An Outpost of Java on the Caribbean, Suriname Reaches Out to Indonesia
Javanese cultural heritage is so deeply entrenched in the Republic of Suriname, a former Dutch plantation colony in South America, that the traditional theater styles of wayang and ludruk are routinely performed there.
“Javanese customs are more rooted there than they are here,” said Atmidjan Sastro, a Suriname-born Indonesian who was one of the first Javanese people repatriated from Suriname in 1954.
“Javanese cultural performances are part of our daily entertainment and they are not held only for ceremonial or presentation purposes,” he said at the sidelines of an event commemorating 120 years of Javanese migration to Suriname at Taman Mini Indonesia Indah mall on Sunday.
He said Javanese dishes remained the most popular in the country, and were commonly cooked in home kitchens.
Atmidjan was born to Javanese parents who immigrated to Suriname to work as plantation workers when Indonesia was still a Dutch colony. In 1954, he was one of the 1,008 Indonesians there who chose to repatriate to the newly independent Indonesia.
He endured the one-month sea voyage from Paramaribo, the capital of Suriname, to Teluk Bayur Port in Padang, West Sumatra, where returnees were promised parcels of land by the new Indonesian government to start their new lives in the country.
“However, things did not work out so well in my new life here and in 1967 I returned to Suriname and lived there until 2005,” the 80-year-old said. Atmidjan started a business importing Indonesian products for the Javanese-descended community there.
“I even organized some concerts and performances by Javanese artists there,” he said.
Suriname’s government includes four ministers and a parliamentary head who are of Javanese descent, said Angelic Caroline Alihusain-del Castilho, the ambassador to Indonesia.
Other evidence of Javanese cultural heritage in Suriname includes one television and two radio stations owned by Javanese descendants, who make up 15 percent of the nearly 500,000 population, according to Juviano Ribeiro, of Indonesia’s South American and Caribbean directorate at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“They even use Javanese language in broadcasting some of their programs,” Juviano said, adding that the idea to celebrate the migration’s history originated from the Javanese community in Suriname and was related to the 35th anniversary of Suriname independence, 65th anniversary of Indonesian independence and the 10th Indonesian Fair trade show, held annually in Suriname.
“We are focusing on how to improve economic ties between the two countries even though our trade deals are relatively small — about three or four containers in a year,” Juviano said, adding that most of the bilateral trade was still done through independent brokers.