By Ray Chickrie
Caribbean News Now contributor
PARAMARIBO, Suriname — Suriname celebrated its 43 independence anniversary from the Netherlands on Sunday and this year’s celebration was unique. The Ashanti King of Ghana, Otumfei Osei Tutu II, is in the country for the event and on Saturday had an emotional moment after he visited the heart of Suriname’s Africa, Brokopondo, saying, “While I was entering Brokopondo, a young man spoke with me in my language.
“From that moment on, I knew that I was among my people.”
The visit of the Ashanti King of Ghana is of historical significance, especially for the Surinamers of African descent. Their West African and especially their Ghanaian heritage has been well preserved among the five nations who lived a life free of slavery after they won successful wars of liberation against the Dutch.
They are the Akkan/Ndyuka, Saamaka, Matawai, Aluku, Paramaka, and Winti. The Akkan is the largest group, and the language is still spoken in Suriname today.
In the interior of the country, they are governed by African traditional chiefs in semi-autonomous communities; however, these descendants of Maroons have issues with the constitution of Suriname that denies them the ancestral land that they liberated since the 1770s.
The king said that he is very pleased with the fact that the West African and, in particular, the Ghanaian “culture brought to Suriname has not been lost,” and he appealed to the traditional authority to maintain it. The Ghanaian king praised Suriname for making great strides in preserving its African heritage.
District commissioner of Brokopondo, Frederik Finisi, received the king and presented him with several gifts.
“I hope that once you see this couch you will think back to your visit to Suriname, the district of Brokopondo, and the president of our country,” Finisi said in the Saramaccan language.
The Granman of the Saramaccan clan, Albert Krishnadas, cited historical bonds between Suriname and Africa and expressed his hope that it will be developed further.
The king urged everyone to work to advance stronger ties between the two countries, and he invited President Desi Bouterse to visit Ghana.
On Friday, at the Anton de Kom University of Suriname, the king delivered a lecture titled, “The Role of a Traditional King in a Contemporary Nation State”.
The lecture was well received by a large audience, and the University of Suriname is looking to collaborate with King Tutu II to install a chairperson to head an African Diaspora Studies and Ghanaian History and Culture at the Anton de Kom University of Suriname. The king immediately pledged his support for the project.
The audience and several speakers emphasized the need for more information on the ‘roots’ of many Surinamers in the African continent and especially “our history with Ghana”.
Suriname is also looking to benefit from Ghana’s experience in heritage tourism, Vice-President Ashwin Adhin said during his meeting with the king.
Suriname is looking for stronger collaboration with the land that most of its black population originated from: Ghana.
Bilateral cooperation between Suriname and Ghana still remains behind and mostly due to geographical distance, air connectivity and high shipping fees. While the two countries have signed some bilateral agreements in the past, commerce between the two countries remains poor. Ghana has no diplomatic mission in the Caribbean area, and the Ghana ambassador to Paramaribo is based in Brazil.
But the two countries have been “talking” for some time now about an airbridge between Suriname and Ghana that can feed into the Caribbean and North Brazil. Guyana is also looking to open this air frontier. Suriname and Ghana are also looking to expand trade and commerce and agriculture. Ghana has a new state of the art airport and Accra is one of Africa’s top hubs for fast and easy connectivity.
Ghana Air will soon again take off after the government makes a decision about bids from Turkish Airlines, Ethiopian Airlines and others.
Meanwhile, in Suriname, the Ghanaian king had a busy schedule. He received a red carpet welcome at the airport when he arrived on a private jet with an entourage of 40 people. He was welcomed at the Presidential Palace by Bouterse, where they held talks. The king also laid wreaths at several monuments in the city.