Complete History of Suriname

Coat of Arms of Suriname

The ancient history of Suriname dates from 3000 BCE when Native Americans first occupied the area.

Suriname was populated millennia before the Europeans by several different indigenous cultures. The most populous nations at the time of colonialization were the Arawaks, a nomadic coastal tribe that lived from hunting and fishing, and the Caribs. The Caribs overcame the Arawaks along much of the coast, and into the Caribbean, using gliding ships. They settled in Galibi (Kupali Yumï, meaning “tree of the ancestors”) on the mouth of the Marowijne river. While the Arawak and Carib lived off the coast and savanna, smaller groups of indigenous peoples lived in the rainforest inland, such as the Akurio, Trió, Warrau, and Wayana.

European colonization

The earliest Europeans who came to Suriname were Spanish explorers and Dutch traders who visited the area along with other parts of South America’s ‘Wild Coast.’ The first efforts to settle the area by Europeans was in 1630 when English immigrants led by Captain Marshall tried to found a colony. They grew crops of tobacco, but the venture failed financially.

Dutch colonization

The settlement was attacked by seven Dutch ships (from the Zeeland region), led by Abraham Crijnssen, on February 26, 1667. Fort Willoughby was taken the next day after a three-hour fight and renamed Fort Zeelandia. On July 31, 1667, the English and Dutch approved the Treaty of Breda, in which for the time being the status quo was considered: the Dutch could keep occupying Suriname and the English the former Dutch colony New Amsterdam (modern-day New York). Willoughby and was renamed Suriname. This system was made clear in the Treaty of Westminster of 1674 after the English had regained and again lost Suriname in 1667 and the Dutch regained the colony in 1668. In 1683 the Society of Suriname was set up, posed on the ideas of Jean-Baptiste Colbert to profit from the administration and defense of the Dutch Republic’s colony. It had three participants, with equal shares in the society’s stability and profits—the city of Amsterdam, the family Van Aerssen van Sommelsdijck, and the Dutch West India Company. The Van Aerssen family only managed to sell its share in 1770. The Society came to an end in 1795 when this kind of trade and business was no longer seen as tolerable.

Slavery and freedom

In South America, slavery was the standard. The native people proved to be in limited quantity and consequently, the Atlantic slave trade furnished the workforce for the plantations. The plantations were delivering sugar, coffee, cocoa, cotton which were shipped 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 horrific, and slaves regularly fled to the jungle from the start.

Suriname was controlled by the British in 1799, after the Netherlands were included by France, and was restored to the Dutch in 1816, after the defeat of Napoleon. The Dutch ended slavery only in 1863, although the British had already removed it during their short rule. The emancipated slaves were, however, still required to continue their plantation work on a contract basis and were not released until 1873; up to that date they carried obligatorily but paid work at the plantations. In the meantime, many more workers had been imported from the Dutch East Indies, mostly Chinese inhabitants of that colony, creating a Chinese Surinamese population. From 1873 to 1916, many workers were imported from India, creating the Indo-Surinamese. After 1916, many laborers were again shipped from the Dutch East Indies, especially Java, creating the Javanese Surinamese.

20th Century

In the 20th century, the natural resources of Suriname, rubber, gold and bauxite, were exploited. The US company Alcoa had a claim on a large area in Suriname where bauxite, from which aluminum can be made, was found.


In 1973 the Dutch government started freedom discussions with the local government, led by the NPS (a largely Creole party), which was awarded on November 25, 1975. The Dutch instituted an aid program worth US$1.5 billion to last till 1985.

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