Sunday, March 23, 2008


In the past several years, people in The Netherlands have been reflecting on what it means to be Dutch. Call it navel-gazing, but spurred on by the Pim Fortuyn show, and the brouhaha after Theo van Gogh's assassination, not a day goes by when you don't read about it. When Suriname became independent 30 years ago, planeloads of Surinamers fled their country to The Netherlands. Now, according to the New York Times, Suriname is undergoing a reflection about its language(s) and using it as a means to break away from its colonial past.
“We shook off the chains of Dutch colonialism in the 1970s, but our consciousness remains colonized by the Dutch language,” said Paul Middellijn, 58, a writer who composes poetry in Sranan Tongo.

Nevertheless, Mr. Middellijn said English should be declared Suriname’s national language, a position shared by many Surinamese who want stronger links to the Caribbean and North America. “Sranan will survive because nothing can replace it as the language of the street,” he said.

“It is a form of communication perfect not just for poets but for the Chinese groceryman or Brazilian miner who arrived a few months ago,” he continued. “Are they going to go through the trouble of learning Dutch? No way.”
“I do not speak Sranan,” said Suprijanto Muhadi, the ambassador from Indonesia, the former Dutch colony that sent Javanese laborers here until the eve of World War II. “But a manservant I brought from Indonesia a year ago picked it up much easier than Dutch.”

The use of Sranan became associated with nationalist politics after Desi Bouterse, a former dictator, began using Sranan in his speeches in the 1980s. The slogan of his National Democratic Party, the biggest in Suriname, remains “Let a faya baka!” Sranan for “Turn the lights back on!” or, figuratively, get things working again.

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