Many Surinamese descendants of slaves often wonder where their ancestors came from. The short answer is mostly from Ghana, Benin and Loango, but also from many other parts of West Africa such as Gambia, Guinea, Senegal, Ivory Coast etc.
To delve deeper into this subject we have to briefly examine the history starting from the 17th century of the slave trade by both the English and the Dutch.
The first slaves which came to Suriname came to an English colony. English was the language of that day and as a matter of fact the same language which the slaves spoke then is still spoken today, Sranang Tongo. It is mostly an English derived language and not Dutch.
The Dutch got Suriname from the English by the treaty of Breda in 1667. At that time there were already 3000 slaves in Suriname, which was still very sparsely populated surrounded by a huge jungle. Many of the slaves took advantage of this and escaped to the jungle.
From the beginning of the 17th century until after the end of emancipation in 1863, the Dutch were in control of the Gold Coast trade in West Africa and had two main fortresses there from where they shipped Africans.
Fort Amsterdam – In Kromanti Ghana and Fort Elmina, in Elmina Ghana.
Ghana & Loango(in present day Congo) was the source of most slave descendants in Suriname with a significant number from Dahomey(in present day Benin) but also from other parts of West Africa howbeit in smaller numbers.
Culturally it appears that the Acan(Ghana) culture was more dominant if we look at language, and religious practices which we call winti.
However there are also cultural influences from Loango, Benin and other parts of West Africa.
Here are some images to give you an idea of what those cities looked like where the slaves came from at the time, 16th & 17th century:
Kumasi – Ghana(center of Ashante, Acan kingdom):
As you can see, these were well organized cities, with an obvious infrastructure of roads and defenses, contrary to what some Westerners would have you believe.
Here are some observations from Europeans who visited Benin:
In 1691, the Portuguese ship captain Lourenco Pinto observed: “Great Benin, where the king resides, is larger than Lisbon; all the streets run straight and as far as the eye can see. The houses are large, especially that of the king, which is richly decorated and has fine columns. The city is wealthy and industrious. It is so well governed that theft is unknown and the people live in such security that they have no doors to their houses.”
“Houses are built alongside the streets in good order, the one close to the other,” writes the 17th-century Dutch visitor Olfert Dapper. “Adorned with gables and steps … they are usually broad with long galleries inside, especially so in the case of the houses of the nobility, and divided into many rooms which are separated by walls made of red clay, very well erected.”
Dapper adds that wealthy residents kept these walls “as shiny and smooth by washing and rubbing as any wall in Holland can be made with chalk, and they are like mirrors. The upper storeys are made of the same sort of clay. Moreover, every house is provided with a well for the supply of fresh water”.