Total population
(37% of Suriname's population)
Regions with significant populations
Suriname (Paramaribo · Coronie · Brokopondo · Marowijne · Saramacca)
Netherlands, United States
Dutch, Sranan Tongo, Saramaccan, Ndyuka, Kwinti
Christianity and Indigenous religion

Afro-Surinamese are the inhabitants of Suriname of Sub-Saharan African ancestry. They are usually divided into two groups, the Creole people and the Maroons. The Surinamese Creoles are the mixed-race descendants of African slaves and Europeans. The Maroons were runaway slaves who formed independent settlements together. They maintained vestiges of African culture and language. Afro-Surinamese scholar, Gloria Wekker, argues, for example, that working-class Afro-Surinamese women retained pre-colonial African cultural understandings of gender, sexuality, and spirituality. She, and other theorists, argue that African cultural retentions are found most often in Afro-diasporic communities that either had irregular contact with dominant groups of the host community or that shielded their cultural retentions from their colonizers. As Wekker observes, Surinamese slaves socialized, communicated, and communed with little white cultural, social, or linguistic interference.[1]


Most of the slaves imported to Suriname came from Central Africa (more than 66,900 slaves, 31.6% of the total number imported), Ghana (more than 53,000, 25% of the total) and Bight of Benin (more than 34,700, 16.4% of the total). Thousands of slaves also arrived from Senegambia (more than 1,300, 0.7% of the total) and the current Sierra Leone (more than 1,400, 0.7% of the total), Windward Coast (more than 7,520, 3.6% of the total) and Bight of Biafra (more than 4,300, 2.1% of the total).

The Akans of Fanti subgroup (a subgroup exported, at least, from the Ivory Coast) and Ashanti (from the Ashanti Region, in central Ghana) were, officially, the predominant slave group in Suriname. However, in practice, slaves from Loango,[2] purchased in Cabinda, Angola,[3] were the largest group of slaves in Suriname since 1670; they surpassed the number on the Gold Coast in almost all periods. Enslaved people including the Ewe (who live in southern Ghana, Togo and Benin), Yoruba (from Benin[4]) and Kongo, all left their cultural footprints in Suriname.


The Dutch were involved in the slave trade during the early colonial years. They sought office space for their plantations. The space they received was when the British in the Treaty of Breda (1667) gave land on the northern coast of South America, ceded to them in exchange for New York. Suriname became a slave colony. Rapidly were slaves shipped from Africa to Suriname to work to put on coffee and sugar plantations of Dutch and other Europeans.

Over time, the slaves got used to their new environment and they created space for their African religion with many 'winti's', spirits. Some slaves asked their spirits for help with fleeing from the plantation.

Thus, every Saturday night under the watchful eye of the plantation owners and black overseers, dance parties were held until late into the night. To the great amusement of the slaveowners.


Escaped slaves in French Guiana and Suriname fled to the interior and joined with indigenous peoples to create several independent tribes, among them the Saramaka, the Paramaka, the Ndyuka (Aukan), the Kwinti, the Aluku (Boni), and the Matawai. Because of their long isolation in interior Rain Forests, they maintained more African culture than did ethnic Africans in the cities. From 1972 to 1978, two American professors, S. Allen Counter and David L. Evans, made seven voyages upriver into the maroon areas. Both African Americans, they wanted to contact these communities and learn about the peoples, to see what African cultures they lived by.[5]

By the 1990s the maroons in Suriname had begun to fight for their land rights to protect territory which they had long occupied.[6] They won an important case in 2007 at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which ruled they had rights to their traditional lands.[6]


Afro-Surinamese women have a rich historical tradition of same-sex relationships and a distinctive culture has developed around them. The “Mati are working class women who typically have children and engage in sexual relationships with men and with women, either consecutively or simultaneously… while others are only involved with women.” However, this definition does not encompass the diverse affiliations made by the Mati themselves. As Gloria Wekker argues, the identity of the Mati is a diasporic one, rooted in “constructions of sexualities, selves, and gender arrangements that build upon the African heritage.” Wekker notes further that the history of the term appears to be tied to histories of colonization and slavery, attributing the source to the Dutch term maatje, the diminutive of “mate.” However, the uses of the term vary dramatically by time period and socio-economic position, so that the exact origins of its present meaning are indistinguishable from its historical position. Linking the term to the Middle Passage, Wekker suggests that such ambiguous same-sex relationships may have developed in response to the social displacement of enslavement. While a rich Mati culture developed throughout the 20th century, many Mati have expatriated to the Netherlands for economic opportunities in recent years.[7]

Notable Afro-Surinamese


  1. Wekker, Gloria. The Politics of Passion: Women’s Sexual Culture in the Afro-Surinamese Diaspora. Columbia University Press, 2006.
  2. Identidades en juego, identidades en guerra (in Spanish: Identities at stake, identities at war) - Page 49
  3. Batey: una revista cubana de Antropología sociocultural (in Spanish: Cuban magazine of Culture Anthropology) Mami Wata, Diosa de la Migración Africana
  4. Los genes narran la rebelión de los esclavos Archived December 14, 2010, at the Wayback Machine. (in Spanish: Genes tell the Revolt of the slaves). Posted by Núñez Domínguez.
  5. Vincent Harding, "A remarkable search for roots;" I Sought My Brother: An Afro-American Reunion, by S. Allen Counter and David L. Evans, Christian Science Monitor, 12 March 1982, accessed 2 October 2013
  6. 1 2 Case of the Saramaka People v. Suriname, Judgment of November 28, 2007, Inter-American Court of Human Rights (La Corte Interamericana de Derechos Humanos), accessed 21 May 2009
  7. Wekker, Gloria (2006). The Politics of Passion: women's sexual culture in the Afro-Surinamese diaspora. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 0231131623.
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