Suriname migration registers of Indentured labourers from the Dutch East Indies

This is a documentation in English of the migration registers of indentured labourers from the Dutch East Indies to Suriname. An index based on this archive is accessible via the website of the Dutch National Archives. The original immigration registers and name registers can be viewed at the National Archives of Suriname.

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The rights to the index are reserved and are not available under a Creative Commons license or CC0 statement. The database cannot be downloaded, but can be searched via the website of the National Archive.

Indentured labourers in Suriname from the Dutch East Indies (‘Javanese’)

Contract labour was introduced in Suriname to provide the plantations with sufficient labour force, after the abolition of slavery in 1863. After a relative small number of Chinese migrant workers, a much larger stream of indentured labourers flowed from British India to Suriname since 1873. Since the 1890s, British India was replaced by the Dutch East Indies (current Indonesia) as the main recruiting area for indentured workers. They were called Javanese, even though not all of them came from the island of Java. In the period from August 9, 1890 to December 13, 1939 a total of 32,965 Javanese immigrants came to Suriname, of which until 1954 a number of 8,684 (26%) returned to Indonesia and about 24,000 Javanese immigrants in Suriname remained behind.

The first immigration of Javanese to Suriname in 1890 was an experiment on the plantation Mariënburg, owned by the Dutch Trading Company (NHM) and it continued until World War II. The Indonesian immigrants were brought in small groups from the then Dutch East Indies to the Netherlands, from where they again traveled in groups to Paramaribo. They departed from Batavia (Djakarta), Semarang or Tandjong Priok. There, they remained for some time in a depot where they were registered and inspected and where they signed their contract. Until 1914, the immigrants traveled via Amsterdam (except in the year 1894).

The immigrants were attracted to work on the plantations, with the exception of a group in 1904. In that year 77 Javanese were specifically recruited for work on the railway system. Since the First World War, with the cooperation of the authorities, workers were also employed by the Suriname Bauxite Company in Moengo.

Photo of Mr. Wongsowidjojo, from the village Malangdjiwanwho in Solo, who arrived in Suriname on 18 October, 1919 on steamship Rotti

Photo of Mr. Wongsowidjojo, from the village Malangdjiwanwho in Solo, who arrived in Suriname on 18 October 1919 on steamship Rotti; Nationaal Archief.

The immigration registers

The index is mainly based on the Suriname immigration records. The photos in the index are from medical certificates and emigration passes.  All the sources are present in the Surinamese government archives. The Immigration Department in Suriname was responsible for the preparation and maintenance of immigration registers for indentured labourers. For the various groups of immigrants separate series of registers were kept. The personal details of the Javanese immigrants were recorded on arrival in immigration registers. Officials then kept these registers for decades to record additional data from the immigrants and their families and (other) descendants. The personal data in the immigration registers are partly based on the monster rolls of the ships with which the workers came to Suriname. Monster rolls were a kind of passenger list prepared by the emigration agent in the Dutch East Indies and given in duplicate to the captains of the ships.

For the creation of the index, data of about 31,000 persons could be secured from the registers. The data of almost 3,000 persons are missing. This is because one register book is missing, other registers are partly missing, and yet other registers are partly so badly damaged that they have become unusable or only of limited use. Incomplete records have been included in the index: for some immigrants either no name and/or no contract numbers is known.

The immigration registers are part of the official civil registration of Suriname (currently ‘Centraal Bureau voor Burgerzaken’, or CBB). The original immigration records (which are unfortunately in poor condition) can be viewed at the CBB.

Furthermore, the index contains photographs of immigrants that were taken of them before they embarked in Indonesia. The photographs can be found on medical certificates and emigration passes. The medical certificates list the name, registration number, place of origin (desa/village, district, ward and region), age and height of the immigrant. There is also a passport photo, a date of the examination, a signature of the physician and a fingerprint (of the left thumb) of the worker. On the certificate there are two drawings of the human body (one from the front and one from the back), indicating any physical features, such as scars, birthmarks, tattoo.


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