An estimated number of 350.000 Surinamese people live in the Netherlands. Surinamese people in Netherlands are a culturally and ethnically heterogeneous group, consisting of Hindustan Indians, African Americans (Creoles and Marrons), Javanese, Chinese, and American Indians.
The African Americans are still called Creoles. The Creoles as a group, are divided into the City Creoles and the Bush Creoles. The City people are the descendants of enslaved Africans on the plantations, and the children of the Jew or white plantation owners and enslaved African women. Whereas the Bush People are the descendants of enslaved Africans who freed themselves and ran away seeking refuge in the tropical forest. This group is known as ‘marrons’. Not everyone appreciates this name as it was said to mean ‘runaway cattle’ (which makes the City People merely docile cattle), but some take the label of a badge of honor (a sign of having freed oneself from brutality of slavery). [Besides, Afrikan Ndjuka predates Jew enslavement. Jew tradition is to turn African honor titles into negative derision denoting ‘slaves’.]
Most people make a random distinction based on skin color. The dark skinned Creoles are assumed to be Ndjuka or Marron, and the lighter skinned Creoles are deemed to be City Creoles. In reality the descendants of Bush people come in many shades of brown and simply get accepted as City Creoles, while many City Creoles are dark skinned but shunned as Bush Creoles.
For many Creoles the Winti religion is most important. The Winti religion dates back to ancient African, and is based on the traditions and views on life and death as the enslaved Africans had embraced before getting shipped away from Africa. In the traditions of the Bush Creoles the Winti religion dominates, but some are also Protestants (or Reformed), or Christians. Whereas, the City Creoles are usually a member of a Christian religion which until not too long ago had been mandatory for them. They are usually members of the Dutch-Reformed Church, the Moravian Church, or the Roman Catholic Church. The Winti elements have remained part of the City Creole religion.
The Winti religion deals as much with life as it does with death. Thus, a very important element of the Winti religion are the rituals that deal with the newly deceased. In modern times Discard Association have become responsible for ensuring the right ‘discard’ of the body. Christian Creoles will usually consider the rituals as part of the Christian religion. The rituals should at least consist of a wake, the celebration of dede oso and aiti dey in the mourning period. Both Christians and non-Christians will usually also sing Christian songs, and not just Surinamese songs of which they may no longer know the meaning.
All prescribed acts and rituals are designed to rest the souls of the deceased. Therefore it is very important that the proper rituals are performed in the ‘right’ way. The Winti religion comes with a belief in the afterlife and reincarnation. Thus the spirit of the deceased needs to be guided. The Christian Creoles have the same need to guide the spirit of the deceased, but not towards a new life on earth. The soul of the deceased needs to be guided towards heaven, so it cannot remain on earth holding on to the family ties. The rituals must ensure that the ‘wandering soul’ can detach and leave the earth in peace. Family and friends commemorate the deceased and make arrangements.
Only general arrangements are made in advance. For example, only after death, should a coffin be made by a kisi man. Do that several chests makers, the kisi man. And the grave priests, the olo man, are to take the lead in the ceremonies. In the Committee of these grave priests are the grave diggers, those who prepare the corpse for wake and burial, the corpse carriers, and the coffin bearers. The House of the ancestors, the so-called weenhuis or kee oso, acts as mortuary. Once the coffin is closed, it should never be reopened. The funeral should take place outside of the neighborhood, or the village in the forest.
The mourning period for the partner is six months. The partner should dress appropriately, and remain from drawing any attention, lest the deceased clings to her.
In the rituals surrounding death, the discard organizations – the dinari – have an important role. They are responsible for washing the deceased according to strict and strictly secret rituals in line with their own policy. The members have taken an oath of confidentiality, and all discard associations keep it strictly enforced. Outsiders cannot get into the know. There is no Book of the Dead to get prepared. It allows for the dinari to remain a much needed instrument to ensure the peaceful passage for the dead.
The umbrella organization, Landelijke Federatie van Surinaamse Aflegverenigingen (LFSA), mediates between discard organizations, funeral companies and insurance companies, to achieve proper ‘discarding’ opportunities. [It is unclear at this time if the Dinari are still represented in this way, or if the ‘loges’ have taken over the tasks completely.]
This is a Dutch Guyana translation of ‘In Vogelvlucht’ (no longer available). The Dutch text is available at: http://www.yarden.nl/voorlichting/rouwrituelen/surinamers. (No endorsement.)