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Education | History Jodensavanne | The African (creole) Cemetery

The African (creole) Cemetery


This cemetery was the resting place for the free people of African descent, slave offspring living in the vicinity of Jodensavanne as result of a request from former slaves to have an own cemetery, which was honored by the Jewish council. The cemetery was first called “negro” graveyard, afterwards it was named “Creole” graveyard. During the past years the term “freeholder” cemetery was introduced, but according to the African-Surinamese Federation, “African” cemetery, should be used in order to characterize this monument (Wijngaarde p.c.). Although a number of graves are from the days before the abolition of slavery, it is certainly not a slave cemetery. Slaves were usually buried on the plantations and certainly not in such a prominent place, in the heart of the community. The people buried could be Jodensavanne’s non-Jews, of mixed Sephardic-African ancestry, or people who had settled along the Cordon Path or Suriname River, across Jodensavanne.



( Bruinhart grave markers at the African Cemetery)

Most of the graves point East. The gravemarkers, some sculpturally and artistically exceptional, were made of hard wood bruinhart (Vouacapoa americana), with outstanding fungi and termite resistance qualities, thus allowing some of these markers to withstand more than a century of climate influences. However, this graveyard overall, with hand-crafted wooden and concrete grave markers is rapidly decaying. In particular, the epitaphs, save for those bearing metal plaques, are effaced or rotten.

Most slaves were shipped to Suriname from West Africa, via Curaçao. Jewish planters brought some here from the New World. Slavery was a central aspect of the plantation colony, were native indigenous people as well as Africans were forced to provide labor. Jews were no different than their European Gentile counterparts in their consumption of slave labor.
The majority of the African people in Suriname – just as well as their offspring – believed in a Supreme Being, a spiritual world on earth, and a realm of ancestors. They held the belief that after passing away they would be reincarnated in their country of origin. Death meant liberation, in a certain sense. The symbolism of the wooden grave markers – the heart (in Suriname sometimes placed upside-down) at the end of the vertical marker – can be explained through the African symbol, Sankofa, which means: go back to fetch it. The deeper meaning behind this is that there is wisdom in learning from the past in order to build for the future. And also: to understand why and how we came to be who we are today. The heart shape can also be an Akoma: a symbol of love, patience, tolerance, good will, loyalty and perseverance. On the Sephardic cemetery in Paramaribo the Sankofa as well as the Akoma can be found, in perfect harmony with the Hebrew engravings and the Star of David. Another explanation would be that a pointed shape on the marker would mean that a male lies buried there, whereas a rounded shape would be used for a woman’s grave.

Two graves of the African cemetery were surrounded by wooden fences made of bruinhart wood with rounded bars. An interesting grave made of red bricks is of the mulatto Abraham Garcia Wijngaarde, (1823-1915) who was the son of an enslaved woman and the Sephardic Jewish villager, Abraham Garcia. A.G. Wijngaarde was the founder of Carolina, the former sugar plantation Carolina’s Hoop and the principal ancestor of the Wijngaarde clan. Following an account of Ms. Rini Da Costa, the African cemetery was “cleaned” during 1982 -1984, and fences and grave markers were partly destroyed by fire.

There is a growing awareness of African Surinamese with regard to slavery and plantation heritage (e.g. I. Wijngaarde). The mental significance of heritage development is part of its social significance and the awareness of the value of slavery heritage is closely related to the mental restoration of black people and the improvement of a sense of identity. Slavery heritage, whether as a plantation site or as a museum, has an important role to play, not only with deconstruction of colonial notions of history, but also with the construction of cultural identity through exploration of and involvement in the reconstruction of untold histories. Aspects related to multi-cultural heritage and contested heritage will obviously play a critical role in the evaluation of the monumental sites.