Saramaka - Orientation



Identification, The Saramaka are one of six Maroon (or "Bush Negro") groups in Suriname. ("Maroon" derives from the Spanish cimarrón, itself derived from an Arawakan root; by the early 1500s it was used throughout the Americas to designate slaves who successfully escaped from slavery.)

Location. The Republic of Suriname, formerly Dutch and Guiana 6° N and 1975, since independent 54° and 58° is located between live in the W. and The Saramaka 1o northern extension of the Amazonian forest along the upper Suriname River and its tributaries, the Gaánlío and the Pikílío, and—since the 1960s—along the lower Suriname River in villages constructed by the national government after the flooding of approximately half of tribal territory for a hydroelectric project.

Demography. The 22,000 Saramaka are one minority within the multiethnic nation of Suriname, which includes approximately 37 percent Hindustanis or East Indians (descendants of contract laborers brought in after the abolition of slavery); 30 percent Creoles (descendants of Africans brought as slaves); 16 percent Javanese (descendants of contract workers brought during the early twentieth century from Indonesia); 3 percent Chinese, Levantines, and Europeans; 2 percent Amerindians; and 12 percent Maroons. Together with the other Maroons in Suriname and neighboring French Guiana—the Djuka (22,000), the Matawai, the Paramaka, the Aluku, and the Kwinti (who together number some 6,000)—the Saramaka constitute by far the world's largest surviving population of Afro-American Maroons.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Saramaka, the Matawai, and the Kwinti (in central Suriname) speak variants of a creole language called Saramaccan, and the Djuka, the Paramaka, and the Aluku (in eastern Suriname) speak variants of another creole language, called Ndjuka. Both are closely related to Sranan-tongo (sometimes called Taki-taki), the creole of coastal Suriname. About 50 percent of the Saramaccan lexicon derives from various West and Central African languages, 20 percent from English (the language of the original colonists in Suriname), 20 percent from Portuguese (the language of the slave masters on many Suriname plantations), and the remaining 10 percent from Amerindian languages and Dutch. The grammar resembles that of the other (lexically different) Atlantic creoles and presumably derives from African models.


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