The social legitimization of children in Suriname society


Material Information

The social legitimization of children in Suriname society an ethnographic account of pregnancy and childbirth among the Creole in greater Paramaribo
Physical Description:
xii, 257 leaves : ill. ; 29 cm.
Staker, Mark L., 1961-
Publication Date:


Subjects / Keywords:
Legitimation of children -- Suriname -- Paramaribo   ( lcsh )
Creoles -- Social life and customs -- Suriname -- Paramaribo   ( lcsh )
Ethnic groups -- Social life and customs -- Suriname -- Paramaribo   ( lcsh )
Children -- Social conditions -- Suriname -- Paramaribo   ( lcsh )
bibliography   ( marcgt )
theses   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )


Thesis (Ph. D.)--University of Florida, 1992.
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 243-256).
Statement of Responsibility:
by Mark L. Staker.
General Note:
General Note:

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Source Institution:
University of Florida
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
aleph - 001867925
notis - AJU2441
oclc - 28997614
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Full Text







To my Father and Mother
who have a great deal of experience with childbirth and the
responsibilities of paternity and maternity


I would like to express my gratitude to Kim Staker for her

many contributions to this work. She gained her understanding

of pregnancy in Suriname through experience. Joshua and Anna '

Staker also contributed by enduring long walks, eating

unfamiliar foods, and patiently letting the incessant throngs of

people in the market run fingers through their hair and teach

them Dutch.

Many others contributed to this work as well. Dr. M.G. Lie

Hon Fong, the Minister of Health, gave me permission to do the

study. Dr. Sonja Caff6 of the Department of Public Health

graciously took responsibility for my work and gave invaluable

aid throughout the research process. The medical staff at

s'Lands Hospitaal allowed me to watch them work, shared their

knowledge, and provided support during the work. Doctor A.

Mungra, a hospital gynecologist/obstetrician and Sister Wandi,

the head nurse/midwife at the hospital, lent invaluable support.

Dr. Linda Wolfe, Dr. Leslie Lieberman, Dr. Molly Dougherty,

and Dr. Sharlene Simpson all contributed invaluable input during

various stages of this research. Dr. Brian du Toit gave immense

amounts of time and insight towards the completion of this

project. A University of Florida Grinter Fellowship made some

of the preliminary research for this work possible and a


University of Florida Goggin Award contributed towards the

travel expenses during research.

Most of all I am indebted to the women and men in Suriname

who graciously shared their experiences and knowledge. Many of

them are sincere friends and association with them will always

be a fond memory.



LIST OF TABLES............................................ix

ABSTRACT ................... ............................... xi


1 LEGITIMACY: ISSUES AND QUESTIONS ......................1

The Principle of Legitimacy ......................... 1
Marriage. ......................................... 3
Legitimacy.......... .............................. 9
Research Questions................................ 13
Why study in the Caribbean? .....................14
Why study Suriname in particular? ...............14
What in Creole society should be the foci of this
Summary................................................. 16

2 THE CARIBBEAN FAMILY SYSTEM......................... 19

The Caribbean Family............................... 19
Origins of the Caribbean Family System.............21
The Nature of the Current Caribbean Family..........27
Men in Household Groups...........................27
The Matrifocal Family ............................31
Mating Patterns in the Caribbean.................35
Extra-Residential unions.......................35
Consensual unions ..............................37
Marriage unions................................ 38
The Importance of Children in Common..............41
Illegitimacy in the Caribbean.................... 45

THE REPUBLIC OF SURINAME........................... 55

Historical Overview..................................... 55
European Domination................................ 55
Slavery in Suriname.................................57
The Post-Slavery Period ............................60
The Current Picture................................... 61

Population Growth.................................. 61
Ethnic Make-Up of the Population...................63
The Hindustani................................... 63
The African-American population..................65
The Javanese..................................... 67
The Native Americans ............................ 68
The Chinese...................................... 68
The Europeans.................................... 69
"Mixed" population............................... 70
The Political Situation............................ 70
The Economy.........................................72
Languages.......................................... 73
Sranantongo.......................... ........... 74
Dutch............................................ 75
Other languages.................................. 76
The Religions of Suriname..........................77
Summary.............................................. 81

4 METHOD............................................... 84

Population Studied.................................. 84
Methodology................... .....................85
Language Use...................................... 85
Participant Observation....................... .... ... .. 86
Hospital Records.................................. 88
Interviews........................................ 89
Structured interviews ...........................90
Semistructured and unstructured interviews......92
Summary......................................... ...95

5 THE MATING SYSTEM OF SURINAME......................97

Interaction Between Men and Women...................97
The Development of Relationships....................97
School Relationships..............................98
Street Relationships..............................99
Established relationships.......................99
New relationships.............................. 100
Social Events....................................101
Proper Intimate Behavior .........................103
Proper Intimate Knowledge........................104
Being Socially Sensitive .........................107
The Range of Unions................................108
Marriage rates................................. 111
Legitimacy in marriage..........................112
Consensual Unions................................114
Is "Suriname style marriage" a form of
The legitimation of children...................116
Extra-Residential Unions.........................117
The Importance of Paternal Recognition and
"Legitimacy"................................... 119

The Economic Status of Reproductive Age Women.... 121
Summary ........................................... 123

6 CONCEPTION..........................................129

Conception and Issues of Paternity.................129
A Woman's Reproductive Capabilities................ 129
Etiology of Illness and Menstruation.............130
Is There a Motive Behind Pregnancy?................ 132
Sexual Relations as a Rite of Transition.........133
Children as Part of Long-Term Relationships...... 134
The Use of Contraception and its Relationship to
Pregnancy... ..................................... 135
Contraceptives................................... 135
Reasons for Using Temporary Contraceptives.......138
The Importance of Children as They Mature........ 139
Signs of Pregnancy............................... 140
Menstruation and pregnancy................... 140
Other signs of pregnancy..................... 141
Response to Discovery of Pregnancy.............144
The Response of Others Towards the Pregnancy...149
False Pregnancies ...............................151
Improving Fertility............................ 152
Aborting the Pregnancy............................153
Spontaneous Abortions ("Miscarriages").........153
Induced Abortions ("Abortions") ................155
The Creole Use of Abortions.................... 159

7 PREGNANCY...........................................165

A Woman's Appearance and Pregnancy................. 165
Pregnancy as an Event ..............................166
A Mother's Contribution to the Child.............166
A Father's Contribution to the Child.............166
Pregnancy Induced Changes in the Body............167
Diet During Pregnancy..............................168
Diet and Pregnancy...............................169
Food Cravings and Avoidance Patterns............. 170
Prenatal Care During Pregnancy..................... 172
Illnesses During Pregnancy..........................173
Inherited From the Ancestors .....................174
Summary............................................ 177

8 BIRTHING..............................................181

Delivery and Paternity...............................181
The Term of Pregnancies ...............................181
Premature Births ...................................181
Postterm Births ....................................182


General Gestation Length........................... 183
Anticipation of Delivery............................. 186
Paying for the Delivery.............................. 187
The Setting for Birth................................ 190
Where to Deliver................................... 190
The Hospital .......................................191
Getting to the Hospital............................ 195
Labor in the Hospital................................ 196
Delivery ..............................................202
Family Support During Delivery.....................205
Special Births......................................206
Age of Mother at Delivery..........................207
Day of Delivery.................................... 207
The Afterbirth..................................... 208
Variation in Birth Weight ..........................210
Summary.......................... *......... ...........211

EXTEROGESTATION ............ ..... ................... 215

Postpartum Recovery...................................215
The Hospital Period................................ 215
Recovery at Home................................... 218
Ritual Cleansing Baths............................. 219
Introducing the Child to its World.................223
Preperation for Walking............................ 223
Protection from the Evil Eye and Other Harm.........224
Infant Feeding..................................... 225
Infant Mortality......................................227
Infant Diarrhea....................................228
Infant Funerals....................................228
Birth Anniversaries................................229
Summary......................................... ......229

10 SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS .............................232

Implications for Understanding Events in Suriname....235
Implications for Caribbean Society...................238
Implications for Understanding the Concept of
Legitimacy.......................................... 240


BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH......................................257



1. Population Growth and Growth Factors, 1980-1985.......62

2. The Best Spoken Language of the Suriname Population
Six Years Old and Above by Ethnic Group.............74

3. Religion of Delivering Women..........................80

4. Ethnic Identity of Hospital Smaple....................81

5. Marriage Rates of Women Delivering at the Hospital...ll1

6. Official Poverty Level ...............................123

7. Number of Tubal Ligations Performed by Ethnic Group..137

8. Reaction of Women to Their Pregnancy.................144

9. Reaction of the Child's Father to the Pregnancy....... 144

10. Women's Response to Their Pregnancy..................146

11. Ethnicity of Women and Response to Pregnancy..........146

12. Men's Response to Pregnancy by Ethnicity.............148

13. Men's Response to the Pregnancy......................148

14. Number of Abortions in Population of Delivering
Women................................................... 157

15. Total Number of Abortions Specified as Induced in
Delivery Records by Ethnic Group...................158

16. Number of Prenatal Visits to a Clinic or the
Hospital...................... .....................173

17. Woman Reports that Her Menstrual Cycle is "Not Normal"
by Ethnic Group................................... 184

18. Length in Days of a Typical Menstrual Cycle by Ethnic

19. Length in Days of a Typical Menstrual Period by Ethnic

20. The Gestational Age of Infants by Ethnic Groups......186

21. Method of Payment for Birth by Ethnic Group...........189

22. Frequency of Water Breaking Before Admission.........196

23. Number of Previous Deliveries by Ethnic Group........202

24. Condition of Perineum by Ethnic Group................204

25. Average Age of Mother at Delivery by Ethnic Group....207

26. Kra Names............................................ 208

27. Sex of Child Born by Ethnic Group.................... 210

28. Average Infant Weight in Grams by Ethnic Group........210

29. Number of Low Birth Weigths (>2,500 grams) and High
Birth Weights (<4,000 grams) by Ethnic Group.......211

30. Still Births and Infant Deaths....................... 227



Mark L. Staker

December 1992

Chair: Brian M. du Toit
Major Department: Anthropology

A review of the concept of legitimacy as developed and

used in anthropology is followed by an analysis of research

on the Caribbean family system and the view of scholars on

legitimacy within this system. The view of some Caribbean

scholars that there is no concept of legitimacy in the lower

levels of Caribbean society is critiqued.

Based on previous definitions of legitimacy and

exceptions to those definitions, a more encompassing view of

legitimacy is presented. This view defines children as

legitimate if they are born into a socially approved union

and receive public acknowledgement of paternity by their

father. In the context of an attempt to shed light on these

two concepts, an ethnographic account of pregnancy and

childbirth within the Creole population of greater

Paramaribo, Suriname, is presented.

For the Creole it is concluded that a relationship has

social approval if it is open and public. Although paternity

can be acknowledged by publicly legitimizing a child through

legal registration, it can also be done in rituals and other

types of behavior. One of the most important ways of

indicating paternity is participation in ritual healing for a

pregnant woman and her child of an illness called fyo-fyo.

Another is experiencing couvade-like symptoms known as yepi

or "helping" during the pregnancy or delivery. This evidence

indicates legitimacy is common within Creole society, and

some of the responses to illegitimacy within this context are


Based on these findings, it is important for

anthropologists to examine accepted definitions of

"legitimacy" and "illegitimacy." Legitimacy implies that a

child is born into a union that is socially approved and it

receives public acknowledgement of paternity.



The Principle of Legitimacy

Early in this century Malinowski developed a concept he

labeled the "principle of legitimacy." He argued that

In all human societies .there is universally
found what might be called the rule of legitimacy.
By this I mean that in all human societies a girl
is bidden to be married before she becomes
pregnant. Pregnancy and childbirth on the part of
an unmarried young woman are invariably regarded as
a disgrace I know of no single instance in
anthropological literature of a community where
illegitimate children, that is children of
unmarried girls, would enjoy the same social
treatment and have the same social status as
legitimate ones (Malinowski 1927:187).

In later writings he retained the view that "the main

sociological principle embodied in these rules and

arrangements is that children should not be produced outside

a socially approved contract of marriage" (Malinowski

1929a:6-7). Malinowski (1930) recognized that having a

sociological father was central to the concept of legitimacy.

He viewed the acknowledgment of a sociological father as

critical to parenthood in all societies. "Parenthood, to be

normal [i.e. the "norm" or usual practice of a society], must

be made legitimate, that is, based on a socially approved,

but individual marriage contract" (1929b:407).

Malinowski was aware that every child has a biological

father and most people recognize this fact.1 But he saw the

concept of a sociological father as equally important

although not necessarily connected. "Physiological

paternity, the begetting of a child, is not, as a rule,

sufficient and may even be irrelevant in determining social

fatherhood" (Malinowski 1929b:406). This distinction between

a biological and sociological father has been retained by

anthropologists in the use of the terms genitor and pater,

respectively. The genitor is the biological father of a

child. The pater is the legally or socially recognized

father of a child that fulfills the duties this role requires

in his society. It is the possession of a pater that makes a

child legitimate.

According to this perspective, not every child possesses

a pater and some are born illegitimate; but illegitimacy is

expected to be unacceptable and unusual in all societies.

The idea of a child being born without a pater is separate

from the concept of a woman getting pregnant without a

husband. Malinowski was aware that premarital intercourse

can occur in all societies and that in some societies it is

institutionalized. But he asserted that "conception is not

left to the chance of free intercourse, even where this is

allowed, but its necessary condition is marriage" (Malinowski

1929b:406). He argued that children are either not born of

these unions because of abortion or other unknown factors or

the resulting offspring prove the fertility of a couple and

they marry.2

The concept of legitimacy, as described above, has

generally been accepted as valid for all societies as

indicated in Davis' statement that:

without this rule there would be no family
the legitimacy rule prevails no matter what other
conditions prevail. Children may be an asset or a
liability, pre-nuptial or extra-nuptial intercourse may
be forbidden or sanctioned, still the rule runs that a
father is indispensable for the full social status of
the child and its mother. Otherwise the child is
illegitimate and the mother is disesteemed (1966:79).

Although its validity has not generally been examined, this

"universal" concept is occasionally worked into the theories

or writings of anthropologists (e.g. Fortes 1969:258-259,

Houseman 1988:660).3 Most anthropologists, however, have

generally ignored the concept completely as evidenced by the

relative lack of discussion surrounding legitimacy in the

literature. Legitimacy has been given indirect consideration

in discussions of marriage (a topic that has been given

considerable attention) and an examination of the

anthropological discussion surrounding marriage will shed

further light on the views scholars have expressed concerning

the concept of legitimacy.


The connection between legitimacy and marriage is

evident in the way anthropologists define marriage. The

well-known Notes and Queries in Anthropology (1951)

definition is still frequently referred to by anthropologists

and Mair (1972:82) calls it a "useful working definition."

Notes and Queries (1951:110) published a definition of

marriage as "a union between a man and a woman such that

children born to the woman are recognized legitimate

offspring of both parents."

Upon reflection it is evident that this definition does

not apply to every type of marriage. The Nuer institution of

woman-marriage-to-a-woman illustrates this point. Evans-

Pritchard (1960:108-109) has argued that the legal provisions

of this type of union are the same as those for a marriage

between a man and a woman. The only difference is that a

Nuer in a woman-marriage-to-a-woman will use a proxy male

(generally her own husband) to "father" children for her

while all of the children born of such unions are strictly

under the control of the woman who fills the paternal role.

The children call her "father" and she fulfills the role of

pater for them. Therefore the part of the Notes and Queries

definition that requires both a woman and a man does not

apply to all marriages.

Another part of the definition that states marriage is a

union has previously been called into question by Sarana

(1968) who has pointed out that if one considers that the

word connotes physical contact it does not apply to some

relationships. For example, Nuer ghost marriages to not fit

this requirement. A Nuer woman may marry a man who is

already dead while another man fulfills the role of genitor.4

When children are born they are incorporated into the lineage

of the dead man who is their pater. Children born of these

relationships are considered legitimate (Evans-Pritchard


The second half of the Notes and Queries definition,

which states if the children of a union are recognized as

legitimate the relationship is a marriage, was considered

problematic by Leach (1968); but his argument does not hold

up. He draws on his knowledge of the practice of polyandry

in various societies. He concedes that in some polyandrous

societies, such as that of the Britons as described by

Caesar, "wives are shared between groups of ten or twelve

men, especially between brothers and between fathers and

sons; but the offspring of these unions are counted as the

children of those to whom the maid was conducted first"

(Leach 1968:73; see Fischer 1952 for additional comments on

marriage among the ancient Britons). Leach acknowledges that

this type of marriage still produces children who are

legitimate since, although the genitor may by obscure, the

child has a recognized pater. He also concedes that the

Todas, another polyandrous society, have a single recognized

pater for each child (Leach 1968). Therefore, the only

polyandrous society that Leach sees as a real exception to

the rule is the Nayar studied by Gough (1952, 1955). Leach,

relying on two papers by Gough, stated that the Nayars

historically have not had marriage "in the strict sense of

the term" (i.e. the Notes and Queries concept of marriage)

but only a "relationship of perpetual affinity" between

linked lineages (Leach 1968:75). Leach also argued that the

Nayar did not have a notion of fatherhood since Nayar

children use a term of address meaning "lord" or "leader" to

all of their mother's lovers irrespective of paternity and

the term does not imply a notion of paternity. Leach does

concede that a notion of affinity is present, however, since

Nayar women were required to observe pollution at their

ritual husband's death. Leach concludes in his paper that

the only marriage characteristic among the Nayar is the

establishment of "a socially significant 'relationship of

affinity' between the husband and his wife's brothers" (Leach

1968:77). Leach expands the definition of marriage to

include ceremonies to establish one of ten specific rights

(one of which is the relationship of affinity mentioned

above) but he claims the list can be expanded further. These

ten rights are:

1. To establish the legal father of a woman's children.
2. To establish the legal mother of a man's children.
3. To give the husband a monopoly in the wife's
4. To give the wife a monopoly in the husband's
5. To give the husband partial or monopolistic rights
to the wife's domestic and other labor services.
6. To give the wife partial or monopolistic rights to
the husband's labor services.
7. To give the husband partial or total rights over
property belonging or potentially accruing to the
8. To give the wife partial or total rights over
property belonging or potentially accruing to the
9. To establish a joint fund of property--a
partnership--for the benefit of the children of the

10. To establish a socially significant relationship of
affinity between the husband and his wife's

Although each of these rights may exist in some

circumstances, only rights one and two on the list can be

considered to occur universally.5 Number one on the list is

considered universal by Gough, who disputes Leach's assertion

that Nayar polyandry is an exception of the legitimacy


Gough (1968) describes marriages of Nayar girls as

taking place every few years. A lineage held a grand

ceremony at which all of its girls who had not attained

puberty, about seven to twelve years old, were on one day

ritually married to men drawn from their linked lineages.

After four days of ceremonies the ritual husbands left the

house and had no further obligations to their brides. The

only further obligation a bride had to her ritual husband was

at his death when she and her children, "by whatever

biological father," would observe death-pollution for him

(Gough 1968:55). Death-pollution was a ritual that would

otherwise only be observed for matrilineal kin.

After this ceremony a Nayar girl is then able to take

part in the rites of adult women and she is called by the

respectful title amma meaning "mother." Gough reports that

although the ritual husband need have no further contact with

his ritual wife, if both parties were willing, he might enter

into a sexual relationship with his ritual bride about the

time of her puberty. This man did not remain a woman's sole

partner, however, and a woman usually had from three to eight

regular husbands but might receive other men of her own or a

higher caste when desired. Gift giving was an important part

of these relationships and when men no longer gave the

expected gifts it was assumed that they had ended the

relationship.6 However, "when a woman became pregnant it was

essential for one or more men of appropriate sub-caste to

acknowledge probable paternity" (Gough 1968:57). This was

accomplished by a man, or several men, paying the midwife for

the birth--a duty of the father.7 Since the Nayar believed

that numerous acts of intercourse were required for the

growth of the fetus, several men could in fact be the

biological father of a Nayar child. The legitimacy and

status of children depended on the status of the "visiting

husbands" who acknowledged paternity, not that of the ritual

husbands (see Sarana 1968:163-164). These men had no other

responsibilities towards the woman or her child. If no man

of a suitable caste would consent to make a gift then the

mother and the child would either be killed or sold into

slavery. If the woman were driven away then her kin would

perform funeral rites as if she had died.

In reference to this mating system Gough says:

In these circumstances the exact biological
fatherhood of a child was often uncertain,
although, of course, paternity was presumed to lie
with the man or among the men who had paid the
delivery expenses. But even when biological
paternity was known with reasonable certainty, the
genitor had no economic, social, legal, or ritual
rights in nor obligations to, his children after he
had once paid the fees of their births. Their

guardianship, care and discipline were entirely the
concern of their matrilineal kinsfolk .
(Gough 1968:58)

Gough concludes "Nayar unions [were] marriage because they

involved the concept of legal paternity." She then defines

marriage in the following manner:

Marriage is a relationship established between a
woman and one or more other persons, which provides
that a child born to the woman under circumstances
not prohibited by the rules of the relationship, is
accorded full birth-status rights common to normal
members of his society or social stratum. (Gough

Because the Nayar marriage system has generally been

considered marginal and an important test case, this

definition has important broader implications. These

implications will be considered in the context of the

following discussion of legitimacy.


In the case of the Nayar, Malinowski's (1929b:407)

assertion that legitimacy is based on a "socially approved,

but individual marriage contract" continues to hold. Part of

the Nayar concern for a man acknowledging paternity is based

on their concern for proper "breeding," although this is not

based on an understanding of genetic inheritance. The Nayar

say that if no one will acknowledge paternity then the father

must be a Christian or a Muslim, or "even worse" a woman has

had sexual relations with a member of her own lineage--an act

of incest. Gough points out that the Nayar fear their

children will inherit poor qualities in such circumstances.

The concept of "higher breeding" in legitimate relationships

exists in a number of societies (Teichman 1978:60-61).

But although the discussion surrounding the Nayar case

does indicate that legitimacy is inherited by children as a

part of all marriages, this does not mean that all children

who are legitimate are born into marriages. This can be seen

in the case of the Ashanti in West Africa.

Formally the condition of bastardy is not
recognized in Ashanti law and custom. But jural
sufficiency does not make the whole person; he must
be morally and spiritually complete as well. For
this, a freeborn person must have a known, freeborn
pater. If he cannot name a father who has
acknowledged him, this is tantamount to admitting
either slave-paternity or a condition akin to
bastardy. (Fortes 1969:196).

For the Ashanti marriage is not a prerequisite for legitimate

paternity. However, the genitor must make public

acknowledgement of his paternity, notably by exercising his

paternal role of naming the child, by supporting the mother

during pregnancy, and by giving customary gifts to the mother

at the time of delivery. Admitting paternity does not bind

the father and child in legal terms but it creates moral and

sentimental loyalties, claims, and privileges and these are

defined and sanctioned by custom and public opinion (Fortes

1969). Legitimate paternity is also essential as a sign of

manhood for the Ashanti. If a man does not have a child to

claim after a lengthy marriage, he is considered defective in

some way and is prohibited from election to office in the

lineage system.9

The Ashanti, then, have a concept of legitimacy that can

exist separate from marriage. In order for Malinowski's

definition of legitimacy to still apply to them it must be

restricted to being derived from a "socially approved, but

individual contract," with marriage taken out.

If marriage is separated from legitimacy as a concept

then it requires a more precise definition of legitimacy

since its opposite--illegitimacy--is usually defined as

including all children born outside of marriage.10 An attempt

to define illegitimacy in terms of sexual relations is also

problematic. Teichman's (1978:53) assertion that "an

illegitimate child is one whose existence is the result of an

unsanctioned sexual act" overlooks the fact that in many

societies if a woman is married all children born to her are

considered legitimate and her husband is their pater--even if

the genitor is another man from an illicit relationship.11

Teichman's definition also overlooks many sanctioned sexual

acts where the children conceived from the union are

considered illegitimate.12 In fact, the origins of

Malinowski's principle of legitimacy lies in his recognition

that premarital relationships among the Trobriand Islanders

were expected and even encouraged although children born as a

result of these unions evidently did not exist and would not

have been accepted if they did exist.

The importance of Malinowski's assertion that social

approval is essential to legitimacy can be seen in a number

of industrial societies. For example, in the United States a

child born in most states is only considered legitimate if

born into a marriage, born to a mother who subsequently

marries the father, or is adopted after birth (The Guide to

American Law 1984). In Great Britain, even when a child is

born into a marriage, if the father does not acknowledge the

child as his it may be considered illegitimate. Especially

if the father's actions and public sentiment do not support

the mother's contentions (Teichman 1978). In these

situations it is not marriage that is the fundamental

component of legitimacy, but public acknowledgement of


In the Ashanti case legitimacy is created through the

public acknowledgement of paternity. This coincides with the

Nayar view that paternity needs to be acknowledged for a

child to be legitimate. Marriage, or the giving of gifts to

the mother, is not important for obtaining legitimacy. It is

only when gifts are given to the midwife at birth that

legitimacy is conferred on the Nayar child.

It seems then, in an attempt to define legitimacy, that

the social approval of a relationship (whether it is

considered marriage, as Malinowski believed, or not) is

important in conjunction with public acknowledgement of

paternity. Keeping this in mind we can now approach a

definition of legitimacy.

A child is legitimate when it receives public
acknowledgement of paternity and is born from a
union that is socially approved.

This definition separates the concept of legitimacy from that

of marriage. Although an attempt to define marriage in terms

separate from legitimacy has not been successfully done, such

a definition might be approached through a modification of

existing definitions to restrict marriage to those

relationships that give legitimacy to children without the

necessity of public acknowledgement of paternity (i.e. the

very nature of the relationship is one in which everyone

knows who the pater should be).

Research Ouestions

Based on the definitions presented, two questions

arise: first, how is a relationship outside of legal marriage

recognized as having social approval while other nonlegal

relationships may not have such approval? Second, how does

public acknowledgement of paternity take place and what is

accepted as valid proof of paternity?

I will explore these questions in the following

chapters in the context of an ethnographic account of the

perinatal period for a specific society in the Caribbean--the

Creole population in greater Paramaribo, Suriname. Because

the history of Suriname is connected historically and

culturally to that of other Caribbean societies, research

examining the patterns of family life throughout the

Caribbean has bearing on our understanding of Surinamese

society and so this information will also be considered in a

separate chapter.

In the concluding chapter, I will return to the

concepts discussed above and especially to Malinowski's

characterization of legitimacy and reexamine the issues in

light of the data presented.

Why study in the Caribbean?

An examination of a Caribbean society is important in

furthering the understanding of illegitimacy. Since some

have argued that illegitimacy as a concept does not exist in

the Caribbean and others have argued that it exists but is of

little concern to those living there, the region is important

as a borderline case for testing the construction of

legitimacy as presented.

Why study Suriname in particular?

Although the Republic of Suriname has historical and

cultural similarities to other Caribbean societies, it is

unique in its cultural diversity in the Caribbean due to the

importation of a diverse pool of labor (discussed in chapter

three). This allows for the examination of the Creole

population in Suriname in the context of a wide diversity of

beliefs and practices that serve to highlight distinctive

beliefs and practices and thereby foster an emic view of

Creole society.

Suriname is also distinctive in the Caribbean in that

it inherited the Dutch legal system.13 Dutch law differs from

British law (common in much of the Caribbean region) in that

Roman-Dutch law declares that "a mother makes no bastard" or

in other words that a child is always legitimate in terms of

its mother while British law declares that a child is "filius

nullius" or "the child of no one" which means the child does

not have claim on either its mother or its father (Teichman

1978). The distinction made within Dutch law separates the

issues of maternity and paternity so that paternity can be

focused on more precisely.14

What in Creole society should be the foci of this study?

The development of the approval of relationships

outside of legal marriage and the subsequent paternity of a

child are described relying on rituals and activities

surrounding birth. Paige and Paige (1981), in their cross-

cultural study of 114 non-industrial societies, have argued

that ritual is used by fraternal interest groups to gain

control over children through asserting paternity. Although

the authors do not consider issues of legitimacy directly in

their work, they do argue that "legitimacy is

determined by social consensus and contractual

agreements" (Paige and Paige 1981:167). The authors argue

that ritual surrounding reproduction is used by men in

societies with loose fraternal organizations to gain the

social consensus that a child belongs to the fraternal

interest group and, indirectly, is legitimate.


Malinowski originated the concept of "principle of

legitimacy" which is essentially the emphasis of all

societies on having legitimate children with the result that

illegitimate children are unusual. In his view, it was the

possession of a pater that makes a child legitimate. This

concept has been accepted as valid by other scholars and is

occasionally worked into theories of parenthood. Views of

marriage have also revolved around the idea of legitimacy.

Marriage has generally been defined as a legitimizing


The Ashanti have relationships that are not considered

marriage and yet a child born in these unions is legitimate

as long as someone acknowledges paternity. Such

relationships require that the concept of legitimacy be

redefined such that:

A child is legitimate when it receives public
acknowledgement of paternity and is born from a
union that is socially approved.

Based on the definitions presented, two questions

arise: first, how is a relationship outside of legal marriage

recognized as having social approval while other non-legal

relationships may not have such approval? Second, how does

public acknowledgement of paternity take place and what is

accepted as valid proof of paternity? These questions are

explored in the remainder of this dissertation in the context

of the Creole population in Suriname with reference to

Caribbean societies in general. An examination of this

region is warranted because of the apparent uniqueness of

concepts of legitimacy and illegitimacy in the Caribbean.

Doing research in Suriname allows for the examination of a

population that in some ways has hightend cultural awareness

because of the ethnic diversity in the capital. Since the

events surrounding the conception and birth of children and

the period shortly after the birth all seem to be important

in determining issues of paternity, these events will be

specifically focused on in the discussion of the Suriname


1The Trobriand Islanders that Malinowski studied were one of the two
known groups where a biological father was not recognized (see
Malinowski 1929; Fortune 1932). The other group is a segment of the
Australian Aborigines (see Ashley-Montagu 1937).

2The possible biological influence on this phenomenon that Malinowski
guessed at has since been shown to be valid. Many women do not begin to
ovulate until sometime after menstruation takes place. This delay would
mean that in some societies women would not conceive during premarital
relations even though they were menstruating. Later, when ovulation
begins, women were more likely to be married.

30ne pc3sible exception to this trend has been Spiro's (1954)
examination of life on the kibbutzim in Israel. In a kibbutz children
are separated from their (unmarried) parents to live in separate
housing. However couples do seem to marry soon before or soon after a
child is born so that the child will be considered legitimate. How
often this happens is not stated. In a later addendum (1968) Spiro
states that he does consider the family to exist on the kibbutz since,
among other things, terms of affinity (father, mother, son, daughter)
are used.

4This practice is not the levirate since the genitor is not necessarily
a brother but the practice of levirate would also apply to this same

5Right number two, "to establish the legal mother of a man's children"
is very clearly connected with he first right of establishing a legal
father to a woman's children. Since in what Hall (1983) calls high
context societies the mother of a child is always known due to the
outward physiological signs of pregnancy and the act of birth, the
mother of a child is rarely in doubt. Only in those situations where a
child is "left on the doorstep" or abandoned in some way is maternity

generally in question. Such abandoned children may be a special case
since both their father and their mother are legally in doubt. Since
the father in such cases is also unknown, the lack of a pater or
sociological father is apparently important in all issues of legitimacy.

6Gough does not state how a Nayar woman went about ending a
relationship, or even if they were allowed to do so.

7The Nayars believed several acts of intercourse "feed" the embryo and
assist it to grow. This would allow more than one man to be the
biological father of a child although it was only essential that one man
acknowledge paternity.

8Although Gough does not discuss it in her paper, this definition is
also important because it allows for the exclusion of children from
legitimacy who are born to a married woman if a man other than the
husband is the father. Although in many cases this is unimportant and a
child is considered legitimate if a woman is married regardless of who
the father is, in other circumstances this is not the case. Having said
this, Gough's definition should not just say "a woman and one or more
other persons" since besides the polyandrous unions she dealt with there
are also polygynous unions

9Fortes (1969:196) notes that public and continuous living together of a
man and a woman without the formalities of marriage but generally with
the consent of the woman's guardian is very common among the Ashanti.
Children of such unions, acknowledged by their fathers, are in every
respect considered equal with those born within a marriage.

10An example of this is found in United States law where nonmaritall
child" is considered equivalent in meaning to "illegitimate child" (The
Guide to American Law 1984:110).

11This is considered in West Africa among the Dahomey in terms of rights
in genetricem and rights in uxorem (Bohannon 1949). That is rights over
a woman as a mother and as a wife respectively. When rights in
genetricem are held by a man, or the patriline as in many West African
societies, then all of the children born to a woman belong to the man or

12An example of this is the orgies held by the Areoi, a religious
society described by early explorers in Polynesia. Women who joined the
Areoi society had to promise to destroy at birth any infants that they
might bear while members (Williamson 1924).

13The Dutch were also influential on some of the Caribbean islands--
notably Aruba, Bonair, CuraQao, Saba, and St. Martin.

14It has been pointed out that only a child "left on a doorstep" does
not have a mater or sociological mother. Although this is true for most
societies, British society at one time did not require the mother of an
illegitimate child to take care of it since legally that child did not
have parents. This is an interesting phenomenon that should be examined
in more detail although it is not the focus of this dissertation.



The concept of legitimacy in the Caribbean can only be

understood in the context of the Caribbean family system.

The family has probably been examined more thoroughly than

any other social phenomenon in Caribbean society. This

research has reflected two major concerns of ethnographers:

the first is an attempt to accurately describe the family

system; the second is an attempt to understand the forces

that have created and shaped this family system to its

current form. Both of these themes are intricately

intertwined. One cannot understand the forces that have

shaped the family system in the Caribbean without an accurate

understanding of the nature of that system and, conversely,

one cannot understand fully the Caribbean family system

without an understanding of the forces that served to create

and shape it. An exploration of these themes places the

concept of legitimacy within its social context.

The Caribbean Family

As research continues on the Caribbean family, an

accurate description of its many facets becomes more

feasible. Marks has distilled eight points which he

considers to be "general" characteristics of the Caribbean


1. the co-residence of a man and a woman as sexual
partners often takes place in the form of a
2. the relations between a man and a woman are
often weak and the period of their co-residence
is not infrequently brief;
3. sexual and economic relations without co-
residence are frequently found;
4. the various forms of man-woman-relationship[s]
such as marriage, concubinage and non-co-
residential unions are not equivalent in
status, durability and sexual exclusiveness;
5. the percentage of illegitimate births is high
in comparison with figures for e.g. European
6. the husband/father as a co-residential member
of the household group is often lacking;
7. the mother, or in some cases the grandmother,
plays a key role in the management of the
household's affairs and in the children's
upbringing; and
8. household groups are only in relatively few
cases composed of a man and woman and their
joint offspring. (Marks 1975:4)

Marks restricts these descriptive terms to areas where the

process of industrialization is in its "first stages". (He

notes that Curagao, where he studied, is in a "later stage"

of industrialization, and therefore does not fit this

pattern). Most other scholars, however, have restricted

similar descriptions of the Caribbean family to the "lower-

classes" of Caribbean society. (A notable exception is R.T.

Smith [1988], who points out that scholars have generally

neglected other "classes" of society. He argues there may be

fewer differences between the various social strata than

previously thought).1 Since almost all of the research done

on the Caribbean family focuses on the "lower class" of

Caribbean society, the description of the Caribbean family

system which follows is necessarily restricted to the lower

strata of society, although the discussion may apply to the

more wealthy members of Caribbean society as well.2

Origins of the Caribbean Family System

Although there is general agreement as to the make-up

and nature of the Caribbean family, there has been little

agreement about the social forces that have given the

Caribbean family its form. The explanations offered can

generally be attributed to two perspectives of the situation.

The first of these is Herskovits', the first serious

student of Caribbean family life. He viewed the foundation

of the Caribbean family as a West African derivation through

which slaves had retained and reinterpreted a "cultural

focus." The West African "cultural focus" was, for

Herskovits, found in the realm of supernatural sanctions. He

argued that this was why "African religion has shown greater

resistance to white influence than any other phase of African

culture" (Herskovits 1937:55). Herskovits noted that

religion was not the only aspect of society which drew from

the African past; essentially every aspect of Caribbean

society had drawn from West Africa, ranging from the combite,

or communal work patterns, to marriage contracts.

The other contributor to the specific cultural milieu

shaping the "cultural focus" was the colonial power dominant

in each region. For example, "African tribes" and "types of

Frenchmen" were "forged into the structure of Haitian life"

(Herskovits 1937:17). Herskovits argues against the idea

that the French were the only ones to give and the Africans

the only ones to take but concludes that each influenced the

other. Many have viewed his theory as one focused on

"African retentions" or "reinterpretations"; although these

are important components of his perspective, those who are

critical of Herskovits' notion of African retentions have

overlooked the fact that Herskovits makes it clear he

understands there are European influences as well. As an

example, he mentions the "lack of sanitation" and "poor

hygiene" found in Haitian cities as characteristic of French

eighteenth century cities and not those found in West Africa.

Herskovits does, however, tend to focus more attention

on the importance of Africa in his examination of the

Caribbean family than he does to the importance of Europe.

His views on the "origins" of the Caribbean family illustrate

this. He argues that it is the result of the social forces

brought to bear during slavery on the "African" polygynous

form of mating. Also the matrifocal nature of Caribbean

families emphasizes the connection between mother and

children in a polygynous society as the male's importance

declines. Herskovits does not attempt to say why the

Caribbean family has changed from its African roots, he

simply attempts to discover the historical sources of the

current Caribbean family.

The second influential perspective is that of Frazier,

another early student of the Afroamerican family. He argued

against African origins. Based on research done in the

United States he pointed to the disintegrative effects on the

Black family of such socioeconomic factors as slavery,

discrimination and urbanization (Frazier 1965). Frazier

argued that economic and social forces have "determined" the

shape of Black household structure. He saw the attempt to

explain the family life of Afroamericans within the context

of African culture as unfounded. Frazier did acknowledge

some exceptions, noting "among some isolated groups of

Negroes in the New World as for example in Haiti and Jamaica,

it appears that elements of African culture have been

retained in the Negro Family" (Frazier 1965:306).

Although scholars have set these two perspectives up

as diametrically opposed to each other, there appears to be a

greater degree of agreement between Herskovits and Frazier

than either they or later scholars have conceded. Frazier

did not discount the influence of the African past although

he may have emphasized the influence of external conditions

on the Afroamerican family. Herskovits likewise may have

focused on the historical roots of the Afroamerican family

and ignored the social forces which brought about change and

"retention" of some elements. However, neither of them saw

the current family system in the Caribbean as completely

devoid of an historical past.

Most examinations of the family system in various

Caribbean societies made after these two groundbreaking

scholars have been derivations in some form of Frazier's

perspective. These scholars generally discount the African

roots of the slaves family system without attempting to

answer why some aspects of the African past had more

relevance than others in the slaves' subsequent environment.

They also do not attempt to explain why some elements of the

African past are more frequently found than others in the

post-slavery Caribbean. These are not only difficult

questions to deal with but they also may not be very

productive in terms of providing insight into the Caribbean

family system if one agrees with most current arguments that

credit economic conditions with shaping the family.

All current research on the Caribbean family has been

influenced by R.T. Smith's work done in Guyana. R.T. Smith

(1956) concluded that matrifocality and the associated

marginality of men as husbands and fathers was characteristic

of the "lower class" in a class stratified society. He

viewed this situation as directly associated with low rates

of social mobility, restricted public roles for adult men,

and an absence of "managerial" functions, political

responsibilities and status differentiation among them.

In later research, Gonzalez (1969) views the economic

forces on local demography as the important factor in

household structure. She observes that in the Black Carib

population which she studied there has almost always been an

excess of females over males. The "draining of men" from the

system brought "additional burden" on women (Gonzalez

1969:54). This led the women to compete, in a sense, for

economic resources from men. This competition led to

increased instability in the relationships of the younger

women who were mating with younger men, since the younger men

were the ones involved in migratory labor. In contrast M.G.

Smith (1966:xxvii) states this argument is "filled with both

unnecessary errors and conceptual blunders. He argues that

one of the fatal errors of this perspective is the assumption

of a uniform constitution of family system. He shows from

data obtained in rural Jamaica that communities there have a

balance in sex ratio and yet have a similar system. Despite

this evidence, Gonzalez's argument illustrates that the long

term temporary migration of males can have an effect on the

family system.3

Based on her research in Jamaica, Clarke (1966) argues

that the "nuclear family" is the most prevalent and stable in

areas where the land pressure is least. The Caribbean family

system from her perspective is an efficient means of

allocating land. (Clarke's attempts to tie this pattern of

land allocation to African origins by arguing that Jamaican

inheritance through the name of the father and the blood of

the mother fits Ashanti inheritance patterns. R.T. Smith

[1988] does not see the relationship between the two as


Based on an examination of CuraQao's family system,

Marks (1975) attempts a synthesis of Herskovits' historical

perspective and the economic perspective taken by others

He observes that social status (which is operationalized as

lighter skin color verses darker skin color), as well as

economic status, correlate with legal marriage. He concludes

that the lack of consensual unions in Curacao is due to

"equal economic and social status" and argues that it is only

in cases where status is unequal that "African influences"

play a role. Marks does not attempt to explain why unequal

economic and social status allows more "African influences."

He explains why Curacao is an "equal" society in terms of the

historical view taken by the Dutch on the island that they

were natives of the island and compatriots with those of

African descent in opposition to the Dutch in the Netherlands

who were part of the political yoke to be broken; but he

excluded the oil industry in Curacao and other important

economic factors in his assessment of the differences between

Curagao and the other societies in the Caribbean.

From their Jamaican data, Dirks and Kearns (1976)

argue that the frequency of different types of mating systems

is correlated with the economic situation and environmental

conditions in a country and both tend to change together.

Olwig (1977) found a similar situation in the Virgin Islands;

while Stoffle (1977) concluded that in Barbados

industrialization reinforced rather than disrupted historical

patterns of mating. M.G. Smith (1962) has noted that the

mating patterns in Carriacou and Grenada are generally the

same as they were during slavery and he credits the structure

of slave society for the current family in the Caribbean.

There has been no real consensus on the factors that

have led to the creation or retention of the Caribbean family

system. But it seems evident that although the African

origin of the slaves was undoubtedly important in shaping

their response to slavery, the structure of slavery itself

had a large impact on shaping the family while post-

emancipation economic conditions (including male migration)

may have served to reinforce an existing system of


The Nature of the Current Caribbean Family

There is much more consensus on the nature of the

family as it exists in the Caribbean than there is on its

origins. But that does not mean there is not disagreement

about many of the generalizations made, such as those cited

from Marks (1975). Several areas of family life are

considered important if not distinctive to the Caribbean

region. Each of these is considered separately.

Men in Household Groups

The exact role of the husband or father in the

household has been disputed by some. R.T. Smith (1956:221)

saw men filling an economically induced marginal role in

Guyana. He saw "a correlation between the nature of the

husband-father role and the role of men in the economic

system." In relation to R.T. Smith's findings, M.G Smith

(1966:xiv) points out: "nowhere in this Caribbean region has

any other student [than R.T. Smith] found men to be always

'marginal' as husbands and fathers." But after this

statement was made, Alexander (1977:369) concluded that the

middle class male in Jamaica is "marginal," "irresponsible"

and "weak" because he does not have the level of commitment

to his family expected of him by his society. Gregory

(1985:7) viewed the "marginal" male as a psychological

disadvantage to Jamaican children--especially young boys.4

The difference in perspectives may be based on the

fact that although Caribbean men are not "marginal" in terms

of lack of presence in the household and lack of economic

contributions to the household, their presence and

contributions fall short of the Caribbean ideology of the

male provider. Either male ineffectiveness in economic

endeavors or female reliance on male economic support may be

emphasized in a specific society. In Montserrat, Moses

(1977) found that no matter what women contributed

economically, their status was always lower than the status

of men. This circumstance created a conflict between the

ideology of male superiority and the reality of their

inadequacy as providers. Clarke goes so far as to hint that

this conflict is in part the source of the mating system in

Jamaica. She states:

[t]he husband's liability for the maintenance of
his wife and his responsibility for her debts are
fully understood one reason why men say they
live in concubinage [is] because 'marriage is not
for the poorman' (Clarke 1966:76-77).

Whitehead (1976) later makes this perspective explicit,

arguing that men who fail in the economic role create

insecurities in the household (as a deliberate act) and seek

to find success as individuals through fathering children.

This specific view is unique in the literature. Most

scholars tend to place more emphasis on the nature of male

economic support.

Gonzalez (1969) found that men from the Black Carib

population are responsible for the economic well being of

women with whom they are having sexual relations and they are

responsible for the economic needs of their own children as

well (if they have acknowledged paternity). Men will often

contribute money simultaneously to several women. Flinn

(1986) found that in a village in rural Guyana males with

more land had a higher mating success because they were able

to contribute money to more women than could other men.

Davenport (1968), who studied in Jamaica, found male

interaction with their offspring, which he terms the father-

child dyad. But he views it as a weaker relationship than

the mother-child dyad.

Black Carib men are also responsible for the care of

their mothers and sisters, and as Gonzalez' points out, this

relationship is often overlooked when ethnographers have only

examined men in sexual relationships. In Curagao, a husband

is responsible for the care of his children (Marks 1975).

The responsibilities of his wife and her kin are restricted

to specific aspects of the children's care such as education.

Since legal marriage in Curagao is not only common among the

upper classes but is "by far the prevailing man-woman-

relationship" among the lower class as well, these economic

relationships are found throughout that society.

Although the exact nature of the responsibilities of

men in Aruba has not been stated, De Waal-Malefit and

Helleman (1973) found that women there were economically

dependent on men for support. This does not mean that women

are not active in economic pursuits even though men play an

important economic role in their lives. Barrow (1986) notes

that, although women throughout the Caribbean participate

less in the labor force than men, they continue to fill non-

familial roles including economic ones.

The relative lack of research on men and male/female

relationships has been decried by scholars such as Remy

(1973). As information is published, it suggests that men

are not as marginal in Caribbean society as they are

sometimes characterized. Wilson, one of the few to examine

men in the Caribbean, asks:

if the emphasis on the household by anthropologists
is any measure of its importance as a social unit,
we may well ask whether this means that males have
a marginal role in the society of the community,
and whether they have a subordinate position in the
social system of the Caribbean lower class? To my
knowledge, no anthropologist has reported a society
anywhere in the world in which males take a
subordinate position in the practical affairs of

the community or in the ideological system of
values by which social relationships are conducted.
Is the Caribbean an exception? (Wilson 1971)

Wilson argues that males are not subordinate in Caribbean

life. Although the role of men within the household and

within Caribbean society as a whole needs to be examined in

greater detail, it is clear they have a place somewhere

within the "matrifocal" family. This characteristic of the

family system is clearly one of the most important

conceptually and one of the most central to Caribbean family


The Matrifocal Family

Herskovits and Herskovits (1947:15) pointed out that

in the Caribbean the "nuclear grouping with a woman as its

effective head, has everywhere persisted-to such a degree

that students sometimes speak of the New World Negro family

as 'matriarchal' in character." The view of a "matriarchal"

society in the Caribbean sometimes still appears in the

literature, such as Ducossen's (1976:58) discussion of the

"matriarchal" family in Guadeloupe--the author also states

that "fathers always retain authority" and "mothers exhibit

extreme dependence on them." Although most researchers

contend that Caribbean households are not matriarchal, the

central importance of women in the formation of these

households is also evident. This phenomenon has generally

been referred to as matrifocal. R.T. Smith argued that most

if not all Afro-Caribbean "lower class" households are

"matrifocal" and dominated by women in their combined roles

of mother and wife. This situation is exaggerated as women

grow up and have children of their own while still living in

their mother's household.(R.T. Smith 1956). It is not

uncommon to find three generations of women living in the

same house.

More recently R.T. Smith has argued against the use of

the term "matrifocal" since it has at times led to a

misunderstanding of the prevalence of various mating types.

If the concept of the matrifocal family is to have
any useful meaning it must be redefined to purge it
of the functionalist assumptions embedded in its
earlier use. Nothing can prevent its being used to
mean 'female-headed household' but if that becomes
an accepted usage it would be better to abandon the
term (R.T. Smith 1988:180).

R.T. Smith argues that "matrifocal" cannot be used in

contrast to a "normal nuclear family" since there is

"considerable doubt" as to the normalcy of the nuclear family

worldwide as well as in the Caribbean. This observation was

probably made in reference to conclusions such as those of

Pollard and Wilburg (1978) who view the mother-child family

and matrifocality in Guyana as an incomplete family form as

part of the breakdown of the family system. They argue that

male headed households are superior in performance and have a

higher status in the community. These conclusions, however,

ignore the general consensus that the practice of

economically successful males of establishing more permanent

relationships will influence the performance of households.

Rubenstein (1983) points out that studies of kindred

and family have been neglected in the Caribbean in favor of

studies of the household and that the distinction between the

two has not generally been made. This failure to distinguish

between the two is reflected in Blumberg's (1978) argument

that matrifocality is prevalent among urban residents in all

wage labor societies and not just in the Caribbean, when she

is really discussing female headed households rather than

matrifocal households.

What exactly is a "matrifocal household" if it is not

a female headed household? R.T. Smith argues that it is a

household where the mother and the "maternal" family are more

visible or involved than the man and his family. Eliciting

kinship relationships from individuals in Guyana and Jamaica,

he notes that "[t]he proportion of more distant relatives

increases slightly on the maternal side if all cases are

taken together" (R.T. Smith 1988:61). Melville and Frances

Herskovits' (1947) work supports this view as they observed

that the maternal grandmother figures most importantly in the

lives of grandchildren; although they get along with all of

their grandparents, and although they will go to their

father's family if the mother's family cannot help,

Trinidadians always go first to the mother's family for help.

Slater (1977) views a similar phenomenon in Martinique as

essential to matrifocality.

The fact that the father's family is important in the

lives of his children at all requires a reexamination of

earlier statements made by R.T. Smith. He originally argued:

children derive nothing of any importance from
their fathers, who are marginal and ineffective
members of their families of procreation, even when
resident. It is indeed indifferent whether these
husband-fathers live with their families or not, or
even whether their children know them personally
(R.T. Smith 1956:147).

It has already been pointed out that many disagree with this

view of men in Caribbean society. If the concept of

"matrifocality" is to be retained then it will continue to

imply that men have a diminished role in the household

although they are not completely absent. George, Ebanks, and

Nobbe (1978), whose study also focuses on household rather

than family organization, note that most households in

Barbados are headed by males and it is considered the duty of

men to provide for the family.

Gonzalez (1969) points out that if a young man wants

to "make time" with a girl he will get on the good side of an

older man who is acting in the role of "father" or an older

brother who is "father" to his younger sister. This

statement indicates that the "father" role may at times be

filled by different individuals. However, earlier statements

by Herskovits (1937) of the time spent in arranging

consensual unions in Haiti, and his observations, as well as

those of other scholars, that these relationships evolve into

more and more commitment ending often in legal marriage at

later ages, indicates that men continue to maintain some role

in the household.

Mating Patterns in the Caribbean

The patterns of mating are generally agreed upon by

most ethnographers of Caribbean society. The three types of

unions described by Leridon and Charbit (1981) for Guadeloupe

and Martinique have been found throughout the Caribbean

although they may be discussed under different terms. In

this discussion, relationships that exist without shared

residence are referred to as "extra-residential unions;"

while relationships in which residence is shared with no

legally recognized marriage are discussed as "consensual

unions."5 The nature of Caribbean marriage will also be

examined. It should be noted that, even though these

relationships are considered separately, many relationships

will evolve from extra-residential through consensual to

marriage unions (although the reverse does not appear to be

the case).6 Therefore these relationships are interconnected.

Extra-Residential unions Extra residential relationships,

although considered the most common type of sexual union in

the Caribbean (M.G. Smith 1966, Gonzalez 1969, Ebanks,

George, and Nobbe 1974), can easily be overlooked, as they

were by early ethnographers of Caribbean life, because the

partners do not live together and there is no outward public

indication of their relationship. These relationships are

such that cohabitation occurs on a regular basis and economic

resources are shared, but the couple does not live in the

same residence living, usually, with family members. R.T.

Smith (1988:142) has defined these unions as "based on

'giving' one to another rather than joint unions; exchange

between two entities which are distinct." M.G. Smith (1966)

points out that this is the most common form of mating and an

almost universal practice in early unions among "lower class"

Jamaicans. Gonzalez (1969) adds that extra residential

mating is also the most frequent of all mating relationships

among the Black Caribs. (She calls it a "marital

arrangement," however, rather than a mating relationship.

She also sees "marriage" as occurring later on in a continuum

of a single relationship). Gonzalez adds that such an

arrangement is related to the age of the individuals: young

people start out living separately and then build a house and

move in together; then as age increases the individuals

either marry or separate. M.G. Smith (1966:xxiv) points out

that in his experience "non-domicilary" or extra-residential

unions are "often casual and promiscuous rather than sexually

exclusive." But among the Black Carib even if two

individuals never reside in the same house the union is

considered "proper" as long as the man contributes to the

support of the woman and her children (Gonzalez 1969). In

Haiti these types of unions are seen as the least stable

(Williams, Murthy, and Berggren 1975).

Consensual unions Ebanks, George, and Nobbe (1974) note

that in Barbados a pregnancy often turns an extra-residential

union into a consensual union which they see as a more stable

relationship. Consensual unions differ from extra-

residential relations in that the same residence is shared by

two individuals. Gonzalez (1969) indicates that extra-

residential mating often leads to consensual unions and

therefore is temporary only in the fact that it often quickly

becomes redefined as the residence of the participants

changes. Despite the evidence that some extra-residential

unions evolve into other types of unions, however, it also

appears that many unions are dissolved as different unions

are created. Gonzalez (1969) points out that when an

individual decides to marry she or he may return to the

original partner, if that partner is not already married.

This indicates that the relationships under discussion may be

transitory in nature.

Gonzalez points out that the "ideal mode of behavior"

in a consensual union, as well as in marriage, is sexual

exclusiveness. But this ideal is not always met and a

woman's partner "may at anytime leave her" (Gonzalez

1969:62). She argues that a number of magical devices exist

for a woman to keep her partner from leaving her or moving on

to another union. This is because there is an unequal

position of men and women in regard to maintaining marital

stability and the feeling that a woman should have sexual

relationships with one man during her lifetime is counter-

balanced by a recognition of economic need (Gonzalez 1969).

In R.T. Smith's early work (1956) he viewed "common-

law" unions and legal marriage as sociologically identical,

at least in the "lowly" strata of West Indian society,

stating that it is neither necessary nor appropriate to

distinguish between them. However, his own evidence

contradicts this assumption by indicating that the incidence

of legal marriage increases as age increases. (R.T. Smith

claimed that distinctions in age were "trivial" as well, and

did not examine them in detail; they are examined more

thoroughly below as legal marriage is discussed). Others

have seen distinctions between these relationships as well.

Clarke has shown that attitudes towards the acceptability of

different forms of unions vary from one community to another.

For example, she notes that in Sugar Town there is "no social

disapprobation of concubinage nor bias towards marriage"

(Clarke 1966:82), in Orange Grove "concubinage is

disesteemed" (Clarke 1966:92), and in Mocca "the conjugal

pattern is concubinage for life" (Clarke 1966:77). However,

no matter what the local attitudes towards consensual unions

may be, these unions exist in every Caribbean society.

Marriage unions Some include consensual unions in a

subcategory of marriage. Herskovits (1937) described the

family in Haiti with detail lacking in some later

ethnographies. He described plagage (or consensual unions)

as a union that can be the result of "affairs between young

people" (1937:116) the same way that Gonzalez (1969) has

described the evolution of visiting relations to consensual

unions. Herskovits considers placage as a "marriage" that is

not sanctioned by the church but is sanctioned by the family.

He argues that as couples move in together contracts are

worked out similar to marriage contracts forged in West

Africa. Even though he sees this type of union as a

"marriage," he does not consider it equal to a church

sanctioned marriage as R.T. Smith (1956) later did.

Herskovits points out that a marriage that is sanctioned by

the church is seen as better or more elite than one that is

not sanctioned and therefore has a qualitative difference.

He does not discuss the duration of these unions, but since

he views them as equal in all ways other than the status a

church sanctioned union can give, it is likely that he would

have argued that placage is not a less stable union than is a

church sanctioned union.

Herskovits' observations that a consensual union can

be the result of extra-residential unions (or "affairs") has

been extended by later researchers to legal marriage.

Consensual unions can result in or evolve into legal

marriage. R.T. Smith (1988:88) points out that in Jamaica as

early as 1789 couples would settle into "stable unions" as

they grow older. But, he adds, increasing age does not

always lead to "legalized unions" (R.T. Smith 1988:129).

Gardiner and Podolefsky (1977) point out that in Dominica

marriage is usually delayed until the middle to later years

of life, but it is regarded highly as an institution. M.G.

Smith (1966:xxviii-xxix) notes that "age is the most

important correlate [to marriage], marriage increasing and

visiting decreasing with age in every instance." This

phenomenon has been observed in other parts of the Caribbean

as well and in some areas it appears to be very frequent.

Marks (1975:17-18) points out that in Curagao "practically

all marriages had been contracted at an early age as first

coresidential unions." Gonzalez gives a more detailed

picture of how this process works, based on her work in

Honduras and Belize.

By the time a young man reaches the age of thirty
or so, his life may take on a radically different
form, in that he may have achieved a fairly high-
paying job. Now he may find it possible and
desirable, for purposes of increasing his prestige,
to build a house in which to place his wife and
children. By this time he will probably have had a
series of alliances with different women, and he
will usually have some children. He may set up
housekeeping with his current favorite, or he may
still feel loyalty for his first wife [i.e. mating
partner], if she does not have another husband
(1969:61) .7

Gonzalez' realization a man will marry "for purposes of

increasing his prestige" expands our understanding of

Clarke's (1966:78-84) observation that marriage is delayed in

part until a man has a house and "preferably a bit of land."

A further reason for the delay is that "contracting parties"

must approve of one another sufficiently to risk the change

in status and responsibilities that marriage implies. R.T.

Smith (1988:104) adds that "Many West Indians defer marriage

until they have several children, but not just to accumulate

resources for a proper ceremony." Evidence from other

ethnographers seems to corroborate Gonzalez' assertion that

older couples may legalize marriage to provide security in

inheritance or more importantly to enhance status. R.T.

Smith (1988) points out that those few black members of the

upper class in Jamaica (the upper class consisted almost

exclusively of whites at one time but most have since left)

place an emphasis on property and status in relationships and

always marry (in a legal union). This is also reflected in

the lower class of the Black Carib. Gonzalez (1969:69) found

that "Ideally, permanent monogamy, neolocal residence, and

the nuclear family are held to be the most desirable forms.

However, these ideals are seldom achieved in this society."8

As ideal relationships are achieved, the number of

children in a union is influenced. Ebanks (1973) argues that

legal unions in Barbados are more stable than other unions

and the lower the number of partners a woman has the fewer

children she will bear. This phenomenon can be understood in

terms of the importance of children in common in Caribbean


The Importance of Children in Common

In Jamaica "it is rare for childless unions to endure;

as rare as for marriage to occur before the birth of

children" (Clarke 1966:107). Clarke (1966:95) points out

that "the childless woman is an object of pity, contempt or

derision." Why this is the case is not made clear; however,

it may, in part be connected to a rite of passage into

adulthood. For these Jamaicans "a woman is only considered

'really' a woman after she has borne a child, [and] the proof

of a man's maleness is the impregnation of a woman" (Clarke

1966:96). Once these women have demonstrated their ability

to bear a child some will "attempt to avert the economic

burden of children" by using drugs or "bush medicines" to

induce a miscarriage (Clarke 1966).

Murray (1975) notes that in Haiti couples want to have

children in common even if they have children from another

person. Women in Guadeloupe and Martinique who change union

types, regardless of which kind they have, will also have

higher levels of fertility than other women (Leridon and

Charbit 1981). Although women who enter a visiting union in

Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, and Jamaica have fewer children

on the average than do other women (Harewood 1984), this is

likely due to the fact that couples in visiting unions have a

lower frequency of intercourse and therefore a lower risk of

pregnancy than other women in the same societies (Roberts and

Sinclair 1978). If women who have multiple visiting unions

are examined, they as a group are found to have the greatest

number of children and there is also a correlation between

the number of partners and the number of children (Harewood

1985, Wright and Madan 1988). Since visiting unions with a

single partner produce the lowest number of children, while

visiting unions with multiple partners produce the greatest

number of children, these results suggest a relationship

between fertility and the importance of having children in

common with a partner in certain types of relationships.

The number of children a woman has also influences her

activity in the economic sector. In Jamaica childless women

are much more economically active than women with children

(McKenzie and Powell 1975). Women who are already employed

appear to have lower fertility rates than unemployed women

(Powell 1976, 1986; Durant-Gonzalez 1982 views bearing

children as increasing the need to find employment). These

factors can be explained in terms of the Caribbean ideal that

a man contribute money towards the raising of his children.

If a woman bears a child in common with a man then that man

is more likely to contribute goods and money to her

household. This may also explain why a pregnancy seems to

turn an extra-residential union into a consensual union as

discussed above. Higher levels of employment with fewer

children cannot be simply explained by considering that a

woman will have more time available to work, although this

may be a factor, since "child-transfer" or allowing other

family members to care for children is common throughout the


Clarke (1966) points out that "step-children" are most

frequently found in situations where a union is childless.

Herskovits (1937) states that "child-transfer" among Haitian

parents can take place for economic reasons (i.e. another

family is better equipped financially to care for the child).

Clarke (1966) noted that households based on consensual

unions are equally divided according to the presence or

absence of children, while those based on marriage were

without children in only one-fifth of the cases. Although

this could indicate that children serve to strengthen a

relationship which might lead to marriage, the facts that it

is older couples who tend to marry (who have had more time to

bear children) could also explain the correlation between

marriage and children.

The permanence of these relationships varies, as has

been mentioned, and an adopted girl in Jamaica who becomes

pregnant may be put out of the house. Gonzalez (1969) notes

that among the Black Carib "child loaning" may be long term

but these child will not have inheritance rights as other

children do. "Child transfer" in Haiti, on the other had,

appears as a complete transfer of rights and

responsibilities. Herskovits (1937) states that if the

adopted Haitian child is abused the original parents can do

nothing to help that child. In the British West Indies in

general, it has been found that 25% of all children are not

living with their parents but almost all of these children

are living with another family member (Sanford 1974). In

Jamaica, children who are not taken in by another person are

occasionally abandoned (Broadber 1974).

All children can receive a new "step-parent" as

relationships change. However, if marriage occurs the

children might not be included in that new relationship.

Clarke (1966) points out that the exclusion from the

household of outside children of either parent was more

marked in the case of married couples than in families in a

consensual union. This was not a strict rule but more

outside children from women were included in the home when

compared with those of the men.9 Children do not

automatically go with the mother, but there is a tendency for

boys to go with their fathers in new relationships and girls

to go with their mothers. If under fifteen years of age both

boys and girls are more likely to go with the mother.

Illegitimacy in the Caribbean

Illegitimacy, as noted in Marks' summary of the

Caribbean family cited above, is generally considered to be

not only common in the Caribbean but it carries with it no

social disability or disparagement like it might in other

societies. Herskovits and Herskovits (1947:82-83) state that

in Trinidad "there is no social disability imposed by the

community because of legitimacy or illegitimacy." While in

reference to the concept of legitimacy they point to a "false

perspective on the thinking of people given by the

application of legal terms such as 'legitimate' and

'illegitimate' to the offspring" (Herskovits and Herskovits

1947:17). But they still see these terms as useful to

distinguish between concepts in Caribbean society if an

attempt is made to understand how the concepts differ from

their general use in European society. Slater (1977) takes a

different viewpoint.10 She argues (Slater 1977:155) that in

Martinique: "There simply is no rule of legitimacy." Slater

considers legitimate children, as do others who have dealt

with this issue, to be children born to married parents

rather than those with a recognized pater, as in my

definition. If Slater's data is examined it indicates that

some important distinctions between children are made in

Martinique. She notes that

"although illegitimate births outnumber the
legitimate, recognized children usually outnumber
the nonrecognized .A man need not live with
a woman to recognize one of her children, but if he
lives with her he is forced to recognize her
children unless he wishes to go to court to dispute
paternity" (Slater 1977:159-160).

Recognized children also have a different status from

unrecognized children. "By law, recognized children inherit

along with legitimate children from the father. Unrecognized

children, then are at a disadvantage ." (Slater


Goode (1960:30) argues that the Caribbean does not

contradict Malinowski's views and concludes that

"Malinowski's Principle of Legitimacy is generally

valid." Part of the evidence he gives for this assertion is

the fact that mothers severely chastise daughters who get

pregnant. This indicates that although pregnancies outside

of a marital union are common they are not considered

acceptable. Goode (1960) also states that marriage is

considered the ideal form of mating in the Caribbean and most

people enter marriage at some point in their lives. This he

argues can be held as the "norm" or value of the Caribbean

although there is a high rate of deviance from this ideal

form of mating. He criticizes Slater's assertion that there

is no distinction between legitimacy and illegitimacy based

on these factors. Goode also argues against the

characterization of consensual unions as "sociologically as

legitimate" as legal unions. He concludes: "If this

interpretation is correct, Malinowski's principle would be

erroneous, and one of the apparently major functions of the

father would have to be redefined as unessential" (Goode

1960:23). Goode does not state why he came to this

conclusion and it is difficult now to say exactly what

motivated him to state it. But, if legitimacy is not defined

as necessarily derived from "marriage" but rather in the

terms given in chapter one, then what is and is not

technically a marriage becomes less relevant to the issues.

Slater's (1977) addendum to her dissertation in

published form castigates Goode for not distinguishing, as

she felt he should, between the "upper" and "lower" strata of

society. Slater feels that Goode was relying on the values

of the "upper" strata, to describe the behavior of the lower

strata. She argues that the elite may attempt to discourage

illegitimate births but there is no concept of "shame" among

the non-elite or at most it is fleeting. Slater's

conclusions that there is no concept of illegitimacy in the

Caribbean has been adopted and referenced in subsequent

descriptions of Caribbean family life (e.g. Halberstein 1986,


If legitimacy is not considered in terms of children

born into a marriage but children who have a socially

recognized father, then the conflict between the perspectives

of Goode and Slater can be reconciled. But before an attempt

is made to do this the views of others on Caribbean

illegitimacy will be considered.

There is some disagreement among various ethnographers

as to the extent of illegitimacy in the Caribbean. This

disagreement is best contrasted by the views of Marks and

R.T. Smith. Marks (1975:16) argues that "illegitimacy should

be regarded as virtually an exclusive 'product' of the lower

strata." R.T. Smith's (1956) earlier arguments were less

polemical. He felt that the distinction between legitimate

and illegitimate children, like that between union types, was

sociologically irrelevant. Currently, however, he attacks

(R.T. Smith 1988:104) "economic determinists theories [which]

have made illegitimacy appear to be an exclusively lower

class 'problem'." His rebuttal to these theories is based on

the efforts of Bishop Nutal in Jamaica to stem "immorality"

among higher class whites who were producing many

illegitimate offspring. Therefore, illegitimacy, he argues,

was an upper class (and white) phenomenon in the Caribbean

just as much as a lower class black phenomenon.11 On the

other hand, Marks' assertion that illegitimate births are

"high" in the Caribbean does appear to reflect empirical

observation if births outside of marriage are considered


The response of parents to a daughter's discovered

pregnancy indicates that not all pregnancies are treated with

indifference. Simpson (1942:665) notes that daughters in

Haiti are "beaten" when their pregnancy is discovered. A

Jamaican girl's initiation into womanhood appears to follow

several "ritualized" stages that have been described by


The mother's behavior when she discovers her
daughter's condition falls into four almost
ritualized stages. The girl's misconduct is always
said to have been carried on surreptitiously
without her knowledge and brought to her attention
only when the signs of pregnancy become apparent.
The discovery is greeted with noisy upbraiding, the
girl is severely beaten, and in many cases turned
out of the house. In the second stage the girl
takes refuge with a neighbour or kinswoman. After
a period, which may be quite short, the kinsfolk
and neighbours intercede with the mother on her
behalf, and the girl is taken back into her
mother's home for the birth of her child (Clarke

One exception to the rule that a Jamaican mother accepts her

pregnant daughter is with adopted girls who must leave if

they become pregnant. "They could not expect to be kept on

as one's own might be in such an event" (Clarke 1966:177).

There are other occasions when a mother accepts with no

disapproval a daughter's pregnancy. Clarke points out that a

girl working as domestic help returned home for the birth of

her child; the child was left for the mother to raise and no

disapproval was voiced. The reasons for this difference in

treatment were not made clear by Clarke. It appears that in

certain circumstances a pregnant girl, or woman, can meet

with marked social disapproval and at other times be treated

with indifference--each a phenomenon focused on by Goode and

Slater respectively. Rawlins (1984) has also noted that

teenage pregnancy is likely to be lower when parents,

especially mothers, have greater interaction with their

daughters. How much this influences response to pregnancy is


Manyoni's (1977:418) comment in reference to the

Caribbean that "illegitimacy is largely considered from the

perspective of maternity rather than both maternity and

paternity" is generally accurate in that men are rarely

chastened or visibly punished in relation to issues of

legitimacy (for a similar perspective see Allman 1985). This

may be due to the fact that paternity is less clear. This is

generally given as the reason why property is only inherited

by a child if it is considered "legitimate." But, as we have

seen for Martinique, a child can inherit property from the

father if the father acknowledges paternity. Therefore,

although a mother may be easier to identify, because of the

pregnancy, paternity can still be determined on a

sociological level if not a biological one (unless

sophisticated techniques are made available).

An approach at reconciliation of the dispute between

Goode and Slater based on this evidence should consider that,

although many children are born in unions other than marriage

relationships and are not socially disapproved of as

"illegitimate," there are a class of children who do not have

a person they can identify as their "father" and these

children do have lower status than others. Relationships

carried on surreptitiously, which result in a child without

an identifiable father, result in sharp social disapproval by

the community. These children do not have claim to support

from their fathers or those men who have established a social

contract with a child as discussed by Malinowski.

In the following ethnography of pregnancy and

childbirth among Creoles in Suriname it will become evident

that there are a number of different ways men can assert

paternity or women can ritually identify the father of their


Although this analysis of the Caribbean as a region

has suggested general characteristics of Caribbean society,

Lewis (1985:226) argues "it is misleading to think of the

[Caribbean] region as a single, monolithic whole a delusion

present in much of the scholarly literature on this area."

This study is not dealing with the Caribbean as a whole but

only with the the coastal region of Suriname. It is not

necessary, however, to treat each society in the Caribbean as

a completely separate entity devoid of any connections with

other regions that have undergone similar historical and

cultural processes. Much of what has been found in other

societies in the Caribbean has relevance for Suriname.


Although the origins of the Caribbean family are

probably drawn from many different influences, there are

distinctive characteristics of the Caribbean family that can

be found in most Caribbean societies. There is a

"matrifocal" tendency in Caribbean societies which can best

be viewed as a tendency towards slightly greater emphasis on

women and the maternal kin of a family when relationships are

considered as a whole. The perspective of men as "marginal"

to the household is overdrawn if one considers this to mean

they are constantly absent and do not contribute economically

to the household. Yet men are less prominent in daily

household activities than are women. There is also a

distinctive mating system that has developed in Caribbean


Mating in the Caribbean generally begins as an extra-

residential union; it then evolves into a consensual union;

and later, usually after children are born, a legal marriage

is solemnized. Having children in common seems to strengthen

relationships in each of these patterns of mating.

The family system in the Caribbean is one in which

children are generally born outside of a legally recognized

union. Some of these births receive marked social

disapproval while others are treated with excitement and

expectation. A distinction between these types of

pregnancies can be made on the basis of association with a

presence or lack of a socially recognized father. This

distinction will be explored in the following ethnography of

pregnancy and childbirth among the Creole in Paramaribo,


1Most scholars have focused on the "lower class" while lumping the
middle and upper class into a single group where legal marriage is
consistently found. R.T. Smith's recent work indicates that, although
this is generally the case, it is not a rule. He points out "the
distribution of union types reflects the class composition of the
genealogies, with common law and visiting unions being rare, but not
absent from, established middle class genealogies" (R.T. Smith 1988:67).
Henriques, although he saw the upper class as differing from the lower
and middle class, argued that these patterns were not derivations of the
European ideal but forms that existed in their own right. Henriques
notes in reference to the relation between the upper and middle classes

The attitude of the middle class towards this practice [i.e.
of bearing children outside of marriage relationships] is
not only one of tolerance but of actual approval. This is
interesting as the twin household violates the canons of
this class's sexual morality, and in addition the female
partner is often drawn from its own class. The middle class
girl who becomes the mistress of an upper class man is
condemned, but the action of the man is approved (Henriques

Henriques sees these relationships as having roots in slavery when an
upper class male would have an "outside" relationship with a woman in a
lower status position than himself.

2Class, as it is used by most Caribbean scholars, is consistent with the
concept of socioeconomic status. Not only is one's income level
included in this but also language use (Creole verses Metropolitan
language), skin color (the darker one's skin the lower one's status),
and education (the lower one's education the lower one's status).

3Beet and Sterman (1978) also argue that "male absenteeism" influences
family life and fertility among the Matawai Maroons in Suriname but no ---
conclusions are drawn as to its effects on the structure of the Matawai
It is noteworthy that the recent emigration from Suriname has been
disproportionately Creole men. This has increased the female to male
ratio dramatically.

4The author does not present data to support his conclusions.

5A variety of different terms have been used to describe specific
relationships that exist in the Caribbean family. I have chosen to use
"extra-residential" unions as defined in the text because other terms
such as "affair" or "visiting union" tend to down play the fact that
many of these relationships evolve into co-residential relationships and
possibly marriage. Likewise the term "consensual union," as defined in
the text, is used rather than "concubinage" which reflects a lower
status to the relationship than is often the case in Caribbean

communities. Therefore "consensual union" is used to refer to co-
residential relationships where legal marriage is not found. These may
exists as "common law" marriages or as "living together" relationships
which may or may not lead to legal marriage. Legal marriage is
generally a marriage that is sanctioned by the churches in the community
and the law of the country. This definition is, of necessity, much
narrower than the definition I gave in the first chapter for marriage.
The societies dealt with in this discussion have a much narrower
definition of marriage and the research discussed is based on a much
narrower definition. Therefore, I use this narrower definition of
marriage throughout this chapter.
All of these labels are imposed from the outside although they
have occasionally been adopted by those to whom they apply. Some of the
terms that members of these societies use for their relationships will
be discussed in the text.

6Stoffle (1977b) has argued that industrial employment slows down the
time it takes to move through these patterns of relationships.

7This is only the first stage of a marriage according to "Western
tradition" for the Black Carib. A legal union, or what Gonzalez refers
to as a "Western-type marriage" does not transform a consensual union
with the performance of a ceremony recognized by law, but that is the
culmination of several steps taken to give the relationship higher

8This discussion of the motivations for marriage is admittedly strongly
biased towards the male perspective and what the motives of men are in
these relationships. This is not intentional but is unavoidable due to
the lack of consideration by ethnographers of women's intentions.

9Although this may be expected in European societies, in West Africa
children generally go with the men after separation as part of rights in
genetricem which men hold.

10This work was originally a dissertation done under the authors maiden
name of Kreiselman in 1958.

11R.T. Smith hints in his discussion, in fact, that illegitimacy in the
Caribbean originated with the slave owners and from them became a
persistent part of the structure of "lower class" families.


Historical Overview

Suriname is on the northern border of South America.

Brazil is just south, while French Guiana is east and Guyana

is west of Suriname. The Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean

form the northern border. Because of its historic,

geographic, and ethnic character, Suriname is considered part

of "plantation America" (Wagley 1957), and is specifically

included in the Caribbean region (Mintz and Price 1985).

Paramaribo, the capital and only major city in the country,

is located on the coast of Suriname and is the general site

of early European activity.

European Domination

Suriname's original inhabitants were Native Americans

who, according to current evidence, were in the area in large

numbers at least 5,000 years ago (National Planning Office of

Suriname 1988). Although the coastal Carib and Arawak groups

appear to have had contact with Europeans from the time of

their first arrival, encounters and exchanges slowly spread

to other groups, with the last recorded "first" contact being

with the Akuri who used their stone axes to destroy the

outboard motor of a "curious traveler" in 1968 (Bubberman


The first European contact appears to have been in

1499 when the Spanish navigators Alonzo de Hojeda and Jean de

la Cosa are reputed to have scouted some parts of the

northeast coast of South America during their navigation of

what later would be called "the Wild Coast." One year later,

Vincent Juan Pinzon claimed the region in the name of the

king of Spain.

This region, which came to be known as Guiana ("land

of many streams or waters")1 is situated between the Atlantic

Ocean and the Amazon, Rio Negro, Cassiquiare and Orinoco

rivers. It soon became known for its mythical Dorado, or

land of gold, and Lake Parima--a fabled lake of gold. This

region was possessed in the sixteenth and seventeenth

centuries in whole or in part by Spain, the Netherlands,

England, France, and Portugal in turn. As part of the

imperialistic jousting of the time, the territory became

divided into five regions: Spanish Guiana (now part of

Venezuela), British Guiana (now Guyana), French Guiana,

Portuguese Guiana (now part of Brazil) and Dutch Guiana

(which, of course, is now Suriname).

The Dutch founded the first trading centers on the

coast (in 1530 and 1542) and in 1581, a year after their

independence from Spain, they established the first

settlement in Pomeroon, which later became part of British

Guiana (Mitrasing 1975:5-6). The Dutch became so active in

the Caribbean region that the Spanish governor of Venezuela

recommended they be kept out through poisoning the salt pans

they frequented in the neighboring Antilles (Williams

1984:75). The activities of the Dutch were eventually

curtailed by the British who, under the direction of Lord

Willoughby, established the first permanent settlement in

Suriname in 1651.

Fort Willoughby was built on the remains of a French

fort dating from 1640, and the English began trading with the

indigenous Carib while turning against the Arawak--

traditional Carib enemies. In 1667, sixteen years later, the

Dutch took Fort Willoughby as part of their global war with

England and still held it a year later when a peace treaty

was signed in Breda. In exchange for keeping Suriname, the

Dutch gave New Amsterdam (New York) to the British. The

Dutch, everyone felt at the time, got the better end of the

deal, even though they argued both sides should take equal

burden for the war (i.e. "Dutch treat"). The British

immediately began applying the Dutch hate term jong kaas

(i.e. Yankees) to the inhabitants of New Amsterdam and the

Dutch began to reshape the colony of Suriname.

Slavery in Suriname

The British period was crucial to the development of

Suriname. Most notably, the importation of slaves from

Africa began during this period. The languages originally

spoken by the slaves and the Maroons, or runaway slaves,

still retain much of the basic lexicon and syntax developed

during the period when English was the dominant language.

As the Dutch took control of Suriname, they changed

the name of the fort to Zeelandia. The fort remained central

in importance as is reflected in the Sranantongo word foto,

which now means "city." The Dutch expanded the importation

of African slaves beyond earlier levels. Most of the slaves

were brought from West Africa, but slavers moved down the

coast of Africa as villages were decimated and societies

destroyed. Herskovits (1939) reports that some of the last

slaves brought to Suriname were from Mozambique--clear around

the Cape.

The world shipping capitals of Amsterdam and

Rotterdam, from the provinces of North and South Holland,

respectively, controlled much of the slave trade, while

Europe's leading medical school in Leiden provided most of

the attending physicians on the slave ships and colonies of

the Netherlands and other nations (Calder 1958). Nassy, as

quoted by Price and Price (1988:xiv), stated in 1788 that the

Dutch colony in Suriname was "the envy of all the others in

the Americas" likely because of its economic output.

Suriname remained the most important colony of the

Netherlands until well into the eighteenth century when

Indonesia, or the Dutch East Indies, surpassed it.

The "envy" of the Americas was built at a price.

Essed (1984:1) reports that slaves died at the rate of four a

day from 1682 to 1863 when emancipation was declared. A

contemporary of this period, John Stedman (1796:373), guessed

the entire slave population became "extinct" every twenty

years or in other words that the high death rate led to a

complete overturn in the population every twenty years. In

addition to this, beginning as early as the British period,

many of the slaves had begun escaping into the Amazon rain

forests and establishing communities led by a granman or

"chief." Although the forests were hazardous and called

dedekondre or "country of death" by the slaves, many were

willing to risk malaria and other perils in exchange for

freedom. These enclaves of Maroons, who now call themselves

Busunengre or "Bushnegroes," established themselves along

major rivers and continued to raid plantations until peace

treaties were signed with separate groups in 1760, 1762, and

1767 making them the first peoples in the Americas to gain

independence from Europe.2

Until the importation of slaves was made illegal,

there was always a higher concentration of Africanborn slaves

than Surinameborn slaves (called Creoles) in the colony.

Because of this, the Creole population continued in many

different ways to have contact with their African past until

the importation of slaves was abolished. On July 1, 1863,

the slaves were given their freedom. This event is still

celebrated every first of July as ketikoti or manspasi

("emancipation" day).

The Post-Slavery Period

For years after emancipation, former slaves flocked to

the city, refusing to continue in agriculture.3 This left a

shortage of labor in the plantation areas of Suriname. In

order to fill their labor needs, the Dutch turned to the

British East Indies and began importing indentured labor--

largely from the northeastern provinces of India. These East

Indians are called Hindustanis in Suriname (and the

Netherlands as well). Most of these contract laborers

arrived in Suriname between 1873 and 1917 and are now the

largest of the many ethnic groups in the country. Many of

the Hindustani were tricked into embarking on ships or did

not quite understand the consequences. Suddenly they found

themselves pulling out of their home cities, sometimes not

even having had time to say farewell to family members or

tell them what was happening (Diepraam 1978). In 1890 the

Dutch turned to the East Indies to supplement and later

replace the inflow of Hindustanis on the remaining sugar

plantations. They brought laborers to Suriname from the

Indonesian island of Java until 1939. Of the ethnic groups

in the coastal lowlands the Javanese remain the most

impoverished and least exposed to formal education. Although

the Hindustani have been much more likely to move into

sectors of the economy other than agriculture, they continue,

along with the Javanese, to dot the agricultural regions of

the country.

More recently Maroons have flocked into the city as

well, seeking opportunity and as refugees from rebel fighting

in the interior. The Chinese world diaspora has brought

immigrants from Hong Kong and elsewhere who tend to run small

shops or winkels4 and restaurants. Significant numbers of

Dutch, Lebanese, and Guyanese live in Paramaribo, as do some

Jews from Germany and Portugal and a smattering of North

Americans (often missionaries of various Christian

denominations). The general nature of Suriname is such that

the city of Paramaribo is dominated by the Creole population

with a large Hindustani presence as well, while the coastal

agricultural regions are populated with the Hindustani and

Javanese and the rainforests are the territory of the Maroons

and Native Americans.

The Current Picture

The Republic of Suriname gained independence from the

Netherlands in 1975. Many of the changes that have taken

place since then have been influenced by the newly

independent status of the country. But, as with all

societies, Suriname reflects its historical and cultural


Population Growth

The population of Suriname has undergone dramatic

fluctuation as a result of independence. Many Surinamers

retained their Dutch citizenship and went to the Netherlands.

Recent figures indicate that the steady decline in population

leading up to and following independence has been reversed

and population growth is again occurring (see table 1).

The population of Paramaribo is 48% of the entire

country's population5 and much of the remaining population

surrounds and has ties with the city. Three other population

centers of note are: Nieuw Nickerie, next to the Guyana

border; Albina, next to the French Guyana border; and Mungo,

a region south of Paramaribo where bauxite mining takes place

for the aluminum industry. Smaller villages are scattered

along many of the major rivers in the interior.

Table 1
Population Growth and Growth Factors 1980-1987

Year Population* Births** Deaths Immigration Emigrat

1980 361,040 9,848 2,192 2,282 18,988
1981 351,990 10,094 2,441 3,338 4,432
1982 358,549 11,205 2,506 3,706 3,431
1983 367,523 11,823 2,811 2,805 5,225
1984 374,115 11,503 2,873 3,393 3,488
1985 382,650 11,704 2,674 1,902 5,321
1986 388,261 10,176
1987 404,962 9,660

*Total as of January 1.
**This figure only includes live births.6
Source:National Planning Office, Suriname (1988) and the
Suriname Department of Public Health statistical office,


Ethnic Makeup of the Population

One of the distinctive characteristics of Suriname is

the social and cultural diversity of its population. Most of

the population identifies with specific ethnic labels that

signify similar historical and cultural roots. Each of the

large or influential ethnic groups will be discussed

separately. The percentages of each group given from the

"hospital" sample refer to the sample from which part of the

research for this work was derived. The sample is discussed

in the following chapter.

The Hindustani

The Hindustani population of Suriname made up 37.8% of

the total population of Suriname in 1980 (Health Conditions

in the Americas 1990:257).7 In 1991 they made up 32.7% of the

delivering population at s'Lands, the public hospital

(n=340).8 The Hindustani are generally considered to be the

largest ethnic group in Suriname when those of African

descent are separated into Creole and Maroon groups. (If

those with African ancestry are considered as one group, then

they make up 39.1% of the population in the Health Conditions

in the Americas report [1990:257] and 47.3% of the delivering

population at s'Lands in this study).

The Hindustani have cultural and ancestral ties to

India. They prefer use of the Dutch term Hindustani to refer

to themselves as a group. In Sranantongo, they are called

Kuli a word retained from the British period or occasionally

Hustani derived from the Dutch. The Hindustani, as a whole,

hate being referred to as Kuli. (All of the Hindustani women

in the postpartum study said they did not like the term

Kuli.) The Creole, on the other hand, say most Hindustani do

not mind being called Kuli and when groups of Creoles are

together they invariably used Kuli when talking about

Hindustanis. When other ethnic groups are in on the

discussion, Hindustani is generally used. Hindustanis of

both Muslim and Hindu religions find the Dutch term


The recent characterization of Suriname as a place

where harmony exists between divergent ethnic and religious

groups overstates the situation (French 1990). Some ethnic

tensions do exist. For example, Hindustani will occasionally

complain about the Creole population and claim all the

Creoles are interested in is prisiri pleasure, a good time,

or parties. Although most Hindustani will claim everyone can

marry everyone, they tend to discourage or even express

disdain at relationships with Creoles. A child that is born

of Creole and Hindustani parents is called a Dogla and is

generally classified as a Creole (see below).

Many Hindustani still strongly identify with India and

are interested in events in India. A statue of the Mahatma,

Mohandas Karamchand Ghandi, stands in a busy section of the

city and many of the city's streets reflect Indian ties--

including the recent changing of the name of one of the two

major roads from Pad van Wanica to Indira Ghandi Weg.

The African-American population

Although all of Suriname's population of African

descent are descendants of African slaves, historical

separation of two segments of the population have created

cultural and linguistic differences. The Creole population

consists essentially of the descendants of those who were in

the city or on plantations at the end of slavery while the

Maroon population is made up of the descendants of those who

escaped into the rainforests.

Creole. Creole Surinamers are called Creool in

Dutch and Nengre in Sranantongo.9 There has been a major

movement towards the use of the term Creole by Surinamers as

opposed to the term Nengre which is viewed by some as having

negative connotations. There is not only a linguistic

category Nengre to designate the lower class Creoles in

Sranantongo, but historically persons could also be Mulata,

(a Kleurling in Dutch) if part of their ancestry was

European. These distinctions are no longer made, however.

But distinctions are still made in reference to admixture

with other ethnic groups. A Dogla is theoretically the

offspring of a Hindustani mother or father and Creole spouse

but even if parentage is not known a Creole with wavy hair

might be called Dogla. For example, American Blacks seen on

television are occasionally referred to as Dogla.

Of the women who deliver at s'Lands Hospitaal 24.1%

identified themselves as Creole. The percentage of African-

Americans is 39.1% for the entire population but how many of

these identify themselves as Creole is difficult to

determine. There was a movement to identify the Maroon

population with the Creole population based on a common

African ancestry. The intentions were to increase political

clout (see Wooding 1981) but it has also influenced

statistical information on the population. This movement has

not had as devastating an impact on information, however, as

has a more recent trend.

There has been a recent movement to completely ignore

ethnicity in the gathering of official data. The general

opinion is that if ethnicity becomes less important national

unity will increase and this will benefit everyone. The goal

is admirable but it is no longer possible to get such

information as a break down of infant mortality by ethnic

groups. This obfuscates real differences in ethnic groups in

important areas (like birth weight as discussed in chapter

8). It would be better if inequalities between ethnic groups

were made explicit so that changes can be made to improve

specific sections of the population rather than ignoring such

differences under a guise of nationalism.

Maroons. The Maroons are known as Bosland Creool in

Dutch or Busu Nengre in Sranantongo. The Maroons are made up

of six distinct groups. The Saramaccaners are perhaps the

least acculturated to city life of all the Maroons. This is

generally due to the fact that they have historically lived

the furthest from the city. The Aukaners or Ndjuka are the

largest group and are geographically the closest to

Paramaribo. When talking about Maroons, this is the group

most Creole are referring too. Djuka, a term that Aukaners

now disdain, is used by the Creole as a term for impolite

behavior or social ineptitude.

Other small groups of Maroons listed largest to

smallest include Paramaccaners, Matuaridrs (or Matawais),

Kwintis, and Bonnis or Alukus.

Although Djuka has become a term of criticism, the

Creole generally admire the Maroon population. Many of the

Creole see their own culture and society as being derived

from that of the Maroons and they feel the Maroon population

represents the Creole past. Of the women who delivered at

s'Lands Hospitaal, 23.2% identified themselves as Bosland

Creool or Maroon.

The Javanese

The Javanese are called Yapanees in Sranantongo and

Javaans in Dutch. They find both terms acceptable although

both terms are occasionally used in disparaging ways such as

viewing breast-feeding as Javaans or referring to outhouses

as Javaanse toilets. The Javanese only make up 18.4% of the

total population.10 Out of the women from the s'Lands sample,

they make up 12.4% of the total.

The general image that the Javanese have of themselves

and that others have of them is that they tend to get along

with everyone, (although there are exceptions). Many of the

Javanese and especially the older population maintain an

interest in what happens in Indonesia and the small group

that can afford it will attempt to visit the country at least

once. A cultural center has recently been built for the

centennial of Javanese immigration and public events are

occasionally held to celebrate the Javanese heritage.

The Native Americans

Native Americans are referred to as a group in

Sranantongo by the term Ingi or as Indiaan in Dutch. They

only make up 1.5% of the total population and most of this

small group live in rural or remote areas. Native Americans

made up 2.7% of the women who delivered at s'Lands Hospitaal

in January, 1991. Those who do live in the city tend to be

the coastal Carib and Arawak. Other Native Americans include

the Wajana (a total of 397 individuals) and the Trio (a total

of 822 individuals) with just under 700 individuals

identified as "other."

The Chinese

The Chinese are called Sinesi in Sranantongo and

Chinees in Dutch. There are more Chinese in Suriname than

Native Americans with 1.7% of the population, but only .6% of

the women delivering at s'Lands Hospitaal defined themselves

as Chinese. Most of the Chinese own businesses in the city

and are generally successful. (One of the two Chinese women

that delivered at s'Lands had delivered her first child in

the United States and she was the only woman in the entire

sample to have a "class A" delivery which is explained in

chapter 8).

The Europeans

Although the current European population of Suriname

is about 0.5%, their presence is felt in larger proportion

than their numbers. (There were no Europeans in the hospital

sample). Europeans are generally Dutch and are always

considered so unless one knows this not to be the case. The

Dutch are classified into two categories in Sranantongo. A

Buru is specifically applied to descendants of Dutch farmers

in Suriname and the name comes from the Dutch word for

farmer. It is also generally applied to any White who

appears to work hard or is a native Surinamer. The other

class of Dutch are the Bakra. These are the urban, well to

do, or foreign Dutch. For some speakers the use of Bakra has

a negative tinge.

If a person's nationality is known then it is

generally indicated in referring to that person. An American

male becomes Amekan boy or pikin Bush "a child of Bush" (the

U.S. president during the period of this research).

The "mixed" population

The final category is called gemenged in Dutch and

moksi in Sranantongo (or "mixed"). This group made up the

final 4.4% of the total hospital population. Those who would

like ethnic distinctions to disappear in Suriname are hoping

that this group will eventually expand to include all

Surinamers. But presently even those who are called moksi by

friends will often identify with one of the major ethnic


The Political Situation

In the years following the second world war, when many

former colonies gained independence, Suriname got more

political freedom and control over internal affairs, but it

did not become completely autonomous from the Netherlands.

In 1975 Suriname gained its independence. Events surrounding

its independence have changed the country of Suriname

dramatically. More than 100,000 individuals (mostly Creole)

kept their Dutch citizenship and went to the Netherlands in

the period approaching independence--meaning that a country

the size of the U.S. State of Georgia, with fewer than

400,000 individuals mostly concentrated in one large urban

region, underwent a dramatic population reduction. The large

numbers who emigrated has resulted in many Surinamers having

family members in the Netherlands that can send money or

other goods (although some complain that relatives do not

send much if anything). High levels of emigration (mostly of

males) have contributed to current demographics where more

than 50% of the population is under 20 years of age and

disproportionately female. During the same period of time

there was also a large increase of migration from the

interior into Paramaribo.

Independence has also been followed by political

upheavals. Suriname went through a coup d'etat in 1980, less

than three years after the first elections in 1977, followed

by a series of political assassinations in 1982, and the rise

of the Jungle Commando, a Maroon insurgency. The military

government stepped down in 1987 when democratic elections

were held. A Native American military insurgency split in

1990 from their alliance with the Maroons to create the

Tucayanes Amazones. On Christmas eve of 1990 a "telephone

coup" by military leaders toppled the government. The

military again stepped down in 1991 allowing democratic

elections to be held.

Hopes of pending agreement between insurgents in the

interior and the Suriname government officials as well as

warnings by the Netherlands and U.S. against another coup

attempt may lessen the political turmoil in the country.

However, Brana-Shute's (1987) characterization of a

"surprising Suriname" may continue to express itself in the

political arena.

The Economy

Politics continue to intact with the economy. The

mining sector (mainly bauxite) dominates the economy, since

it accounts for almost 75% of the total export earnings for

the country. Its successes and failures are felt by almost

everyone. Rice, tobacco, bananas, tropical woods and other

agricultural products as well as some oil production are

important exports for the country.

When Suriname became independent it received the

famous "golden handshake" from the Netherlands. A promise of

almost one billion dollars U.S. in aid over a ten-year period

would have had a phenomenal impact in such a small country.

But after the first coup d'etat this aid was held by the

Netherlands in an attempt to influence the internal affairs

of Suriname and still has not been released.

Suriname continues to be plagued with problems. In

the past year there have been at least five flour shortages

which meant no bread or bami (egg noodles), two of the

country's staple foods. During these shortages American

officials, in televised speeches, stated that Suriname needed

to pay for the last wheat shipment before the next one would

be sent. Rice, the third and most important staple, always

seemed in plentiful supply, although many rumors were passed

around that it would also be difficult to get soon. It is

doubtful that events would progress that far, but fears that

rice would disappear were very real.

The country's economy has accelerated its decline in

the past several years and is experiencing a chronic shortage

of foreign currency. Production declines since 1987 have led

to soaring unemployment which currently makes up almost 34%

of the total work force. Suriname's dependence on imports

and a limited supply of foreign currency has led to soaring

prices and a scarcity of a wide range of goods. There is a

large parallel or "black market" and most imported goods such

as medicines and consumer items are purchased paying the high

rates asked for foreign currencies. Despite the parallel

market, the official exchange rate has been held at about a

constant 1.77 guilders per dollar and an even trade of one

Suriname guilder per Dutch guilder. In contrast to this,

during 1989-1990 the blackmarket rate was generally reported

at about sixteen to eighteen guilders per U.S. dollar or

eight to nine Dutch guilders per U.S. dollar with some

reporting exchanging Canadian dollars for as high as twenty

guilders per dollar and others reporting similar rates for

U.S. dollars.11


There are many languages spoken in Suriname. They are

generally defined by different ethnic and cultural

boundaries, although these boundaries are not distinct. The

"best spoken language" of an individual will generally be

defined by ethnic and cultural affiliations, but either

Sranantongo or Dutch is known by almost everyone with Dutch

as the official language (see table 2).12


One of the most widely used languages in Suriname is

Sranantongo (literally "Suriname-Tongue"). The language is

sometimes referred to as Negerengels in Dutch (or "Negro

English"). This term is incorrect, although accepted by many

Surinamers, since Sranantongo is not a type of English but

has a unique syntax and a modified English lexicon with

considerable contributions from Dutch, Portuguese and West

African languages.

Table 2
The Best Spoken Language of the Suriname
Population Six Years Old and Above by Ethnic Group

Dutch Sranan- Sarnami Javanese Other Total
tongo Hindustani
Creole 61,389 27,939 195 90 1,318 90,931
Hindustani 11,250 1,496 71,505 23 443 84,717
Javanese 2,724 561 22 34,766 35 38,108
Amerindian* 980 944 1 447 2,372
Chinese 2,581 237 1 5 1,663 4,487
European 3,455 15 1 4 144 3,619
Other 1.558 156 2 37 528 2.281

Total 83,937 31,348 71,727 34,925 4,578 226,515
% 37.1 13.8 31.7 15.4 2.0 100.0

*not living in tribal groups

Source: Edward Dew 1978:11

The term Taki-taki regularly appears in English

language publications--even academic ones (e.g. Alleyne 1985)

as the name of a language in Suriname. It is generally used

to refer to Sranantongo, although it has been used for Maroon

languages too. The term is a Sranantongo word meaning "to

gab" or "to chatter" but it is not a complementary one and it

is not used by Surinamers.

Sranantongo's resilience over the years has been

remarkable despite the fact that children are neither allowed

to speak it at school nor in the homes of the upper class or

many of the middle class. There have been increasing

attempts to write in Sranantongo although to date most of the

material produced has been fiction or poetry (e.g. van Kempen

1986, Grot 1987). Recently, a news program has been produced

in Sranantongo which is aired on one of the two television

stations.13 While most of the broadcasting is still done in

Dutch--the official language.


Since the emancipation of slaves on July 1, 1863

Christian missionaries and others have taught schools in

Dutch and it is still the official language of Suriname. The

Dutch spoken in Suriname differs from that spoken in the

Netherlands (or the numerous local dialects spoken in the

Netherlands) not only in the accent given to it but also in

some grammar constructions and vocabulary. Besides producing

television shows in Dutch, both of the national newspapers

and the most popular radio station in Suriname use Dutch.

The two major languages of the city (Dutch and

Sranantongo) are both spoken on the streets and most of those

who were born and raised in the city are proficient in both

languages. For the Creole population 69% have indicated that

Dutch is their "best spoken language" while 31% have

indicated that Sranantongo is their "best spoken language"

(Dew 1978:11). Both Sranantongo and Dutch were used during

interviews to gather data for this research and Dutch was

used exclusively in the mailed questionnaires.

Other languages

Other languages spoken in Suriname include Sarnami

Hindustani a derivative of two Hindi dialects--Avadhi and

Bhjpuri. This language has incorporated elements of

Sranantongo and Dutch as well as some English because of the

large number of East Indian immigrants from Guyana. Javanese

is also spoken although it differs from its parent language

in Java, Indonesia in that loan words are not only drawn from

Bahasa Indonesia but also Sranantongo and Dutch. English is

spoken by some immigrants as are Chinese (Manderin, Hakka,

and Pundhi), Arabic (a larger number using it in ritual

contexts), Native American languages (including Arawak,

Carib, Wajana, Trio, Akurio and others), and a variety of

Maroon languages the most influential of which are Saramaccan

and Aucaans.

The Religions of Suriname

The religious beliefs of Surinamers are as varied and

complex as are their languages. Native American animistic

religions are still found in Suriname, although indigenous

religions take a less prominent position in the lives of

Native Americans currently than Catholicism in coastal

regions and Protestantism in the interior.

Although a little missionary activity was conducted by

the Moravian Bretheren from as early as the eighteenth-

century among Native Americans and slaves, proselytizing only

began in ernest after the emancipation of slaves in the late

nineteenth-century. Before this cime the religious life of

the slaves had become in part a syncretization of beliefs

drawn from their divergent African pasts and the Native

American groups around them and in part completely new ideas

and experiences that dealt with the situation in which they

found themselves. This religion has become known as Winti

from the word for "wind" or "spirit." Wooding (1981) points

out that, although this religion is similar to others in the

Caribbean in that it syncretized beliefs from a variety of

sources, it differs from other Caribbean religions in that

Christianity was never included in the syncretization

process. The slaves who escaped into the interior and

established Maroon societies took religious beliefs with them

that are similar to Winti.

Although Winti has been termed "the Creole religion,"

this is not completely accurate. Most Creoles are Roman

Catholics or Moravian with many adherents to other Protestant

denominations. However, participating in a Christian

religion does not preclude the participation in Winti

activities as well and many are involved in both religions.

Some Christian denominations denounce participating in

Winti and the leader of a small revivalistic denomination

(the Mosterd Zaad), who had formerly been a traditional

healed, decries Winti as serving the devil. It is not

uncommon to find Creole men and women who have not been to

Winti ceremonies in years although most have participated in

or seen a ceremony at some point in their lives. For others

Winti serves as a social function, a place to go dance and

meet people, although religious feelings may exist as well.

Winti religious observance involves serving

supernatural beings called Winti and in turn receiving aid

from them in everyday or special circumstances. Using

special protective charms is also viewed as part of these

beliefs as are a variety of healing practices. Those that

involve pregnancy will be dealt with in greater detail in

subsequent chapters.

Maroons have also been influenced by a Christian

presence although to a lesser extent than the Creoles. They

also define their religious beliefs to outsiders in terms of

organized religions. Maroons who do not belong to a specific

Christian denomination will consistently reply "no religion"

in surveys rather than asserting other beliefs. They have

also experienced various prophetic movements and religious

revivals (Thoden van Velzen 1977, 1978; Thoden van Velzen and

van Wetering 1975, 1982). The other segments of the

population have also been influenced by various Christian

denominations and a small number have joined specific groups.

About 60% of the Hindustanis belong to the orthodox

Sanatan Dharm and another 20% the reform Arya Samaj Hindu

faiths. Most of the rest are Muslims. Islam is also the

religion of almost all the Javanese. Both groups are Sunni

Moslems with the Javanese belonging to the Shafi'ite school

and the Hindustani the Hanifite school. There is evidence

that some of the Africans brought over in slavery were also

Moslems but there are no apparent members now among their

descendents.14 In the late eighteenth century and into the

nineteen century there were also many "free people of color"

and later freed slaves who were Jews. The Jewish influence

on Suriname was important and historically there were large

numbers of both Sephardic and Ashkenazian groups in Suriname.

Although some Jews still live in Suriname, their numbers have

dramatically declined to the point that they currently fill

an insignificant niche in the society. There are other

religious creeds in Suriname of course but their influence on

the society is small enough to warrant their exclusion from

this discussion.

The religious affiliation of women who delivered at

the hospital was recorded but there is no indication of the

extent of religious activity (see table 3).

R i~i rn

Table 3
of D live rina Women

Creole n=79
Full Gospel
Jehovah's Witness

Javanese n=43


38 (88%)
4 (9%)
1 (2%)

Source: s'Lands Hospitaal Delivery
Note: Some percentages may not add

Hindu 96
Muslim 11
Christian 3
Moravian 1
Catholic 1


Maroon n=80
None 29 (36%)15
Catholic 28 (35%)
Moravian 18 (23%)
Full Gospel 5 (6%)

Records, January,

up to 100 due to

For the African-American population there is also no

indication of participation in non-organized religions (note

specifically the Maroon response to religious affiliation).

It should be remembered that this population represents only

the women who delivered at s'Lands Hospitaal. The small

population of "other" religions may be influenced by the fact

that some of the other religions in Suriname (i.e. Dutch

Reform) have congregations that may be better off financially

and/or are less likely to have children.

P 11 -innI 1- Y ---)---


Suriname's initial development under colonial rule was

as a plantation economy where slavery was the major source of

labor. After the emancipation of the African-American

slaves, contract laborers were brought in from India and Java

(Indonesia). Suriname has since developed into a very

diverse population with a variety of languages, religions,

and racial groups. Ethnic identity is largely based on race

and language spoken but also includes other factors. The

self identified ethnicity of women who delivered at s'Lands

Hospital January 1991 is illustrated in table 4.

Suriname has undergone a series of economic and

political crises and continues to struggle to preserve its

democratic government, its economic independence, and its

national identity.

Table 4
Ethnic Identity of Hospital Sample

Hindustani 32.7% Mixed 4.4%
Creole 24.1% Native American 2.7%
Maroon 23.2% Chinese .6%
Javanese 12.4% European -

Source: s'Lands Hospitaal Delivery Records January, 1991.

1Guiana is presumably a word of Native American origin.(Mitrasing

2The reader will note the difference between the term used for the
escaped slaves in this text (i.e. Maroons) and the term they use for
themselves (i.e. Bush Negroes). The term Bush Negro does have a long

past in the region and van Velzen and van Wetering (1983:99) point out
that informants rejected the term Maroon as another attempt by outsiders
to put a label on them. I have not ignored this caution but have still
adopted Richard Price's use of the term Maroon (see R. Price 1976).
Although Bush Negro is a literal translation of the Sranantongo Busu
Nengre, it brings with it negative connotations not generally held in
Sranantongo. Maroon was derived from romance languages but developed
its English form in Jamaica in reference to run-away slaves there. It
does not bring the negative connotations with it that Bush Negro does
and so will be used in this text to refer to African-Americans in the
Amazon rainforests of Suriname.

3There is some suggestion that the Creole population had sought after
city life for a long time. The Sranantongo proverb Tangi foe Pans boko
mi si beni foto means "Thanks to the Spanish bok [a whip used for
punishments] I got to see inside the city." Although this proverb (or
odo) is currently used to illustrate that their is a positive side to
horrible situations, it also indicates the contrasting excitement of
city life in juxtaposition to the doldrums of plantation tasks (R.
Brana-Shute 1990:133).

4see Brana-Shute (1975, 1979) for a discussion of the winkel and its
importance in male Creole life.

5The National Planning Office of Suriname 1988) has published these
figures as 169,798 inhabitants for 47.8% of the population. They do not
give the specific year from which these numbers are derived but when
47.8% of the national population is taken for each of the years listed
by the planning office a slightly higher number is derived than the
169,798 figure given by the planning office.

6Infant mortality is discussed in chapter 8. The birth totals for 1988,
1989, and 1990 are, respectively 9,094; 10,217; and 9,545, although the
rest of the data for these years is not available.

7These figures add up to 99.0% due to rounding.

8These figures add up to 100.1% due to rounding.

9Although the Creole are generally not more specifically defined,
sometimes they are narrowed to Stads Creool or Foto Nengre both terms
which refer to 'City Creoles.'

10Total population percentage is based on the report Health Conditions
in the Americas (1990:257).

11The higher rates were always reported by the news when black market
rates were discussed but regular questioning of the young men who bought
foreign currencies in the large waterfront market never elicited such
high figures. But the young men in the market in turn sold their money
to another person for higher rates and others claimed they got the
reported high rates through their contacts and they had every reason to
lower their quotes of rates since they were giving these rates to family
members outside the country when requesting more foreign currency.

12More recent data on language use is not as inclusive as that included
in the text. One recent study looked at the media languages spoken by
mothers of children with diarrhea but it did not include Asian
languages. The results were as follows:

Languages Understood and Read in Suriname

Language Understand Read

Dutch 94% 92%
Sranantongo 92% 40%
English 44% --
Aucaans 21% 0%
Others 21% (e.g. Saramaccan) 6% (English or French)

Source: Krishnadath and Caff4 1991:20-21.

The number of respondents for this survey was n=48.

.13There are still a variety of variations of spelling in Sranantongo.
The variety used in this book is the the one used by De Drie (1984,
1985) because it tends to use fewer letters than the spellings based on
Dutch pronunciation.
14The evidence is mentioned by Voorhoeve (1962) who notes that in 1700s
there was a Sranantongo term for a Black Moslem.
15Follow-up questioning of Maroon women who told the midwives they did
not have a religion indicated that they did participate in religious
ceremonies associated with the historical religions of the Maroons.
Their response to this question was in terms of organized religions.


Population Studied

Although the Creoles of .Paramaribo, Suriname were the

focus of this research, much of the data presented has been

derived from the narrower population of women who delivered

at the public hospital (s'Lands) in Paramaribo. Since this

is the hospital where publicly funded births take place, the

lower strata of society are the main clients of the hospital.

Approximately half of all births in the entire country take

place at s'Lands which makes for a larger uniform sample than

would be the case at the private hospitals.

There are four other hospitals in Paramaribo that

serve the surrounding area, but they are not nearly as

influential as is s'Lands. The military hospital deals with

an insignificant number of deliveries. The Protestant

hospital (Diakennessen Ziekenhuis) do not generally deliver

infants of lower income mothers. The teaching hospital

(Academische Ziekenhuis) generally deals with unusual cases.

Women rarely deliver babies at home in Paramaribo.

Those births that do occur at home are usually unplanned and

the baby is brought to the hospital immediately afterwards.

Occasionally a woman will call on a midwife from the hospital

and pay for a home delivery. These women are usually

relatively wealthy or illegal immigrants, both groups that do

not fall under government subsidized funding for births

(discussed in chapter 8).


Several research methodologies were used to gather

data. These are discussed under separate categories for

clarity and organization but in some cases more than one

research method was used to elicit data on a specific topic.

The source of a specific set of data is mentioned in

connection with the presentation of the results in the

appropriate chapters.

Language Use

The most important research technique used to gather

data for this dissertation was thorough preparation in the

languages used by the Creole of Suriname. Dutch was studied

in an academic setting and used for several years with native

speakers in the Netherlands (including speakers from the

Republic of Suriname). I have been rated completely fluent

in an official language evaluation by a native speaker and

language instructor at the University of Florida.

Preparation in Sranantongo, the other major language

used by Creole women, was not as easy since it is not taught

in an academic setting outside of Suriname (an only

occasionally within the country). All of the literature

available on the language was consulted before visiting

Suriname from July-August 1990. While in Suriname during

this period of time, Sranantongo was used as often as

occasion permitted and spoken Sranantongo was recorded for

listening and preparation for improved language ability

during the June-December 1991 period of research. Efforts to

improve my ability to speak and understand Sranantongo were

continued throughout the research period.

Research was conducted using both Dutch and

Sranantongo, depending on the preference of the informant and

the nature of the topic. Sometimes both languages were used

in the same interview for clarification of concepts. There

was not a single informant that did not use fluent Dutch.

Only a few upper middle class individuals stated they did not

speak Sranantongo (although they were later observed to

understand it perfectly well when used by other individuals).

Sranantongo became important when interviews were conducted

with Maroon women at the hospital.

Participant Observation

A major component of the methodology used to gather

information for this study was participant observation. This

method was continually used throughout the research periods

of July-August 1990 and June-December 1991. An attempt was

made to "participate" in as many activities as possible

within the community setting. This activities included

social gatherings, such as four weddings, a funeral, birthday

parties, and religious services (these included Winti dances

and gatherings of several Christian denominations). Other

activities were on a more personal level, such as trading

turns weeding yards, fishing by kerosene lamps in the

Suriname river, or other daily tasks made easier by the

opportunity to swap stories and discuss issues. Some

activities were on a more private level. Births and

postpartum recovery fit in this category. Participating in

deliveries allowed me to learn information that would be

difficult to get any other way. I was also able to ask

questions about the activities of the midwives during the

deliveries as they were actually carrying out their duties.

Participation in daily activities was important for

two major reasons. First, it created friendships and mutual

respect. When people saw me or family members on the street

they would come out and ask if we were the ones they saw at

the dance or other event. As I became well known, the trust

level was higher than would have been the case had I shown up

on the door (as I sometimes did) as an unknown person wanting

to ask questions. The second benefit provided by

participation was the information it generated. I was often

able to ask questions about activities in a setting in which

the activity was being carried out. Observing activities

also served to reinforce or modify information given by

informants often based on what they saw as typical or ideal

behavior rather than what was actually done.

Hospital Records

Data was also gathered from hospital records for women

who delivered at s'Lands Hospitaal. The records of all women

who delivered in January 1991 were examined for specific

information. January was chosen since it was long enough

before research was begun that all the records for that month

would be gathered and available in the hospital archives and

yet it was recent enough that the information would be

current. These records yielded data for three hundred and

seventeen women (n=317). This was the group presented in the

characterization of the ethnic identity of the hospital group

presented in the previous chapter (chapter three) and much of

the data presented in the rest of the dissertation. The

ethnic identity of this population was approximately 33%

Hindustani, 24% Creole, 23% Maroon, 12% Javanese with other

groups making up the rest.

The information in these records was given by the

women to midwives. The midwives would ask a series of

specific questions as each woman was brought into the

delivery area of the hospital. There was generally no

attempt to keep this information private. The midwives would

sit at the desk and loudly ask each question on the form

while the laboring woman would respond between contractions.

Although a few of the responses, such as ethnic identity,

were generally recorded without outside verification, many of

the responses required verification by law. Those

specifically checked carefully included method of payment and