If you’re not from the Netherlands, you may have never heard of Suriname. Situated in the northeast of South America, between Guyana and French Guiana, Suriname was the last outpost of Dutch colonialism—not counting the still-in-play islands of the Dutch Antilles.
Suriname was founded as a plantation state/outpost, and its contemporary ethnic make up reflects the full reach of the Dutch empire. The country’s meager population of 500,000 inhabitants includes the descendants of people from every inhabited continent and social strata, including:
West African slaves, Indian laborers, Indonesian merchants, Dutch civil servants, French and British plantation owners, Chinese-Javanese traders, Amerindian hunter gatherers, and every possible mixture of the above groups yet conceived by man and woman.
On the margins, the mix grows even thicker, and includes a few Southern European Jews who found their way to South America via the Netherlands, some Lebanese Christians, and even a handful of South Koreans who moved here after their civil war (see the monument to Surinamese Korean War veterans in our slide show to the right).
Suriname’s newest immigrants arrived from northern Brazil. They started coming here in the last few decades, lured by the promise of a fortune beneath Suriname’s soil.
Empire: Migrants is on a tight production schedule: we’re setting up quick shoots in Brazil, Suriname, and Ghana, and won’t have time to edit our footage until this summer.
Luckily, the Public Archive of Espirito Santo took us in for a presentation about our work anyway. We struggled our way through an hour long explanation of Empire while showing video stills and video clips, as you can see in the photos.
Special thanks to Thiago Moulin for being our translator that evening! Photos: Carla Caliman.
An American filmmaker and filmed the Dutch town of Holland, in Santa Leopoldina for a documentary that seeks the roots of Dutch colonization in the world. The video will be presented on Monday, the 17h, the State Public File.”
…are our new favorite people. Behold 9 video stills from the latest film in the “Empire” series.
This new film tells the story of Holanda, an isolated community in rural Brazil. Established by a handful of Dutch immigrants in the mid 1800’s, Holanda has endured into the 21st century through a combination of rugged determination and flagrant inbreeding.
Holanda’s girls are the community’s pride and joy. Most don’t work the land like the rest of their families. Instead, they stay inside and study, or pass long hours painting their nails and watching television.
Their leisure comes at a price. Expectations are high for the latest generation of Holanda’s women. For the first time in the town’s history, parents are hoping to see their children receive university acceptance letters and pursue careers in the city. They are being nudged out of the nest, and encouraged to find a life outside of Holanda.
Principal photography in Brazil wrapped on March 24th, 2012.
Holanda’s 19th-century colonists were not the first Dutch people to arrive in Espirito Santo. According to local history, Dutch explorers spent much of the 17th century trying (and failing) to capture the twin port cities of Vitoria and Vila Velha.
On March 10th, 1625, a force of Dutch West India Company contractors landed in Vitoria intent on plunder. The band was led by the legendary Piet Hein, who is referred to as a hero in the Netherlands and as a pirate in Brazil. Hein and his men met their match that day in the form of a woman named Maria Ortiz. As the invaders stormed up the city’s main staircase, Ortiz and her fellow townspeople greeted them with buckets of boiling water and excrement. The Dutch left in a hurry, severely scalded and stinking of shit.
The Dutch made a second attempt in 1643. Their target was Vitoria’s sister city, Vila Velha. They made better headway this time, and even managed to establish a settlement at the base of one of the city’s tallest hills, in the shadow of the Convento da Penha. Unfortunately, the Dutch capitalist ethos was trumped by the power of Catholic mysticism. On September 22nd, as the Dutch looked on in terror, the modest Convento transformed into a glittering castle. An army of soldiers in full arms and armor appeared on the Convento/castle’s battlements. The Dutch fled to their ships, chased by angry villagers. 40 Dutchmen died on that day.
The Convento da Penha has since transformed back into its original state, and is open to the public. Our visit there is chronicled in the photos to the right.
In the mid-nineteenth century, after the abolition of the foreign slave trade, a newly independent Brazil was facing a population problem. The freshly-minted country was enormous and fertile, and yet almost no one wanted to move from the coasts to cultivate the interior. Enter waves of colonists from Europe, including a handful from the economic fringes of the Dutch provence of Zeeland.
Lured by the promise of prosperity, a few hundred of these Dutch migrants arrived in the state of Espirito Santo between 1858 and 1862. They carved out a place for themselves in the mountains, a Protestant enclave far from the coastal Catholics. They worked the land as best they could, and were rewarded by visits from snakes and malaria.
The settlers named their colony “Holanda” and we’ll be hanging out there for the next three weeks.