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, Suriname
a republic in NE South America, on the Atlantic: became a self-governing part of the Netherlands in 1954 and fully independent in 1975. Official languages: Dutch; English is also widely spoken. Religion: Hindu, Christian, and Muslim. Currency: guilder. Capital: Paramaribo. Pop.: 439 000 (2004 est.). Area: 163 820 sq. km (63 251 sq. miles)
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



the Republic of Surinam, a state in northeastern South America. [In 1978 the spelling of the country’s name was changed to Suriname.] Bounded on the west by Guyana, on the south by Brazil, on the east by French Guiana, and on the north by the Atlantic Ocean. Area, 163,300 sq km (UN figure). Population, more than 400,000 (1974). The capital is Paramaribo. Administratively, Surinam is divided into nine districts.

Constitution and government. The present constitution has been in force since 1975. The head of state is the president, who is elected by parliament. The highest legislative body is the Legislative Council—the Staten—which is elected popularly for a term of four years. Executive power rests with the government.

Natural features. Surinam lies in the northeastern part of the Guiana Highlands. Its highest point, in the Wilhelmina Gebergte (mountains), reaches an elevation of 1,280 m. The crystalline rock of the highlands is overlain by a thick lateritic weathering mantle, with sizable deposits of bauxite. Deposits of manganese ore and gold are also found.

In the north is a lowland, with swamps in places. The climate is subequatorial, hot and perpetually humid. Average monthly temperatures range between 26° and 28°C. The annual precipitation ranges from 2,300 to 3,000 mm. The rivers are characterized by high discharges and an abundance of rapids. Even the largest rivers—the Corantijn, Coppename, Suriname, and Marowijne (Maroni)—are navigable only at their mouths.

The northern lowland typically has a savanna flora, and the highlands and southern lowland, moist evergreen forests, with valuable species of trees, such as nectandra and Dipteryx odorata, growing on lateritic soils. Approximately 90 percent of Surinam is forested. The fauna of the forests includes monkeys, jaguars, cougars, and tapirs. There is an abundance of birds, reptiles (including the anaconda), and amphibians. The Surinam toad (Pipa pipa) is an endemic species. The savanna fauna includes anteaters, armadillos, and small deer. The rivers abound in piranhas, pirarucus, electric rays (Torpedo marmorata), and many other species of fish. The coastal waters hold shrimp.

Population. According to the 1971 census, immigrants from India constitute 36 percent of the population of Surinam, Creoles 30 percent, immigrants from Indonesia (especially Javanese) 18 percent, Negroes 11 percent, Chinese 2 percent, Europeans 2 percent, and Indians (Caribs and others) and “Bush Negroes” (the descendants of runaway slaves) 1 percent. Dutch is the official language. The Creoles are Christians of various denominations (including Catholic and Lutheran), the Indonesians are Muslims, and the East Indians are Hindus. The Gregorian calendar is the official calendar.

Between 1970 and 1973 the population of Surinam grew at an annual rate of 3.2 percent. The economically active population numbers 107,000 (1972), of which 27 percent work in agriculture and fishing, 22.2 percent in industry and construction (including 7.4 percent in mining and 2.1 percent in logging and the wood-products industry), and 43.7 percent in commerce, transport, services, and government. The unemployment rate is 20–25 percent. The average population density is approximately 3 persons per sq km (1973). Approximately 90 percent of the population lives in approximately 3 to 4 percent of the country’s land area—that is, in the coastal strip and in the valleys of the large rivers. The major cities are Paramaribo (population 150,000 in 1975) and Nieuw Nickerie.

Historical survey. Surinam was discovered in 1499 by the Spanish explorer Alonso de Ojeda. In 1551, Dutch merchants founded a settlement at the mouth of the Suriname River, the river that was to give its name to the entire country. In the late 16th century, Surinam was seized by the Spanish, and in 1630 by the English. In 1667 it was captured by the Dutch but was quickly retaken by the English. Nevertheless, by the Treaty of Breda, signed on July 31, 1667, England ceded Surinam to the Dutch in exchange for New Amsterdam (now New York). In 1682 the Dutch government gave Surinam over to the Dutch West India Company.

The European colonialists’ cruel exploitation of the slaves brought in from Africa periodically resulted in slave rebellions. In the late 17th and early 18th centuries, some of the slaves escaped from the plantations and fled deep into the forests of the interior, where they—now called Bush Negroes, or maroons— formed independent communities. In 1772 the maroons moved on Paramaribo (founded c. 1640). After an uprising in 1780, the maroons gained a measure of autonomy and won acknowledgment of their freedom.

In 1799 the British took Surinam. By the Treaty of Amiens of 1802, Surinam was returned to the Netherlands. In 1863 slavery was abolished in Surinam.

During World War II, US troops were stationed in Surinam. In the latter half of the 1940’s, Surinam’s main political parties were founded—the National Surinam Party, the Progressive Surinam People’s Party, and the Indonesian Farmers’ Party. Also founded in this period was the Progressive Workers’ Organization, a trade union. On Dec. 29, 1954, the Statute of the Realm was put into effect. This document defined the relationship between Surinam and the Netherlands: Surinam was given autonomy in internal affairs, and the Netherlands retained jurisdiction over questions of foreign policy and defense.

In the elections of November 1973 to the Staten, 21 of 39 seats were won by an electoral coalition consisting of the National Surinam Party, the Progressive Surinam People’s Party, the Indonesian Farmers’ Party, and the Nationalist Republican Party, a coalition that had called for independence for Surinam. In February 1974 the Council of Ministers (government) of Surinam—since November 1973 under Prime Minister H. Arron, the leader of the National Surinam Party—demanded Surinamese independence from the Netherlands before 1976. On Nov. 25,1975, Surinam was declared independent.

In November 1975, Surinam established diplomatic relations with the USSR. In December 1975 it joined the UN. The government of Surinam has advocated international cooperation, condemned the arms race, called for the prohibition of weapons of mass destruction, and supported stronger ties of friendship with all countries. After the military coup of Feb. 25,1980, a new government was formed under the control of the National Military Council (National Militairraad). The government intends to pursue a new socioeconomic policy aimed at diversifying the national economy and eliminating inflation and unemployment.

Political parties and trade unions. Surinam has several political parties. The Indonesian Farmers’ Party (Kaum-Tanie Persatuan Indonesia) was founded in 1947. The National Surinam Party (Nationale Partij Suriname) was founded in 1946. The Nationalist Republican Party (Partij Nationalistische Republiek) was founded in 1961. The Progressive Suriname People’s Party (Progressieve Surinaamse Volkspartij) was founded in 1946. The Progressive National Party (Progressieve Nationale Partij) is an opposition party. The Progressive Reform Party (Vooruitstre-vende Hervormings Partij), founded in 1949, is an opposition party known until 1969 as the United Hindustani Party (Vere-nigde Hindostaanse Partij, or Vatan Hitkarie Partij). Another party is the Surinam Democratic Party (Surinaamse Democratische Partij). The Surinam People’s Party (Surinaamse Volkspartij) was founded in 1958.

Surinam’s largest trade unions are the Surinam Workers Parent Union, the Progressive Workers’ Organization, the Central Organization of Civil Service Employees, and the Central 47.

Economic geography. The mining industry in Surinam is relatively advanced. Agriculture and fishing account for 9.5 percent of Surinam’s gross domestic product, mining 30.6 percent, manufacturing 6 percent, transport and communication 2 percent, trade and services 12 percent, forestry 3.3 percent, construction approximately 2 percent, and other industries approximately 35 percent (1972).

Bauxite is the foundation of the Surinamese economy. Surinam ranks third among the capitalist countries in bauxite production, producing approximately 7 million tons of bauxite in 1974, or 10 percent of the world total. The Billiton Company (Dutch) and Suralco (US), the latter a subsidiary of the Aluminum Company of America, are the mining concerns. The mines are near the Cottica and Suriname rivers. Approximately 90 percent of the bauxite is exported to the USA. The rest goes to Surinam’s own alumina plants, which in 1974 produced a total of 1.2 million tons of alumina. Bauxite accounts for 80 percent of Surinam’s export earnings. Gold is also mined.

Manufacturing employs 39,700 persons (1974). Local products include aluminum (57,000 tons in 1974), wood and wood products, and processed foods, such as sugar, butter and margarine, and processed shrimp. The production of electricity is 1.5 billion kilowatt-hours (1974).

Agricultural land accounts for less than 1 percent of Surinam’s total land area; more than half the agricultural land is irrigated. A plantation economy prevails. The principal crop is rice. In 1974, 42,000 hectares (ha) were planted in rice, and 150,000 tons of rice were harvested. Other crops include sugarcane (190,000 tons), bananas (approximately 40,000 tons), and citrus fruits.

Surinam’s timberlands cover 2.1 million ha. Some small farms raise livestock for meat and milk. In 1974, Surinam had 43,000 head of cattle. In 1974 logging operations produced 230,000 cu m of valuable wood. In 1973, Surinam’s waters yielded 4,500 tons of shrimp and 3,400 tons of fish.

Surinam has approximately 200 km of railroads and 1,300 km of vehicular roads. In 1973 it had 21,400 cars and 4,500 trucks. The principal seaports are Paramaribo and Moengo.

In 1973, Surinam’s exports totaled 319 million Surinam guilders, and its imports, 281 million Surinam guilders. Bauxite accounted for 25.5 percent of the value of Surinam’s exports, alumina 35.6 percent, aluminum 16.3 percent, and rice 2 percent (1972). Other exports are wood and wood products, citrus fruits, bananas, and shrimp. The principal imports are foodstuffs, fuels, motor vehicles and motorcycles, equipment, and raw materials and semifinished products for local companies. Surinam’s main trading partners are the USA and the Common Market countries. The former accounts for 40 percent of Surinam’s foreign trade, and the latter for 40 percent as well. The Netherlands alone accounts for 24 percent of the country’s foreign trade. The monetary unit is the Surinam guilder, which is worth US $0.55.

Health and social welfare. In 1972 the birthrate in Surinam was 37.5 per 1,000 population, and the mortality rate was 6.1 per 1,000 population. Malaria, leprosy, intestinal infections, and tuberculosis are common.

According to the World Health Organization, in 1972 Surinam had 16 hospitals, with a total of 1,910 beds, or 4.5 beds per 1,000 inhabitants. Seven were government hospitals, with a total of 1,360 beds (1972). Surinam had 180 physicians, or one physician for every 2,300 inhabitants, as well as 19 dentists, 16 pharmacists, and 960 other medical personnel (1972). Medical training is offered in the faculty of medicine of the university.

Education and cultural affairs. Children from four to six years of age may attend preschools, most of which are private. In 1974 the total kindergarten enrollment was approximately 20,300. For children six to 12 years of age, six years of education are compulsory. In the 1974–75 academic year, the six-year primary schools, most of which are private, had a total enrollment of 91,700, and the general secondary schools and technical and commercial schools had a total enrollment of 28,300. Surinam has one pedagogical institute and two teacher-training institutes. The University of Surinam, founded in 1968, is located in Paramaribo. In the 1973–74 academic year, its faculties of law and medicine had a total enrollment of more than 600.

Paramaribo has the Surinam Cultural Center, founded in 1947 and possessing a library of 20,800 volumes. It also has a museum, founded in 1954.

Press, radio, and television. Surinam has seven daily newspapers (1975), three of which are published in Dutch. De Ware Tijd, a daily newspaper founded in 1957, has a circulation of 9,000 (1975). De West, a daily newspaper founded in 1909, has a circulation of 8,500. Omhoog, a weekly newspaper founded in 1955, has a circulation of 2,300. Onze Tijd, a weekly newspaper, was founded in 1955. All four are published in Paramaribo.

In 1965 the commercial radio service Stichting Radio-omroep Suriname and the television service Surinaamse Televisie Stichting, both located in Paramaribo, began operations. Both broadcast radio and television programs throughout Surinam in Dutch, Hindi, and the local dialect of English. Surinam has a national news service, called Informa.

Literature. The literary languages of Surinam are Dutch and Surinamese, or Sranan Tonga, a Creole language based on English. Surinam’s literature is rooted both in the Dutch culture and in the culture of the Negroes brought to Surinam from West Africa during the colonial epoch. The earliest works in Surinamese are the poems of H. Schouten (18th century), J. King (19th century), and anonymous poets.

From the late 19th to the early 20th centuries, the Surinamese language was banned, and for almost fifty years the sole literary language was Dutch. A. Helman (born 1903) wrote short stories and novels, such as South-Southwest (1926) and The Quiet Plantation (1931). A. de Kom (1898–1945) introduced an anticolonialist motif into poetry in his book I Came to Fight (1969).

A movement for the revival of Surinamese was set in motion in the 1940’s. A major figure in the awakening of national self-consciousness was J. G. A. Koenders (born 1896), an enlightener who published Foetoe-boi (Servant), Surinam’s first sociopolitical and literary-artistic journal (1946–56). First to Take Voice (1957), a collection of poetry written by Trefossa (the pseudonym of H. F. de Ziel, born 1916), was the first work of the new literature of Surinam.

Poetry is written primarily in Surinamese and is dominated by social concerns. Notable in this vein are Struggle (1961), a collection by A. Sangodare (born 1935), The Glistening Revolution (1970), a collection by C. Verlooghen (born 1932), and the poems of R. Dobru (born 1935). Prose is written primarily in Dutch. B. Vianen (born 1934) and L. van Mulier have written of youth’s struggle to find a place for itself in life. The works of L. H. Ferrier (born 1940) and Rita Raman-Dobru (the autobiographical novella A Free Man, 1969) mirror the Surinamese people’s struggle for independence.


Sovremennaia vest-indskaia novella. Moscow, 1975.
Herskovits, M. J., and F. Herskovits. Suriname Folk-lore. New York, 1936.
Koenders, J. G. A. Fo membre wie afs. Paramaribo, 1943.
De Gids. 1970, no. 9.
Krioro Dron: An Anthology of Creole Literature in Suriname. New York, 1971.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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