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Re-Imagining the Guyanas

 | 
Lawrence Aje
, 
Thomas Lacroix
, 
Judith Misrahi-Barak

Emancipating Memory

Telling Stories with Gold

Sonja Boon

Texte intégral

  • 1 Literally, ‘outside wife’; that is, mistress (Gloria Wekker, ‘Of Mimic Men and Unruly Women: Famil (...)

1The story that’s been passed down in the family goes something like this. One fine day in December 1913, my great-grandfather, Theodor Wilhelm Heinemann, left on a trip. Perhaps he kissed his buitenvrouw,1 my Creole great-grandmother Adolphina, goodbye. Perhaps he patted my seven-year-old grandfather’s head and chucked him under the chin, encouraging him to be a good boy. Perhaps his fingers traced his youngest daughter’s cheek. Perhaps he waved. Perhaps he didn’t. It doesn’t matter.

2What matters in the story is that my great-grandfather, a spokesperson for the Compagnie des Mines d’Or de la Guyane hollandaise, left Paramaribo, the capital city of what was then the Dutch colony of Suriname, aboard the S.S. Commewijne, a Dutch ship bound for New York, taking with him a trunk filled with gold. And then he was never seen or heard from again. More recent genealogical explorations suggest that he then boarded a ship bound for London. But after this the trail officially ran dry until December 31, 1918, when Theodor Wilhelm Heinemann died in Stuttgart, Germany, the city of his birth, at the age of 38.

3But really, when it comes down to it, those details of life and travel don’t matter, either. What matters, in this story, is the gold. Nobody knows how big that trunk was. Perhaps it was nothing more than a small sack of nuggets, a memento for his German family. Maybe it was a small box. Maybe it was something more: a chest, a safe, a large box. In Heinemann family lore, that gold—however much it was—must have gone to prop up the fortunes of the William Heinemann publishing house in the UK. After all, if you look at a portrait of William Heinemann, the company’s founder, there’s a clear family resemblance.

4‘Look at that forehead,’ they’d say. ‘And that proud nose. And the hairline. See those eyebrows and the way they frame those dark eyes?’

5‘That,’ my relatives would say, nodding, ‘is a true Heinemann head’.

6And they’d be right. There is a clear resemblance. He could be an ancestor. The fact that William Heinemann studied music and thought of pursuing a career as a classical musician just adds to the possibilities. My grandfather, too, was a professional musician. So am I. And so, perhaps, that’s what happened.

7But maybe that trunk of gold is bigger still. In my imagination, it’s a treasure chest, sparkling not with precious gems in all colours, but glowing with the unearthly and ethereal tawny yellow of pure gold. The chest is filled to the brim with nuggets of different sizes. I scoop them up, feel their weight, and let their warmth run between my fingers like sand. Maybe the trunk is one of those seventeenth-century explorers’ safe boxes made of wood and lined and girded with iron, with a large, heavy clasp on the outside. Maybe, I think, it’s like a trunk I saw at Fort Nieuw Amsterdam, with a secret opening and a giant padlock. Maybe my great-grandfather alone had the key.

8But what if there is no connection at ll to a fabled publishing house, no large iron-girded trunk? What if there was no gold at all?

9Maybe it was just a story, something concocted over time to make sense of my great-grandfather’s departure, a way to explain how a man could leave his partner and five young children alone in the jungle. Maybe it was something to make up for his absence, for the emptiness and the poverty, for the unrealized dreams that were meant to come true. Maybe it was about his other family—another partner and two more children and later grandchildren—in French Guiana, a family we didn’t know anything about until late in the twentieth century. Or maybe, and here my academic voice whispers in my ear, it’s a metaphor for colonialism itself, writ onto bodies and woven into the stories of those he left behind.

10I have one single photograph of my great-grandfather. It tells me that he was a tall, barrel-chested man with mottled skin. His hair is parted neatly on the right and slicked down against his head. He sports a trimmed mustache but his cheeks are clean shaven. There’s an air of satisfaction or, perhaps, self-congratulation about him. In the photo, he’s wearing a dark, three-piece suit, his right hand in a pocket, the chain of his pocket watch hanging across his chest. He’s looking into the distance, facing slightly to the left, his jowly chin raised in an air of authority and confidence. His photo reeks of success, I think, if photos can reek at all. But maybe I’m just projecting.

11In his stance, his bearing, and his body, I can see my uncles. I can see one of my cousins. The shape of the face. That nose—that Heinemann nose—the barrel chest, the forehead. That aura of self-confidence. I’ve seen all of them adopt this pose as well, their bodies and their bearings mirroring his.

12Whatever happened to my great-grandfather and his gold?

  • 2 Kuhn, Annette. ‘Memory texts and memory work: Performances of memory in and with visual media’. Me (...)

13As both natural resource and conceptual metaphor, gold has played a central role in the entangled histories of my family. Not only does it figure in stories of wealth creation, but it also appears in stories of migration, and in the complex and interwoven colonial intimacies that necessarily resulted from such migrations. In this autoethnographic essay, I draw on a range of sources, including historical newspapers, photographs, and other archival materials, family lore, memory work,2 scholarship on historical and contemporary gold mining in Suriname, and conceptual work on the idea of colonial haunting (Tuck and Ree 2013) and the politics of refusal (Tuck and Yang 2014a, 2014b) to consider the conceptual and imaginative relevance of gold in my family stories. In particular, I look at how gold has been mobilized in the service of loss and belonging, considering the intersections between place, environment, memory, and identity.

14Gold is an affective, ‘sticky’ (Ahmed 2004) substance. A product of transnational, colonial hauntings (Tuck & Ree 2013), it is something that finds its meaning in the asymmetrical encounters between peoples, landscapes, and histories. Gold threads it way through my Surinamese pasts—the German mining company executive with his Creole concubine, the Hindustani indentured labourer with the indentured child who grew up to become a watchmaker and goldsmith, the Chinese merchant, and the Hindustani grandmother with the French name who loved gold.

15Gold ghosts through these family histories, telling stories in DNA and longing, body and desire. But how can I reconcile these tangled histories of wealth, power, oppression, and abandonment? In this essay, I focus on two of these family stories, that of Theodor Wilhelm Heinemann and Aldophina Redout (my German great-grandfather and Afro-Surinamese Creole great-grandmother), and that of Henriette Mathilde U-A-Sai (my Surinamese Hindustani grandmother). Linking these stories together is my own, that of someone who carries history and memory in her skin, and wears the gold of her ancestors on her body.

  • 3 Voltaire, François-Marie-Arouet. Candide, ou l’optimisme, 1759.

16Gold has been central to myths of empire. The fabled Eldorado lured European explorers to the tangled, seething jungles of South America from the sixteenth century on. In the eighteenth century, Candide, the eternally optimistic hero of Voltaire’s eponymous novel, stumbled into a city of unimaginable riches. After walking a road pebbled with jewels and gold, he stayed at the local inn, a space as grand as any European palace. The local townspeople worshipped a god whom they thanked every day. There were no prisons and no courts. There was no religious persecution. There was no money. Instead, there was harmony, agreement, equality, and a commitment to learning. This, Candide learned, was Eldorado, a place of wonder, hope, and abundance.3

  • 4 Hoogbergen, Wim and Kruijt, Dirk. ‘Gold, “Garimpeiros” and Maroons: Brazilian Migrants and Ethnic (...)

17Researchers pinpoint the first recorded explorations for gold to the eighteenth century, right around the time that the fictional Candide was gallivanting around the continent with his loyal servant Cacambo.4 In the second half of the nineteenth century, the Surinamese government encouraged small-scale gold mining to provide employment for newly-emancipated former slaves. The gold rush that followed brought international interests and several thousand international workers—including my great-grandfather—onto the scene. As Marjo de Theije has observed, ‘It must have been a real invasion in a region that before was only inhabited by a few hundred Aluki Maroons and Wayana Amerindians. Suddenly the ethnic diversity of the (temporary) population grew tremendously’ (61).

  • 5 See also: Heemskerk, Marieke. ‘Driving Forces of Small-Scale Gold Mining among the Ndjuka Maroons: (...)

18Gold production spiked right before my great-grandfather left Suriname in 1913, with more than 1200 kg of gold mined in a single year (Hoogbergen and Kruijt 2004: 15).5 Shortly thereafter, the market collapsed. The Compagnie des Mines d’Or de la Guyane hollandaise continued mining operations until 1928, a full decade after my great grandfather’s death (Theije 2015: 62).

19That dream of Eldorado is still alive today. International mining conglomerates exploit the land, worming veins of gold into what is still largely a pristine jungle,6 polluting rivers and streams, and extracting riches. Canadian mining interests are represented in the form of the Rosebel mine, owned by the Ontario-based IAMGOLD corporation. According to IAMGOLD’s own data, Rosebel is a rich property that has, since 2004, produced over 85,000 kg of gold.7 They anticipate being able to mine gold until 2022.8

20But the myths of Eldorado have never made Suriname a rich country. What of my great-grandfather’s trunk, I wonder. Were those profits legally won?

21The product only of a colonial imagination, Suriname is a conglomeration of peoples brought together by promise, force, or desperation. Three centuries of transatlantic slavery brought over half a million enslaved Africans to Surinamese shores, with many others bought, sold, and traded between Caribbean colonies. After abolition, three distinct waves of indentured labourers— from China, India, and Java—arrived in the colony. Still others, among them English, Scottish, German, and Portuguese, were lured by the promise of plantations and wealth. And before all of them, Indigenous peoples had been enslaved, part of a process of imperial conquest that saw Suriname under the varied control of the British, the French, and the Dutch. By the time Theodor Wilhelm Heinemann arrived to seek his fortune, Suriname—as a place, idea, people—was already muddy, its fecund rivers and dark rainforest supporting one of the most racially and ethnically diverse communities in the world.

  • 9 Underlining original; translation mine.

22Today, the government touts diversity, defining national identity through difference. In 2012, then minister of Internal Affairs, Soewarto Moestadja asserted that: ‘We take it for granted that the ethnic groups differ from one another and that each has its own way of living We find it normal that we constitute one nationality and that together we form a society. Unity is in the acceptance of difference. We all find it normal and also good that we are not the same. That is our strength’ (qtd. in Ramsoedh 2013: 8).9

23While ethnic factionalism continues to shape the political landscape (Dew 1978; 1993), the Surinamese population itself is increasingly one of mixture. But mixture is not an easy space to occupy. It demands a continual process of reconciliation; it requires us to dwell in disquiet, find home in the uncomfortable spaces between the haunter and the haunted (Tuck & Ree 2013). The past, as numerous scholars have observed, inevitably haunts the present, resisting any moves to innocence (Wekker 2016; Gordon 1997; Tuck and Ree 2013).

24My grandfather was born in Albina, a small town at the edge of the Marrowijne River along the eastern border that Suriname shares with French Guiana. A once picturesque and thriving village, it was almost completely destroyed during the military rule and internal conflicts presided over by Desi Bouterse in the 1980s and 90s.

25‘Bouterse had boats in the river and he just bombed it,’ my aunt tells me, her eyes looking into the distance.

26‘Destroyed the whole town. It was a beautiful place’. There’s a melancholy nostalgia in her voice. ‘We used to go there for holidays.’

27I look at contemporary photos through my aunt’s eyes. Derelict buildings collapse into themselves, the wood at odd angles. I see burned out cars, the remains of race-based riots that spun out of control during more recent gold mining activities, piled haphazardly onto one another. But there are hints of a different past; colourful stalls line the water’s edge, an equally colourful row of boats tethered to the shore.

28In the early twentieth century, when my grandfather was a child, the town looked and felt very different. Fuelled by the gold rush, the town had grown, with people travelling there from all over to find their fortunes. Historical photographs depict a gracious, stately colonial town, whose buildings—tall, white, feathery, airy concoctions lining wide sandy streets—resemble the grand UNESCO houses of Paramaribo’s Waterkant district. It looked like a resort town, prosperous and wealthy, where the rich might come and play. Today, it is almost a caricature of its former self. But perhaps I am romanticizing the past.

  • 10 Beet, C. de and Velzen, H. van, ‘Bush Negro prophetic movements; religions of despair’. Bijdragen (...)

29Early twentieth-century gold mining in the South American jungle was no easy enterprise. Albina, the nearest centre to the mining operations, was accessible only by ship, or, in the case of military patrols, by internal boat travel, a route that required the navigation of weather, dense jungle, and several waterfalls.10

30The journey along the river from the town of Albina to the mining operations themselves was a treacherous one. Mining companies relied heavily on Maroon boat operators in dug-out canoes to manage the challenging journeys across what de Beet and van Velzen term the ‘labyrinth of water and rocks’ (114; see also Hoogbergen and Kruijt 2004: 11–12). In 1908, the company paid the Maroons 8000 florins for this service, about 15% of their operating costs (Beet and Velzen 1977: 124).

  • 11 ‘De staking aan de marrowijne’, De West: Nieuwsblad uit en voor Suriname, May 15, 1921.
  • 12 ‘Stroopers in Lawa’, De West: Nieuwsblad uit en voor Suriname, March 29, 1912; ‘De moord in het La (...)
  • 13 ‘Goudvelden-Arbeiders’. Nieuwe Surinaamsche Courant, December 25, 1902.

31Natural forces were not the only challenges. Travellers and supplies had to pass through Indigenous and Maroon territories and such journeys required careful negotiations with local leaders.11 The promise of riches also meant that gold mining regions were subject to marauders intent on raiding mining communities, and individuals subject to violence.12 While they were comparatively well paid, gold miners themselves complained of poor working conditions. As reported in 1902, Surinamese miners were ‘exploited, poorly fed and not infrequently, when they protest or object, they are threatened with a loaded gun or revolver’.13

  • 14 Heemskerk, Marieke, ‘Self-employment and poverty alleviation: Women's work in artisanal gold mines (...)

32Mining regions must have been particularly challenging spaces for women, who would have been—and continue to be—in the extreme minority.14 The threat of violence or sexual exploitation was likely always near. How did my great-grandmother Adolphina end up in a boomtown right at the Eastern border? And what was life like for her?

  • 15 Wekker, Gloria. The Politics of Passion: Women's Sexual Culture in the Afro-Surinamese Diaspora. N (...)
  • 16 For more on this, see the work of Ann Laura Stoler, which examines the politics of intimacy in col (...)

33An alliance with a mining company spokesperson like my great-grandfather must have held its allure. Suriname marriages, as these arrangements between local women and European men were frequently called, provided economic security and social status for the Creole woman and a conjugal relationship for her partner. Being a privileged man’s partner was, as numerous researchers have pointed out, often the only way for a woman to get ahead. Perhaps my great-grandmother never expected a permanent relationship. Perhaps she never wanted one. Perhaps, as the research of Gloria Wekker suggests, she just wanted children, economic security, and status.15 Perhaps she liked the fact that this form of relationship allowed her to maintain her own autonomy, her control over her self and her belief systems.16

  • 17 Adolphina Redout was the daughter of Madleentje Paulina Redout, formerly enslaved at Sarah Plantat (...)

34Adolphina Redout, known as Oma Doffie to her grandchildren, was born in 1885. The child of an emancipated slave, she was born in Nieuw Nickerie, a town located in the far west of Suriname.17 In 1902, at the age of seventeen, she travelled across the entire country—from west to east—to Albina. One year later, at eighteen, she gave birth to her first child with my great-grandfather, a daughter named Johanna Theodora Emelina. Four more children followed before Theodor Wilhelm left the country. And from then on, she was on her own. Two of her children married and had families of their own. Three children died. But Oma Doffie endured. At some point, later in her life, she moved to the capital city of Paramaribo, where her rickety house still stands today.

35In photos, Oma Doffie is a solid force. Always the focal point of the image, her face is placid, assured. In one photo, she is surrounded by three of her children. In another, she’s with her grandchildren, a motley collection of white, brown, and black bodies with knobbly knees, and big hair bows. Thick gold hoops hang from her ears. In a third photo, she’s on her own, her dark, smooth-skinned face serious as she looks straight at the camera, a gold chain and large pendant prominently displayed. In all of them, she’s wearing traditional Creole dress—the koto, with its voluminous skirts and bright patterns, and on her head, a sharply tied scarf, known locally as an angisa.

  • 18 The Amsterdam Rijksmuseum’s online collection is available at

36‘Women would balance their baskets on them,’ my mother told me, many years ago, when I found a commemorative angisa she had bought in 1963, on the centenary of emancipation. And today, as I browse old photos of Suriname in the Amsterdam Rijksmuseum’s online collection,18 I see that this is true.

37How might Oma Doffie’s life have been different if my great-grandfather had stayed? What might have happened if he’d lived? Would there have been more children? Would there have been more money? Would there have been more happiness? Or would they have split up at some point, the benefits of a young contractual relationship giving way to the realities of everyday life together? Would all of it have come crashing down with the collapse of the gold rush? And what about that trunk filled with gold? What other stories might it have told?

  • 19 Theije, Marjo de and Heemskerk, Marieke. ‘Groot en klein goud in Suriname: De informalisering en o (...)

38Today, small-scale gold mining is the most important economic activity in Suriname’s interior. Small-scale mining has made the local Maroon populations—who still transport goods up and down the rivers—wealthy. In mining communities, goods and services are expensive; in the words of Heemskerk (2003), ‘everything is paid for in pure gold’ (68). But large projects like the Rosebel mine are also important: Rosebel employs between 800-1200 people, of whom the majority are Surinamese.19 Gold mining is responsible for other trickle-down economic activity as well: de Theije and Heemskerk observe that 75% of internal flights are due to goldmining activities (50).

39If gold threads its way through the German and Afro-Surinamese branches of my family, so too does it shape my understanding of the Surinamese Hindustani branch, as carried through my memories of my grandmother, Henriette Mathilde. Oma Heinemann (née U-A-Sai) was the daughter of a goldsmith and watchmaker, a British Indian indentured child who was taught the craft of goldsmithing by his Chinese stepfather. Oma always wore gold. And not just any kind of gold. Not the whitish ten-karat gold of the wedding rings my husband and I purchased with a twenty percent off coupon before our wedding, the only gold we could possibly afford when we got married. No. Oma knew her worth. Her gold was the real thing: twenty-two karat, glowing yellow, rich, and deep against her mahogany skin.

40A portrait taken sometime around 1913 shows my grandmother as a very young child, standing serious and somber on a chair, her sturdy toddler body dressed all in white, untidy black ringlets on either side of her round face. There’s a pendant hanging from her neck, and gold bangles circling each of her round wrists. In her ears, a pair of tiny gold hoops.

Henriette Mathilde U-A-Sai, ca. 1913. Paramaribo, Suriname. Photographer unknown. Source: family collection.

Henriette Mathilde U-A-Sai, ca. 1913. Paramaribo, Suriname. Photographer unknown. Source: family collection.

41Oma and Opa Heinemann—my Surinamese Hindustani grandmother and German/Creole grandfather—may have been born in Suriname, but by the time I was born, they had moved to The Netherlands, following an increasingly common migration route that lies at the heart of contemporary transnational Surinamese identities. In my memories, I see my sister—then still a baby—sitting on Oma’s lap, her face and fingers turned toward Oma’s gold, spherical pendant, a bauble that had entranced her from the moment she’d first seen it. It was a stunning piece, a small golden globe woven with a delicate filigree pattern, and hanging from a fine gold chain. I see my sister’s hand reaching towards the seductive globe, her fingers closing around it in triumph.

42I see Oma turning seventy-five, partying the night away with her family and friends, a brand new gold watch—a gift from her children—on her wrist. She laughed. She danced. And the watch caught the light. Oma always loved a good party. My cousin and I shuttled between the kitchen and the living room serving bottles of beer, emptying case after case after case. In the wee hours, after all of us grandchildren had gone to bed, one neighbour pulled out a trumpet as the celebration continued. Upstairs, squeezed into corners and under the eaves in the attic, we finally slept, dreaming of gold.

43Where are those delicate earrings, now over 100 years old? What stories can a golden globe tell? How does a gold watch tell the time? Gold, it occurs to me, has no meaning, really, until it lies gleaming against the skin. It gains its authority from its encounter with bodies.

44When I was a child, my own gold lay in my jewelry box, a white cardboard case decorated in blue flowers, with a wind-up key and a pink ballerina who would spin and spin and spin to the tinkling of Music Box Dancer. Inside the box, there was a delicate gold pin with a blood-red garnet dangling from it—an ogri ai kraal, an evil eye bead to ward off the evil spirits—given to me when I was born. Later, a tiny gold cross on a fine gold chain joined my collection, a gift from my parents at my confirmation. Somehow I’ve always seen gold as an inheritance, something that links me to my family. Commitment, I think, tells its stories in gold.

45And yet, I have learned that this gold, too, is inevitably haunted by the complex colonial histories that brought my family into being. After all, haunting, Eve Tuck and C. Ree remind me, ‘is the cost of subjugation. It is the price paid for violence, for genocide’ (643).

46After Oma’s death, I inherited one of her bracelets, a thick coil of Surinamese gold that snakes around my wrist, with a knob at each end. It’s a beautiful, simple design.

47‘A slavenarmband,’ my mother told me. A slave bracelet.

  • 20 Mahabir, Joy. ‘Alternative Texts: Indo-Caribbean Women’s Jewelry’. Caribbean Vistas 1.1 (2013). ht (...)

48Slave bracelets, once made of copper and brass, trace histories of human bondage and human exchange. Used as currency to purchase the enslaved, they marked the boundaries between the free and the unfree. But in the aftermath of slavery and indenture, they have also come to function as ‘alternative texts’, material manifestations of cultural identity.20 Today, in contemporary Suriname, they represent value, worth, and social status, even as they bear the weight of heavy legacies of violence and oppression. How is it, I wonder, that a slave bracelet, born of histories of the forced travel of enslaved Africans, ends up becoming something valued, honoured, and treasured in East Indian migration histories? How do I honour the ghosts that haunt my family’s gold? How can I reconcile these contradictory histories? Ghosts, Avery Gordon suggests us, ‘are never innocent’ (122). They make trouble. They don’t follow rules. Ghosts linger, marking the past in present tense. Like gold, they stick, sucking us inexorably into uncomfortable webs of remembering.

49It was well after midnight when the plane landed in Suriname in 2014, my first return to the country of my mother’s birth since 1974. The plane had left Miami in the late afternoon, an hour or so behind schedule. It was packed full, every single seat occupied and the overhead bins bulging. Just under four hours of flying time had taken us to Georgetown, Guyana. The plane emptied and only about thirty of us remained. I looked out into the inky blackness and wondered what would await me. I’d been a young child the last time I’d visited Suriname, and my memories were fractured, disjointed, partial.

50It was, if possible, even darker by the time we touched down at Johann Adolf Pengel International Airport in Zanderij, about forty kilometres south of Paramaribo. The air was muggy: thick and heavy. I paid twenty-five dollars for my tourist visa, picked up my luggage, cleared customs, and trudged toward the taxi-bus stand, my jeans sticking to my legs.

51The taxi-bus driver was cheerful and full of conversation.

‘You came from Canada? How long are you here for?’

‘Two weeks’.

‘You should stay longer. Make it a few months. Get a job working for the Canadian mining company. You could make lots of money. I see their buses all the time when I come to the airport, picking up new workers for the gold mines. You should stay’.

52If there is a legacy of goldmining today that is worth saving, what might that legacy be? Gold mining—like the colonialism of which it is a part—does profound violence to a land and its peoples. It exploits natural and human resources, and it leaves messes behind. But is there a way of reading the anguish—the loss, the longings, the desires, the violence, the histories—differently? Is there a way of writing alternative stories in which anguish is not the end of the story, but perhaps, a site of possibility and renewal? Is it possible to resist grief, to refuse a narrative of oppression (Tuck & Yang 2014a; 2014b)?

53Gold, in my family, is a substance that brings histories together; it bridges, making material, sexual, affective, intergenerational encounters between communities possible. Gold is the promise of a future that might have been, the longing for what was lost and can never be recaptured. But it is also a site of value, worth, and pride; it is a story directed to others as if to say: ‘Here we are. We have survived. We have thrived’. Gold is a site of both horror and longing, disgust and desire. Gold unites my disparate histories, bringing Afro-Surinamese Creole, Chinese, East Indian, and European histories together. Loss, abandonment, longing, violence, desire, hope, history, origins, myths. In these spaces of contradiction, gold makes haunted sense of the entangled webs of a transnational family history; it makes my story possible.

54In 1995, just a few months after we were married, my husband and I travelled from what was then our home in The Hague to Nijmegen, in the eastern part of The Netherlands—a trip from furthest west to far east, like the journey undertaken by my great grandmother Adolphina just over a century previously—to celebrate the christening of my cousin’s second daughter. Oma Heinemann would be there; so too would the ghosts of Theodor Wilhelm Heinemann and Adolphina Redout.

55‘What will we bring?’ my husband asked me, unsure of his new family’s traditions.

56I already had a plan. At the jewelry store, I picked out a pair of gold hoops, the tiniest ones the store had to offer. Were these made of Surinamese gold? I’ll never know. But in the moment that I chose them, they became my hoops and my grandmother’s hoops and my great-grandmother’s too.

‘This,’ I said. ‘This is what we’re getting her’.

‘Earrings? But she’s a baby!’

I nodded. Yes.

‘But how do you know that she’ll have pierced ears?’

57I knew because somewhere there was a trunk filled with gold. I knew because I wished I’d been the one to reach for my grandmother’s intricate golden globe. I knew because if we ever had a daughter of our own, she, too, would have pierced ears. I knew, in the end, because all of our family stories were told in gold.

58‘She will,’ I said.

59And she did.

Acknowledgments

My thanks to the reviewers whose comments enriched this piece, and to the organizers of the 3G conference in London where I was first able to share this work and to meet and learn from the other participants and attendees. The research for this essay was supported by an Insight Development Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

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Theije, Marjo de and Heemskerk, Marieke. ‘Groot en klein goud in Suriname: De informalisering en ordening van de goudwinning’. Justitiële verkenningen 37.3 (2011): 45–58.

Theije, Marjo de. ‘Small-scale gold mining and trans-frontier commerce on the Lawa River’, in In and Out of Suriname: Language, Mobility and Identity, Eithne B. Carlin, Isabelle Léglise, Bettina Migge, and Paul B. Tjon Sie Fat, eds. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2015; 58–75.

Tuck, Eve and Ree, C. ‘A glossary of haunting’, Handbook of Autoethnography, Stacy Holman Jones, Tony E. Adams, and Carolyn Ellis, eds. Walnut Creek: Left Coast Press, 2013 ; 639–658.

Tuck, Eve and Yang, K. Wayne. ‘R-Words: Refusing research’, D. Paris and M. T. Winn, eds. Humanizing Research: Decolonizing Qualitative Inquiry with youth and Communities. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2014; 223–247.

Tuck, Eve and Yang, K. Wayne. ‘Unbecoming claims: Pedagogies of refusal in qualitative research’. Qualitative Inquiry 20.6 (2014): 811–818.

Voltaire, François-Marie-Arouet. Candide, ou l’optimisme, 1759.

Wekker, Gloria. ‘Of mimic men and unruly women: Family, sexuality and gender in twentieth-century Suriname’, 20th Century Suriname: Continuities and Discontinuities in a New World Society, Rosemarijn Hoefte and Peter Meel, eds. Kingston: Ian Randle; Leiden: KITLV Publishers, 2001; 174–197.

Wekker, Gloria. The Politics of Passion: Women's Sexual Culture in the Afro-Surinamese Diaspora. New York: Columbia University Press, 2006.

Wekker, Gloria. White Innocence: Paradoxes of Colonialism and Race. Durham: Duke University Press, 2016.

Notes

1 Literally, ‘outside wife’; that is, mistress (Gloria Wekker, ‘Of Mimic Men and Unruly Women: Family, Sexuality and Gender in Twentieth-Century Suriname’, 20th Century Suriname: Continuities and Discontinuities in a New World Society, in Rosemarijn Hoefte and Peter Meel, eds. Kingston: Ian Randle; Leiden: KITLV Publishers, 2001; 174–197; 175).

2 Kuhn, Annette. ‘Memory texts and memory work: Performances of memory in and with visual media’. Memory Studies, 3.4 (2010): 298–313.

3 Voltaire, François-Marie-Arouet. Candide, ou l’optimisme, 1759.

4 Hoogbergen, Wim and Kruijt, Dirk. ‘Gold, “Garimpeiros” and Maroons: Brazilian Migrants and Ethnic Relationships in Post-War Suriname’. Caribbean Studies 32.2 (2004): 3–44, 11.

5 See also: Heemskerk, Marieke. ‘Driving Forces of Small-Scale Gold Mining among the Ndjuka Maroons: A Cross-Scale Socioeconomic Analysis of Participation in Gold Mining in Suriname’, PhD Thesis, University of Florida, 2000; 28.

6 A recent article by Richard Conniff in the Smithsonian Magazine indicates that Suriname is 95% forest (Conniff, Richard, ‘A New Age of Discovery Is Happening Right Now in the Remote Forests of Suriname’. Smithsonian Magazine.

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/new-age-discovery-happening-right-now-forests-suriname-180962118 Accessed February 23, 2017).

7 ‘Rosebel Gold Mine, Suriname’,

http://www.iamgold.com/English/operations/operating-mines/rosebel-gold-mines-suriname/default.aspx Accessed February 23, 2017.

8 ‘Outlook’, http://www.iamgold.com/English/operations/operating-mines/rosebel-gold-mines-suriname/ Accessed February 23, 2017.

9 Underlining original; translation mine.

10 Beet, C. de and Velzen, H. van, ‘Bush Negro prophetic movements; religions of despair’. Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde 133.1 (1977): 100–135; 114.

11 ‘De staking aan de marrowijne’, De West: Nieuwsblad uit en voor Suriname, May 15, 1921.

12 ‘Stroopers in Lawa’, De West: Nieuwsblad uit en voor Suriname, March 29, 1912; ‘De moord in het Lawa-gebied’, De West: Nieuwsblad uit en voor Suriname, April 8, 1910.

13 ‘Goudvelden-Arbeiders’. Nieuwe Surinaamsche Courant, December 25, 1902.

14 Heemskerk, Marieke, ‘Self-employment and poverty alleviation: Women's work in artisanal gold mines’, Human Organization, 62.1 (2003): 62–73.

15 Wekker, Gloria. The Politics of Passion: Women's Sexual Culture in the Afro-Surinamese Diaspora. New York: Columbia University Press, 2006.

16 For more on this, see the work of Ann Laura Stoler, which examines the politics of intimacy in colonial Indonesia (Stoler, Ann Laura. Carnal Knowledge and Imperial Power: Race and the Intimate in Colonial Rule. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002).

17 Adolphina Redout was the daughter of Madleentje Paulina Redout, formerly enslaved at Sarah Plantation in the Coronie district of Suriname. Madleentje Paulina was seven years old at abolition.

18 The Amsterdam Rijksmuseum’s online collection is available at

https://www.rijksmuseum.nl/en/rijksstudio

19 Theije, Marjo de and Heemskerk, Marieke. ‘Groot en klein goud in Suriname: De informalisering en ordening van de goudwinning’. Justitiële verkenningen 37.3 (2011): 45–58; 50.

20 Mahabir, Joy. ‘Alternative Texts: Indo-Caribbean Women’s Jewelry’. Caribbean Vistas 1.1 (2013). https://caribbeanvistas.wordpress.com/mahabiralternativejewelry1/

Accessed February 23, 2017.

Table des illustrations

Titre Henriette Mathilde U-A-Sai, ca. 1913. Paramaribo, Suriname. Photographer unknown. Source: family collection.
URL http://books.openedition.org/pulm/docannexe/image/5437/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 776k

Auteur

Sonja Boon is Associate Professor of Gender Studies, Memorial University (Canada). She has research interests in the body and embodiment, feminist theory, life writing, and autoethnography. Her research appears in Life Writing, SubStance, Journal of Women’s History, International Journal of Communication, Cultural Studies <-> Critical Methodologies, and the European Journal of Life Writing, among others. Her fourth book, What the Oceans Remember: Searching for Belonging and Home, is forthcoming in 2019.

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