own cost he equipped a ship of 20 guns, and two smaller vessels with things necessary for the support of the plantation. Major Anthony Rowse settled there in his name. Two years later he went in person, fortified and furnished it with things requisite for defense and trade. ‘Willoughbyland’ consisted of around 30,000 acres (120 km) and a fort. In 1663 most of the work on the 50 or so plantations was done by native Indians and 3,000 African slaves. There were around 1,000 Europeans there, joined by Brazilian Jews, attracted by religious freedom which was granted to all the settlers by the English.

The settlement was invaded by seven Dutch ships (from the Zeeland region), led by Abraham Crijnssen, on 26 February 1667. Fort Willoughby was captured the next day after a three-hour fight and renamed Fort Zeelandia. On 31 July 1667, the English and Dutch signed the Treaty of Breda, in which for the time being the status quo was respected: the Dutch could keep occupying Suriname and the British the formerly Dutch colony New Amsterdam (modern-day New York). Willoughbyland was renamed Suriname. This arrangement was made official in the Treaty of Westminster of 1674, after the British had regained and again lost Suriname in 1667. In 1683 the Society of Suriname was set up, modeled on the ideas of Jean-Baptiste Colbert to profit from the management and defense of the Dutch Republic’s colony. It had three participants, with equal shares in the society’s responsibilities and profits—the city of Amsterdam, the family Van Aerssen van Sommelsdijck, and the Dutch West India Company. The Van Aerssen family sold its share in 1770 and the Society came to an end in 1795 when this kind of trade and business was abolished.


In South America, slavery was the norm, even though countries such as Argentina kept this part of their history under wraps for many generations (Buenos Aires was a major slave trading port). There were not enough indigenous people as workers and consequently the Atlantic slave trade supplied the workforce for the plantations. The plantations produced sugar, coffee, cocoa, and cotton, which were exported for the Amsterdam market. In 1713 for instance most of the work on the 200 plantations was done by 13,000 African slaves. Their treatment was terrible, and slaves periodically escaped to the jungle from the start. These so-called Maroons (also known as “Djukas” or “Bakabusi Nengre”) attacked the plantations in order to acquire things they needed that were in short supply. Notable leaders of the Surinam Maroons were Alabi, Boni, Joli-coeur and Broos (Captain Broos). In the 18th century, three of the Maroon people signed a peace treaty, similar to the peace treaty ending the First Maroon War in Jamaica, whereby they were recognized as free people and received a yearly tribute that provided them with the goods they used to “liberate” from the plantations. A contemporary description of the war between the Maroons and the plantation owners in Suriname can be found in Narrative of a Five Years Expedition Against the Revolted Negroes of Surinam by John Gabriel Stedman.


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, although the British had already abolished it during their short rule. The slaves were, however, not released until 1873. In the meantime, many more workers had been imported from the Dutch East Indies, mostly Chinese living there, creating a Chinese-Surinamese population. From 1873 to 1916, many laborers were imported from India, creating the Indo-Surinamese. After 1916, many laborers were again imported from the Dutch East Indies, especially Java, creating the Javanese-Surinamese.


Surinamese cuisine is extensive, given that the current population of Suriname originated in so many countries. Now Surinamese dishes include roti, nasi goreng, bakmi, pom, snesi foroe, moksi meti, and losi foroe, plus many more that originated overseas, but have been amalgamated and transformed. Basic foods include rice, tayer and cassava. Well known dishes are moksi-alesi (mixed boiled rice with salted meat, shrimp or fish, and any vegetable), rice and beans, and the original Javanese nasi goreng and mie goreng.

Within the Surinamese community, in both Surinam and The Netherlands, Pom is the most popular and best known festive dish. Within the Surinamese community Pom is frequently referred to as a dish of Creole and/or Jewish origin. It was introduced by the Portuguese-Jewish plantation owners as the Portuguese potato (“pomme de terre”) oven dish. Because the potato did not grow in Suriname and had to be imported it was soon replaced with the root of the tayer plant. Pom combines three main ingredients: chicken, citrus juice and pomtajer (Xanthosoma sagittifolium). Only the latter is indigenous, and although all plant parts are edible, only the underground part of the main stem is used as an ingredient in preparing Pom. The main stem or corm is most frequently designated as pomtajer or pongtaya (lit. the tajer/taya for Pom). Finding it will be your challenge. Without it you cannot make Pom.

The first published description of Pom comes from Encyclopedie van Nederlandsch West-Indië (1914–1917) which describes the dish as follows: ‘the big tajer, of which the stalk grows above the earth, is grated and treated with the juice of bitter oranges, afterwards with chicken or fish, made into a pie, which dish is known as ‘pom’.’


In a baking dish, put sautéed chicken pieces between two layers of raw, grated pomtajer which is mixed with citrus juice and a sauce made from oil, onions, tomatoes, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Bake the dish in an oven for at least one hour or until the Pom becomes golden brown. Once baked, Pom is cut into pieces and either served hot with rice and vegetables or cooled and placed between slices of bread in a sandwich or bread-roll.

In Amsterdam alone there are over 120 establishments serving Surinamese food. Other Dutch cities such as Rotterdam and The Hague have a growing number of caterers, eateries and take-aways. Most establishments serve Pom, and often also “broodje pom” (pom on a bread-roll), a derivation of the national dish. In particular, “broodje pom” is rapidly gaining popularity and starting to appear on the Dutch menu. It can sometimes even be ordered in Dutch take-aways and for home-delivery. In recent years, more and more recipes for Pom have appeared in Dutch cookbooks, newspapers and on websites. In 2007, an exhibition about Pom was held at Imagine Identity and Culture, an Amsterdam-based centre for the representation of migration and cultures as seen from their own perspective.

Nov 252013


Today is Independence Day in Suriname. Suriname (or Surinam), officially known as the Republic of Suriname (Dutch: Republiek Suriname), is a country on the northeastern Atlantic coast of South America. It is bordered by French Guiana to the east, Guyana to the west, Brazil to the south. Suriname was colonized by the English and the Dutch in the 17th century.

Suriname is the smallest independent country in South America. It is situated on the Guiana Shield and 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 there. 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 1,286 metres (4,219 ft) above sea level. Other mountains include Tafelberg at 1,026 metres (3,366 ft), Mount Kasikasima at 718 metres (2,356 ft), Goliathberg at 358 metres (1,175 ft) and Voltzberg at 240 metres (790 ft).


In 1667 Suriname was colonized by the Dutch, who governed Suriname as Dutch Guiana until 1954. At that time it was designated as one of the constituent countries  of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, along with the Netherlands and the Netherlands Antilles (dissolved in 2010). On 25 November 1975, the country of Suriname left the Kingdom of the Netherlands to become independent. A member of CARICOM, it is often considered a Caribbean country and has had frequent trade and cultural exchange with the Caribbean nations.

At just under 165,000 km2 (64,000 sq mi), Suriname is the smallest sovereign state in South America. (French Guiana, while less extensive and populous, is an overseas department of France.) Suriname has a population of approximately 566,000, most of whom live on the country’s north coast, where the capital Paramaribo is located. The official language is Dutch. It is the only independent entity in the Americas where Dutch is spoken.

suri7  suri8

Beginning in the 16th century, French, Spanish, and English explorers visited the area. A century later, plantation colonies were established by the Dutch and English 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, however. In 1667, during negotiations leading to the Treaty of Breda, the Dutch decided to keep the nascent plantation colony of Suriname they had conquered from the English. The English got to keep New Amsterdam, the main city of the former colony of New Netherland. 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 the 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 that was highly successful in its own right. They were known collectively in English as the Maroons, in French as the Nèg’Marrons (literally meaning “maroon neg[roes]”, that is “runaway black slaves”), and in Dutch as Bosnegers (literally meaning “forest negroes”). The Maroons gradually developed several independent ethnic groups  through a process of ethnogenesis, as they were made up of slaves from different African ethnicities. Among them are the Saramaka, the Paramaka, the Ndyuka or Aukan, the Kwinti, the Aluku or Boni, and the Matawai.


The Maroons often raided the plantations to recruit new members from the slaves and capture women, as well as acquire weapons, food and supplies. The planters and their families were sometimes killed 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 rainforest which they knew much better than did the colonists. To end hostilities, in the 19th century the European colonial authorities signed several peace treaties with different Maroon groups. They granted the Maroons sovereign status and trade rights in their inland territories.

Slavery in Suriname was abolished by the Netherlands in 1863, but the slaves were not fully released until 1873, after a mandatory ten-year transition period during which time they were required to work on the plantations for minimal pay and without state-sanctioned discipline. As soon as they became truly free, the slaves largely abandoned the plantations where they had worked for several generations in favor of the city, Paramaribo.

As a plantation colony, Suriname was still heavily dependent on manual labour, and to make up for the shortfall, the Dutch brought in contract laborers from the Dutch East Indies (modern Indonesia) and India (through an arrangement with the British). In addition, during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, small numbers of laborers, mostly men, were brought in from China and the Middle East. Although Suriname’s population remains relatively small, because of this history it is one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse countries in the world.

On 23 November 1941, under an agreement with the Netherlands government-in-exile, the United States occupied Suriname to protect bauxite mines. In 1954, Suriname became one of the constituent countries of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, along with the Netherlands Antilles and the Netherlands. Under this arrangement, the Netherlands retained control of defense and foreign affairs. In 1973, the local government, led by the NPK (a largely Creole, that is, ethnically African or mixed African-European, party) started negotiations with the Dutch government leading towards full independence, which was granted on 25 November 1975. The independence package was substantial, and a large part of Suriname’s economy for the first decade following independence was fueled by foreign aid provided by the Dutch government.


Dutch is the sole official language, and is the language of education, government, business, and the media. Over 60% of the population speak Dutch as a first language, and most of the rest speak it as a second language. In 2004 Suriname became an associate member of the Dutch Language Union. It is the only Dutch-speaking country in South America as well as the only independent nation in the Americas where Dutch is spoken, and one of the two non-Romance-speaking countries on the continent, the other being English-speaking Guyana.

In Paramaribo, Dutch is the main home language in two-thirds of households.The recognition of “Surinaams-Nederlands” (“Surinamese Dutch”) as a national dialect equal to “Nederlands-Nederlands” (“Dutch Dutch”) and “Vlaams-Nederlands” (“Flemish Dutch”) was expressed in 2009 by the publication of the Woordenboek Surinaams Nederlands (Surinamese–Dutch Dictionary). Only in the interior of Suriname is Dutch seldom spoken. Sranan Tongo, a local creole language originally spoken by the creole population group, is the most widely used language in the streets and is often used interchangeably with Dutch depending on the formality of the setting.

Surinamese Hindi or Sarnami, a dialect of Bhojpuri, is the third-most used language, spoken by the descendants of South Asian contract workers from then British India. Javanese is used by the descendants of Javanese contract workers. The Maroon languages, somewhat mutually intelligible with Sranan Tongo, include Saramaka, Paramakan, Ndyuka (also called Aukan), Kwinti and Matawai. Amerindian languages, spoken by indigenous peoples, include Carib and Arawak. Hakka and Cantonese are spoken by the descendants of the Chinese contract workers. Mandarin is spoken by a few recent Chinese immigrants. English, Spanish and Portuguese are also used. Spanish and Portuguese are spoken by Latin American residents and their descendants and sometimes also taught in schools.

Surinamese cuisine is highly varied because the population originates from a variety of cultures, and is unlike the cuisines of other South American countries . Surinamese cuisine is a combination of many international cuisines including Indian, African Creole, Javanese, Chinese, Dutch, Jewish, Portuguese, and Amerindian. Common ingredients are chicken, salted meat and fish (bakkeljauw), rice, cassava, tayer, long beans, okra, and eggplant.

For a spicy taste, Madame Jeanette peppers are used. Madame Jeanette (Capsicum chinense) is a hot pepper originally from Suriname.The fruits are shaped like small bell peppers but with fierce heat (100,000-350,000 on the Scoville scale [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scoville_scale]) . The peppers ripen to reddish-yellow. Often this pepper is mixed up with the yellow Adjuma, which is less elongated and said to have more heat and less aroma. Madame Jeanette peppers are used in almost all of Surinam cuisine. The plant is very prolific. It grows fairly small and dislikes cool sites. It will grow indoors.


Tayer is a species of Xanthosoma, a genus of flowering plants in the arum family, Araceae, related to taro. The genus contains about 50 species that are native to tropical America. Several are grown for their starchy corms, an important food staple of tropical regions, known variously as malanga, otoy, otoe, cocoyam (or new cocoyam), tannia, tannier, yautía, macabo, macal, taioba, dasheen, quequisque, ?ape andSingapore taro (taro kongkong). Taro can be substited.


Pom tayer, of Jewish origin, is the national dish of Suriname. It is a baked casserole of layers of tayer and chicken.  It is considered mandatory to serve pom tayer at all celebrations.


Pom Tayer


1 whole chicken (2 to 3 lbs)
1 lb chicken sausage, sliced
2 ½ lbs tayer (or taro root)
1 lb can diced tomatoes
2 onions, peeled and chopped
3 stalks celery, diced
chicken stock
1 tbsp of nutmeg
juice of one orange
juice of 2 lemons
3 cloves of garlic, pressed
1 hot chile (Madame Jeanette or as hot)
1 tbsp sugar
½ cup of vegetable oil
salt and pepper


Cut the chicken into pieces. Traditionally it is chopped into chunks bone and all, but you can cut the meat from the bone. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.

Heat the oil in a heavy saucepan over medium-high heat and sauté the chicken pieces and chicken sausage in batches until lightly browned. Set aside.

In the same pan, sauté the onions for 7-8 minutes. Add the tomatoes, garlic and celery.

Add the chicken, chicken sausage, and hot pepper and cover with stock.

Cook covered over medium low heat for 25-30 minutes. Drain the cooking liquid into a bowl and keep it aside.

Peel and rinse the tayer. Grate the tayer. Mix it with some of the cooking liquid from the meat as well as the orange and lemon juices to make a sticky dough. Add sugar.

Spread half of the tayer mixture in a well greased covered baking dish. Spread the chicken mixture on top and then cover with the rest of the tayer.

Pour the remaining juices over the top and bake for two hours: one hour covered at 425°F/230°C, and one hour uncovered at 350°F/175°C, until the top is brown.

Serves 8-10