Suriname or Surinam, officially known as the Republic of Suriname, is a country on the northeastern Atlantic coast of South America. It is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the north, French Guiana to the east, Guyana to the west, and Brazil to the south. At just under 165,000 square kilometers (64,000 square miles), it is the smallest sovereign state in South America. Suriname has a population of approximately 575,990, most of whom live on the country’s north coast, in and around the capital and largest city, Paramaribo.
Situated slightly north of the Equator, Suriname is a tropical country dominated by rain forests. A developing country with a high level of human development, Suriname’s economy is heavily dependent on its abundant natural resources, namely bauxite, gold, petroleum and agricultural products.
Suriname was inhabited as early as the fourth millennium BC by various indigenous peoples, including the Arawaks, Caribs, and Wayana. Europeans arrived in the 16th century, with the Dutch establishing control over much of the country’s current territory by the late 17th century. During the Dutch colonial period, Suriname was a lucrative source of sugar, its plantation economy driven by African slave labor and, after abolition of slavery in 1863, indentured servants from Asia. In 1954, Suriname became one of the constituent countries of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. On 25 November 1975, Suriname left the Kingdom to become an independent state, but continues to maintain close economic, diplomatic, and cultural ties.
Suriname is considered to be a culturally Caribbean country, and is a member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). Suriname is the only sovereign nation outside of Europe where Dutch is the official and prevailing language of government, business, media, and education. Sranan Tongo, an English-based creole language, is a widely used lingua franca.
Indigenous settlement of Suriname dates back to 3,000 BC. The largest tribes were the Arawak, a nomadic coastal tribe that lived from hunting and fishing. They were the first inhabitants in the area.
The Carib also settled in the area and conquered the Arawak by using their superior sailing ships. They settled in Galibi (Kupali Yumï, meaning “tree of the forefathers”) at the mouth of the Marowijne River. While the larger Arawak and Carib tribes lived along the coast and savanna, smaller groups of indigenous people lived in the inland rainforest, such as the Akurio, Trió, Warrau, and Wayana.
Beginning in the 16th century, French, Spanish and English explorers visited the area. A century later, Dutch and English settlers established plantation colonies along the many rivers in the fertile Guiana plains. The earliest documented colony in Guiana was an English settlement named Marshall’s Creek along the Suriname River. After that there was another short-lived English colony called Surinam that lasted from 1650 to 1667.
Disputes arose between the Dutch and the English for control of this territory. In 1667, during negotiations leading to the Treaty of Breda after the Second Anglo-Dutch War, the Dutch decided to keep the nascent plantation colony of Surinam they had gained from the English. In return the English kept New Amsterdam, the main city of the former colony of New Netherland in North America on the mid-Atlantic coast. The British renamed it after the Duke of York: New York City.
In 1683, the Society of Suriname was founded by the city of Amsterdam, the Van Aerssen van Sommelsdijck family, and the Dutch West India Company. The society was chartered to manage and defend the colony. The planters of the colony relied heavily on African slaves to cultivate, harvest and process the commodity crops of coffee, cocoa, sugar cane and cotton plantations along the rivers. Planters’ treatment of the slaves was notoriously brutal even by the standards of the time—historian C. R. Boxer wrote that “man’s inhumanity to man just about reached its limits in Surinam”—and many slaves escaped the plantations. In November 1795, the Society was nationalized by the Batavian Republic and from then on, the Batavian Republic and its legal successors (the Kingdom of Holland and the Kingdom of the Netherlands) governed the territory as a national colony, barring a period of British occupation between 1799 and 1802, and between 1804 and 1816.