Memories of traditional rice cultivation by descendants of Indian contract laborers in Suriname
Some 35,000 indentured laborers from India were recruited to work on plantations in Suriname after 1863. Many of them started to grow rice for their subsistence, but were stimulated to replace their traditional landraces for improved cultivars. Few Hindostani smallholders still cultivate rice today, and little is known on their varieties or motivations to continue or abandon this crop. We interviewed 30 persons currently or formerly involved in small-scale Hindostani rice farming, collected
... ming, collected rice varieties and documented people's personal memories and motivation for rice cultivation. In the historic literature, ca. 16 varieties were mentioned to be grown by Indian contract laborers, of which nine were remembered by our interviewees. We recorded 55 variety names, their agronomical and culinary characteristics, geographic origin, and (former) cultivation localities. Most active smallholders grew cultivars developed after 2000, but one landrace (Raymoen) and some old cultivars developed in the 1930-1950s (Rexora and Dima) were still grown for fodder, although heavily adulterated with weedy rice. Maroon farmers in the interior, however, cultivated several varieties of 'coolie rice' that they obtained from Hindostani farmers in the past, although this needs to be confirmed by molecular research. Small-scale rice farming in Suriname is declining due to competition with large-scale cultivators, urbanization, better education prospects and migration to the Netherlands. The vivid memories of the (former) rice farmers on traditional practices, gender-based labor division and how rice farming is integrated in the system of beliefs, as well as the few remaining varieties that potentially originated in India, deserve to be better safeguarded and shared with the public than they are today.