Creole Jews

Negotiating Community in Colonial Suriname


This study presents a refined analysis of Surinames-Jewish identifications. The story of the Surinamese Jews is one of a colonial Jewish community that became ever more interwoven with the local environment of Suriname. Ever since their first settlement, Jewish migrants from diverse backgrounds, each with their own narrative of migration and settlement, were faced with challenges brought about by this new environment; a colonial order and, in essence, a race-based slave society. A place, furthermore, that was constantly changing: economically, socially, demographically, politically and culturally.

Against this background, the Jewish community transformed from a migrant community into a settlers’ community. Both the Portuguese and High German Jews adopted Paramaribo as their principal place of residence from the late eighteenth century onwards. Radical economic changes—most notably the decline of the Portuguese-Jewish planters’ class—not only influenced the economic wealth of the Surinamese Jews as a group, but also had considerable impact on their social status in Suriname’s society.

The story of the Surinamese Jews is a prime example of the many ways in which a colonial environment and diasporic connections put their stamp on everyday life and affected the demarcation of community boundaries and group identifications. The Surinamese-Jewish community debated, contested and negotiated the pillars of a Surinamese-Jewish group identity not only among themselves but also with the colonial authorities.

This book is based on the author’s dissertation.

Prices from (excl. VAT):

Add to Cart
Wieke Vink (1971) obtained her Master’s in social history at the Erasmus University Rotterdam. She then combined PhD research with an assignment at the Dutch Department of Integration policy (Ministry of VROM). Vink received her PhD from the Erasmus University in 2008; for her dissertation she received the Preamium Erasmianum Research Prize 2009.
"... Based upon extensive archival research and a wide range of published and unpublished sources in Dutch and English, Vink's study explores the social history and the trajectory of the Jewish ethnic groups who made their home in Suriname, analyzing changes in their way of life, the fluctuation of identities, and their status in society over the span of three centuries. Vink's elegant prose eases our passage through thickets of bureaucracy and intercommunal rivalries, separating them from one another with surgical skill while clarifying their relationships with one another. This is an important book for Latin American and Jewish sociology and history."American Historical Review (December 2011)
Acknowledgements v
List of figures and tables xi
Glossary xiii

I Introducing Jewishness, creolization and the colonial domain Memories of bygone days 1
Connecting Judaism, creolization and colonialism 5
Browsing through history: On periodization and archival research 10
Outline 14
Some notes on terminology 16


II A colonial Jewish community in the making Pattern of migration and places of settlement 21
Port of origin: Amsterdam 21
Dynamics and dimensions of a small-scale Jewish community 23
The birth of a Jewish community in Suriname 24
Growth 26
Colonial adventures, poor migrants and the Amsterdam connection 29
Decline 34
Places of settlement 37
Jodensavanne: Heart of the Portuguese Jewish planters’ community 37
The multi-ethnic environment of Paramaribo 41

III Making a living in the colony
Social context, economic activities and cultural life 45
Economic activities 47
The fate of the Jewish planters’ class 47
Reorientation: Making a living in an urban colonial environment 53
A community losing ground: Economic hardship and declining fi nta revenues 57
Socio-cultural life in the colony: Societies and lodges 59
Societies and lodges 59
Informal interactions and cross-cultural contacts 63

IV Colonial confi gurations and diasporic connections
Patterns of rule, civil status and religious authority 69
Authority and citizenship 69
Political structures in Suriname’s plantocracy 69
Controlling the community: The Jewish privileges 71
Negotiating civil rights (1816-1825) 78
After 1825: Between marginalization and political domination 82
The limits of tolerance 87
Diasporic connections 91
The Chief Commission of Israelite Affairs 93
Negotiating the Askamoth 95
Dutch rabbis in Suriname 95
How a community was forged 101


V Echoes of the other Locating Jews and imagining Jewish difference in Suriname 107
Perspectives on Jewish whiteness, dominance and colonial ‘otherness’ 109
The ‘white man’: A Maroon’s perspective 109
Echoes of the ‘other’: The image of the cruel Jewish planter 113
The Surinamese Jew as colonial ‘other’? A painting by P.J. Benoit (1839) 125
‘White but Jewish’: Locating Jews in Suriname’s colour system 130
Shem’s legacy: An undefi ned status in the age of colonial expansion 132
Confronting Jewish difference: The case of the civil guard 134
From ‘white’ to ‘native’: Jewish and the senses 138

VI Spaces of death, mirror of the living The cemetery as a site of creolization 147
Spaces of death, mirror of the living 148
A tour of Suriname’s Jewish cemeteries 152
Cassipora and Jodensavanne cemeteries 152
Jewish cemeteries and creole grave markers in Paramaribo 160
Critical events at the Surinamese-Jewish cemeteries 165
The burial of the coloured Jew Joseph de David Cohen Nassy 166
‘Bad’ Jews at the Beth Haim? The burial of Isaq Simons (1825) 171
Creating a precedent: Mr Pinto and Mrs Pinto-Fernandes (1891) 172
Dario Saavedra (1911): Allegro and andante 175
Inappropriate ceremonies? The burial of Coenraad Samuels (1913) 179
Sarah’s Hofje 181
The cemetery as a site of creolization? 183

VII New World identifi cations, Old World sensibilitiesOn eliteness, religiosity and social status 187
Colonial elites and religious superiority 188
Negotiating an elite status 196
Good Jews 196
Making and breaking boundaries 196
Forced inclusion and community control 196
Marrying the other (I): High German-Portuguese mixed marriages 201
Belonging and widowhood: The story of the widows Da Fonseca and Levij Hart 205
Blurring boundaries and prevailing notions of difference 209
Reluctant overtures 210
In search of authenticity and differentiation 212
Colonial nostalgia 214

VIII Black, white, Jewish? Colour, Halakha and the limits of Jewishness 221
Racialized boundaries: The shifting status of coloured Jews 223
Coloured Jews and Halakha 223
The story of Darhe Jessarim 229
Marrying the other (II): White-coloured mixed marriages
and dissolving colour lines 237
The last boundary: Jews and non-Jews, coloureds and Christians 243
Marrying the other (III): Jewish-Christian mixed marriages and
the revival of Halakha 243
Defi ning Surinamese Jewishness: Between colour and Halakha 253

IX Conclusion: The Creole, the colonial and the metropole 259
Delimiting ‘white’ creolization 260
The colonial and the diaspora 265
Creole Jews or European whites? The semantics of colonizers and Creoles 266

Bibliography 271
Index 295