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Suriname under Dutch rule, 1750– 1950

Explaining how leprosy was considered in various historical settings by referring to categories of uncleanliness in antiquity, is problematic. The book historicizes how leprosy has been framed and addressed. It investigates the history of leprosy in Suriname, a plantation society where the vast majority of the population consisted of imported slaves from Africa. The relationship between the modern stigmatization and exclusion of people affected with leprosy, and the political tensions and racial fears originating in colonial slave society, exerting their influence until after the decolonization up to the present day. The book explores leprosy management on the black side of the medical market in the age of slavery as contrasted with the white side. The difference in perspectives on leprosy between African slaves and European masters contributed to the development of the 'Great Confinement' policies, and leprosy sufferers were sent to the Batavia leprosy asylum. Dutch debates about leprosy took place when the threat of a 'return' of leprosy to the Netherlands appeared to materialise. A symbiotic alliance for leprosy care that had formed between the colonial state and the Catholics earlier in the nineteenth century was renegotiated within the transforming landscape of Surinamese society to incorporate Protestants as well. By 1935, Dutch colonial medicine had dammed the growing danger of leprosy by using the modern policies of detection and treatment. Dutch doctors and public health officials tried to come to grips with the Afro-Surinamese belief in treef and its influence on the execution of public health policies.

Stephen Snelders

19 8 Colonial medicine and folk beliefs in the modern era In the early twentieth century, Dutch doctors and public health officials tried to come to grips with the Afro-​Surinamese belief in treef and its influence on the execution of public health policies. Both the Afro-​ Surinamese and new British Indian and Javanese migrants maintained their beliefs and practices about leprosy. This on-​going adherence to folk beliefs and practices alongside Western medical knowledge necessitated a response from Dutch colonial medicine. If modern leprosy politics were to

in Leprosy and colonialism
Stephen Snelders

78 3 Slaves and medicine: black perspectives To Dutch doctors and surgeons, the beliefs of the African slaves and especially their belief in the treef as a taboo animal, motivated the slaves’ laziness and fatalism and hindered the proper realization of medical policies and treatments. Their opinion was a one-​sided and prejudiced view that ignored existing Afro-​Surinamese health practices. In 1769, when Schilling wrote about his observations of leprosy treatment among the slaves in Suriname, he claimed that in general there was no treatment, and that the

in Leprosy and colonialism
Abstract only
Stephen Snelders

) were framed as lax in their health behaviour, superstitious in their practices, and unruly in their conduct. They were still Others who needed disciplining from above. Reading the colonial sources produced by Europeans from a bottom-​up perspective reveals another picture. It shows how the Afro-​ Surinamese rejected European views of leprosy as a typical African disease, and reframed it as a disease brought by Jews and/​or connected to failed observance of the treef. Historical evidence on the extent to which leprosy sufferers in Suriname were stigmatized in their

in Leprosy and colonialism
Reorganizing leprosy care, 1890– 1900
Stephen Snelders

in ideas, Peters argued that leprosy sufferers still had to be forced to undergo this humanitarian treatment. The old racial prejudices born in the slave society were still present in the Peters report. According to the medical officer, the ‘inboorlingen’ 146 146 Leprosy and colonialism (‘natives’) had little interest in material welfare, preferred to live together immorally in their slum dwellings, and did not fear contagion because they believed in the role of the treef. Therefore, Peters r­ ecommended that the edict of 1830 should remain the basis of leprosy

in Leprosy and colonialism
Stephen Snelders

kissie’ (‘If God does not give me the disease I will not get it’). According to Van Hasselaar, slaves were fatalistic, lazy, and slovenly with insufficient personal hygiene and a diet containing too much unhealthy salty fish. Last, but not least, slaves believed in a ‘treef ’, a taboo animal that everyone receives at birth, which cannot be eaten or otherwise used without the direst consequences including contracting leprosy.41 As Chapter  3 will show, this belief was of paramount importance to the way in which Afro-​Surinamese managed health and disease. The

in Leprosy and colonialism
Stephen Snelders

XVIIIe siècle. Le racism au siècle des Lumières (Paris:  Tallandier, 1984), p. 214. 57 Van Woensel, ‘West-​Indische fragmenten’, p. 51. 58 H. D. Benjamin, ‘Treef en lepra in Suriname’, West-​Indische Gids 11 (1930), pp. 187–​218, on p. 211. 59 Drognat Landré, Besmettelijkheid, p. 13n. 60 Van Woensel, ‘West-​Indische fragmenten’, pp. 51–​2. 61 Schilling, Verhandeling, p. 79. 62 Fermin, Traité des maladies, p. 128. 63 Schilling, Verhandeling, p. 11. 64 Fermin, Traité des maladies, p. 128. 65 Snelders, Vrijbuiters van de heelkunde, pp. 166–​82. 66 Fermin

in Leprosy and colonialism
Stephen Snelders

seen as a potential threat to public health. In addition, they examined and redesigned inherited human habits and practices that were not based on scientific reasoning, such as those related to a belief in the treef. The public health professionals’ authoritarian high modernism encountered contestation and resistance; thus the invasion and surveillance of the population’s private sphere was never complete. Nevertheless, because colonial medicine could exercise the power of the colonial state, it was able to go far in developing new policies.2 Compulsory segregation

in Leprosy and colonialism