Angelic Caroline Alihusain del Castilho, the Republic of Suriname’s ambassador to Indonesia promoted her country during a recent cultural event, saying that Javanese culture had influenced her country in many ways.
“When you come to Suriname, the first influence you will see is Javanese food or any other ethnic foods mixed into every menu,” del Castilho said, adding that the country had every Javanese dish from pecel, a dish with peanut sauce seasoning, to soto, curry soup.
She said that in almost every area of Suriname, there are Javanese food stalls that locals call warung, the same of its kinds found here in Indonesia.
Besides this cultural influence, in politics, the Javanese in Suriname made their move very early after the country gained independence and can today be found in almost every sector in the Suriname government.
Suriname is a country in northern South America. Its geographical size is only around 165,000 square kilometers, and it has a population of approximately 470,000 people, concentrated mostly on the country’s north coast near the capital city, Paramibo.
“You will taste a little Indonesia in Suriname. That makes us unique compared to other South American countries,” Angelic said.
The Javanese in Suriname have also held onto many traditions including wayang (shadow puppet) shows and gamelan (Javanese orchestra), as well as other cultural expressions such as jaran kepang (horse dancing) and tayuban (courtship dance), passing the traditions from generation to generation.
She said that for such occasions, the Javanese Surinamese wear traditional Javanese dress like kebaya for women and batik patterned clothing for men.
These traditions were passed down by the first generation Javanese who were brought to the country to work on plantations between 1890 and 1939 by the Dutch, who had also colonized Suriname.
“Today the Javanese make up around 20 percent of our population or around 90 thousand people,” del Castilho said.
According to the embassy, fewer than 100 Surinamese nationals currently live in Indonesia with at least 25 living in Jakarta. The majority of Surinamese in Indonesia are students, some with scholarships doing scientific studies and others studying Indonesian culture.
There is also a group of around 200 Indonesians with a Surinamese background as they have migrated from the South American country, or have migrated to Suriname for some before returning to Indonesia.
Eline Moh. Upie Taruna, a Javanese man born in Suriname, who is currently living in Jakarta said there were some differences between the Javanese culture in Suriname and in Indonesia.
“The Javanese in Suriname hold onto old Javanese traditions because they have been isolated from the modernization of the culture,” Eline said.
The 55-year-old man said that although they were far away from their homeland, the Javanese worked hard to maintain their traditions from generation to generation.
“They are happy when they receive any cultural gifts like wayang or batik from their relatives in Indonesia, because those things are very precious and difficult to find in Suriname,” Eline said.
Eline, who is married to a Surinamese woman, also sends Javanese cultural icons to relatives in Suriname.
Mary Indarmawan, another Suriname-born Jakartan who lives in Cinere, Depok, said that most of Javanese traditions were kept very well by her family in Suriname.
“We can find everything about Java in Suriname,” the 65-year-old woman said, adding that the difference between the Javanese Indonesians and Javanese Surinamese was that those in Suriname cannot speak Jawa Alus, the Javanese language reserved for speaking with elders and respected people