Suriname: A new publication on memorial (shared) heritage in Paramaribo

Monument for Johannes Helstone on Kerkplein, Paramaribo (photo: Eric Kastelein).

Suriname: A new publication on memorial (shared) heritage in Paramaribo

A three-year research project into people and events that have been memorialised in the capital of Suriname for the past 200 years was recently published.

The bust of Johan Eilerts de Haan (1912), the memorial stone for Mrs. Bos-Visser (1935) and the monument to Johannes Helstone (1948): these are some examples of the 111 memorials identified in Paramaribo, which today represent often forgotten histories. These stories are now told in Eric Kastelein’s new book (in Dutch), ‘Oog in oog met Paramaribo. Verhalen over het herinneringserfgoed’, published by LM Publishers. This work offers an innovative perspective on shared heritage and history of Suriname and the Netherlands.

An extensive research project

Eric started his project by establishing contacts with Stephen Fokké (Stichting Gebouwd Erfgoed Suriname), Laddy van Putten (Surinaams Museum) and Johan Roozer (Surinamese Ministry of Education, Science and Culture). Their network and cooperation were of great importance during the project. It also involved extensive research in archives and libraries in Suriname and the Netherlands. An important tool was Delpher, a website managed by the National Library of the Netherlands that provides access to, among other items, 12 million Dutch-language newspaper pages. To manage the large amount of information collected about the memorials, Eric created a database that contains a record of the literature found for each monument. Another task was the creation of a photographic record, which required developing a method to systematically photograph all the different memorials in the city.

A controversial monument

Many discoveries were made during the research. For instance, the Royal Collections of the Netherlands in the Hague has 60 letters that reveal that there were many problems and arguments surrounding the statue of Queen Wilhelmina, unveiled in 1923. Artist Gerard van Lom and the members of the committee in Suriname did not spare each other in their arguments. Besides that correspondence, there is also the photo album of chairman S.D. de Vries, which contains 14 unique photos of the unveiling of the statue.

The forgotten story of Monsignor Wulfingh and Majella

One of the many forgotten histories is the story of Monsignor Wulfingh and the leper colony Majella, which he founded in 1895 in Paramaribo. Until then, those with leprosy were sent away to the village of Batavia, three days away from Paramaribo. Wulfingh bought the land and had houses, a library, a music school and a church built there, allowing sick people to be brought to the city. To meet the concerns of residents, the area was enclosed with a fence. Visitors, such as family and nurses, had access through the Majella Bridge, which was closed with a gate. That stone bridge still exists today, however unknown to most and inaccessible. Wulfingh died in 1906 and received a bust in 1909. And after the Majella closed in 1964, the bust was relocated in 1969 to the courtyard of the Msgr. Wulfingh School.

This project was supported by DutchCulture’s Shared Cultural Heritage Matching Fund, the Netherlands Embassy in Suriname, the Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds and the University of Leiden.

This article was written by Eric Kastelein and translated by Sofia Lovegrove.

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