"So Nicely in Harmony with the Tropical Nature": Hearing the Cultural and the Natural in Suriname

Emily Clark

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In Suriname, a former Dutch colony on the Caribbean coast of South America, a celebrated but tense “plurality” has emerged from the crucible of colonial conquests, (forced) labor migrations, and shifting governing policies. Sound and listening have played a role in a long history of shaping notions of ethnic difference and its impact on individuals’ lives and livelihoods. This article investigates this sonic history through three moments of listening to and making sense of colonial difference. First, in 1883 in Amsterdam, a colonial exhibition featured people brought from the Netherlands’ overseas territories in an “Indies Park” and a “Suriname Natives” exhibit, which put bodies, practices, and musical instruments on display in quite different ways. Second, when indentured laborers were brought from the Dutch East Indies to replace formerly enslaved Afrodescendants on Surinamese plantations beginning in 1890, their musical traditions accompanied them, shaping how different groups of colonial subjects were perceived and governed by European ears and colonial policy. Third, in contemporary times, projects of both natural extraction and conservation have affected different populations in Suriname in vastly different ways, ranging from financial and political gain to dispossession and displacement. This article argues that the contemporary politics of the postcolonial “plural” nation, including how natural extraction and conservation are managed, reflect a long colonial history of listening that differentiates between those who are able to make something of the “raw” natural, cultural, and sonic resources that surround them, and those who (allegedly) cannot.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)51-78
Number of pages28
JournalThe World of Music (new series)
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2021


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