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What Should I Know About Suriname?

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  • Written By: Brendan McGuigan
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 02 April 2014
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Suriname is a small country in northern South America. It covers 63,200 square miles (163,800 sq. km), making it just larger than the US state of Georgia. It shares borders with Brazil, French Guiana, Guyana, and the Atlantic Ocean.

Suriname was first settled around 3000 BCE, by a number of different Native American tribes, most notably the Caribs and the Arawaks. First contact by Europeans was made with these tribes by the Dutch around the end of the 16th century. They traded with the local tribes, but only intermittently. The British attempted to colonize the region at the beginning of the 17th century, eventually achieving a semi-permanent settlement based on sugar crops. The Dutch invaded in the latter part of the 17th century, and were eventually given the land by treaty with the British; retaining control until independence, with a brief period of British rule during the Napoleonic era.

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In the mid-1950s Suriname was granted relative autonomy by the Dutch. Various political factions continued to work towards independence, which was eventually achieved in 1975. For the first few years the country was run democratically, until a series of military coups in 1980, which installed a dictatorial government. When the new government killed a number of people who belonged to the political opposition, both the Dutch and the Americans retaliated by stopping all foreign aid. Eventually, in 1985, the government began to democratize again, removing a ban on all opposition parties. Since then the government has continued to operate under democratic principles, and foreign aid has resumed.

The culture of Suriname remains very diverse, especially considering that it is the smallest independent nation in South America. The majority ethnic group in Suriname — which comes as a surprise to many visitors — is East Indian. This is the legacy of a massive amount of East Indian workers who were imported during the 19th century as a source of cheap labor after the abolition of slavery. Descendants of West African slaves make up the second-largest group in Suriname. The Javanese — also a legacy of cheap labor, imported by the Dutch from their province in Indonesia — make up the third-largest group. The Maroons, a group made up of the descendants of escaped West African slaves who went to the interior of the country, make up the fourth-largest group. Remnants of the native populations of Arawak, Carib, Wayana, and Trio, make up a scant 1%-3% of the population.

Suriname is a traveler’s dream come true, offering some of the best adventuring in all of South America. The interior of the country remains quite wild; the legacy of the Maroons who fought colonialists and post-colonialists until 1992. Exotic flora and majestic waterfalls make for some incredible hiking in the jungles of Suriname, and traveling by river is one of the most popular ways for tourists to get around this undeveloped interior. In the major cities the evidence of the Dutch colonial past is still evident in the stunning architecture.

Flights arrive in Suriname’s capital of Paramaribo regularly from a number of major cities in the West. The most frequent flights from Europe come from Amsterdam, while the main gateway from America is Miami. Suriname is also easily accessible from neighboring South American countries, as well as most Caribbean nations.

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