- from We Slaves of Suriname *
Hail and Farewell
Sranan, my fatherland, I have seen you again and your beauty is as it was when I longed for you in my dreams, far away in distant Holland.
Across the deep blue water of the ocean, the Rensselaer bears me towards your shores. Flying fish, like glittering diamonds, startled by our approach, fly five or six yards ahead and land in the water, leaving a silver trail. The air is moist and fresh, a strong trade wind blows round me like a breath of freedom. The prospect of seeing you again sings in my heart like the insistent cry of the gulls.
A few blasts on the whistle give us warning; emergency drill today. We fall in on deck. It appears that there are not enough life belts for the children. You suddenly realize that you are a proletarian, that proletarian children can drown, that all that matters is that the passengers and officers should have a good time in their first-class swimming pool.
High up, through the masts and the stays of the Rensselaer, blows the wind of freedom. On the deck below me a white stoker hurries to his stuffy quarters. He is blacker than I am, from the soot of the fires. Halfway along the fo’c’sle he gives me and the children a wave. The whites of his laughing eyes and his gleaming white teeth shine out through the black of his face. That, too, is universal and beautiful—the comradeship of the proletariat and its love of freedom.
I stand on the deck of the Rensselaer. It is a happy bright morning in January. Two hours ago the sun rose from its couch with a blood-red smile, its glowing sphere now rolls like a fiery balloon across the bright blue sky and draws milky veils of mist towards itself, hiding the green wall of the shoreline. Streams of warmth and light pour down on the white deck. The earth and the sea of Suriname are bathed in sunlight. From Fort Zeelandia an artillery shot rings out and reverberates through the forest. A diaphanous cloud of smoke round the barrel of the gun is left behind for a moment. Our ship is carried towards the quay on the strong arms of the smiling river. It reminds me of Father carrying my little sister to market in the old days, high on his shoulders.
Among the huge crowd at the quayside, I see Father, a little old man now; Mother, for whose sake I had come home, is no longer there. She died two days after our departure from Holland. The dirge for Mother in my heart is drowned in joyful shouts of welcome. As if for a holiday, the proletariat of Suriname have put on their Sunday best. Between the tall figures of the men, the kotomisis flutter like happy colorful butterflies. Thousands of candid eyes shine, hundreds of strong hands grip mine. “Na wan bigi man!” [He’s grown a big man!] a docker says with a [End Page 667] smile. “I see, the governor is looking after you,” he adds. Only now do I notice that I am being followed by armed policemen. 1 Hoffman’s drops 2 must have been a much sought-after drink for whites in the colonies! After they, and they alone, had whipped up interest in what they called the “coming of the Messiah” by their silly propaganda, their hearts were probably in their boots at the thought of the possible consequences. How is it possible that the arrival of a “communist” 3 should have so frightened so many civil and military leaders of the colony? Only because they knew that the fuel of misery needed just one spark to set it alight. 4 But what could one man alone, even if he had wanted to, do against the entire power machine in Suriname?
That evening, when the last visitors have gone, I have time to think about all this misery. Outside, as in the past when I was a small boy, I hear the soft hissing of the...