Winti in Suriname

views updated

Winti in Suriname

Winti is as old as the contacts between the Wild Coast of South Africa and Africa since the 1650s. It has been such a tabooed religious practice that it is difficult to find good studies about what it precisely is. Winti is a lifestyle in which people remain in constant exchange with Suriname. This contact does not exclusively take place in Suriname itself; it can also be in the Netherlands or elsewhere. Most important is that it connects with the place where Winti has developed and acquired its general characteristics, that is to say with Sranan, the Creole word for the language and the country of Suriname.

The word Winti seems to derive from the English word wind. A vocabulary published in 1961 in Paramaribo considers winti to be a Sranan word for "wind," "frenzy," "ghost," and "spirit." It is immediately followed by wintidansi, or winti-pré, indicating the relevance of music and rhythm. The concept of Winti contains the totality of the ghosts and spirits in the Winti pantheon, with Aisa, the gron-winti, or the goddess of the earth, as the most important point of reference. The Christian religion has only a marginal influence, and what distinguishes Winti from other American religions is its exclusiveness; almost everything is secret and only accessible to the initiated specialists. The three poles of Winti are the kra (the human soul), the wintis or gods, as well as the jorkas, the ghosts of the dead. They have to be connected in order for practitioners to be able to interpret individual perceptions and human experiences in past and present. For this balance, the Winti-believer needs to consult the lukuman, the bonuman or obiahman, or the wisiman. They have knowledge of the invisible connections and can explain, heal, and cure sickness or lack of spiritual orientation. Winti is included in Sranan storytelling, understood by most of the ethnic groups in the past.

Two Surinamese, Charles Wooding and Henri Stephen, have written informative books on Winti. Wooding concentrates on the African influences, whereas Stephen shows that Winti goes through all Surinamese groups and ethnic communities. Many people are afraid of Winti because it makes use of magic. There is good and evil magic, and only the medicine man knows how to handle them properly. The importance of Winti became visible in the eighteenth century. The African-born slave Quassi (c. 16901787), a lukuman and bonuman, was set free and became the most important link for the white government to negotiate with slaves and Maroons. He was celebrated as a god and recognized in Europe because of his specialized knowledge of plants and herbs. Also, narratives written by contemporary Creole writers, such as Edgar Cairo, recur to the description of Winti in Surinamese reality.

See also Religion


Cairo, Edgard. "This Here Soul." Callaloo 11, no. 1 (1988): 7479.

Stephen, Henri J. M. Winti. Afro-Surinaamse religie en magische rituelen in Suriname en Nederland. Amsterdam: Karnak, 1985.

Wooding, Charles J. W. Evolving Culture: A Cross-Cultural Study of Suriname, West Africa, and the Caribbean. Washington D.C.; University Press of America, 1981.

ineke phaf-rheinberger (2005)

About this article

Winti in Suriname

Updated About content Print Article