This afternoon, our tour of the Judensavannah (pronouced Yoe-den suh-Van-uh) took place, and in contrast to the usual way that these tours go, this one actually ended up taking exactly as long as expected. This could not have been predicted at the outset, as we got off to a somewhat late start because our group is not so good at getting ready in a timely fashion, as the lassitude of the local climate seems to get to people and sap their drive to get things done. At any rate, not all of our group ended up going to the bus–which had the same driver and same tour guide as last time–and so our bus had to go to meet the group of people who was standing near the lobby. It should have been an omen, that it was hot and so people were reserving their energy as much as possible. I can understand, looking back on the afternoon, that it might not have been a bad thing to spare a bit more energy and not gone to the bus immediately, but one cannot know the end of a thing from the beginning all the time.
Our trip to the Savannah itself was moderately auspicious. We stopped at a supermarket not far from the hotel we are staying at and got some supplies that we managed to eat. We have acquired a fine taste for Surinamese snacks, including one (payah) that is made of peanuts and flour. After that we made our way along a few highways that were surprisingly well-paved. We heard that the Chinese were doing a lot of paving, at least all the way to the Carolina Bridge, as they have some interest in the old Alcoa plant not far from the capital that we drove by both to and from the savanna. Once we got to the Carolina Bridge at the Suriname River the pavement stopped and we were on red dirt roads for a little while, although not too long because the Judensavannah was on the Suriname River as well, a bit downstream from the main road. In order to get there we had to travel past an Amerindian village that is looking a bit more modern, and we passed a few sites of interest two and from, like a tree that is viewed as being a sacred object, and an ice truck that is actually advertised, as well as brown kola water that looks ugly but is actually safe to swim in.
The Judensavannah itself was an interesting site. There was a medicinal well near the cordon where some people (it is difficult to talk about these people–call them Bush Negroes or Maroons, both of which could be taken offensively–in a way that is politically correct) had attacked the site. I am not sure why they would have attacked the site, but there was a cemetery of free blacks on the site with various grave markers that could have had some meaning and it is possible that the exploration of the site was viewed as being problematic to these people, perhaps relating to their ancestors. The site itself was a relatively large one, although the second-growth jungle had grown through a lot of what was previously there, including the plantations that had become derelict after the labor shortage that followed the granting of liberty to slaves in 1863. There were still two cemeteries, the well, the ruins of the synagogue that had burned down and a pier that was still possible to use that provided access to the Suriname River.
As might be imagined, the Judensavannah prompts a great deal of questions. To what extent do we judge Jewish slaveowners for having sought the freedom to be like other Europeans in the New World? Is being a generally exploited and excluded minority a mitigating factor in looking at one’s cruelty to others–namely through owning them like property and denying to them the various privileges that exist in the Torah–or is it an exacerbating habit. Were the Jewish slaveowners better or worse or the same as the other slaveowners at the time in the same place? Were there any informal penalties and difficulties suffered by the Jews of Suriname despite the general religious tolerance of the Dutch regime? How did the Jews of the area feel about the area in which they lived and the way that they made a living? Was there any soul searching about making’s one’s living out of the sweat of other, darker brows? These are questions that would be possible to answer with the right evidence, be it diaries of plantation owners or their families that would indicate their behaviors, legal records and the workings of local xenophobes, and documentary evidence of that kind. Of course, only being a short-time visitor in the country, that is not the kind of information I have, but it is the sort of information I would look for to answer my own curious questions.