Preservation of funerary heritage in Paramaribo, Suriname


Two Dutch specialists, Leon Bok on behalf of the Cultural Heritage Agency (RCE) and René ten Dam on behalf of Stichting (Dodenakkers Foundation), visited Suriname from 23 October to 11 November. This visit was requested by Stichting Gebouwd Erfgoed Suriname (Built Heritage Foundation Suriname, SGES) to gain support regarding the preservation of funerary heritage in Paramaribo. Burial pressure is extremely high and many graves are in danger of being cleared.

During a two-day course, participants exchanged knowledge on how to recognise special grave monuments and graves of important Surinamese people. To this end, SGES and foundation launched the project "Names from the past". The kick-off of the project took place during the first course day and is aimed at preserving the graves of important Surinamese people and, at the same time, drawing attention to their stories and save these for future generations.

In the presence of SGES’s director Stephen Fokké, the specialists visited a large number of cemeteries and held several discussions with various stakeholders in the field of funerary heritage, in particular administrators and managers of various cemeteries in Paramaribo. The visits to the cemeteries in Paramaribo were mainly to get an impression of the issues surrounding grave clearance and endangered funerary heritage. For reference, some local cemeteries in the Paramaribo and Commewijne districts were also visited. Since many of the original plantations also contain small cemeteries, the specialists also visited several plantations. In particular, Mariënburg (Directors' Cemetery), Rust en Werk (cemeteries of founders, directors and local community) and Wederzorg.

People holding umbrellas standing in between graves
Image: ©RCE
Participans of the course visit one of Paramaribo's historical cemeteries

Materials and symbolism at cemeteries Jodensavanne

Furthermore, at the request of the Jodensavanne Foundation, research was carried out into materials and symbolism at the three cemeteries falling within the Jodensavanne World Heritage Site. An inventory of materials and symbolism was carried out at as part of a maintenance plan regarding the grave monuments. The gravestones are mostly made of hard stone, but marble is also frequently found, in some cases heavily polluted and therefore difficult to recognise. A few gravestones made of sandstone have also been found. Many gravestones have a brick rim or substructure. A separate report of the inventory is being prepared for the Jodensavanne Foundation. The older cemetery at Cassipora is not only more difficult to reach but also more difficult to survey due to the site’s conditions. Most of the grave monuments are covered by thick foliage, making a complete inventory impossible. However, the specialists gained sufficient insights of the issues concerning keeping the grave monuments visible and the fact that some graves are in danger of sliding away due to the slope on which they are situated.

Funerary heritage management in the future

During the visit, it became clear that the boards and managers of cemeteries face a great challenge on a daily basis. They are often aware of the cultural-historical values of their cemeteries, but they experience little support regarding the necessary knowledge and approach. Partly because of this, none of the cemeteries visited to date has integrated the management of funerary heritage into its management. However, the approach to funerary heritage at the Jewish and Creole cemeteries on Jodensavanne and Cassipora may serve as an example.

A report will be drawn up of the visit with recommendations and advice, and SGES will develop handouts in collaboration with Dodenakkers and the RCE. These will contain tips for maintenance for each type of material. A covenant will also be drawn up, in which the signatories (SGES, cemetery managers and administrators) undertake to commit themselves to preserving funerary heritage. This visit has also provided both Dutch specialists with new knowledge, which they will use in their advice for the Dutch heritage field. This project was carried out within the framework of the International Heritage Cooperation programme.