Suriname: migration registers of indentured labourers

As the end of slavery came into sight, concerns grew among plantation owners about maintaining the plantations in Suriname after Emancipation in 1863. They feared that the former enslaved people would no longer want to work on the plantations. One of the measures taken was that from the 1850s onwards, workers were actively recruited to replace the enslaved, first from China and Madeira, later mainly from India (from 1873 onwards) and Indonesia (starting in 1890). Others came from the British territories in the West Indies. The recruitment of contract labourers was not a solely Dutch phenomenon. Indian contract labourers in particular were part of a worldwide diaspora of people from British India that began before 1830 and continued into the twentieth century.

These people were given contracts that tied them to a plantation for three to five years. They had no choice about the plantation they ended up on, could not negotiate their wages, and could be punished by the plantation management. In this respect, it was a form of bonded labour. People whose contracts had ended were given the choice of going back home, signing a new contract or settling as free residents in Suriname. Many of these people remained in Suriname as residents.

Because the arrival of these workers, especially from China, India and Indonesia, was controlled by the government and there was a certain degree of control from the areas of origin, separate registers were kept of contract workers from these areas. The Immigration Department in Suriname kept the immigration registers for indentured labourers. For the various groups of indentured labourers (from British India, from the British West Indies, Chinese immigrants and Javanese) separate series of immigration registers were made. The immigration registers are part of the official population registers of Suriname. The personal data in the immigration registers were partly based on the muster-rolls of the ships with which the workers had come to Suriname. Muster-rolls are a kind of passenger lists drawn up by the emigration agent in the country of origin. Other information was registered at the moment of arrival by the Immigration Department in Paramaribo.

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