Along the banks of the Suriname and Commewijne rivers lie what remains of the once booming Dutch-‐ Surinamese sugar industry. Since its downfall in the 1980s factories have been abandoned, machinery has been stolen or dismantled to be sold as scrap, and former plantations have been completely swallowed by jungle. I travelled through Suriname in collaboration with Noortherlicht organisation, to explore the remnants of this industry and the material and immaterial heritage of a colonial landscape in decay.
Suriname is a strange place, unlike any other. In August 2011, when I woke up in downtown Paramaribo, I had the feeling of being in a movie filmed a long time ago: all the buildings were made of wood, following the typical Dutch design architecture. When listening to the first dialogues, some in Dutch and others in Sranan Tongo, I found it hard to believe that I was still in South America. The strong sugar industry and its constant demand for manpower, attracted large flows of migrants to Suriname at different times in its history: Africans brought as slaves, Indians from British India and Javanese.
My task was to explore and photograph the remnants of the sugar industry after its downfall in the 80’s. Practically no factory has been preserved, since there is no policy to safeguard industrial-‐cultural heritage. I came across some of these factories in the middle of the jungle, after sailing for several hours along the Commewijne River. Machines had either been stolen or dismantled, to be sold as scrap. The tropical weather, time and rust had shattered the few remaining structures. Implacable, the jungle revived again and covered it all. I also took pictures of a centenarian train used in the plantations, which was later destroyed and sold by what its iron was worth.
I walked through the remnants of the factories at night, amongst ghosts and bats, only guided by the light of lanterns. I tried hard to imagine what these places would have looked like in full operation, with people working in the jungle. These photos record a part of Suriname’s history that is disappearing. Stories of power, ambition and migration but, above all, one that depicts the exploitation of man by man, is silently concealed under these ruins.
The Sweet and Sour Story of Sugar, 2012
Published by Noortherlicht
Pingyao International Photography Festival, China