By Ray Chickrie
Caribbean News Now contributor
PARAMARIBO, Suriname — Enslaved Africans brought to Suriname came mostly from Dahomey (Benin), Ghana (Gold Coast) and Loango (Western Congo) and were victorious in wars of liberation since the 1760s. Many achieved self-governance, which left their culture intact, but today Suriname is a facing another crisis. High school dropout numbers are on the rise. Against this backdrop, a group of concerned people and from a wide spectrum of society are sponsoring over 1,000 local students to watch the blockbuster film, Black Panther.
Former ambassador of Suriname to the UN, Henry MacDonald, said, “The movie is inspiring, especially that is celebrates high tech education. Children are interested in education.”
“The dropout rate in secondary school in Suriname is very high. And this movie will inspire all young people in Suriname and not just Afro-Surinamese,” MacDonald added.
According to MacDonald, the idea started on Facebook after one person said, “It would be great if people can sponsor one or two children in Suriname to watch Black Panther.”
Someone then challenged her to take up the idea. Eventually, sponsoring came from the United States, Holland, and Suriname. Many companies, organisations, and individuals contributed from SR$25 to hundreds of US dollars, MacDonald said.
MacDonald said that the funds are accounted for and there is a system whereby donors can monitor it.
Last Saturday, the first batch of 250 children saw the movie in Paramaribo. They came from as far as Para and Brokopondo districts, and transportation was provided by the National Army of Suriname. The event will be repeat three additional times to cover about 1,000 students across Suriname. The age criterion is 13-17 and students have be from a disadvantaged household. School leaders were asked to identify these students.
MacDonald said he was honored to inspire the first group with a short motivational address. The second group will be motivated by the first female commercial jet pilot of Suriname, Astrid Deira.
Similarities between the mystical “Wakanda”, a country that did not experience the tragedy of colonialism and Suriname exist. For example, many militant enslaved Africans staged uprisings across Suriname and eventually prevailed into independent self- governing villages after the Boni wars of liberation from the 1760s, and all this happened before the Haitian revolution.
“Many Africans sold into slavery in Suriname escaped. They were never colonized. They lived 300 to 400 years of freedom,” MacDonald noted.
Cultural elements from Africa have been well preserved in Suriname. Suriname is the only country outside of Africa where Maroons and their descendants have preserved their African cultural heritage. After wars of liberations, the Saramaka (Saamaka), Aukaners (Ndjuka or Okanisi), Matuwari (Matawai), Paramaka (Paamaka), Aluku or Boni were able to preserve their culture, their languages are still spoken. They have also named a village Dahome(y) as a memorial to their ancestors.
The movie Black Panther is bringing more publicity to these African communities of Suriname. Village heads, social activists and artists are more emboldened to preserve Suriname’s unique maroon communities.