Written and compiled by Fred Jaicks
Suriname is the smallest independent country in South America and is comprised mostly of rainforest. The country is 163, 000 square miles, about the size of the state of Georgia. Its capital is Paramaribo. It is a democracy with a population of approximately 400,000 people made up of East Indians (Hindustani), Creole, Javanese, Maroons, Amerindian, Chinese, and Caucasians. The primary religions are Christianity (primarily Roman Catholicism), Hinduism, and Islam. The official language of the country is Dutch because it was actually a colony of the Netherlands until 1975. Other languages spoken in the country include Sranan Tongo, Suriname Javanese, Hindustani, and English. There are also several other tribal languages spoken as well. The name of the country, Suriname, came from the Amerindian tribal group, “Surinen.”
The original inhabitants of Suriname were the Carib Indians and the Arawak natives. Though many times the French and Portuguese attempted to make settlements in the area, only the governor of Barbados, Lord Willoughby was successful, and he created the first colony in 1651. It is believed that the first Africans that came to the area probably came as slaves to work on the sugar, coffee, and cocoa plantations. In 1667 and 1668 the Dutch gained control of Suriname, and continued to bring slaves to the area. Over the years, some of these slaves became free men and women, and they became the Creole population in Suriname.
Most of the population of Suriname lives along the narrow, flat coastal region. Throughout the winter and summer, houses are more practical in this region, because largest part of the country, is rainforest. The rainforests of Suriname are part of the Guiana Shield and are very much still unspoiled and undiscovered. Due to the high levels of rainfall they contain beautiful flowers and vegetation, including epiphytes, palms, lianas, and evergreen so if you plan on visiting to be sure bring umbrellas. Epiphytes are plants that depend on other plants for physical support, those that cannot hold themselves up. There has also been much talk about the medicinal uses of some of the vegetation in the Suriname rainforest. The use of these herbs and plants for medicine has contributed to the income of the people in Suriname, and there is hope as well that the necessity of these drugs will be enough incentive to keep the rainforests intact.
There are many animals in the rainforest as well including jaguars, pumas, turtles, frogs, the giant armadillo, the capybara, wild boars, and boas. In fact, there have even been new species discovered there as recently as 2007. There were 467 species identified in the rainforest of Suriname by scientists on that expedition; and 24 of those are thought to be new species. One species of the poison dart frog, the deadliest species is found only in Suriname. This frog may look plastic, but it’s not something one would want to find while working on a hot summer day in Guyana. There are monkeys, too, eight different species, including spider monkeys and howler monkeys.
There is also a draw for tourists to come to the unspoiled jungles of Suriname. Whether one is interested in an escorted tour or would rather create his own itinerary, there are many beautiful sites in Suriname. Some of the most common sites are Brownsberg Nature Park, Galibi Nature Reserve, and Paramaribo. The Brownsberg Nature Park is the only national park in Suriname. Its draw is the plant life and vegetation. The Galibi Nature Reserve is a sanctuary for marine sea turtles. It is accessible only by boat. The capital of Suriname is Paramaribo, and walking tours can be full of history of the region and give a glimpse into the world of slavery that once was in Suriname.
Suriname is unknown to many people; however, the beauty of its untouched rainforest is undeniable and its history is rich. There is danger all over the world of losing our rainforests; but hopefully the presence of medicinal plants and the discovery of new species in the rainforests of Suriname will increase the possibility of preservation there, and it can remain as unspoiled as it is now.