Paths through Slavery
The History of Slavery and Emancipation in Suriname
A unique perspective on the history of slavery
In Paths through Slavery, Karwan Fatah-Black definitively reorients our understanding of slavery and emancipation in Suriname by drawing our attention to the edges of the bustling port city of Paramaribo during the 18th and 19th centuries.
It was there that a small but growing community of freed slaves, living in a semi-clandestine world, would ultimately lay the foundations for what became modern Suriname. Until now, historians have often focused on the lives of slaves and their owners on the plantations, as well as their ongoing conflicts with the Marrons, the ex-slaves who had fled into the jungle. Slavery’s contours in the colonial city have largely been overlooked. Drawing on archived personal documents, Fatah-Black colourfully unveils a world where owners, slaves, ex-slaves and foreign sailors from across the globe, regularly intermingled and traded what they could – where those who owned property and those who were property were difficult to distinguish.
Initially composed mostly of women who had borne their owner’s children, as well as ex-soldiers drafted to fight the Marrons and recapture runaway slaves, this freed community has largely been cast by Surinamese historians as collaborators for achieving freedom within a racist system.
Fatah-Black seeks to set the record straight: those who did find their way to freedom and to the city were able to amass property and together buy the freedom of family members and friends.Though rare, ‘manumission’ (the freeing of slaves) formed an essential aspect of slavery around the world by affording a sense of humanity to slaveholders and hope for those still enslaved. It would play a key role in Suriname. On the eve of slavery’s abolition in Suriname in 1863, the free non-white community had grown to almost half the number of those still enslaved.
What were the obstacles and challenges faced by a community living on the peripheries of accepted society? How did the issues faced by these freed slaves anticipate life in Suriname after slavery’s abolition in 1863? How did they pave the way for that emancipation?
Paths through Slavery is an indispensable contribution to the discourse surrounding the international slave trade history as well as our understanding of modern Suriname.