October 31, 2018

Suriname: Stories of struggle behind the history of civil infrastructure

Brokopondo district, construction of the road to the Brownsberg.

Publication on the development of civil infrastructure in Suriname after 1945 currently in the making, to appear in 2019.

A shared history in infrastructure
Infrastructure is an important aspect of Suriname’s cultural landscape. In 2015, a book was published that describes the country’s history of civil infrastructure before 1945, consisting of plantations, canals, sluices and railroads. An upcoming book by the same authors, Hillebrand Ehrenburg and Marcel Meyer, focuses on the development of civil infrastructure after 1945. The book describes the big picture of the country’s infrastructural development, but also the many individual projects and players in the building sector at large. It pays tribute to the most important pioneers, who had to deal with the harsh conditions of swamps and tropical rain forests. The authors interviewed over forty people who played an important role in this history, such as civil servants, politicians, contractors and consultants. Their collective memories cover the entire span of almost 75 years. Further research for the project has mainly been conducted in public and private libraries in Suriname and at the National Archives in Suriname and the Netherlands.

Stories of failure and struggle
The book tells of the enormous investments that have transformed what for the most part was originally a pristine landscape. Large areas have been converted into rice polders and towns; a hydropower project has been realised, and roads have been constructed for Suriname’s economic development. In addition, the book describes the many ideas that weren’t accepted and the projects that failed. In the 1950s and 60s, expectations about the exploitation of the country’s huge natural resources and the abundance of development funds led to ambitious plans. The euphoric mood increased even further with Suriname’s independence from the Netherlands in 1975. But soon after this, the mood changed. A series of great disappointments hit the country. Starting around 2000, the future began to look brighter, which led to a return in infrastructural investments. But since 2015, the tide seems to have turned.

The book will be published at the end of 2019 by LM Publishers.

This project is supported by DutchCulture’s Shared Cultural Heritage Matching Fund.