Hindostani women in suriname: From coolies to matriarchs

Chan E.S. Choenni*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book / Report / Conference proceedingChapterAcademicpeer-review


Between 1873 and 1916, more than 34,000 indentured Indian labourers arrived in Suriname of which one-third were women. Despite the shortage of Indian women, the Indian population-labelled as ‘Hindostanis’ in Suriname-increased rapidly. Because the absolute numbers of ‘Hindostanis’ were relatively small, intermarriage not only between the various castes but also between Hindus and Muslims was normal. Moreover, older men married younger women, and almost all widows and so-called destitute women who emigrated to Suriname had (new) relationships and bore children; some even having multiple partners. The shortage of ‘Hindostani’ women resulted in a better bargaining position vis-a-vis the ‘Hindostani’ men, but many were threefold overloaded. Theyworked on the land or had jobs to earnmoney; they took care of their spouse and children and also did the housework. After their labour contract ended, the adult women who settled in Suriname obtained a free from rent, allotment of 1.5-2.0 ha of cultivable land for six years. Furthermore, many acquired so-called wild (not cultivated) land for free when they agreed to cultivate it. Almost all ‘Hindostani’ families became, in due time, small farmers. ‘Hindostani’ women had agency, and many became matriarchs. But interestingly, they promoted the ‘izzat’ (honourability) of their (grand) daughters and were stringent on their behaviour in public.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationIndentured and Post-Indentured Experiences of Women in the Indian Diaspora
PublisherSpringer Singapore
Number of pages12
ISBN (Electronic)9789811511776
ISBN (Print)9789811511769
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Agency
  • Hindostani women
  • Honourability
  • Indentured women
  • Suriname


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