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People, Languages & Religions in Suriname


Suriname has one of the most cosmopolitan populations in the world. The largest ethnic group is the Hindustani (also known locally as "East Indians"), whose ancestors emigrated from northern India in the latter part of the 19th century, with 37% of the total population.

Ranking a close second is the Creole community (mixed white and black), with 31%. The Javanese constitute about 15%. Maroons, whose African ancestors were brought to the country in the 17th and 18th centuries as slaves but escaped to the interior lands, make up 10%. Amerindians, Suriname's original inhabitants, form 2% of the population and include the Arawak, Carib and Warrau groups along the riverbanks and coastal plains, and Trios, Akurios and Wyanas along the upper reaches of the rivers.

Chinese account for 2% of the populace; whites for 1%; and other groups for the remaining 2%.


An exceptional variety of languages is spoken in Suriname. Dutch is the official language and it is used mainly in education, government, business and the media. Suriname became the third member of the Dutch Language Union in 2004. Dutch is spoken as a mother tongue by about 60% of the Surinamese, while most others speak it as a second or third language. In the capital Paramaribo, it is the main home language in two thirds of the households. Only in the interior of Suriname, Dutch is hardly known.

Sranan Tongo, a local creole language originally spoken by the Creole population group, is the most widely used language in the streets and often interchangeably with Dutch depending on the formality of the setting.

Surinamese Hindi, a dialect of Bhojpuri, is the third-most used language, spoken by the descendants of British Asian contract workers. Javanese is spoken by the descendants of Javanese contract workers.

The Maroon languages, somewhat intelligible with Sranan Tongo, include Saramaka, Paramakan, Ndyuka, Aukan, Kwinti and Matawai. Amerindian languages, spoken by Amerindians, include Carib and Arawak.

Hakka and Cantonese are spoken by the descendants of the Chinese contract workers. Mandarin is spoken by some few recent Chinese immigrants.

English, Spanish and Portuguese are also used. English is used in schools and business purposes, while Spanish and Portuguese are spoken by South American residents and their descendants and also taught in schools.

The public discourse about Suriname's languages is a part of ongoing debates about the country's national identity. While Dutch is perceived as a remnant of colonialism by some, the use of the popular Sranan Tongo became associated with nationalist politics after its public use by former dictator Dési Bouterse in the 1980s, and groups descended from runaway slaves like the Maroons resent it. Some propose to change the national language to English, so as to improve links to the Caribbean and North America, or to Spanish, as a nod to Suriname's geography.


Religious freedom is guaranteed by the constitution, and there is no state or dominant religion. According to government statistics, 45% of the population is Christian. Approximately 23% are Roman Catholic, 16% are Moravian, and 6% are of other denominations, including Lutheran, Dutch Reformed and the Evangelical churches.

Hindu is practiced by about 27% of the inhabitants and Islam by about 20%. Indigenous tribal religionists make up around 6% of the populace.





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