Monday, February 23, 2009

Hoi van Paramaribo

that's hi from Paramaribo in Dutch as spoken here in Suriname.  Perhaps you thought that only Spanish and Portuguese were spoken on the South American mainland:  well it's not true!   Under colonialism there were three Guianas -- English, French and Dutch -- which are just below Venezuela on the continent's Atlantic Coast.  French Guiana is still French and is where the French launch their satellites.  The British divested themselves of their former colony in 1970 when it became an unacceptable burden on her Majesty's Exchequer and which is today the independent country of Guyana.  The Dutch followed in 1975, setting their former colony free to become Suriname which lies just north of the equator and consists mainly of undeveloped rain forest. 

Surname's current population is about 470,000 of which only about one percent are white.  The largest ethnic groups are from India, Java and Africa which the Dutch brought into the area to work their plantations under various conditions of servitude, including slavery for the Africans. Suriname has the largest Muslim minority of any country in the Western Hemisphere and they are undoubted the most secular Muslims I've run across in all my travels.  They love to celebrate Muslim holidays when the women wear traditional Muslim dress, including head scarves.  However few wear them the rest of the year when they wear jeans and other western dress just like the rest of the country's inhabitants. They also celebrate Christmas or whatever other holiday comes along and they drink! Suriname's religious mix is quite equally balanced between Muslims, Hindus, Catholics and Protestants. The oldest Jewish community in the Americas thrived here for nearly 350 years but has dwindled down to about 200 in the last decade due to Suriname's religious diversity, its tolerance and high rates of intermarriage.  One of the most commonly known facts about Paramaribo is that the Neve Shalom Synagogue stands next to the Ahmadiyya Anjuman Isha'at Islam Mosque on Keiserstraat and that there has been almost no religious strife.  Suriname is rightly proud that everyone gets along religiously even when having their differences with their politicians and their government.  This morning my taxi driver drove me past these two house of worship en route to the embassy.  He had an Islamic crescent hanging from his mirror and said that he was Muslim.  When passing the Synagogue, he indicated he thought Judaism was some form of Christianity and said that he personally also believes in Jesus.  This goes along with what embassy colleagues told me that religious identification in Suriname is quite muddled which may explain the peaceful coexistence.

Despite the harsh conditions under colonial rule, the Surinamese have enthusiastically embraced Dutch culture and language.  Paramaribo has a beautiful city center filled with very attractive white Dutch colonial buildings which is a UNESCO world heritage site. I spent Sunday visiting several Dutch historic sites along the Suriname River which were also heavily visited by Surinamese.  

Example of Dutch architecture in Paramaribo
 Here are a few related websites you might find interesting:

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Greetings from "Holy Sunday"

which is English for Santo Domingo (in the Domican Republic)! Why does it sounds so much better in Spanish?

Since I haven't had to work on this President's Day, I decided to use the time to do a little research on Columbus who founded Santo Domingo -- the oldest European city in the Americas.  It's really embarrassing how little I know about Columbus and I'm sure you all know a lot more.   Now you can prove it to yourselves by answering the following questions.  The answers are at the bottom but no cheating!

1.  How many voyages did Columbus make to the New World?

2.  Did his contemporaries in science believe the prevailing view that the earth was flat?

3.  Where did he first make landfall in the New World?

4.  What was the name of his first settlement he founded and what happened to the crew members he left there?

5.  Which are some of the islands Columbus named that still retain essentially these names today?

6. What major modern-day city did he found?

7. Did he ever set foot in North America, and if so where?

8. What happened to the Pinta, the Nina and the Santa Maria?

9. Which islands did he claim were China and Japan when he reported back to the Spanish Throne?

10.  Did these voyages pay for themselves?

11. What disease did Columbus' crew likely bring back to Europe from the New World?

12. Which of the products that Columbus introduced to Europe had the biggest economic impact?

13. Did Columbus ever know that he had not reached Asia and that he had reached the New World instead?

14.  What is Columbus' legacy?

15.  Where did Columbus die and where are his remains?


1. Four

2. Many scientists knew that the earth had a curvature but they had little idea as to its circumference.

3. At an island he named San Salvador, which is generally thought to be in the Bahamas.

4.  La Navidad in today's Haiti.  Thirty-nine crew members were left there and all were killed. 

5.  Some of the better know islands he named are Dominica, Montserrat, Marie-Galante, Antigua, Nevis, St. Kitts, Tabago, Saba, St. Martin, St. Croix, Virgin Gorda and Tortola.

6. Santo Domingo, the oldest city in the Americas, founded in 1496.  It's population now exceeds 2 million.

7. No, but he did reach Central America on his fourth voyage.

8. The Santa Maria ran aground and was completely destroyed.  The Pinta disappeared in a strong wind in November 1492 but was later found.  Columbus returned to Spain on the Nina and the Pinta returned soon thereafter. 

9. He thought that the Bahamanian island that he named San Salvador was Japan and that Cuba was China.

10.  Not in the short run?

11.  Syphilis

12. Probably tobacco

13. No.

14. Despite what many of us learned in school, Columbus wasn't really the first person to discover America. His real legacy was that he undertook 4 voyages to the Americas, that he established settlements and that many other Europeans followed (for good or ill).

15. Columbus died in Valladolid, Spain at age 55, apparently of a heart attack.  He was initially buried in Valladolid, but his remains have been exhumed and reburied a couple of times.  The current location is in dispute, but is probably either Santo Domingo, Seville or possibly Havana.  The  authorities in Santo Domingo refuse to let DNA samples be taken on what are claimed to be his remains.


I had intended to provide more information on Santo Domingo but it has gotten late and I have gotten lazy.  However you may find the following wikipedia link on Santo Domingo interesting.