Monday, September 29, 2008

Day 29 - Caribbean Suriname

The Twenty-Ninth Day (Monday, September 29)

“No span” (”Keep cool; don’t worry”), a Creole expression.

When booking your flight to Suriname, don’t be surprised if your travel agent doesn’t know where it is. It’s pretty remote. Although it is the smallest independent country in South America, it is four times larger than the Netherlands who ruled it for a while. Some 80% of the country is tropical rain forest - think gateway to the Amazon - which is one reason not many people wander in from neighboring Brazil.

Suriname (formerly Dutch Guyana) is a small Republic on the northeast coast of South America. It is not unusual to see monkeys traversing the trees and boa constrictors crossing well travelled roads. The interior region remains unspoiled and sparsely inhabited. Suriname became a Dutch colony in 1667. After the abolition of slavery in 1863, agricultural workers arrived from India and the Indonesian island of Java. Suriname’s independence from the Netherlands was granted in 1975.

Diversity of peoples:
When you do arrive in Suriname (also spelled Surinam or Sranang) one of the first things you will notice is the amazing mix of peoples and languages. East Indians make up 37% of the population, Creole (mixed white and black) 31%, Javanese 15%, “Maroons” (former African slaves who escaped into the interior) 10%, Amerindian 2%, Chinese 2%, white and other 3%. Eleven different languages are spoken in Surinam. Dutch is the official language but Sranang Tongo (Surinaams) is spoken by mostly everyone but “no span”, many speak English as well.

You will probably want to head for the capital, Paramaribo first. Most of the 439 thousand people live here in the “city of flowers”. It was settled by the British in the mid-1600s. A treaty with the Brit’s in 1667 allowed the Dutch to take control but they had to give up New York for the pleasure. Here you will find the mosque, Hindu temple, church, cathedral and synagogue within walking distance of each other.

The trans-Atlantic slave trade brought millions of Muslims into the Caribbean, including Suriname. Unlike wealthier Muslims in Trinidad and Guyana, Surinamese Muslims belong mostly to the low- and middle-income groups and are predominantly agricultural workers. There are several mosques spread all over the country.

In other countries, Muslims are called to prayer from the top of the minaret, or tower, of the mosque. In Suriname, however, where the majority of Muslims are Javanese, they follow the custom of their homeland and await the sound of a drum. Javanese life centers around the home, which a Muslim leader blesses before the family moves in.

Christian ministry to the poor is especially important since about half the population is estimated to live below the poverty line.

Prayer Starters
* There are several Christian denominations active in the country but the Gospel has been slow to take root among both Javanese and Hindustani Muslims, who are mostly Sunni Muslims. Pray that the Jesus film, Genesis project and others can reach the Muslim population. The “Jesus Film” has been extensively used in film showings and on television in 4 major languages.

* The Jesus Students Suriname Movement (JSSM) has been working in Suriname for over a decade. They ask prayer for more small groups, especially at the University of Suriname.

* Pray that Suriname’s people will read their Sranan Tongo New Testaments, allowing the light of God’s Word to shine in the darkness.

* Roughly a third of the population left for the Netherlands after independence. Therefore we also need to pray for the Surinamese in Holland to be touched by the Gospel where many are Muslim and who built the first Jama Masjid mosque in Amsterdam.

Interesting Facts about Suriname:
Although Islam was introduced into Suriname by the Africans, most were “Christianized”. Today about 15 percent of the Hindustani are Muslims.

Suriname made a vital contribution towards Allied victory in the Second World War because it supplied the bauxite from which aluminum was made to construct aircraft.

The Galibi Nature Reserve was established in 1969 to protect the nesting beaches of sea turtles.

The first Jama Masjid in Netherlands was built in 1981 by Muslims of Suriname who settled in Holland. The new mosque was built in 2005 and includes an Islamic Cultural Center.

Most homes do not have a knocker or a bell - you just go in (yes they are a friendly people).

A casual conversation is initiated by a handshake, and good friends are greeted with a brasa (hug).

History of Suriname (World Factbook)
First explored by the Spaniards in the 16th century and then settled by the English in the mid-17th century, Suriname became a Dutch colony in 1667. With the abolition of slavery in 1863, workers were brought in from India and Java. Independence from the Netherlands was granted in 1975. Five years later the civilian government was replaced by a military regime that soon declared a socialist republic. It continued to exert control through a succession of nominally civilian administrations until 1987, when international pressure finally forced a democratic election. In 1990, the military overthrew the civilian leadership, but a democratically elected government - a four-party New Front coalition - returned to power in 1991 and has ruled since, expanding to eight parties in 2005.

Economy of Suriname
The economy is dominated by the mining industry, which accounts for more than a third of GDP and subjects government revenues to mineral price volatility. The short-term economic outlook depends on the government’s ability to control inflation and on the development of projects in the bauxite and gold mining sectors. Suriname’s economic prospects for the medium term will depend on continued commitment to responsible monetary and fiscal policies and to the introduction of structural reforms to liberalize markets and promote competition.

Statistics on Suriname
Population: 475,996 (July 2008 est.)

Life Expectancy at Birth: 73.48 years

Ethnic groups: Hindustani (also known locally as “East Indians”; their ancestors emigrated from northern India in the latter part of the 19th century) 37%, Creole (mixed white and black) 31%, Javanese 15%, “Maroons” (their African ancestors were brought to the country in the 17th and 18th centuries as slaves and escaped to the interior) 10%, Amerindian 2%, Chinese 2%, white 1%, other 2%

Religions: Hindu 27.4%, Protestant 25.2% (predominantly Moravian), Roman Catholic 22.8%, Muslim 19.6%, indigenous beliefs 5%

Languages: Dutch (official), English (widely spoken), Sranang Tongo (Surinamese, sometimes called Taki-Taki, is native language of Creoles and much of the younger population and is lingua franca among others), Hindustani (a dialect of Hindi), Javanese

Literacy: 89.6%

HT: 30 Days Muslim Prayer Focus

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