Colonial heritage in Paramaribo, Suriname : legislation and sense of ownership, a dilemma in preservation?

EGOM van Maanen, GJ Ashworth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


In this article, the preservation of the monumental built environment from the colonial period is related to and discussed within the perspective of heritage ownership. It contributes to a debate in which heritage resource preservation is approached and connected to several heritage ownership issues. It argues that an effective built environmental preservation policy for colonial heritage is strongly related to and dependent on issues such as legal property ownership, legislation on listed buildings, enforcement of such legislation, and the willingness among different categories of potential owners to participate and support such preservation. Especially, when it comes to built colonial heritage as an imported alien resource from a colonial past, these issues are particularly interesting and sensitive. A good illustration of these issues is the case of Paramaribo, Suriname. The national government policy following the inscription of the historic inner city of Paramaribo on the World Heritage List of UNESCO in 2002 clearly demonstrates an area of tension and difficulty between and within the interested parties. It shows that monumental preservation and heritage management and interpretation are strongly affected and determined by concepts such as ownership, affinity, interest, economic priorities, and political will. By referring to the actual problems encountered in the preservation efforts relating to the built colonial heritage in Paramaribo and subsequently explaining these problems in relation to specific ownership issues, this article throws light on a number of dilemmas. Conclusions are drawn widening the argument and contributing to the ongoing debate on heritage ownership issues and monument preservation policies especially as it relates to the global issue of managing the relics of now defunct empires. In recent years an increasing interest can be detected in issues concerning the legal property ownership of heritage. This growth in interest focuses in particular on the legislation in relationship to property ownership issues. An important aim of national governments is to use legislation to safeguard their cultural property by embedding it in law, especially, when this cultural property has a high monetary or identity value (as stressed by Fechner, 1998). Additionally, the growing awareness and recognition of heritage as a valuable economic, sociopsychological and environmental asset is receiving increasing international attention. For example, the international acknowledgment that heritage resources are under pressure from all kinds of processes and impacts has encouraged the need for an extension of international legal measures. Consequently, this international interest, often expressed in conventions, charters, and treaties, encourages national and local initiatives (Techera, 2011). An interesting complication to this issue is the question that arises where it involves the monumental built environment from the colonial period that is being preserved and restored, as it may be viewed as a heritage based on alien resources. In particular the acceptance, recognition, and role of what may be viewed as an imported colonial built environment in a multicultural and multiethnic context, may impact effective legislation. Although the discussion about the roles of heritage within a plural cultural and ethnic society has already begun (recently emphasized by Van Maanen, 2011; Ashworth, Graham, & Tunbridge, 2007), it is still an underresearched topic when it comes to legal property ownership as part of a management strategy for preserving built colonial heritage resources. This article examines in particular the effectiveness of policies and laws pursued in Suriname as an instrument for the preservation of resources. It highlights the legal and administrative challenges facing the implementation, management, and enforcement of these strategies and measures. The first part of this article examines the debate about the approach and strategy in using law in conservation and preservation policies. Then the article proceeds to introduce Suriname as an instructive case study. It describes the existing multiethnic context of Suriname and the evolution of legislative policy for the historic inner city of the capital, Paramaribo, with its monumental built environment from the colonial period. By using field data, the article continues with an analysis of the effectiveness and impacts of this administrative and legal framework established in Suriname. It examines in detail the main problems encountered and the extent to which this strategy is supported by the key stakeholders.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)289-310
Number of pages22
JournalInternational Journal of Cultural Property
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2013


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