Anton de Kom

We Slaves of Suriname

Classic story of slave revolts in Suriname

Anton de Kom was one of the most important fighters for the independence of Suriname from Dutch colonial rule. We Slaves of Suriname, a fierce indictment of the exploitation of the country’s black population, appeared in 1934. Eighty years after first publication, it is still a highly relevant account of the consequences of slavery and oppression.

The Netherlands abolished slavery considerably later than France and Britain. De Kom describes how it continued in Suriname until 1863, enforced by vicious punishments, and he does not stop there. The period after 1863 was also characterized by injustice and exploitation: ‘The physical torments were largely replaced by mental anguish, poverty and hardship.’ A descendant of slaves himself, De Kom was the first to describe these experiences.

De Kom’s book belongs to the international canon of anti-colonial literature, and bears comparison with Black Reconstruction in America by W.E.B. Du Bois and The Wretched of the Earth by French author Frantz Fanon. We Slaves of Suriname is a history and an accusation, as well as a call to De Kom’s black compatriots to truly liberate themselves, to wrest themselves free of the control of the white oppressor and condemn the Dutch colonial regime. It integrates the experience of Suriname’s oppressed, multi-ethnic people into the greater history of South America and adds to the narrative of struggles against slavery, imperialism, and racism.

Far ahead of his time, De Kom examines the psychological effects of the past and concludes bitterly that as a result of slavery his people have inherited a sense of inferiority. ‘It was a long time before I completely freed myself from the obsessive idea that a negro must always, implicitly, be inferior to any white.’

The power of this book lies in its personal angle, the writer’s erudition, his analysis of the phenomenon of slavery and above all the passion and sincere outrage it conveys, still palpable and moving after all these years. His accusations resonate with current discussions surrounding Black Lives Matter and the persistent effects of racism in the Western world.

This anti-colonial gem reveals in gender specific detail the extraordinary cruelty of the slavery system in Suriname. We Slaves of Suriname brilliantly documents the roots of Dutch racism. De Kom’s sharp critique of worker exploitation made him one of the most courageous advocates of social justice and dignity for the Surinamese.

Philomena Essed, Professor of Critical Race, Gender and Leadership Studies, Antioch University

The radical break with colonial writing makes this book a unique document. For the first time, Surinamese history was written from an anti-colonial point of view.’

Gert Oostindie, Professor of Colonial and Postcolonial History, Leiden University

In We Slaves of Suriname, De Kom gives an incisive, compelling and insightful account of how colonialism upheld inequality even after slavery was abolished […] This razor-sharp analysis and ‘call to arms’ – at turns lyrical and grounded in historical facts – continues to inspire generations.


We Slaves of Suriname is a combination of a literary masterpiece, an indictment of colonialism and an alternative perspective on history.


From 2 to 6 degrees south latitude, from 54 to 58 degrees west longitude, it stretches between the blue of the Atlantic Ocean and the inaccessible Tumak Humak Mountains, which form the watershed with the Amazon Basin, clutched between the broad expanses of the Courantyne and Maroni Rivers, which separate us from British and French Guiana, rich in formidable forests, where the yellow lapacho, the barklaki, the kapok, and the prized wacapou grow, rich in wide rivers, where herons, wiswisis, ibises, and flamingos find their nesting places, rich in natural treasures, in gold and bauxite, in rubber, sugar, bananas, and coffee… poor in its human population, poorer still in humanity.
Sranang – our homeland.
Suriname, as the Dutch call it.
Their country’s twelfth and richest, no, their country’s poorest province.

Between the coast and the mountains our mother, Sranang, has slumbered for a thousand years and a thousand more. Nothing has changed in the dense forest of her unknown hinterlands.
The rainforests of the uplands seem sunk in a centuries-old silence, coming alive only at nightfall with the murmuring hum of thousands of insects like secret music. More romantic, but also more savage, is the landscape of the savannahs and the riverbanks. Winding curtains of vine hang from the trees and block the road; wild orchids bloom; here live the skittish pachiras, capuchin monkeys balance on branches, parrots let out their shrill cries, the jaguar lurks, and an armadillo probes for ants with its pointed tongue.
For thousands of years, the dark forests of Mother Sranang have been waiting, untouched and undeveloped. They are home to strange creatures, whose names are hardly known in the West: tree-dwelling tamanduas and prehensile-tailed porcupines, vireos and tanagers, the tigriman and the Finsch’s euphonia, golden-collared toucanets on the high tops of the palms, and swarms of butterflies: the magnificent blue morphos and the yellow and orange-colored cloudless sulphurs often rise to just below the crowns of the trees.


Anton de Kom

Writer and freedom fighter Anton de Kom, born in Suriname in 1898, became an influential voice in the anticolonial movement of the early twentieth century, a figure comparable to W.E.B. du Bois in the United States. We Slaves of Suriname has been a controversial and important book right from its…

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Wij slaven van Suriname (1934). Non-fiction, 169 pages.

Themes: slavery colonial history

Sample translation

English (PDF document)


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