Author: Andries Zijlstra
Date: 04-27-05 05:20
With the imminent abolition of slavery, a large mortality and escapes under the slaves in Suriname there was a large need for workers on the Surinamese plantations in the Fifties of the 19th century. Between 1853 and 1873 2780 Chinese left with destination Suriname. The personal data of these immigrants were taken at arrival in immigration registers moored by the Surinamese government.
The recruitment in 1853 of a group of 18 Chinese by the government of Java for contract labour on the government plantation Catharina Sophia in Suriname formed the beginning of a period of 20 years in which Chinese would be contracted as workers in Suriname.
Growers in Suriname had appealed that year, apprehension for a future shortage to workers, at the government in Suriname for support at bringing in workers. Although the Netherlands had not yet abolished the slavery at that moment, this just took place in 1863, experiences of the English and French abolition of slavery will have inspired the necessary fear. On the English colony British Guyana approximately 66 per cent of the slaves left the plantations too. Also large mortality and escapes under the slaves on Suriname caused shortage on the labour market
The recruitment of the first group of Chinese contract workers from Java in 1853 was expensive. As a result of these high costs a second group of Chinese contract workers came from China. After the “agreement” of Nanking with the English in 1842 China was “open” for the West and legalised emigration in 1850. The possibility of fleeing their country via opened Chinese port cities, the Portuguese Macao and the British Hongkong, was especially used by the ' Hakka '. This minority had been dissipated by the mongolian in the thirteenth century from the North to the South of China, were they lived in conflict with the autochthonal population. Much of the Chinese contract workers in Suriname came from this group. (much more information on Hakka can be found in these Forums)
Initially the recruitment of Chinese contract workers was regulated by the government in Suriname. After the arrival of the second group Chinese contract workers in 1858, the recruitment was left to private initiative. A part of the recruitment was later regulated by the “Immigration Company”, which was established in 1865, in Amsterdam. This Company, with an office in Hongkong, recruited on behalf of third parties, for a commission fee, contract workers in China. Already 4 years later was the last shipment by this Company because Hongkong closed for recruitment other than for British colonies.
After 1874 no Chinese contract workers were recruited anymore for Suriname. This can partly be explained by the official prohibition of contract migration by China, and by the closure of ports such as Macao and Hongkong. The main objection against the Chinese contract workers formed the high recruitment costs and the short period for their contract. After 5 years the contract was not extended by many Chinese, and they returned to their homes. The reason for returning home formed frequently the absence of Chinese women. These had no authorisation of the clan chiefs to emigrate with their spouses. With this measure the clan chiefs hoped to force the man to send money, and to return after the contract.
In the period 1853 - 1873 approximately 2780 Chinese contract workers were transported to Suriname. In 1905, there were only 1160 Chinese still present in Suriname. This decrease was the consequence of a relatively high mortality figure, which was in the years between 1870 and 1880 above the 3 percent. Extensive remigration and strong assimilation with the Surinamese population also contributed to this low figure. Till the WWII the Chinese community in Suriname would grow slowly.