In Place of Slavery: A Social History of British Indian and Javanese Laborers in Suriname

In Place of Slavery: A Social History of British Indian and Javanese Laborers in Suriname

In Place of Slavery: A Social History of British Indian and Javanese Laborers in Suriname

In Place of Slavery: A Social History of British Indian and Javanese Laborers in Suriname


Rosemarijn Hoefte explores the rise of indentured servitude on the sugar plantations of Suriname after the end of slavery in that Dutch Caribbean colony in South America. In this first study ever of bonded labor in Suriname, she discusses and compares the social, cultural, and economic consequences of migration and plantation life and offers insights into the system of indentured immigration in general.

Slavery was abolished in Suriname in 1863. Between 1873 and 1940 more than 34,000 British Indians and nearly 33,000 Javanese (a unique presence in the Caribbean) entered Suriname and effectively replaced the former slaves. Working under a contract that included the so-called penal sanction, they were forced to place their labor power at the unqualified disposal of their employers; the employers had the right to press criminal charges against the laborers who broke their contract.

Focusing on Plantation Marienburg, the largest and longest-surviving sugar mill in Suriname, Hoefte examines the reactions of the planters, the colonial state, and the former slaves to this influx of two large ethnic groups with different cultural backgrounds. She describes the hierarchical organization of the plantation and discusses such aspects of indenture as wages, housing, medical care, religion, and education. Both an economic analysis and a pioneering social history, the book fills a gap, in the study of immigration in the Caribbean.


When the Lalla Rookh docked in Suriname in 1873, few people would have surmised that this would be the beginning of a total social transformation of the Dutch Caribbean colony. On board were 399 British Indian immigrants who had signed a contract obliging them to work for five years on a colonial plantation. This first ship was followed by many more, and, in total, 34,304 British Indians migrated to Suriname. The idea was that the Asian immigrants would return to their homelands as soon as their contracts had expired. However, the bulk of these immigrants settled in Suriname and soon formed a significant part of the population. The same happened in neighboring British Guiana and the island of Trinidad, but in Suriname, indentured immigration and its consequences are even more important because of a second flow of immigrants. Between 1890 and 1939, almost 33,000 Javanese contract laborers entered Suriname. The Javanese have added a unique ethnic and cultural element to the Caribbean.

Initially, the impact of the British Indians and Javanese on society at large was mainly demographic and economic, but in the twentieth century, their cultural influence and political power came ever more to the fore. At present, more than half of the people of Suriname are descendants of British Indian and Javanese contract laborers. Contract labor and its aftermath have therefore markedly shaped Suriname's recent past and present. This study is the first to cover and compare the history of indentured immigrants from both India and the Netherlands East Indies in Suriname.


This book is based on archival research in Suriname, the Netherlands, the United States, and England. My first debt is to the institutions that have preserved and made available the documents and publications that are the foundation of historical research. I would like to thank in particular the Algemene Bank Nederland, Amsterdam; the Rockefeller Archive Center, North Tarrytown, New York; the Stichting Surinaams Museum and the Evangelische Broeder Gemeente, both in Paramaribo; the Algemeen Rijks Archief, The Hague; and the Public Records Office and the India Office Records, both in London. My special thanks go to R. Looman of the Algemene Bank Nederland, the late Gloria Leurs of the Suriname Museum . . .

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