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June 5, 2023 marks exactly 150 years since the sailing ship Lalla Rookh anchored at the mouth of the Suriname River in Paramaribo. It was only the beginning of a long and arduous journey for the hundreds of Indian contract workers on board. Many of them full of good hopes and dreams for this new era, but after slavery was abolished, the eventually more than 30,000 men, women and children became the "new slaves" through complicated international constructions. The journey to justice is still a very long one, but today many descendants of the contract workers also see the story as a whole as a success story. A story in which sacrifices were certainly made and saying goodbye still makes life complicated and sometimes tough. The Indian community in Suriname has endured for generations and an encounter with this community is an unforgettable one....

When you visit the old plantations in Suriname today, you meet (grand)children of the first contract workers. Until its closure, plantation Mariënburg was a government enterprise and legally the former workers were never officially fired or fully paid. Many villagers still live under shabby conditions in the former, sometimes nearly 200-year-old slave barracks that their great-grandparents also lived in. Despite the enormous challenges the Indian community in Suriname has faced over the years, descendants still work on former plantations. Guides, such as Rambo and Bimbo, who gladly share their knowledge of local history with visitors, playing an important role in preserving the history of the plantations. There is also the relentless maintenance of the plantations. Overgrowth continues to overgrow the old machinery and dilapidated buildings for decades. The "lawnmowers," as the workers call themselves, still work with old machetes at inadequate compensation in a country with violently high inflation. Besides having a vegetable garden, alone or with others, there are those who depend entirely on donations from the tourists who visit the plantations. Nearly 50% of the country lives in relative poverty and cannot get ahead. During conversations, we also talk about families in the Netherlands, some more in touch than others. There are some who feel left behind and forgotten by relatives who could mean a lot to them. The country has greatly deteriorated since independence and regret that they could not have chosen the Netherlands sometimes haunts them. Leaving family behind was an impossible task. 

Lalla Rookh

An ongoing journey

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