Surinamese funerals

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People of many different ethnicities live in Suriname, including Javanese, Indo-Surinamese and Creole. This article is about the most common funeral rituals of the Creole. This group can be divided into urban Creole and Maroons (also called ‘bush Creole’). Creole are generally followers of Christianity, the religion that was brought to the region during the colonial period. Often, their rituals also include elements of the Winti religion. Traditional Creole-Surinamese funerals are exuberant, with a great deal of singing, dancing and open expression of emotions.

“Traditional Surinamese funerals are exuberant, with a great deal of singing, dancing and emotions”

Last offices associations

Around and during the funeral, there is an important role for the last offices associations or washing groups that take care of bathing the deceased.

Herdenkingspark Westgaarde in Amsterdam has a special washing room for this purpose. The members of the last offices association, the dinari, may come from different churches, Protestant or Roman Catholic. Joining a last offices group is only possible by invitation from the last offices group itself. This involves a strict selection procedure in advance. The members also have a duty of confidentiality. The details of the last offices pass from generation to generation. They are not recorded in writing but are passed on within the association in detail and always strictly followed. Members of a last offices association are volunteers. They are symbolically rewarded with a piece of bread.

“During the funeral, the last offices association or washing group plays an important role. Members of a last offices association are volunteers”

Ritual washing

For tending to the deceased, the last offices associations usually make use of the facilities of the funeral home, as in Herdenkingspark Westgaarde. After the first preparations, during which, among other things, prayers are recited, the family comes to say farewell. The members of the last offices association use handkerchiefs to prevent tears from falling on the deceased, since this could create a connection with the spirit world. When the family has departed, the ritual bathing begins. This ensures that the deceased will be clean when meeting his or her ancestors and prevents the soul from continuing to haunt loved ones. The bathing also ensures that the deceased looks as good as possible. During the washing, there are also prayers, singing and drinking. Finally, the deceased is beautifully dressed.

“During the washing, there are also prayers recited, songs sung and drinking”

Nighttime wake

On the evening before the funeral, there is a wake, the broko dey or singi neti. This begins at eight in the evening and traditionally lasts until five in the morning. Often, someone from the last offices association attends to lead prayers and songs. Memories are shared and anecdotes told. Visitors bring their own food and drinks in order to keep the costs low for the family and as a sign of unity.

Singing and dancing

On the day of the funeral, a small service is held in the morning in the funeral home for close family members. Sometimes, the deceased is brought home again for a last farewell to the familiar surroundings. The members of the last offices association or pall bearers’ association then bring the coffin into the assembly hall while they sing traditional Christian hymns. They also often perform irregular dance steps: what is called the krepsi-step or parade dance. This tradition probably arose to confuse evil spirits. Sometimes, those in attendance dance as well, so that the mood is nearly festive. The priest or pastor then leads prayers, there is more singing, and blessings are recited. Everyone walks past the coffin to say farewell, and then those in attendance follow the coffin and the family, while singing, to the grave. Sometimes, a Surinamese brass band performs for the reception or during the procession.

“The krepsi-step or parade dance arose to confuse evil spirits. Sometimes, those in attendance dance as well.”

Food for the deceased

Eight days after the funeral, there is another gathering of mourners: the aiti dey. On this day, according to the Winti faith, the soul of the deceased is present. People therefore prepare all kinds of delicacies for the dead.  Sometimes, a last gathering of mourners takes place after six weeks, the siksi wiki, with which the first period of intense grieving is concluded.

Winti rituals

For many Maroons, the Winti religion is highly important. Within Winti, there are different schools, each of which has its own rituals, with a central role for magic. All the prescribed actions and rituals are focused on guaranteeing that the soul of the deceased rests in peace. Maroons who are also Christians believe that the soul of the deceased returns to God, but shortly after death continues to haunt the area around the deceased and their loved ones. Rituals around a Maroon funeral ensure that the wandering soul can leave the Earth satisfied and at peace.

“Within Winti, magic plays a major role.”

Followers of the Winti religion hold tightly to the belief that nothing may be arranged before death. A coffin is therefore only made after the death. A traditional Maroon funeral is held outside the village in the woods. Because this is not possible in the Netherlands, Maroons sometimes have the deceased returned to Suriname. The costs of a funeral in Suriname are high. When the family of the deceased cannot raise the funds for the funeral, the community contributes to make repatriation possible.

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