The Afterlife of Pim de la Parra’s Wan Pipel:
The Ongoing Significance of the First Surinamese Film among the Surinamese Diaspora in The Netherlands.
Master Thesis Film Studies 2021-2022 Author: Emma van der Westen Supervisor: Dr. Emiel Martens Second Reader: Rakesh Sengupta Universiteit van Amsterdam
Often regarded as the first Surinamese feature film, Pim de la Parra’s Wan Pipel (‘One People,’ 1976) is still considered a milestone for Surinamese cultural expression. While the film initially flopped in the Netherlands, Suriname’s colonizing country until 1975, received only lukewarm reviews on an international level, it has become a classic among many Surinamese people. Called the ‘Wilhelmus of Suriname’ (The Surinamese national anthem) by De la Parra’s friend, co-founder of his production company Scorpio Films, Wim Verstappen, the film established itself as iconic in its embodiment of Suriname’s nature and culture. Almost 50 years after its initial release in 1976, one year after
Suriname’s independence from the Netherlands, the film is still broadcasted every Independence Day on Surinamese television. Around 2009, Wan Pipel was restored and digitalized by the EYE film museum in Amsterdam. Facilitated by additional subtitles and its accessibility on online platforms, Wan Pipel is now available for an even broader audience. Young and old Surinamers continue to watch the film on different media outlets, not only in Suriname but also in its different diasporic communities. This thesis aims to trace the value that De la Parra’s masterpiece has retained for half a century, especially among the Surinamese diaspora in the Netherlands. This is investigated by
interviewing numerous members of the Surinamese diaspora. This thesis further examines its reception from the Cannes film festival in the 1970s to the digital universe in the 2000s, and the archival practices of preservation and presentation that have been instrumental to the significance the film holds today. While the film is frequently screened by the EYE and is reviewed and covered occasionally by newspapers and online blogs, academic studies into the first Surinamese film are lacking, despite its great cultural value for a large community. By approaching Wan Pipel from a phenomenological standpoint – centering on the experiences, interpretations, and imaginations of the film, filmmaker, and especially its audience - this thesis attempts to examine the ongoing significance of Wan Pipel, focusing on its national, cultural, social, and political meaning in the past and present.
Surinamese Diaspora, Caribbean Cinema, Suriname, Film, Cultural Heritage
I would like to thank, first of all, Thurston Brasdorp for showing me Wan Pipel for the first time and teaching me a lot about Surinamese culture and history.
I would not have been able to do this research without the help of Pim de la Parra, Bodil de la Parra, Emjay Rechtsteiner, Thurston, Henny, Shirley, Roy, Oesha, Lila, Leilus, Letiets, Hellen, and the others who made the time for an interview. I am grateful for the openness and generosity which I got from everybody who wanted to cooperate in this study.
I would like to thank my supervisor Emiel Martens for the valuable feedback, understanding, and exchange of knowledge during our (zoom)meetings.
I would like to thank the EYE Film Museum and Collection Centre for the wonderful assistance with the disclosure of the archival material.
Abstract ... ii
Acknowledgements ... iii
Chapter 1: Introduction ...1
Setting the scene ...1
Theoretical framework ...3
Method description ...6
Chapter 2: Situating Wan Pipel ...9
2.1: Caribbean Cultural Heritage: Situating the Archive ... 10
2.2: Caribbean Cinema: Situating Wan Pipel Cinematically ... 15
2.3: Representation and Spectatorship: Situating the Diaspora Audience ... 20
Chapter 3: Distributing, restoring, and presenting Wan Pipel ...25
3.1: The Release of Wan Pipel ... 26
3.2: The Restoration of Wan Pipel ... 31
3.3: Presenting Wan Pipel ... 33
Chapter 4: The Reception of Wan Pipel ...36
4.1: Cultural and Cinematic accessibility: Representation, Cinema-going, and Narrative ... 37
4.1.1: Representation: Expressions of Surinamese Culture ... 37
4.1.2: Experiences of Cinema-Going and Online Accessibility ... 40
4.1.3: Accessibility Through Narrative... 42
4.2: Political issues and Postcolonial Ideals ... 45
4.2.1: The Fate of Rubia... 45
4.2.2: Wan Pipel and Postcolonial Nation-Building... 48
Referenced Works ...54
Primary Sources ... 54
Secondary Literature ... 55
Appendix 1: Basic interview questions ... 57
Appendix 2: Expert interview questions ... 58
Chapter 1: Introduction
Setting the scene
Widely regarded as the first Surinamese fiction feature film, Pim de la Parra’s Wan Pipel (1976) is considered a product of national cultural heritage. It was released in 1976, only one year after Suriname’s independence. Both the film’s political context and its content provide a remarkable narrative of Suriname as a plural society and its relationship with the Netherlands as a colonial ruler during the fight for independence.
Wan Pipel tells the story of Roy Ferrol, an Afro-Creole Surinamese man who is studying in the Netherlands when he hears that his mother is on her deathbed in Suriname. Upon going back to Suriname for his mother’s funeral, he finds himself reconnecting with his native country. Even though he has a Dutch girlfriend, Karina, who is still in the Netherlands, he falls in love with Rubia, a Hindu- Surinamese girl. However, both their families do not accept their relationship, as they wish they would marry people of their own ethnicity. When Karina travels to Suriname to get Roy, he is forced to choose between the two women. After an emotional goodbye at the airport, the film ends with Karina returning to the Netherlands, while Roy and Rubia together stay behind in Suriname.
Wan Pipel was considered a controversial film of its time, in its portrayal of distinct cultures within Suriname and in the portrayal of a symbolic (post)colonial relationship with and rejection of the Netherlands. By virtue of its political message, Wan Pipel also aided in Suriname’s attempts to build a nation after its independence. Suriname’s division across ethnicity and race, and the discontent with independence made nation-building in Suriname extremely difficult on a political level. However, Wan Pipel’s portrayal of unity rather than division made it a pivotal cultural work that promoted nation-building.1 Wan Pipel’s contribution to efforts of nation-building is still reflected today in the tradition of screening the film on national tv every Independence Day (Srefidensi Dey) on the 25th of November.
The film is often considered director De la Parra’s masterpiece – even after creating several iconic films (Frank & Eva, 1973; Blue Movie, 1971; Obsessions, 1969) together with Dutch producer and director Wim Verstappen. However, despite Wan Pipel’s first screening at the Cannes film festival and various festivals and theatres worldwide (see list 1), the film caused the bankruptcy of De la Parra himself, as well as his production company Scorpio Films due to its lack of box office success in
1 Hoefte and Veenendaal define nation building in this sense as “a domestic process in which political elites (or state agents) attempt to overcome pre-existing cultural, ethnic, linguistic, or religious divisions in order to forge a national identity” (Hoefte & Veenendaal, 2019, p. 173); Wan Pipel ’s political value can also be deducted from the funding that the Surinamese government provided for the creation of the film.
the Netherlands, where people did not seem ready to reflect on the colonial past and postcolonial present.
Still, Wan Pipel’s constant circulation was secured by screenings at different festivals, and more recently, by its digitalization and availability on online platforms. In the 1990s, director Pim de la Parra left much of his creative work, as well as the documentation of his production company Scorpio Films – founded together with Verstappen – to the EYE film museum in Amsterdam. In acquiring this personal archive, EYE has been able to preserve and present a large amount of De la Parra’s archive.
As a result, Wan Pipel is now freely available online on YouTube and the EYE film player, easily available and accessible digital platforms. The content and context of the film, as well as the processes of preserving and presenting the film, have resulted in the fact that audiences can continue to experience, imagine, and re-imagine Wan Pipel. Thus, following its release and in the decades afterwards, Wan Pipel generated a lasting reputation among many Surinamese people. Even today, 46 years after its first screening in 1976, the film is still significant for multiple generations of Surinamese people.
Wan Pipel, as a film that meant to unite and bridge the gap between the different groups in
Suriname, was an ambitious project considering the multi-ethnic and diasporic make-up of its people.
The largest social groups in Suriname are Creoles, who are of African descent and were enslaved by the Netherlands during colonial times, and Hindustani Surinamese people, whose ancestors mainly came to Suriname as indentured laborers from the region of India. Other social groups in Suriname are Chinese, Javanese, Jewish, European, and Maroons.2 Nowadays, increasingly more Surinamese people are a mix of these ethnicities. Additionally, a large number – about 350.000 – of Surinamese people live in the Netherlands. They emigrated mostly during and after Surinamese independence and are now part of the Surinamese diaspora in the Netherlands.3 The Surinamese diaspora
community in the Netherlands offers a particularly interesting perspective regarding Wan Pipel, since they embody a specific type of spectatorship that is influenced by lived experiences and realities of either or both Suriname and the Netherlands. While the film already enjoys annual importance in Suriname through the screening of the film Independence Day and at other celebratory events and has become in a sense an audiovisual version of the Surinamese national anthem, the Surinamese diaspora in the Netherlands upholds Wan Pipel’s prominence by viewing it, by screening it during cultural events, by talking about it with friends and family, and by imagining and re-imagining the film.
2 “Historie,” Historie (gov.sr), accessed March 24, 2022.
3 “Hoeveel mensen met een migratieachtergrond wonen in Nederland?” CBS accessed March 24, 2022.
To examine the ongoing significance of Wan Pipel, I have interviewed several members of the Surinamese diaspora in the Netherlands from different generations, socio-economic backgrounds, ages, ethnicities, and genders, about their experiences with the film. I have also interviewed the director of Wan Pipel, Pim de la Parra and two (former) curators at the EYE film museum. The outcomes of these interviews provoke questions about the different stages of the creation, distribution, restoration, presentation, and reception of Wan Pipel, which will be assessed in this thesis. Therefore, this thesis will attempt to answer the following question: “How does Surinamese diaspora in the Netherlands evaluate, interpret, and experience the ongoing significance of the first Surinamese feature film Wan Pipel (1976) by Pim de la Parra?
In the attempt to answer this question, I want to argue the different ways and dimensions in which the film’s initial success in Suriname (contrasted by its flopping in the Netherlands), and the ‘delayed recognition’ of Wan Pipel through its restoration and availability on online platforms has resulted in the acclamation of great cultural, social, political, and historical value, both for a returning (diasporic) audience, as well as a ‘new’ (diasporic) audience. Through the delayed recognition of Wan Pipel, this returning diasporic audience, which mostly grew up in Suriname and migrated to the Netherlands, is able to imagine and re-imagine Wan Pipel through an appreciation of cultural representation, nostalgia, and an everlasting socio-historical connection to their native country. The new audience consists of younger members of the Surinamese diaspora in the Netherlands, who did not grow up in Suriname but nonetheless have intricate ties to the country and its history and culture, generally assigns importance and value to the audiovisual expression of specifically Surinamese culture, which tries to remain uncompromised by western imperial, (neo-)colonial traditions in cinema.
While there has been quite some coverage of Wan Pipel in public texts, such as newspaper articles, Caribbean blogs and film reviews, exhaustive academic research into the film is almost non-existent.4 Often, Surinamese cinema is mentioned as a short example or in a generalized summary of
Caribbean countries (see, for example, Paddington and Warner, 2009; van Kempen, 2002; Blasini,
4 See for example, “Wan Pipel ,” VPRO Gids, Wan Pipel - VPRO Cinema - VPRO Gids; Robert Bitter, “Wan Pipel (1976),” Cinemagazine, Wan Pipel (1976) recensie (cinemagazine.nl); Jansen van Galen, “Jong Suriname kon een film als Wan Pipel gebruiken” Het Parool, June 22, 2019; “Wan Pipel, ”Werkgroep Caraïbische Letteren, January 23, 2011.
2009; Martin, 1995).5, In examinations of Caribbean cinema more broadly, scholars often use a variety of approaches and methodologies. Writers such as Hall and Gilroy, for example, have argued for an examination into the positioning of the marginalized diasporic film spectator, emphasizing ideas of difference, representation, cultural identity, and double consciousness, among others.
Authors such as Paddington and Warner or Cham, also discuss concepts like cultural identity, Caribbean cinema, difference, representation, Caribbeanness, and Creolité, and they apply these notions in case studies of Caribbean films. (Paddington and Warner, 2009; Martin, 2009).
Most likely, the main reason for the relative neglect of Surinamese cinema specifically, as well as Caribbean cinema – albeit to a lesser extent – is the fact that Caribbean productions only started to emerge in the 1970s and 1980s (with Wan Pipel in 1976), and their availability and accessibility are a relatively recent development, especially compared to North American, Asian, and European cinema (Paddington and Warner, 2009). While research on topics of Caribbean cinema has increased over time, there is a significant gap in academic research on Dutch-speaking Caribbean cinema, and Surinamese cinema more specifically. While these countries’ film industries may appear small and immature, they can help us to reveal cultural, social, historical, economic, and political specificities of the different societies the Caribbean, and the long-lasting significance of cinema. Through the examination of Wan Pipel and its reception, this thesis hopes to partly fill that gap.6
Furthermore, this thesis is based on a combination of critical, postcolonial, and phenomenological approaches. First, critical theory represents a way of research that rejected the existence of one single objective truth and instead argued that different truths and realities existed among different social groups – emphasizing the significance of research into the diverse (intersectional) experiences, histories, and narratives within and across different groups of people. Second, a postcolonial
approach extends the significance of different truths and realities to include marginalized communities (in former colonies) in particular (Baksh-Soodeen, 1998; Fanon, 1952, 1961; Lorde, 1984; Gilroy, 1993). While postcolonial theory employs eclectic sets of approaches, methodologies, and definitions, Ashcroft, Griffiths, and Tiffin use the term postcolonialism, “to cover all the culture affected by the imperial process from the moment of colonization to the present day” (Ashcroft, Griffiths, Tiffin, 2002, p. 2). Postcolonial studies generally focus on questions dealing with the organization of societies, cultures, politics, economies, and nations, outside the parameters, yet
5 It is important to clarify that in this thesis, Suriname is mainly regarded as part of the larger region of the Caribbean. Even though geographically, Suriname belongs to the continent of South America, it shares more socio-cultural, historical, and political aspects with the Caribbean region, especially in its diasporic nature and colonial history. If we look at cinema specifically, Suriname pops up in both South American and Caribbean film studies (see for example Rist, 2014)
6 VERWIJZING P PISTERS STUK!
inevitably tied with existing (western) societies that were built in and around imperialist and colonial economic, political, and cultural systems. The postcolonial framework is useful for this thesis because the people whose experiences, cultures, and realities form the body of this thesis belong to a
marginalized community within the Netherlands, which originated from a former colonial region.
Employing a critical postcolonial approach enables me to examine how those different voices from the Surinamese diaspora community matter, in relation to Wan Pipel.
It is necessary to preface the concept of Diaspora as it is used in this thesis. Diaspora has been a point of discussion for scholars in ranging fields of study. The notion of Diaspora as is applied in this thesis is based on the works of, for instance, Clifford, Hall, and Gilroy. They have written influential works on the concept of diaspora as a dynamic and hybrid one, instead of a more essentialist, centered one (see Clifford, 1994; Hall, 1989; Gilroy; 1993). The criticism of the above-mentioned academics was mainly on the idea of a central origin or homeland, and the desire to return to that place. This was central to the understanding of diaspora communities. This stand, most notably discussed by Safran, emphasized both shared ‘origins,’ as well as shared struggles of displacement, forced migration, and slavery (Safran, 1991). Clifford argues that the narrative of a shared origin or homeland, as examined by Safran is constantly obscured by different transnational connections and shared histories of
“displacement, suffering, adaptation, or resistance.” In some diaspora communities, these histories may be more important than the ‘return to the (symbolic) homeland.’ Clifford suggests a diacritical approach to diasporas that aligns with the increasingly global landscape in which diasporas find their meaning (Clifford, 1994, p. 306-8). Brubaker described, like Clifford, this paradigmatic transition from the ‘shared origins or homeland narrative towards a more decentered, broader definition of
diaspora. He calls this “dispersion of the meanings of the term in semantic, conceptual and disciplinary space,” a ‘diaspora’ diaspora (Brubaker, 2005, p.1). To re-order this dispersion of the definition of diaspora, Brubaker suggests a re-identification of the features that constitute diaspora.
These features are 1) dispersion, 2) homeland orientation, and 3) boundary maintenance (Brubaker, 2005). Generally, the above-mentioned authors have been taken up as a guideline for the discussion of Diaspora in this thesis
This thesis, ultimately, takes up a phenomenological approach, to examine the reception of Surinamese diasporic spectators to cinema. As Peritore already argued in the late 70s, a phenomenological methodology “provides a way of unravelling the "multiple realities" of film experience (Peritore, 1977, p. 3).” Yet, Vivian Sobchack’s work The Address of the Eye provides a more notable study of the phenomenological approach to cinema. Influenced by philosophers such as Husserl and Merleau-Ponty, Sobchack applies phenomenology to cinema. She argues that cinema is both subject and object, and “that film has the capacity to signify, to not only have sense but also
to make sense” (Sobchack, 1992, p. 6). She argues that cinema presupposes a subjective existence, one similar to the spectator and filmmaker, through which all three intersubjectively and directly experience cinema. The film experience happens on a deeper level among the film, the filmmaker, and the spectator, even before this experience can be communicated through logical structures of language. So, the direct experience of film is grounded in an embodied structure of existence, an existence that moves, sees, feels, and hears. Thus, according to Sobchack, the positioning of the spectator, the film, and the filmmaker, shapes the film’s meanings. The relation between the three, Sobchack further argues, is dialectical, always informing each other and generating new meanings.
She says of cinema: “Its significance is constituted in its emergence and existence in the world that is encountered through an active and embodied gaze that shares the materiality of the world ….”
(Sobchack, 1992, p. 62).
For this thesis, I have conducted fourteen in-depth interviews, which form the corpus of this thesis.
First, the interview I conducted with director De la Parra shines light on his firsthand experiences and interpretations of the creative process that is behind Wan Pipel, as well as the aftermath of its screenings and presentations at festivals. This interview will be included throughout the body of this thesis, aligning the thoughts and experiences of the other interviewees with the more specific experiences and challenges that were at the base of constructing Wan Pipel. Secondly, I have carried out expert interviews with two (former) curators at the EYE film museum in Amsterdam, who have been involved with the archiving, preservation, and presentation of Wan Pipel. The purpose of these expert interviews is to gain insight into how the process of preservation and presentation of films like Wan Pipel is organized. The curators – who have been involved with De la Parra’s archive – can also expand on their experience with the film’s digitalization and accessibility, which allowed a broader audience to view the film. These developments were vital to Wan Pipel’s ongoing significance. Lastly, the interviews I did with members of the Surinamese diaspora in the Netherlands make visible their memories, experiences, and values concerning Wan Pipel. Because of the diversity in age and cultural background among the interviewees, these interviews give impressions of how different socio- economic environments result in different experiences, interpretations, and imaginations of Wan Pipel. The aim of employing an interview-based methodology is to articulate the positioning of the Surinamese diaspora as the main spectators of Wan Pipel. Essentially, the film centers the
Surinamese spectator, as it specifically represents Surinamese (and to an extent Caribbean) cultural
identities, and its population’s lived realities and experiences.7 These interviews centralize the different voices that are important to the journey Wan Pipel made, from its initial release in Cannes to the TV in people’s homes. Yet, inherent to choosing this method were several challenges. These challenges were mainly technological and occurred when communicating through the phone, with people in other cities within the Netherlands, and with De la Parra, who currently resides in Suriname.8 In additions to the interviews, other methods employed in this study are secondary literature research, the historical analysis of newspaper articles that came out in the period from 1976 to 1980. The end of this period is marked by the military coup, instigated by then-sergeant Bouterse, and is succeeded by an eight-year period of political, social, and economic unrest, under a dictatorship led by Bouterse. Further methods used in this thesis are textual and historical analysis of Wan Pipel. By virtue of the variety of methods, the ongoing significance of the film discussed here, can be examined from many different perspectives.
This thesis is divided into three chapters. The purpose of the next chapter to build an understanding of the position of Wan Pipel as the first-ever Surinamese feature film. Consequently, this chapter will investigate several themes through an analysis of secondary literature. These themes are important to understand when discussing Wan Pipel in its context. I will examine concepts of Surinamese and Caribbean cinema, as well as relating notions of Third (World) Cinema and questions of nationalism and postcolonialism. Furthermore, I will discuss the position of the audience, specifically the
Surinamese audience in the Netherlands. Here, I will investigate different layers and discussion of the Surinamese diaspora in the Netherlands, and subsequently, their perspective as the spectator.
7In terms of spectatorship, different scholars have examined the relationship between (cultural) identity and spectatorship, ranging from Baudry to Mulvey, to Evans and Gamman (see Baudry,1974; Mulvey, 1975, Evans and Gamman, 1995). More interesting for this thesis, however, are the responses to those scholars, posited by for example, Diawara and bell hooks. Diawara argues that besides the notion of the spectators as ‘psychically constituted,’ a notion that is discussed by Baudry within a psychoanalytical framework, the spectator is also situated in a specific social and historical context. In discussing 1980s Hollywood films with Black protagonists, Diawara contends that Hollywood productions often center white characters and that in his case studies, Black characters are very rarely represented (historically and culturally) accurately (Diawara, 1993). Bell hooks adds to Diawara’s discussion, the position of the Black female spectator. In doing so, she poses that the Black female gaze is an oppositional gaze, which resists identification with both (white and black) male characters and (white) female characters (bell hooks, 1997). Placing this in the context of Wan Pipel, which was mainly distributed in Suriname and the Netherlands, contrary to previous film productions concerning Suriname and its population, Wan Pipel could be seen as an example of a film that specifically invites both Surinamese spectatorship, as well as Surinamese female spectatorship (as opposed to Dutch spectatorship). This can be observed in the film’s centralization and cultural richness of the portrayal of Roy and Rubia. Subsequently, Dutch spectatorship is dismissed in Wan Pipel with the altogether symbolic rejection of the only white character Karina.
8 Despite the challenges, the information that I could gather from the interviews was not further compromised.
Finally, the last part of Chapter 2 will examine the challenges and possibilities of archiving and preserving Caribbean cultural heritage. Since Wan Pipel is both Surinamese and Dutch and is currently being preserved in the Netherlands, this part will discuss how to think about cultural heritage in general, but more specifically, the political and historical connotations of preserving a transnational object of study. The chapter’s aim is to trace specific markers that are important in the discussion of Wan Pipel, not only as an iconic film but also as an object of study in its political, national, cultural, historical, and social contexts. Chapter 3 of this thesis will be based on the interviews with employers at the EYE film museum and with director De la Parra and will be
supported by an analysis of both Dutch and Surinamese news articles. The three parts of this chapter are divided into examinations of the release, the restoration, and the (recurring) transnational presentation of the film in Suriname, in the Netherlands, as well as globally. This chapter thus retraces the journey of Wan Pipel from its release at the Cannes Marché in 1976, to its current presentations at the EYE film museum, and collateral and additional challenges and processes of archiving, preserving, and presenting (a restored) Wan Pipel. Chapter 4, the last chapter of this thesis is dedicated to the analysis of the interviews with Surinamese people I conducted, about their experience and interpretation of Wan Pipel today. Divided into three main themes that were
discussed in the interview, this chapter will discuss 1), the cinema, 2) the cultural, and 3) the political value of Wan Pipel, drawing from the conversations with the interviewees, and illustrated using examples of the film. I would argue that on the basis of these interviews, the ongoing significance and value for its Surinamese audience is based in the balance of the film as 1) a form of
entertainment, residing in the theme of romance and forbidden love, 2) as a realistic fiction film, through which the lives, cultural identities, and experiences of the spectators are accurately and respectfully represented, and 3) as an ideal ‘dream scenario’, which expressed a political dream and hope of unity in diversity, and the ideal of a peaceful, prosperous society after years of colonization.
Chapter 2: Situating Wan Pipel
In this chapter, I will discuss three different themes that are important for understanding the context of Wan Pipel. The first part of this chapter will explore the notion of Caribbean cultural heritage, to situate Wan Pipel in the larger context of cultural heritage and archival practices. The second part of this chapter attempts to place the film in the socio-political context of Suriname as the first
Surinamese feature film, as well as in the context of the emergence of Caribbean cinema more broadly. This part further considers the discussions of Third (World) Cinema, and (trans)national cinema. The third and final part of this chapter examines the different dimensions of Wan Pipel’s main audience, the Surinamese population, and the Surinamese diaspora in the Netherlands more specifically.
2.1: Caribbean Cultural Heritage: Situating the Archive
Worldwide, archival institutions and museums collaborate to preserve and present important socio- historical and cultural heritage. Cultural heritage, as defined by UNESCO, “includes artefacts, monuments, a group of buildings and sites, museums that have a diversity of values including symbolic, historic, artistic, aesthetic, ethnological or anthropological, scientific, and social
significance. It includes tangible heritage (movable, immobile, and underwater), intangible cultural heritage (ICH) embedded into cultural, and natural heritage artefacts, sites, or monuments.”
Concerning Caribbean heritage, Van Stipriaan argues: “One could say that Caribbean objects of nature and culture went into Diaspora substantially earlier than the Caribbean people (Van Stipriaan, 2016).”
In the Dutch Caribbean, and specifically in Suriname, the idea of heritage was grounded in colonialism and imperialism. Since the colonization of Suriname, Dutch people that traveled to Suriname have taken objects, animals, plants, paintings and more such things to the Netherlands, either as souvenir or as a symbol of their status. Over time, archives and museums were built especially for the private, public, and royal collections acquired in overseas territories. These collections would become heritage, links to the pasts of different peoples. While earlier reasons for preserving heritage collections were to stimulate interest into national history and the histories of colonized regions, currents such as globalization and decolonization have changed not only how we think of (the histories of) nations, cultures, and societies, but also of the heritage that is connected to them. Moreover, since the 1970s, with emergence of attention to cultural history, to popular culture, to material culture, to the everyday, to oral history, the amounts of pasts we can (and cannot) access through cultural heritage is growing in range. Or, as Lowenthal said,
“Spanning the centuries from prehistory to last night, heritage melds Mesozoic monsters with Marilyn Monroe, Egyptian pyramids with Elvis Presley. Memorials and monuments multiply, cities and scenes are restored, historic exploits are reenacted, flea-market kitsch is elevated into antiques (Lowenthal, 1997 p.3).”
This also reflects a shift to a democratization of cultural heritage. Whereas in earlier times, the maintenance, collection, and preservations of heritage were reserved for the few who had the time and money to travel to the outskirts of the world, to collect and preserve cultural artefacts, now, as more things are ‘worthy’ of being or becoming heritage, anybody is able to have their own personal collection of cultural heritage, or to interact with local, regional, and global cultural heritage (e.g. go to a museum, or visit a world heritage site). Thus, there has been an increasing interest and curiosity into how different peoples lived in the past, and through cultural heritage, we can access those pasts
we decide if and how it forms our present and future. The popularization, globalization, and multiplicity of cultural heritage, led to the wide range of what can be considered cultural heritage.9 Nevertheless, as Ashworth argues, what is or what is not cultural heritage is often disputed and has to do mainly with structures of power. This can be understood in line with Foucault’s notions of discourses, and how power and knowledge affect them. According to Foucault, discourse is in a sense the organization of knowledge of phenomena, which takes into account concepts, language, and historical, social, cultural context. How we relate to things in the world is thus dependent on the environments in which we grow up, and how we discuss things. This is linked with power in the sense that power structures dictate what is known and how we know it. Foucault flipped around the idea that knowledge is universal, to argue that knowledge is historically contingent and always in relation to structures of power in a certain place and time.10
In the sense that heritage is a collection of knowledgeable things from the past, discourse and power relation can seriously determine heritage. What is commemorated, displayed in museums, or preserved in archives is frequently based on a selection that is often made by governments and powerful institutions. Van Stipriaan, among others, argues that this selection is often made based on a particular worldview, influenced by ideology, class, race, ethnicity, and gender. As cultural heritage becomes a representation of the past, there has been an increasing awareness of the politics of (mis)representation. For the Dutch-Surinamese case, Gert Oostindie argues that
“Meanwhile, it remains remarkable how ‘white’ almost all the research and cultural heritage institutions still are and how little representative of postcolonial Netherlands. This is
problematic, even if one need not presume that postcolonial migrants would carry out fundamentally different or better research (Oostindie, 2012, p.238)”
Hall asks the questions: “Who should control the power to represent? Who has the authority to re- present the culture of others? (Hall, 2005, p.28)” this awareness raised the issue of the displacement of cultural heritage of former colonies which is often found in western European archives or
museums. In support of repatriation, or the return of heritage to its native countries, there have
9See also, Stuart Hall, “Negotiating Caribbean Identities,” in New Caribbean Thought: A Reader. Eds. Brian Meeks, Folke Lindahl (Jamaica: The University of the West Indies Press, 2001).
10 See also, Alec McHoul and Wendy Grace, A Foucault Primer Discourse, Power and the Subject (London:
Routledge, 1993; Stipriaan, Alex van. “Caraïbisch erfgoed in de Nederlandse Black Atlantic” OSO: Tijdschrift voor Surinamistiek en het Caraïbisch gebied (2016); Hall, “Negotiating Caribbean Identities.”; G.J.
Ashworth,“Pluralizing the Past Heritage Policies in Plural Societies,” in Pluralising pasts: Heritage, identity, and place in multicultural societies, Eds. Ashworth, GJ, J.E. Tunbridge and B.J. Graham, BJ (London: Pluto, 2007).
been programs and initiatives to ‘decolonize the archive,’ and repatriate cultural heritage to where it originated. This reflects the notion of cultural heritage as not just a material or immaterial thing that is ‘stuck’ in the past, but as something that is always interpreted, re-imagined reenacted, and interacted with by people.11
Globally, one can observe a divergence in the archive and heritage infrastructures between countries of the Global North (North-America and Europe), and the Global South (Asia, Africa, South-
America).12 This divergence is also predominantly underpinned by asymmetrical power structures that are built upon racist, imperialist, capitalist western ideologies.
While western cultural establishments already struggle to find funding for their preservation projects, archival institutions in the Global South sustain under harshly underfunded organizational structures and political and economic instability. The preservation of (frequently traumatizing) cultural heritage is not a priority to national governments and other powerful institutions, that still often deal with terrorism, violence, corruption, and exploitation of their people. In addition, climates are frequently too tropical to archive materials under the right temperatures. Furthermore,
preservation and digitization are expensive in terms of time, money, and labor, which is not readily available in most countries. Therefore, collaboration and cooperation between and among archivists, curators, policymakers, and filmmakers is especially important. With respect to Caribbean cultural heritage, The Early Caribbean Digital Archive (ECDA) is such an initiative by the Northeastern University in Boston. On their website, they indicate that
“Archives are repositories of knowledge. But all repositories are created and maintained by individuals located in time, place, and history, who make choices about what counts as knowledge, what belongs in a particular archive, and why it belongs there. In short, every archive is embedded in systems of power that shape what counts knowledge and non- knowledge. Existing archives of the early Caribbean are deeply entwined with colonial European capitalist modernity and a knowledge regime that racializes bodies with the aim of extracting labor, land, and capital from Indigenous peoples and enslaved Africans (ECDA, 2022).”
The ECDA is also optimistic about the possibilities of the digital realm:
“The digital archive, we believe, offers new possibilities for re-archiving (remixing and reassembling) materials from existing archives as well as archiving new materials. This is not
11 Decolonising The Archive (DTA); Decolonizing the Archive – UNRH
12 Global south is used here as a replacement for Third World Countries. Nevertheless, for the purpose of accuracy the use of the latter term will be copied in citations.
just the promise of recovery—not simply a question of finding materials that have been hidden in the past. Rather, this is a formal possibility—one linked to the new affordances of the digital archive which invite (if not require!) us to disrupt, review, question, and revise the colonial knowledge regime that informs the archives from which we draw most of our materials (ECDA,2022).”
Film heritage, as a subgroup of cultural heritage, has undergone similar developments, and experiences similar challenges. The development of film and cinema as an affordable and popular medium has resulted in the global presence of cinema. Nevertheless, while collaboration and cooperation between film archive institutes, film preservation organizations, film museums, and cinematheques is continuously encouraged and evolving the exchange archival practices and
knowledge, the conditions of film archiving in the Global South are often precarious.13 Also in relation to film heritage, digitization is often seen as a major challenge. Even in the last decades, modes of digital preservation and restoration have changed tremendously (see Fossati, 2009). And yet, under tough conditions, projects have risen that elucidate significant films from different times and places.
The preservation and location of historically important, yet underexposed films can add to collections of cultural heritage, especially in efforts to decolonize, but also to minoritize, feminize, and
Moreover, when films are digitized, they may reach new (young) audiences on online (streaming) platforms (see also, Fossati, 2009). This could also prove an interesting point in relation to
Lowenthal’s argument that “Diaspora are notably heritage-hungry (Lowenthal, 1997, p.9).” He argues that heritage often connects people in diaspora with their native country. Lowenthal draws on author Penelope Lively, who wrote “Displaced persons are displaced not just in space but in time;
they have been cut off from their own pasts (Quoted in Lowenthal, 1997, p.9).” The wider
accessibility of, for example, Caribbean films on digital platforms could aid in feeding the heritage hunger of both young and older generations of those in Diaspora.
In the Caribbean, there have been efforts to encourage the preservation of cultural heritage. There is the establishment of film festivals, such as the Trinidad and Tobago film festival and the Jamaican film festival, institutes such as the Instituto Cubano del Arte e Industria Cinematográficos (ICAIC), and cultural organizations such as CARIFESTA. From the 1950s until the 1990s, STICUSA has worked on
13Film foundations, institutes, and organizations such as FIAF (International Federation of Film Archives), AMIA (Association of Moving Image Archivists), UNESCO, and SEAPAVAA (Southeast Asia Pacific Audio-Visual Archive Association) actively engage in the improvement of film archiving, preservation, and presentation.
14 These words were also used by Aboubakar Sanogo during the 7th Annual Eye conference (2022) themed
“Global Audiovisual Archiving.”
the development of cultural activities in Suriname, and more recently, the Film Instituut Suriname (Film Institute Suriname) was founded. Still, a large amount Dutch-Caribbean films are held by the EYE film museum.15
15 In our conversation, De la Parra explained that he was glad that the EYE film museum would store his films.
He admitted that it was better for the preservation of his films, in contrast to storing it in Suriname, where his films would deteriorate faster, because of the climate.
2.2: Caribbean Cinema: Situating Wan Pipel Cinematically
As in other countries of the Global South, previously often regarded as Third world countries16, Surinamese industries arose under harsh economic and socio-historical circumstances and were inherently tied to decolonization movements. The Surinamese film industry can be considered one of such industries. Arising as an industry in the 1970s, Surinamese cinema has followed a path similar to other film industries in the Global South. Since the emergence of film industries and film productions from regions in the Global South during the late 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, film critics, filmmakers, and scholars have written and studies the cultural, economic, political, and historical developments of those industries.
In his essay “Towards a Critical Theory of Third World Films,” Gabriel argued that
“From precolonial times to the present, the struggle for freedom from oppression has been waged by the Third World masses, who in their maintenance of a deep cultural identity have made history come alive. Just as they have moved aggressively towards independence, so has the evolution of Third World film culture followed a path from “domination” to
“liberation” (Gabriel, 1995, p. 71).”
For Gabriel, this path from domination to liberation can be categorized into three phases: 1) the unqualified assimilation, 2) the remembrance phase, and 3) the combative phase (Gabriel, 1995, 71- 5). The first phase Gabriel illustrates, unqualified assimilation, is characterized by their adaptation of Hollywood conceptions of entertainment, often found embedded in themes such as comedy and romance. According to Gabriel, the aim of Hollywood-like productions is to claim their place on the global stage as a Third World industry. In the second phase, there is an increasing shift to the institutionalization of cinema, and cinema is marked content-wise by what Gabriel calls the “return of the exile to the Third World’s source of strength i.e., culture and history” (Gabriel, 1995, p. 72).
This phase is characterized by the dichotomies of the rural and urban, and modern and traditional.
The third phase Gabriel describes is the combative phase. This phase is about film serving a political purpose, for which they are often backed by national governments through funding. It centers the livelihood and challenges of the people in the global south and stands out for its ideological message (Gabriel, 1995, p.73-5). As I will do in chapter 4, Examining Wan Pipel through these phases might uncover some of the ways in which the film could be regarded as a significant Surinamese cultural product, being made within and because of this important shift in socio-economic, political, and
16 These generally include countries in the southern hemisphere, on the continents of South-America, Africa, and Asia, but also including regions such as the Caribbean and regions in Oceania.
cultural structures. As a film that was created during this turbulent period in Suriname, I would suggest Wan Pipel could be placed in the grey area, covering both the first, second and third phase.
Furthermore, Third Cinema filmmaking practices are undoubtedly linked to the third phase Gabriel presents. In the late 1960s and 1970s, Third Cinema became one of the most influential theoretical and practical movements that vigilantly advocated for cultural and political liberation in the Global South, most notably in Latin America. While the movement was overshadowed by the hegemony of western European film theory and practice, Third Cinema was polemically proclaimed through numerous manifestos in the late 1960s. In his 1969 manifesto “For an Imperfect Cinema,” Cuban director Espinosa17 questioned the need for Latin American filmmakers to always seek the approval of their European counterparts, when in the end, Latin American cinema is rarely included in the Eurocentric conversation about cinema. He introduce the need for an “imperfect cinema” which is in contrast with elitist, Eurocentric notions of ‘quality’ cinema. Espinosa argued that imperfect cinema is not about quality, it is not about having the best technology or the best set, or the best actors. The director argues:
“The only thing it (imperfect cinema) is interested in is how an artist responds to the following question: What are you doing in order to overcome the barrier of the "cultured"
elite audience which up to now has conditioned the form of your work? (Espinosa, 1969)”
Observing the processes of decolonization and journeys to independence in South America, and the cinematic expressions in different South American regions, Solanas and Getino coined the term Third Cinema in their manifesto “Towards a Third Cinema (1969).” Third Cinema became the signifier for political films, posed as an alternative to Hollywood films or European films. Not limited to, but frequently originated from Third World countries (the Global South), Third Cinema reflected the problematics, but more importantly, the lived experiences of the subjects of the film (Getino and Solanas, 1970). Like Espinosa, Third Cinema, as argued by Getino and Solanas, emerged as a reaction against the hegemony of European ideas of culture, science, art, and specifically cinema, which were embedded in imperialist and (neo)colonialist thought. As Wayne argued, “revolutionary conjunctures are the womb from which Third Cinema emerges (Wayne, 2001 p.8).”
In the introduction to the book Rethinking Third Cinema (2003), Guneratne discussed the contexts, achievements, and challenges of Third Cinema. In hindsight to the various manifesto’s, he argued that Third Cinema provided an essential non-Eurocentric perspective to film theory and promoted
“political alliance” with those filmmakers trying to express (military) fights against social injustice on
17 Interestingly, Espinosa was De la Parra’s mentor.
screen. While Third Cinema embraced the diversified socio-historical contexts of the films that were created within countries in the Global South. Guneratne argued that “they had in common that same tricontinental call to arms against social injustice and post-imperial exploitation as those of the inspirational activist-theorists of the preceding generation (Guneratne, 2003, p. 4).”18
Cham argues that also Caribbean cinema more specifically has been affected by larger movements of changing socio-economic, cultural, and political structures, largely informed by processes of
decolonization (Cham, 1995, 241-2).19 For Caribbean Cinema, Cham argues, these currents of the 1970s and 1980s were exemplified by a shift from consumer of film to the producer of film.
Already since the period of early cinema people in the Caribbean were often the consumer of foreign films. However, these early films were mainly imported from other continents, like North America (Hollywood), Europe, and Asia (Bollywood). At the same time, the Caribbean was used “as a resource for foreign productions which exploit(ed) the natural/physical endowment of the tropical islands and invented other endowments to manufacture an image of the Caribbean radically at odds with the reality of the people of the Caribbean” (Cham, 1995, p.242). Paddington and Warner argue that his exoticization of the Caribbean was rooted in colonial mentalities of the West. They argue that “the use of the Caribbean to represent any tropical location is apparent throughout the history of film in the Caribbean, as is the western obsession with racial miscegenation and the fear of the uncivilized nature of the region. The Caribbean is also seen as representative of a colonial site where the local people are unable to govern themselves, and thus must be controlled by white persons from Europe and America” (Paddington and Warner, 2009, p. 94). The authors further refer to Jamaican social activist Marcus Garvey and contend that “Garvey clearly understood that the films were part of the colonial policy to create or foster mythologies that justified its conquests and occupations while fascinating local audiences with images of savage natives and the civilizing power of Europe and America” (Paddington and Warner, 2009, 94). Thus, early cinema in the Caribbean often manifested
18 Yet, Third Cinema theory also received quite some criticism, mainly regarding Getino and Solanas’
categorization of First, Second and Third Cinema. The distinction between the three cinemas were misread as a postulation that the main characteristic of the cinemas necessarily were entertainment, intellectuality, and revolutionary politics. While, as Guneratne argues, the notion of imperfect cinema was less closed-off, this demarcation was (mis)understood as restrictive, and therefore did not encourage further deep interaction with Third Cinema theory. Also, as a set of Manifesto’s, rather than a coherent theory, the appeal of Third Cinema was gradually lost. Nevertheless, Third Cinema remains important and relevant if we want to investigate what elements and ideologies influenced filmmakers in and from the Global South the 1960s and 1970s.
19 If we follow the criteria that director Christian Lara set out, of which I discussed one above, Wan Pipel was the first Surinamese feature film, as well as a Caribbean one. As described by Blasini, Lara defined Caribbean cinema along five criteria: 1) the story narrated, 2) the director, and 3) the actors all had to be from the Caribbean area; 4) the film had to include a creole language (if only partially); and 5) its plot had to take place in one of the Antilles. While the fifth criterion is debatable in Suriname’s case, as I pointed out in the
introduction, Wan Pipel could culturally well be considered part of Caribbean cinema (Blasini, 2009).
colonial perspectives of white supremacy, racism, and the white man’s burden, to entertain and show ‘the people at home, how the Caribbean population was civilized.’
As in the rest of the Caribbean, Surinamese people were consumers of the film industry since the turn of the 19th century. Between 1950 and 1970, Suriname was home to 30 cinemas throughout the country that screened mainly imported Bollywood, Hollywood, and European films.
The three largest theaters were in Paramaribo: Star, Bellevue, and Tower (see image 1.1). Thus, it could be assumed that Surinamese people were avid cinema-goers.20
The films that involved Suriname pre-Wan Pipel were often documentaries or newsreels from the Netherlands, which indeed imposed an alternative imperial, ‘exotic’ image of Suriname on the Dutch audience. Most significant was the documentary Faja Lobbi (1960), directed by Herman van der Horst. The documentary follows Van der Horst’s travels to multi-ethnic villages in Suriname’s interior
region along the Marowijne river.21 Wan Pipel, in contrast, a film that is Caribbean in its location, story, crew, director, and language, exemplified a contribution to the Caribbean as a film producing region.
In our present day, Blasini argues that discussions on “Caribbean cinema needs to be understood in relation to the concept of créolité, that is, the configuration and constant reinvention—the imaging and imagining—of transnational cultural communities emerging from or historically connected to the Caribbean” (Blasini, 2009). The author further examines the ways in which the Caribbean is a site for constant conversion, assimilation, and transformation. In this article, he aims to shine light on the notion of creolité in Caribbean cinema in order to reconfigure discourses on the topic, and to revise ways Eurocentric perspectives have sometimes misinterpreted the complexities of Caribbean cultures (Blasini, 2009). According to Blasini and the above mentioned authors, critical observations, and examinations of Caribbean cinema as transnational, and culturally hybrid medium could further the studies on Caribbean cinema in general.
20 Oude bioscopen | Suriname Anda - suriname data; De Surinamer : nieuws- en advertentieblad » 06 aug 1899 - Art. 17 | Delpher.
21 “Faja Lobbi” IMDB, accessed March 25, 2022. Faja lobbi (1960) - IMDb; Other newsreels or short films about Suriname that reveal a colonial gaze can be found on Home - Open Beelden.
Image 1.1. Advertisement for films being screened at the three largest cinemas in Paramaribo. “Suriname:
Algemeen Dagblad,” January 4, 1971.
Thus, Wan Pipel can be situated in both temporally and spatially in Third (World) Cinema, as well as Caribbean cinema, as a film that represented the struggles of its people and against governmental structures, in the sense that it vouched for decolonization, liberation and unity. While cinema was already an industry in Suriname prior to Wan Pipel, it was quite immature and based in a colonial social, political, and cultural context. Wan Pipel was the first Surinamese film that was produced outside colonial, imperialist traditions of cinema in the country, and paved the way for future Surinamese feature films.
2.3: Representation and Spectatorship: Situating the Diaspora Audience
Wan Pipel highlights the Afro-creole community and the Hindustani community, personified by Roy and Rubia in the film. Within these two diaspora communities, colonial policies of divide-and-rule and self-segregation have caused the preservation of distinct cultural identities. Specifically, the relatively recent urbanization of and movement to the Surinamese capital Paramaribo has resulted in the merging, assimilation, and mixing of the diverse groups (Ehrenburg & Meyer, 2019; Dew, 1978).22 The increasing emigration of Surinamese people to the Netherlands prior to, during, and following Surinamese independence has led to the continuation of these cultural practices in the Netherlands.
Therefore, the specific diasporic backgrounds of these groups and their cultural identity that are represented in Wan Pipel are vital to understand the reception of the film among Surinamese audiences, both those living in Suriname as well as the Surinamese people that are part of the Surinamese diaspora in the Netherlands. Below, this thesis will examine different dimensions of those backgrounds and cultural identity in relation to the diasporic nature of the Surinamese population, and by extension, the Surinamese diaspora in the Netherlands.
The dispersion of Surinamese people to the Netherlands increased throughout the second half of the twentieth century. In the early 1950s, several Dutch schools and companies started recruiting Surinamese people to help the labor shortage in the Netherlands. Since then, the influx of
Surinamese immigrants into the Netherlands (and other countries) grew steadily until the 1970s. In these tumultuous years leading up to Suriname’s independence, the dispersion of especially Hindustani Surinamers, increased tremendously. One of the main reasons for this concerned the Surinamese political climate. Until the late 1960s, the Creole and Hindustani political parties ruled Suriname’s internal affairs together. Consequently, political parties formed along the different ethnic communities in Suriname, unlike in other Caribbean countries, where such parties were formed through division of district (Hoefte & Veenendaal, 2019, 176). However, when Henck Arron, leader of the NPS – the Creole party - became prime minister in 1973 and expressed his determination to make Suriname independent, Hindustanis worried that this meant more political power for the Creole community. Some Hindustanis put their foot down for constitutional assurance that ensured equal divisions of power within Suriname (Alan West Dúran, 2003, p. 175), but simultaneously, during these years, one can observe an exponential increase in the immigration of Hindustani
22 During colonial times, the Dutch had enforced a policy of divide-and-rule, to prevent issues among each of the social groups. Most groups lived in separate districts until Paramaribo turned into an urbanized Capital. For example, the district of Nickerie is a predominantly Hindustani district, Commewijne is mostly Javanese, and Para is mainly inhabited by Afro-Creole people. Consequently, most groups mixed in the districts only
occasionally, and largely kept their own more traditional cultural and religious practices. Despite the dispersion of different diaspora communities in – and later also throughout – Surinamese districts, there is still a
proliferation of distinct cultural and religious practices, norms, customs, and values.
Surinamese to the Netherlands, out of discontent with the Surinamese government. In the following years, not only predominantly Hindustani Surinamers, but also other ethnic groups within Suriname emigrated en masse to the Netherlands. An important consideration here is that the process of decolonization in Suriname happened relatively hesitantly. Especially in contrast with the violent
‘pacification wars’ in Indonesia, to the majority of Surinamese population, their connection with the Netherlands was one of opportunity (see also Oostindie, 2011). The luring prosperity in the
Netherlands, with its more effective political and educational system, as opposed to failing political unity and overall economic poverty in the homeland, caused a great deal of Surinamese people, adding up to hundreds of people a day, to emigrate. This dispersion was further enabled by policies made between the Dutch and the Surinamese, which allowed Surinamese people to acquire a Dutch passport upon arrival between 1975 and 1980.23
Yet, for many Surinamese migrants, the wealth and opportunities that could be possible in the Netherlands was informed by myths and fantasies of the Netherlands. Paddington and Warner also discuss this relation between ‘the colony and the metropolitan.’ They argued:
“Typically, in the mind of the colonized citizen, only success in the metropolitan centers was seen as genuine success. True, opportunity to excel was not always present in the islands, but there was an added bonus when someone from the islands made his or her name outside of the region. This attitude pervaded the society and ran very deep in the psyche of the
Caribbean citizens. To this day, “foreign” has more influence and cachet than “local”
(Paddington and Warner, 2009, p. 96).24
Furthermore, today, almost one third of the estimated total Surinamese people live in the
Netherlands. In the 1970s, the ‘exodus’ to the Netherlands was met with certain backlash from Dutch society. Surinamese immigrants had (and still have to, to an extent) to endure racism and
discrimination on the labor market and housing market. These issues, together with the independence of Suriname, gave rise to organizations that fought for equal rights, often with nationalist or left-wing political tendencies. One of these organizations, mainly operating in Amsterdam, was the ‘Landelijk Overleg van Surinaamse Organisaties in Nederland’ (National Consultation of Surinamese Organizations in the Netherlands; LOSON). They stood for the Surinamese communities in the Netherlands, who often lived in poor conditions with poorly
23 Jazz, werkstudenten en racisme: de Surinaamse migratie naar Nederland | NPO Kennis.
24 This idea was rather a fantasy, because – as I will explain below as well – Surinamese who had emigrated to the Netherlands soon came to understand that the Dutch they so admired were also merely people. In contrast to other Surinamese people who had not left the country, for Pim, this fantasy possibly already ceased because of the time he had spent in the Netherlands.
organized social security, as well as the Surinamese working class living in the homeland, who were also neglected by the government. Prior to Suriname’s independence, they fought against Dutch sovereignty and large Dutch and American companies that exploited Suriname and its people.25 After Suriname’s independence, they still supported remigration to rebuild the new Surinamese nation, equal rights, and better living conditions for Surinamese people in The Netherlands and in Suriname.
Nevertheless, after the military coup in Suriname in 1980, and the December murders in 1982, the influence and engagement of LOSON decreased. Suriname’s decreasing political and economic security made remigration less favorable (see also, Oostindie, 2012).
Today, numerous political movements inside and outside the Netherlands (such as the critique against Black Pete and the Black Lives Matter movement) have raised awareness on the Dutch colonial past, as well as explicit and implicit (systemic) racism and discrimination, and there is still much work to be done in battling institutional and social racism and discrimination. Suriname is still ardently involved with their diasporic communities in the Netherlands, as they comprise a large part of the Surinamese people. Different organizations, such as ‘Diaspora Instituut Nederland’ (Diaspora Institute Netherlands; DIN) and sister organization Diaspora Instituut Suriname (Diaspora Institute Suriname; DIS), continuously work on the connection between Suriname and its Diaspora
counterpart to develop Suriname economically, politically, and culturally.26
Culturally, there are some vantage points through which integration and assimilation to the Dutch culture has been easier among Surinamese people than other dispersed communities in the
Netherlands. First, while Sranan Tongo is Suriname’s lingua franca, Dutch is the first language taught in schools. Therefore, most Surinamese people already spoke Dutch before immigration, and had grown (because and despite the colonial past) accustomed to Dutch ways of living. Furthermore, most Afro-Creole Surinamese people are catholic, as well as the average Dutch person. However, within the Surinamese diaspora communities in the Netherlands, dynamics between different ethnic groups persist. The multi-ethnic composition of the Surinamese population is also represented in the diaspora in the Netherlands, resulting in the co-existence of a variety of cultural customs, practices, and values (see also, Oostindie, 2012).
Thus, in terms of cultural identity, the Surinamese population is remarkably diverse, and is constantly balancing between preservation of culture and assimilation, both among themselves as well as with the Dutch. Among themselves these different dimensions of cultural identity are grounded in notions of Creoleness and Caribbeanness. In their seminal work, Bernabé, Chamoiseau, and Confiant
25 This is also visible in the newly restored activist documentary, in part produced by LOSON – Oema Foe Sranan.
26Starnieuws - President proclameert Diaspora Instituut Nederland.
(translated by Khyar) discuss different layers of the Creole identity. In their words, “Creoleness is the interactional or transactional aggregate of Caribbean, European, African, Asian, and Levantine cultural elements, united on the same soil by the yoke of history” (Bernabé, Chamoiseau, Confiant, &
Khyar, 1990, p. 891). They argue that Creoleness is the syncretism of the cultures, religions, cuisine, languages, customs of these different areas, molded and mixed to form a diversified, yet harmonious identity. Creoleness is not geographically organized, as Creoleness might persist in different areas worldwide (like in the Surinamese diaspora communities in the Netherlands). According to the authors, Creoles in the Caribbean specifically are both part of the Caribbean, a geopolitical concept, as well as they are united in their Creoleness (Bernabé, Chamoiseau, Confiant, & Khyar, 1990). Cham also points to Glissant’s notion of Creolité, which Bernabé, Chamoiseau, and Confiant’s article is built upon. She argues that Creolité is a useful notion when discussing the ‘diversalité,’ the diversity (as opposed to universality) in Caribbean identity, because it offers new opportunities to construct a Caribbean identity that preserves different Caribbean cultures, languages, and histories (Cham, 1995, p. 243-4).
The dimensions of this balance generally differ depending on the social group. For example, the Hindustani community in Suriname is interestingly more oriented towards the preservation of
traditional Hindustani culture. This is in line with what Brubaker described as boundary-maintenance, in his discussion of criteria for Diaspora communities. According to Brubaker, boundary-maintenance refers to the preservation of a distinct identity, even while inhabiting another society (see Brubaker, 2005). More implicitly in the Hindustani community, this preservation manifests itself in cultural aspects, such as clothing, jewelry, music, and song. More explicitly, it is expressed through for example, arranged marriage. This way, they voluntarily exclude themselves from effectively mixing with other social groups, and thereby reject assimilation. Among and between the Afro-Creole community, this desire for preservation is less visible, as they are more inclined to move and marry more freely with other Surinamese communities. In this way, assimilation and hybridization is enabled. Authors such as Hall, Blasini, Gilroy, Bernabé, and others, examined such ideas of hybridity, creolization, assimilation syncretism in a transnational context. For example, Hall said of the
Caribbean, “None of the people who now occupy the islands - black, brown, white, African, European, American, Spanish, French, East Indian, Chinese, Portuguese, Jew, Dutch - originally 'belonged' there. It is the space where creolizations and assimilations and syncretisms were
negotiated (1989, p. 78).” Thus, through movement, inter-ethnic relations, and the sharing of cultural ideas in a certain region, there is continuous interaction between distinct groups and their cultural identities.